Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Chart
On page 168 of Death by Love Driscoll presents a chart comparing different views of the atonement. The chart includes information on “Christian” Universalism, Contemporary Pelagianism, Unlimited Atonement, Limited Atonement, and Unlimited Limited Atonement. (Driscoll identifies the first two categories just mentioned as heresies.) For each of the views just mentioned the chart identifies four aspects: “View of Sin,” “Who Jesus Died For,” “How Atonement Is Applied,” “Heaven & Hell.”
In this post, I am most concerned with the differences Driscoll indicates between the “Limited Atonement” and “Unlimited Limited Atonement” categories.
In regards to the categories just mentioned, Driscoll’s chart indicates that their “View of Sin” is identical: both those who hold to “Limited Atonement” and those who take the “Unlimited Limited Atonement” position believe that “We are born sinners guilty in Adam.”
Likewise, Driscoll’s chart indicates that those who hold to “Limited Atonement” and those who take the “Unlimited Limited Atonement” position give identical teaching in regards to “Heaven & Hell” [as it relates to election]: “God does not need to save anyone from hell, but chooses to save some.”
The “Limited Atonement” and “Unlimited Limited Atonement” views differ, according to this chart, in their teaching about “Who Jesus Died For” and “How Atonement Is Applied.” “Limited Atonement” teaches that “Jesus died to achieve full payment for the elect,” whereas “Unlimited Limited Atonement” teaches that “Jesus died to provide payment for all, but only in a saving way for the elect.” “Limited Atonement” teaches that “God designed the atonement precisely for the elect,” whereas “Unlimited Limited Atonement” teaches that, “While God desires the salvation of all, he applies the payment to the elect, those whom he chose for salvation.” The substantial differences between these views (as presented in this chart) lie in the “Unlimited Limited” assertions that “Jesus died to provide payment for all” and “God desires the salvation of all.”
I will concede that one of these differences is a legitimate point of debate, while arguing that the other does not truly represent a difference between these views.
In indicating that the statement “God desires the salvation of all” is distinctive of the “Unlimited Limited” view over against the “Limited” view of the atonement, Driscoll misrepresents the “Limited” view in such a way as to make his own view seem more appealing; in other words, if a person believes that “God desires the salvation of all” is a biblically accurate statement, then he or she would be forced to reject the “Limited” view (and possibly to accept the “Unlimited Limited” view) by Driscoll’s chart. But whereas it may be that some who hold to the “Limited” view would deny that “God desires the salvation of all,” this denial is not a necessary part of the “Limited” view; for example, in his 2003 Shepherd’s Conference lecture, “The Nature of the Atonement: Why and For Whom Did Christ Die?,” five-point Calvinist Phil Johnson, John MacArthur’s editor of Pyromaniacs fame, speaks of, “[God’s] sincere pleas for the reprobate to repent.” Likewise, in his essay, “Are There Two Wills in God?,” John Piper, who has elsewhere defended “Limited Atonement,” specifically writes of “God’s desire for all to be saved.” An affirmation that “God desires the salvation of all” is, I would assert, the majority position among those who hold to “Limited Atonement.”
The assertion that “Jesus died to provide payment for all” is certainly denied by those who hold to Limited Atonement, and is a legitimate point of debate that will be explored in future posts of this ‘response to Driscoll’s presentation of un/limited atonement.’