Theologians have come up with a cool, but forever-misunderstood, acronym for the doctrine of salvation:
T- total depravity: all mankind is dead in trespasses and sins
U- unconditional election: God elects sinners to salvation by His free, sovereign will
L- limited atonement: the death of Christ is in the place of those God elects
I- irresistible grace: the Father draws every single one of the elect to Christ
P- perseverance of the saints: every single elect sinner is raised up on the last day with Christ
Every one of these doctrines is controversial. But if I had to pick one, it seems the L is the most controversial. Jesus died in the place of only the elect. Jesus did not die for the sins of every single person, only every single sin of every single Christian. I have held to these doctrines for at least 11 years now and it has never occurred to me why that should be the most controversial.
Every Christian believes that God is all knowing. Even those who might classify themselves as “Arminian” or “non-Calvinist” believe that God is all knowing. Everyone believes that God at least knows who will believe in Jesus. And if that’s true, then why in the world would God put His own Son to death to pay for anyone’s sins but those who would believe in His Son? What did God intend Jesus to pay for? Whose sins did Jesus Himself intend to pay for? Of course it’s His bride. And of course God knows, from before the foundation of the world, what individuals make up His bride. The objections to a limited atonement (which I call an actual atonement) are always more emotional than they are logical or theological.