Ambassador of Reconciliation
9/24/15 at 12:10 AM 16 Comments

Conversation about the Atonement: Is It Limited or Unlimited? Part 2

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This post is Part 2 of a series about whether the atonement is limited or unlimited. Joe Lindberg and I are writing essays and responses, and we invite everyone to join the dialog by writing comments. The only ground rules are that 1) you stick to the topic at hand, and 2) you be respectful toward other writers.

In Part 1 we laid out the issue in broad terms. Here in Part 2, Joe responds to my original post, “Real men read Pink,” which in turn was prompted by an A.W. Pink quote he had posted. Joe’s response is first, followed by some brief comments from me and a reprint of the original article for reference.

In response to the opening statement from Diane I found a few areas that I would like to address.

In Diane’s article she says, “The real problem here is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God’s salvation is limited. Calvinists believe that His atoning work is limited to the elect.” I have to disagree to this statement only because of wording. While in reformed theology we look at the cup as “half full”, I believe this wording makes the cup “half empty”. We see the fullness of God’s love and atonement through the scriptures and we believe that this atoning sacrifice was a completion of a work that God already decided from eternity’s past. God in His wisdom chose people for salvation because the sin nature that we would receive through Adam, the federal head, kept anyone from coming to Him. Even if He saved one sinner, He would have accomplished all that He set out to accomplish and it doesn’t limit the atoning work. This atonement was fully accomplished by God and was meant for those that He wants for His bride. God isn’t obligated to save us, but out of His loving character He saved those He chose.

Diane also mentioned the following in her article. “In other words, Satan is more successful in getting people on his side than Jesus is in getting people on His side!” This statement is false. We know that through Adam we were born sinners. There are no sides, by nature we are all children of wrath because of sin. We didn’t have to choose anything because this is the way we all are by nature. We didn’t wake up one day and choose to follow Satan or God, we could never choose God on our own. We are unable to choose from the beginning.

Diane said, “Some try to tell us that the salvation of a few people or even one person is proof of God’s grace because no one deserves it. As one commenter put it, “I am in awe that He would save anyone. We all deserve punishment for our sin…. I look at it that God didn’t have to save any of us because of our rebellion and He was graceful enough to save some.””

I say exactly!

Diane also said in her article, “And we are told that God has to condemn some because He is holy and just. But He sent His Son to die precisely in order to justify sinners without violating His own justice. If He can justify one sinner without compromising His justice, why not two? And if two, why not twenty? And if twenty, why not twenty thousand or twenty billion?”

He chose not to. He isn’t obligated to us in anyway. He is the creator we are the clay. It is an interesting question to ponder, but we see through scripture that this just isn’t the case that more are saved. There is no further reason to question God and His nature, but to just trust that if He was gracious enough to die for us while we were sinners, we can trust that He knows how to handle things on His own.

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Diane:

Joe quoted something I had said: “The real problem here is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God’s salvation is limited. Calvinists believe that His atoning work is limited to the elect.”

Then he said, “I have to disagree to this statement only because of wording. While in reformed theology we look at the cup as ‘half full’, I believe this wording makes the cup ‘half empty.’”

I find it very odd to try to make a bad doctrine seem better by using semantics. Whether the cup is half empty or half full, it’s still half EMPTY or HALF full—partial, limited, incomplete, unfinished, imperfect. Jesus’ work of atonement isn’t “half” anything—it is totally FULL and complete!

Joe quoted another statement I made: “In other words, Satan is more successful in getting people on his side than Jesus is in getting people on His side!” and then he said, “This statement is false.” He then goes on to explain that “There are no sides, by nature we are all children of wrath because of sin. We didn’t have to choose anything because this is the way we all are by nature.”

Again, he is using semantics to try to refute a point. My point is not whether Satan “gets” people on his side, or whether we “choose” Satan or Jesus. I’m highlighting the fact that in the Calvinist system, more people end up going to eternal condemnation than to eternal life. Satan’s purpose is to kill and destroy, so whether he “gets” people to go to eternal destruction or just “keeps” them going in the direction they go by nature, the result is the same: he is wildly successful in accomplishing his purpose, while in comparison Jesus is only mildly successful in bringing life to those dead in sin. Or you could take the angle that it is GOD’s purpose for some people to be condemned and so to suffer forever (e.g., Prov. 16:4), so He does accomplish His purpose. But are you not impugning the holy and loving and just character of God by suggesting that His purpose is indistinguishable from Satan’s?

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Original article by Diane, "Real men read Pink"

If you had to take your best guess, what percentage of all the people who have ever lived will be in heaven? Obviously, the numbers are known only to God, but you probably have some sense of whether it’s about half, only a minority, or a majority. Recently a friend posted this meme, and a discussion ensued about what proportion of mankind is saved.

To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent (A. W. Pink).

Arthur Walkington Pink was an English Bible scholar who was not well known during his lifetime (1886-1952) but whose writings sparked a resurgence of Calvinism after his death. You may be familiar with the Facebook page “Real men read Pink.” Apparently the idea is that Pink’s theology is robust and vigorous and manly, not for the faint-hearted (or tender-hearted). For example, Pink believes that God does not love all people but actually hates those who are not His sheep, which is a hard truth to swallow for anyone with a tender and loving nature.

This particular quote by Pink argues against the idea that the will of man can override the will of God. Like all good Calvinists, Pink affirms that it is impossible for men to thwart God’s will and that it is wrong for us to put limitations on God’s sovereignty. They preserve His sovereignty by saying that He is not trying to save all of mankind—only His lost sheep—and He accomplishes that goal just as He decreed. Arminians would counter that it is wrong to put limitations on God’s love; He loves all and wants all to be saved, but He allows people to reject His offer.

The real problem here is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God’s salvation is limited.Calvinists believe that His atoning work is limited to the elect. Arminians believe that it is limited to those who choose to put their trust in Jesus. Either way, they are putting limitations on God’s saving grace. In other words, it is partial, incomplete, not fully executed. Whatever the reason—whether because God never intended to save more than the elect, or because some choose to reject Him—the result is the same: God does not achieve the complete restoration of His creation.

And not only is God’s work of redemption incomplete in that way of thinking—most Calvinists and Arminians alike believe that not even half of the world will be saved. Pink complains about the Arminians’ belief that “the majority of men will not let Him save them,” while he himself believes that the majority of men are unsaved by reason of the fact that they are sinners and God has not chosen to save them from their sin. In other words, Satan is more successful in getting people on his side than Jesus is in getting people on His side! Do we not demean both the grace and the justice of God by saying either that God is not able to save more or God is not willing to save more? Whether the percentage of the saved is 50% or 5% or 95%, it’s still a fraction of humanity—1/2 or 1/20 or 19/20—not the 100% success that He desires. The Good Shepherd is not content even with 99%, but goes after that one last lost sheep.

Some try to tell us that the salvation of a few people or even one person is proof of God’s grace because no one deserves it. As one commenter put it, “I am in awe that He would save anyone. We all deserve punishment for our sin…. I look at it that God didn’t have to save any of us because of our rebellion and He was graceful enough to save some.” Let’s examine that logic. What kind of “grace” is it that is handed out sparingly? Is God stingy with His love? Suppose a multi-billionaire decides to help needy families by building houses for them. He chooses three families and builds a fabulous home for each one. Those families are thrilled and grateful, and the rich man is praised by the media. But consider the fact that the man had the means to help a thousand families but chose to help only three. Is he really a generous person? Does he really deserve the accolades?

And we are told that God has to condemn some because He is holy and just. But He sent His Son to die precisely in order to justify sinners without violating His own justice. If He can justify one sinner without compromising His justice, why not two? And if two, why not twenty? And if twenty, why not twenty thousand or twenty billion? No one would presume to give a figure for the number of the redeemed, but the fact is that both Calvinists and Arminians say there is a cap, a limit to the number of people God will save.

In an essay entitled “Does God Love Everybody?” I quoted a Calvinist who expressed a sentiment similar to Pink’s: “To die for the world (everyone) and fail to redeem all is an epic failure.” I replied,

I think you’re absolutely right about one thing: “To die for the world (everyone) and fail to redeem all is an epic failure.” I believe He died for the world (everyone) and will succeed in redeeming all. Epic success.

Mr. Pink, you are right that the will of the Creator is greater than the will of the creature. But you err in thinking that God had no intention of saving all mankind. Yes, Calvinists are right about the sovereignty of God, but they malign the character of God by limiting His love. Arminians are right about the love of God but malign His character by limiting His sovereignty. We honor God only by affirming His limitless sovereignty AND His limitless love, which leads inescapably to limitless salvation for all His creatures.

And every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13).

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