“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
I. Biblical data that supports the premises of the two following arguments
Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He intercedes with the Father on the basis of his accomplished his work of atonement. He is the perfect advocate whose intercession with the Father is always successful (I John 2:1; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24-26; John 11:41-42,).
II. Argument 1 from Christ’s intercession
Premise: Christ’s intercession with the Father is always successful.
Outline of argument:
(1) If Jesus intercedes for all, all would actually be saved.
(2) But not all are saved.
(3) Therefore Jesus does not intercede for all.*
III. Argument 2 from “Propitiation”
Premise: Christ as “propitiation” has turned away God’s wrath (1John 2:2).
Outline of argument:
1) If Christ has really bore God’s wrath for everybody, nobody will go to hell, since their punishment has already been born by Christ.
2) But Scripture does testify that the wicked will experience punishment in hell.
3) Therefore Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of everybody
It is imperative that theological discourse goes beyond polemics and offers positive evidence and constructive arguments to establish the veracity of doctrine. This being the case, I would like to invite our readers to consider carefully several lines of biblical evidence and theological arguments for the doctrine of definite atonement given below:
The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture
The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).
Arminians charge Calvinists as guilty of diminishing the universal significance of Christ’s atonement by teaching definite (limited) atonement. However, Calvinists reject the charge as unwarranted since they affirm the atonement of Christ as “sufficient for all.” In truth, it is the Arminians who limit the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement by teaching that Christ’s atonement only offers potential salvation for all, since there remains a possibility that Christ’s atonement may not achieve its intended purpose. [Re: Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists] This uncertainty precludes believers from enjoying any assurance of salvation. In contrast, Calvinists teach that Christ’s atonement does not merely make salvation possible; it accomplishes a definite purpose. It makes salvation certain as Christ really saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom he died. Christ’s atonement is “effective for the elect.” Hence believers may enjoy the assurance of salvation.
Arminians also reject the Calvinists’ understanding of the phrase, “for all” to mean “all without distinction” as hermeneutical gymnastics that go against the plain reading of Scripture which for Arminians, would require understanding the phrase, Christ died “for all” to mean “all without exception.”
The term “Limited Atonement” has become a favorite fodder for Arminians in their criticism of Calvinism (or preferably, Reformed theology). However, their criticism is misplaced for the following reasons:
(1) Historically, the term, “TULIP” was not used when the five points of Calvinism were originally affirmed in the Synod of Dort (1618). It gained popularity only in the 20th century as a convenient mnemonic device to summarize five central teachings of Reformed theology.
(2) The criticism is misguided. It would be more fruitful to shift the debate from a fixation with the negative term, “Limited Atonement” (which suggests a spirit of defensiveness), to an engagement with the positive affirmation of the Reformed doctrine of “Definite Atonement,” “Effective Atonement” or “Particular Redemption.”
(3) Arminians should think twice before throwing stones at the Calvinists when they themselves could well be living in a glass house. In truth, Arminians also teach a “Limited Atonement”, perhaps more so than Reformed theology! [Tu quoque?] Continue reading “Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists”
The Supreme Vision of God’s Majesty and Zeal for his Glory
Perhaps the simplest statement of it is the best: that it lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature. He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing—in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations—is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist. /1/ Continue reading “The Fundamental Principle of Calvinism”
John Calvin can come across as a severe person because of his austere lifestyle and his zeal in defending doctrine and promoting discipline and godliness in church. Calvin literally worked himself to death. Calvin with his serious demeanor could never match the charms of Luther with his wit and gaiety. However, it is slanderous when his adversaries portrayed him as the cold, calculating and brutal tyrant of Geneva. It is hoped that the following cameos taken from Calvin’s life would dispel the mischievous charges of his adversaries.
In response to some concerns expressed by a reader:
– Calvin’s system is inappropriate as a model for engagement with contemporary postmodernism. – The “liberty” and grace you mention sometimes to me is not apparent when speaking to those of the Reformed persuasion.
First, the 22 volumes (22,224 pages) of Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible and Calvin’s multi-volumes sermons show that that Calvin is more a bible scholar and preacher than a builder of a rigid theological system. Not surprisingly, Calvin’s Institutes is replete with scriptural references. Calvin was a man of his times. It would be ridiculous to uphold him as someone who has ready answers for Christians who are grappling with different questions in different social contexts.
Calvin’s insights may be appropriated for our times only insofar as they are in congruence with the teachings of the Bible. For example, even though the arguments given by Calvinists to support paedobaptism may be admirable, I remained unconvinced on grounds that its exegetical support is insufficient. In any case, Calvin would approve of Christians who insist that his teaching should be judged by its fidelity to Scripture.
Pardon me if I get a bit carried away and wax poetic in my response: How not to, when one meditates on the glory of God with the heart and mind of Calvin and his distinguished followers like Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield?
Anyone one who has the slightest acquaintance with Calvin’s thought and its theological elaboration in the writings of Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield would know that Calvinism offers a most comprehensive and intoxicating vision of God’s glory and love in the world. This is what the last paragraph of my earlier post, “SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty points to. Was it not Abraham Kuyper who declares that for the Calvinist? – “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of my personal devotions and churchgoing over which Christ does not cry: mine!”
Wrenched from the Academic Path
John Calvin as an academic animal would rather spend his time quietly in a library. Naturally, he declined an offer to teach and minister at Geneva in 1536. It was clear to him that hard days lie ahead for anyone seeking to teach and reform a city that was recalcitrant in its moral waywardness and rebellious towards teaching authority.
One night in that unruly city of Geneva was enough. Time for Calvin to pack and proceed to Strasbourg to pursue his academic dreams and ambitions. Alas, his departure was blocked by William Farel who thundered at the young scholar:
Farel waxed eloquent as he described the miraculous work of God in the city of Geneva stressed that the City needed a man of Calvin’s stature and skill. Calvin protested, expressing his desire to spend his time writing in the safety of some remote city.
The acronym TULIP is used widely to describe the essence of Calvinism and Reformed Theology: Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin) Unconditional Election Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement) Irresistible Grace Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
The TULIP acronym portrays a pretty blossom, but its artificiality betrays a lack of delicacy and fragrance of a real living flower. This would please critics of Calvinism who have judged Calvinism to be dark and distasteful, much like barren soil unfit for spiritual cultivation, which, not surprisingly, could only produce an artificial ‘flower’. Calvinism has been used as a term of abuse. Calvinists, like the early Christians have also been accused of causing social tyranny and cultural oppression. Hence, the celebrated American journalist, H.L. Mencken famously placed Calvinism next to Cannibalism in his “cabinet of horror”!
The essence of Calvinism described by TULIP comes across as an abstract construct that is driven by cold and remorseless logic. It was no accident that Calvinists prefer to use the phrase “marrow of Calvinism” rather than the “essence of Calvinism” since “marrow” describes the inner substance of the bone that produces blood cells, and hence typifies strength and vitality.