Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Did Jesus Die Only To Save His Favorites? (The Calvinist Heresy of Limited Atonement)

Is the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement even biblical?

Regardless of what atonement metaphor one prefers (I prefer Christus Victor), Christians have historically held the position that in some way, Jesus died to save us.

Some say he died to pay the penalty for our sins, some say he died to defeat the works of the devil, others say he died to unmask our need for a scapegoat, and some will describe it yet other ways.

What is held in common is a belief in salvation through the cross, however one defines the surrounding terms we use in that general discussion.

But this brings us to the question: Who did Jesus die for? And that question brings us to a core Calvinist doctrine: limited atonement.

Limited atonement is a doctrine that begins on the premise of there being two groups of people who have ever lived: the elect and the damned. As Calvinist leader John Piper has previously stated, Calvinism (at least Piper’s flavor) teaches that before you were ever born God decided which category he was going to create your for. You were either created to be saved to eternal life, or created for the purpose of eternal damnation.

This, of course, is insane on an entirely different level, but double predestination isn’t the purpose of this post.

Back to the question: Who did Jesus die for? Everyone? The elect only?

The Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement argues that Jesus died only for the sins of the elect– that the power of the cross was limited to the people God had chosen ahead of time, to be saved.

It reminds me of the Calvinist version of Jesus Loves The Little Children:

“Jesus loves predestined children

All predestined children of the world

Jesus loves you and you, but no, not you

He has love for just a few

Jesus loves predestined children of the world.”

But are Calvinists right? Did Jesus die for the sins of a few?

Of course not– this idea is obnoxiously unbiblical. Here’s what the Bible *actually* says:

“(Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

To make the idea of limited atonement work, one would need to redefine John’s term of the “whole world” so that such a redefinition didn’t mean “whole world” at all, but somehow came to mean “chosen few.”

We also see this is Paul’s letters to Timothy when he writes:

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” 1 Timothy 2:3-6

Once again, for Calvinist doctrine to work, one would have to argue that “all people” really means “just the elect.”

Those who argue for limited atonement cannot get around these texts. I mean, they try to with ancillary arguments not germane to the actual texts in question, but I have never once found any of those side arguments compelling enough to dismiss the idea that “whole world” and “all people” probably mean exactly that.

Now, does this mean everyone who has ever lived automatically is saved? No, I’m not a universalist (though I hope and pray universal salvation turns out to be true.) What it does mean, however, is that Jesus died for everyone and that his invitation to new life, eternal life, is not a limited invitation that can only be accepted by the chosen few, but is an invitation open to all people.

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Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

BLC

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is a cultural anthropologist, public theologian, writer, speaker, global traveler, and tattoo collector. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell with graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies, and went on to receive his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. In addition to his blog, Formerly Fundie, his work has been regularly featured by a wide array of media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN, among others.

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Post Comments:

  • Like that other song I learned in Reformed Church Sunday School : Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible predestined me so. Some little ones to him belong, the damned are weak the elect are strong.

  • The only Jesus to come out of the tomb was the Christ who died for ALL. Any other Christ is a false idol with a dead gospel.

  • Both Arminians and Calvinists go too far… The Bible represents a God of love and compassion, I doubt very much a loving God would create a person to torture them for eternity. The Bible also says that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.. it is an oxymoron that God would say that and stop a person from being able to repent of their sins. There are other verses that deal with people being in the vine and being cut off, for those like Paul Washer etc that say that a person never was saved if they fall away (I’m sure taking a page out of Jonathan Edwards book, I’m not basing either man as I believe both were and are Godly men). Calvinism strikes me as being more like philosophy rather than a theological position, much like Arminianism. I think the word of God should be taken literally, when the spirit of God said all men He meant all men.

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