Why I Believe in Limited Atonement


by John Ellis

If Christ has died for you, you can never be lost. God will not punish twice for one thing. If God punished Christ for your sins, He will not punish you. Payment God’s justice cannot twice demand; first at the bleeding Saviour’s hand, and the again at mine. How can God be just if He punished Christ, the substitute, and then man himself afterwards?Charles Spurgeon

After discovering that some of us were vegetarians, a young actress at the cast party excitedly announced, “I’m a vegetarian, too!”

We looked at each other, puzzled. The grilled chicken heading into her mouth seemed to directly contradict the words leaving her mouth. She didn’t see it that way, however.

“Oh, I’m a vegetarian that eats chicken,” she cheerily responded as others pushed back on her claim.

During my years as a vegetarian, I met several people who claimed to be “a vegetarian that eats chicken.” Each time, I would smile politely and gently inquire how that worked. How can someone be a person who doesn’t eat meat yet eats meat? The usual response was that chicken doesn’t count as meat. At that point, I was faced with two options – 1. Attempt to convince the vegetarian-that-eats-chicken that chicken is, indeed, meat; or, 2. Stop talking about it. Whenever I picked option 1, I always ended up wishing that I had chosen option 2 instead. I have similar experiences when talking about Calvinism.

By “similar experiences” I don’t necessarily mean wishing that I had ignored the questions and found a way to change the topic. I have had many discussions about Calvinism[1] with others that have been profitable and edifying. However, and sadly, I have also had many conversations that, from a human standpoint have left me with a bad taste[2] in my mouth.[3] However, there is frequently a direct parallel between my conversations with vegetarians who eat chicken and conversations about Calvinism.

One of the most popular statements from those who want to “argue” Calvinism with me is “I consider myself a Calvinist, just not a five-point Calvinist.”[4] Bluntly, claiming to be a four point or less Calvinist is akin to eating chicken while claiming to be a vegetarian. To understand the parallel, however, a rudimentary understanding of the five-points of Calvinism may be necessary. (as way of somewhat defining terms that will be used later, Arminianism is the opposite position of Calvinism. Arminianism is synergistic – God and man work together for the salvation of man. Instead of faith being a gift from God, faith is man’s gift to God.)

For those who don’t know, the Five Points of Calvinism are – 1. Total Depravity/Inability, 2. Unconditional Election, 3. Limited Atonement, 4. Irresistible Grace, and 5. Perseverance of the Saints[5]. These Five Points “are important because they take confidence away from any spiritual good that might be thought to reside in man and instead anchor it in the will and power of God alone.”[6] And it’s a holistic system[7]; the five points stand or fall together because “together they point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God; and because it is all of God, it is all for his glory.”[8] For example, Total Depravity/Inability logically leads to the other points.

John Piper explains that Total Depravity/Inability reflects that “Apart from the grace of God, there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God.” Humans are born in sin, and all humans are incapable of doing anything that merits salvation. The Bible declares that we are all “dead in the trespasses and sins.”[9]

In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul succinctly writes that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.”[10] That describes all humans because the story of the Bible reveals from the opening pages that humans are in active rebellion against God. Because of that, all humans are born under God’s just wrath. Clearly, “sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned [emphasis added].”[11]

Being born in rebellion against God means that our natural inclinations and desires are turned away from God. No one is born wanting to submit to God. All humans are born with the desire to unite with the Serpent-Satan in the ongoing attempted coupe on the throne of God. All humans are naturally unable to initiate, much less work out, their salvation. For many, God allows them the desires of their heart; God does not interfere with their rebellious, free will.

It’s hard to argue against the inspired writings of the Apostle Paul, and most Christians that I’ve met don’t attempt it, accepting the “T” in TULIP. Accepting the “T,” however, logically leads to the acceptance of the “U.”

If all humans are sinners, then it stands to reason that God’s election is unconditional. God didn’t decide to save people based on their merit. This is seen in Moses’ statement to the Israelites that “the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”[12] It’s reinforced in the New Covenant by the Apostle Paul’s quoting and exegeting of the words of Moses, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”[13]

Instead, God, in His mercy has elected some to salvation. “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”[14] In response, some claim that election is based on God’s foreknowledge of those who will choose Him. However, as Loraine Boettner points out, “If based on faith and evangelical obedience, then, as it has been cynically phrased, God is careful to elect only those whom He foresees will elect themselves.”[15]

The Arminian position turns “election” into a game of meaningless semantics. Worse, even, than a game of meaningless semantics, the Arminian view means that, “God’s sovereignty must be limited by the freedom of human choice.”[16] In a nutshell, Arminians tie themselves into semantic pretzels in order to preserve human autonomy at the expense of God’s sovereignty. Boice and Ryken add, “Election cannot rest on foreknowledge of what might happen, because in the sovereignty of God, the only things that can be foreknown are those that are predetermined, and this means that election must be prior to faith.”[17]

While Unconditional Election is a controversial statement in many parts of Christendom; few professing Christians would claim that God saves people because people bring something to the table. But they struggle with Unconditional Election because it naturally leads to the third point in the Five Points. That next letter in the acrostic is generally the one that people are the most squeamish about – Limited Atonement. “If God has elected some and not others to eternal life, then plainly the primary purpose of Christ’s work was to redeem the elect.”[18] With apologies to “I”rresistible Grace and “P”erseverance of the Saints, I’m going to spend the rest of this article explaining why I rejoice in the truth of Limited Atonement.

For the record, much of what follows lives where Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement overlap, a considerable overlap. The five points not only logically lead to each other, but the five points are fused together. See my opening anecdote and subsequent analogy.

In a nutshell, I believe in Limited Atonement because God keeps His promises. That, however, and sadly, to be honest, probably won’t be enough to persuade those who disagree. To help to that end, I submit the following:

Originally, I intended on including a defense of the claim that God keeps His promises. I mean, if we can’t be sure that God will follow through on what He says, my stated reason for believing in Limited Atonement is automatically invalid. However, I can’t think of a single theological tradition which affirms the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed that would even remotely suggest that God doesn’t keep His promises[19]. Even Open Theists believe that God keeps His promises. Granted, Open Theists also believe that God may rue His promise because humans decided to respond in a way that He didn’t anticipate[20].

Of course, accepting that God keeps His promises raises the question of which promise of God underpins my belief in Limited Atonement? Well, the promise that “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”[21]

Note that God didn’t say, “if you will be my people, I will be your God.” He used the words “shall” and “will.” Plus, the “and” in the middle signifies certainty. It’s a promise, and it’s a promise that’s repeated throughout the Bible, and it’s repeated for a reason.

One of the primary thematic motifs of the Bible’s narrative is the story of two peoples – God’s people and not God’s people. This is first born out after the Fall and the subsequent curses from God. In Genesis 3:15, God curses/promises that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[22]

It’s important to recognize that the final offspring of the women, or “seed” as it’s translated in the King James Version[23], has its final fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Through his life of perfect obedience to the will of God the Father, his substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of his people, and his resurrection from the dead, Jesus conquered sin and death, and crushed the head of the Serpent/Satan. This was necessary, because through sin, God’s people are unable to have a relationship with their holy Creator God and are under God’s wrath. Taking God’s wrath on himself, Jesus fulfilled the promise of Genesis 3:15.

But the word “offspring” in Genesis 3:15 means more than just Jesus.

The Apostle Paul explicitly references Genesis 3:15 when he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”[24] Since he was writing to the church at Rome, Paul is applying the “offspring” of Genesis 3:15 to the Church – God’s people. This squares nicely with the story of the Bible.

At the onset of the Bible, and reinforced in Romans 5, it’s clear that humans have a problem. All of humanity is born in Adam and, hence, born in sin. No human is able to fulfill and/or obey God’s just and righteous requirements. The curse drapes over everyone and everything. Yet, even in that bleakness, the promise of Genesis 3:15 is beginning to flicker and glimmer into the glorious light of the gospel that will ultimately burst forth in a little town of Bethlehem thousands of years later. At the moment, though, a divide amongst humanity is widening; two people groups are beginning to emerge.

Not long into the Bible’s narrative, people are at war: Cain kills Abel and is cursed to wander the earth at enmity with his fellow man; in Genesis 9, Noah’s son is cursed and his descendants are placed at odds with the other descendants of Noah. At the Tower of Babel, God divides the peoples and scatters them. On the heels of the Tower of Babel, though, the narrative introduces a seminal figure in the history of redemption – Abraham.

Prior to God establishing His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15[25], the Bible includes the fascinating and somewhat strange story of Abraham’s rescue of his nephew Lot and the blessing of Abraham by the mysterious Priest-King Melchizedek. Because Abraham is aided by the Sovereign God of Creation, he succeeds where the other kings fail in the story, signifying that Abraham is greater. Something is up. Adding to the intrigue, the blessing of Melchizedek is actually a blessing from “God Most High.”[26] Stephen G. Dempster astutely points out, “The blessing of creation is now transferred to the arena of history, where the Creator’s global purposes are being achieved. The most high God, the Creator and conqueror of chaos, is at work defeating the enemies of Abram, giving this aged nomad real dominion and authority over the kings of the nations. God’s programme with and through Abram is to restore the original conditions of creation described in Genesis 1-2.”[27]

Looking backwards to Genesis 3:15, we’re reminded that the restoration of “the original conditions of creation” is going to happen in and through the promised seed of the woman. The very next chapter in Genesis reveals more about God’s plan that was first promised in Genesis 3:15.

One dusty evening, God came to Abraham in a vision and promised that his offspring, his seed, would be as numerous as the stars. The covenant making episode ends when “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between [the slaughtered, divided animals].”[28] But, what actually happened?

Ancient covenants between a suzerain and a vassal generally concluded with a ceremony that involved the slaughter of animals. The vassal would pass through the divided carcasses, signifying that if he failed to live up to the covenant conditions, he, as vassal, would be calling down the punishment of death on his head at the hands of the suzerain. In His covenant with Abraham, God, symbolized by the theophanies of the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch, passed through the animals, taking the covenant curse upon Himself. Knowing that His people would fail to keep the terms of the covenant, namely obedience to His law, God promised to bear the guilt of His people from the get-go. While “we understand how this works from the end of the story”[29], God’s actions are less clear at the beginning of the story.

One thing that is certain at this point in the story, though, is that God never removed the requirement of obedience. God never once invalidated His holy standards; He never said, “Well, since you guys can’t obey me, I’ll forgive you and restore relationship with you anyway.” So, while somewhat unclear on the front-end of the story, Genesis 15 “assures the reader that this covenant is undergirded by the mighty promises of the Almighty. God guarantees the covenant promises and yet he also requires an obedient son in the covenant relationship.”[30]

From our privileged perspective, we know that all of God’s promises and demands were fully and finally accomplished in and through Jesus’ life of perfect obedience, his death as punishment for the sins of his people, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s people failed to keep God’s covenant, and so God the Son emptied himself of his glory, came to earth in the fullness of man, was tempted and tried, completely obeyed God in order to fulfill the covenant requirement of obedience, and then died on the cross in order to suffer God’s wrath earned by the conditions of His covenant not being met. God assured the incarnation and death of Jesus by passing through the divided animals instead of Abraham. God’s children, the seed of Abraham, are the recipients of all the benefits of God’s covenant but without bearing any of the cost. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]. That is why through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”[31]

The atonement has to be definite and has to be definitely applied, otherwise something has gone horribly wrong and God is not God. God Himself cannot pay the penalty for those who break the covenant and then turn around and punish His people. That would be breaking His promise. And when God paid the covenant penalty in space and time, that meant that God’s people were most definitely and assuredly saved from the wrath of the suzerain, who, of course, is God. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. That raises the question, to whom does the atonement apply? Or, rather, who are God’s people?

In short, it applies to those who are covenanted with God as the spiritual descendants of Abraham. All humans are born in Adam and are responsible before God to obey Him. All humans are accountable to their Maker. And all humans will stand before the throne of God one day and be called to account by the Sovereign Lord of the universe for their willful rebellion. In His mercy, though, and for His glory, God created a second people group out of the whole.

Circling back to Unconditional Election, the continued story of Abraham reveals that God elected one of Abraham’s sons to be a part of the covenant and not the other son. Revealing the mystery behind God’s Unconditional Election, Paul writes, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”[32]

In plain terms, the final phrase of Romans 9:8 tells us that the elect, “the children of the promise,” are Abraham’s true children. “The children of the promise” are the recipients of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Those whom God elected “before the foundation of the world”[33] are included as recipients of the blessings of the covenant that God made with Abraham. God promised to take on the curse of death for those whom He covenanted with. In their short yet rich book, Joel Beeke and William Boekstein write, “[Jesus’] hour has been set from all eternity by the counsel of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to redeem a remnant of humans for the praise of God.”[34]

Jesus died for God’s children, the “children of the promise,” and not for not God’s children, or, rather, Jesus didn’t die for those who weren’t included in the covenant with Abraham. This is why, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world … I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”[35]

God didn’t promise to take on the curse of death for those who are outside of the covenant, for those who are not elect.

This is a hard truth for humans to grasp, both intellectually and emotionally. Thankfully, Paul pastorally provides instruction in Romans 9. “When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.’”[36] The election of the children of promise demonstrates and is, in fact, a necessary consequence of God’s sovereignty as opposed to giving ground to human autonomy and rewarding humans who win by choosing faith.

Moving on from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Bible’s narrative reveals the growth of God’s people, or, so it seems. It doesn’t take too long before the concept of the remnant begins to poke through. Eventually the reader is confronted with the reality that the numerical growth of the physical nation of Israel doesn’t equal the number of people who actually bow the knee to God.

After God works through the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel to demonstrate that He is the true God, Elijah sinks into a funk. Feeling sorry for himself, Elijah tells God, “For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I even I only, am left, and the seek my life to destroy it.”[37]

It’s very obvious to Elijah that being born an Israelite does not make someone a follower of the Almighty God of Abraham. In fact, from his perspective, he’s the only true child of Abraham left in Israel. While affirming Elijah’s larger claim, God smacks down Elijah’s pity party and reveals that, “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”[38]

Take note that God does not say that some of the followers of Baal are going to change their mind and turn back to God. God states that seven thousand faithful children of God remain in Israel, and that they are there because of His sovereign decree. God has a remnant because God has chosen His people out of the world.

In the Writings of the Prophets, the theme of the remnant becomes a dominant literary motif. Another theme that begins to run parallel to that of the remnant is a growing eschatological view of God’s promises. After the remnant returns to the land, it quickly becomes apparent that all of the glorious promises of a New Jerusalem and a New Temple are not going to happen anytime soon. Speaking about the Temple that the returned remnant are constructing, the prophet Haggai asks, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it nothing in your eyes?”[39]

Recorded in Ezekiel 40-48, Ezekiel’s vision of the New Temple not only surpasses the Temple built by King Solomon, but is a Temple that hearkens back to the life-giving properties found in the Garden of Eden. “Remarkably, a spring flows out of the inner sanctuary, widening first to a stream and then to a mighty river that finally flows into the Dead Sea, transforming its sterile waters into a fisherman’s paradise (47:1-12). On both sides of the river, trees produce leaves with curative powers. Eden has been enlarged to include the entire land of Israel, with one immense river of life and many trees of life.”[40]

We know from the New Testament that Jesus is the water of life. Revealing a new aspect of the Messiah, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him becomes in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”[41] As the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises, Jesus came to give the water of life to his children, to the remnant.

Truly, he will be the elect’s God, and the elect will be His people.

Wrapping up this really long article, I’d like to attempt to answer some common objections to these hard things. For me, after being first confronted with God’s sovereignty and the doctrines of grace about eleven years ago, the concept of fairness was a big hurdle. For the sake of space, I’m not going to recount my intellectual and spiritual almost year-long journey that the Holy Spirit led me on to bring me to the point of rejoicing in God’s sovereignty (which, to be honest, is a spiritual journey that I’m still on). In summation, the concept of “fair” isn’t Biblical, to begin with. The Bible teaches justness and unjustness.

To claim that God is being unjust by electing some to eternal life and not others is to claim that people don’t justly deserve eternal punishment. That assertion also falsely states that humans have a claim on God’s grace. Quoting the Psalms, Romans 3 affirms that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”[42] For rebellious, unrighteous humans to be saved, God has to intervene. Unless an individual claims universalism (on both sides – all saved or all lost), by definition, God has to elect some to salvation while leaving others to pursue their desired goal of rebellion against their Creator. It’s not unjust for God to elect some and not others. The “not others” get what they deserve, and the “some” receive what they did not earn and do not deserve.

Once again, I grant that the doctrine of reprobation is hard. But, as Boettner points out, “Election and reprobation proceed on different grounds; one the grace of God, the other the sin of man.”[43]

Another objection rests on verses like Romans 8:29 that read, “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”[44] Those who claim Conditional Election, which would undermine Limited Atonement, say that foreknew equals foresight. Peering into the future, God elected those whom He saw would choose Him. Except, the word actually means “choice.” God chose/foreknew. This is seen in Amos when the prophet writes God’s words concerning the people of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth [emphasis added].”[45] “Besides, the text [Romans 8:29] does not say that God foreknew what certain individuals might do, only that he foreknew them as individuals to whom he would extend the grace of salvation [emphasis added].”[46]

One final rejoinder that I want to interact with is regarding the claim that Calvinists unduly limit Jesus and the power of the cross. Arminians physically recoil at the mere suggestions that the atonement is only for the elect[47]. For the record, most Calvinists, myself included, prefer the tag “Particular Redemption” instead. Regarding this article, two things: 1. The acronym is TULIP, not TUPIP. 2. The title “Why I Believe in Particular Redemption” would have confused some and been ignored by many as a dry theological something-or-other. More people are familiar with “Limited Atonement” than are familiar with “Particular Redemption.” My apologia for the title finished, Limited Atonement simply makes the claim, “While the value of the atonement was sufficient to save all mankind, it was efficient only to save the elect.”[48]

If the extent and application of the atonement is universal then the atonement has no efficacy in and of itself. The efficacy of Jesus’ incarnation becomes dependent on man. Jesus’ death has no value and no power unless man wills it. Restated, because it’s a shocking and, frankly, disgusting conclusion of extending the atonement to all mankind, Arminians believe that Jesus’ death accomplishes nothing unless man wills it. Once again, rejection of the Five Points, including Limited Atonement, can be reduced to a desire to preserve human autonomy. The problem is that human autonomy is always purchased at a cost to God’s sovereignty.

In conclusion, I freely admit that as long as this article is, I have not begun to touch on all of the objections that have been offered to those of us who believe in Limited Atonement, or who believe in the Five Points, in general. Weighty tomes have been scribed over the generations defending and attacking the doctrines of grace. I suffer from no delusion that I have written the final word; that I have closed all debate and Arminians or those who are simply unsure about it all will joyfully cry, “Finally! Thank you, John! You have cleared it all up.”

However, I do pray, by God’s grace, that this article will help clear some confusion from the minds of some, at best, and raise some unthought of points and questions in the minds of others. If this article has piqued your interest, I highly and unequivocally recommend the books that I have cited within this article. There are many other excellent books on the subject, including Calvin’s Institutes, and I will happily recommend more books if asked. Finally, if I have offended, forgive me; if I have wrought confusion in your mind, keep reading the Bible, praying, and asking questions. Better to be confused and prayerfully searching for the truth than content yet untouched by a desire to discern the doctrines of grace.

Soli Deo Gloria

“On Christ Alone” — Elder D.J. Ward (T4G 2016) from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

[1] Anticipating criticisms – labels are helpful even if the labels are not complete. In other words, my soteriology is best described as “Calvinism.” And it’s best explained that way because it helps save a lot of precursory discussion before the actual discussion. In other words, claiming the label “Calvinist” allows those who I’m engaging the luxury of knowing my definitions, categories, and overall framework; it helps us have a more profitable discussion unencumbered by miscommunication.

[2] In his book Expository Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), Voddie Baucham Jr. writes about an exchange between himself and an angry Arminian during a Q/A session. This angry Arminian kept claiming that Calvinists believed that babies go to hell. Baucham writes about how he explained that he, as a Calvinist, didn’t believe that, and then pointed out other instances of well-known Calvinists who didn’t/don’t believe that either. Throughout the Q/A this man kept repeating the same accusation, and Baucham kept saying, “That’s not true.” Finally, Baucham told the man, “Sir, you are being dishonest. I have quoted our confession of faith, pointed you to books and statement by Calvinists, and given you my own personal opinion on the matter. Right now you are simply refusing to believe anything other than the assumption you started with and are, therefore, being completely dishonest, even slanderous (page 72).” I have had similar conversations in which individuals have accused me of believing certain things as a Calvinist. Even though I pointed out that that is not what I believe nor is it what most Calvinists believe, the individuals would continue to lob the accusation at me. It’s incredibly frustrating. In my experience, anti-Calvinists who seek out debate are often not interested in honest dialogue. During those times, it’s difficult to think clearly because of all the straw and stench of red herring in the air. I’ve learned to avoid, almost at all cost, discussions with those who seek me out to argue Calvinism. Which raises the question, why this article with an open comment section? That’s a good question.

[3] Until King Jesus comes back or the person I was discussing Calvinism with me tells me, I can’t know how the Holy Spirit used our “unprofitable” argument for profitable means.

[4] Another popular statement is, “John Calvin didn’t come up with TULIP.” When people state that, I’m assuming that they’re claiming that Calvinism shouldn’t be named Calvinism. Two things: 1. Of course, Calvin didn’t invent “TULIP.” The five points of Calvinism were first formulated at the Synod Dort (November, 1618 – May, 1619) and expounded on by subsequent generations of theologians. For the record, I don’t personally know any self-professed Calvinists that actually believe that John Calvin came up with the mnemonic device. However, and 2., the Synod of Dort and the subsequent generations of theologians were attempting to faithfully explain Calvin’s teachings. John Calvin was faithfully attempting to exegete the Bible. As a self-professed Calvinist, I believe that John Calvin succeeded as did those who have given us TULIP.

[5] There are better names/ways to describe each point. By God’s grace, I’ll bear those out throughout this post.

[6] James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 19.

[7] Because the Bible, from which Calvinism is derived, is holistic.

[8] Boice and Ryken, The Doctrine of Grace, 32.

[9] Ephesians 2:1, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2264.

[10] Romans 3:10-11, ESV Study Bible, 2162.

[11] Romans 5:12, ESV Study Bible, 2166.

[12] Deuteronomy 9:6, ESV Study Bible, 345.

[13] Romans 9:15-16, ESV Study Bible, 2173.

[14] Ephesians 1:4-6, ESV Study Bible, 2262.

[15] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1932), 92.

[16] Boice and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, 28.

[17] Boice and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, 100.

[18] Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 151.

[19] The Nicene Creed and The Apostle’s Creed are a baseline test of orthodoxy.

[20] That’s probably a tad bit unfair of a characteristic of many proponents of Open Theism, but not so unfair as to be dishonest. To be honest, Open Theism, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads exactly to what I wrote. On second thought, it’s not unfair.

[21] Ezekiel 36:28, ESV Study Bible, 1558.

[22] Genesis 3:15, ESV Study Bible, 56.

[23] The ancients, of course, had minimal knowledge of procreation. In a nutshell, they believed that a man planted his seed in a woman. At that point, there is linguistic precedence in Genesis 16:10 and Genesis 24:60 to refer to it as the woman’s seed/offspring.

[24] Romans 16:20, ESV Study Bible, 2185.

[25] His name is still Abram at this point – from here on out, I’m going to use Abraham, though.

[26] Genesis 14:19, ESV  Study Bible, 76.

[27] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003), 79.

[28] Genesis 15:17, ESV Study Bible, 77.

[29] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 127.

[30] Gentry and Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants, 127.

[31] 2 Corinthians 1:20-22, ESV Study Bible, 2224.

[32] Romans 9:6-8, ESV Study Bible, 2173.

[33] Ephesians 1:4, ESV Study Bible, 2262.

[34] Joel R. Beeke and William Boekstein, Why Christ Came: Meditation on the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), 58.

[35] John 17:6, 9-10, ESV Study Bible, 2058.

[36] Romans 9:10-13, ESV Study Bible, 2173.

[37] 1 Kings 19:14, ESV Study Bible, 637.

[38] 1 Kings 19:18, ESV Study Bible, 637.

[39] Haggai 2:3, ESV Study Bible, 1745.

[40] Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 171-172.

[41] John 4:14, ESV Study Bible, 2027.

[42] Romans 3:10-11, ESV Study Bible, 2162.

[43] Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 114.

[44] Romans 8:29, ESV Study Bible, 2172.

[45] Amos 3:2, ESV Study Bible, 1663.

[46] Boice and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, 101.

[47] I’ve seen the physical reaction from Arminians with my own eyes.

[48] Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 152.

7 thoughts on “Why I Believe in Limited Atonement

  1. You are a brave man!!! I used to tell people that everyone believes in Limited Atonement. Some believe that God limits its application to the elect and others believe that man limits God’s desire to apply its benefits to them. I always liked John Owens’ argument.

    John Owen

    The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
    All the sins of all men.
    All the sins of some men, or
    Some of the sins of all men.
    In which case it may be said:
    That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
    That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
    But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
    You answer, “Because of unbelief.”
    I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You, sir, are to be commended for taking on such a complex issue in a relatively short post of words. I found your piece to be highly accomplished! My compliment to you is that you tackled this subject with great gentleness and respect. Readers should not issue vile responses to you. You made me think. In fact, I do not believe I can any longer declare myself to be a “four-and-a-half-point” Calvinist. I’m either all-in or not a 5-pointer! So I will need to always say that “I lean toward Calvinism and away from Arminianism.” I believe I have made a previous reply to that respect. The Bible is replete with support of Calvinism (but not Arminianism, unless the commentator engages in intellectual gymnastics to make the Bible “say” what s/he believes). God elected me into His Kingdom. He chose me. And I “chose” Him. I am not a puppet on a string. I submitted my will to His control of my life. Now, the “5-Point Calvinist” would say that God caused me to willingly submit my will to Him. It’s all way above my pay grade! I certainly believe there are Calvinists and Arminians in heaven. In fact, I think it was Spurgeon to whom a famous quote is attributed, in that regard. P.S. You quote all of the right sources, John. Have you had an audience with John Piper for such a discussion?! That’d be an honor and a privilege. The next time he is in Greenville, I’ll let him know you would be very interested in such a conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. After I began writing it, I realized that I had probably bitten off more than I could chew. With the meat of the post (the Limited Atonement part), I wanted to steer more into Biblical theology instead of Systematic. I love Systematic, but I haven’t read much in direct reference to L.A. from a Biblical theology perspective. Honestly, this post was more for my benefit than for the readers (but don’t tell anyone that). It helped me organize and collate my own thoughts. Often, when an Arminian or Arminian-leaning Christian (and, like you, I joyfully affirm that I have many Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ) confronts me, the conversation becomes very scatter-gunned and it’s difficult to keep the conversation in a helpful, forward moving arc. Forcing myself to articulate my beliefs from beginning to, well, a little past halfway (I guess I still need to do the I and P), will be an aid in further conversations, by God’s grace.

      In a previous comment, you wrote that you’re a 4.5 point Calvinist. Since I had already written the intro about vegetarians who eat chicken, I was happy to see the 4.5. I compared 4 point and less to vegetarians who eat chicken, not 4.5 and less 🙂

      I have yet had the honor of having a discussion with John Piper (although, I think that I’d just prefer to listen and not speak if I did get that privilege). By all means, let him know that I’d be interested in having a conversation with him.


  3. Thanks for this thoughtful response, John. I am eager to meet and interact with you in Greenville in March! I appreciate your humility in anticipating a conversation with John Piper, and I share your desire to be more listener than speaker, but you are CERTAINLY and OBVIOUSLY capable of engaging in a discussion with heavyweights like John Piper.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great and long article. I find it well thought out. There is so much info out there. so many great Theologians on both sides of this coin, present and past. I find it hard NOT to see ‘The Elect’ or ‘The Many’ in my readings of the scriptures now. For me, knowing Christ is gain and all important above all. However, i find this topic fascinating now that I am moving deeper in my walk with Jesus. So much great Theology again past and present. Steve Lawson is a great Calvinist of today and I enjoy listening to his sermons on the sermons audio app. I can go on and on and long winded as you are it seems. lol. Blessings to you brother.

    Liked by 1 person

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