Archive for the ‘Amyraldianism’ Category

Charles Hodge Against 4 Point Calvinism

January 16, 2014

From Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology (link):

S: 4. Hypothetical Redemption.

According to the common doctrine of Augustinians, as expressed an the Westminster Catechism, “God, having . . . . elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.” In opposition to this view some of the Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century introduced the scheme which is known in the history of theology as the doctrine of hypothetical redemption. The principal advocate of this doctrine was Amyraut (died 1664), Professor in the French Protestant Seminary at Saumur. He taught, (1.) That the motive impelling God to redeem men was benevolence, or love to men in general. (2.) From this motive He sent His Son to make the salvation of all men possible. (3.) God, in virtue of a decretum universale hypotheticum, offers salvation to all men if they believe in Christ. (4.) All men have a natural ability to repent and believe. (5.) But as this natural ability was counteracted by a moral inability, God determined to give his efficacious grace to a certain number of the human race, and thus to secure their salvation.

This scheme is sometimes designated as “universalismus hypotheticus.” It was designed to take a middle ground between Augustinianism and Arminianism. It is liable to the objections which press on both systems. It does not remove the peculiar difficulties of Augustinianism, as it asserts the sovereignty of God in election. Besides, it leaves the case of the heathen out of view. They, having no knowledge of Christ, could not avail themselves of this decretum hypotheticum, and therefore must be considered as passed over by a decretum absolutum. It was against this doctrine of Amyraut and other departures from the standards of the Reformed Church that, in 1675, the “Formula Consensus Helvetica” was adopted by the churches of Switzerland. This theory of the French theologians soon passed away as far as the Reformed churches in Europe were concerned. Its advocates either returned to the old doctrine, or passed on to the more advanced system of the Arminians. In this country it has been revived and extensively adopted.

At first view it might seem a small matter whether we say that election precedes redemption or that redemption precedes election. In fact, however, it is a question of great importance. The relation of the truths of the Bible is determined by their nature. If you change their relation you must change their nature. If you regard the sun as a planet instead of as the centre of our system you must believe it to be something very different in its constitution from what it actually is. So in a scheme of thought, if you make the final cause a means, or a means the final cause, nothing but confusion can be the result. As the relation of election to redemption depends on the nature of redemption the full consideration of this question must be reserved until the work of Christ has been considered. For the present it is sufficient to say that the scheme proposed by the French theologians is liable to the following objections.

Arguments against this Scheme.

1. It supposes mutability in the divine purposes; or that the purpose of God may fail of accomplishment. According to this scheme, God, out of benevolence or philanthropy, purposed the salvation of all men, and sent his Son for their redemption. But seeing that such purpose could not be carried out, He determined by his efficacious grace to secure the salvation of a certain portion of the human race. This difficulty the scheme involves, however it may be stated. It cannot however be supposed that God intends what is never accomplished; that He purposes what He does not intend to effect; that He adopts means for an end which is never to be attained. This cannot be affirmed of any rational being who has the wisdom and power to secure the execution of his purposes. Much less can it be said of Him whose power and wisdom are infinite. If all men are not saved, God never purposed their salvation, and never devised and put into operation means designed to accomplish that end. We must assume that the result is the interpretation of the purposes of God. If He foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, then events correspond to his purposes; and it is against reason and Scripture to suppose that there is any contradiction or want of correspondence between what He intended and what actually occurs. The theory, therefore, which assumes that God purposed the salvation of all men, and sent his Son to die as a means to accomplish that end, and then seeing, or foreseeing that such end could not or would not be attained, elected a part of the race to be the subjects of efficacious grace, cannot be admitted as Scriptural.

2. The Bible clearly teaches that the work of Christ is certainly efficacious. It renders certain the attainment of the end it was designed to accomplish. It was intended to save his people, and not merely to make the salvation of all men possible. It was a real satisfaction to justice, and therefore necessarily frees from condemnation. It was a ransom paid and accepted, and therefore certainly redeems. If, therefore, equally designed for all men, it must secure the salvation of all. If designed specially for the elect, it renders their salvation certain, and therefore election precedes redemption. God, as the Westminster Catechism teaches, having elected some to eternal life, sent his Son to redeem them.

3. The Scriptures further teach that the gift of Christ secures the gift of all other saving blessings. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. vii 32.) Hence they are certainly saved for whom God delivered up his Son. The elect only are saved, and therefore He was delivered up specially for them, and consequently election must precede redemption. The relation, therefore, of redemption to election is as clearly determined by the nature of redemption as the relation of the sun to the planets is determined by the nature of the sun.

4. The Bible in numerous passages directly asserts that Christ came to redeem his people; to save them from their sins; and to bring them to God. He gave Himself for his Church; He laid down his life for his sheep. As the end precedes the means, if God sent his Son to save his people, if Christ gave Himself for his Church, then his people were selected and present to the divine mind, in the order of thought, prior to the gift of Christ.

5. If, as Paul teaches (Rom. viii. 29, 30), foreknowledge precedes predestination, and if the mission of Christ is the means of accomplishing the end of predestination, then of necessity predestination to eternal life precedes the gift of Christ. Having, as we are taught in Eph. i. 4, 5, predestinated us to the adoption of sons, God chose us before the foundation of the world, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is the order of the divine purposes, or the mutual relation of the truths of redemption as presented in the Scriptures.

6. The motive (so to speak) of God in sending his Son is not, as this theory assumes, general benevolence or that love of which all men are equally the objects, but that peculiar, mysterious, infinite love in which God, in giving his Son, gives Himself and all conceivable and possible good. All these points, however, as before remarked, ask for further consideration when we come to treat of the nature and design of Christ’s work.

And again:

Hypothetical Universalism.

A class of theologians in the Reformed Church who did not agree with the Remonstrants against whom the decisions of the Synod of Dort, sustained by all branches of the Reformed body, were directed, were still unable to side with the great mass of their brethren. The most distinguished of these theologians were Amyraut, La Place, and Cappellus. Their views have already been briefly stated in the sections treating of mediate imputation; and of the order of decrees and of the design of redemption. These departures from the accepted doctrines of the Reformed Church produced protracted agitation, not in France only but also in Holland and Switzerland. The professors of the University of Leyden. Andreas Rivet and Frederick Spanheim, were especially prominent among the opposers of the innovations of the French theologians. The clergy of Geneva drew up a protest in the form of a Consensus of the Helvetic Churches which received symbolical authority The doctrines against which this protest was directed are, (1.) That God, out of general benevolence towards men, and not out of special love to his chosen people, determined to redeem all mankind, provided they should repent and believe on the appointed Redeemer. Hence the theory was called hypothetical universalism. (2.) That the death or work of Christ had no special reference to his own people; it rendered the salvation of no man certain, but the salvation of all men possible. (3.) As the call of the gospel is directed to all men, all have the power to repent and believe. (4.) God foreseeing that none, if left to themselves, would repent, determines of his own good pleasure to give saving grace to some and not to others. This is the principal distinguishing feature between the theory of these French theologians and of the Semi-Pelagians and Remonstrants. The former admit the sovereignty of God in election; the latter do not.

This system necessitates a thorough change in the related doctrines of the gospel. If fallen men have power to repent and believe, then original sin (subjectively considered) does not involve absolute spiritual death. If this be so, then mankind are not subject to the death threatened to Adam. Therefore, there is no immediate imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity. As they derive a polluted nature from him, which is the ground of the displeasure of God, they may so far be said to share in his sin. This is mediate imputation. Again, if the death of Christ does not render certain the salvation of his people, then it was not vicarious in the proper sense of that word; nor did He die as a substitute. His satisfaction assumes of necessity the character of a general display, a didactic exhibition of truth. At least this is the logical tendency, and the actual historical consequence of the theory. Moreover, if Christ did not act as the substitute and representativc of his people, there is no ground for the imputation of his righteousness to them. The French theologians, therefore, denied that his active obedience is thus imputed to believers. The merit of his death may be said to be thus imputed as it is the ground of the forgiveness of sin. This of course destroys the idea of justification by merging it into an executive act of pardon. Moreover, the principles on which this theory is founded, require that as every other provision of the gospel is general and universal, so also the call must be. But as it is undeniable that neither the written word nor the preached gospel has extended to all men, it must be assumed that the revelation of God made in his works, in his providence, and in the constitution of man, is adequate to lead men to all the knowledge necessary to salvation; or, that the supernatural teaching and guidance of the Spirit securing such knowledge must be granted to all men. It is too obviously inconsistent and unreasonable to demand that redemption must be universal, and ability universal as the common heritage of man, and yet admit that the knowledge of that redemption and of what sinners are required to do in the exercise of their ability, is confined to comparatively few. The “Formula Consensus Helvetica,” therefore, includes in its protest the doctrine of those “qui vocationem ad salutem non sola Evangelii praedicatione, sed naturae etiam ac Providentiae operibuis, citra ullum exterius praeconium expediri sentiunt,” etc. [574] It is not wonderful, therefore, that this diluted form of Augustinianismn should be distasteful to the great body of the Reformed Churches. It was rejected universally except in France, where, after repeated acts of censure, it came to be tolerated.

Sincere Offer, Election, and Limited Atonement

August 24, 2011

My friend Paul has posted a response to David Ponter’s response to James Anderson’s comments on Limited Atonement and the Free Offer. It’s a very detailed and worth reading. Allow me to post some shorter thoughts on the topic, namely the objection:

Is the “free offer” of the gospel really “sincere” if Jesus only died for some men and not all? If there is no atonement available for them, the offer seems insincere.

This is a frequent objection, particularly from Amyraldians and Arminians. If you think that the gospel is “Jesus died for you,” then this objection makes a lot of sense. If we’re supposed to tell people indiscriminately that Christ died for them, but he didn’t, that doesn’t seem very sincere.

Scriptures, however, don’t present the gospel that way. In Scripture, the gospel is expressed in terms of repenting of your sins and believing on (i.e. trusting in) Jesus Christ for salvation. If you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, God will have mercy on you.

There is a world of difference between those two messages. One message makes an unconditional assertion regarding what Christ has done. The other message makes a conditional assertion about what God will do.

Yet, even among those who will grant to us that the gospel is not, “Jesus died for you,” some people still don’t like the idea of salvation being offered to those for whom God has not made any provision. Indeed, our Amyraldian and Arminian friends sometimes urge on us the idea that such a conditional offer is not “sincere” unless God has made preparations for those people.

The mere absence of enough provision for everyone to be saved, however, doesn’t explain this objection. Suppose a company offers to “anyone who is willing to come down here and listen to us explain the benefits of our new tractor,” an incentive of “$5, just for coming down and listening to the talk.” No one would consider it “insincere” if the company doesn’t actually have $5 times the number of people who will hear the offer, so long as they have $5 times the number of people that they think will accept the offer.

So, as long as the provision is sufficient for those who will “accept” the offer, we don’t view the offer as insincere. Since, under the Calvinist framework, God has made provision for all who will come to Christ, the offer of the gospel should also be considered to be sincere by this standard.

The intuition behind the objection that remains, however, is that an “offer” doesn’t seem sincere, if you have no intention of giving the offered thing to the person to whom you are offering it. For example, when a child offers to share an ice cream cone, it sometimes happens that this is simply an imitation of a parent’s offer to share the parent’s cone. If the parent were to try to accept the child’s offer, the child might greedily refuse to allow the parent to have a bite. So, the child has only offered to share the cone because the child thought the offer would be refused. Such an offer is insincere.

Of course, by this time we are now dealing with the kind of objection that an Amyraldian, or someone like Ponter, cannot consistently make. After all, the problem with the child’s offer is not that he doesn’t have a cone to share, but that he does not intend to give up the cone. The Amyraldian admits that God does not intend to save the non-elect. Therefore, whether or not a provision is made seems utterly moot.

Nevertheless, for those who insist that God must intend to save, we may still legitimately question the weight of this objection. Isn’t it enough that God intends to save everyone who “accepts” the “offer”? The idea that God must intend to save all those whom he knows will refuse seems absurd when expressed that way. Thus, we may conclude that while such an objection may have some limited intuitive appeal, it does not hold up to intellectual scrutiny.


Arminius’ Supposed Impact on Calvinism

December 5, 2009

Dan (aka GodIsMyJudge) has provided a post alleging another impact of Arminius on Calvinism (link to his post). The first part of his post I’ll pass over, since I feel my previous post (link to my previous post) has adequately addressed that issue.

However, Dan states:

TF notes well the WCF is open to supra, but WCF is also open to unlimited atonement. It was written such that both 5 point Calvinists and 4 pointers would be satisfied. TF himself has noted Arminius’ influence on Amyraldianism. So that’s another way in which Arminius impacted Calvinism.

No, the WCF is not open to unlimited atonement. The WCF states:

To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

– Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8, Paragraph 8

Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism explains:

Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

– Westminster Larger Catechism, Question/Answer 59

So, no. While Arminius may have been an influence on Amyraut and the school of Saumur, the Amyraldian position is excluded by the Westminster Confession of Faith.


The Real Turretin on: The Absurdities of Universal Atonement

March 28, 2009

Moses Cho at No Mo’ Condemnation has a nice quotation from the real Francis Turretin on the absurdities of any doctrine of universal atonement (link). Turretin addresses not only the errors of Arminianism, but also those Amyraldianism with this short identification of four absurdities.

Amyraldianism and the Canons of Dordt

December 29, 2008

Someone raised the question of why I would think that the Amyraldian position is at odds with the teachings of the Synod of Dordt. The following hopefully explains.

The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that “God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves … .” (source)

The relevant parts of the Canons of Dordt are as follows (all references are within the topic of the Second Main Point of Doctrine):

Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

(emphases are my own)

Also, Rejection of Errors 1 states as the error:

Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.

and provides as the answer:

For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.

Further, Rejection of Errors 3 states as the error:

Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.

and provides as the answer:

For they have too low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon back from hell the Pelagian error.

Further, Rejection of Errors 6 states as the error:

Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.

and provides as the answer:

For, while pretending to set forth this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism.


The issue created by Amyraldianism is its making the atonement universal, by placing it before the decree of election in the order of decrees. It’s impossible, under the Amyraldian scheme (as it is presented by Dabney) for the atonement to be particular, because the election of people is logically subsequent to the decree of atonement. Accordingly, Christ dies for all mankind universally in an undifferentiated way, on the condition of faith. However, God recognizes that no one can fulfill this condition and consequently God elects to give some grace to fulfill the condition. Consequently, while the atonement itself (in the Amyraldian scheme) is universal, the application of that atonement is particular (as also in the Arminian scheme, although the way in which it becomes particular is different in the Arminian scheme).

Article 8 of Heading 2 of the Canons of Dordt is inconsistent with this view of the atonement. Article 8 states that “In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father … .” (emphases my own) This statement limits the scope of the atonement to the elect, through the explicit use of “only those.”

I realize that an Amyraldian who wished to agree with Dordt, for whatever reason, might try to latch hold of the word “effectively” and/or “redeem” to try to find a way to agree with Dordt without sacrificing their own view of the atonement. With respect to “redeem” the argument would amount to arguing that redemption is one thing, and presentation is another thing. Thus, the atonement was presented to God for all, but only the elect were redeemed by it. The argument with respect to “effectively” would be similar: only the elect are effectively redeemed, all the rest are ineffectively redeemed.

Each of these attempted end-runs are problematic. First, it should be obvious that the Arminian/Remonstrant should be able to say the same thing, and yet it is apparent from the historical context that the heading was opposed to the errors of the Remonstrants. Second, we see further clarification via the Rejection of errors sections.

The synod described, as an error, the position that “God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.” Nevertheless, if the Amyraldian position were held, it would be the case that God so appointed his Son, and the worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood whole even if the obtained redemption was never applied to any individual. Indeed, since – in the Amyraldian position – the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope.

Error 3 is less directly relevant to Amyraldianism, but is still illustrative: “[It is an error to] teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.” Again, if Amyraldianism is correct, the atonement merely enabled faith as the condition of salvation. Now, perhaps Amyraldians would deny that faith is a condition of salvation in their system (and perhaps they are right in that denial), but the practical result of their system is that they make the atonement merely a doorway, and not the definite purchase of salvation for the elect. On the other hand, they make election the definite application of the atonement for the elect. In other words, an Amyraldian might be able to distinguish themselves from this precise error, but they could not do so in the way described, namely by asserting that the atonement was specifically for the elect.

Error 6 is probably the least relevant of the errors I’ve identified, but I think it helps to provide a last piece of the puzzle: “[It is an error to] make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.”

The Amyraldians would distinguish themselves from this error by denying that man’s own free choice applied to indiscriminately offered grace is what effectively works in them the grace of the atonement. Instead, the Amyraldian would say that it is grace that causes man to have faith that effectively works in the elect the grace of the atonement. Nevertheless, the Amyraldians would tend to use the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to argue that Christ died for all on the hypothesis of faith.

There is a real distinction between the obtaining of the redemption and the applying of the redemption, but the difference is not one of scope. The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied. Article 8 tries to make that clear by providing a chain (much like that found in Romans 8):

  • [It] was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant)
  • should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father;
  • that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death);
  • that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith;
  • that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and
  • that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

It’s worth noting one final point that sinks the Amyraldian ship (at least as defined by Dabney’s presentation of it): the article states that faith was acquired for the elect by Christ’s death (“faith (which … he acquired for them by his death)”). It would seem absurd to say that Christ universally acquired faith for all conditioned on faith.


Phillip Johnson and Amyraldianism

December 12, 2008

Phillip Johnson has an article (to which Trey Austin thoughtfully directed me) in which he provides a fairly helpful and quick guide to some distinctions among Evangelical views of the order of decrees, ranging from Supralapsarianism to Arminianism.

In the section on what Johnson prefers to call Amyraldism (as opposed to Amyraldianism), Johnson states: “Puritan Richard Baxter embraced this view, or one very nearly like it. He seems to have been the only major Puritan leader who was not a thoroughgoing Calvinist. Some would dispute whether Baxter was a true Amyraldian. (See, e.g. George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 reprint], Appendix, 542.) But Baxter seemed to regard himself as Amyraldian.” (emphases omitted)

He also cautions: “But Amyraldism probably should not be equated with all brands of so-called “four-point Calvinism.” In my own experience, most self-styled four-pointers are unable to articulate any coherent explanation of how the atonement can be universal but election unconditional. So I wouldn’t glorify their position by labeling it Amyraldism. (Would that they were as committed to the doctrine of divine sovereignty as Moise Amyraut! Most who call themselves four-pointers are actually crypto-Arminians.)”

(source) “Notes on Supralapsarianism & Infralapsarianism”

It is very interesting to me that the same folks Tony Byrne, David Ponter, and some of their associates that have been so anxious to misuse Phillip Johnson’s primer on Hyper-Calvinism are completely unwilling to use his notes on Calvinism.

And, of course, when we see Tony’s chart that he handed out to Dr. Allen for the so-called John 3:16 conference, guess who pops up in the “Moderate/Classical Calvinist” column of the chart:

Amyraut – the very person for whom Amyraldianism is named
Baxter – one of the very few Puritan Amyraldians
Dr. Alan Clifford – The Pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, which has been holding yearly Amyraldianism conferences for at least three years.

Now, certainly, Tony throws other men into the list, some more or less justifiably. Bunyan, for example, may belong there, but Jonathan Edwards almost certainly does not. Here’s some evidence in support of my position on Edwards:

‘Tis Absurd to suppose that Christ Died for the salvation of those that he at the same time Certainly knew never would be saved. What Can be meant by that expression of Christ dying for the salvation of any one, but dying with a design that they should be saved by his death. or dying hoping that he they will be saved or at Least being uncertain but that they will be saved by his death. When we say that one Person does a thing for another, that which is Universally Understood by such an expression is that he does it with a design of some benefit to that other Person. ‘Tis nonsense to say that Any Person does any thing to the End that Another thing that may be done and ’tis Impossible that he should design Any benefit to Another person that he Certainly knows will have no benefit by it.

‘Tis Nonsense to say that Any thing [is done] with a design that Another thing should be done and to that End that it may be Done, at the same time that he has not the Least expectation that that other thing Ever will be done. and much more when he perfectly knows it never will. It matters not in this Controversy whether we suppose an absolute decree or no if we only allow that God knows all things that he knows future things before they Come to Pass as he declares he does in his word and no Christians pretend to deny But if we don’t deny this it implies a plain Contradiction to suppose that Christ died for in a proper sense.

If it Replied that no other is Intended when they say Christ died for all then that by his death all have the offer of salvation so that they may have salvation if they will accept of salvation – without any expectation or design of Christ that they should be saved by his death. if that be all that is Intended they Are Against no body – all that are Called Christians own that By Christ’s death all that live under the Gospel have the offer of salvation.

– Edwards, Jonathan – Sermon on Galatians 2:20


Real Varieties of Calvinism

December 8, 2008

Can there be real, recognizable varieties of Calvinism? My previous post may have suggested that there could not be such recognizable varieties. That’s not the case. There are several ways in which Calvinism could be divided. For example, with respect to the salvation of infants who die in infancy, there are four Calvinist views, namely that all, some, or none such infants are saved, the fourth position being that because Scripture does not tell us, we simply don’t know. Dordt adopted an apparent position of “some,” namely such children of believing parents. Others, out of a great tenderness of heart, have suggested that all infants (regardless of their parents) who die in infancy are saved.

Another way in which a taxonomy of Calvinism has been proposed is with respect to the logical (not temporal) order of decrees. The following chart may help, in which in addition to the two Calvinist positions, I’ve also included the Arminian and classical Amyraldian positions:

Arminian Amyraldian Infra-Lapsarian Supra-Lapsarian
Permission of Fall Permission of Fall Permission of Fall Election of Some to Glory
Death of Christ Death of Christ Election of Some to Mercy Permission of Fall
Universal Prevenient Grace Election of Some to Moral Ability Death of Christ Death of Christ
Predestination of Those who Make Good use of Grace Holy Spirit to Work Moral Ability in Elect Holy Spirit to Save the Elect Holy Spirit to Save the Elect
Sanctification of the Predestined Sanctification of the Elect Sanctification of the Elect Sanctification of the Elect

(For Warfield’s more detailed chart, click here)

It should be noted that there are Calvinists in both the “Infra” and “Supra” lapsarian camps. The descriptions Infra-Lapsarian and Supra-Lapsarian refer to the relation of the decree of Election to the decree of the fall (the “lapse” in “lapsarian”). Infra-Lapsarians believe that God elected some fallen men to Salvation/Mercy (infra = after), whereas Supra-Lapsarians believe that God elected men first to Glory (supra = before), and then decreed the fall as a means to that end. Of course, both camps are discussing the logical order, not the temporal order. There have been notable reformers in both camps.

Turretin was a notable Infra-Lapsarian. Twisse, on the other hand, was a notable Supra-Lapsarian. The Synod of Dordt seems to have favored the infra view, while the Westminster Assembly seems to have favored the supra view, while neither council addressed the issue as such in so many words (i.e.neither body specifically stated that God first in the logical order decreed the fall, or first in the logical order decreed to bring some men to glory).

It’s generally held in Calvinist circles that both views (infra and supra) are within the bounds of orthodoxy, although, of course, both views cannot be correct. Some people wishing to include Amyraldians as Calvinists have proposed a three-fold division of Calvinism, with Supra being “high,” Infra being “moderate,” and classical Amyraldianism being “low.” There are a number of problems with this view, the greatest being that the classical Amyraldian position has a fundamental error with respect to the atonement, namely that it makes the atonement, with respect to the decrees, indefinite. This error is not present in a “lesser degree” in the infra view and likewise is not mirrored by an excessively definite (is such a thing even possible?) view of the atonement in the supra view. In short, the problem can be expressed as their being no single variable that permits scaling across the three groups.

Instead, the attempted justification for the scaling lies in the fact that the decree of election is earliest in the logical order in the supra view, then the infra, then the Amyraldian, and logically latest (among evangelical groups) in the Arminian view. This justification seems rather artificial, but at least is not totally arbitrary. In any event, though it would tend to provide a way of categorizing people that does not rely simply on buzz-words.

It should be noted that there are a number of Calvinists who don’t take a particularly emphatic (or explicit) view with respect to the order of decrees. Thus, for example, Dr. White has mentioned that he has a “modified supralapsarian” position, but I haven’t seen a detailed explanation of what means by that (link to source) (I should note that the link itself is a good example of Dr. White distinguishing his own position from hyper-Calvinism long before the recent slander-fest on that topic — see also this further discussion). The reason for such lack of discussion is that this issue, whether the decree to permit the fall precedes or follows the decree of election, is a relatively minor point. It is not something that would require men to divide fellowship, at least that is my position.


Five Points Compared to a Few Soteriologies

December 5, 2008

For those interested, I thought it would fun to provide a tableshowing acceptance of TULIP’s various petals (T = Total Depravity, U =Unconditional Election, L = Limited Atonement, I = Irresistible Grace,P = Perseverance of the Saints).

Pelagian No No No No No
Pelagian ES No No No No Yes
Arminian Yes* No No No No*
Arminian ES No No No No Yes
Amyraldian Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Calvinism Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

There is an asterisk by two items in the Arminian chart. The first asterisk is because many Arminians claim to hold to Total Depravity.What they mean by that is not what Calvinists mean by it, though,hence the asterisk. The second asterisk is because some Arminians reject, some affirm, and some leave open the question of whether true believers persevere. The “ES” stands for “eternal security.” Oddly,some Pelagians hold to eternal security.-TurretinFan

Calvinism Distinguished Historically

December 4, 2008

Nomenclature is important. Generally speaking, Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism is the result of the controversy provoked by the Remonstrants and addressed by the Synod of Dordt. People seem to lose site of this important historical concept. This controversy essentially provided a definition of Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism, characterized by five points.

The “five points” were originally brought forth as the five points of the Remonstrants/Arminians, not the five points of Calvinism. Calvin (1509-64) wasn’t around for the Arminian controversy, and Arminius himself (1560-1609) was not around for the Synod of Dordt (1618-19).

The Synod of Dordt took what has come to be called the “Calvinist” view. The “Canons of Dordt” (link) never make reference to Calvin, but always to Scripture.

The five main points, or “headings” of the Council of Dordt were:

1) Divine Election and Reprobation
2) Christ’s Death and Human Redemption Through It
3 and 4) Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs
5) The Perseverance of the Saints

These five points or headings are popularly identified using the acronym TULIP, both because it is a beautiful flower and because it is something of a national symbol for Holland, the place where the controversy took place.

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the Saints

Hopefully it is apparent that TULIP does not follow the order of the 5 headings of the Canons of Dordt. The alignment of point to point is as follows:

1 => U
2 => L
3 & 4 => T & I
5 => P

There is an historical sense in which the canons of Dordt may be said to help define what is and what is not Calvinism. This would seem to be the best for understanding the “Continental” brand of Calvinism. In Great Britain and Ireland the definition of what the Reformed view is would come to be known by means of three standards:

I) The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) (link)
II) The Savoy Declaration (1658) (link)
III) The London Baptist Confession (1689) (link)

These three documents, which largely track one another (with issues relating to Baptism and Church Government being notable points of difference), were not addressed primarily to the Arminian controversy. Nevertheless, these documents were presented with the Arminian controversy already having occurred. Each of these documents rejects the Arminian error in favor of the Calvinistic view. None of these documents, however, specifically designates the “five points.”

Nevertheless, the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints are clearly presented in the following sections:

T => WCF Chapter 6, Paragraphs 2-4
U => WCF 3:5
L => WCF 8:8
I => WCF 9:4
P => WCF 17:1

The corresponding sections of the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession have the same chapter and paragraph number, and generally present the same material, albeit sometimes in a slightly modified/expanded form.

It should be pointed out that while the “five points” are old, the acronym “TULIP” is a more modern development. The earliest reference I’ve seen to it is a reference in 1913 to a certain Dr. McAfee (apparently a professor of theology) using the acronym. The acronym was intended as a memory aid to recall the five points. It works.

With or without the acronym, the five points have served as a dividing line between Calvinistic monergism and Arminian Synergism. An example from 1700 can be seen in this work by Christopher Ness (link).

Not everyone is happy with this line.

A number of folks reject the doctrine of Limited Atonement, arguing that Christ died not only for the elect, but for each and every person. These folks are generally lumped into the category “Amyraldian” despite various objections as to differences among those who reject Limited Atonement. This group is the one that most dislikes the use of the five points to define Calvinism as distinct from Arminianism.

Some folks in this category have engaged in a campaign to redefine Calvinism away from the five points. Their apparent reason for doing so, is in order to be included under the Calvinistic umbrella. Whatever the reason, their approach has been to try to divide up Calvinism into various camps, from “Low” to “Moderate” and even “High” Calvinism. Worse still, they create a camp of Calvinism that they confusingly label “Hyper-Calvinism.”

These divisions are rather artificial, to say the least. There is no major controversy to help make the lines bright, but, instead, the divisions tend to be drawn either along the use of certain buzz-words or minor controversies.

Worse yet, the filling of the ranks of the various divisions is done by the use of quote-mining: taking quotations from various authors and removing them from their historical context. Leading the way, of course, is the quote-mining Calvin himself. Essentially, the program is “Calvin vs. the Calvinists.” Despite the fact that Arminius was mere toddler (4 years old) when Calvin died, quotations from Calvin are taken as though spoken in the context of the Arminian controversy.

I’ve dealt with this anachronistic nonsense in other posts already, and I don’t plan to rehash all of that here. The main point to be recognized is that the Calvinism/Arminianism divide is an important one, whereas the “Hyper”/”High”/”Moderate”/”Low” classifications are neither important nor accurate. They are misleading and tend to obscure the important points.

This matter comes to a head under the use of “hyper-Calvinism.”

A useful division between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism exists when Hyper-Calvinism is differentiated from Calvinism on a substantive line, such as:

1) fatalism;
2) refusal to evangelize;
3) denial of human responsibility; or
4) denial that men have wills or make choices.

These bright line errors are rejections of the Synod of Dordt in the opposite direction of Arminians. These errors are serious, and should be avoided.

Other definitions of “hyper-Calvinism” tend to center around buzz-words. These definitions tend to focus on things like whether or not someone is willing to say that God “loves” the reprobate in some sense or whether God gives “common grace” to the reprobate.

I do think that refusing to use the term “common grace” may be the result of a scruple rather than a legitimate objection. To call them “hyper-Calvinists” is, in my view, an unnecessary offense to the brethren. It is simply a pejorative label. The issue of “common grace” does not relate to the gospel – it does not change the way that the men preach the gospel. Furthermore, it muddies the waters.

Here’s a handy way to divide up the three camps:

Arminianism Calvinism Hyper-Calvinism
God’s Sovereignty Denies Affirms Affirms
Man’s Responsibility Affirms Affirms Denies

Calvinism, as illustrated, is the balanced view between Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. It affirms both the real sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man.

This same chart can be provided another way:

Arminianism Calvinism Hyper-Calvinism
Man’s Will Compatible with Divine Foreordination Denies Affirms Denies

In a nutshell, what this chart aims to show is the philosophical dividing line of compatibilism. Compatibilism is the view that both man making choices and God foreordaining what those choices will be are compatible concepts. In essence, both the Arminian and the Hyper-Calvinist agree that they are not compatible concepts. One picks man’s will, the other picks divine foreordination.

The recent controversy centered around whether to label the Calvinist, Dr. White, as an “hyper-Calvinist” tends to major on the details, obscuring the larger picture. The larger picture is that Dr. White is a consistent Calvinist who affirms monergism and compatibilism. Dr. White is a Calvinist as it would be defined by the relevant sections of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, identified above.

For all but the most contentious or mischievous people, that should be enough. I can understand Amyraldians feeling excluded from such charts. With respect to the Arminian/Calvinist/Hyper-Calvinist division, Amyraldians would normally fall in the Calvinist camp. The problem with Amyraldianism is that it is internally inconsistent. Whether they feel excluded or not, however, creating confusing and unnecessary divisions of “Calvinism” using buzzwords is not productive and not conducive to edification. I would gently but firmly encourage those who have been doing so, to consider desisting.


James White is Not A Hyper-Calvinist

November 14, 2008

I am surprised I have to put this in writing. Dr. James White, a leading Calvinist apologist, is not a hyper-calvinist. He is a Calvinist. He is a five point Calvinist. Other Calvinists recognize this.

A few folks who would be classified as “Amyraldians” or “Four-Point Calvinists” because they deny the doctrine of the Limited Atonement have been pestering Dr. White, and insisting (in essence) that the Shibboleth by which one discerns hyper-Calvinism from Calvinism is whether someone is willing to say that “God loves everyone without exception” and that “God desires that everyone be saved.”

First of all, those are inaccurate Shibboleths. A more accurate characterization of Hyper-Calvinism (in my opinion) is fatalism, the idea that since God has elected some to everlasting life, there is no duty for evangelists to preach and no duty of the reprobate to believe. The fact that Dr. White is active in evangelism (probably more than most of these Amyraldian critics) is conclusive proof that he is not a hyper-Calvinist.

But let’s take a different tack.

One of Dr. White’s critics has decided to argue that Phil Johnson (evidently well-respected in Reformed Baptist circles) has called Dr. White a Calvinist, just because the two of them are friends. Let’s see whether this is so.

Before this controvery erupted, Phil Johnson provided a “Primer on Hyper-Calvinism.” Here’s a link to one copy of that document (link). As Mr. Johnson wrote in his primer:

“Hyper-Calvinism, simply stated, is a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility.”

Dr. White teaches human responsibility. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-Calvinist.

Identifying three critical characteristics of hyper-calvinism, Johnson writes:

First, it correctly points out that hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of “the will of God,” hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God’s will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology. (See John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All To Be Saved” in Thomas R. Schreiner, ed., The Grace of God and the Bondage of the Will, 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, 1:107-131.)

But Dr. White acknowledges that there is a real distinction between the decretive will and the preceptive will of God. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-Calvinist.

Again, Johnson writes:

Second, take note of the stress the above definition places on hyper-Calvinists’ “denial of the use of the word ‘offer’ in relation to the preaching of the gospel.” This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.

But Dr. White affirms the free offer of the Gospel and does not hold that such an offer is insincere. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist.

Further, Johnson writes:

Third, mark the fact that hyper-Calvinism “encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.” Assurance tends to be elusive for people under the influence of hyper-Calvinist teaching. Therefore, hyper-Calvinism soon degenerates into a cold, lifeless dogma. Hyper-Calvinist churches and denominations tend to become either barren and inert, or militant and elitist (or all of the above).

But Dr. White does not suggest that people ask whether or not they are themselves elect. At any rate, if he does, I’ve never heard him do so, and none of these critics of Dr. White’s can point to him doing so. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist.

Additionally, Johnson writes:

Hyper-Calvinism is sometimes defined as the view that God will save the elect apart from any means. Some, but very few, modern hyper-Calvinists hold such an extreme view. Those who do hold this view oppose all forms of evangelism and preaching to the unsaved, because they believe God will save whomever He chooses, apart from human means.

Of course, as noted above, Dr. White does not fall into this category.

Johnson further writes:

Another common but incorrect definition equates hyper-Calvinism with fatalism. Fatalism is a mechanistic determinism, antithetical to the notion of a personal God. While it is true that the most extreme varieties of hyper-Calvinism tend to depersonalize God, it is not accurate to portray all hyper-Calvinists as fatalists.

Likewise, for the reasons identified above, Dr. White doesn’t fall into this category either.

Finally, after examining these and other tests for hyper-calvinism, Johnson settles on a five-part test:

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,” OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

As to (1), Dr. White does not deny the universality of the gospel call;
As to (2), Dr. White does not deny that faith is the duty of every sinner;
As to (3), Dr. White does not deny the free and universal offer of salvation;
As to (4), Dr. White affirms that there is such a thing as “common grace;” and
As to (5), I think it would be fair to say that Dr. White would agree that there is a kind of love (corresponding to common grace) that God has even for the reprobate, thought it is distinguishable from the special love God has for the elect.

In short, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist according to Phil Johnson’s primer on the subject. That, not the friendship between the men, is the reason that Phil Johnson attests to the same truth that I attest to (even if I disagree with the broad tests that Mr. Johnson uses), namely that Dr. White is a Calvinist, not a hyper-calvinist.


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