I've had many opportunities over the last several years to log the stunning lack of biblical, theological, and historical evidences weighing in favor of Calvinism's most vulnerable petal on its well-nigh universal symbol--the tulip--an acronym representing the five core doctrines Calvinists insist accurately summarizes the gospel teaching on salvation. The petal most at risk in T.U.L.I.P. is the centerpiece, the L as in Limited Atonement. Unfortunately for Calvinists, among the greatest critics historically, and perhaps it's not too much to suggest among the most effective critics of Limited Atonement (i.e. Definite Atonement) historically are to be found among Reformed believers themselves.
R.C. Sproul once lamented:
One of the most controversial points of Reformed theology concerns the L in TULIP. L stands for Limited Atonement. It has been such a problem of doctrine that there are multitudes of Christians who say they embrace most of the doctrines of Calvinism but get off the boat here. They refer to themselves as “four-point” Calvinists. The point they cannot abide is limited atonement. I have often thought that to be a four-point Calvinist one must misunderstand at least one of the five points. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone could understand the other four points of Calvinism and deny limited atonement. There always is the possibility, however, of the happy inconsistency by which people hold incompatible views at the same time"1
Ron Rhodes affirmngly quotes self-professing Calvinist theologian Milliard Erickson:
Millard Erickson points out that unlimited atonement has been held by the vast majority of theologians, reformers, evangelists, and fathers from the beginning of the church until the present day, including virtually all the writers before the Reformation, with the possible exception of Augustine. Among the Reformers the doctrine is found in Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Latimer, Cranmer, Coverdale, and even Calvin in some of his commentaries… Is it likely that the overwhelming majority of Christians could have so misread the leading of the Holy Spirit on such an important point?2
Again, it's hardly a chore to log one protest after another made by otherwise committed Calvinists who just cannot accept either the affirmations or implications of Limited Atonement. Neither has it helped to switch terminology. There's Particular Redemption, Definite Atonement, Particular Atonement, and Singular Redemption just to name the most common ones. However, it's not the term that's rejected but the teaching that's rejected. In short, many Calvinists just deny the Bible teaches Jesus' death was never intended to be a sin sacrifice for the entire world. They don't believe a biblical case can be made. And, since biblical exegesis is so clearly lacking, they deny the theological assertion and implications intrinsic to the limitedness of Limited Atonement.
If the reader would like to experience a scholar busy in his workshop, thoroughly dismantling every argument Calvinism assembles in favor of Limited Atonement and replacing it with sound, sober biblical exegesis, take a look at David Allen's piece on John Piper's defense of Limited Atonement in what's purported to be the modern day definitive treatise on Limited Atonement--From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective ($38.11. Crossway, 2013). Over 700 pages written by a who's who among contemporary Calvinists make up the work. Included are at least four Southern Baptist scholars. Allen offered detailed critiques for all the authors.
But while Allen's critiques of other chapters are noteworthy, surely Allen's most commendable contribution comes at this juncture with the non-stop series of lightning bolts flung at the influential views of young, restless, and reformed's most popular theological champion, John Piper. Allen has already plainly pulverized Piper's view of Limited Atonement in Part 1. Why he needs Part 2 is something he'll need to answer himself.
With that, I am...
READ David Allen's entire piece: Review of John Piper's Chapter in "From Heaven He Came and Sought Her," Part 1
1Sproul, R. C. (1996). Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers
2Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 2, no. 2 (1996): 15.