Feedback: If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?

This week’s feedback raises the old accusation that Arminianism pictures God as “weak and helpless”, and having died in vain for those who ultimately perish:

Question: “The problem with Arminianism is that it paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior, trying and yet failing to save everyone.  If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted.  If any of Christ’s blood was wasted, then He died in vain and is a failure as a Savior.  The theology of Arminians make Christ less than God.”

Answer: This is by no means a new criticism.  Personally, I’ve never found this claim to be particularly strong or convincing.  When dealing with issues such as these, I’ve found it helpful to refer to what I see as God’s intentions in the atonement.  These can be expressed in two inter-related questions:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

I believe a very simplified answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, to which I would reply that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). Does Christ’s blood accomplish the salvation of those who believe? If so (and I believe that it does), then the blood is not wasted, insofar as it accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve: the salvation of those who believe.

A look at three Old Testament foreshadows of Jesus Christ is helpful:

Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb was intended to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) was intended to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as the cities of refuge were intended to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).

Another point worth making is that it’s not as if part of Christ’s blood saves one person, and another part of the blood saves another person. Christ’s blood, in its entirety, saves every person who repents and believes the Gospel. The same blood that saved the Apostles is exactly the same blood that saves you and me. The same blood that saves one repentant sinner is exactly the same blood that is sufficient to save billions upon billions of repentant sinners, and then some more. This same blood is available to anybody who will turn to Christ. If anyone does not look in faith to Christ and in so doing be saved, it is that they have wasted the opportunity for salvation. It is not as if Christ’s blood was wasted, for if just one person was to be saved, the same amount of blood would have to have been shed as it would for the entire world to be saved.

The claims that Arminianism “paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior” and that Arminians “make Christ less than God” are unfounded, as they rest on the claim that “If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted” which is shown to be an unconvincing accusation against Arminian theology.

One final point I’d like to make is that the claim that Christ’s blood is wasted if all are not saved can actually be applied (though just as unconvincingly) to the Calvinistic scheme. Most Calvinists that I’ve come into contact with will typically make reference to the ‘sufficiency/efficiency’ distinction, namely, the claim that Christ’s blood is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.  So in your Calvinist scheme, the blood of Christ is sufficient to save all, and yet it does not save all. This means that the original claim that Christ’s blood was wasted may just as easily be applied to your own Calvinistic worldview.  Now, the way you Calvinists get around the apparent problem is, admittedly, quite easy and persuasive.  That is, by showing that the intention of Christ’s death was to save only the elect (on the Calvinist view), the problem disappears (i.e., the blood accomplishes exactly what was intended).  As the problem is so easily resolved, it would be silly for an Arminian to charge Calvinism with entailing the conclusion that some of Christ’s blood was wasted.

And the fact that the claim is so easily resolved is precisely the reason that I brought it up in the first place, as this is the same type of reasoning that we Arminians use to resolve the apparent problem.  Just as a Calvinist appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as he sees it resolves the problem for his worldview, so we Arminians appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as we see it resolves the issue for our worldview.1  The fact that the same charge can be brought against Arminianism and Calvinism alike, and that it can be so easily resolved, is indicative of two things: 1) the charge that any of Christ’s blood was wasted is such a weak argument that it should not be used by either Calvinists or Arminians, and 2) Calvinists and Arminians alike should have no problems in principle with the other’s explanation, as both explanations (similar in principle, yet still different) are perfectly consistent with their respective worldviews.

Best regards,

Arminian

Note

1 From my perspective, Calvinists and Arminians alike limit the atonement in some way. In my personal experience, Calvinists have typically claimed that they limit the scope of the atonement, while we Arminians limit the power or efficacy of the atonement.  Now, I don’t presume to speak for all Arminians, but I personally reject that distinction.  My view is that Calvinists and Arminians both limit the scope of the atonement.  The power of the atonement is a non-issue; the real issue is differing views on the scope of the atonement, Calvinism limiting the scope of the provision and intended benefit to only those whom God unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world, and the Arminian limiting the scope of the intended benefit to those who believe.

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