Monday, July 09, 2007

Theology 101 - The Extent of the Atonement (aka: Limited Atonement)

Back in the mid 80's when I began to understand and embrace Reformed Theology, the last point for me to whole-heartedly embrace and submit to was "limited atonement"--also known as particular redemption. I've found over the years that I'm not alone in this, many have wrestled long and hard over this one!

As I've mentioned many times before, one of my all-time favorite books is Louis Berkhof's Manual of Christian Doctrine. To be honest, it became my favorite because it so clearly presented and "nailed" limited atonement for me, perhaps it will help you, too!

Under the heading "The Extent of the Atonement", Berkhof has this to say--pay particular attention to the portion I've highlighted--that "nailed" it for me over 20 years ago!

It is generally admitted that the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men, though they do not attain unto salvation. There is a difference of opinion, however, as to the question, whether Christ suffered and died for the purpose of saving all men or only the elect.

1. THE LIMITED EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Arminians of every description, maintain that the atonement wrought by Christ is universal. This does not mean that in their estimation all men will be saved, but simply that it was the intent of the Father in sending Christ, and of Christ in the accomplishment of His redemptive work, to save them all without any exception. They all admit that , as a matter of fact, the intended effect is not achieved. In distinction from them the Reformed Churches believe in a limited atonement. They maintain that it was the intention of both the Father and the Son to save only the elect, a purpose that is actually accomplished. The advocates of a universal atonement assert that Christ merely made salvation possible for all men, and that their actual redemption is dependent on their own free choice. The advocates of a limited atonement, on the other hand, maintain that Christ actually saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom He has laid down His life. Not one of those for whom the price is paid finally falls short of salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that the effect of the work of Christ is not merely to make atonement possible, but to reconcile men to God and to put them in actual possession of eternal salvation, Luke 19:10; Rom. 5:10; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1:7. Moreover, it indicates in various ways that Christ laid down His life for a certain qualified number, for His people, Matt. 1:21, for His sheep, John 10:11, 15, for the Church, Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25-27, or for the elect, Rom. 8:32-35. Moreover, if it was really the purpose of God to save all men, then we shall have to come to the conclusion that the divine purpose is frustrated by men, and this is an impossibility.


Diane said...

Great was something I fought for a long time too.

Marcian said...

I'm still wrestling, too, particularly because of 2 Peter 2:1.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves."

I hate to be a rabble-rouser (and being a Sooner AND a Longhorn further causing trouble), but I am still wrestling with how they could deny the One who bought them if they were bought in the first place...

I think this is the only verse that I'm having trouble getting over concerning "L". Can you help me? TUIP just doesn't sound right...

Anonymous said...

Connie, I didn't realize you've held a reformed position that long! Wow! For me it's been almost 4 years. I can remember being on a private message board not long before God opened my eyes to His sovereignty, and I 'argued' with the best of them for a universal salvation, man's choice in the matter, etc. What a difference it's made in my life!! I'm so very thankful!

To God alone be the glory!

Connie said...

Diane: Thanks, it can be quite a fight, can't it? I'm just curious, did your understanding come before or after you began attending Belcher's church?

Connie said...

marcian: First of all dear sister, we need to talk about this confused identity you apparently have--a Sooner AND a Longhorn???? What WERE you thinking? :-) Sorry, just couldn't resist that--I'm a died in the wool OSU Cowboy!

Thank you for your comments and the manner in which you presented your question--THIS is the sort of dialogue I love among Xians! Yes, I will try to help you to the best of my limited ability (no pun intended!!). I'm composing a new post and hope to have it up and running today or tomorrow.

I'd originally considered including the "objections" to limited atonement that Berkhof listed but decided it might make that post too long. Your question makes me think that doing that could be helpful to some, I just may follow through with that and post the objections. However, Berkhof did not deal with the 2 Peter passage you noted, at least not in his 'Manual"--maybe his systematic theology deals with it, I haven't checked.

So, please "stay tuned" for my next post.

BTW, I'd just hate for you to have to live with 'TUIP's" in your garden--that's just wrong! :-) Blessings!

Connie said...

gayla: Yip, it's hard for me to believe it's been that long!!!

When we arrived in Dallas in 1984 to finish college and eventually attend (and work at) DTS we were already on our way 'down the road' to embracing the Doctrines of Grace/Calvinism/Reformed Theology.

However, when MacArthur's book, "The Gospel According to Jesus" came out in the mid to late 80's while we were at DTS it sort of forced me to further consider our "semi-Calvinist" position. There was a small--and I mean SMALL--number of students there at that time who were deeply interested in Reformed Theology/Calvinism, so with the help of a couple of Reformed/Calvinistic professors we sort of found each other and learned together. I guess I'd call those our "glory" days!! They were challenging times, but I wouldn't trade them for the world now!

Diane said...

Connie, my understanding came about before I started going to Dr. Belcher's church. Attending his church, and listening to his sermons, have helped me alot though.

It was a process for me, beginning with someone online who kept saying man had good in him, and at that time I was in agreement with that, but after awhile, it didn't sound right, and the Arminian side had no Scripture to back up what they said. I might have to post about what brought me to this belief because it was the above that started the journey to where I am now.

Marcian said...


Certainly, I think this is one big reason why we all don't "get it" at the same time. We need those moments where we "practice theology" by being loving and charitable, trusting the details to our heavenly Father and striving to know the truth.