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The Trouble With Calvin Pt. 3 [Limited Atonement]
Tim Staples' Blog ^ | May 24, 2014 | Tim Staples

Posted on 08/03/2014 2:21:44 AM PDT by GonzoII

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 3

In my last two blog posts, we examined the first two of the “five points” of Calvinism popularly known by the acronym, TULIP, which represents 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistible Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this post, we will tackle the third point:

Limited Atonement

No Christian that I know of would deny that some doctrines are more or less clear than others in Scripture. When it comes to the atonement of Christ, the Scriptures are most clear: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the entire world. The redemption that Christ merited through his passion and death was for every single human person that has ever and will ever live. The Calvinist teaching of limited atonement espouses the exact opposite. We find this teaching in many places in the Calvinist confessions by way of their emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ being only for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of the whole world. The Westminster Confession of 1643, for example, declared:

In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or the dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect (emphasis added).

Notice, Christ’s sacrifice, was not offered for the sins of all, but only for the elect, according to John Calvin and the Westminster Confession. I am always astonished at this teaching in light of the clear teaching of St. John in I John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (emphasis added).

As Catholics, we have to go with St. John over John Calvin. Yet, Calvin was quite insistent that Christ did not die for all. He taught, as we’ve seen before:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 21, Para. 5).

We keep coming back to Calvin’s notion of “double predestination,” and we will again, because It is important for us to understand that for Calvin and true Calvinists, predestination means that it is God’s immutable will that some go to heaven and some go to hell. Before they ever commit one sin, God has already decreed and ordained their eternal torment. Calvin said:

Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children (Ibid., Ch. 23, Para. 1, emphasis added).

If the Calvinist notion of predestination were true, then this doctrine of limited atonement would follow. If God’s eternal decree representing his will from all eternity is that only some be saved, and if his immutable will is for some to go to hell, then clearly, he did not die on the cross for the salvation of all. This follows necessarily.

This is a case of a presupposition based on the misunderstanding of a relatively few biblical texts that ends up contradicting the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture. The atonement of Christ on the cross is the greatest expression of our God’s salvific will for all of mankind. And sacred Scripture could not make it any plainer:

John 3:16: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Notice, the text does not say, “God so loved the elect…”

I Tim. 2:3-6:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (emphasis added).

Here we see—contrary to the Calvinist teaching of a limited atonement—that Christ died for all revealing God’s positive salvific will for all to be saved.

II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (emphasis added).

Here we see not only that God’s positive will is for all to be saved, but he clearly does not will any to perish in the fires of hell either. Again, this is expressly contrary to Calvinism. The biblical text reveals God’s salvific will to include each and every human being that has ever or will ever live. Those who end up in hell will be there because they chose to reject the truth, not because of any positive willing on God’s part.

Calvin Responds:

I actually like to read John Calvin’s magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. I love the way Calvin’s mind works. Give me Calvin to read any day over Luther. Luther is all over the place with his theology. Calvin is disciplined, thorough, consistent, and easy to understand. Don’t get me wrong, he is profoundly wrong on many crucial matters, but at least you know where he stands.

When it comes to Calvin’s responses to the above-mentioned texts, well, let’s just say they are disciplined, consistent, easy to understand, and dead wrong. For brevity’s sake we will just take I Tim. 2:4 in this post. Let’s cite verses 1-6 for context:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every ways. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

This text is quite plain, making clear that:

1. God wills all men to be saved.

2. Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.”

But listen to Calvin’s response:

By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men… (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 24, Para. 16)

 Really? It is hard to believe Calvin was really satisfied in saying that “all men” did not refer to “all men,” but to all “categories of men.” In this case, St. Paul was limiting prayer for the “categories” of “kings and men in high positions.”

But then you have the problem of verse six saying, “Christ… gave himself as a ransom for all” to have to them mean ”all categories of men.” That is simply not what the text says.

A Final Thought

John Calvin was stuck. He had a presupposition that simply did not fit the text, so he had to twist the text to fit his presupposition. He did not believe Jesus “ransomed all” on the cross (as I Tim. 2:6 says) because he believed Christ only made atonement for the elect. He did not believe God wills the salvation of all (as I Tim. 2:4 says) for the same reason, so he had to come up with the above that is really so far beneath a man with the intellectual capacity of a John Calvin. The man was brilliant.

He had to defend the indefensible belief in “limited atonement” in order to preserve the acronym, right?

But this leads to my final point for this post. There is another text that absolutely obliterates the notion of “limited atonement” that Calvin did not deal with in his magnum opus. That text would be II Peter 2:1-3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.

In this text, St. Peter makes clear that Jesus “bought” (the Greek word here is a form of agorazo, which is used in I Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Acts 20:28, Rev. 5:9, 14:3, and 4 to mean “ransomed” or “redeemed”) not just the elect, but even those who will eventually end in the torments of hell. There can be no doubt concerning either the words or the context of II Peter 2.

Calvin did not include this text in the nearly 700 pages of Institutes of the Christian Religion? I have a hard time believing this one got away. He just didn’t know about it. He was too smart for that. Perhaps he left this one alone because his answer would have been even worse than what we saw above in his dancing around I Tim. 2:4. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this text makes clear this fact: Jesus did not only die for the elect. His atonement was not “limited.”

He died for all. And “all” means “all.”

If you liked this post, and would like to learn more, click here.



TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Mainline Protestant; Theology
KEYWORDS: calvin; calvinism; catholic; johncalvin; limitedatonement; protestantism; salvation; scripture; theology; timstaples; tulip
I John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if
any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the
righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but
also for the sins of the whole world.

1 posted on 08/03/2014 2:21:44 AM PDT by GonzoII
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To: GonzoII
Unless you are a universalist, you believe in limited atonement. Calvinists limit its target to a particular group of people, but believe its effect is unlimited (Christ gets what He pays for). Others promote an unlimited target but are forced to limit its effect.
2 posted on 08/03/2014 3:39:18 AM PDT by armydoc
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To: GonzoII
Most people who have trouble with Limited Atonement really have trouble with Total Depravity (their doctrine on Sin).

Sin is so bad, that when the creator looked upon all humanity without Him, none came to Him, none sought Him, none understood Him (Psalm 14, Palm 53, Romans 3 ). The Lord Jesus Christ says that sin is so bad that "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44).

Sins gravity, the World the Flesh and the Devil, the heart of stone, the ears that won't hear and the eyes that wont see, all work together to keep men firmly in it's bondage.

Most folks will deny this, and say that Sin is only a sickness. But the Apostle Paul says "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1) . No the Apostle Paul says we were all DEAD as he uses this phrase over and over again.

Therefore God must intervene. He has to take away the Heart of Stone and give us a new Heart of flesh to love Him. He must reprogram the mind Dead to the things of God, to one that can hold faith. He has to plant the "measure of faith" and then water it with the Word preached before one repents and confesses what God has done.

No, the folks who have trouble with "Limited Atonement" really have not dealt with the impact of Sin upon Humanity and the real extent of mankind's Total Depravity and are still stuck on first base.

3 posted on 08/03/2014 3:49:43 AM PDT by sr4402
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To: GonzoII
Mr. Staples actually believes in limited atonement, too. If Jesus died for the whole world, why isn't the whole world saved? I suspect Mr. Staples would say that we would have to choose to accept the salvation Jesus provides. In that senses its limited to only those who choose.

But then Jesus said "You did not choose me but I chose you" (John 15:16). The question in my mind is 'who chooses first'. since Jesus is the omniscient one in this scenario, I'd say He chose (or elected) first.

4 posted on 08/03/2014 4:37:55 AM PDT by tbpiper
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To: tbpiper
The question in my mind is 'who chooses first'

The response will typically be that it is unfair for God to choose. To which I say 'Out of all the dead?'. For we do not appear to Him to be alive, before we come to Christ, but Dead in Trespasses and Sin'.

The amazing thing is that God has mercy and compassion on some of these Dead. "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Romans 9:15, Exodus 33:19). For it escapes peoples notice that God can be that merciful and compassionate on those He wishes to.

5 posted on 08/03/2014 4:54:56 AM PDT by sr4402
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To: sr4402

And what would you think if it were revealed to you that you were not one of the chosen? How would you respond if you knew that God had created you purposely for eternal damnation and that there was nothing you could do about it? Would you describe this as a God of love and mercy?


6 posted on 08/03/2014 5:01:07 AM PDT by Petrosius
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To: sr4402
For it escapes peoples notice that God can be that merciful and compassionate on those He wishes to.

Yes. The sovereignty of God is both terrifying and comforting. Next to it, all of my wisdom is foolishness.

7 posted on 08/03/2014 5:05:01 AM PDT by tbpiper
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To: tbpiper
"I'd say He chose (or elected) first."

But you can still reject your being chosen as Judas did.

8 posted on 08/03/2014 5:19:32 AM PDT by GonzoII ("If the new crime be, to believe in God, let us all be criminals" -Sheen)
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To: GonzoII

John 5
24Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.


9 posted on 08/03/2014 5:31:06 AM PDT by ravenwolf (s)
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To: GonzoII
But you can still reject your being chosen as Judas did.

That was a special case. In John 17:12 Jesus said praying,

"While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled."

Judas was 'chosen' for that purpose. If Christ chooses you for salvation, you will be saved. He is sovereign.

10 posted on 08/03/2014 5:41:08 AM PDT by tbpiper
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To: Petrosius
And what would you think if it were revealed to you that you were not one of the chosen?

First of all, this is an unrealistic hypothetical, as the state of anyone's election is God's businesses and His alone.

Second, the non-elect would rejoice, as they are enemies of God prior to conversion (as are the elect).

Finally, our human response to the doctrine is not the issue. When we try to make it the issue, we end up twisting scripture to align with our feelings. God owes us no apology or explanation for His sovereignty. As Paul explains in Romans 9:

19One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ”h 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
11 posted on 08/03/2014 6:33:17 AM PDT by armydoc
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To: Petrosius
And what would you think if it were revealed to you that you were not one of the chosen?

God is so loving and kind that He does not do so, yet leaves door open. But as you have seen from my last posting, no one does without His intervention.

The rest see without seeing, and hear without hearing of His sacrifice every time they eat meat and every time they eat from any green plant. They see Him (without seeing) in His marvelous order of creation, in how they have their conscious, and the laws on which they base their lives but do not pay attention to.

And we do not know who the elect (Christ's word) are so the Gospel must be preached to everyone.

The elect are predestined in His marvelous love. The reprobate are left to themselves on the hope that the misery of sin will cause repentance. We only know the difference by their fruits.

12 posted on 08/03/2014 10:00:15 AM PDT by sr4402
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To: armydoc

Most people who believe in Limited Atonement, confuse atonement as forgiveness. Two separate issues.


13 posted on 08/03/2014 10:02:30 AM PDT by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: GonzoII; x_plus_one; Patton@Bastogne; Oldeconomybuyer; RightField; aposiopetic; rbmillerjr; ...


14 posted on 08/03/2014 10:09:33 AM PDT by narses (Matthew 7:6. He appears to have made up his mind let him live with the consequences.)
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To: narses

Any relation to Calvinball?


15 posted on 08/03/2014 8:14:34 PM PDT by RichInOC ("Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground."--GKC)
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To: GonzoII

The major problem with hyper-Calvinism is that those Calvinists do not believe in common grace. They think there is only special grace.


16 posted on 08/03/2014 8:31:28 PM PDT by SeaHawkFan
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To: GonzoII

Calvinist don’t by their own words believe in Free Will and that is exactly what God lets us have.


17 posted on 08/03/2014 8:53:03 PM PDT by mrobisr
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