"Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist. The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons (although as has already been shown, he believes that it is efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race); while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody. The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively. For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge which goes only half-way across. As a matter of fact, the Arminian places more severe limitations on the work of Christ than does the Calvinist." (1)
I read an Arminian blog recently which addressed this quote. While I agree with that writer that "Boettner's representation of Arminianism is demonstrably false," I disagree with some of his supporting arguments. That is to say, I found most of his points compelling, but it did not seem to me that his writing actually answered all the concerns brought forward by Boettner. As a result, I have set out to write my own response to these issues.
Let me first, though, say that I do not call myself an Arminian. However, I do agree with the view of atonement that the Arminian supports: That Christ died for all, and yet that not all will go to heaven; That Christ's death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for those who believe; That Christ's death provided salvation for everyone, but procured salvation for those who believe. I, not calling myself an Arminian, will not speak for Arminians, but rather will speak for Non-Calvinists Christians (NCCs) who disagree with the first four points of Calvinism.
Addressing the quote piece by piece:
"Let there be no misunderstanding at this point. The Arminian limits the atonement as certainly as does the Calvinist."
Well, I would say that Calvinism certainly does attempt to limit the atonement. Boettner admits, in that statement, that Calvinists do limit the atonement of God. He puts forward the idea that NCCs also limit the atonement of God, but in a different way. How so?
We claim, as Kevin Jackson said, that Scripture teaches that God loves the world and that Jesus died for all (John 3:16, 1 Tim 2:5-6). Jesus' sacrifice was for everyone (Heb 2:9). His sacrifice is applied to those who accept it in faith (John 1:12-13). That certainly does not seem to be limited Christ's atonement, but rather giving it credit for being as extensive as it actually was. But Boetner will go on to explain why he thinks that NCC, with this broad view of the atonement, is actually limiting it.
"The Calvinist limits the extent of it in that he says it does not apply to all persons (although as has already been shown, he believes that it is efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race);"Again, he admits that Calvinism limits the atonement. However, to say that the Calvinist believed the atonement to be efficacious for the salvation of the large proportion of the human race seems controversial, at best. All the Calvinists that I have talked to on the subject, and I know many, would say rather that few will be saved.
"Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Mt. 7:14
"while the Arminian limits the power of it, for he says that in itself it does not actually save anybody."Does not actually save anybody? Do not Non-Calvinist Christians claim that they themselves are saved? NCCs would say that the atonement of Christ, in and of itself, actually does save people. Who does it save? The elect. Who are the elect? Those who believe on Christ as Lord and Savior. We claim that the atonement of Christ does actually save the elect. We also say that election is conditional.
Do not, I urge this point, confused conditional election with synergism. I wrote a blog on it here: Link. I believe in monergism. God saves people by His own power and strength, according to His own will. We do not assist in our own salvation. God saves us. We do not save ourselves. We do not help to save ourselves. We do not assist in regenerating ourselves. But God saves only those who meet His condition, which He Himself set, according to His own good pleasure and the counsel of His will: He saves only those who believe.
Again, NCCs do not limit the power of the atonement by saying in itself it does not actually save anybody. For we say that in itself it actually does save the elect, who are those who believe. Christ died for everyone, and that is called Universal Atonement. However, not all are saved, which would be Universalism. Let me re-emphasize this point: Non-Calvinist Christians do not believe, somehow, that Christ died for everyone in such a way as saved no one. Rather, Universal Atonement teaches that Christ's death provided salvation for all, and procured salvation only for those who believe.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:14
To help this point to be understood, I will compare Jesus' atonement to the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness, which is a biblical comparison. The serpent, being lifted up, provided a way of healing for all who were bitten. It was sufficient for the healing of all of them. However, not all of them received the benefit of that offer. Only those who looked upon the serpent were healed. The serpent was sufficient for the healing of all, but only efficacious for the healing of those who looking upon it. The serpent was lifted up for all those who were suffering, but only those who looked on it accepted the healing offered by the Lord.
"The Calvinist limits it quantitatively, but not qualitatively; the Arminian limits it qualitatively, but not quantitatively."The Calvinist does limit it quantitatively, but the Non-Calvinist Christian limits it neither qualitatively nor quantitatively. We believe that in quantity, it provides salvation for all. Yet in quality, it procures regeneration, justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification for those that believe. In quality, it is perfect and powerful. We, whose sins are covered in the blood of Christ, and who are clothes in the Righteousness of Christ, are secure in Christ forever. This is no cheapening of the atonement. In what way is this not quality?
Boettner merely misunderstands the opposing position. He believes that we limit it qualitatively because he believes that we put forward the idea that the atonement of Christ "does not actually save anybody." He is wrong, for we do not put forward that idea, and therefore do not limit is qualitatively.
"For the Calvinist it is like a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge which goes only half-way across."I would agree with Kevin Jackson's answer to this point that "No one believes in a bridge that goes halfway across. The narrow bridge analogy much better describes the Arminian view of atonement than it does the Calvinist view. In Arminianism, Jesus Christ is the bridge. He beckons all to cross. Those who believe in him are the ones who cross the bridge and benefit. For a bridge to be of benefit one must cross it. A bridge is provisionally useful. Not everyone crosses a bridge, but anyone can. This is the Arminian understanding of the atonement. In Calvinism the reprobate are dead and have no way to cross the bridge, and yet are still commanded to do so. The "elect" do not cross the bridge either. They are somehow irresistibly dragged across. The Calvinist view of the atonement is more akin to an invisible and random wormhole that teleports a few lucky ones to the other side."
A complete bridge provides all with the opportunity to get to the other side, and yet only those who cross the bridge will get to the other side. This is analogous to Christ provided all with the opportunity to be saved, and only those who believe on Him as Savior will be saved. The half-made bridge is analogous to Boettner's idea of an atonement that is offered to all, but provides salvation to no one; And as I pointed out previously, we do not believe that, though he thinks we do.
"As a matter of fact, the Arminian places more severe limitations on the work of Christ than does the Calvinist."And yet, the only "limitation" we hypothetically place on it is one in which we do not believe or teach. If we did indeed teach that Christ's atonement does not, in itself, save anyone, we most certainly would be placing a severe limitation of the work of Christ. But we do not, and thus the accusation is unfounded. We believe that the atonement is universal in scope, and provisional in application. This is what the Bible says, and this is what we believe.
1 Limited Atonement by Loraine Boettner.