This in response to an article that presents us with only two alternatives relative to the extent of the atonement, either limited atonement or universalism (here). I think this offers a good middle way through these polar extremes, and holds both limited atonement and universalism in a healthy tension. Donald Bloesch says:

With Barth I hold that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave the human situation has been irrevocably altered. The powers of sin, death and hell have been decisively vanquished, though they continue to resist the advance of the kingdom of God through the power of the lie. All people, irrespective of their moral and spiritual state, are claimed for the kingdom, but only some respond in faith and obedience. Christ has reconciled and justified the whole human race but in principle (de jure), not in fact (de facto) except for those who believe. All are heirs to the kingdom, but not all become members of the church of Christ. The treasure in the field is there for all, but only those benefit who give up everything to attain it (Mt 13:44). The gates of prison in which we find ourselves are now open, but only those who rise up and walk through these gates to freedom are truly free.

I do not wish to deny the truth in predestination, a doctrine that is integral to the whole of Scripture. Yet predestination must be preached as good news if it is to serve the evangelistic mandate of the church. Predestination in its biblical context is a message of hope, for it simply means that before we respond in faith we are already claimed by God’s unconditional grace. Predestination is not something finalized in the past but something realized in the present and consummated in the future. We can resist and deny our predestination, but we cannot permanently thwart the stream of God’s irresistible grace. We will ultimately be brought into submission, though not necessarily into salvation. Yet predestination means life even though we may choose death. Predestination does not necessarily eventuate in fellowship with Christ, but it does mean that every person is brought into inescapable relatedness to Christ. Even though incorrigible sinners may find themselves in hell, outside the holy city, they are not outside the compass of God’s love and protection. The atonement of Christ is universal in its intention and outreach but conditional in the way its efficacy is realized in the lives of God’s people. God’s election and predestination are realized in a different way for those who spurn the offer of the gospel; yet we can still hope and pray even for these condemned mortals, since we know that they are in the hands of a God whose justice is evenhanded but whose mercy is boundless. I affirm no ultimate dualism (as in Augustinianism and Calvinism) but a duality within an ultimate unity, and this means that the pain of hell itself will be made to serve the glory of heaven. (Donald Bloesch, “Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord,” 169-70)

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