"You know John Calvin did not hold to Limited Atonement." This was the statement that was made to me as I sat at dinner during a conference not long ago. Most of the people who attend a conference in which I have the honor of speaking know that I am an unashamed 5 point Calvinist. The thing about having written a book is that people think they know what you think without having to ask or get to know you. So, the gentleman very politely and graciously sat down next to me, and before he could take a bite made a statement that he thought would challenge my view of Limited Atonement, or at least make me think twice about it. What he must not have considered is that I had already thought twice about it. In fact, I have thought 7 times 70 times about it, and will continue to think about it until the Lord sees fit to take my thoughts of faith and make them sight.
Nevertheless, as I pondered his statement between bites of dinner, I knew he was eager for my response. So I looked at him and responded. I did not want to come across as totally disregarding his study of this matter, for I knew that he had probably read some very learned people with whom he agreed. Nevertheless, he was looking for a response and this is the one I gave him. I told the gentlemen that there are three things I would say to that statement.
1. I don't believe that John Calvin disagreed with Limited Atonement. Most people will look at Calvin's Institute and conclude that Calvin had little or nothing to say about the design of the atonement being only for the the elect. However, as Roger Nicole has made clear, the scope of Calvin's theology is more than the Institutes and when you read his commentaries and correspondences you read one who understood the implications of election and the sacrifice necessary for their salvation. Read Nicole on Calvin's View.
2. For me, it was not John Calvin who settled the issue of Limited Atonement, but rather another John, namely John Owen. In his well known treatise on the doctrine of Limited Atonement, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, John Owen set forth biblical and theological arguments for a particular redemption that have stood the test of time. I have the utmost respect for John Calvin, but John Owen, as a theologian, takes a back seat to no one.
3. Lastly, though John Owen and John Calvin are incomparable theologians, ultimately I believe Limited Atonement because the Bible clearly teaches it, both explicitly and implicitly: Matt 1:21; John 6:35-40; 10:11-18; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; et al.
After I had spoken my peace, I am not sure if I had convinced him of my position, but one thing is for sure, the conversation quickly turned to the delightful buffet meal we both were enjoying. Discussions of Limited Atonement and seemingly limitless southern comfort is my kind of conference.