When limited atonement is discussed, John Owen’s argument in The Death of Death (see Owen’s argument and Prayson’s treatment of the argument) is often evoked. The argument shortly stated is that if Christ died for the sins of all people (unlimited atonement), what about the sin of unbelief? Doesn’t this make God unjust because Christ Jesus can’t pay the penalty for unbelief and yet let unbelievers pay it again in hell? And since universalism (Christ died effectually for all people securing their salvation) is unacceptable, this leads many to say that atonement has to be definite and limited in scope in order for it to be effectual. Christ dies and pays the penalty for the sins of the elect.
There are plenty of exegetical discussions on the relevant texts (e.g 1.Tim 2:4, 2. Peter 2:1, 1.John 2:2 etc.), so I will rehearse here. I do, though, want to present a principled objection that John Owen’s argument proves to much (Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran minister makes this point in the podcast “limited atonement part 5”, which I am here summarizing). If unbelief is a sin which Christ atoned for, for the elect, then that sin was also paid for before the elect was regenerate. This means that the elect had atonement for the sin of unbelief which would make faith unnecessary, which leads to the view called eternal justification. Some hyper-Calvinist would bit the bullet argue for this but most Calvinist would still maintain that justification happens in time by faith. The elect appropriate the benefits of the atonement by faith they would say. But in making this step Owen’s argument collapses because this this is exactly what the Lutheran and the Arminian would say, that the atonement is only applied by faith. So Owen’s argument proves to much.
About Guest Contributor
Søren D. Øhrstrøm is 24 years, lives in Aalborg, Denmark. He hold B.A. in Social Sciences from Aalborg University with Study of Religion as a supplementary subject from Aarhus University. He is currently enjoying life at a Bible school in Israel with his wonderful girlfriend Miriam.