Limited Election, Limited Atonement, Limited Regeneration… WHAT?

Tim Challies has an interesting infographic illustrating what has been called the Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation).

Along with comments of appreciation, requests for Scripture references to be included, the infographic (which seems primarily built around the solid Romans 8:29-30 framework of Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Justification, and Glorification) has sparked some interesting comments, criticisms and protestations.

More than one commenter mentioned their displeasure at what they perceive as its deficiencies owing to the infographic’s Calvinist teachings.

However, one comment caught my eye as being especially out of place in the usual Calvinist-Arminian debate. One commenter mentioned her belief that the teaching about the Father’s Sovereignty in Election (that God chooses some for salvation and not all) was a cruel doctrine typical of Calvinism. A response to that assertion noted that if God did not choose anyone then no one could be saved. At this point the original commenter asserted that the Father’s Election should be properly thought of as universal in the first place.

“I would say it this way: Thank God He chooses ALL otherwise none would be saved.”

At this point the discussion is no longer Calvinism-Arminianism but Particularism-Universalism.

The above statement as written makes the word “choose” have no actual meaning unless one is a universalist. If the word “choose” has a meaning then this statement is also only true for Universalists. No orthodox Christian strand of faith has ever affirmed what is quoted above.

Within Protestantism, for example, both Arminianism and Calvinism affirm that neither election, atonement, nor regeneration are universal. They are both particularist theologies which differ only in their understanding of the intentions and mechanisms of limitation.

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Please note that I’m writing this off-the-cuff on a mobile device. I apologize for the lack of formatting and scripture links. I’ll try to fill them in later.
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Note that normally this list would move both logically and chronologically from Election, to Atonement, to Regeneration but since the point of contention is Election I’ll move backwards.

Example 1: Limited Regeneration (The Spirit’s work of applying salvation)

Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal regeneration, that is, not all that are born once are “born again.” Another way of saying this is that not all who are born of flesh are born of the Spirit (Jn 3:3-6). Again, if every person without exception was regenerate (born again/born from above/born of the spirit), then every person without exception would be saved.

Usually this point is pretty uncontroversial since it is the most easily and visibly illustratable. I think pretty much every Christian understands without having to be explicitly convinced through detailed argumentation that not everyone is “born again.” Only Universalists can affirm universal regeneration and would say that everyone is “born again” without exception.

Example 2: Limited Atonement (The Son’s work of purchasing salvation)

While this is the most controversial point between Arminianism and Calvinism it is crucial to note that both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal atonement as they are not universalists.

For if every single sin of every single person was actually and fully atoned for on Calvary without exception then all men are saved without exception as there will be nothing left to punish at the final judgment. (note: This is not to say that Christ’s death was not sufficient for all. This is where the theological distinction between the sufficiency and the efficiency of Christ’s atoning death becomes important.) Only Universalists can affirm a universally applied unlimited atonement. Both Calvinists and Arminians deny it.

Arminians and Calvinists only differ in HOW and WHY the atonement is limited. The specifics of this distinction are important enough to merit an entire post in itself and so I will not go into it here.

Example 3: Limited Election (The Father’s plan of salvation)

Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal election. This is primarily due to the word elect/choose/chosen being deliberately introduced as a scriptural marker of contrast or separation. The word elect or chosen has no meaning as a contrast or boundary marker if it is universal. For example after the 2008 presidential election results were tallied, Barack Obama was known as the President Elect since he was the one chosen by the Electoral College. This phrase would have no actual meaning or purpose if John McCain had also been the President Elect. The phrase exists solely to distinguish one from another (specifically a particular chosen one from a non-chosen one).

There are distinctions on individual election or corporate election or even ethnic election, but all acknowledge that election neccessarily includes exclusion.

For example, Arminianism teaches (based, for example, on Rom 8:29) that God looks forward to see who will accept His offer of salvation and come to faith in Christ. Then based on this informational “foreknowing” He elects only those who He has foreseen as faithful. This is Non-Universal Conditional Election.

Calvinism teaches that God elects according to His own pleasure and counsel (based, for example on Eph 1:5,11 and Rom 9:11-29) completely independent of man’s actions or decisions. This is Non-Universal Unconditional Election.

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By this time it should be pointed that the three groups (the redeemed/atoned for, the regenerate/born again, the elect) are simply different names for the exact same set of people. There is not a single member of one group that is not a member of both of the other groups. The differing names arise from what aspect of God’s grace is being emphasized in relation to God’s people. In fact this is one of the points of Romans 9:29-30.

Every single person who is foreknown by God is predestined by God.
Every single person who is predestined by God is effectually called by God.
Every single person who is effectually called by God is justified by God.
Every single person who is justified by God is finally glorified by God.
(side note: notice that Paul deliberately makes the human utterly passive in every step. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.)

And while men can and do constantly fail, God never fails to do what He sets out to do. This is what gives assurance to the much cherished promise in Romans 8:28 that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Finally, it is also equally important to note that the Persons of the Trinity are in perfect harmony with each other and are never at odds. Every single person the Father Elects, the Son Atones for; no more and no less. Every single person the Son Atones for, the Spirit Regenerates; no more and no less. The is not a single person who is in one group but not another because the Trinity is not at odds with each other.

1. The Father’s work of Election occurred in eternity past. No one but God has personally ever seen it occur.
2. The Son’s work of Atonement occurred in history past. We who are living today have never personally seen it occur.
3. The Spirit’s work of Regeneration occurs during every believer’s life. We can personally see it occur in our lives and in the lives of other believers.

We believers can only personally experience firsthand the fact that Regeneration is not universal. The other two points must be taken with faith from the Scriptures (along with the fact that they are logically consistent with each other). This is yet another reason why our faith cannot be grounded on our extremely limited experience but on the solid bedrock of Scripture.

update 2/1/12: some clarifications added.

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About Mike Sung Im

Trying to love of God with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul. Trying to love others as myself. I'll let you know when I get there.
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2 Responses to Limited Election, Limited Atonement, Limited Regeneration… WHAT?

  1. Hey there,

    I think there are some critical problems with some of your lines of thought here.

    If I may:

    1) You say: For if every single sin of every single person was actually fully atoned for on Calvary without exception then all are saved without exception as there is nothing left to punish. Only Universalists can affirm this universal atonement. Both Calvinists and Arminians deny it.

    David; If we look to the objective sacrifice of expiation, the early Reformed said that Christ sustained a sacrifice of expiation for all the sins of all men. The expiation was a satisfaction for all sin. They would short-hand this idea by saying Christ satisfied for all sin, or that he expiated all sin.

    And so as Charles Hodge says, Christ may make a satisfaction for sin for a given man, and if that man fails to believe, the satisfaction will not be applied to him. The issue is that one cannot assert a necessary correlation between expiation and salvation, such that all for whom Christ sustained a satisfaction for sin will necessarily be saved.

    2)You say:

    By this time it should be pointed that the three groups (the redeemed/atoned for, the regenerate/born again, the elect) are simply different names for the exact same set of people.

    David: This actually not an inference one can get from the text. While all the elect are redeemed, we can infer that all the redeemed are elect. Also we have the counter-factual of 2 Peter 2:1, where some redeemed deny the Lord and so finally end as unsaved.

    Following this you say:

    Every single person the Son Atones for, the Spirit Regenerates. The is not a single person who is in one group but not another because the Trinity is not at odds with each other.

    David: The text does not say, all for whom Christ died for (in any sense) but “we” for whom Christ died. The “we” refers to believers. And so any predications following this must be limited to believers.

    Paul: Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

    It is a point of logic.

    3) I do not think that Paul’s point is so much that we can be assured that as we are elect and died-for that we can be assured that we will never fall away, etc, but that as we are believers, for whom Christ died for, etc, we can be assured of never failing to obtain full and complete salvation. As I see it, NT assurance is more often predicated on the supposition of faith and faithfulness, not on the abstraction of election or knowledge that Christ died for you especially.

    Thanks for your time,
    David
    http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=8466

    • Mike Sung Im says:

      Beloved brother, your foggy categories misinform your logic.

      Point 1. sufficientur pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis.

      Christ’s death is sufficient for all. Christ death is not efficient for all.

      Only Universalists can affirm that Christ’s death is ultimately efficient for all. Neither Calvinists nor Arminians (nor other non-Protestant groups) deny that Christ’s death is sufficient for all. This is not at stake and yet you labor to make a point about sufficiency. This is the first clue that there is confusion.

      a. Pointing out that Christ’s death is not efficient for all men does not in any way touch on the fact that His death is sufficient for any and all men.

      b. Pointing out that Christ’s death is sufficient for any and all men does not in any way touch on the fact that His death is not efficient for all men.

      Your argument is muddled because you confuse the two freely. You seem not to realize that one of the distinctive (and to some, offensive) points of Reformed theology is the clear distinction between sufficiency and efficiency in regards to the atonement.

      John Owen, Charles Hodge, and John Calvin all refer to the principle of sufficientur pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis in their writings. Your misapplication of Hodge implies to me that perhaps you do not actually understand Hodge’s theology. You also seem to have forgotten that unbelief is itself one of the many sins atoned for. If Christ’s death is truly all sufficient then the failure to believe itself is one of the sins atoned for. The failure to believe cannot be a ULTIMATE CAUSE of the atonement not being applied to an individual in the same way that the overcoming of any other sin is the cause of a person having the atonement applied to him. This is putting cart before horse.

      You also confuse CAUSE and MEANS.

      Reform theology teaches that for the elect to whom the atonement is applied the sin of unbelief itself is also atoned for and so the ability to believe is a RESULT of regeneration and not a CAUSE. For those who are dead in sin, who are enslaved to sin, one of the sins to which they are enslaved is unbelief. Regeneration enables faith which accompanies and marks those for whom the atonement is efficient. Faith/belief is the MEANS of application of atonement, not a CAUSE. Grace is the cause, faith is the means.

      Also as a sidenote, expiation is notably not identical nor synonymous with propitiation or salvation and yet they are inextricably linked. I would caution you that your attempt to unlink them will be as disastrous as it has always been.

      Point 2.
      Your mention 2 Peter 2:1 as a counterfactual assumes what you are arguing. Assertions are not arguments.

      There is not enough space to deal with that passage in detail but it does not teach what you assert.

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