Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement
Part of my flight from Pentecostalism was the realization that, although a Christian for six years, I was completely ignorant of the Bible’s teaching. I could proof-text with the best of them, but ask me to exegete a portion of Scripture and I would look at you with a quizzical, “no habla ingles” look on my face. So off I went to a Calvary Chapel fellowship where I heard that they taught the Bible verse by verse.
It was at this fellowship that I first discovered Calvinism, despite the pastor’s efforts to stomp it out. The founder of this non-denomination denomination, Chuck Smith, penned a booklet on Calvinism and Arminianism. In it he claimed that they were “a river flowing between two banks,” neither Arminian nor Calvinist. The booklet basically espoused a four-point view. The “point” of contention for them, of course, was Limited Atonement. But once it fell, so did the other four, leaving them with an unstated Arminianism.John Hendryx of Monergism.com understands the “L” debate all too well and has shed some light on this subject in an article titled, Did Christ Die for all Men or Only His elect? Here’s an excerpt:
It is not quite apparent to me why the text of John 3:16 should be an argument against limited atonement. The passage does not say Jesus died for everyone, but only that the Father gave his Son for ALL THOSE WHO WOULD BELIEVE. It says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES in HIM shall not perish but have eternal life." Right? Don't we all believe this? That is why the consistent biblical Calvinists, when presenting the gospel to unbelievers, simply teach that Christ died for "all who would believe", which is actually closer to the meaning of this text than the erroneous position that He died for all in a general kind of way, and yet for no individual in particular. Instead, we believe that the benefits of the atonement will apply only to who will be believers, so he did not die for any person who would remain steadfast in their unbelief. So I would argue that John 3:16 actually supports the definite atonement position better than the indefinite position. They are reading into the text that Christ's death only potentially will save someone if they believe without the help and grace of the cross to do so. So in actuality, Christ died for no one in particular this scheme. His affection was only cast forth in a general impersonal kind of way rather then actually coming for His people who He set his affection on from eternity.
In fact, this teaching comes full circle and devastates all of the other doctrines of grace. Although claiming to believe in Total Depravity, the teaching of the so-called four-point Calvinists is really that man still has the moral ability to turn to God on his own without regenerating grace (a grace purchased on the cross) effectively destroying total depravity, even though the Bible plainly teaches that no one seeks God unless first born again (1 John 5:1; John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; Rom 3:11. 1 Cor 2:14, John 1:13; John 3). That is to say, natural fallen man has the ability and desire (in some cases) to believe in Christ without regenerating grace. It is teaching a "conditional" election since it depends completely on God's foreknowledge of whether or not we will have faith, even though the Bible plainly teaches that election is not conditioned on something God sees in us and that faith is a divine gift (Eph 2:5-8). So in effect WE end up choosing God with our autonomous free will in this scheme, not the other way around. Those who deny limited atonement are also surreptitiously semi-pelagian in all the other doctrines of grace as well. Salvation becomes the work of man, rather than a monergistic divine work of grace. Some may argue that God's grace works together with man, but the problem with this is that it still leaves the final decision for salvation in the hands of man. Faith, apart from Christ's work on the cross, precedes saving grace in this view, contrary to everything the Bible teaches (ROM 9:16; John 1:13). God's grace would take us part of the way to salvation leaving man's will to make the final decision. So, according to those who claim that the atonement is unlimited (indefinite) there is no divine election in the final analysis, but only humans electing God even though we all know that it is God that chooses us (John 15:16).
You can read the entire article here.