And so, without further eloquence:
Talking about the doctrine
"Limited? Ew." To those unfamiliar with the concept, "particular redemption" is more commonly known as Limited atonement, being the "L" of the acronym "TULIP." I think almost no adherent really likes the term much, because everyone's first and most natural reaction would be indignantly to burst out with "What?! — limit Christ's atonement? I don't think so!" However, any change would alter the neat little acronym (— TUPIP? TUDIP?).
Think about it. Every Christian believes that some people — at least Judas (Jn. 17:12), and the Beast and the False Prophet (Rev. 19:20), will suffer the wrath of God for their sins, unforgiven and "unatoned," for all eternity. So then, every Christian would "limit" the atonement of Christ by saying that it will not save those who go to Hell. Their sins are still on them; Christ has not removed them. Otherwise we're left with the universe-obliterating absurdity of sinless people forever suffering God's wrath for no reason whatever.
The usual rejoinder is that oh yes, Christ paid for absolutely every last sin, but the beneficiaries have to believe, have to accept Him. But isn't unbelief a sin (cf. Rom. 14:23)? Isn't repentant faith a command (1 Jn. 3:23), and isn't refusal to believe a sin? So doesn't this position "limit" the atonement by saying, in effect, "Yeah, but not those sins"? And doesn't that add the conceivably-worse necessary corollary that I then must save myself by adding the one element that makes all the difference between Heaven and Hell for me, an element not provided by Christ's work on the Cross?
The question, then, isn't whether Christians "limit" Christ's atonement. All Christians do. The question is how it should be "limited," Biblically.
The point on which I measure .95-.97 is, of course, L. Now you'll observe correctly that 4.95 "rounds up" very nicely to 5, and so I'll sign on as a 5-point Calvinist without blushing. But the reason for the .03-.05 variation is simply that, unlike the other four points, there is no single verse that straight-up lays the doctrine down in so many words, and there are a couple of challenging verses.
However, the reason why the variation is only .03-.05 is because I think that the cumulative Biblical case for "L" is overwhelming, the "challenging" verses are at least equally challenging for other positions, and every alternative explanation I've ever heard very soon comes to very serious Biblical grief.
This is why, as one sees in reading the small selection of Scriptures above, the Bible characteristically speaks of the atonement in particular terms. Christ dies for the sheep, for His friends, for the church, for us (believers), for you (believers). It is also why Scripture characteristically speaks of His saving design as effectual. That is, He redeems, He saves, He reconciles, He propitiates; He does not try to redeem, try to save, try to reconcile, try to propitiate; He does not characteristically make redemption available, make salvation available, make reconciliation available, make propitiation available.
Credit. It means that I give literally every last atom of credit and glory for my salvation to the Triune God, and I trace every bit of it to the eternal counsels of God ultimately accomplished in Christ's work on the Cross. I contribute absolutely nothing to my salvation. (The reader may be recalling at this point that I did write a book along these lines, explaining at much greater length — though not at all dwelling on "L.")
Responsibility. "But didn't you have to hear the Gospel, repent and believe?" a newcomer asks. Absolutely (see that selfsame book, at great length). But the point is that even this repentance and faith was assured to me by Christ's work on the Cross (Rom. 8:29-39; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29).
Evangelism. It also does affect the way I evangelize.
Now, it has no negative effect on whom I evangelize. The assumption that affirming the Biblical doctrine of election makes evangelism pointless is and always has been off-base. I have no way of knowing that anyone I talk to is not elect. Though there are many reprobate, Scripture only certainly identifies three individuals that I can think of: Judas, the Beast, and the False Prophet. If I am not talking to one of them, I have no reason for assuming that (s)he is not elect, and will not come to saving faith through my giving the Gospel (cf. Rom. 1:16).
So believing in particular redemption has zero limiting effect on whom I evangelize.
It does, however, have an effect on what I tell them. Now, many "L-people" have no problem saying "Christ died for your sins" to unsaved people. For my part, I do have a problem with that. First, I notice that the apostles never found it necessary to say, in their evangelism of the unsaved. Not once. Second, to me, saying "Christ died for your sins" is exactly the same thing as saying "You are saved, redeemed, reconciled, and assured of Heaven." Unless and until they trust Christ savingly, I have no assurance that this is true of them. So I don't say it until I have warrant.
Instead, I say that Christ died for sinners just like me and just like them. I say that Christ calls them to Himself, invites them to come. I say that, if they come, they will find their sins forgiven, for He is able to save to the uttermost all who draw near to the Father through Him.
After all, what does an unbeliever need to know? Does he need to know whether Christ died for him individually? Or does he need to know whether, if he comes to Christ in repentant faith, He will find Christ willing and ready to receive him and forgive Him?
Remember, this is the point at which all Christians agree: if someone does not come to Christ in repentant faith, the death of Christ will do him no good. That is, his sins will not be forgiven, and he will suffer God's wrath for eternity. So why is it essential to do what the apostles never did, and tell him that Christ died for him? If Christ died for all his sins, then how is sin still a problem? Isn't that the same as telling him he has nothing to worry about, since "Jesus paid it all"? If He "paid it all," then I'm set!
By the way, I'm not being merely theoretical. My memory from my pagan days, decades ago, is that I listened with contempt to any Christian who tried to tell me I needed to believe in Jesus to be saved from my sins. I didn't believe what they were saying. But I thought, "Anyway, if you're right, sounds like Jesus took care of my 'sin'-problem anyway, so it should work out."
Okey-doke, are we all on the same page now – at least insofar as we understand what we’re talking about?
Terrific. Then, Lord willing, I’ll make my actual point in the next post.