TULIP or BEERS: Limited Atonement

Limited Atonement

God limited His atonement to only those who are elect. When Jesus died on the cross, He did not die for the sins of the whole world; He only died for those He wanted to go to Heaven.  Christ died to atone for specific sins of specific sinners. He did not atone for all men, because obviously all men are not saved. 
(according to biblehelp.org)

Extravagant Atonement

When Jesus died for all mankind, He remedied the terminal condition that we are born into and made possible a way for us to be restored, to know forgiveness, and to be loved in a way that has nothing to do with our own merit.  Sin was dealt with decisively on the cross as Christ willingly gave His life to defeat the power of death and alienation that ruled over His creation.  His crucifixion was a cure for sin, the root of brokenness.  Jesus bore the complete weight of the curse of sin and death FOR US and put an end to (condemned) the hold that sin had over mankind.


My first inclination upon hearing and reading about limited atonement was, “you must be kidding!”   But no, the people who hold to this position are serious about it.

If you haven’t gathered it by now, I believe that Christ’s atonement is inclusive and effective for all mankind.  In the next post, we will talk more about our response to this.

There is a helpful list of verses at Biblehelp.org that are applicable to this topic.  You may not agree with all of the categories or summaries (I don’t), but it is helpful to see many of these verses listed together.


15 thoughts on “TULIP or BEERS: Limited Atonement

  1. Grace, I spent a year under the instruction of one of the world’s foremost and aged systematic theologians. TULIP didn’t work for me then and it still doesn’t. If I recall correctly, he adamantly made a point that either you accept TULIP in its entirety or reject it completely. It is an interlocking theology that is fully dependant on all of its premises in order to stand coherently.

    I don’t like beer but BEERS is looking pretty good. BEERS points us towards a relationship with Jesus while TULIP reminds me more of a desparate legal defence of sovereignty.

  2. David,
    It is very true that the five points are interlocking. In describing each point so far, I tried to keep a distinction between the points, but it is difficult because the definition of one point is dependent on adherence to other points.

    If I planned to trademark the whole concept, I’m not sure I would go with the acronym BEERS either, but it was what developed as I thought through titles for my positions regarding each of the doctrines.

    It has been helpful for me to learn where I agree and disagree more specifically rather than to simply say I disagree with calvinism in general.

    1. Grace, its just a lot easier for me to be disagreeable now and figure out if I’m right when I reach glory (if I’m one of the elect). Most of the time I’m a lazy thinker. Good on you for digging and asking the hard questions.

      It occurred to me, after reading your response, that Calvanism is more than just a set of points or conclusions: Its a whole way of thinking about Scripture. It shapes how we approach it and what we do with it once we’ve digested it. Systematic theology proceeds like a court hearing: presuppositions, logical demonstrations, evidence, comparisons of conflicting theories and oddly enough, dead witnesses (Moses through to the apostle John). The point of all of this work is so that a verdict can be rendered.

      I used to like developing my own verdicts and expended great energy to that end but there was no fruit in all of that.

  3. Well, it’s all been decided already. I can’t change it, so why evangelize? The ‘gifts’ all passed away with the apostles, so why even pray – except to thank Jesus for dying on the cross and to ask Him to forgive us our many sins, and to ‘remember’ sick people and our missionaries before God.

    I have been sprinkled as a baby (NT circumcision) to show I am a covenant child, so I’m pretty sure I’m in. Just to hedge my bet, I’m going to do my best to keep the ten commandments (we read them every Sunday in church, just so we don’t forget), memorize the Heidleberg Catechism, and go to church every time the doors open. And, just to show God and others how serious I really am about being among the elect, I am going to cut corners and sacrifice in order to send my kids to Christian School.

    Sure, our denomination has been shrinking every year for the past 30 years or so, but we are currently reigning with Christ and are going to stand fast to the end. To hell with the world, we are the elect!

    Yes … these are thoughts and impressions I am left with from my days of TULIP.

    1. Ken,

      Not doubting your experiences, but mine have been antithetical to yours.

      The congregation I found myself a part of (the last “regular church” experience since 2006) was highly evangelistic[directly supported 4 people from the congregation who went and lived in Yemen], charismatic non-cessationist, I doubt that any (other than myself) even knew about the Heidleberg Catechism, most sent their kids to public school, younger demographic (I was the third oldest at age 52) and never thought that TULIP = the Gospel.

      We didn’t seek that congregation because we knew they were explicitly Calvinistic (actually didn’t know till we’d been there a few weeks, and then I only knew for shore because I directly axed an elder) (a significant portion of the congregation would not have identified themselves as “Calvinist”, and that identification was never a litmus test) but we were drawn to them because of their obvious Spiritual liveliness, strong Biblicism, and loving outreach to ALL people.

      Different systematic theologies can coexist without being a hinderance to the unity of the Spirit.


  4. Hi, Interesting timing… I’ve just been questioning total depravity on my blog… and yes these all fit nicely together.. for some. So I’m guessing when part of TULIP starts falling apart, the rest makes less sense too. I’ll have to go read your past posts now.

    God bless

  5. I’m always amazed by the unceasing amount of unconscious hatred that seethes out of some doctrines. I can understand the concept of Total Depravity – but only because I never thought people meant in this present world. Total Depravity I thought was originally the nigh-abstract thought concerning the complete absence of God and all of His goodness leaving us without hope (ie what Hell was like.) Not something we were ever to base doctrines of faith on concerning the present world. This world is not Hell, no matter what poor conditions we live in. God’s creation still sings His glory. While we live, there is yet hope, and it is Christ. If we don’t rejoice, the stones will.

    I dunno. I’ve probably stuck my foot in my mouth a few times the last few days (something i’m prone to do, so please forgive me and set me straight when I veer.)
    But the rest of this TULIP stuff seems a cesspool of hatred, spite and apathy to me. Teaching someone they are the superior elect without teaching them humility leads to belligerent indifference. A fat, happy and uncaring people (Wasn’t that the sin of Sodom… ? ).
    Kinda like some countries I know of. But that is the just the beginning of the dark path, Nazis come out further down the road.

    1. …and too broad a brush-stroke of stereotypes.

      I was raised “in church”, and it wasn’t a traditon that emphasised God’s sovereign grace, rather it was one that told me that it all depended on me and “one ah-shit wipes out all your ‘attaboys.” In my mid-40’s the Doctrines of Grace (aka “Calvinism”) were quite liberating.


      1. wide is the path that leads to destruction and narrow the path to salvation. hah, sorry, just first thing that popped into my head. doesn’t really have anything to do with the subject though… but then again, it is a thought, and a thought reaps an action…
        basically i think any doctrine that judges another (note, judges, as in condemnation, not discerns) or is apathetic to them seems to go blatantly against the Gospel of Christ.
        Pragmatic Eclectic has some good posts up on that going on over on his (Mark’s) site.
        Jesus wasn’t crucified for being boring. Why are we falling asleep in church? I think Ken hits the nail on the head two comments down from here when he says, “they are indoctrinated through a narrow facet of of the expansive wonders and mysteries of God’s own passion for humanity.”

    2. James,

      I’ve been around both Calvinist and non-Calvinist who have been “indoctrinated through a narrow facet of the expansive wonders and mysteries of God’s own passion for humanity” who lived spiritually truncated lives. However, in my case, TULIP was one–not the only–tool that Father used to open my eyes to previously unappreciated facets of His passion for me and how it is that He would have me love those around me.

      Limited Atonement does not “limit” God’s desire/ability/purpose in Salvation, rather, it is a doctrine which informs and comforts those of us who are being saved as to the extravagant extent and determination of God to save. If LA is not recognized, then atonement is limited to a powerless opportunity for people to save themselves from their terrible plight by their inate ability to desire salvation adequately enough to respond to the Good News. Or, maybe ALL are/will be saved by the time the fat lady sings?


  6. It is interesting to me that there is something about the overall tenor of this doctrine that seems to violate an innate understanding of who God is. I’m sure that some would explain that as an aspect of man’s rebellious nature, but I think it has to do with the image of God stamped upon our hearts.

  7. It is possible, even probable, that the TULIP doctrine makes sense to and thrills the hearts of Calvinist scholars on some level. But, I’m not a scholar – and neither are (educated guess only) 98% of the people sitting in the pews of Calvinist influenced churches. My rather cynical satement posted above is what I experienced to be a cultural paradigm developed after sitting through years of Calvinistic teachings. I generally find the congregants of such churches to be friendly and sincere, but more often than not they tend to follow the same cultural paradigm. There seems to be a passion for personal mission missing. Not because they are smug or uncaring, but because, I believe (from personal experience), they are indoctrinated through a narrow facet of of the expansive wonders and mysteries of God’s own passion for humanity.

  8. Exactly Ken! I wasn’t even raised under strict Calvinism, yet I often find myself wondering, why didn’t anyone tell me the gospel is so magnificent! It saddens me that religion can take something so wonderful and make it seem dead.

  9. Grace, Are you acquainted with J. McLeod Campbell’s book The Nature of the Atonement? His challenge to the logic of limited atonement (and thereby all of TUPLIP) is classic.

    One of his interesting points is that an arbitrary act cannot reveal essential character. He had already argued that the logic of limited atonement requires justice to more God’s essential character than love since everyone is shown justice but only the elect experience mercy and love. Since the decision of God as to who’s elect and who’s not appears arbitrarily based on unknown factors it cannot reveal the the true character of God.

    “…limiting the atonement … makes the work of Christ to be no longer a revelation of the name of God, no longer a work revealing that God is love. … so presented the atonement ceases to reveal that God is love. … Nothing can be clearer to me than that an arbitrary act cannot reveal character. We may be reconciled to an act of which we see not the reasons, by what we otherwise know of the character of him whose act it is: but an act which is strictly arbitrary, or at least so far as we are informed arbitrary – an act of which he who preforms it gives us no other account than that he wills it because he wills it – can never, by any light in it, make the character of him whose act it is known to us. …this doctrine makes the work of Christ as presented to the faith of human beings strictly an arbitrary act. …what He (God) has done has left us ignorant of Himself – that so far as the acting of which He gives us to account is concerned, He is to us the unknown God.”

    Long quote but insightful.

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