The “Heretical” Nature of Limited Atonement
By now, most of you in the SBTS blogosphere already know. Jerry Falwell, in a message to prospective Liberty University students, said,
“We are not into partcular love or limited atonement. As a matter of fact we consider it heresy.”
You can read brother Tom Ascol’s initial reporting of this here.
Now, setting aside the (what should be) obvious ridiculousness of such a statement for the moment, let us turn our attention seriously to the word “heresy.” What is the definition of heresy? Dictionary.com defines heresy as:
- opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.
- the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.
- Roman Catholic Church. the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.
- any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.
So, according to Falwell, limited atonement is at variance with orthodox doctrine; in fact he believes it is strongly skewed from “established” beliefs. And as such (definition 2), anyone who maintains this doctrine is a heretic. Furthermore, if we were like Catholics, our Calvinistic brothers are willful and persistent heretics for their rejection of general atonement, and as such we must anathematize them.
Does anyone else feel as vastly uncomfortable as I do about this idea? I am actually in agreement Falwell on the first part of his unfortunate statement. I am not into limited atonement. I think limited atonement is wrong, since I do not believe there is biblical warrant for this position. That is to say that I think, at this point in my studies, that Scripture as a whole does not endorse this view. However, I do not believe that to hold such a position disqualifies one from falling under the term orthodox. It is not “a hill on which to die.”
Falwell actually fires his independent fundamental Baptist shotgun at not one, but two concepts, the other namely particular love. I am of the belief that this is an opinion or doctrine that should be held by every Christian. In fact, it is my belief that John 3:16 explicitly teaches this concept. For an explanation, see a post I wrote on this very subject exactly one year ago today here.
This coming week I would like to examine this claim as part of my ongoing studies in this area of theology. We will examine whether or not particular love and limited atonement are, in fact, heresy. For my previous posts on this doctrine, check the sidebar under The Doctrines of Grace. If you’re too lazy (wink), you can access the particular posts as follows. These four posts sought to define and unpack the doctrine as it is formulated, not to raise objections or show how it is “wrong.” When one understands a doctrine and how it is formulated, one is in a much better position to determine whether it is “heresy.”
This coming week, join us and, I’m sure, the many other bloggers who will be unpacking Falwell’s statement with the tools of Scriptural archaeology.