The Atonement Question: Extent or Intent?

What did Christ achieve on the cross?  That question has been the subject of debate for centuries, particularly between those who espouse the doctrine of Particular Redemption (also known less helpfully as “Limited Atonement”) and those who espouse General Redemption (also known less helpfully “Unlimited Atonement”).  The question at issue between these two camps is usually posed this way: for whom did Christ die?  Or, what is the extent of the atonement?  Does the atonement cover all people, or only the elect?

I submit that this way of framing the question needs to be refined.  Theologian Robert Letham first pointed me in this direction when he argued (in an appendix to one of his books) that the real issue of debate is not the extent of the atonement, but rather the intent of the atonement.  That is, we should not ask, “How far does the atonement reach?” but rather, “What did God the Father and Christ his obedient Son intend to accomplish through his death?”  Did God intend to render propitiation for all sins of all people, thereby removing his wrath from all?  Did he intend to render propitiation for all sins of all people contingent on their own faith response, thereby potentially removing his wrath from all?  Or did he intend to secure the salvation of his elect by securing not only the propitiation for their sins but also the certainty of their faith response as itself a benefit of the atonement?  Or is it even more nuanced than I have represented here?  I will take up the question in the next post.

But for now, let’s keep one thing in mind: the debate over Particular Redemption and General Redemption is not so much about extent as it is about intent.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in The Cross of Christ. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s