Preaching the Gospel with TULIP’s Tricky “L” in Mind

How can you preach the “whosoever” of John 3:16 if you cannot be certain that Christ’s atonement was for every person?

The doctrines known as “Calvinism” insist that Christ’s atonement was completed with a limited or definite purpose in mind—the salvation of God’s elect. Thus, while the atonement was sufficient for all humanity, it was intended and applied only to those who had been specially chosen by God to be his. R.C. Sproul says, “Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.”

 

It’s a fair question for the Arminian to ask: How can you preach the free offer of the gospel when you believe in a limited atonement? How can you preach the “whosoever” of John 3:16 if you cannot be certain that Christ’s atonement was for every person? How can you say, “Turn to Christ and be saved all the ends of the earth” if Christ’s atoning sacrifice does not extend to all humanity?

First, a brief theological refresher. The doctrines known as “Calvinism” insist that Christ’s atonement was completed with a limited or definite purpose in mind—the salvation of God’s elect. Thus, while the atonement was sufficient for all humanity, it was intended and applied only to those who had been specially chosen by God to be his. R.C. Sproul says, “Our view is that the redemption of specific sinners was an eternal plan of God, and this plan and design was perfectly conceived and perfectly executed so that the will of God to save His people is accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.” Conversely, Arminianism insists that Christ’s atonement was unlimited or universal, both sufficient for all humanity and applied to all equally. The call of the gospel, then, is to embrace what Christ has already done for each sinner.

The question is, do those who believe in a limited atonement have the right to honestly preach the gospel and to call on people to turn to Christ in repentance and faith even when it is possible that this person is not among the elect and, therefore, not the object of Christ’s atoning work?

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