Ambassador of Reconciliation
11/21/15 at 03:33 PM 29 Comments

Conversation about the Atonement: Is It Limited or Unlimited? Part 7

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Now it is Joe’s turn to respond to my thoughts about the treatment of limited atonement by W.G.T. Shedd (Part 5) and Wayne Grudem (Part 6). He proceeds by quoting something I said (in italics) and then commenting on it. We are winding down our discussion now, so rather than write a separate section, I will just insert some comments of my own in brackets.


I spent some time picking a few certain things from Diane’s article that were worth addressing before we write our conclusions. I can’t hit every topic, so I chose some that I thought were worth mentioning. We are obviously still getting caught up on the same issues so I will try to further clear those up in my conclusion. To start, it seems to me that there are a lot of random ideas thrown around by both Shedd and Grudem, but I would like to reroute to scripture again. I have a hard time following people’s thoughts because they are just their conclusions. Reading through their thoughts usually just leaves me lost. I want to always come back to scripture for clarification, and let God do the persuading through scripture.


Again it seems to me that with all these many words Shedd is using semantics to try to affirm the biblical principle that Christ died for all without affirming that all will actually be redeemed. All that he can say conclusively is what amounts to this rather roundabout and unenlightening statement: Christ died for all those for whom He died.

I agree with this! [Diane: Yes, but the statement “Christ died for all those for whom He died” is a tautology; it says nothing meaningful.] John 6:35-40 makes this clear. He died for all those that the Father gave Him, and those will come to Him for salvation. Again we still have more to clear up on this issue of the “who”, but from my last articles this should be rather obvious. Here is one issue that can’t be reconciled no matter the attempts that I have heard. It seems that every time I mention Col 2:14 we run into some huge problems. Col 2:14 said that our debt was cancelled and nailed to the cross. If the debt was cancelled, what debt does anyone owe? We know that the debt is a sin debt as the contrast in Luke 11:4 and Matt 6:12 show. If the sin debt was cancelled for everyone who ever lived, why is it that that people will go to Hell at all? Most UR that I have talked to would agree that there is punishment for unbelievers after death, but they just don’t believe in eternal torment as Matt 25:46 mentions. So how can someone pay for a debt that was already cancelled? [Diane: Recall that I have stated that no one re-pays the debt that Christ already paid. In Part 4 I said, “[Joe] correctly asserts that you can’t pay for a debt that was already cancelled. But he makes the faulty assumption that in the after-life, people will be paying for their own sins. I believe that Jesus already paid the price for our sins…. As Hebrews puts it, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26). The fully sufficient sacrifice for sin has been made, the debt has been paid, the redemption has been accomplished. In my opinion, the judgment that occurs after death is not for the purpose of exacting from sinners the price for their sin (Jesus has already paid that price) but rather to let them feel the full weight of their offense against a holy God so that they might come to the point of bowing the knee before Him in true repentance and loving trust.”] The only answer I have received is that the person was “unbelieving”, so they are punished and later repent etc. This doesn’t really answer the question though.. Unbelief is a sin as far as scripture goes Heb 3:12. That sin would be cancelled also.

You can’t be punished for a sin debt that has been cancelled. Look at Col 2:14. The debt was nailed to the cross. This was for the entire purpose of John 6:38-40. The Father and the Son have a covenant to save those whom the Father chose and appointed for salvation Acts 13:48, Eph. 1:1-4. The work of the Holy Spirit regenerates those people and causes them to be born again for salvation 1 Pet. 1:3. It makes complete sense biblically. I will later touch on more of this.


Shedd goes on to talk more about “the distinction between the ‘sufficiency’ of the atonement and its ‘extent’ in the sense of ‘intent’ or effectual application” (pp. 742ff). He quotes the old dictum that Christ died “sufficiently for all, but efficiently only for the elect.” As I have commented before on this saying, “Makes for a nice little aphorism, but to say it is efficient only for the elect is just a euphemism for saying it is not efficient for everyone else. Not efficient? Not effective? It doesn’t work??” In my opinion, we demean the work of Christ on the cross if we suggest that it is inefficient in any sense whatsoever.

At this point I have to just object by saying, “so?” [Diane: “So”?? To debase the cross of Christ, which we do by saying it is inefficient in any way, is a very serious matter.] If He chose to choose only some for salvation, wasn’t He the one that created all things and has control of His universe? We have no right talking back to God about why or how He created us. [Diane: I’m not questioning or complaining about what God is doing; I’m saying that people are failing to recognize the full extent of what He is doing!]This objection comes up in Romans 9 with a very strong statement of, “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”… If we base this on how we feel, yeah maybe it seems unfair, but again it wouldn’t matter what we think. We have to just keep coming back to scripture to get a clear idea of what God is doing. I don’t bother looking at anything other than what God reveals, no matter how unpleasant it seems to be. God in His knowledge obviously knows a lot more than I do, so I just trust that He knows what is best.


There is a big if in these words! Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for the redemption of all and every man if it had pleased the Lord to employ it for that purpose. (Unstated implication: it did not please Him to employ it for that purpose.) Like Shedd, Owen tries to defend the infinite value of the atonement without saying it will actually have unlimited application.

With all the “limited”, “unlimited” talk, it seems to really take away from the actual issue. [Diane: Agreed! We need to just stop putting any kind of limitations on the work of Christ!] Maybe the terms are insufficient, but again, scripture clearly states that Jesus originally came to die for the lost sheep of Israel, not gentiles Matt 10:6, John 10:11, Matt 15:24. The gentiles were grafted in because of Israel’s unbelief (sin), and yet we are reminded that not all Israel is Israel Rom 9:6. In short, we see in the end that people from every nation, tongue, etc. will stand before the throne of God Rev 7:9 etc. [Diane: The fact that Jesus came to die for Israel does not negate the fact that He died for the whole world! Not just for a handful of people from every nation, but for entire nations.]


Shedd elaborates on the distinction between atonement and redemption by saying “the Scriptures limit redemption, as contradistinguished from atonement, to the church,” and he quotes verses like Ephesians 2:9 (“faith is the gift of God”), 1 Corinthians 3:5 (“you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man”), Acts 13:48 (“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”), Hebrews 2:17 (“Christ makes reconciliation for the sins of his people”), Ephesians 1:14 (“the redemption of the purchased possession”), and Hebrews 9:15 (“by means of his death they which are called might receive an eternal inheritance”), as well as some Old Testament verses. He concludes that when God is called “our Savior,” it means “Savior of the church,” by which I understand him to be saying that any references to “saving us” or “redeeming all” mean “us” in the sense of “the church” or “all” in the sense of “the whole body of Christ.” For all the elaborate explanations, I can’t get around the fact that he is putting gigantic limitations on the work of Christ on the cross.

The way I see this is there is no limitation at all. [Diane: “No limitation at all”? The word “limited” is in the name of your doctrine, and it accurately describes the doctrine. Under the Calvinist scheme, it is true that God accomplished 100% of His saving will, but His saving will is only a fraction of what it could be. That is what I would call a gigantic limitation.] God died for whom He died and that was what He wanted to do. That is it. He accomplished the Father’s will John 6:35-40. He “could” have died for everyone who ever lived, but where does it end? If He reconciles all things what about the fallen angels? Heb 2:16-17 gives us an irreconcilable position. He gives no help to fallen angels. We have to be consistent here. If God doesn’t help fallen angels, is it also possible that He may not help certain people? The answer of course is yes. Nowhere do you see in scripture that a person came to faith after death, repented, and was returned to God. That is because Hebrews 9:27 doesn’t allow this. [Diane: Hebrews 9:27 says nothing about whether or not a person can repent after death. See "Is There Grace Beyond the Grave?"] The UR position has to presuppose that this is the case, but there is no scriptural backing. The presupposing comes from verses like Col 1:20; which actually again comes back to the cross and the atonement that is only for believers.

It is pretty simple. God has a law. For God to be just and Holy, He has to follow His own law. This only makes sense that He doesn’t sin Titus 1:2 etc. If God gives us laws, they are based on His nature, and they must be followed perfectly. If a man breaks His law, the man has to be punished. [Diane: Jesus took the punishment and paid the debt completely.] This punishment is eternal in nature because of God’s perfect holiness Matt 25:46. If God doesn’t punish, He would be unjust. There is something in the blood that both gives life and gives as an offering for sin Lev 17:11. A sacrifice is the ONLY substitution for our sin and was completed in Christ for those that would be justified by faith Rom 3:28, Eph 2:8-9, 1 Pet 2:22 etc. If a person dies and pays for his own sin, it will never be paid for. They can’t pay for it on their own because all they can bring to the table is their sin. The only way out is a sacrifice. If Jesus’ blood didn’t atone for everyone, there will be some that are punished. There is no other sacrifice. Again we come back to the debts being cancelled. It would be better for someone holding to the UR doctrine to believe there is no punishment for anyone, and that Hell isn’t real in any sense than for them to believe any type of punishment. [Diane: God’s judgment is purposeful; He wants all to come to repentance. And His mercy endures forever, not just until we take our last breath.] Will their punishment bring them to belief? Where is this in scripture? We just hit road blocks everywhere we turn.


So Calvinists believe that the total inability of man to save himself is most consistent with Scripture, as is the fact that God is “independent and sovereign in bestowing faith and salvation.” Synergism—the idea that man can contribute even partially to his own salvation—has the same effect as “plenary ability” (coming to faith being entirely man’s choice) in terms of making God dependent upon man to “do his part” before God can do His.

I have no clue what this is trying to state, [Diane: The explanation is that “synergism” (God and man working together to accomplish salvation) is basically the same as “plenary ability” (man is responsible for his own salvation) in that salvation is in one way or another dependent on man’s action.] but Calvinism is Monergistic. [Diane: And I agree that salvation is all God’s doing.] It is all God’s work. Arminianism is a synergist system that requires the actions of the individual to believe. Calvinism is all by God’s calling and God’s work Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, etc.


But there is another huge set of verses that indicate the universality of Christ’s work. He is “the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14) who came for the purpose of saving the world (Jn. 3:17, 12:47). He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). In Christ God was “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive” (1 Cor. 5:22). “By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom 5:18). It is God’s good pleasure to reconcile all to Himself through the cross (Col. 1:20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). For more passages and explanations of each, please see “Reconciliation: The Heart of God’s Grand Plan for Creation,” “Presuppositions and Interpretations” (3 parts), and “By the Righteousness of One,” among others.

All of these verses hang on a very weak string. [Diane: Not weak at all! As I have said many times, no single verse or passage or argument is conclusive in itself, but when you put it all together, the preponderance of the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of God’s total victory over sin and death by completely taking away the sin of the world.] For instance: all of the verses using “world” only mean what they mean in context, and we can see very quickly that a lot of the verses work well in the reformed perspective. [Diane: Yes, you can make them work in the reformed perspective. But I think it takes a lot more fudging than to simply believe that “all” means “all” and “the world” means “the whole world,” rather than to squeeze God’s work into a smaller box.] A few examples – John 12:25 is the physical and secular realm, whereas Acts 24:5 is a limited area. So take each of those in context and the word “world” can easily be applied to the “all nations, all tongues” etc.. Romans 5:18 and the like also beg the question asking who the justified are??.. Well, they are those with faith in Christ Rom 3:28, Rom 5:1. This verse is obviously about believers.


People ask the Calvinist, “Why bother sharing the gospel if it is already predetermined who will be saved?” People ask the Universalist, “Why bother sharing the gospel if everybody is going to be saved anyway?” For both it is a matter of obedience. But beyond that, the Universalist’s reasons, unlike the Calvinist’s, are simple, sensible, satisfying, and compelling—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to explain or understand them. For one thing, it is a great delight to tell about this awesome God who will right all wrongs, redeem all suffering, and reunite all loved ones. I no longer have to worry about someone asking the question, “Why does a loving God allow people to suffer forever?”—a good question for which I had no good answer. Now I can call people to repentance and faith in a truly loving God who longs to redeem them.

This to me is silly. [Diane: From actually having done it, I can assure you that it is not the slightest bit silly.] From this example Diane says that, “it is a great delight to tell about this awesome God who will right all wrongs, redeem all suffering, and reunite all loved ones”.. A Calvinist example would be a lot more Biblical and would go like this – We are to tell people because this is how they are effectually called by God is through hearing the Gospel message and that message has the power to save [Diane: This is true from a Universalist perspective as well.] 1 Cor 15:1-4, Rom 1:16, Rom 10:17. That is why we tell people.. We are the vessels of God to go out and proclaim the Word of God and the Holy Spirit uses this call to regenerate the unbeliever. God’s power draws this person from deep inside and the person freely will choose to follow His voice. It is perfectly reasonable for a Calvinist to preach the gospel, because every person that is elect will hear the message. The others will reject the message, but that doesn’t stop us from spreading the message. Now from a UR perspective, ultimately we say it is useless, not because it isn’t a good idea, or that we are commanded to etc., but the mere fact that ultimately all are saved anyways. They will eventually learn all of the things of God and they will eventually all be reconciled, so in that there is no point. [Diane: To say that “there is no point” reveals a huge misconception. There are many reasons to come to Christ now, and many reasons to avoid the judgment to come!]


Jesus died to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
His death will fully accomplish its purpose of redeeming the whole world.

I would hope that this would not even have to be explained at this point. Search your scriptures and figure out who the world was. [Diane: I have, and I believe God is talking about something much broader than a select few out of all humanity. His purposes are actually much greater than we can even begin to imagine!] In my conclusion I will try to put everything together in a simple format that everyone can go to their scripture and study. It should shed light on all the topics, and it should be a systematic approach to what the whole of Bible says.

This idea of a “limited atonement” is more of an idea of categorizing what the word “world” is referring to. It is only limited as in – not everyone who ever lived. It doesn’t dull down the atonement in any means. [Diane: Actually, it does “dull down” the atonement by saying that Christ’s work accomplished far less than perfection and completeness.] To someone who says it does, read Romans 9 and learn to not talk back to God about what is fair and what isn’t. [Diane: I’m not at all “talking back” to God or complaining about what He’s actually doing. I’m complaining about the weak and watered-down explanation of His work that is usually presented as the “good news.” I’m thrilled about what He’s doing, and I long for everyone to recognize how great it really is!] No matter what way you piece it together, God redeemed whom He chose and scripture is clear that it wasn’t everyone. We need to just understand what God revealed and just let God be God without questioning His motives. Like I have said numerous times: If my God came to earth in flesh and died for me, I think that I can trust Him in things that I may not fully understand. I can trust that He will do what is right according to His will, and I can trust that He will hear my plea to save people that are on my heart and others hearts. [Diane: Just the ones that are on somebody’s heart? Everybody is on somebody’s heart—if not another human being, then God Himself has that person on His own heart.]

If we in our finite understanding think that we have God figured out, or think that we can find a better way that God could do things, we would be idolatrous scum. We need to worship in Spirit and truth John 4:24 and not by feelings and idolatrous thoughts. [Diane: I’m absolutely not trying to tell God how He ought to operate, simply trying to understand and proclaim what HE has revealed that He purposes and promises to do!]

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