Some Thoughts on Limited Atonement and Polemics

It is always important before attacking an opponent’s position to ascertain what is being defended

“What then is limited atonement?  To be brief, it is part of the historical acrostic known within Calvinistic circles as TULIP.  It is necessary to remember this since by itself, limited atonement makes little to no sense once separated from the other pieces.”

 

It is always important before attacking an opponent’s position to ascertain what is being defended.  Having answered this question, it is important to ask oneself whether what one’s opponent is defending is something one would defend oneself.  If we can decide that our opponents in any given area of controversy defend some positions related to the controversy that we too would gladly defend, it will give us greater appreciation for our opponent’s position and greater humility in defending our own.

What then is limited atonement?  To be brief, it is part of the historical acrostic known within Calvinistic circles as TULIP.  It is necessary to remember this since by itself, limited atonement makes little to no sense once separated from the other pieces of the acrostic TULIP.

  1. T stands for total depravity.  Total depravity is the idea that all human beings are so alienated from God that they cannot do anything good in order to merit salvation; they cannot do anything that will please God.  This is different from saying that no one can do anything good.  Of course, many people do many good things, but when it comes to being made right with God, we are all bankrupt.  Depravity refers to the fact that when it comes to God, we have a built-in response to God that expresses itself sometimes in outright hatred or just plain boredom.
  2. U stands for unconditional election.  Simply put, this idea is that God chooses those who will receive salvation based not on what they do since they can’t do anything good to merit God’s favor but on the basis of His own free and unforced choice.  This is entirely fair since again, no one can choose God on their own, so God must choose anyone who will participate in salvation.
  3. L is limited atonement.  This idea is that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son, paid for all of the sins of those whom God chose to receive salvation.
  4. I stands for irresistible grace.  This means that those whom God chooses to save will in fact not be able or willing to resist God’s initiative in saving them.
  5. Perseverance of the saints, the last part of our acrostic, means that those whom God has chosen will endure till the end of their lives or until Jesus returns, whichever comes first.

Limited atonement then logically follows if one accepts the first two parts of the TULIP acrostic.  At this point one might say, “Sure, it follows logically, but can it be supported by Scripture?”

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