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THE PROPITIATORY WORK OF CHRIST IN ATONEMENT

Atonement for sin has been made by Christ Jesus and yet not all persons will be saved. Why is that? TULIP Calvinists answer, Because the intention of the atonement of Christ was ever and always for the unconditionally elect alone. Should the atonement be extended to any more than the unconditionally elect then the charge of “double payment” is introduced, thus, allegedly, supporting their atonement theory. But is this argument valid?

If Calvinists were correct at this point then we would have to admit that every “unconditionally elect” person was actually saved at the moment Christ died for their sins nearly two thousand years ago, quite prior to their birth. “Alas!” the Calvinist balks, “only at the moment when one trusts in Christ is the atonement applied to the unconditionally elect individual.” Well, if application is the condition of the atonement, and hence salvation of an individual, then the Arminian’s penal substitution view is also warranted, since Arminians argue on biblical grounds that Christ’s atonement was offered for the whole world, as Scripture teaches (cf. John 1:29), but it must be applied on the condition of faith in order to be efficacious.

In other words, what we find inconsistent about the Calvinistic view is its allowance for a condition to the atonement in its model (applied only upon faith) but its denial in Arminian theology for a condition for the reception of the atonement (applied only upon faith). Christ died for the sin of the whole world (cf. John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 John 2:2 et al.). However, neither will the whole world be saved nor is there a problem of double payment, since the application of atonement has as its condition faith in Christ Jesus. The individual who enters the realm of hell for eternity does not have the the payment of atonement applied or credited to him. There is no double payment. The argument is invalid.  

Again, Arminians remind Calvinists that no one is forgiven, justified, and thus saved (i.e., regenerated cf. Titus 3:5) apart from grace through faith in Christ. The atonement Jesus proffered is not applied or credited to anyone apart from faith. In his latest book Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, edited by J. Matthew Pinson, published by Randall House Publications, 2011, Dr. F. Leroy Forlines writes the following.

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Calvinists argue that all for whom Christ died must of necessity be saved since His death settles their account and therefore forms the necessary basis for their forgiveness. Either Christ died for everybody and everybody would be saved, or He died only for the [unconditionally] elect and only the elect will be saved, the objection states.

Again, the answer is found in the kind of substitution involved. Christ died for the whole world in a provisionary sense. He suffered the penal wrath of God for sin, but that fact alone does not place His death on everybody’s account. It can be efficacious only as it is placed on a person’s account. It can be placed on a person’s account only as a result of a union with Christ. Union with Christ is conditioned on faith.

The Calvinist may want to insist that the objection is valid and that Christ died only for the elect. The only way this argument could have any validity would be to deny the possibility of provisionary atonement. . . . [Louis Berkhof, for example, did not admit] that the atonement automatically saved everybody for whom it was intended. Calvinists do not teach that the elect are justified before they experience faith. They teach that the person for whom Christ died will of a certainty be justified, but they do not consider a person justified until he experiences faith as the condition of justification. Thus, atonement is provisionary until the time it is applied. The only way to deny the provisionary nature of atonement is to consider all people for whom Christ died to be justified before they experience faith. 

Once it is accepted that atonement is provisionary [a fact the Calvinist must concede lest he or she adopt the heresy of eternal justification], the objection, which states that penal satisfaction leads to either universalism or limited atonement, is seen to be invalid. Atonement is provisionary until it is applied. It can be applied only on the condition of faith and on the grounds of union with Christ. When applied, atonement becomes efficacious. Then and only then is atonement efficacious. The objection that the penal satisfaction view requires either universalism or limited atonement fails. . . .

The discussion above about provisionary atonement and union with Christ answers [the objection of double payment with regard to sinners who go to Hell]. The death of Christ is not on the sinner’s account who goes to Hell. His account does not show a double payment. It is true that his sins were paid for provisionally, but there is no double payment as long as there is no double entry on the person’s account. No person will go to hell with the death and righteousness of Christ on his account.

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F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology for Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 233-35.

Filed under: THE ATONEMENT Tagged: ARMINIUS ON THE ATONEMENT, ATONEMENT, CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM, DOUBLE PAYMENT, F. LEROY FORLINES, GENERAL ATONEMENT, J. MATTHEW PINSON, LIMITED ATONEMENT, PARTICULAR ATONEMENT, PENAL SATISFCATION, PENAL SUBSTITUTION, REFORMED ARMINIANISM, UNIVERSALISM, UNLIMITED ATONEMENT

© 2011, Matt. All rights reserved.

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