Unlimited Atonement

The Arminian belief that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for the entire world making all of mankind savable.  The atonement is effective only for those who believe but is available to all.

While this sounds like the most basic understanding of John 3:16 as well as various other scripture passages, limited atonement contends that “the world” does not mean every person in the world.  Instead, limited atonement contends that Christ only died for the “elect” world, the ones that God had already chosen to save unconditionally.

Unlimited atonement is in direct opposition to the Calvinist point of limited atonement and is supported by more than a few people who are otherwise Calvinistic in their beliefs.  Calvinists who hold to this view but the other four points of Calvinism are known as four point Calvinists.

Three Point Calvinism

Three point Calvinists are a cross between Calvinists and Arminians.  They hold to three points of Calvinism although not always the same three points.

Some contend that Calvinism is an all or nothing concept and that it is impossible and theologically incorrect to hold to only certain tenants of Calvinism.

Those who hold to some form of both Calvinism and Arminianism believe that they are being open minded and not dogmatic in their approach to theology.  They see this as balancing between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man and believe that the Bible clearly teaches both aspects.

The area of Calvinism that is often most in contention is the subject of limited atonement.  At the other end of spectrum the most Calvinistic viewpoint, so to say, is the idea of eternal security.  Some even consider this to be the only crucial part of Calvinism.

Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is grace that is extended to humankind in order that they may choose to follow God.  Both Calvinism and Arminianism hold that man will not choose God on his own.  Calvinism offers that God unconditionally elects people for salvation while Arminians claim that God offers prevenient grace in order that man may choose to follow God.

Prevenient grace is a conclusion that is drawn rather than a direct teaching of scripture.  Because of their belief in free will Arminians reject the notion of irresistible grace and thus unconditional election.  Scripture makes it clear that no one seeks God on their own.  So prevenient grace is extended in order that man may have faith.  This should be understood as a softening of the heart, allowing for free will to remain intact.  It doesn’t “elect” or force anyone to become saved but rather opens the door for them so that they may choose whether or not to walk through the door on their own.

Natural Inability

The Arminian belief that man is naturally unable to save himself.  The Calvinist view of total depravity actually has some of the same idea behind it.  The difference lies in the role of the sovereignty of God and man’s free will.

Under the definition of natural inability, man cannot save himself but God offers prevenient grace which opens the door for man to choose God.  So the term natural ability is slightly misleading as God is still required for man to choose Him.

Scripture makes it clear that man will not seek God on his own because of our sinful nature.  Natural ability does not imply that man chooses to follow Jesus without God’s work.  Instead, God opens the door and each person chooses for themselves whether or not to walk through that door.  This uses their “natural ability” or free will after God has already extended grace first.

In the Calvinistic system man cannot and will not choose God but God instead unconditionally elects the believer.


God is able see the future and make decisions based upon this.  When passages in the Bible speak of the elect, these people were chosen by God because He knew beforehand that they would choose Him.

An alternative view is that God, being all knowing, is able to determine every decision a person will make and thus He knows exactly what a person will do and the choices he will make.  In either case, God does not thrust salvation upon anyone but rather elects those who will choose Him through their own free will.

Foreknowledge as it relates to election is an Arminian doctrine.  Rather than unconditionally electing people for salvation, God is able to determine what a person’s choices will be and elects from eternity past those He knows will choose to follow Him.

See election for a third view that is neither Arminian or Calvinistic in doctrine.  This view attempts to balance the sovereignty of God with the free will of man.