Friday, April 27, 2007

Calvin's View of the Atonement - Conclusion

Well ... not really a conclusion, but a breathing point. I want to briefly summarize the previous seven blog articles before moving further. In the previous seven articles, I have been rebutting the high Calvinists' reading of Calvin's theology of the atonement.

It is commonly believed that Calvin taught limited atonement. "Of course he did!" they will say. Challenges to this notion are met with derision. But what is the proof? The proof, as far as I can tell, is grouped in three major areas. I will start with Heshusius.

Heshusius the bruised reed

Though the comment made by Calvin against Heshusius is considered the strongest point for the limited atonement side, it is actually quite thin. The words, taken by themselves, do seem to support limited atonement, but I have given six reasons, listed below, why this reading of Heshusius should not be accepted.

  1. The context of Calvin's theology as a whole does not include limited atonement
  2. The context of Calvin's tract against Heshusius excludes limited atonement
  3. In the famous Heshusius quote, "wicked" does not mean "non-elect."
  4. Limited atonement is meaningless and out of place in Calvin's argument against Heshusius
  5. Limited atonement refutes Calvin's own theology of The Lord's Supper as presented and defended by Calvin in the Heshusius tract
  6. In the Heshusius tract, Calvin argued against Christ's local bodily presence in the elements of the Lord's Supper, not against unlimited atonement

For more details on any of the reasons given above, click on the link for a more detailed discussion of the argument.

1John 2:2

The limited atonement advocate will sometimes list Calvin's commentary on 1John 2:2 as somehow aiding him in his quest. But the 1John 2:2 comment is irrelevant at best, and damaging to the limited atonement case at worst.

At its best for the limited atonement advocate, the comment is irrelevant to the issue. It says nothing whatsoever in favor of limited atonement apart from the application of this one verse to the question.

But the big problem with 1John 2:2, from the limited atonement advocate's point of view, is that it contains Calvin's assent to the famous formula of reformed theology on the atonement, "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect." That alone is a blow, but, as ynottony pointed out in a comment, Calvin says that Christ "suffered sufficiently for the whole world," which denies the idea of a limited imputation of the sins of the elect alone to Christ.

Calvin's Predestinarianism

And finally we come to Calvin's strong predestinarianism. It is imagined by some that whenever Calvin speaks of unconditional election, predestination, salvation by grace, and similar doctrines, that he is implicitly affirming limited atonement. I pointed out the logical error in this idea in the first article in this series. In future articles I will make the strong positive case from Calvin's writings to add evidence to logic.


In sum, the three main arguments for seeing limited atonement in Calvin are based on incomplete and inaccurate reading of Calvin and fallacious reasoning.

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