My point is that there is confusion about what the doctrine of limited atonement actually teaches. However, I think that if a person really understands the other four points and is thinking at all clearly, he must believe in limited atonement because of what Martin Lurher called a resistless logic. Still, there are people who live in a happy inconsistency. I believe it’s possible for a person to believe four points without believing the fifth, although I don’t think it’s possible to do it consistently or logically. However, it is certainly a possibility given our proclivity for inconsistency.

To begin to unravel the misconceptions about this doctrine, let’s look first at the question of the value of the atoning sacrifice ofJesus Christ. Classical Augustinianism teaches that the atonement of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all men. That is, the sacrifice Christ offered to the Father is of infinite value. There is enough merit in the work of Jesus to cover the sins of every human being who has ever lived and ever will live. So there is no limit to the value of the sacrifice He made. There is no debate about this.

Calvinists make a distinction between the sufficiency and the efficiency of the atonement. That distinction leads to this question: was Jesus’ death efficient for everybody? In other words, did the atonement result in everyone being saved automatically? Jesus’ work on the cross was valuable enough to save all men, but did His death actually have the effect of saving the whole world?

This question has been debated for centuries, as noted above. However, if the controversy over limited atonement was only about the value of the atonement, it would be a tempest in a teapot because the distinction between the sufficiency and efficiency of the atonement does not define the difference between historic Reformed theology and non-Reformed views such as Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Rather, it merely differentiates between universalism and particularism. Universalists believe that Jesus’ death on the cross did have the effect of saving the whole world. Calvinism disagrees strongly with this view, but historic Arminianism and dispensationalism also repudiate universalism. Each of these schools of thought agrees that Christ’s atonement is particular and not universal in the sense that it works or effects salvation only for those who believe in Christ, so that the atonement does not automatically save everybody. Therefore, the distinction between the sufficiency and efficiency of Jesus’ work defines particularism, but not necessarily the concept of limited atonement.

R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2007), 142-144.

[Note: 1) I have wanted to post this for a long time as this is referenced in the Wiki article on Amyraldianism as a proof or argument against hypothetical universalism. To that end, 2) It is complete nonsense for Sproul to claim that Luther thought that it was a matter of resistless logic that limited atonement follows from the doctrines of election and predestination. Luther, himself, did not even imagine this to be so as he taught unlimited satisfaction. 3) The second major mistake by Sproul is the incorrect suggestion that his revised version of the Lombardian formula was the classical Augustinian doctrine. 4) Compared to some of the better discussions on the sufficiency-efficiency paradigm, Sproul’s comments are quite infantile, which is a shame considering his former standing in the contemporary Reformed academic community.]

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