I have come up with a few thoughts on the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement. I think about this topic often as I used to be a Calvinist, and most of my closest Christian brothers are Calvinists. I gave up the doctrine primarily because I could not defend it exegetically but only by way of inference. A doctrine should not be arrived at however simply because it seems to be the most logical way to formulate a system. I have recently discovered, however, that even this rational argument does not support the typical Calvinist doctrine. Let me explain.
A typical conversation of mine with a Calvinist goes like this:
Calvinist: So you believe in the doctrine of election?
Myself: Yes. It is clearly taught in Ephesians 1, John 6:44, etc.
Calvinist: Do you believe election is based upon foreseen faith?
Myself: No it is a wholly monergistic act.
Calvinist: Well then we agree! You must believe in limited atonement!
Myself: No. I said I believe in election. One does not necessitate the other.
Calvinist: Do you believe that Christ died for every persons sins?
Myself: Yes, as scripture teaches.
Calvinist: Do you believe that he paid for all of their sins?
Calvinist: Do you believe that unbelief is a sin?
Myself: It is the chief sin.
Calvinist: Then Christ surely died for it.
Myself: I would heartily affirm that.
Calvinist: So you believe that Christ died for all sins, including the sin of unbelief, yet man can still be under God's wrath?
Myself: Such is the teaching of Scripture.
Calvinist: If God truly paid for all man's sins and has fulfilled the law in there place you believe God can still hold them guilty? You are then denying the sufficiency of the atonement!
Myself: God does not make this work effectual in the individual unless he has faith.
Calvinist: But unbelief is a sin for which Christ died so it cannot be refused by unbelief.
(At this point, the Calvinist appears to have won the argument)
Myself: Now let me ask you a question.
Calvinist: Go ahead.
Myself: Before an elect man has repented and believed, is he justified?
Calvinist: No, he is justified through faith.
Myself: But Christ died for every sin of this man including unbelief. Am I correct?
Calvinist: As one of God's elect, yes.
Myself: So are you saying that the elect man for whom Christ died for every sin including unbelief is at some point under the wrath and condemnation of God?
Calvinist: Yes, until the Spirit works faith in that man.
Myself: Then you have conceited my point. A man can be under the wrath and condemnation of God though Christ has died for all sins of that man including unbelief.
The problem is not that the Calvinist's argument is logically flawed. The problem is that it necessarily leads to a doctrine of eternal justification which is far beyond where most Calvinists wish to go.
Even though we may not be sure how these ideas go together, let us accept the clear teaching of scripture on these points.