A Song About Limited Atonement That Is Almost As Horrible As the Doctrine

OK, apologies for making you watch this, but it’s related to the current series and we could maybe use a diversion. So this song is awful, obviously, but in addition to sounding like a Green Day tribute band made up of toilet bowls, it’s also an egregious presentation of atonement theology. Not only are they celebrating a truly problematic and ugly doctrine, they misrepresent its content and then throw endless Bible verses at us hoping we won’t notice. The makers of this video try their darnedest to come across like open-minded theology nerds who are picking on both Arminians and Calvinists, but they are clearly defenders of Calvin’s work. A major clue is the way they try to relabel his “Limited Atonement” with the more palatable moniker “Definite Atonement.” That’s pure R.C. Sproul right there.

We probably won’t get this specific when we talk about Calvin’s atonement theology in an upcoming post, so if you’re not familiar with Limited Atonement here’s the rundown: This doctrine asserts that the “atonement” achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross was “limited” and effective only for those whom God preordained (or elected) before time to eventually believe in it. That is, it is for true Christians only and not for “the world” or for “all” as the Bible seems to state. Hardcore Calvinists will not tell people “Jesus died for you,” because they cannot be sure that it is true. Why would anyone believe in such a nightmare? For defenders of Reformed Theology, it is all about preserving God’s honor and “sovereignty.” It is all about God’s “design” for atonement and its perfect fulfillment, and it boils down to this: because Calvinists view sin and salvation in strictly legal terms, and because they see such immovable obstacles between humans and God, even on this side of Easter, they cannot abide the thought that an ounce of Jesus’ blood might have been spilled for anyone who doesn’t deserve it. Of course, they’ll insist, none of us deserves it, but the elect receive it because they have been chosen to receive it. Everyone else is out of luck.

Again, all of this can only possibly make any sense within the harsh and abstract dimension of theological theory. This is the magical realm where sin is a legal problem to be managed, not a fundamental problem of human relationship. Where repentance is a ritual one must perform in pursuit of forgiveness, not a lifelong journey of discovery and enlightenment. Where Jesus’ death is a puppet show to accomplish “God’s will,” not the tragic murder of the son of man. Where salvation affords passage into a happy afterlife for those fortunate enough to broker a deal, not the rescue and redemption of every molecule in all creation. And where only a special group get to call themselves “God’s children,” not everyone and everything in existence.  

The video goes on to invoke the “ransom” theology we observed in the gospels, because this is what the Bible actually says instead of touting Penal Substitution or Limited Atonement. But the picture of Jesus giving his life to free his captive people is far more beautiful and meaningful than anything in TULIP or PSA, and it seems like an odd fit here. Are we all imprisoned, and yet God has only seen fit to rescue some of us? Substitutionary punishment is a horrific notion, but at least it lends itself to an individualistic theology like Calvinism. Ultimately, the biggest problem with election theology, as far as I can see, is that the person teaching you about it always assumes they have been elected. Beware of “insider” religion. If it’s not good news for everyone, it’s not good news.

And yes, this was going to be a fun post when I started writing it. Sorry. 🙂