Who Limits the Atonement?

I gave a lecture earlier this evening to a group of almost 50 college students on the doctrine of limited atonement. I was very encouraged by the fact that these young people (only in their teens) were very much interested in reformed theology. The response was warm, but not surprisingly it seems number of them found some of the things I talked about difficult to accept. Someone even asked whether one could still be a Christian and not believe in limited atonement. I answered, “Yes.” Anyway, the term limited atonement is unfortunate. I prefer the term particular redemption. But, come to think of it, who actually limits the atonement? John Murray explains:

Whether the expression “limited atonement” is good or not we must reckon with the fact that unless we believe in the final restoration of all men we cannot have an unlimited atonement. If we universalize the extent we limit the efficacy. If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement is not itself efficacious. It is this alternative that the proponents of universal atonement must face. They have a “limited” atonement and limited in respect of that which impinges upon its essential character. We shall have none of it. The doctrine of “limited atonement” which we maintain is the doctrine which limits the atonement to those who are heirs of eternal life, to the elect. That limitation insures its efficacy and conserves its essential character as efficient and effective redemption…

The atonement is efficacious substitution.

(John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, emphasis added)

Limited Atonement and Evangelism

I’ve been invited to lecture tonight to a group of college students on limited atonement. It’s really amazing and very encouraging to see this interest on the part of young people to know more about reformed theology on their own initiative.  Here are some excerpts from Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person. Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ, as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: ‘Believe that Christ died for your sins’… [But what] the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself – the placing of our trust in the living Saviour, who died for sins. The object of saving faith is thus not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who made atonement… [The] persons to whom the benefits of Christ’s death belong are just those who trust His Person, and believe, not upon his saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Saviour. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ said Paul. ‘Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest, said our Lord….

[The] question about the extent of the atonement . . . has no bearing on the content of the evangelistic message at this particular point… For preaching the gospel . . . means inviting sinners to come to Jesus Christ, the living Saviour, who, by virtue of his atoning death, is able to forgive and save all those who put their trust in Him. What has to be said about the cross when preaching the gospel is simply that Christ’s death is the ground on which Christ’s forgiveness is given. And this is all that has to be said. The question of the designed extent of the atonement does not come into the story at all.

The fact is that the New Testament never calls on any man to repent on the ground that Christ died specifically and particularly for him. The basis on which the New Testament invites sinners to put faith in Christ is simply that they need Him, and that He offers Himself to them, and that those who received him are promised all the benefits that His death secured for His people. What is universal and all-inclusive in the New Testament is the invitation to faith, and the promise of salvation to all who believe…

… The gospel is, ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sins, and now offers you Himself as your Saviour.’ This is the message which we are to take to the world. We have no business to ask them to put faith in any view of the extent of the atonement; our job is to point them to the living Christ, and summon them to trust in Him.”

The New Calvinism

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Calvinism in the USA. I think it has reached even the Philippines and Bacolod City. Many young Christians I know are familiar with John Piper and John MacArthur. DYVS airs messages by both Piper and MacArthur and other Reformed preachers such as Alister Begg. As far as I know Jurem Ramos seems to be the most notable Reformed preacher we have in the Philippines. Click HERE to read about the New Calvinism.

Theologians in Hell

C. S. Lewis once wrote that there are theologians in the bottom of hell who are more interested in their own thoughts about God than in God himself. For that reason it is important that a dogmatician should also preach regularly. He will then create a counterweight to his intellectual preoccupations.

HENDRIKUS BERKHOF, Introduction to the Study of Dogmatics