I am a Calvinist. Or let me say it in more stark language…I believe the Bible to be true. Therefore, not only do I believe Calvinism (Reformed theology) to be synonymous with Biblical theology, but I believe something particular about the atonement of Jesus on the cross, I believe the atonement of Jesus on the cross, was only for a specific group of people, not every individual person. This view has historically been labeled Limited Atonement.
Many people claim that this doctrine is false and say that the atonement of Jesus is not limited in any fashion, but rather freely offers the gospel to all without exception. I disagree, but that’s not the issue here. The issue I want to talk about is that both groups (my group which says the cross was only for a group of humans, and the other group which says the cross is a free offer of salvation to all without exception) limit the atonement. How? Let me explain.
Those who are not Calvinists or not reformed limit the cross by saying; “The cross makes salvationpossible for all people.” The people who are reformed say, “The cross secures salvation to a specific number of people, the elect.” So the non-reformed person limits the cross by limiting the power of it, and the reformed person limits it by limiting the number of people who will receive it as saving, saying that the cross could save all men, but it only actually saves the elect.
Who limits the cross more? Listen to Wayne Grudem, “Reformed people argue that it is the other view that really limits the power of the atonement because on that view the atonement does not actually guarantee salvation for God’s people but only makes salvation possible for all people. In other words, if the atonement is not limited with respect to the number of people to which it applies, then it must be limited with respect to what it actually accomplishes.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 596, footnote 36)
John Piper too has a word on this, “It’s not a good label. But the “limitation” is in the conscious design or intention of the atonement by God. Calvinists believe that God really means to accomplish, through the atonement, the conversion of a definite (limited) group of people, not just hold out the opportunity to all people to believe.”
So next time you get angry at a Calvinist, or someone gets angry at you for being a Calvinist, remember, everyone LIMITS the atonement.