His Death: Sufficient and Successful

Derek Ouellette —  March 31, 2010 — 9 Comments

John writes that Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” [1 John 2:2]. Hyper-Calvinists would have us put a period on the end of that statement. The atonement, according to five point Calvinism, must be limited to only the Elect – with good reason for believing this. If Christ died for the sins of the whole world then either it failed to accomplish what it set out to do (save everyone) or it leads to universalism (everyone is saved).

But there is an assumption that Hyper-Calvinists make which I think steers their thinking in the wrong direction: Calvinist imagine the Atonement to be man-ward. For Hyper-Calvinists, the atonement looks like this:

This is an anthropocentric understanding of the Atonement. The blood is directed towards man.

If understood this way, Hyper-Calvinists are justified in their belief of Limited Atonement. If the atonement is directed toward every man then either Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient (not good enough) to do what it was supposed to do, since not everyman is saved, or it was sufficient but this leads to universalism since it means that every man will be saved no matter what. Nobody wants an insufficient atonement (was the blood of Christ not good enough?) but historic Christianity has always rejected universalism as well and rightly so. Hyper-Calvinist imagine the problem like this:

Either Christ' death was not sufficient enough to save all people, or all people are saved.

Hyper-Calvinist’s have resolved this problem by believing in Limited Atonement: Christ only died for some people, the Elect. This way the atonement is sufficient (if Christ died for some then everyone he died for will be saved) and not universal (since only those Christ died for are saved). The solution looks like this:

Christ only died for the "Elect", passing over the non-elect. This way the Cross was sufficient without leading to universalism.

Are you following me so far? Have I accurately and clearly portrayed the dilemma which leads to the Hyper-Calvinist belief of Limited Atonement? If you see this dilemma and understand one of the prominent reasons why Hyper-Calvinists believe in Limited Atonement, then allow me to suggest a paradigm shift. This is, of course, an appeal to Calvinists (especially those with an open spirit of dialogue) to step back, take a deep breath and consider understanding the atonement from another perspective, namely, Theocentrically (or God-ward). The paradigm shift looks something like this:

This is a Theocentric understanding of the Atonement. Christ died for the sins of the whole world by offering his blood to God in their stead.

For the problem above the starting point is based on the assumption that the Atonement was meant to save everyone, and if this fails then it must have been meant to save only the elect.

I believe this assumption is false on two grounds: 1. While the Atonement was for mankind, it was not directed to mankind, the blood of Christ was offered to God as a propitiation for the sins of the world. In other words the Atonement was God-ward (theocentric) not man-ward. 2. and while the Atonement makes our salvation possible, it must be remembered that Atonement itself does not save anyone. God is our Saviour.

Since the Atonement is God-ward and not man-ward, the question is no longer is it Limited or Unlimited, but rather was the work of Christ on the cross sufficient? Was it enough? Did it accomplish what it set out to do? That is, did the righteous death of Christ, the pure and spotless Lamb, appease the Wrath of a Just God on behalf of a sinful people, so that He might also be the Justifier of those who believe? [Romans 3:23-26]

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God” – Hebrews 9:14 (italics mine)

The view that leads to the conclusion of Limited Atonement is humanistic. The subject of the Atonement is Christ, while the object of the Atonement is God (in the Mystery of the Trinity), not man. If the atonement is man-ward it must be limited and unconditional and faith is not a requirement for salvation. However, if the atonement is God-ward it must have been sufficient and also conditioned on faith as a requirement for salvation (which rules out the possibility of universalism).

In returning now to our text, we can now agree with the God-spired Apostle when he concludes his thoughts with, “and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world” [1 John 2:2].

Afterthought:

The difficult part in this discussion is that each point in the five-point Hyper-Calvinist scheme functions as a corollary to each other. If one pillar is removed the whole scheme comes tumbling down. Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and even Preservation of the Saints each in their turn depend on each other so that, for example, if one of those pillars is removed the system fails. So, what do we do when faced with the possibility that any one of those points could be shown – Biblically – that it is untrue? Two options would stand before us: First, we allow the pillar to fall and let the domino effect take place; but this is nerve-racking and terrifying because it would require an entire paradigm shift in the way we think! The second option would be to use each other point in the five-points as a good enough reason to let each point stand irregardless of what can be said. For example, if Limited Atonement can be shown to be false, we might say that since Unconditional Election is true (I’m speaking as a “five-pointer”) – since Unconditional Election is true, Limited Atonement must be true despite the evidence (a paradigm shift is too dreadful to consider). But the integrity of this person is now called into question.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
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  • http://harrysheresy.wordpress.com Harry Heimann

    Good post, makes one think about the logic of the whole man made system. Scripture (2 Peter 3:9) says God wills that none should perish, yet we know many will. Is it because the atonement was insufficient? I would think not. For if God wills all to come to Him, the atonement was indeed sufficient. Then why don’t they come? In the Calvinist system they can’t come because it was not granted for them to do so. My question would be if Christ died for all, yet all do not come because God limits the atonement to the “elect” than it seems like God Himself limits the “sufficiency” of the blood of Christ.

  • http://wearethestories.org Eric Gregory

    Derek – thanks for this!

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    You’re welcome Eric, thanks for not getting on me for using the phrase “God-spired Apostle” 😉
    .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Problem with Proof-Texting =-.

  • Brian Pinnegar

    Hey Derek, very good post and something to think about. Not quite ready for a SECOND paradigm shift BACK to where I began. But definitely something to think about. I see what you are saying about the atonement being God-centered.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Brian. We are all at different places in our journey. P.S. maybe you don’t need a paradigm shift back to where you began. Perhaps what is needed is a paradigm shift totally different from where you were and where you are. Maybe there are other options to consider. I myself had to go back to the drawing about about three years ago.

  • Brian Pinnegar

    I wouldn’t know where to start my friend. I think I’d feel like Descartes throwing everything away and starting all over again from scratch. Scary thing.
    What made you go back to the drawing board? Did you see that a previously held belief contradicted Scripture or something?

  • Jon Sellers

    Excellent analysis and response. Hebrews takes us back to the atonement in the OT and the conceptual antecedent for Christ’s atonement. Clearly the high priest offering up the blood of bulls and goats did not achieve individual salvation for the Israelites. Instead it turned away the wrath of God on behalf of the whole nation of Israel. In the same way the atonement of Christ turns away the wrath of God from all humanity.

  • Dave Eland

    I’m confused by your use of the term “Hyper-Calvinist.” Do you believe that all Calvinist who agree with all five points are Hyper-Calvinists? Wouldn’t that make Calvin himself a Hyper-Calvinist?

    You state that, “Calvinist imagine the Atonement to be man-ward.” Where do you get that idea? The Calvinists I know (and read) would all say that atonement is something offered to God – that is certainly the OT model. If you have misunderstood this about Calvinism then the rest of your article would seem an argument with a straw-man.

    For Calvinists, the important question is what was the DESIGN of Christ’s atonement? What was the intent? Was it God’s intent that the atonement/payment for sin would be for the sins of all people? If that is your argument then it must be that God’s wrath is fully satisfied and none remains. Yet John 3:36 states “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” If wrath remains then Christ’s atoning sacrifice does not remove God’s wrath for all sin in all people. As Paul confirms in Ephesians 5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. ” ‘These things’ being the list of sins in v5, so the sin remains on unbelievers and God’ wrath will be poured out on them because of those sins.