The following is a written response to a brother with the following question about limited atonement (that Christ died only for the elect):
Could you please clarify the extent of the atonement, limited versus unlimited? Isn’t limited atonement wrong and doesn’t the Bible plainly teach unlimited atonement (that Christ died for the sins of all people in the world)?
This is a very good question and has remained an issue between believers through many centuries.
Many people popularly call themselves “four-point” Calvinists because they find the idea of a limited atonement loathsome, or believe somehow that the Bible does not teach it. What is meant by a four-point Calvinist? It is generally understood to mean that an individual claims to believe in total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints but not limited atonement (dropping the “L” in limited atonement) in TULIP (TU-IP). What is interesting about this, however, is that everyone involved actually believes in a limited atonement since we can all agree that Christ did not actually redeem everyone who ever lived. There will be some who end up in the lake of fire according to both positions. The question, therefore, is not whether there is a “limit” to the extent of the atonement, but rather, what is the nature of the limit and who limits it? Is it limited by God’s choice and design or by free human choices? Did God, from eternity, sovereignly determine to whom He would apply the benefits of the atonement, or did God leave it to man’s will? This is why I generally like to call my position “particular redemption” rather than limited atonement since both sides ultimately limit the application of the atonement.