The Potter's Freedom: Particular Redemption

Chapter eleven of James White's The Potter's Freedom (Calvary Press Publishing, 2000) is titled "Particular Redemption," in which he expounds upon the novel Calvinistic theory he began in chapter ten, "The Perfect Work of Calvary," regarding Limited Atonement. In chapter ten White defined the issue of the atonement: 1) distinguish between the scope and the effect of the atonement; and 2) the word and concept of the atonement being "limited" maintains varying "spheres." White does not ask the question "For whom did Christ die?" but "What did Christ intend to accomplish by His death?" (232) White is convinced that the early Arminians "saw that believing in the idea of substitutionary atonement would not fit with their system of theology," so they invented other terminology and theories of atonement. 

Jacob Arminius himself actually held to substitutionary atonement, thus proving White to be in error.1 Christ's sacrifice on the cross will save a particular people -- believers. His colleague Hugo Grotius developed the governmental theory of atonement. But theories of the atonement have varied over the Christian centuries (moral influence; recapitulation theory; ransom or Christus Victor theory; satisfaction theory). So White is being a bit disingenuous in his attempt to postulate substitutionary atonement theory as the orthodox position.

White is correct in noting that objections against the theory of particular redemption are necessitated from our objections to (the erroneous theory of) unconditional election. By the same token, the Calvinist's theory of particular redemption is necessitated by their theory of unconditional election. Should they be corrected from the original error, then its consequent error of particular redemption would be corrected ipso facto. We have no scriptural warrant to suggest that God has unconditionally elected to save anyone; thus we have no scriptural warrant to suggest that God sent Christ to die solely for the sins of the alleged unconditionally elect; but that Jesus remains, as Scripture emphatically states, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

White begins engaging the theoretical topic of particular redemption with Calvin (253-62), and not merely Scripture itself, which is interesting, given White's many complaints against Arminians, and their alleged lack of proper exegesis. But, for a subject such as particular redemption, how could he begin with Scripture? There is no passage suggesting that Christ intended to die solely for the alleged unconditionally elect, or for believers only, or other restrictive senses except one: redemption applied by faith in Him alone. White will assume, as do most Calvinists, that because Jesus is said to have died for believers, or for the church, then He died only for believers, which does not necessarily follow. Thus when Jesus or the Father is said to love believers, or Christ's church, then He loves only believers. Scripture states otherwise (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 1 John 2:2; 4:8), but Calvinists deny this scriptural fact, and redefine what simple words like "world" or "whole world" refer to and mean.

For example, White's first proof-text is John 17:9: "We saw in the previous chapter that the Lord Jesus in His High Priestly prayer immediately before His sacrifice on Calvary prayed for those whom the Father had given Him. He specifically differentiated between the objects of His prayer and 'the world.'" (262-63) Recognizing White's erroneous method of interpreting Scripture should be obvious: he will read a passage that is particular in nature and apply it unequivocally. As quoted in the preceding post, Dr. Terry Miethe comments:
But when the Bible [refers to] Christ dying for "us," for "our" sins, and for his "church" the limitation is only in relation to the personalized language. "A particular body of people is being addressed [he quotes from Jack Cottrell], in the grammatical form of first person plural. To say to any [particular] audience, 'Christ died for us!' does not [logically] imply 'for us and no one else.''"2 
But this is exactly how White and other Calvinists negligently treat the text of Scripture. For example, let us use White's interpretive method: "That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!'" (John 21:7) This post-resurrection scene must, then, indicate that Jesus only loved that certain disciple, because that disciple is the only one mentioned here. St Paul recalls, "But I received mercy [from God] because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:15). This confession, then, clearly indicates that God had mercy only upon Paul, because he is the only one mentioned here in this passage. This is the sort of shoddy and laughable consistency with which one must engage the texts of Scripture when applying the Calvinistic hermeneutics of James White.

Yes, Jesus, as our High Priest, prayed for the redeemed people whom the Father had given Him. Jesus' mediatorial role as High Priest concerns believers. He also prayed for the future redeemed people who would come to believe in Him through their message. But what of it? That is no indication that Jesus only died for these particular people. One must assume (presume) that because He prayed only for His redeemed people that He only died for those people, or that God only loves those people. This is poor scholarship indeed.

White then appeals to Mark 10:45 for "real versus potential atonement." (265) "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." But appealing to the passage and actually exegeting the passage are two worlds apart, especially since White did not actually exegete the reference at all, he merely complained:
By now the errors of the Arminian view here enunciated should be clear. They are: 1) rejection of the biblical doctrine of the positive decree of God [false]; 2) rejection of the biblical doctrine of the deadness of man in sin and his inability to do anything that is pleasing to God (including "acceptance of forgiveness of sins") [false]; 3) rejection of the biblical doctrine of the atonement, including its intention and result [false]. (266)
First, the word "many" should not be misused by Calvinists to refer to the unconditionally elect, since the word's usage throughout the Christian scriptures also refers to all without qualification: "For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Rom. 5:19a, emphasis added). Many were not made sinners; all were made sinners. St Paul continues: "so by one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Rom. 6:19b, emphasis added) All will be made righteous who trust in Christ, not many.3

Second, White, as among so many other Calvinists, not only misrepresents Arminianism but seems blithely unaware of what comprises classical Arminian theology. White has been proven wrong about our alleged rejection of the positive decree of God regarding salvation (God has positively decreed to save believers in particular; White was proven embarrassingly inaccurate regarding our alleged rejection of total depravity and total inability (Arminians have historically held to both total depravity and total inability); and now he qualifies "the biblical doctrine of the atonement" in strict, particular fashion, and then charges us for rejecting this philosophical error he posits as "the biblical doctrine of the atonement" (Jesus, regardless of what Calvinists claim, is still the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, cf. John 2:19). While this is typical par for the course for Calvinists, this is also very tragic, and very revealing of their character.

White continues his complaint of the alleged Arminian view: "His blood may 'buy' forgiveness, but our choice determines whether the entire work of Christ in our behalf will be a success or a failure. This empties the word 'paid' of its meaning. If someone pays my bill, I no longer owe the money. The Arminian view leaves us with a contractual situation where Christ offers to pay the bill based upon the performance of the free act of faith." (267) The ignorance White displays here is utterly astounding. This summation is only a caricature of White's imagination of Arminian soteriology.

If we consistently maintain White's Calvinistic views of the atonement here, we must, then, conclude that hyper-Calvinism is true after all, and classical Calvinism is heresy. If Christ's "payment" on the cross automatically saves the unconditionally elect de facto, then the eternal-justification doctrine of hyper-Calvinism is true; since, according to Calvinists, Christ's death on the cross to secure the salvation of the unconditionally elect was a reality that reaches back to eternity past, a contorted conclusion from a distorted interpretation of a mistranslation of Revelation 13:8: "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (NKJV, emphasis added; cf. KJV, Geneva Bible, Amplified, NLT) Jesus was not slain "from the foundation of the world." The phrase "from the foundation of the world" belongs to the names in the Book of Life (cf. Rev. 17:8).

The biblical truth of the matter, so we believe, is that Christ's atonement, though it must be made by Jesus and Him alone, is only effectual by grace through faith in Jesus, because this is what Scripture explicitly teaches (Rom. 3:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26). In other words, the atonement is rendered useless unless it is applied to a person. How, then, is the atonement of Christ's perfect sacrifice applied to a person? Let Scripture inform us: "But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus for all who believe." (Rom. 3:21, 22 NRSV, emphasis added)

What we all lack due to loss in the Garden -- righteousness -- God is willing to grant. How is that righteousness applied to someone? Is His righteousness applied automatically or on condition? Scripture teaches us that the righteousness of God is applied through faith in Jesus. Is this righteousness restricted to merely some whom God has unconditionally elected? No, God's righteousness is for all, and for all who will believe. St Paul even made the matter clear: "For there is no distinction." (Rom. 3:22b) What of redemption or the atonement? Is such applied in the same manner? "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith." (Rom. 3:22, 23, 24, emphasis added)

Such qualifications may not be regarded by Calvinists like White, but the atonement is framed in such a manner that its efficacious nature requires one particular condition: faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, apart from faith, the atonement is not efficacious. No one is redeemed, forgiven of sins, counted righteous or saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. White admits that, "until the point of regeneration, the benefits of Christ's death are not applied to the elect." (267) No, White misses the point entirely, as the issue is much more severe: Christ could die for the sin of the world, but until someone places his or her faith in Him, the atonement itself, and not merely its benefits, is rendered ineffective.

But in the Calvinistic system, the "certainty of the application of the benefits of Christ's work is found in the fact that the [unconditionally] elect are known personally to God due to His decree: therefore, Christ substitutes for them personally in His death, assuring the application of the benefits of His death in the life of each individual who has [monergistically] received God's sovereign grace in eternity past." (268) (emphasis original) At least three problems emerge from White's and the Calvinist's philosophical reasoning here:

  1. Scripture nowhere teaches us that Christ substitutes for the unconditionally elect; 
  2. contra John 1:29, the word "world," then, must be redefined as "the unconditionally elect," a point refuted by our own lexicons in the previous post; and 
  3. no one "receives God's sovereign grace" from "eternity past," as White here alleges; people receive God's grace in their own lifetime and not from any point in the past (Rom. 3:24; 4:16; 5:2, 15, 17; 6:14, 15; 11:6) -- how could they, since they do not yet exist, nor have they expressed faith in Christ, faith which will then manifest or bring about the application of the atonement? White is as close to advocating hyper-Calvinism here as he permissively can be without confessing as much.

White then addresses John 1:29, commenting with a false conclusion: "[I]f the Lamb of God takes away the sin of every single individual then that sin is gone and can no longer be held against anyone." (273) But this is yet another error in White's reasoning: he wrongly assumes that Christ's atonement automatically redeems people. But Scripture has already informed us that the atonement is only effectual through faith (Rom. 3:24). Does "the world" place its faith in Christ? No. Then "the world" will not be atoned. That Christ made a provision for "the world" is obvious, so that all might believe in Him and be saved (John 1:29; cf. John 1:7, 9; 3:16, 17, 18). But this in no sense whatsoever indicates that all will be saved, especially because Christ's atonement does not redeem anyone automatically. White admits that the word "world" is used in many different ways, and that the use of the word here cannot mean each and every single individual. (273) Why? Because he says so, and because that would undermine his presuppositions.

White then moves very briskly to 1 John 2:2 (barely addressing John 1:29 at all), a passage that cannot mean what Arminians and non-Calvinists think it means! He grants the Calvinistic interpretation: "The Reformed understanding is that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all the Christians to which John was writing, and not only them, but for all Christians throughout the world, Jew and Gentile, at all times and in all places." (274) In other words, the words "whole world," ὅλου κόσμου, refer to "the whole world of the unconditionally elect in all places in all time." As noted in the previous post, we have not even one lexicon granting us such a concept, but Calvinists maintain this notion just the same. Dr. Terry Miethe quotes Dr. Norman F. Douty:
But amid all the divisions and sub-divisions listed, the word [for world] is never said to denote "the elect." These lexicons know nothing of such a use of kosmos in the New Testament, under which to tabulate John 1:29; 3:16-18; 4:42; 6:33, 51; 12:47; 14:31; 16:8-11; 17:21, 23; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:2; 4:14. ...

All of this is disastrous for the advocates of Limited Atonement. They have ventured to set themselves above the combined scholarship of our lexicons, encyclopedias and dictionaries, when they have ascribed a further signification to the word kosmos, which will support their theological system.4
Jesus is a perfect Savior; He is the only Savior. Jesus is our Advocate; our only Advocate. He alone can and has propitiated for our sins. These truths pointed out by White we can completely agree with (274), yet these truths do not necessitate the false notion of limited atonement. God has established the means of salvation, redemption, the forgiveness of our sins, our being counted righteous, holy and blameless in His sight: all of which is predicated on His grace and our faith in Jesus Christ His Son.

There is no "double payment" -- a favorite charge of the Calvinist regarding general atonement provided for all -- since the application of the atonement is only effectual through faith (Rom. 3:24). Should one reject Christ, or profane "the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified" (Heb. 10:29), or "deny the Master [Jesus] who bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1), such are rejected as not belonging to God, since they do not belong to Christ Jesus, the one who laid down His own life for the sin of the world. While payment was made by Christ, the payment was not applied; while propitiation was made by Christ; propitiation was not applied; none of which denies that Jesus Christ is the perfect Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:10) James White can ignore the condition of both atonement and salvation if he so chooses, no pun intended, but in doing so he undermines the teaching of the Christian scriptures.


1 Arminius argues: "But it has pleased God not to exercise this mercy in restoring man without the declaration of His justice, by which He loves righteousness and hates sin: And He has therefore appointed that the mode of transacting this restoration should be through a Mediator intervening between Him and sinful man; and that this restoration should be so performed as to make it certain and evident that God hates sin and loves righteousness, and that it is His will to remit nothing of His own right except after His justice had been satisfied.

"For the fulfilling of this mediation God has constituted His only-begotten Son the Mediator between Him and men -- and indeed a Mediator through His own blood and death: For it was not the will of God that, without the shedding of blood and the intervention of the death of the Testator Himself, there should be any remission, or a confirmation of the New Testament, which promises remission and the inscribing of the law of God in the hearts [of believers].

"This is the reason why the second object of the Christian religion, in subordination to God, is Jesus Christ, the Mediator of this restoration, after the Father had made Him Christ [the Anointed One] and had constituted Him the Lord and the Head of the church, so that we must through Him approach to God for the purpose of performing [acts of] religion [devotion] to Him; and the duty of religion must be rendered to Him, with God the Father; from which duty we by no means exclude the Spirit of the Father and the Son." See Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXXIII. On the Restoration of Man," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:378.

2 Terry L. Miethe, "The Universal Power of the Atonement," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Publishers, 1995), 73.

3 I. Howard Marshall comments: "Scholars agree that 1 Timothy 2:6 is a rewording of the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:45, with 'all' replacing the 'many' found in that text. Titus 2:14 is a paraphrase of the same text (with some influence from Ps. 130:8 and Exod. 19:5). A saying of Jesus that tells how the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for 'many' has been reexpressed using more idiomatic Greek forms of expression." See I. Howard Marshall, "Universal Grace and Atonement in the Pastoral Epistles," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, 59. In the Romans 5 passage, Dr. Donald M. Lake notices a shift between "all" and "many," noting C.K. Barrett's observation, "By 'many' he can hardly mean anything different from the 'all men' of v. 12 (cf. also 1 Cor. 15:22). This inclusive use of 'many' is Hebraistic; in Old Testament usage 'many' often means not 'many contrasted with all' but 'many contrasted with one or some.'" See Donald M. Lake, "He Died for All," in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1975), 33.

4 Miethe, 77-78.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.