The Atonement of Christ-Have You Been Left Out?

(Use of any part of this critique requires proper citation.)
Caveat: This is a scholarly work researching the Atonement of Christ and its extent for mankind. Please read when you have a few moments. Open your mind and heart as you investigate with me the perspectives of respected scholars!  How far reaching is the work of Christ? Is it truly for whosoever believes, confesses, and receives it, or has the Almighty God chosen only some to be its blessed recipients?
      When Christ cried out, “It is finished,” He did so because the work He was sent by the Father to do—to bring salvation to whosoever in the world would believe in Him—was accomplished. (John 3:16-17, John 19:28-30) This is the message of the Gospel of Christ. Those who have received Jesus Christ are reconciled to the Father by His completed work. Even so, scholars and theologians over the centuries have developed differing theories in an attempt to answer pertinent questions regarding the extent of Christ’s atonement. Each school of thought has made strong, Scripture-laden arguments to support their theologies. The two most prominent positions are that of the Calvinists and the Arminians. Like two sides in a game of “tug-of-war,” both sides are pulling in their own directions, and not much headway is made on either side. The arguments have drawn some to one side, some to the other. Others remain as spectators, unconvinced by either side or unsure which side they should be on. An examination of the two is indicated prior to an attempt to draw one’s own conclusions regarding the matter of the atonement and the extent to which it reaches the “whosoevers.”  To lay the foundation for such an examination, it behooves us to briefly investigate what it is that Christ accomplished on the Cross.
Christ’s Atoning Work
F.W. Dillistone relates the words of Paul to the Colossians, that God has, through Christ, reconciled all things to Himself. [1](Colossians 1:19-20) He states that God’s “all consuming purpose” is to redeem men out of the world, and that the Cross is the “tree of life that brings healing to the whole world.” [2] It is through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross that man is reconciled to God. Romans 5:10-11says,
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
In his book, The Atonement, Arthur W. Pink describes a three part effect of what he refers to as the “ransom-paid price” offered through Christ’s sacrifice. First, those who accept Him are delivered from guilt and subsequently, the penalty of sin. Second, the dominion and bondage to sin in the believer’s life is broken. Third, the believer may look forward to complete deliverance from the very presence of sin at the second coming of Christ. [3]
Erickson takes issue with the idea of Christ paying a ransom to purchase redemption. Instead, he upholds a theory that is more in line with a legal principle of satisfaction made in substitution for punishment. Having never belonged to Satan, God did not need to purchase humanity from him. But because humans could not make reparation for their sins, justice came in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [4]
Ordained by the Father, Christ’s death on the Cross was offered on behalf of all of humanity. He was the High Priest offering the perfect and complete sacrifice. [5](Hebrews 2:7) In this sacrifice, a holy exchange was made. In it, those who believe on Him are forgiven and made righteous that they might be reconciled with the Father. [6](Eph 1:7, Is. 61:10)
 Calvin’s TULIP
It is upon this foundation of the atoning work of Christ that we can examine the extent of what was done, and to whom it was offered. John Calvin, (1509-1564) noted French theologian and scholar was instrumental in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin’s system of theology was acknowledged by the Synod of Dort in 1619 as the true doctrine of salvation according to the Scriptures. It proclaimed that although Christ’s death was sufficient for all, it was efficient only for the elect. [7] Calvin’s doctrine was made into a five point system known by the acrostic TULIP as an answer to the Arminian’s five point doctrine which was considered unscriptural. Total depravity signifies that because of the fall of Adam, sin has extended to each human’s core being. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit is man able to hear and receive the Gospel. Through unconditional Election which is not based on merit, God according to His will has elected some for His glory and some to be lost. [8] Even so, each one is accountable to believe and receive Jesus Christ.
The belief that Christ died for many but not for all is the idea of Limited Atonement. His death is not considered to win potential salvation for all people. Irresistible grace says that the elect will be called by God’s Spirit and they will indeed respond. Perseverance of the saints is the belief that until a believer is brought to heaven, their election is sure and they cannot be lost but will be glorified in the last day. (John 6:39) [9]
Limited Atonement
            With the focus on limited atonement, it holds that Christ’s intention was to deliver and redeem those whom the Father had given Him. The contention is that there is no Scriptural basis for believing that Christ came to satisfy the wrath of God for all sinners. Citing Isaiah 52:11-53:12, R.S. Clark argues that as the Scripture describes the despised “servant” who was not esteemed by man, He was “pierced for our transgressions,” and took on Himself our infirmities. As the Lord laid on Him the “iniquity of us all,” the “all” refers to those for whom Jesus would suffer and die, but not all of humanity. In verse 11, the Scripture states, “My righteous servant will justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” With “many” being repeated in verse 12, the Calvinist position is that Jesus did not die for all those who have lived. A powerful argument from Scripture that seems to substantiate this view is John 6:37-39. Jesus makes the statement,
“All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me, I should lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”
It is later stated that Jesus knew who would and who would not believe on Him, and therefore only those given to Him by the Father could come to Him. (John 6:64-65) These verses help galvanize the Calvinist idea that only those who are drawn by the Father are saved by Christ who came to do the Father’s will. [10]
Other Scriptural and philosophical arguments are made to support the idea of Limited Atonement, also known as “particular redemption” because redemption was said to be purchased only for a particular group of people. [11] 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is the Savior of those who believe. The Gospel is to be made available to all men because of the mercy of God however, it is denied that all men are intended to be beneficiaries of the Cross of Christ. In John 10:15 Jesus declared that He laid down His life for the sheep, but those who did not believe do not belong to His sheep. The argument is that one must be a sheep in order to be a believer, and not vice versa. [12] According to Louis Berkhof, Scripture repeatedly supports the idea that Jesus died for a limited number. In these texts, those for whom Christ laid down His life are referred to as the “elect,” (Romans 8:32-35) “sheep,” (John 10:11,15) “His church,” (Acts 20:28) and “His people.” (Matt 1:21, 20:28) [13]
It is understood that not all are saved for many have and do reject the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is argued that God would not have Christ die for everyone unless He planned for them to be saved. Christ therefore died for only the elect and those who reject Him pay the price for their sins. Those who support Limited Atonement believe that to say Christ died for all leads to universalism, or the belief that all men will eventually be reconciled to God. [14] Arthur W. Pink quotes Arminius’ statement regarding sin as the obstacle to God’s mercy. His justice was satisfied via the sacrifice of Christ, thereby the obstacle was removed and God is now able to show His mercy and good will toward man. Pink suggests that this thinking is grossly misguided. If this were indeed true, Christ’s sacrifice would be an experiment that might or might not succeed, and adds that this thinking denies the total depravity of man. [15]
R. Scott Clark defends limited atonement by asking “what if” God did not intend the meaning of the world in John 3:16-17 to indicate all mankind?  He insists the word world translated from the Greek kosmos refers to the quality of those for whom Christ died, not the quantity. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Clark states that God’s intention in this verse was not to describe the extent of what His Son accomplished, but the quality of His love for sinners. His intention was upon “whosoever believes.” Continuing this line of thinking, Clark states that in the following verse, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world would be saved.” Here, the same kosmos is to be viewed as qualitative and not quantitative, according to Clark who says that Jesus came to redeem people, not to make salvation available to all. [16]
The strong defense of limited atonement is stated most simply by Arthur Pink in this way, “All the affairs of the elect were settled by the mutual consent of all the persons in the Diety. The Father made choice of the elect (Eph 1:4), the Son accepted that choice (John 17:10), the Spirit recorded it in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 13:8)” [17]
The conclusion of those who argue for limited atonement can be summed up in the words of John Piper,
“We do not limit the power and effectiveness of the atonement. We simply say that in the cross God had in view the actual redemption of his children. And we affirm that when
Christ died for these, he did not just create the opportunity for them to save themselves, but really purchased for them all that was necessary to get them saved, including the grace of regeneration and the gift of faith.”
Arminius’ FACTS
James Arminius, (1560-1609) was a pastor, scholar, and theologian from the Netherlands.
Arminian theology can be remembered by the acrostic FACTS. If God predestined the elect it was as a result of His foreknowledge of those who would chose to serve Him by their free will—thus he taught conditional election or that men are Freed by grace to believe.  He believed that unconditional predestination was not taught in the Scriptures and believed such theology dishonored God and the sacrifice of His Son. Thus, He believed that the Atonement was for all. Arminius understood the gravity of the fall of Adam upon humanity. He clearly upheld the idea that Jesus died for all humanity as God is not willing that any should perish. Still, man could refuse the grace of God or chose to receive it according to their own free will, not that of irresistible grace. It was a conditional election based on a free will choice. He believed that faith was man’s contribution to salvation and that justification followed salvation. It seems that most Arminians believe that believers are Secure in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit although this is controversial in their circles. [18]
The Arminian position was rejected at the Synod of Dort. After 154 sessions of the Synod over the course of almost six months, the Remonstrants, or those Arminians who stood before the Synod on behalf of their doctrine, risked punishment, banishment, or death if they held to and/or practiced their beliefs. It is said that the Synod was not a free assembly for the discussion of conflicting theologies as it should have been but an “ecclesiastical court for the trial of alleged heretics.” [19]
Unlimited Atonement
Arminians believe that redemption must be received as humans are sinful and cannot by their own strength incapable of doing good. [20] All men are not saved but all are given the opportunity to receive salvation through Christ’s work on the Cross. The Atonement did not secure salvation but made a way for those who would chose to receive it. Christ’s sacrifice then is sufficient to redeem all sinners by satisfying the justice of God for all of humanity’s sins. It by no means is intended to say that the atonement will bring salvation for all sinners and all will eventually be saved. Those who will be saved are those who avail themselves of the Atoning work of Christ. It is not a limited atonement, but a limited application of the atonement. [21] A. H. Strong, a Calvinist in most of his viewpoint, believes that the application of the atonement is limited as only those who repent are saved by it, but it is offered to the whole human race. [22]
The Arminian view is that the Father and Son did what they needed to do in order to offer salvation to all humanity. The Holy Spirit gives a common faith to all so that they might, by their own will, choose to receive the gift of salvation through the atoning work of Christ. Salvation was not secured for men, but is offered to all indiscriminately. [23]
Some believe it is degrading to God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice if salvation is offered as a possibility that can be attained only through the capricious free will of fallen humans. Arthur Pink, in his work, The Satisfaction of Christ, insists a precarious, conditional salvation as seen in the Arminian’s view of unlimited atonement or general redemption is in actuality impossible for the depraved human to attain on his own. The contention of unlimited atonement, Pink insists, obligates us to believe that God will save all mankind. Pink believes that God is exalted in the efficacy of the atonement for the elect as unlimited atonement forces us to either believe that all will be saved or some for whom Christ shed His blood will spend eternity in hell. To Pink, this is unthinkable. A good God could not punish those for whom His Son died. Therefore, if Christ died for all, all must be saved. [24]
Scriptural support for unlimited atonement is plentiful as are the arguments refuting the Scriptural references used for limited atonement. Many of these Scriptures seem to discount the argument of limited atonement. For example, in Romans 5:18, Paul wrote, "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." To this the Calvinist would say God’s favor is common to all, but not extended to all. However, within the context of the verse  “all men” must be interpreted exactly the same in both clauses. [25]
 Isaiah 53:6 says: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" From this text, it is clear that the extent of sin is universal. The act of God upon Christ was equally universal. How could it not be that the extent of what Christ offered though His sacrifice is also universal? [26]
We saw that the Calvinists interpret the word world John 3:16-17 as a qualitative measurement of God’s love for His elect only. Waite disputes the Calvinist exegesis of this verse by first stating that it is indeed the world—the whole of humanity—for whom God sent His Son, and not the elect only. God acted upon His love by sending His Son so that “whosover believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Waite argues that “whosoever” indicates an unlimited amount of people who operate by free will to receive salvation through the atonement. [27] This frees believers to evangelize in the way Jesus commanded the disciples in Mark 16:15-16. The whosoevers are given the opportunity through the preaching of the Word to receive or reject the message of the Gospel of Christ. John 3:17 declares that the mission of Jesus was not to condemn the world, “but that the world through Him might be saved.” The aim and purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was the salvation of the world! [28]
Romans 5:6 declares, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” This verse clearly declares that Jesus death was “instead of” or “in place of” all of fallen humanity. The extent of the atonement therefore reaches out to untold multitudes over generations. Yet, Calvinists also use this text to state that the Cross of Christ was intended for the elect or those who God predestined to accept Him through His irresistible grace. This seems to be a great stretching of the revealed Word of God on the part of those defending limited atonement.
Seeking Balance
If approached with an open heart to the realities of theological study, it is difficult to approach a topic such as this and come to a grand conclusion. It goes without saying that John Calvin is one of the greatest theologians in history. John Arminius gave much of his effort to defending his ideas, and his followers, like Calvin, took great risks to live according to what they believed. Both camps support their views with a great deal of Scripture, and both make arguments that are difficult to ignore. Yet, it is obvious that the Bible cannot support both theologies of limited and unlimited atonement.
The arguments for both limited and unlimited atonement go much deeper than what can be stated here. As an investigation into some of the issues, the discussion barely scratched the surface of ages of theological theory and debate.
In an attempt to find balance, one must seek the Scripture as the final authority and add one’s own sense of experience and understanding. In doing so, another great theology may be uncovered! However, it seems that Albert Barnes has addressed the issue in a logical way understanding the heart of God toward His creation. In his book, The Atonement, he uses analogy from nature to drive his point. He discusses the physical nature of man. There is no favoritism among men that renders one physically different from another (barring congenital issues) He states, with respect to the “healing arts, that the race is one. There is one system adapted to one race…the principle is of universal applicability.” Remedies are universal as all humans consist of the same material. He then discusses that if God created all men alike and that their physical states have no distinction in nature, this would indicate that the plan of redemption should also be applied universally. Barnes argues that to object to this logical scheme would be contradictory to the systems and arrangements ordained by God. [29]
It brings to mind Matthew 5:45, “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Barnes states, “Nature, so to speak, invites all men to come to its provisions. The sun shines for all, and invites all to receive its light; the music of the groves is for all, and invites all to look upon its beauty…in nature there is no exclusiveness and no limit.” (Barnes, 320) The author believes the same principles apply to redemption’s plan, and we should expect such. He acknowledges God’s right to bestow salvation, health, and prosperity according to His will. However, he reiterates that it is natural to anticipate the same provision of redemption given to men as the provisions of nature. [30]
Thomas W Jenkin argues that limited atonement is “at variance with the declared principles of divine moral government.” Some offenders of the laws of God are delivered through God’s grace and some will reap hell as punishment for not receiving that measure of grace—the latter never having been offered what Christ accomplished through His suffering. Yet, Isaiah 53:10 says that it pleased the Father to bruise Him—to deliver Him as a sacrifice for our transgressions so that we might be saved by His vicarious suffering. [31] Jenkins holds that the theology of limited atonement “perverts and destroys” the moral dignity of the atonement. The Father becomes one who favors some and gives the “elect” the ability to pronounce their salvation as what was due them via the substitution. Salvation for some is absolutely impossible because their debt has not been paid. Jenkins calls his lengthy explanation of this to be “commercial views of divine justice,” whose sources we should question. [32] A.A. Hodge feels that it is unthinkable to consider that God would predestine some to salvation, sending His Son to make such a great sacrifice to remove the legal obstacles from their way to reconciliation while not removing it from the path of the great multitudes not chosen. [33]
These analogies say little without the support of Scripture. It cannot be understated that it is in the context of Scripture that we find our balance and receive the Spirit’s illumination regarding this and any other issue at hand. As mentioned by Erickson, it is difficult to ignore texts like 1Timothy 4:10 which proclaim God to be the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. 2 Peter 2:1 seems to refute the claim that Christ died only for the elect as it states that some will deny the Lord that bought them and be lost. His concluding statement regarding the extent of the atonement fosters the continued debate. The factors resolving the issue of limited vs. unlimited atonement revolve around whether one chooses to believe that the elect are those who were chosen beforehand by a sovereign God, or if they were chosen based on God’s foreknowledge of their choice to accept or receive His Son. [34]
In John 19:30, Jesus declared, “It is finished,” from the Cross where His sacrifice atoned for the sins of whosoever would believe on Him. The condition of those for whom Christ gave His life is that all are sinners, none are righteous, no not one. The psalmist declares that as God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men, every one of them has become corrupt. (Psalm 53:1-4) Still, God was merciful to His people, bringing to Himself a remnant of those who trusted in Him. It could be declared that God foreknew who would accept Him, and those He called and predestined to become His elect. Yet, when Abraham proved to God that he would not withhold Isaac as a sacrifice, God said, “Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld your son from Me.” (Genesis 22:12) Is it possible that God had to prove for His own sake, Abraham’s love and faithfulness? Could the omniscient God choose to withhold knowledge from Himself? Then the question remains, does He choose those who will be His elect, or does He, the Father of creation, allow His creation to choose Him?
It is apparent that all has not been fully revealed to us. Those who serve Him are called His sheep, His children, the Church, and the elect. Whether we have been predestined prior by God’s sovereign will or whether we choose Him by our free will is a question that will continue to be debated until all is revealed when we are with Him in glory.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:20-26.
Barlow, Jonathan. “Calvinism.”  Accessed            12/18/10.
Barnes, Albert. The Atonement. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, Inc. (originally     published Lindsay & Blakiston, 1860)
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing    Company, 1996.
Candlish, Robert S. The Atonement: Its Reality, Completeness, and Extent. London: T. Nelson      and Sons, 1861.
Clark, R. Scott. “Limited Atonement.” Accessed on Dec. 5, 2010
Crawford, Thomas J. The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement. Grand Rapids,     MI: Baker Book House, 1954.
Culpepper, Robert H. Interpreting the Atonement. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans          Publishing Co, 1966.
Dillistone, F.W. The Christian Understanding of Atonement. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster          Press, 1968.,
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic,         2001.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003.
Hodge, A.A. The Atonement. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953
Jenkyn, Thomas W. Extent of the Atonement. Boston, MA: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1846.
Pink, Arthur W. The Atonement. Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications.
Pink, Arthur W. The Satisfaction of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House,        1955.
Piper, John. “What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.” Accessed from      calvinism on December 5, 2010.
Prince, Derek. Bought with Blood: The Divine Exchange at the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker   Publishing Group, 2007.
Rhodes, Ron. The Extent of the Atonement.        Accessed on Dec 5, 2010
Schaff, Philip. “John Calvin.” Theology thru Technology.   accessed Dec. 10, 2010.
The Synod of Dort. Accessed on December 18,    2010
Waite, D.A. “Calvin’s Error of Limited Atonement.”              Accessed on Dec 5, 2010.

[1] F.W. Dillistone. The Christian Understanding of Atonement. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1968), 41.
[2] Ibid. 46, 75.
[3]Arthur W. Pink. The Atonement. (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications), 189-190.
[4] Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 813-816.
[5] Derek Prince. Bought with Blood: The Divine Exchange at the Cross. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007), 33-34.
[6] Ibid. 39.
[7] Walter A. Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 115.
[8] Romans 9:15-21 may be the strongest Scripture in support of Limited Atonement theology. God speaking to Moses states that as the Creator, He has mercy on whomever He chooses even hardening hearts, and as the potter is with the clay, He creates some for honor and some for dishonor.
[9] Calvinism. Jonathan Barlow., (accessed 12/18/10)
[10] Limited Atonement. R. Scott Clark. (Accessed on Dec. 5, 2010)
[11] Elwell, 115.
[12] John Piper. What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism. (Accessed on December 5, 2010).
[13] Louis Berkhof. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 393.
[14] Ellwell, 1232.
[15] Pink, The Atonement, 108.
[16] Clark, “Limited Atonement.”
[17] Pink, The Atonement, 124.
[18] Elwell, 97.
[19] The Synod of Dort. (Accessed on December 18, 2010)
[20] Erickson, 931.
[21] Thomas Crawford. The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954), 514-515.
[22] Robert H. Culpepper. Interpreting the Atonement. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1966), 124.
[23] A.A. Hodge. The Atonement. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans: 1953), 383.
[24] Pink, The Atonement, 243-244.
[25] Ron Rhodes. The Extent of the Atonement. (Accessed on Dec 5, 2010)
[26] Erickson, 847.
[27] D.A. Waite. Calvin’s Error of Limited Atonement. (Accessed on Dec 5, 2010)
[28] Waite, Calvin’s Error of Limited Atonement.
[29] Albert Barnes. The Atonement. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, Inc. 1860), 318-319.
[30] Ibid. 321.
[31] Thomas W. Jenkin. Extent of the Atonement. (Boston MA: Gould, Kendall, and Lincoln, 1846), 164-165.
[32] Ibid. 168.
[33] Hodge, 382-383.
[34] Erickson, 851-852.


Popular Posts