Tim Staples' Blog
 
 
An App to Help You Be A Saint

May 24, 2014
The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 3

In my last two blog posts, we examined the first two of the “five points” of Calvinism popularly known by the acronym, TULIP, which represents 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistible Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this post, we will tackle the third point:

Limited Atonement

No Christian that I know of would deny that some doctrines are more or less clear than others in Scripture. When it comes to the atonement of Christ, the Scriptures are most clear: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the entire world. The redemption that Christ merited through his passion and death was for every single human person that has ever and will ever live. The Calvinist teaching of limited atonement espouses the exact opposite. We find this teaching in many places in the Calvinist confessions by way of their emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ being only for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of the whole world. The Westminster Confession of 1643, for example, declared:

In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or the dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect (emphasis added).

Notice, Christ’s sacrifice, was not offered for the sins of all, but only for the elect, according to John Calvin and the Westminster Confession. I am always astonished at this teaching in light of the clear teaching of St. John in I John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (emphasis added).

As Catholics, we have to go with St. John over John Calvin. Yet, Calvin was quite insistent that Christ did not die for all. He taught, as we’ve seen before:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 21, Para. 5).

We keep coming back to Calvin’s notion of “double predestination,” and we will again, because It is important for us to understand that for Calvin and true Calvinists, predestination means that it is God’s immutable will that some go to heaven and some go to hell. Before they ever commit one sin, God has already decreed and ordained their eternal torment. Calvin said:

Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children (Ibid., Ch. 23, Para. 1, emphasis added).

If the Calvinist notion of predestination were true, then this doctrine of limited atonement would follow. If God’s eternal decree representing his will from all eternity is that only some be saved, and if his immutable will is for some to go to hell, then clearly, he did not die on the cross for the salvation of all. This follows necessarily.

This is a case of a presupposition based on the misunderstanding of a relatively few biblical texts that ends up contradicting the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture. The atonement of Christ on the cross is the greatest expression of our God’s salvific will for all of mankind. And sacred Scripture could not make it any plainer:

John 3:16: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Notice, the text does not say, “God so loved the elect…”

I Tim. 2:3-6:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (emphasis added).

Here we see—contrary to the Calvinist teaching of a limited atonement—that Christ died for all revealing God’s positive salvific will for all to be saved.

II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (emphasis added).

Here we see not only that God’s positive will is for all to be saved, but he clearly does not will any to perish in the fires of hell either. Again, this is expressly contrary to Calvinism. The biblical text reveals God’s salvific will to include each and every human being that has ever or will ever live. Those who end up in hell will be there because they chose to reject the truth, not because of any positive willing on God’s part.

Calvin Responds:

I actually like to read John Calvin’s magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. I love the way Calvin’s mind works. Give me Calvin to read any day over Luther. Luther is all over the place with his theology. Calvin is disciplined, thorough, consistent, and easy to understand. Don’t get me wrong, he is profoundly wrong on many crucial matters, but at least you know where he stands.

When it comes to Calvin’s responses to the above-mentioned texts, well, let’s just say they are disciplined, consistent, easy to understand, and dead wrong. For brevity’s sake we will just take I Tim. 2:4 in this post. Let’s cite verses 1-6 for context:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every ways. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

This text is quite plain, making clear that:

1. God wills all men to be saved.

2. Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.”

But listen to Calvin’s response:

By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men… (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 24, Para. 16)

 Really? It is hard to believe Calvin was really satisfied in saying that “all men” did not refer to “all men,” but to all “categories of men.” In this case, St. Paul was limiting prayer for the “categories” of “kings and men in high positions.”

But then you have the problem of verse six saying, “Christ… gave himself as a ransom for all” to have to them mean ”all categories of men.” That is simply not what the text says.

A Final Thought

John Calvin was stuck. He had a presupposition that simply did not fit the text, so he had to twist the text to fit his presupposition. He did not believe Jesus “ransomed all” on the cross (as I Tim. 2:6 says) because he believed Christ only made atonement for the elect. He did not believe God wills the salvation of all (as I Tim. 2:4 says) for the same reason, so he had to come up with the above that is really so far beneath a man with the intellectual capacity of a John Calvin. The man was brilliant.

He had to defend the indefensible belief in “limited atonement” in order to preserve the acronym, right?

But this leads to my final point for this post. There is another text that absolutely obliterates the notion of “limited atonement” that Calvin did not deal with in his magnum opus. That text would be II Peter 2:1-3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.

In this text, St. Peter makes clear that Jesus “bought” (the Greek word here is a form of agorazo, which is used in I Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Acts 20:28, Rev. 5:9, 14:3, and 4 to mean “ransomed” or “redeemed”) not just the elect, but even those who will eventually end in the torments of hell. There can be no doubt concerning either the words or the context of II Peter 2.

Calvin did not include this text in the nearly 700 pages of Institutes of the Christian Religion? I have a hard time believing this one got away. He just didn’t know about it. He was too smart for that. Perhaps he left this one alone because his answer would have been even worse than what we saw above in his dancing around I Tim. 2:4. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this text makes clear this fact: Jesus did not only die for the elect. His atonement was not “limited.”

He died for all. And “all” means “all.”

If you liked this post, and would like to learn more, click here.


An App to Help You Be A Saint


Talk About It!


Name: Tim Staples
Date:05-27-2014
Comments:
Hello Anonymous,
I will respond to each of your four points below:
1. You are not understanding that Christ is "the propitiation for our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2). You are confusing Christ's objective atonement, which St. John tells us was for all (as do many other texts as I have mentioned), and the subjective application of that atonement. To use an Old Testament example: If someone committed a sin and brought the proper sacrifice to the Temple, the Scripture says, "And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him" (Lev. 19:22). But if the man is not sorry, but was only doing this for show, then all that he would have done would have no effect. The problem would not be with the priest or with the sacrifice, the problem would be with the sinner not fulfilling what the Lord called him to do.
In Hebrews 10, Scripture says Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice that can actually take away the sins of the world (the Old Testament sacrifices did not take away sins, it was the faith and obedience of the people that justified them before God and it would be the sacrifice of Christ that would empower them to attain heaven through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, according to I Peter 3:19). But if we do not do our part and "walk in the light as he is in the light," and "confess our sins," etc., then that sacrifice that made atonement for the world will be of no effect for us (I John 1:7-9).
Moreover, II Peter 2:1 says Christ "ransomed" even those who will end up in hell. If you read II Peter 2:1-22 it is very clear that Christ's objective sacrifice is for everyone, but those who do not apply his sacrifice to their lives will be lost.
You do not understand that "universal atonement" does not mean "universal salvation." The atonement happened for everyone on the objective level, only those who believe, obey, and persevere until the end will be finally saved.
2. You say "those that believed for awhile did not have a true faith," but Jesus did not say that. Jesus had just said, in Luke 8:12, "The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved." Those are the ones who did not have true faith. Jesus then says, in verse 13, "And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away." Jesus said they believed. You are confusing these folks with those who never believed. But that is not what Jesus says. If they did not have true faith, they would have had nothing to fall away from. Jesus disagrees with you.
You say, "Those who have true faith will preserve to the end because God gives them the grace to," but Scripture does not agree with you. I would agree that those with the true faith who do persevere until the end will do so only because God gives them the grace to. But it is not automatic. Heb. 10:38 says, "But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." Jesus warns us that we can be faithful, but then we can choose to become unfaithful and end up in hell (see Matt. 24:45-51). Scripture warns over and over again that those who commit certain sins and do not repent will not go to heaven (I Cor. 6:9-11, Eph. 5:3-6, etc.).
You say all those who fall away show they were never true believers. But Scripture does not agree with you. I John 2:19 doesn't say that. It says at least some who leave fellowship "were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." It never says "they were never of us from the beginning." It simply says by the time these few left, they were not "of us."
But let's say that it did say they were "never true believers." And mind you, the text does not say that. This would only show that some who leave fellowship were never really true believers. Some who leave fellowship may well have never been true to begin with.
I John 2:19 is ambiguous when it comes to this level of scrutiny. But I can't help but notice that the text never says of these folks that they "fell away" from their faith as Jesus said in Luke 8, or that they had been "my righteous one(s)" as Heb. 10:38 says of those who then "shrink back" and of whom God then says, "My soul has no pleasure in him." It may be they weren't said to "fall away" because they never had the faith to begin with. I don't know because I John 2:19 is obscure. But these other text indicate that some do "fall away," or as Gal. 5:4 says, they "fall from grace." You have to be in grace in order to "fall from grace." II Peter 2:20-22 tells us that some come to know the Lord and have a personal relationship with him through which "they have escaped the defilements of the world" and yet they fall away (compare the language of II Peter 2:20-22 and II Peter 1:2-4, and there can be no doubt that the people referred to as falling away in chapter 2 actually knew the Lord).
3. I agree with you that "those whom the Father has elected will be drawn to Christ and given the power to believe." We agree. The elect are known to God and there is a fixed number. Moreover, we cannot save ourselves without God's grace. But you are incorrect when you say "God does not give grace to all men to believe in Christ" (though I would add here either explicitly or implicitly, God alone is the judge of each man's soul). Romans 9:18-24 does not say God does not give grace to all, it says, among other things, "God has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills." We Catholics believe that. We also know that St. Paul had already given us insight into who God wills to harden. Those who "knew God," but "did not honor him as God or give thanks to him" (Romans 1:21). Those who "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man..." (Romans 1:23). "Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and improper conduct" (Romans 1:28). Thus, God hardens the hearts of those who reject his grace.
This is a great mystery. We do not know answers to questions like, "Why does God give some more grace than others?" Indeed, if God gave more grace to souls who are in hell right now, they would have ended up in heaven. We cannot know the answer to questions like these this side of heaven. We can only answer with St. Paul in Romans 9:20, "But who are you, a man, to answer back to God?" This again, is a great mystery.
But what we do know is that God does give sufficient grace to all. Otherwise, there would be no mystery. God would be unjust. The fact that God gives more grace to some than others is a mystery. But we know God is not unjust because he gives sufficient grace to all to be saved. If he did not, then there is no longer a mystery. God would be unjust. And that is impossible.
4. We agree that "the atonement is unlimited in its power to save, but limited in its application to mankind." But we disagree about the reason why it is limited. It is limited because some men choose to reject God's offer of salvation made possible by that atonement. We agree that "the unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3), an enemy of God, helpless and a sinner (Romans 5:8-10)." We also agree that "without the Spirit working in the unbeliever first he will not believe. He has no will to believe because he is dead in his sin which enslaves him." But God calls to those who are "dead" and gives them the freedom to choose to "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (Eph. 5:14). St. Paul is here talking to Christians who fall into mortal sin (see verses 7-16 for context), but the same can be said of unbelievers. God gives those who are dead the opportunity to "rise from the dead," or to remain in their sins. It is their choice (Luke 15:17-24). Be careful in taking metaphors too far to the point of denying the Scriptures. Those who are "dead in their sins" still have intellects and wills and can choose to either reject or accept the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51; II Cor. 6:1).


Name: Tim Staples
Date:05-26-2014
Comments:
Jay,
I will make 4 points in response:

1. If "limited atonement means that the death of Christ IS APPLIED (subjectively, I would add) only to those who believe in Christ" (I would add either explicitly or implicitly here), then we Catholics would have no problem with it. Your first sentence is biblical (with my two small additions for clarification). The infinite merits of Christ are only applied to those who freely cooperate with what Christ did for them on the cross. You are on your way to the Catholic Church here!
But, unfortunately, your first sentence is not all that Calvin taught on the subject. Calvin also taught that Jesus did not redeem everyone, did not ransom everyone, did not will all to be saved, and positively willed the damnation of some. That is what the Catholic Church objects to. And this is what "limited atonement" refers to in a Calvinist sense.
2. You said "only [the elect] are given the right to believe in [Jesus]." That is false. Jesus taught in his "Parable of the Sower" that "the one on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away." They have to have had the faith to be able to "fall away" from it.
St. Paul encourages those in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, "... to continue in the faith, [by] saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And he says to the Corinthians, "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast--unless you believed in vain." Both of these texts imply those to whom he is writing have already received the faith, but that they can also fall away from it.
3. I would agree with you that "only those who are drawn by the Father can come to Christ for salvation." We cannot save ourselves. But that does not mean that everyone the Father draws will come to him, which is what Calvin taught. Nor does that mean God does not give to everyone the grace of salvation. Those who receive the grace of salvation will have only come because God first drew them. Those who "resist" his grace (see my next post!) will not be saved because they rejected the Father's and Jesus' call. You are adding to the biblical texts things that are not there.
4. The key to Calvin's error is found this fourth point. You said "the atonement is applied only to those who God has granted to believe in Christ and thus it is limited." Wrong. The limitation is not in the atonement. That would be blasphemous. The atonement of Christ is infinite in its power to save. The "limitation" is in its application because man can either accept or reject what Christ did on the cross for him. Jesus said, in Rev. 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne..." We must "open the door" in order for the atonement of Christ to be applied to our lives.


Name: Tim Staples
Date:05-26-2014
Comments:
Hello Jay,
You've got a few things right here, and a few things wrong.
1. You are correct that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. It is good to hear you disagree with Calvin on this, and you agree with Scripture and the Catholic Church.
2. You are correct that "if we take this to mean that all the sins of the world have been... forgiven we have a problem." The Catholic Church does not teach that everyone's sins "have been forgiven" by Christ's sacrifice.
3. You are correct that "hell exists and many will be condemned there.
Here is where you missed the boat.
1. Christ having "paid for" our sins does not mean our sins are forgiven. It means that he is "the propitiation for our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2). His sacrifice is of infinite merit; therefore, it is the only sacrifice that is acceptable to God for our sins. That is objectively true. But in order for that sacrifice that he offered for each of us to be efficacious in our lives, we must allow it to be applied to our lives by our cooperation. "If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:7). "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgiven us of our sins..." (I John 1:9).
Someone can pay the ransom for us, but if we do not do what is necessary to collect the ransom, it will be of no benefit for us.
2. You ask, "... how could God condemn a man if that man's sin was already paid for?" He would do so because the man rejected the payment. That is precisely what II Peter 2:1-22 is about.
3. You say "limited atonement makes the best sense of the texts." No, "limited atonement" denies the plain words of the texts I mentioned and many more.


Name:
Date:05-26-2014
Comments:
Tim,
1) It is true that Christ did not redeem everyone because we know He taught that many will be condemned. If they were redeemed then they would not be condemned. See Matthew 7:13 and 25:46. Thus limited atonement. If it was universal atonement then all of mankind would be saved but we know this is not true.

2) Those that believed for awhile did not have a true faith and it was shown by their ultimate rejection. Those who have true faith will preserve to the end because God gives them the grace to. Philippians 1:, 2:12-13, John 10:27-29. Those in Christ are to stand firm in the faith and workout their salvation in fear and trembling because the Spirit motivates and empowers them to do so. Those that do not, fall away and show they were not true believers to begin with. This falling away shows they were not part of Christ. 1 John 2:19

3) Those whom the Father has elected will be drawn to Christ and given the power to believe. God does not give grace to all men to believe in Christ. We see an example of this in Romans 9:18-24.

4) The atonement is unlimited in its power to save but limited in its application to mankind. Not all believe or will believe because the Father has not drawn them to Christ and given them the power and right to believe in Christ. The unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), an enemy of God, helpless and a sinner (Romans 5:8-10). Without the Spirit working in the unbeliever first he will not believe. He has no will to believe because he is dead in his sin which enslaves him.


Name: Jay
Date:05-26-2014
Comments:
Tim,
Limited atonement means that the death of Christ is applied only to those who believe in Christ. This is the elect since only they are given the right to believe in Him. Only those who are drawn by the Father can come to Christ for salvation. The atonement is applied only to those who God has granted to believe in Christ and thus it is limited.


Name: Jay
Date:05-26-2014
Comments:
Tim,
It is true that Christ died for the sins of the world and gave Himself as a ransom for all. However, if we take this to mean that all the sins of the world have been paid for and forgiven we have a problem. Hell exist and many will be condemned there. How could this be if we are to understand the death of Christ as a payment for all the sins of the world? How could God condemn a man if that man's sin was already paid for by Christ? This would be an injustice.

This is why limited atonement makes the best sense of the texts. The death etc of Christ is applied only to the elect and not to the entire world.


Comment Box
Name:  
Email: *Emails will not be displayed on this blog.  
Comments:

 

 


keep em Catholic
Lean More


Islam Exposed
Lean More