April 28, 2015

Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams on Weak Calvinist Arguments for Limited Atonement

Weak Calvinist Arguments. Calvinists have not always argued well for limited atonement. For example, Calvinists have adduced passages of Scripture that say Christ died for the church (Eph 5:25), the sheep (Jn 10:15) and others as evidence for limited atonement. But this line of reasoning is not persuasive. It only stands to reason that Scripture, when talking about Christ’s sheep or his church, would say Christ died for them. That does not mean that he did not die for others. But this argument could be strengthened if some Scripture passages indicated that some are excluded.

Another less than convincing argument for limited atonement involves deduction from other doctrines. For example, some argue from particular election to particular atonement. God chose some people, and not all, for salvation. Therefore, he sent his Son to atone for those he chose. However, “four-point Calvinists” agree with the premise but don’t reach the same conclusion. They hold to unconditional election but reject limited atonement because they maintain that the Bible teaches unlimited atonement. It is necessary that a doctrine fit a theological system to be true; it is not sufficient, however. To be true, a doctrine must pass not only a test of logical coherence but also a test of empirical fit with the Bible’s data. To be true, limited atonement must not only be systematically consistent with Calvinism; it must also be taught in Scripture.

Our experience shows that such arguments only convince those convinced already. What is needed is for a case to be made from Scripture, and not just from systematic theology.
Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 202–203.

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