Intent and Extent: A Backfiring Argument For Limited Atonement and a Potential Problem for Four-Pointers

This post will be yet another on the subject of limited atonement.  Here, I will address another common argument from Calvinists that comes more from alleged logic than exegesis.

I’ve heard many Calvinists, including combative Calvinist James White, derogatorily say something along the lines of, “You can’t talk about extent without first talking about intent!” when confronted with texts that teach against limited atonement.  The idea here is that if God only intended to save a few by unconditional election of individuals, then that intent of salvation logically leads to the idea that Jesus only died for his elect.  In other words, if that was God’s intent, then the extent of Jesus’ atonement should not be contrary to it, so it too is limited.  Another example of this is John MacArthur here, who, in a roundabout way, argues along similar lines and also brings up the double jeopardy argument.  MacArthur plays way too many word games with “limited” and “unlimited” here that distract from the main point, like many Callvinists do, but I will not focus on the entirety of his sermon but instead deal with this argument of intent to extent.

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Another Misused Verse to Defend Limited Atonement: John 17:9

I have written a few articles now on the errors of logic and interpretation of proponents of limited atonement, particularly their interpretation of 1 John 2:2.  There is another Johannine verse that I think they take out of context: John 17:9.  The verse reads like this:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (ESV)

Clearly, Calvinists say, Jesus was not concerned about the salvation of the world but only for his elect, which in turn is defined the way they see it.  They often use this verse to counter interpretations of John 3:16 of God loving everyone in the world.  I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this verse used in support of limited atonement and sometimes unconditional election, ranging from Reformed websites, internet comments, personal conversations, and published works from Calvinist pastors and scholars.  However, when looking at the larger context, this one-verse prooftext falls flat by simply reading on in the passage and understanding whom Jesus is talking about. The section in which John 17:9 appears is as follows: Continue reading

The Superficial Systematic Splendor of Calvinism Leads to Senseless Supremacy

Several years ago, I read an article about the increased popularity of Reformed theology among Southern Baptists, and the author was more sympathetic towards Calvinism.  While the author did an admirable job getting both sides of the issue, interviewing gentleman such as Al Mohler of Southern and David Allen of Southwestern, he/she (forgot the gender) said something along the lines of, “Calvinists believe that others have not yet realized the systematic splendor of Reformed Theology.”  Indeed, this so-called “systematic splendor” is strongly asserted by many Calvinists and is often one of the most attractive aspects of Reformed theology to Christians who want to be more intellectual.  The way Calvinism is often presented makes it seem, on the surface, as one big puzzle that is put together in a neat way.  What other system can give a summary as efficient as TULIP?

Due to this, Calvinists drill Calvinist theology in their churches, and many Calvinists are well-trained to recite the five points and bring up Scripture references on the fly.  They have developed a reputation for being dogged defenders of the “doctrines of grace” and for a “God-centered” theology, as opposed to the “man-centered” theologies of everyone else.  Monergism vs. Synergism.  Grace vs. works.  Glory of God vs. glory of man.  The issues are cut and dry if only people would read the Bible properly.  Hence, many Calvinists assume that those Christians who are not Calvinists are, at best, not yet educated enough in the Scriptures or, at worst, not really believers or believers who are so immature that they reject obvious teachings in the Bible.  If non-Calvinists could only see how everything fits together.  Such confidence has produced a haughtiness among many Calvinists that even other Calvinists have noted with great concern.

To be fair to them, I’ve seen many Christians use bad criticisms of Calvinism and fail to use Scriptural arguments against it, further feeding the belief among Reformed people that non-Calvinists are ignorant.  However, I’m going to be frank: I have often found this confidence to be amusing, and irritating, because while many critics of Calvinists use bad arguments, there are many Calvinists whose only familiarity with opposite viewpoints are caricatures given by other Calvinists.  When they find that the alleged “systematic splendor” doesn’t fit like a perfect puzzle the way they thought, it can be a bit entertaining seeing their reactions, ranging from anger, disbelief, and downright shock.

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On “Throwing Stones”: Reviewing the Tricky John 8

Since we are going through the Gospel of John in our college group, I taught on this a few months ago and I’ll try to condense the lesson into this post.

One of the more famous sayings of Jesus is John 8:7, which is typically paraphrased as, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  The saying occurs during the story of the adulterous women, who is thrown before Jesus by the scribes.  Here is the passage:

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.  But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11, NASB)

This story, and the saying in 8:7, come up frequently in several contexts: People have used it to argue against capital punishment, to advance some sort of feminist agenda, and more generally, to tell admonish others that they should not rebuke another’s sin unless they are completely sinless themselves, which nobody is (in effect, don’t ever call out another person’s sin).  Recently, I’ve seen John 8:7 used by Christians to tell other Christians that they should not be saying that homosexual relationships are sinful because it sounds “judgmental.”

As usual, unfortunately, for many oft cited verses, this verse and the entire story are grossly misunderstood by people. Not only are such people unfamiliar with the text critical issue, even if one were to take the story as true, a careful study would not lead to these conclusions.

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