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:
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:
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:
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:
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].
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.