The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy

Few theological questions today gender such impassioned debate as the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Just about every Christian has a view on this issue, and likely holds to it quite strongly. The question itself can be understood in different ways. On the broad scale, the question can be read against the backdrop of universalist readings of the atonement versus more exclusivist readings of the atonement. The universalist understanding posits that Christ’s death is universal in application: the sins of all men are already forgiven through the cross. All that is left is for unbelievers to simply recognize that they are already forgiven and justified. The exclusivist understanding, typical among evangelicals, holds that Christ’s death is limited in application: it is applied only to believers.

More narrowly, within evangelicalism a different sort of debate with regard to the extent of the atonement occurs. This debate takes the shape of general atonement versus limited atonement, and it runs down a dividing line between Calvinist and Arminian views of soteriology. While both sides agree that the atonement is limited in its application to believers, they disagree on whether God effectually intends to save the elect alone through Christ’s atonement. Arminians deny this, while Calvinists affirm it. This debate has spawned a number of books, both scholarly and not-so-scholarly, and is a source of no small contention for the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., which allows for both Arminian and Calvinist viewpoints in their membership. Continue reading “The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy”