Original source here.
Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge University) is associate minister at Cambridge Presbyterian Church and assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of historical and biblical articles in Themelios and Journal of Biblical Literature and regularly speaks at conferences in Australia and South Africa. Jonathan and his wife, Jackie, have two children.
There are four things that put people off the doctrine of atonement:
1. It is defined incorrectly.
J.C. Ryle said that the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy. Often people reject definite atonement because they haven’t heard it properly defined, they don’t understand it, or they think if they believe in it then they have to reject a whole bunch of other doctrines like God’s common grace, his love for the nonelect, and his salvific stance to the world. So if the doctrine is accurately defined, then people won’t be as put off by it.
2. Unfortunate terminology is used.
Historically, definite atonement has been known as limited atonement, and I think the adjective limited is particularly unfortunate. It is unfortunate because, in redemptive history, we’ve been waiting for an atonement for Jew and Gentile, and here it is in the death of Christ, and now we’re trying to limit it? That’s why I prefer the term definite atonement.
3. It is not seen as a biblical-systematic doctrine.
Some people feel that there are too many biblical texts that seem to speak against definite atonement.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)
“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, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
So, people think that a single biblical text knocks the doctrine over, or does away with it. But if you understand the doctrine as a biblical-systematic doctrine, then you see that no one text proves it, and no one text disproves it.
4. It is believed to stifle evangelism.
The final reason people are put off by definite atonement is they feel it becomes a deterrent to evangelism and mission—if Christ didn’t die for everyone, then how can they go and evangelize and preach the gospel indiscriminately to everyone?
Those are reasons why people are put off by it, but if we accurately define definite atonement, give it it’s proper terminology, see it as a biblical-systematic doctrine, and see that definite atonement doesn’t hinder evangelism, but motivates us to evangelism, then more people will be encouraged to embrace this important doctrine.
Related Article: 10 Things You Should Know about Definite Atonement
1. Definite atonement is a way of speaking about the intent and nature of Christ’s death.
The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. In a nutshell: the death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone; and not only was it intended to do that but it effectively achieved it as well. Jesus will be true to his name: he will save his people from their sins. In this regard, the adjective ‘definite’ does double duty: Christ’s death was definite in its intent—he died to save a particular people; and it was definite in its nature—his death really does atone for sin.
2. Definite atonement has courted controversy in the Christian church.
For some, definite atonement is a ‘grim doctrine’ (Karl Barth), containing ‘horrible blasphemies’ (John Wesley); for others, it is a ‘textless doctrine’ (Broughton Knox), arrived at by logic rather than by a straightforward reading of the Scriptures (RT Kendall). Pastorally, definite atonement is viewed as the Achilles’ heel of the Reformed faith, quenching a zeal for evangelism and inviting despair rather than assurance for the believer. With such a checkered history, one may well ask why we should even discuss the doctrine, never mind believe it. But just because a doctrine is controversial does not mean it should not be discussed, defended or embraced. Were that the case, we would not be Trinitarian Christians who hold to justification by faith alone! Continue reading