Ramifications of 4 Point Calvinism

Limited atonement states that God dies for only the sins of the elect and not for all men. The problem with this philosophy arises from passages like 1 John 2:2 where we see John stating the Jesus didn’t just die for the sins of believers but the “whole world” Many render this passage to mean the “entire world” or everyone “in the world”. It seems that the most accurate method of reading this passage is exactly as it states “the entire world”. However, one must consider the ramifications of this rendering on the exegesis of scripture and the philosophy of Calvinism. Can the “L” actually be removed from T-U-L-I-P without creating an inconsistent scriptural reading? I simply see no method of doing so.

Classic Calvinism would state that it requires God’s intervention on our behalf in order for us to reach salvation. In a nonequivalent manner (called equal ultimacy) God choose not to act on the behalf of all men. This means some men go to heaven and some go to hell. Certainly this is supported by scriptures like Romans 9:21 and anything other than this rendering is outside of the pale of orthodoxy and it referred to as Universalism. God’s desire to NOT act on someones behalf means that he or she is condemned by his or her individual sin. Without intercession, you are condemned by your own actions. We were given our sin nature from Adam but our individual sin is what condemns us not the actions of our first fathers. If we are to remove the “L” or limited atonement and make it unlimited atonement, one would then have to explain how God is justified in sending people to hell. In other words, if it is the act of atonement that saves people from their sins then God is either:

(1) Is a cosmic bully for sending people to hell even though they are seen as sinless in His eyes. Certainly rendering the atonement in this manner is much different than the way the Old Testament would render it.

  1. There is yet another act required for salvation. Arminianism would state man must accept the free gift of salvation. It is not the atonement that clears sin but acceptance of the atoning work on the cross. It would be affirming the words of Norman Geisler who states: “The cross does not save anyone”
  2. Or the atonement does not do anything for salvation. Though Jesus atoned for the sins of everyone he justifies only those whom he calls as we see in Romans 8:29-30

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

All of these possibilities have major holes in them and are not supported by the entirety scripture. Though I would accept (3) as the most consistent possibility, it ignores the Jewish understanding of the atoning sacrifice of the high priest in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the atoning sacrifice is what made one right with God. Interestingly, the atonement in the Old Testament, like in the new was limited to the elect or chosen people.

I think the most reasonable response to this passage is to look at the context and see if one can determine another possible rendering of the passage. Many attempts have been made to do this and I believe the best explanation is defining whole world in a more global and not individual sense. In other words, John is stating that Jesus atoned for the sin of the elect throughout the world and not for everyone in the world. John is referring to types of people (Jews, Greeks, Kings, Queens, Etc). Below is a possible paraphrase of this passage

He is the atoning sacrifice for our local body’s sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the elect throughout the whole world.”

Certainly this is a plausible context of the passage and it is supported by other symbolic terms used by John in the same passage. If we look down in 1 John 2:15 we see:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John is not speaking about individuals in this passage. After all Jesus’ primary command of us is to “Love God and Love one another”. If John actually means do not love anything in the world, he would be in direct contrast to Jesus’ commandment. In fact looking just above 1 John 2:15 we see John state this very thing when he says:

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him[c] to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

John, in this sense, means do not love what the world represents. His use of the world is not addressing individuals at all but more global sense.

I think we need to look at the context of John in two terms. (1) He is not specifically addressing the atonement in this passage so we should not expect a robust explanation. (2) John is combating heresies and it is entirely possible that he is not only addressing the Gnostic understanding of the resurrection (not a physical resurrection) but also the Judaizers who were limiting Jesus’ atonement to them. Certainly anyone who had a base understanding of the Old Testament would see that the sacrificial atonement of the spotless animal was just for the chosen people. No one would ever accept that the Old Testament atonement was global in scope. Again and again we see Jesus represented as a spotless lamb and final atonement who atoned for the work of the elect throughout the world. This does not change in the New Testament but we can be certain that some misunderstood who the chosen people were. John would definitely understand the symbolism behind the atonement and might be addressing it here.

Whatever the case, the removal of limited atonement creates a mishmash of theological ideas that are as far reaching as Universalism (Jesus conquered hell and closed it). For this reason I think the most reasonable explanation is a rendering of the passage as I stated above.

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