Atonement, Election, and Salvation for Some

Jack Lee, writing on The Chorus and the Chaos: Relevant & Reformed website, responds to Benjamin L. Corey's piece against the theory of limited atonement in his "You're Wrong: Limited Atonement is Beautiful." This is my first response to Lee and will address the nature of the theory of limited atonement, in its eternal intent reserved solely for the unconditionally elect, while the following response will consider Lee's proof-texts and other comments. Consider, though, the following logic: since, in Calvinism, the atonement is eternally-intended to be limited to the unconditionally elect and not for the world, as noted by John (John 1:29), as well as by Christ (John 6:51), then salvation, too, is not for everyone and the Gospel of Christ is not for everyone.

Does not this inevitable reasoning cause you to wonder why Calvinists tell everyone that Jesus died for our sin and rose again for our justification? At best their efforts are wasted on deaf ears whom God never, from eternity past, intended to atone, call to Himself through Christ, regenerate/save and justify. Moreover, according to many Calvinists, people do not even have to hear the Gospel in order to be saved. God will, according to His "sovereign" will, regenerate the unconditionally elect at His own pleasure. This is the primary reason why I continue to insist that, as noted in a post, The Gospel of Christ is Not Necessary to Calvinism. How can the Gospel be necessary in Calvinism if God regenerates people prior to hearing or who have never heard of Christ's Message? (See also the post: "The Problem with Particular Redemption, Particular Love.")

According to John Calvin, proclaiming the Gospel to all, insisting that this Gospel is potentially effectual to all, conditioned on faith, is an abuse of that Gospel: "Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation which is said to be set apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all."1 Have you ever wondered how historic hyper-Calvinists developed some of their doctrines regarding evangelism, why they did not evangelize, and how they then matured and refined their theory of eternal justification? From my perspective, the seeds of theological hyper-Calvinism proper grow, when maintained and fertilized consistently, out of classical Calvinism. While tragic, Calvin's principle does not rest in Calvin alone, as John Piper argues: "as we [i.e., the unconditionally elect] hear the gospel preached, just as many of us as God has [unconditionally] ordained to eternal life will believe."2 Hence Calvin's mantra: the Gospel is set apart for "the sons of the Church only."

John Piper has fairly consistently insisted that the Gospel should be preached to all the nations. As for the efficacy of the Gospel, though, Piper's various theological teachings agree with Calvin in principle. When attempting to answer the question why God would, allegedly, "will" that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) but not "will" the salvation of all, Piper presents the following straw man against Arminian and other non-Calvinistic positions, "One answer is that there is something more powerful than God that is able to frustrate his will. It says that God is nice to desire all people to be saved, but he doesn't have the strength to make it happen." (link) (emphases added)

In Arminian (and other non-Calvinistic) soteriology, God's so-called strength is never in question. This remark is not merely an opinion belonging to Piper, but is actually a fallacious argument, as he uses it to buttress his own position: "God wills not to save all, even though he 'desires' that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all." (link) What does God desire more than the desperately-needed salvation of all people?

In Piper's Calvinism, God's alleged "glory" in wrath -- i.e., sending people to an eternal hell so that people understand just how much He has been offended -- takes precedence in the mind and heart of God. Never mind that the cruel Cross of Christ is sufficient for appeasing the wrath of God, and thus giving license to God the Father to "will the unconditional election unto salvation" of all, God cares more about how angry He is at sin than to "will" to save all wicked sinners. I hope that this is framed properly for all to rightly understand why Calvinism is so utterly deplorable: In a Calvinistic and deterministic system, God chooses Himself, rather than mercy, grace, and compassion expressed toward all. But Piper continues his straw man fallacy in his answer.

For all the hue and cry Calvinist bloggers continue to level against Arminians, regarding a straw man fallacy (e.g., Lee Shelton), even accomplished Calvinist scholars like John Piper (and R.C. Sproul, R.C. Sproul, Jr., J.I. Packer, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, John Hendryx, Michael Marlowe, James White, A.T.B. McGowan, Abraham Kuyper, Augustus Toplady, John Owen) are guilty of the same: "The answer the Arminians give is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace." (link) (emphasis added) Piper is, so very clearly, in error and misrepresenting Arminianism. He is supposed to be an accomplished scholar. So his error here is either due to ignorance, which I find difficult to accept, or blatant misrepresentation.

In his powers of inference, the Arminians may seem to warrant a "human self-determination" position, but that is not what Arminians confess. Arminians since Jacob Arminius himself insist that God's enabling grace is sufficient toward one responding to the inwardly-working grace of the Holy Spirit; whereby a person does not believe in Christ by his own powers, or merely by his free will, but by the gracious enabling of the Spirit of God. (link) That Calvinists like Piper continually propagate this straw man fallacy is very telling: they care not about rightly representing Arminian theology but solely in advancing their own theology by triumphantly yet tragically displaying the superiority of an imagined "God-centered" theology (i.e., Calvinism) as opposed to a perceived "man-centered" theology (i.e., Arminianism).

SALVATION IN THE DUTCH NETHERLANDS

John Piper continues the same banter further in the post: "So one explanation [allegedly, the Arminian, or non-Calvinistic position] says that the higher commitment is God leaving the destiny of our eternal souls up to our own decision-making. The higher commitment is God securing our right to let our choices be the decisive factor in where we spend eternity." (link) (emphases added) The apostle Paul does not frame the issue thusly. God, claims the apostle, has elected to save those who believe (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). God does not regenerate and save unbelievers (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13). Faith does not save; i.e., one's "decision to follow Christ" does not save; only God saves (Titus 3:5). The enabling gift of faith is merely the instrumental means by which God is moved to save someone.

Not so in Calvinism. In Calvinism, God has unconditionally elected from eternity past to somehow "give" some people faith, through a prior act of regeneration. Thus one is saved to faith, and not through faith, as Scripture explicitly teaches (Eph. 2:8). Yet, even Calvinists like R.C. Sproul confess that faith is "something we do."3 (emphasis added) Well, then, if faith is an act performed by us, through the inner work of the Holy Spirit -- since "God does not believe for us"4 -- then in what sense soever can Calvinists like Piper and Sproul charge Arminians as self-determining our own salvation? This type of double standard is inexcusable in the field of academia, especially from known Calvinistic scholars, to say nothing of overtly and embarrassingly inconsistent for them.

The Gospel of Salvation, in a consistently-maintained Calvinism, then, is really only for the unconditionally elect; and John Calvin himself even confesses as much: "Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation which is said to be set apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all." (emphases added) But, knowing that this confession so very clearly contradicts the command of Christ to go into the whole world, proclaiming the Gospel, and making disciples of all -- πάντα (all, the whole, all parts making up the whole) -- the nations, many modern Calvinists avoid the pitfalls of hyper-Calvinism (i.e., not spreading the Gospel) and proclaim to all people everywhere that salvation can be found by trusting in Christ.

Never mind that these same Calvinists do not tell people the truth of Calvinism; that God has already predetermined whom He intends to save by an (arbitrary) unconditional lottery; that He will bring them to faith in His own timing by regenerating (i.e., saving) them; that this act will grant them faith in Christ. (link) God forbid the masses know the truth about Calvinism! God forbid people know that the efficacious nature of the Gospel is only intended for those whom God has unconditionally elected to hear it, as He regenerates them in order to grant them faith in the Christ of the Gospel, granting to the majority of the people in the world the wrath of God against sin which He decreed for them to sin. God forbid that people know that God, in spite of John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8, actually hates the "non-elect," crudely called. The "hard truths" of Calvinism include the uncontested notion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not, in actuality, for all.

Thankfully there is a biblical theology that is faithful to the cause of the Gospel of Christ in the core tenets of a Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacob Arminius, who challenged the heterodox theology of Calvinism, though it cost him and his colleagues great pain, so that believers in and disciples of Jesus could worship God, in Christ and through the Spirit of God, with a clear conscience that delivers our holy and righteous God from being the Author of sin and evil. This God loves the world of sinners (John 3:16), reconciled this world of sinners back to Himself in and through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:19), by His bitter suffering of a tormentous death on their behalf (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 John 2:2), so that all who will, by grace (Eph. 2:8), trust in Him (Eph. 2:8), that is, Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10), God will gloriously save (Titus 3:5; Heb. 7:25).

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1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), III.22.10.

2 John Piper, "The Sovereignty of God in Suffering," in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 59.

3 R.C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 25.

4 Ibid. John Piper writes: "The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing." (link) (emphasis added)