On January 28th I posted a youtube video of an excerpt of a sermon by John Piper in which he described the real difference between the Arminian view of atonement (unlimited or universal) and the Calvinistic view of atonement (historically called limited atonement). (Click here to see that post). Yesterday I was reading a book by Mark Dever entitled The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. At one point in the book, Dever makes a statement in passing regarding the the decisiveness of Christ’s atonement which really hits at the crux of this “extent of the atonement” debate. Again, instead of being a debate over universal v. limited extent, the centerpiece of the issue is whether Christ’s death was a potential or effectual atonement.
The apostles clearly learned from Jesus how they were to understand his death on the cross; and to teach Christians about this, the Holy Spirit has inspired various images in the New Testament that convey the reality to us: Jesus as a sacrifice, a redemption, a reconciliation, a legal justification, a military victory, and a propitiation.
None of this language in the New Testament refers to something potential, a mere possibility, or an option; rather, each image refers to something that actually accomplishes its end or purpose. So, for example, how can we say that God and sinners are reconciled if these “reconciled sinners” were then cast into hell? Or what kind of propitiation would it be if God’s wrath was not assuaged, or what kind of redemption if the hostages were not set free? The point with all these images is that the benefit envisioned has not merely been made available; it has been secured not by the mere teaching ministry of Christ but by his death and resurrection.
Dever, Mark; C. J. Mahaney (2008-03-31). The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (9Marks) (pp. 38-39). Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.