Calvinism and Arminianism:
Myths & Realities

Calvinist, James White, writes: “Let us focus upon the key issue of the atonement. Is the atonement substitutionary? Did Jesus take the penalty of sin for every person who has ever lived, is living, and ever will live? If so, what was God’s intention in laying the sin of every person on Christ? Was it His purpose to make men savable, or to actually atone for their sins? (Debating Calvinism, p.189, emphasis mine)

Yes, it’s Substitutionary; no, it does not save unbelievers. The whole idea of a Substitutionary atonement for the whole world means that I don’t need to guess whether Jesus died for me in particular, because if He died for everyone, then I know that He died for me too. Having said that, I also know that His Atonement doesn’t apply to unbelievers, which is why I must turn to Him and receive what He has done for me. I’m not changing the question, but only correcting the mistaken inference that the Atonement actually saves unbelievers. Turning to Jesus is the only way for us to receive what He has done for each one of us, individually

Calvinist, James White, writes: If Christ died in the place of every single individual human being, He was dying for many who had already died in rebellion against God and who will experience Gods wrath for eternity! One must either jettison the concept of substitution or accept the idea that Christ can die in the place of someone who will, despite that perfect work, be lost.” (Debating Calvinism, p.171, emphasis mine)

You wouldn’t have to jettison the concept of a substitution if the substitution was rejected, and that is perhaps the strongest reason for God’s wrath. Hell would not just be for one’s own sins, but also for rejecting God’s bona fide act of grace at Calvary, through the gift of His Son. That’s what would generate the greatest amount of condemnation. What did you do with My Son, whom I gave for you? That’s not a direct quote, that I know of, but it’s the gist of the complaint, and the basis for divine wrath. (John 3:18) Take away the Unlimited Atonement, and the greatest force of wrath must necessarily go with it. While this explains what happens to those who died after Calvary, what about those who died, and perished, pre-Calvary? Since salvation is only available for those who are alive, the atonement should reasonably be understood within that same context as well, although it should be noted, that when Jesus was on the cross, Abraham’s Bosom was already filled with the Old Testament saints, for whom the atonement would also be applied upon completion of Calvary’s sacrifice. Since there is no salvation intended for those already in Hell in judgment (since it is too late for them), the atonement wouldn’t be directed to them. When Jesus confirmed that God so loved “the world” that He gave His only Son (as per John 3:16), this reference of “the world” would not include: (a) the devil, (b) his angels and (c) those humans who already died in rebellion with him. So the general idea is that the atonement is for the living (but with the caveat that it also had included the righteous dead as well). This follows the biblical principle in which when more is given, more is required. Luke 12:48 states: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” Those who died pre-Calvary are less culpable than those who died post-Calvary, in having rejected Christ.

Calvinist, James White, writes: “If Christ died in the place of every man and woman in all of history (universal scope and intention), the atonement must be limited in its power and efficacy, for it does not actually result in the salvation of man of those God intended it to save.” (Debating Calvinism, p.171, emphasis mine)

No, it does not result in the salvation of unbelievers. One must believe, in order to receive the benefits of what Jesus has done for them.

Dave Hunt replies: “God provides salvation; man must believe to be saved. Calvinism rejects faith as human ‘effort,’ so the elect must be saved the moment Christ paid the penalty for their sins. Yet if Christ actually saved all of the elect at Calvary, they could never have been lost and would not need to be saved. Scripture doesn’t say that a man is ‘saved already.’ It says that he is ‘condemned already,’ and not because Christ didn’t die for him but ‘because he hath not believed’ (John 3:18).” (Debating Calvinism, pp.182-183)

And that evidences the fact that they had a Savior to believe in, and having a Savior, evidences an Unlimited Atonement.

Dave Hunt adds: Calvinism must hold the unbiblical view that Christ’s death saves without faith.” (Debating Calvinism, p.183, emphasis mine)

White responds: “Christ’s substitutionary death in behalf of His people is a real and finished work: It is not dependent upon the human act of faith for success or failure. When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)

White is clearly caught in Double Talk. (Its also an acontextual reference to John 6:37.)

Hunt responds: “I pointed out that if Christ’s death automatically saved, the elect were never lost and didn’t need to believe in the gospel. White ridicules this idea but doesn’t refute it. He admits that faith is required, and then says, ‘Christ’s substitutionary not dependent upon the human act of faith.’ Scores of Scriptures clearly state that only those who believe are saved.” (Debating Calvinism, p.194, emphasis mine)

I like the illustration of the Passover Lamb. Simply having the lambs blood wasnt sufficient. It had to be applied. It had to go on the door. Or else, the eldest child died from the death angel. Exodus 12:22-23 states: You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.” It has to be applied, in order to take effect. One other great illustration is the one that Jesus used at John 3:14, when comparing to Numbers 21:6-9. There, simply having the serpent on the standard wasnt sufficient. One had to look upon it, in order to receive healing from it. Otherwise the person died. This principle is something that is lacking in the Calvinistic explanations of the Atonement which they say, saves independently of the application of faith, but instead, merely results in faith. But the opposite is true, as it is the application of faith that gives the atonement effect in a person. Otherwise, the benefit of Calvary does not become actualized.

Calvinist Charge:  Arminianism denies a Substitutionary Atonement.

Myth or Reality:  The charge is that if Jesus died a substitutionary death for each member of humanity, then that must include those who have perished in Hell. But if didn’t, then no one could say to those in Hell that they didn’t have to be there, or that they could have accepted Christ and gone to Heaven instead. A Limited Atonement would otherwise mean that they never had a Savior, and that would eliminate the guilt for having rejected God’s Son. The whole idea of a Substitutionary atonement for the whole world means that I don’t need to guess whether Jesus died for me in particular, because if He died for everyone, then I know that He died for me too. Having said that, I also know that His Atonement doesn’t apply to unbelievers, which is why I must turn to Him and receive His gift, in order for His blood to apply to me.
Question:  Does the Atonement apply to unbelievers who reject Christ?

Answer:  If the Atonement is only efficacious upon faith in Christ, and the blood of Christ is only applied to us when we believe in Him, then that defeats their point, and they have no argument with Arminians.