Archive for the ‘Supralapsarianism’ Category

Response to C. Michael Patton on the Divine Decrees and Hyper-Calvinism

January 8, 2010

C. Michael Patton has a new post entitled, Calvinism and the Divine Decrees – Correcting a Misunderstanding. Unfortunately, Patton’s post actually promotes a misunderstanding and confuses a few categories.

First, the promotion of a misunderstanding. Patton states: “Supralapsarianism literally means “before or above the fall” (supra=”above”; lapse=”fall”). This is the form of Calvinism that is often called “hyper-Calvinism” (“hyper being an adj not a noun) because of its radical nature. It is held by very few Calvinists, and does not represent so-called “Evangelical Calvinism.””

While it is sometimes called hyper-calvinism, that description is inaccurate. It is also inaccurate to refer to supralapsarianism as having a “radical nature” and while Patton may have met few supralapsarian Calvinists, I have met many. One of the most prominent supralapsarian Calvinists was William Twisse, who served as the Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly.

While hyper-calvinism (properly defined) is contrary to evangelical Calvinism, supralapsarianism is perfectly consistent with the Gospel. Hyper-calvinism, properly defined, is a position that combines incompatibilism and divine sovereignty. In other words, like Arminians, hyper-Calvinists (properly defined) deny that it is possible for men to be responsible and for God to be fully sovereign. However, instead of denying that God is fully sovereign, hyper-Calvinists deny that man is responsible. Thus, they generally do not proclaim the gospel and do not preach that is the duty of sinners to repent of their sins and trust in Christ.

There are also a number of non-technical definitions of hyper-Calvinism, such as those set forth in Phil Johnson’s primer on hyper-calvinism (link to his primer). Phil Johnson there proposes a five-fold test of hyper-calvinism. Johnson’s five-fold test relates to forms of Calvinism that have particular scruples, such as scruples relating to using the expression “common grace” (opponents say we should use the term “grace” only of saving grace), “free offer” (opponents say we should not call the gospel an “offer”), or “love of God for the reprobate” (opponents say we should not refer to God’s dealings with the reprobate in terms of “love”). While I don’t think calling folks that have such scruples “hyper-calvinists” is very productive (in fact, it tends to generate lots of unnecessary strife among Christian brethren), none of those scruples is inherent in supralapsarianism.

Phil Johnson’s article also notes the following definition of hyper-calvinism (I provide his citation and his editorial note in brackets]:

    1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect. . . .
    2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, “Hyper-Calvinism,” New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]

This dictionary definition provides what I’ve termed the “proper” definition as the first definition. The second definition is like unto it, and its qualification is emphasized by Johnson. As the second definition indicates, hyper-calvinism (properly defined) is normally a subset of supralapsarianism. While there is nothing intrinsic to supralapsarianism that leads to hyper-calvinism, hyper-calvinism’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty and hyper-calvinism’s lack of consideration of man’s responsibility tends to lead to adopting a supralapsarian order of decrees.

Unfortunately, Patton seems incompletely familiar with the theological usage of the term hyper-calvinism. Thus, he has sadly mislabeled evangelical and confessional Calvinists like Twisse as “hyper-calvinists” without an adequate justification.

Second, the confusion of categories. Patton states:

Most Calvinists have a theology that makes it very clear that God is not responsible for the creation of evil and did not institute the fall in order to accomplish his purpose of reprobation. In other words, he did not create people for hell.

There are several category problems here.

First, “evil” is an idea, not a thing. In its primary sense, evil describes every moral action or omission that is contrary to the law of God. In its secondary sense, evil describes those creatures who do evil or who are inclined toward evil by their nature. Talking about God “creating evil” is to reify evil. God does not do evil, but some of his creation does. On this, all Calvinists (including Supralapsarians) agree.

Second, God is not morally accountable for the evil deeds of his creatures. On that, all Calvinists agree as well. If Patton means by “responsible” that God is morally accountable for the evil deeds of his creatures, all Calvinists (whether supralapsarian or not) agree that God is not. However, if Patton means by “responsible” that God ordained the evils deeds of his creatures (including the Fall), then all Calvinists (whether supralapsarian or not) agree that God has done so. He’s “responsible” in the sense of having ordained that it would occur, though not “responsible” in the sense of being culpable for the wrongdoing.

Third, the supralapsarian position may indeed make the decree of the fall a means to the end of the destruction of the reprobate. However, the supralapsarian position also makes the decree of the fall a means to the end of the glorification of the elect. Furthermore, most of all, the decree of the fall is a means to the end of the glory of God. After all, that is the purpose of the fall in every legitimate form of Calvinism: God’s decrees are all ultimately about God bringing on honor and glory to himself. They sometimes involve men but they are not anthropocentric. The primary end of the fall for supralapsarians is not to send folks to hell, but to bring glory to the Creator.

Fourth, God’s decrees should not be confused with the execution of those decrees. God’s decree of creation was for his own glory. The purpose of the decree within the order of decrees is perhaps disputed among the various -lapsarians, but as to the action itself, it was carried out with full knowledge and intention of what has and will transpire. One cannot be a Calvinist and an Open Theist. Instead, we declare that God created the wicked for the day of evil (whether that refers to temporal evil or eternal judgment makes a difference only on an emotional level). You don’t escape the universality of God’s providence by going infralapsarian.

Patton further states:

In the end, according to supralapsarians, God is glorified in his decree both to elect and to reprobate.

That’s the case for all Calvinists, not just supralapsarians. All of God’s decrees bring God glory. If an infralapsarian wishes to claim that in his position there is no specific decree of reprobation, we simply note that this is a matter of labeling. Even an infralapsarian election of men from among the mass of fallen humanity inherently involves the passing over of the others within that same mass.

In conclusion, I do appreciate Patton’s attempt to add clarity to the distinction between the infralapsarian order of decrees (held by the real Francis Turretin) and the supralapsarian order of decrees (held by William Twisse, among others). Both views are well within the bounds of Calvinism, and both are held by Evangelical Christians. While hypercalvinists may also accept the supralapsarian order of decrees, it is as unfair to refer to all supralapsarians as “hyper-Calvinists” as it is unfair to refer to all Calvinists as “hyper-Calvinists.”

Arminius’ Impact on Calvinism

October 20, 2009

Dan (“GodIsMyJudge”) has an interesting post in honor of the 400th anniversary of Arminius’ death (link). One criticism I have, is that I think he overstates the significance of the infralapsarian wording of Dordt’s discussion of election. In fact, one could walk away from GodIsMyJudge’s post thinking that Arminius was an infralapsarian Calvinist who prevailed at Dordt against the supralapsarians, rather than having his errant views condemned by that synod. In context, the point of Dordt is to deny foreseen merit, something upon which both supralapsarians and infralapsarians agree.


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.


Warfield’s Famous Chart on the Plan of Salvation

April 24, 2008

Since the topic of Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, Amyraldianism, and Arminianism have come up repeatedly on this blog, I think it may be helpful for my readers to have a chance to those different views arranged in textbook fashion by B. B. Warfield:

Please note that you will probably have to click on the image to be able to view it in a readable size, unless you have some sort of eagle eyes.


UPDATE: Please note that in case you don’t like the scanned image above, Vox Veritatis has found and posted a more readable version (here).

%d bloggers like this: