Three Views on the Extent of the Atonement: A Brief Introduction

Concerning the theological debate on the extent, nature, and purpose(s) of Christ’s atonement, from my own experience I have found that many Christians have misrepresented ideas about what the main views basically propose. I am not about to engage in a theological and/or exegetical discussion on extent of the atonement at this point (nor will I do so in the comments below). But I have decided to craft a simple graph that I hope helps you to become more informed and to more accurately understand the main views, namely, those other than your own.

Before looking at the graph, however, allow me to introduce you to the three main views by providing brief descriptions of how they view the extent and nature of Christ’s atonement. (There are certainly other views that would fall within the continuum of views [i.e., amyraldianism], but I am purposefully generalizing for the sake of simplicity.)

  • Universalism – Believes that Christ died for all individuals and therefore all individuals will be saved.
  • Calvinism – Believes that solely believers will be saved and therefore Christ died solely for believers.
  • Armininianism – Believes that Christ died for all individuals but only those who believe will be saved.

These differing views result from distinct positions concerning the extent and nature of Christ’s atonement. In other words, the descriptions provided directly above logically imply the following positions provided in the graph below.

Views of the Atonement - Graph

Note the following descriptions that will prove to be helpful for understanding this graph:

  • “Extent” – Refers to the scope or range of individuals to which Christ’s saving death extends.
  • “Accomplishment” – I use this word to refer to what Christ actually did in His sacrificial death and the nature of His atoning work. In other words, “Unlimited in Accomplishment” refers to the idea that Christ actually saved people on the cross and decisively, definitively, and efficaciously atoned for people while “Limited in Accomplishment” refers to the idea that Christ hypothetically saved people, possibly saved people, or made people savable.
  • “Particularists” – Refers to one who adheres to particularism (i.e., Arminians and Calvinists)–the orthodox belief that not all individuals will be saved. In other words, universalism, the belief that all individuals will be saved, contradicts blatant texts of scripture and is therefore heretical.

ALSO NOTE:

  • Please note that these positions (above) are not evangelistic strategies but views on the theological nature, extent, and purpose(s) of the atonement.
  • Please note that in the descriptions provided above I am not trying to degrade any position by the use of certain words, terms, or descriptions. I am simply trying to accurately represent the distinctions that exist between the various views.
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