Universal Atonement on Trial

This is Jordan Ravanes’ Opening statement on his debate concerning extent of the death of Christ entitled “SI HESU CRISTO BA AY NAMATAY PARA SA LAHAT NG MGA TAO AYON SA BIBLIA?” (Did Christ die for all according to the Bible?


Good evening, it is with great honor and privilege to be here this evening, we have a lot to talk about so let’s just jump right into it. 

Since it’s the job of the affirmative side to decide what the debate is about and not about, the highlight of my presentation would be:

  1. The Biblical Presentation why the Universal Atonement is False and Its Dilemma
  2. What Does the Scripture Teach if Not Universal Atonement?
  3. Addressing Possible Red herring Arguments in Tonight’s Debate

The Biblical Presentation why the Universal Atonement is False and its Dilemma 

I. The worth of Christ’s death issue. 

  • Let me clarify first that I am not arguing for the worth of Christ’s death because as a Calvinist, I believe that the sacrifice of Christ is able to save every human being. The Bible says in Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, Christ is able to save to the uttermost. 
  • According to Ezekiel Asis I quote – “Yung worth ng atonement ay hindi dependent sa number ng redeemed, kundi sa Person nung namatay. Kahit isa lang ang ililigtas, hindi mababawasan ang worth ng atonement, dahil napaka-glorious ng person ni Christ, as the God and Man.” End quote. 
  • Therefore the worth of Christ’s death is not at issue here. Rather, did Christ really intend to save and make intercession for all people that is why He died for them?

II. God’s will of disposition must be clarified. 

  • What is God’s will of disposition? This “will” describes God’s attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek 18:23), yet He most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked because he is just. God’s ultimate delight is in His holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience and displeased when we are disobedient. – Carm.org 
  • The same is true in 2 Peter 3:9 when it speaks about the Lord not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
  • Does it please God if all people will not perish, and reach repentance? Yes. But the question is, did Christ really intend to do that? Did Christ really intend that all people should reach repentance as a reality?
  • Therefore we must clarify that point about God’s will of disposition.

III. Using a universal atonement lens to interpret the term, “all”, and “world” will lead to incoherent biblical teaching because of its dilemma.

  • For example, in John 3:16-17 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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.
  • If the proper reading of the term “world” here refers to every single human being then how do reconcile that with John 17:9, Jesus says I am not praying for the world but for those whom you (the Father) have given me, for they are yours.
  • The great dilemma here is that if Christ intends to save the world (granting the usage of the term every single individual human being) but not interceding or praying for the world as their great high priest then how can he accomplish his work? I say no he cannot since there is no separation between Christ’s intention and His intercessory work as the great high priest. I would love to know from my opponent’s view if there is a separation of Christ’s intention and intercessory work.
  • According to Shawn D. Wright (40 Questions About Calvinism), and I quote. – Paul speaks of “God our Savior, who desires all (pantas) people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). Even though “all” can mean “everyone without exception” at times, it can also connote “all sorts of” or “all kinds of.” Only the context determines its meaning. The context here suggests that Paul means God wants “all kinds of people” to come to salvation. The apostle urged Timothy to pray for “all people” (pantōn) (2:1), and he explains the limitations of “all people” in the next verse when he says the sorts of people he should intercede for: “kings and all who are in high positions” (2:2). So the “all people” are really “all kinds of people.” (not every single individual on the planet and therefore refutes the universal atonement position.)
  • According to George Knight, and I quote “The meaning would fit in the other occurrences of the phrase in 1 Timothy and Titus (especially Titus 3:2),” and “It is also the most natural understanding in a number of the Pauline passages where an absolute universalism is an impossibility.” The immediate context confirms that “all kinds of people” is the correct way to understand “all people,” for Paul says that Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (2:6). Rather than teaching that Christ actually redeemed all persons (for “the verse and context say nothing about Christ being the potential ransom of everyone”), Paul here asserts that “Christ purchased salvation from all kinds of individuals from various people groups.” The next verse, where Paul speaks of his particular ministry to the Gentiles (2:7), confirms this understanding. Jesus ransomed all kinds of people, Jews, and Gentiles. – End quote. 
  • The great dilemma in 1 Tim 2:1-7 using a universal atonement lens is that If Christ gave Himself as a ransom for every single individual on the planet and not all of them were ransomed, then His act of giving Himself as a ransom for every single individual on the planet has failed. 
  • We can also read 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 14 For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
  • According to Shawn D. Wright (40 Questions About Calvinism), I quote – “Verse 15 will not allow us to understand “died for all” in verse 14 as “all persons without exception.” Indeed, the ones for whom Christ died are the ones who are “no longer [to] live for themselves” (v. 15), which is surely a description of Christians (and not every single individual on the planet including those who have already died in rebellion against God). Murray is right that, these “all” are united with Christ in his death and resurrection (v. 15). On the basis of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:3–4 and Colossians 2:11–14, regarding the union of Christians with Christ in his death and resurrection, we conclude that the “all” of 2 Corinthians 5:14 are the elect, the ones for whose “sake, (Christ) died and was raised” (5:15).” – End quote. 
  • Actually, it will be consistent for my position because of the trinitarian harmony in salvation, that those who will believe are those whom the Father has chosen, the Son redeemed, and the Spirit regenerates and sanctifies
  • In Colossians 1:19-20 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.
  • Again, the context won’t allow for such an interpretation using a universal atonement lens. The same dilemma we already have from other passages of scriptures. That is if all means every single individual was made peace through the blood of Jesus and by Him reconcile all things (every single individual) then why are all not reconciled and made peace?

What Does the Scripture Teach if Not Universal Atonement? 

The Intention of the Atonement (Dr. James White on The Sovereign Grace of God)

  • Why did Christ come to die? Did Christ come to simply make salvation possible, or did He come to actually obtain eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12)? Let’s consider some passages from Scripture in answer to this question.
  • (Luke 19:10) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. 
  • Take note: Christ came to “save”, not to make salvation possible.
  • Another one in 1 Timothy 1:15, Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. Paul asserts that the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was to actually save sinners. Nothing in Paul’s words leads us to the conclusion that Christ’s death simply makes salvation a possibility rather than a reality. 
  • Christ came to save. So, did He? And how did He? Was it not by His death? Most certainly. The atoning death of Christ provides forgiveness of sins for all those for whom it is made. That is why Christ came.

Christ’s Intercessory Work

  • But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:24-26).
  • The New Testament closely connects the work of Christ as our High Priest and intercessor with His death upon the cross. In this passage from Hebrews, we are told that the Lord Jesus, since He lives forever, has an unchangeable or permanent priesthood. He is not like the old priests who passed away but is a perfect priest because He remains forever. Because of this, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him. Why? Because He always lives to make intercession for them.
  • The Son intercedes before the Father on the basis of His death. Christ’s intercession is based upon the fact that He has died as the substitute for God’s people, and, since He has borne their sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), He can present His offering before the Father in their place, and intercede for them on this basis.
  • Christ took care of sin at Calvary. As we read in Hebrews 9:11-12: When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
  • When Christ entered into the Holy of Holies, He did so “by his own blood.” When He did this, we are told that He had “obtained eternal redemption.” This again is not a theoretical statement, but a statement of fact. Christ did not enter into the Holy of Holies to attempt to gain redemption for His people! He entered in having already accomplished that. So what is He doing? Is His work of intercession another work alongside His sacrificial death? Is His death ineffective without this “other” work? Christ’s intercession is not a second work outside of His death. Rather, Christ is presenting before the Father His perfect and complete sacrifice. He is our High Priest, and the sacrifice He offers in our place is the sacrifice of Himself.

For Whom Did Christ Die?

Several passages of Scriptures teach us that the scope of Christ’s death was limited to a particular people and not for all people. Here are a few of them:

  • (Matthew 20:28) Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Not ransom for all. 
  • The “many” for whom Christ died are the elect of God, just as Isaiah had said long before,
  • (Isaiah 53:11) By his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 
  • The Lord Jesus made it clear that His death was for His people when He spoke of the Shepherd and the sheep:
  • I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). 
  • The good shepherd lays down His life on behalf of the sheep. Are all men the sheep of Christ? Certainly not, for most men do not know Christ, and Christ says that His sheep know Him (John 10:14).
  • Further, Jesus specifically told the Jews who did not believe in Him, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:26). 
  • Note that in contrast with the idea that we believe and therefore make ourselves Christ’s sheep, Jesus says that they do not believe because they are not His sheep! Whether one is of Christ’s sheep is the Father’s decision (John 6:37, 8:47), not the sheep’s! A lost sheep was never once a goat, and will never become a goat, he will never be forever lost because Christ secures his salvation. (Dr. James White on The Sovereign Grace of God).

Addressing Possible Red Herrings

Let me also address the possible red herring arguments that might be used by my opponent this evening.

I. Appealing to make sense of evangelism. That is, evangelism doesn’t make sense for the doctrine of Definite Atonement because we do not know who the elect are. Of course, as Calvinists, we are not told to search only for the elect and evangelize them. The bible clearly teaches that we should preach the gospel to all nations therefore by raising this argument only diverts us to the issue of “Can a Calvinist make sense of evangelism?” instead of focusing on the real issue “For whom did Christ die?”

II. Appealing to free will. The free will of man is not connected and is totally outside of Christ’s intention on the cross and his intercessory work. Therefore by appealing to “free will” to solve the dilemma I raised is to propose another issue we call “Total Depravity” where the doctrine of the free will of man is examined.” But actually, this objection affirms my position that without appealing something outside of Christ’s intention and intercessory work as the great high priest is to therefore say that you don’t have an answer to this dilemma at all and will lead us to the conclusion that my free will has its final say because Christ cannot accomplish what he intends to accomplish.

Conclusion:
Therefore folks, consider the things that are being discussed this evening. Slow it down until you digest every detail in regard to what the two participants are saying. Who among us has a coherent view of the atonement based on the bible? Thank you for listening.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!


References:

  • White, James R. The Sovereign Grace of God. Lindenhurst, Ny, Reformation Press, 2003.
  • Wright, Shawn D. 40 Questions about Calvinism. Grand Rapids, Mi, Kregel Academic, 2019.

Published by Jordan Ravanes

The host of the Christian Worldview Project

One thought on “Universal Atonement on Trial

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