Friday, May 3, 2013

The Trinitarian Argument For the Limited Atonement

One of the common arguments for the limited atonement is that the members of the Trinity have the same goal and purpose and therefore the Son would not die for those whom the Father did not elect. According to those making this argument, a universal atonement would put the Son in conflict with the Father.

The first problem with this argument is epistemological. The argument assumes that through our fallen human reason we can get inside of God's head and figure out what God would do in a particular circumstance. God explicitly says in Scripture that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts but the argument assumes that they are. In reality, everything about the atonement is mysterious, paradoxical, and runs counter to our human reason and yet they latch on to one piece of it and think they can arrive at some theological truth via human reason.

The Trinity itself is revealed in Scripture but is beyond all human reason. God is one being and three persons as Scripture tells us, but whenever someone tries to explain this in a way that is reasonable they end up denying either the threeness or oneness of God. God is far greater than any of us and it shouldn't be any surprise that God is incomprehensible apart from His self-revelation. It's not surprising that most Calvinist churches have abandoned the Trinitarian worship of the historic liturgy in favor of more reasonable forms of worship.

The incarnation defies all human reason. God dying for sinners defies all human reason. The meaning of the atonement cannot be arrived at with our reason but must be revealed to us by God. I would argue that any argument that demands that the atonement be reasonable has presuppositions behind it that if taken to their logical conclusion would lead to a denial of the atonement completely. There is nothing reasonable about God dying for us sinners who killed Him. Annihilation would be reasonable. I think if the Calvinist presuppositions are taken seriously, not creating us in the first place would actually be the only reasonable option. The doctrine of the limited atonement is in fact a distraction from the absolutely confounding and offensive reality of the crucifixion itself. It turns our eyes away from God bleeding and dying for us to the hidden God which is not revealed but what we think we can figure out.

The limited atonement is also contrary to the plain teachings of Scripture. The Calvinist has explanations for all the passages you can produce just like every theology has some sort of answer for passages that contradict it, but it's hard to believe that Jesus or the Apostles would speak in the way that they do if they actually believed in a limited atonement. I've never heard Calvinists speak in the way that the Scriptures speak about the atonement without lots of qualifications and insertions. A Calvinist would never speak of those who deny the Master who bought them unless they are preaching on that specific passage and then they will spend the first half of the sermon telling you about why it doesn't mean what it sounds like it means. The Calvinist will never say with the Apostle Paul that all men who died in Adam were justified in Christ on the cross.

There is no conflict between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God loved the world and sent His Son to die for it. God desires the salvation of all men. We may not understand why God does not then elect all men but it's foolish to try to twist the clear passages of Scripture to make God act in a way that we think is appropriate because the crucifixion shows that God does not act in ways that we think are appropriate.

The Trinitarian argument for the limited atonement seems to assume a god who doesn't do more than he absolutely has to. But God is gracious and mericful and bestows His good gifts upon all men. The promises of God in Christ are far too wonderful to consider reasonable or try to explain away. Instead we should cling to them in faith. Christ died for sinners. That's good news because you're a sinner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A God who doesn't do more than he absolutely has to" would do NOTHING at all, because God doesn't "have to" do anything! The creation itself was an act of grace.