There are four things that put people off the doctrine of atonement:
1. It is defined incorrectly.
J.C. Ryle said that the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy. Often people reject definite atonement because they haven’t heard it properly defined, they don’t understand it, or they think if they believe in it then they have to reject a whole bunch of other doctrines like God’s common grace, his love for the nonelect, and his salvific stance to the world. So if the doctrine is accurately defined, then people won’t be as put off by it.
2. Unfortunate terminology is used.
Historically, definite atonement has been known as limited atonement, and I think the adjective limited is particularly unfortunate. It is unfortunate because, in redemptive history, we’ve been waiting for an atonement for Jew and Gentile, and here it is in the death of Christ, and now we're trying to limit it? That’s why I prefer the term definite atonement.
3. It is not seen as a biblical-systematic doctrine.
Some people feel that there are too many biblical texts that seem to speak against definite atonement.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
So, people think that a single biblical text knocks the doctrine over, or does away with it. But if you understand the doctrine as a biblical-systematic doctrine, then you see that no one text proves it, and no one text disproves it.
With contributions from a number of well-respected Reformed theologians and church leaders, this volume offers a comprehensive defense for the doctrine of limited atonement from historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.
4. It is believed to stifle evangelism.
The final reason people are put off by definite atonement is they feel it becomes a deterrent to evangelism and mission—if Christ didn’t die for everyone, then how can they go and evangelize and preach the gospel indiscriminately to everyone?
Those are reasons why people are put off by it, but if we accurately define definite atonement, give it it’s proper terminology, see it as a biblical-systematic doctrine, and see that definite atonement doesn’t hinder evangelism, but motivates us to evangelism, then more people will be encouraged to embrace this important doctrine.
- 10 Things You Should Know about Definite Atonement (Jonathan Gibson)
- What It Means that Christ Died for God's Elect (Jonathan Gibson)
- Does Definite Atonement Undermine Our Zeal for Evangelism? (Jonathan Gibson)