From time to time, I am asked about my view of the extent of the atonement. I certainly have definite convictions about this issue (a most helpful essay, which many have read, is by J.I. Packer in his introduction to John Owen’s book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ).
However, I don’t like getting into these kinds of discussions with people because they are typically unfruitful and unnecessarily divisive most often because so many operate from a skewed, caricatured understanding (e.g., Calvinists stifle evangelism; Arminians don’t preach the gospel).
Moreover, these discussions more times than not miss the point when it comes to the gospel and evangelism.
The point is that regardless of whether a man believes in limited or unlimited atonement, there is never a reason to introduce either view when preaching the gospel. Neither view is something that needs to be included in the equation.
The believer’s responsibility is to clearly and faithfully explain and proclaim the gospel to the unconverted (whether in a pulpit or one-on-one at Starbucks) and then invite them to come to the living Christ. We preach Christ crucified and risen and then plead with sinners to believe on this basis alone (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20-21).
Christ’s death and resurrection are the ground on which forgiveness is given not one’s view of the extent of the atonement!
Too often, this issue is carried out with harsh rhetoric and uncharitable attitudes. Such a sad state of affairs is indicative of the loss of the gospel at the center on both sides.
Below is a well-known conversation between Charles Simeon (an Anglican Calvinist) and John Wesley (a Methodist Arminian) which serves as a gracious example when the gospel is kept central.
“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Yes, I do indeed.
And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Yes, solely through Christ.
But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.”
“20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor. 5:20-21).