NOTE:  My book entitled The Extent of the Atonement: History and Critique (B&H Academic) will be published digitally June 1 and in print version by November 1. It will weigh in at appx. 850 pages and address the subject historically, biblically, theologically, and practically. The book is a significant expansion of my chapter “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (B&H Academic, 2010), 61-108, edited by Steve Lemke and myself.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:


The history concerning the question of the extent of the atonement is fascinating in its own right; variegated in its twists and turns; often either ignored or misunderstood; but essential to a thorough understanding and analysis of the subject. One does not have to read far into the biblical and theological aspects of the extent question before discovering it is an issue that is both knotty and thorny; fraught with potholes and pitfalls.

The question has engendered passionate debate in the history of the church since the Reformation. The extent of the atonement has been a significant controversy not only between the Reformed and the non-Reformed, but also within Reformed theology itself. Debates occurred far and wide within Reformed theology, ranging from major events such as Dort and Westminster to individual correspondence and debate (such as occurred between John Owen and Richard Baxter in the seventeenth century, and Andrew Fuller and Dan Taylor in the late eighteenth century). Entire Reformed denominations have divided over this issue (at least in part), as, for example, the Secession Church in Scotland in the nineteenth century. The earliest English Baptists (early seventeenth century) designated themselves as “General” and “Particular” Baptists, nomenclature chosen to illustrate their theological differences primarily over the extent of the atonement.

The rise of the neo-Calvinism[1] movement in contemporary American Evangelicalism has once again brought the issue to the fore. Within modern Calvinism, the position of limited atonement is clearly in the catbird seat, while those Calvinists who affirm unlimited atonement sometimes become clay pigeons. Several recent Calvinist works mostly of a popular nature address the question, typically in a tertiary fashion, as part of their explication of Calvinism. Usually only a few pages are devoted to a discussion of this issue and that within the traditional TULIP schema. These treatments are generally descriptive and often superficial. A few scholarly works on the question of the extent of the atonement have appeared in recent years, some written by Calvinists who chronicle the debate within Reformed theology on this topic.[2] Interestingly, these works demonstrate the historical as well as the ongoing debates about this issue.

An important issue in the historical discussion has to do with the recognition that both Reformed and Arminian theologies are not monolithic, nor have they ever been. There is much diversity within these traditions.

[1] By “neo-Calvinism,” I refer to the growing movement of Calvinism within Evangelicalism over the past twenty years.

[2] For example, see G. M. Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536–1675) (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997); J. Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); and D. Gibson and J. Gibson, eds. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).