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.’

Explore posts in the same categories: Andrew, Doctrinal Issues

8 Comments on “Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Chart”

  1. Gordan Says:

    Just read Johnson’s lecture. I think I agree with his position completely. However, nowhere in there does he speak of God “desiring” the salvation of every individual. In fact, Johnson has gone to some lengths at Pyromaniacs to explain why that language about what God “wants” is not very helpful in this debate.

    God pleads (through His preachers of the Gospel) with all to be saved. He invites and commands all to come. This is not the same as suggesting that He has a sort of emotional “desire” that is contrary to His own decrees, and will therefore be eternally disappointed by the fact that not all are saved.

  2. strangebaptistfire Says:


    In Johnson’s presentation, God’s pleas are “sincere,” and I cannot see how God’s invitations and commands are not an expression of His desires. (This is why I find Piper’s “Two Wills?” essay to be helpful.)

    On Pyromaniacs, I read Johnson’s main concern as being against the idea that God would eternally be frustrated or bound up in some kind of emotional angst.

    Whereas I think discussion about the particulars in these issues is good, the main point is that God does not delight sin nor the destruction of the wicked, and our pleas for the wicked to repent are not simply based on our ignorance of whether or not they are reprobate; rather, in our evangelistic efforts toward everyone we are reflecting the heart of God.


  3. Gordan Says:

    I’d agree that God’s pleas in the Gospel are sincere, if we take “sincere” to mean something like honest, truthful, forthright. If you do X I’ll do Y, and that’s a real offer. I see the same sort of thing in God’s repeated urgings to fallen man to keep all of God’s commandments, when He knew from eternity that they wouldn’t keep them at all.

    To my puny brain, it simply seems that we run up against a logical wall when we start talking about God “desiring” what He has not decreed. Are you talking about living with paradox here, or does this logically work out for you?

    I’ll freely admit the difficulty may be completely in my faulty understanding.

  4. Gordan Says:

    I meant to also say that Piper’s essay struck me as flawed from the get-go. His premise seems to be that we need to maintain Calvinism in the face of Arminian (mis)interpretations of certain texts, like 2 Peter 3:9, since we’re obviously never going to convince them we’re right about those. I’m not seeing how that sort of concession to error is conducive to arriving at the truth.

    I do affirm the difference between what God “desires” in terms of eternal decree, and what he “desires” in terms of command toward us. But I have to step off that train when we start making it sound like God has these warm/fuzzy feelings of affection toward those He created to be vessels of His wrath.

  5. Darrin Says:


    I think that what you are saying concurs with John Owen as expressed in his analysis of John 3:16, of which the following is a short excerpt:

    “By “love” in this place, all our adversaries agree that a natural affection and propensity in God to the good of the creature, lost under sin, in general, which moved him to take some way whereby it might possibly be remedied, is intended.

    “We, on the contrary, say that by love here is not meant an inclination or propensity of his nature, but an act of his will (where we conceive his love to be seated), and eternal purpose to do good to man, being the most transcendent and eminent act of God’s love to the creature.”

  6. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    “love here is not meant”

    This expresses what is perhaps the crux of the problem. Words often get in the way, or lead like a ring in the nose. Love, like so many other words, can have multiple meanings and applications depending upon the context.

    If we use a semi-colon in John 13:16-19 we might be more able to see what is going on, and the fact that love here has a perculiar application and thus a particular meaning. But really we should have been clued in by the use of the verbal form of love, shouldn’t we? Agapao is the agape of “No greater love has,” and is phileo, love of a friend or brother. Surely, it cannot have the same application to those who John 3 says are condemned, now can it?

    “God loved the world this way that he gave his only Son that:

    [1]whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned


    [2]whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

    See the end of John 3 as to why their works are evil. It is God who has made them for the purposes stated. This comports with the rests of John were the dual aspects (salvation and condemnation), of the incarnation are further examined. All the contrasts I will not list but to sum them John 17 dilineates the divisions of this loving and what it does for one that it will not do for the other. Then, we must deal with a “love” that is multifaceted. That does one thing to one subject and another to the other. It can deal life to one and to the other, death.

    In John 3:16 we are speaking of action, and therefore will in the sense of what is actually accomplished. It should not be negated, though, that this application of the love of God has its grounding in the nature of God which includes his decree (God’s mind), of the actions which he has, is and will take concerning the kosmos that he loves.

    I have not read Owen, but in this aspect he seems agreeable to me. John three-sixteen, doesn’t at first speak of the decree, but of the will which follows it. In that sense it is the will, as J. Edwards might say, doing what the mind sees and love here does not speak of a generalized disposition but rather the particular application of it to the two parties under discussion as the objects of God’s love. Then God’s nature and predestinating is an inference from John 3:16 and not the direct deduction from it. Most people stop at John 3:16 rather than reading the whole of the chapter as an undivided, coherent whole from Nicodemus’ chastisement, to the decreedal will of “that what they work has been worked in God” (Romans 9 cf Philippians 2:13). John 3 is one message of sovereignty over salvation. But the love of God in John 3:16 is speaking of finished action, not plan. Note that this action is considered as past tense, action that has been completed, in John 3:16, where John 3:21 speaks of the “making” of these things in God- a reference to the eternality of the completed works of God in the sense of decree of election.

  7. Darrin Says:

    Thanks, Thomas. I think you would really like Owen. He has a whole chapter in “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” devoted to John 3:16, because he saw it even then as a prime scripture put forth as argument for universal atonement or general ransom. He gives a detailed analyis of how they read it, how we read it, and the reasons that one view is scriptural. I may seek to do a post on it here sometime, since I think somehow it was overlooked and not presented in the SBC John 3:16 conference.

  8. Darrin-

    I hope that you do post on John 3:16 (especially in relation to Owen’s exegesis of the passage), as I think such a post would address topics that have come up on this blog several times in the past.


    To clarify the main point of this post: What I mean to deny is that the phrase “God desires the salvation of all” is distinctive of the “Unlimited Limited” view over against the “Limited” view of the atonement.

    Now both the “Unlimited Limited” and “Limited” view must, strictly speaking, qualify the phrase to say “God [in some sense] desires the salvation of all.” This sense is seen in both “[God’s] sincere pleas for the reprobate to repent” and in His commands that everyone should come to faith in Christ, which faith would necessarily yield salvation.

    That there is a sense in which God does NOT desire the salvation of all is true in both the “Unlimited Limited” and the “Limited” view, as both would affirm that God has the power and the right to, if He absolutely desired to do so, empty Hell and grant mercy to all. In the “Unlimited Limited” view, as in the “Limited” view, God is yet sovereign over whom He grants the Holy Spirit, and He is not restricted by Man’s ‘free-will.’ The legitimate difference in the views in regards to the phrase, “Jesus died to provide payment for all.”

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