Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor? (Part 1)

In his article “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?” for The Alabama Baptist state paper, Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. employs the term “Dortian Calvinism” to refer to the system of belief that affirms the doctrines commonly summarized as “TULIP” as key components of its soteriology (that is, teachings concerning salvation). “Dortian Calvinism” is a helpful term in a climate where everyone from Dr. Bruce Ware to Dr. Norman Geisler is claiming to be some sort of Calvinist.

In critiquing the scriptural understanding of “Dortian Calvinism,” Dr. Garrett begins with the “L” of the “TULIP”- the doctrine of Limited atonement. This is an understandable starting point, for in most Baptist circles this doctrine is considered the most controversial of the five.

Dr. Garrett starts his critique of Limited atonement with the statement, “Those who teach limited atonement are prone to cite five New Testament passages in support of their position.” My first response to this sentence is, “Only five?” This immediately gives the impression that there are only a handful of New Testament passages that are cited for this doctrine, and thus the stage is set for a ‘proof-text war’ in which the party that can provide more passages that seem to support its position will be victorious. But, as will be detailed below, this is not how ‘Dortian Calvinists’ typically have taught our position.

What are the ‘five passages’ to which Dr. Garrett refers? They are: 1) Matthew 1:21, 2) John 10:15b (cross-referenced with Matthew 25:32-33), 3) John 15:3, 4) Acts 20:28c, and 5) Ephesians 5:25. (I would like to add that in addition to the appropriate cross-reference of John 10:15b- “I lay down My life for the sheep”- with Matthew 25:32-33, Dr. Garrett should have also indicated a passage closer in context; namely, John 10:26, where Jesus explains the unbelief of His accusers- “But you don’t believe because you are not my sheep.”)

These passages do, indeed, begin to indicate that, regarding the intention of God in providing the work of Christ on the Cross as the perfect atonement, a specific people was in view. But I object to Dr. Garrett’s statement, “The accumulated references to ‘His people,’ ‘the sheep,’ ‘his [sic] friends’ and ‘the church’ are said to show that the intention of Jesus in His death was to die only for elect humans.” It is not merely “accumulated references” that are the issue. For Calvinism- from before Dort, as demonstrated in Calvin’s Commentaries, and afterward- has always claimed its strength from exegesis of the text. What do the verses cited above mean in their respective contexts? What truth regarding the limit of the atonement can be gleaned by a comparison of Scripture with Scripture? These are the questions someone following the Calvinist tradition of exegesis will ask- not being satisfied with a mere tallying of verses.

In this regard, it is also important to note verses that Dr. Garrett did not cite- verses that, although not as immediately apparent to their connection with this issue, once understood in their context, provide the clearest understanding of the limit of the atonement.

Romans 8:32 falls occurs in a passage comforting Christians with the revelation of God’s sovereignty, particularly in matters of salvation. In rhetorically asking, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” the apostle directly ties the final reward of all believers (the intended recipients of the letter being “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”- Rom. 1:7) with the death of Christ on our behalf. If a counter-example can be provided- if one could say, “Well, God gave up His own Son for me, but I was not graciously given all things- I was left in my own sins and given Hell!” Then the entire argument of this verse is destroyed. I would encourage anyone reading this to further study of this passage.

Hebrews 10:14 is relevant to this argument in that it occurs within a passage directly teaching about the atonement provided by Jesus. This passage (and verses throughout the context) makes a direct connection between the “single offering” of Jesus and the perfection of “those who are being sanctified.” How did “those who are being sanctified” come into this state? Hebrews 10:10 tells us that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The “perfect offering” “of the body of Jesus Christ”- an offering that is perfect in the sense that it does not need repetition and in the sense that it needs nothing to be added to it in order for it to bring about its intended results- this “perfect offering” directly results in our sanctification and our perfection. In other words, Hebrews 10:14 is teaching that Christ’s work on the Cross has provided a particular benefit (being perfected) that will certainly be applied to a particular people (“those who are being sanctified”), which people are also delimited by the work of Christ upon the Cross.

This is how I would begin to supplement Dr. Garrett’s presentation on what Calvinists believe concerning Limited atonement. In my next post, I will examine Dr. Garrett’s attempt to prove “Unlimited atonement.”

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13 Comments on “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor? (Part 1)”

  1. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Being dumb like I am, this one is a real confusing point. Don’t Arminians all believe, even defining foreknowledge as seeing into the future who would choose Christ, that that number is fixed.

    Before a discussion on limited atonement can take place, won’t it be necessary to lay the ground rules by defing the nature of God. If the definition of Diety remains flexible so that derivative doctrines do not have governing presuppostitions, it makes little sense to argue the supporting Scriptures. It will always remain in that tit-for-tat arena. The tally sheet will be the determining value, regardless.

    What must take place then is a discussion concerning the reason that Dort declared the doctrines of the Remonstrates heresy. It was not merely the fact that they contradicted the Reformed postition. It was because they overthrew essential doctrines foundational to our entire concept of God. That is really the issue. And, it was at the heart of the Remonstrates arguements. That is, they argued that the Reformed postitions destroyed the nature of the Deity and dishonored him, I thought?

    From the Canons:

    For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture.

    So, there is first “the wisdom of God,” second, the merit of Christ, and third, contrariness to Scripture.

    It is: Just who is God, that is at the heart of the debate. The other points of doctrine flow from that.

    For “all his works are known to God from eternity”

  2. genembridges Says:

    Thomas, the Remonstrants at Dort had more problems than disagreements with the doctrines of grace. They denied things like the innate knowledge of God due to their belief in libertarian freedom. The arguments they used were quite developed.

    If you get Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, there is an article there that explains that in some detail. Dort called them “heretics” not merely over the doctrines of grace, but due to several sub-Christian views. This is frequently glossed over by modern Arminians.

  3. Thomas Twitchell Says:


    That is what I was getting at. I know the issues are many facetted and agree, that it is the sub-Christian issues that are really at the heart of the disputation.

    Do you have a resource for Protestant Scholasticism?

    Thankyou for your continuing concern towards me. I cannot express how much it means.

  4. Thomas Twitchell Says:


    I found it here:

    And at Amazon. I will have to wait till cash flow is better.

    I found this also:

    This is yours isn’t it Gene? Some of this appears at Founders. This is a nice synopsis.

    You said:

    “He (Beza) is Christ-centered, pastoral, and a theologian who is conscious of the attributes of God relative to Christology.”

    Systematic Theology from what little I have seen begins with God. Reymond begins his with Scripture, but that is understandable since it is the primary source for our understanding. That our ordering of discussion would rule the rest of our theology seems ludicrous. The proper understanding of each doctrine within its own domain is critical however and confusing categories just get us lost in a morass of clarifications.

    When you said:

    “It would make for a much more effective presentation by the critics if they would actually produce some original research, instead of repeating trite clichés that crumble upon close examination. Let’s see Ergun and Emir Caner, who both are supposed to be professors of history and theology, interact with the materials on this subject….

    Were you also saying that they have:

    “the appearance of (a) dilettante(s)”.

  5. genembridges Says:

    Sure, here’s the book:

    Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment

    This is a collection of essays. Lutheran and Reformed topics are discussed.

    and this is new

    Reformation and Scholasticism (out in September).

    This is the big set:

    Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (FYI, Muller is not, as I recall a Calvinist, but his work is the standard in terms of descriptve work).

  6. Paul Says:

    Since I am a person who has moved from an “Ergun Caner” position to a Reformation position, I can say that it was simply the study of God’s Word that convinced me I was mistaken. Part of my problem was ignorance. When I heard of “Limited Atonement” I assumed that it was a denigrating view of Christ’s blood in that it was limited in its ability to save. Only much later did I realize that it means something far different and that’s why I prefer to say “Particular Redemption”. For the ordinary Christian today we must carefully define our terms.

  7. Paul:

    I absolutely agree. The only reason I even used the term “Limited atonement” is because this is the term Dr Garrett employed (and it has, somewhat unwisely, been often used by Reformed teachers in the past).

    In Christ,

  8. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    If the term has been used it will continue to be sited by both sides. While I agree that the term may be a stumbling block for some, the doctrine itself will not be affect by the change in terms.

    As Garrett has done, the opposition will assert their side using what ever means best supports it. If it is the negative connotation implied by the term that is necessary to effect majority appeal, though it may not be diffinitively decisive, it will remain emotionally divisive and a plus on their side of the column. So, we had better be able to defend its use whenever the case is being made by an appeal to emotions.

  9. JUSTIN Says:

    the way I see the issue of limited atonement is like this. Christ’s gift is sufficient. If everyone in the world now, in the past, and in the future was redeemed then Christ’s gift could easily cover everyone’s sin. But that is obviously not the case… the bible says in the famous scripture romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death….what does that mean? that means that someone MUST pay for our sin. If we accept Jesus’ gift (weather we have a choice or not) Christ pays our price of death for us. If we do not accept the free gift we must pay the price ourselves. If everyones sins were covered, then everyone would go to heaven. But obviously there are people that have that are and that will go to hell and that is because they are paying for thier own sins. God I think looks at it like this ” someone is going to die for these sins…its either you or its my Son Jesus.”

    For an easy illistration i will use this…you may have heard this.
    say that i am going to take 10 of my closest friends to dinner. and I walk in to the place we are going to eat and I give the cashier my credit card and I say whatever anyone in my party wants I will pay for it. I have given the payment ahead of anything that anyone in my party could want is covered by that credit card…but lets say that one of my friends isnt hungry and does not eat. is my gift still sufficient to cover him as well? of course, but he did not eat so did I end up paying for his meal? no…if he would have accepted the gift would I have? of course, but he did not accept. I think it is the same way with Christ. His gift could cover absolutely anyone, but I think that it is almost insulting to say that he has paid for the sins of those people that are in hell…that to me says that his gift was accepted, but was not sufficient!

    just my thoughts
    God bless

  10. Thomas Twitchell Says:


    First of all, the price was not paid in advance of, and placed in a bank for the use of, those who are being saved. The price is paid to the Father with the blood of the Son, and Hebrews tells us that it sanctifies the children for their redemption at the at the time of the sacrifice. There is no temporal sequencing of the payment, only the application to those already redeemed has temporality.

    The parable of the supper of the landowner describes it this way. The invitation goes out, but it is rejected, not as a meal that is desireable and able to be purchased by anyone, but as one that is purchased specifically for the consumption of some. There is no wasted price. Those who do come do not come of their own libertarian free-will. The words that are used are those of compulsion. Each term conveys the meaning of another carrying in a dead load. They connote the idea of a bundle of sticks tied together and brought forth. But, there is something else. The wedding guest had to be dressed by another. The idea is that a righteousness must be imputed to them that is of another. That is the real meal ticket. The one who comes on his own, dressed in his own free-will clothes, is ejected. In this we see the general call which goes out to all men, we also see the particular call that goes only to the children of God, and to gaurantee that the house is filled (meaning that there is a discrete number) the Lord sends his servants out to compel them to come in. The particular call has a certain character make up. They are the poor and lame. I would have you check out what that means in Scripture. To be poor and lame essentially is to be belly popping, naked in the street, dead, incapable of locomotion, can’t choose, can’t come, can’t even eat on their own. The rich are excluded just as Christ said, and the disciples rightly discerning his meaning responded, “Then who can be saved?” To which the Lord responds, “What is impossible for man, is possible for God.” Christ clearly dilineates who it is that brings into his house those who are chosen by Him. The price is not paid for everyone, the blood of Christ is not a common thing to be thrown out and trodden under foot. It is perfect as is every gift which comes down from the Father of lights. And this light, which gives light to all men can only be seen by those to whom God gives the eyes to see. As Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom, to them it has not,” in reference to Isaiah. It is not a meal that the world thinks is appealing and wants to purchase with their own sacrifices, it is one that they think of as worthless, and that is why they will not even contemplate eating it. They think it is evil. And, infact that is exactly why they rejected Christ. Not because he was thought of a something good which could be purchased by anything that was in them, but he, claiming to be God, they considered to be possessed of the Devil. No one in the world even considers buying Christ with their own riches, for they consider the meal he offers as sewage.

  11. Merle Says:

    I have been recently reading with great interest the posts on this site. My experience is similar to many who have commented here. I grew up in an Arminian SBC church and was exposed to the doctrines of grace in God’s kind providence. I would like to make two observations / questions.

    First – I think there is a passage not often cited in connection with the extent of the atonement which is interesting to consider in light of this doctrine. Heb 2.10 says that it was fitting for God to cause Christ to endure suffering for a specific reason – in order to bring many sons to glory. Is it reasonable to ask the question of whether or not it would be fitting (appropriate, suitable, correct, proper, right) for God to interact with Christ in this way in regard to people who will not be sons and who will not be brought to a state of glory? “Bringing many sons to glory” is not only the explanation for why God makes Christ suffer, it is also the reason that it was right and proper for Him to do so.

    Second – I think everyone would agree that people unfamilar to the doctrine react to the idea of “limited atonement” in a very emotional way. It is hard to get past that to really discuss the issue on the basis of comments in this thread (context, exegesis, etc). However, I sometimes wonder if “limited atonement” ought to be a problem from any theological viewpoint. If Christ were to wait until the end of history to die for sinners, wait until everyone who would ever believe had in fact believed (irregardless of faith being by grace alone, human choice alone, or some combination of the two) and then gave himself as a effectual sacrifice for every believer – who would object and why? I think no one would have grounds to object. What fundamentally changes if Christ instead dies for believers in the middle of time or if he is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world?

  12. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    You make a salient argument. Have you read Redemption Accomplished and Apply by Joh Murray? If you go to Provocations and Pantings the audio of the first session of BB are available. Sam Waldron speaks to this issue of just when the propitiation was made and what it accomplished and when it was applied in the atonement.

  13. Merle Says:

    I am very familiar with RA&A. It was one of the first things I ever read concerning the atonement. I look forward to hearing all of the sessions from BB. I am familiar with most of Sam Waldron’s writings and I have several good friends that know him well.

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