John Piper, Millard J. Erickson, And Universal Atonement


In 2004, John Piper gave a speech claiming to teach Limited Atonement. Here is a link to that entire speech:

In that speech, he endorsed Millard J. Erickson’s theology as being correct on the subject of Limited Atonement. To support his own teaching on the Atonement, Piper quoted from Millard J. Erickson’s systematic theology titled “Christian Theology.” The above is a picture of Erickson’s book: it shows exactly where the quote came from. Notice how John Piper took his quote from Erickson’s chapter discussing the extent of the atonement in a section titled “Universal Atonement,” pay attention to this–Erickson is speaking about Universal Atonement here, not Limited Atonement. Here is the entire paragraph from Erickson, the paragraph John Piper took his quote from. Under the section titled Universal Atonement, Erickson writes the following, and I quote:

“In contrast with the foregoing position is the contention that God intended the atonement to make salvation possible for all persons. Christ died for all persons, but his atoning death becomes effective only when accepted by the individual. While this is the view of all Arminians, it is also the position of some Calvinists, who are sometimes referred to as sublapsarians.”
(Christian Theology, chapter 39, page 829)

Millard J. Erickson is clearly describing the doctrine of Universal Atonement (as the picture above shows), not Limited Atonement. Erickson makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is here describing Universal Atonement–again the very section is titled Universal Atonement. John Piper failed to mention this most important point in his speech concerning Limited Atonement. John Piper is a liar. Piper has taken Millard J. Erikson’s remarks on Universal Atonement and presented them as if they were the teachings of Limited Atonement. Let me also say that Piper butchered Erickson’s paragraph, but the quote I gave above is the complete paragraph provided by Erickson in his systematic theology. This is not simply poor scholarship on John Piper’s part, this is a deliberate misrepresentation of what Limited Atonement actually is. This is one of the most dishonest presentations I have ever seen. This demonstrates that Piper is liar and not fit for the ministry.

Millard Erickson, in his section titled, “Particular Atonement,” and his section on Particular Atonement appears directly before his section on Universal Atonement–in his section on Limited Atonement, he makes it crystal clear that the death of Christ was not intended for all persons. He makes it clear that Limited Atonement teaches that Christ did not die for all persons. Erickson is correct in showing us that Limited Atonement teaches that God only intended the death of Christ for the elect and that Christ died not for all people, but only for the elect. However, this does not imply that Erickson believes in Limited Atonement, Erickson does not. Erickson rejects Limited Atonement and argues against it the rest of the chapter. Millard J. Erickson is not a Calvinist. Millard J. Erickson, the man John Piper said was correct, writes, “In addition, we must consider statements like 2 Peter 2:1, which affirms that some for whom Christ died do perish”
(Christian Theology, chapter 39, page 834).

So Erickson rejects Limited Atonement, for he thinks that some of the people Christ died for will not be saved, but will die and go to hell forever. Erickson believes that Christ has failed to save some people He intended to save. According to Erickson, Jesus Christ is a failure–despite being perfect God–Christ cannot save some He intends to save. This is blasphemy, but since we have Erickson’s book off of the shelf and open, let’s see him bring this to a conclusion. Erickson writes:

“We conclude that the hypothesis of universal atonement is able to account for a larger segment of the biblical witness with less distortion than is the hypothesis of limited atonement.”
(Christian Theology, chapter 39, page 835)

So the man John Piper told us was correct was in fact teaching Universal Atonement–he was not teaching Particular or Limited Atonement. The man John Piper endorsed does not believe in Limited Atonement, but he believes in a Universal Atonement. The man John Piper endorsed is not a Calvinist, but then, neither is John Piper.

By Monty Collier

3 Comments on “John Piper, Millard J. Erickson, And Universal Atonement

  1. Monty – interesting insight you provide. However, you might check out John Calvin’s commentary on Colossians…he was quite comfortable, in defining the position of limited atonement, of encompassing what is now referred to as unlimited atonement as well (on Colossians 1.14, a well as Galatians 5.12). It is my understanding that both Millard Erickson and John Piper would espouse unlimited limited atonement – and this would seem to make them Calvinists indeed.
    (they need not be mutually exclusive – there are far too many verses to reference, but a few would be 2 Cor. 5.14-15, 1 Tim. 2.1-6; cf. Matt 1.21, 20.28; Romans 5.12-19)

  2. I recommend “Will of God & the Cross” by Jonathan Rainbow. As the cover states, it is An Historical & Theological Study of John Calvin’ Doctrine of Limited Redemption”. Note that he uses “redemption”, Latin “redempio”, rather than than Atonement because the later is a “peculiarly English”, in deference to Calvin’s language.

    The fulcrum in support of Collier’s thesis will be found in Rainbow’s fine book; the centerpiece of which is Calvin’s teaching on 1 Tim. 2:4,

  3. Erickson was simply presenting the two opposing views in his book, Christian Theology. If you have a physical copy of this book, notice the introduction before the arguments are presented. The outline he gives for this 38th chapter (I have the third edition) is FIRST–For Whom Did Christ Die?: Particular Atonement, Universal Atonement, Evaluation and the Search for a Resolution, and SECOND–For What Did Christ Atone? He is not presenting his personal beliefs but rather the opposing views widely held by Christians.

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