The intent of the atonement is something that has been debated for centuries. It is still something that is not fully settled on in Christian circles. While all Christians acknowledge that Christ came and died for humanity, the intent of this atonement is deemed to only save the elect by some while others believe it is all have had provision made for them. I believe that Christ made provision for all, it is just up to all to believe and be saved. The following is a brief examination the Intent of the Atonement.
One theologian states that “As sin and iniquity is universal, so also is Christ’s saving provision” (Bruce Demarest The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation189). Demarest then moves forward to discuss how it is that Christ did indeed die for all “sinners in all times and places” (191). It seems that he believes that all people had their sins paid for at the cross. Demarest adds to this thought that even though that is true, “through unbelief they do not personally appropriate the benefits of his work” (191). Demarest believes that the atonement, in its provision, is universal, but he does not believe it is universal in its application. He argues further that the application of the atonement is particular or limited but the provision of the atonement is universal (Demarest 193).
This position is not exactly limited atonement or unlimited. It is somewhere in the middle. It seems that his view is like that of Kenneth Keathley. This view is called singular redemption meaning, “Christ died sufficiently for every person, although efficiently only for those who believe” (Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach 4). The reason for classifying Demarest’s view as such is because he says that Christ died sufficiently for everyone but that it is only efficient for those who believe. That the “benefits of Christ’s death” are only applied to, what he calls the sheep or the elect (Demarest 193).
He makes this argument from Scriptures such as Isaiah 53:6 which says that “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (English Standard Version). This along with other Scriptures that states God gave Christ for all men (e.g. John 3:16; 4:42; 6:33 Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet 2:1). He next argues from Scripture that even though this is true, Christ only saves those God calls or has called (e.g. Matt. 1:21; John 17; Rom. 8:28-33; 1 Pet. 1).
Do I agree with his view? The answer is yes for the most part I do. I do agree that the atonement is universal in that Christ died for the sins of all humanity (1 John 2:2). I agree that for this to be appropriated one must believe (John 5:24). I believe that it is a singular redemption in that each person must subjectively appropriate the atonement that has already been objectively accomplished (Acts 16:30-31). I believe that Christ made provision for all but only those who believe will be saved. I see this as being anyone who just believes in the promises of Christ. I do not believe that it is for only an elect few.
An example is needed. Back when Jimmy Carter was president he made an executive order saying all Vietnam-era draft dodgers were pardoned and could return home, many did but many did not. Some did not make the objective pardon subjectively theirs (Roger E. Olson, Against Calvinism 149). This is like the atonement. Christ has paid the dues for all people but only those who make the objective pardon–atonement, theirs by believing through faith that His work is enough will receive the benefits.
Where I disagree with the argument put forth by Demarest is in the part of the elect and one more area. It is in the area where he says, “God purposed to apply the Atonement to his sheep, his people, or the church who exercise God-given faith” (193). I disagree that it is only to the elect and that faith is God-given. I see faith as something that the individual must exercise in belief, but not that it is given by God. Ephesians 2:8-9, a disputed text, states, I believe, that salvation is the gift of God, not faith.
Salvation is totally of God, but man must first in faith believe. Rene A. Lopez remarks, “Human faith is but a passive response that receives God’s free gift of eternal life” (“Is Faith a Gift from God or a Human Exercise?” Bibliotheca Sacra 266). He then likens this to someone accusing a beggar of working when holding out his hand for money, which he states is not accurate (Lopez 266).
Since, I believe that faith is not a gift but something that anyone can exercise in belief, I do not see that salvation is only for certain people. I believe that all people can believe, but that many will not. This is not a waste or a failing on God’s part, it is God giving the opportunity of salvation, equally across the board, to all people. It is like the analogy about Jimmy Carter, the offer is to all but only those who appropriate the offer receive the benefits.
So, the atonement is for all and all can be saved. They just have to believe, and it will be theirs. But that is the problem, they must believe, they must accept this gift before it can be theirs. In summation, I believe that Demarest has a view that is mostly accurate with Scripture. The one exception is his belief that faith is a gift and because of this salvation is for the few chosen only. To that, I disagree.