Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Limiting the Atonement: The Bible Speaks, Part II: A Response to Spurgeon's Claim

I’m back to continue my response to Charles Spurgeon’s quote as presented in John Owen’s book “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.” Spurgeon’s quote from Owen’s book was quoted by authors David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn in their book “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented,” done by P&R Publishing.

In any case, I noted in the last post that Spurgeon had no room to make such a quote for two reasons: first, because the Calvinist “L” from the “TULIP” stands for “LIMITED” atonement. The name itself gives away the function of the atonement in Calvinist theology. Spurgeon may have never held to this (or he may have). I’ve read sources that seem to linger on this, but I suspect he held to a form of “unlimited” atonement or what most would label today as “singular redemption” (sufficient atonement for all, efficient atonement for those who believe). However, the point I made was that Spurgeon cannot “look across the fence” at Arminians and claim they limit the atonement when the “L” of the Calvinist “TULIP” is standing “in his own backyard” (i.e., in the Calvinist camp, a theology to which he espoused).

Next, I responded to Spurgeon’s advocacy of “consistency,” and I made the point that he had no right to do so when one considers that he never held to supralapsarianism, which states that God “unconditionally” both elected and reprobated with regards to humanity (see part I of “Limiting the Atonement”). If one is to be a consistent Calvinist, he can only be a five-point Calvinist: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election (and thus, unconditional reprobation), Limited Atonement (no “unlimited”), Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Spurgeon did not hold to limited atonement, nor did he hold to “unconditional reprobation.” On those grounds alone, Mr. Spurgeon stood inconsistent in his own theology. In the words of Ken Keathley,

“The dilemma for the Calvinist is that he cannot take his starting assumptions to their logical conclusions...John Gerstner warned his fellow Calvinists that in its formulation of the relationship of God’s decree to sin, Reformed theology ‘hovers’ over ‘the abyss of blasphemy.’ To their credit, CALVINISTS BY AND LARGE DO NOT TAKE THE PLUNGE” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 149).

Spurgeon, a self-proclaimed Calvinist, could not take his theology to its logical conclusion: which would entail the unconditional election of the saved and the unconditional damnation of the unsaved. With his speech about Arminians being “consistent,” shouldn’t some Arminian have given Spurgeon a speech about “consistency” instead?

Now, on to the topic at hand: how it is that Arminians “limit” the atonement. Let’s read Spurgeon’s words once more:

“The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, ‘No, certainly not.’ We ask them the next question--- Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, ‘No. Christ has died that any man may be saved if’---and then follow certain conditions of salvation. NOW, WHO IS IT THAT LIMITS THE DEATH OF CHRIST? WHY, YOU...” (“Five Points of Calvinism,” page 41)

If Arminians “limit” the atonement in any way, we do so because of the words of Scripture regarding the atonement. Here’s what the Scriptures tell us about conditions for salvation:

“that IF you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9, NKJV).

“but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, but as it were, by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:31-32).

“For ‘WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him IN WHOM THEY HAVE NOT BELIEVED?” (Rom. 10:13, 14)


“Now the just SHALL LIVE BY FAITH” (Heb. 10:38a, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11).

“But without FAITH it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must BELIEVE that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

These verses alone testify to the condition of faith in order to receive God’s gift of eternal life. Spurgeon may not have agreed with my assessment here, but this is what Scripture teaches. Nowhere in the Bible can it be said that unconditional election exists, and statements like “he chose us in Christ” (Eph. 1) must be reconciled with statements about faith being the requirement for salvation. If we are chosen “in Christ,” and we must “believe in Christ” to be saved (Rom. 10:9), then what’s the problem? Why can’t election be conditioned on the basis of faith?

My goal in this two-post series was to engage Charles Spurgeon’s assumptions of Arminianism, as well as his attack on Arminian limitations of the atonement. If we limit it, we do so only because Scripture teaches it. However, the fact that it is possible for every single person to be saved testifies more to the universal inclusion view of the Arminians than the unconditional exclusion view of the Calvinists.

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