I really appreciate what Greg Forster has to say here about definite, substitutionary atonement – the truth that Jesus died to save his people, his sheep, the elect chosen before the foundation of the world. It will especially interest those of you who have studied the Arminian/Calvinism differences as well as those of you who have noticed the errors of Amyraldianism, which some popular semi-Calvinists teach today (can I use the term semi-Calvinist?).
“…The claim – made by all traditions except Calvinism – that Jesus did his saving work impersonally comes squarely into conflict with any meaningful concept of substitutionary atonement. To avoid the Calvinistic conclusion [of definite atonement], all other traditions have to say that Jesus’ saving work is not aimed at any particular people. It cannot be aimed at ‘all humanity’ in the sense of being aimed at each individual person in the whole human race. It must be aimed at ‘all humanity’ as an abstract concept, without reaching any individual people at all. And this means it cannot be, in itself, an act of substitution. If Jesus’ work only makes salvation available, then it cannot be substitutionary in any meaningful sense.”
“The most common way of getting around this difficulty is to say that Jesus’ death and resurrection are ‘hypothetically’ or ‘conditionally’ substitutionary. Jesus dies and rises again in the place of all humanity on the hypothesis, or condition, that they will get plugged into the salvation system – by receiving the sacraments, or the means of grace, or the gospel. Thus, Jesus can personally substitute for every person; not actually, but hypothetically or conditionally.”
“This view creates several problems. Perhaps the most important is that it totally removes the act of substitution from Jesus’ work. A substitution occurs, but Jesus does not accomplish it. Jesus dies on the cross and rises from the dead, not for you, but for some hypothetical or conditional version of you. Then, apart from Jesus’ work, through the salvation system that Jesus creates, you become the hypothetical or conditional version of yourself for whom Jesus died.”
“That process, not Jesus’ work, accomplishes the act of substitution. When you receive baptism, or when you believe the gospel, or when you plug into the salvation system in some other way, that is the moment Jesus’ righteousness is substituted for your sins.”
“In this view, the cross and the empty tomb provide neither the basis nor the mechanism of the substitution. The mechanism of the substitution is the salvation system. The basis of the substitution is whatever it was – baptism, belief, etc. – that plugged you into the system.”
“The staggering conclusion is that, in this view, Jesus’ work does not remove your sins. If it did, it would actually save you. And then we’d be right back on the merry-go-round – if Jesus died for all people, and his work removed the sins of those for whom he died, everyone would be saved. All traditions besides Calvinism have gotten off the merry-go-round only by denying – in effect, if not in so many words – that Jesus’ work removes your sins” (p. 56-57).
You can find the entire argument in chapter one of this excellent book: The Joy of Calvinism by Greg Forster.