Monday, May 22, 2006


A few weeks ago I was discussing the topic of Limited Atonement with two Atlanta-area Bible college students. They both claimed to be Calvinists but were wrestling with the tormenting question, for whom did Christ die? (AKA The Extent Of Christ’s Atonement). They proffered the usual arguments of the "all passages," for example, 2 Cor 5:14, 15; 1 Tim 4:10; Tit 2:11; etc., and the "world passages," for example, Jn 1:29; 3:16; 12:47; 2 Cor 5:19; etc., passages stating that Christ died for all and for the world but passages that are egregiously mistaken to mean that Christ died at least to make salvation possible for every human being.

I retorted that the logical and theological inferences from their potential universal salvation scheme were grievous: firstly, that Christ actually died for no one in particular; secondly, it is man who actually and really saves himself -- he has the moral ability to choose Christ without any independent, prior divine enablement; thirdly, final responsibility for salvation rests with each individual because he possesses the ultimate, decisive power in regeneration; and fourthly, man therefore deserves all the honor, praise and glory.

Their swift objection to these remarks precluded my extension of their position to other necessary consequences which would include a lack of the assurance of salvation; a loss of the joy of salvation; a hindered witness, work and worship; religious schizophrenia alternating between emotions of He loves me and He loves me not; and ultimately, no salvation at all since Christ is our only Savior and Mediator, Acts 4:12; 16:30; 1 Tim 2:5; etc.

They accepted my suggestion to review the TULIP, the acrostic named after the Dutch flower and the summary of the Dutch Calvinists’ response to the remonstrations of Jacob Arminius' followers at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). We started with the T-- TOTAL DEPRAVITY, which means that apart from God's prior, monergistic, external work in fallen man, the sinner is totally or radically unable to prepare himself for salvation, to incline himself to salvation, to turn to God, to please and obey Him, etc., Pss 51:5; 58:3; Jer 17:9; Rom 8:7; etc. Here my two young friends further demurred. They did not grasp the profundity of radical depravity and in fact subscribed to a partial depravity of man in his Adamic nature. They endowed sinful man with a remnant capacity, “an island of righteousness,” with which he is able to cooperate with God in his salvation. It was strange -- their idea of radical was anything but radical. Their understanding of the term “total” practically pointed to a meaning of “partial.” Their frenetic attempts to jitterbug on this issue proved to be futile as also were my tries to show the logical and theological contiguousness of the Calvinistic scheme. In the end, they departed mildly shaken but stubbornly unconvinced of the historical interpretation and application of the term radical. They stumbled and fell at the first point.

Yet the Scripture insists that apart from the Holy Spirit's monergistic regenerating work in his heart, changing it from one of stone to one of flesh and savingly enlightening him to trust in Christ as He is presented in the Gospel, man is completely and irretrievably lost. He is dead in his transgressions and sins, Eph 2:1, 2. Dead means dead. Theologically speaking, it means he is hostile to God, unresponsive to him, hates Him and needs the miracle of the new birth to quicken him and to cause him to respond to God's gracious overtures toward him in the Gospel. It is only when we embrace these fundamental truths of biblical anthropology, truths that are embedded in the first point of the TULIP, that we can correctly understand the necessity for and the inseparability of all its points. Because fallen man is TOTALLY (RADICALLY) DEPRAVED, that is to say, he is sinful, corrupt and polluted to the very core or root of his being (radical derives from the Latin word radix, meaning root), in order for him to be saved, God must UNCONDITIONALLY ELECT him unto salvation. This in turn means that God Himself decides which of fallen, condemned man, if any, He will save. By His abounding love and mercy and for His Own glory according to the pleasure of His will, God chooses a particular or LIMITED number of sinners in Christ to Himself and it is for these that Christ made ATONEMENT. In history and time, the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s atoning work by regenerating them and then they IRRESISTIBLY and freely answer His effectual call without doing violence to their will. Lastly, these are the very ones our Trinitarian God ensures will PERSEVERE to the end: the Farther works out His plan in them enabling them to press on, Phi 1:6; 2:12, 13; the Son continues His Priesthood role of praying for them, Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; the Holy Spirit continues the application of Christ’s redemption to their hearts by sanctifying and enabling them to produce spiritual fruit indicative of their salvation, Gal 5:22, 23, and constantly assuring them of their filial relationship, Rom 8:15-17; Gal 4:6,7.

It is only in this biblical scheme, otherwise denominated as Calvinistic, that God alone receives the glory that is rightly due Him, Ps 96:4-8; Isa 42:8; etc. It is only in this scheme that the divine sovereignty in man's salvation is zealously, consistently and reverently maintained. It is only in this scheme that we can truly exult that salvation is only of the Lord, Jon 2:9.

Can we opt for some of these five points or must we accept them all? Contrary to the post-modern penchant and reverence for free choice, these points constitute a comprehensive, concrete concatenation. To change, adjust or tamper with any of these points is to sever their unity and to destroy the completeness of their thought. Such action lands us in the Arminian camp. There's no such being as a 4-point, 3-point, 2-point Calvinist; these are all variations of Arminianism. A partial Calvinist is an Arminian.

But notice this scheme receives its foundation from a correct biblical understanding of the fallen nature of man, TOTAL DEPRAVITY, the first point. Failing to grasp the full ramifications of this point perforce catapults us over the Arminian precipice. As for me, I'm a 1-point Calvinist. I (believe I) understand TOTAL DEPRAVITY, especially as it is evinced in my own life. Would that we were all 1-pointers. That’s my point, my first point !


At 8:47 AM, Blogger LouLove said...

I really appreciate the way you make your "point".

At 3:30 PM, Blogger mileach said...

Keep praying for me, brother.. that I'd be more and more faithful. Warmest regards to your family.


At 1:25 AM, Blogger mondoshiggo said...

What I've encountered as I traverse these same paths with the spiritually unwilling is their commitment to an "intellectual dishonesty." I have since attempted to barter truth for truth in the beggining of the conversation to set bumper guards to stay out of the gutter when the ball starts to roll to the edge of the lane.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Hello said...

This post was written with the mistaken assumption that Calvinsim and Arminianism are the only two options. There are, of course numerous views: Look into the Catholic view (there are actually 3 Catholic views, but the most predestinarian view is called Augustinianism) AND the Lutheran view (which accepts The first 2 points of TULIP). In other words, you can accept Total depravity without acceptig limited atonement.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger mileach said...

to hello..
Not if you're striving for logical and theological consistency; not if God's sovereignty and glory are protected and promoted in every step of the way. What are the possibiities other that limited atonement? First, no atonement, that is, that no one will be saved. I'm sure no one believes this. Second, unlimited atonement-- that all are saved. An increasingly popular view, yes, but it God's justice. Third, unlimited potential atonement--means Christ actually and really died to save no one only to make salvation possible. But this conflicts with such explicit passages as Mt 1:21; Jn 6:37,39, 44; 10:9-11,27-30; Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25-27; etc. In this case of Christ dying to render salvation possible, we are obliged to conclude that His atonement is not perfect because some He died for will not be saved; His sacrifice is therefore inefficacious; and that the sinner actually is responsible for his salvation. We must be consistent. Take care.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger pilgrim said...


i think 5-pointers such as yourself would be much more effective if they relied upon the principle of sola scriptura, rather than "logical and theological consistency."

IMHO, 5-pointers' appeals to logic (rather than exigesis) smacks of Aristotelian rationalism. With all due respect, your conversations with the college students and your reply to Hello appear to consist primarily of logic/human reason and some proof texting tacked on at the end (at least re: "L" so-called limited atonement).

Believe me, i have no affection for Arminianism, but i am also aware of the danger of trying to harmonize biblical paradox with human reason.

As Spurgeon once said, "Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation."

"I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God."

kind regards.


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