Monday, August 31, 2009

The Atonement in Amyraut and Calvin


As discussed in the previous blog, there are those who claim to hold to the doctrines of grace and yet deny Christ's particular atonement. Some of these even claim John Calvin, pictured above, as there forebear in this system as they expound it. My primary goal in this blog is historical and will look at various works treating this discussion. This view is primarily known by its most vocal proponent Moise Amyraut and is called "Amyraldism". I do not intend in this discussion to give an in-depth treatment of Moise Amyraut's system and realize there are many so-called 4-point calvinists that would not agree with Amyraut's complete system but merely classify all 4-pointers as amyraldians for the purposes of this discussion.

Moise Amyraut was a professor of theology at the University of Saumer in France where he had been a student and learned under the Scottish theologian John Cameron whose system Amyraut advanced and extended at Saumer which was the largest Reformed Divinity School of the day(Armstrong p.xviii Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy). It is important to recognize that Cameron had himself developed the system as Brian Armstrong says that it was "Upon the foundation laid by Cameron, Moise Amyraut was to construct his theology"(Armstrong p70) and so it could just as well be called "Cameronism" but Cameron's influence was cut short (only 3 years)by an angry rioting mob that killed him. Amyraut's system is distinctive from Calvinism at the most basic level in that it holds to a "Hypothetical Universalism"(HU). This HU says that Christ's death, while definately saving the elect, also makes all men savable if they, hypothetically, were to believe. Christ died for the whole world, but the gift of faith, the effectual call and the irresistable grace are limited to the elect only. As Jonathan Rainbow notes in his book The Will of God and the Cross this makes it possible for Amyraut "to say both,

'God desires only the elect to be saved,' and, 'God desires every human being to be saved'" (p70) which is blatantly a contradiction.


Unfortunately this is often an accepted teaching in calvinist circles. This is why, I believe, you do not hear more of amyraldism and people prefer to be called 4-point calvinists instead. A 4-point calvinist is seen as a subsection or alternate but equally calvinist perspective whereas Amyraldism would be seen as a competing system to calvinism. This is, in no uncertain terms a competing system whatever it is called and should be rejected vigorously. Amyraldism takes away the saving efficacy of the death of Christ. If Christ death is efficacious and He died for the reprobate then they would be saved. Amyraldism sees salvation as centered on faith and not Christ the true center. Faith only saves as it links us to Christ. For anyone to believe, their eyes must be opened first by baptism of the Holy Spirit into the death of Christ in regeneration giving new life to believe (Mark 4:11,12). Amyraldism denies Christ's active obedience in the fulfilling of the covenant of works. Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant of works for the elect allowing for the covenant of grace (Rom. 5:5-21). Amyraldism denies the clear teaching of scripture as exegeted in my previous blog that shows Christ died for His Elect.


Amyraut as Cameron before him claimed John Calvin as there forebear and thus tried to get respectability. They claimed that they are the ones that have kept the tradition of Calvin. Modern Amyraldists such as R.T. Kendall in the 1997 edition of his monograph Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 includes an appendix with multiple quotes from the Bible Commentaries of Calvin. From these multiple quotes Kendall concludes that "Fundamental to the doctrine of faith in John Calvin is his belief that Christ died indiscriminately for all men" (p1). While it is true that some of the statements made by Calvin are unclear and equivocal such as "Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him" (Calvin on Rom. 5:18 quoted in Kendall p.222-223) and "For God commends to us the salvation of all men without exception, even as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world" (Calvin on Gal. 5:12 quoted in Kendall p.223) we must take into account Calvin's basis for this all, which he places in election, as he says in his commentary on John 13:18, "every part of our salvation depends on this". We must also take into account clearer statements from Calvin such as "Christ brings none to the Father but those given to Him by the Father; and this donation, we know, depends on eternal election; for those whom the Father has destined to life, He delivers to the keeping of His Son, that He might defend them" (Calvin on Heb. 2:13 quoted in Rainbow p.72-73).
Amyraldism gets some respect also in the fact that it has had representatives in both the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Assembly. John Davenant was a representative of the Church of England at the Synod of Dort in 1618 and was an avowed Amyraldian. The Westminster Assembly had Edmund Calamy in its midst, who followed in the footsteps of Davenant. These instances, however, should be seen as scandalous rather than an opening of the doors.


Christ's atonement is the basis for our faith and not the other way around. It is because of the healing we receive in the blood of Christ that we are regenerated, brought to life and are able to have faith. If faith earns our regeneration then we have something whereby to boast contra Eph. 2:9. Why and how does anyone come to believe who are dead in their trespasses and sins, whose foolish heart is darkened without the wonderful healing grace of God in the atonement of Christ. Make no mistake about it, the atonement of Christ is a doctrine worth dying for.

Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France by Brian G. Armstrong
Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 by R. T. Kendall
The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus by G. Michael Thomas
English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology by Jonathan D. Moore

The Will of God and the Cross: An Historical and Theological Study of John Calvin's Doctrine of Limited Redemption by Jonathan H. Rainbow
By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life by Thomas J. Nettles

Thursday, April 30, 2009


It may come as a surprise to some that those who hold to the doctrines of grace often called "calvinism" are not monolithic in their thinking. The subject of this blog deals with one of those differences. Supralapsarian is one of the classifications of the distinctions and is opposed to Infra or Sublapsarian. Infra and sub mean the same thing and are interchangeable but most non-supras prefer the term infra and so I will use this for the purposes of this blog. I do want to make note that sublapsarian is sometimes distinguished from infralapsarian by amyraldians or 4-point calvinists who utilize the sub for themselves. I do not intend to focus much on the amyraldians however and will deal with them in a future blog, Lord willing, and so am talking primarily to those who hold to the scriptural teaching of Definite Redemption.

Historically the focus of the debate between the two parties is over the logical order of God's decrees. While I will mention these different orders, I again do not intend on focusing on them as they are all speculations and not specifically laid out in scripture. The focus of this discussion is going to be on the question of equal ultimacy, the origin of the fall and sin and whether predestination is single or double. These issues are the crux of the debate.


Before charting out the views some definitions are in order. Both infra and sub mean below or after with supra meaning above and before. Lapsarian means fall. Supralapsarian therefore means above or before the fall and infra/sublapsarian means below or after the fall. Supras hold that God chose what would become of mankind before considering the fall whereas infras say God took into consideration the fall before deciding to either save or damn man.

I. The logical order often held by amyraldians such as Augustus Strong, Millard Erickson and Charles Ryrie amongst others is

1. the decree to create the world and (all) men

2. the decree that (all) men would fall

3. the decree to redeem (all) men by the cross work of Christ

4. the election of some fallen men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect.

II. The logical order often held by infras such as Charles Hodge, William G. T. Shedd, R. L. Dabney, J. Oliver Buswell Jr., Louis Berkhof, Benjamin Warfield, John Gerstner, R. C. Sproul and Bruce Ware amongst others is

1. the decree to create the world and (all) men

2. the decree that (all) men would fall

3. the election of some fallen men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)

4. the decree to redeem the elect by the cross work of Christ

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect.

III. A. The logical order held historically by supras such as Theodore Beza, William Whitaker, William Perkins, William Ames,William Twisse, Francis Gomarus, Gisbert Voetius, Thomas Goodwin, Samuel Rutherford and John Gill amongst others is

1. the election of some men to salvation in Christ and the reprobation of the others

2. the decree to create the world and both kinds of men

3. the decree that all men would fall

4. the decree to redeem the elect, who are now sinners, by the cross work of Christ

5. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to these elect sinners

B. A different proposal by supras such as Robert Reymond, Gordon Clark, Herman Hoeksema and possibly Jerome Zanchius and Johannes Piscator, according to Robert Reymond, is

1. the election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God's gracious mercy to the elect)

2. the decree to apply Christ's redemptive benefits to the elect sinners

3. the decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ

4. the decree that men should fall

5. the decree to create the world and men

Of the positions listed above the supra positions are closer to the truth of scripture and so therefore are preferred but again the discussion is a little arcane as we are never given any particular order. I also want to say the proposal of Robert Reymond does leave itself open to the criticism that God in considering men as sinful must be after(infra) the fall and not truly before(supra) and so I lean to the historic supra view.


Typically when reading a theological work ,even by a calvinist, discussing sin, evil and the fall of man and angels the first thing you are told in bold letters is that God is not the author of sin and that He has a permissive will through which He (passively) just allows sin. They usually go on to say that evil is the absence of good as darkness is an absence of light and space an absence of material. The use of the word "author" is a little confusing. If one means by it a performer of sin then every Bible believer would agree God is not the author of sin(James 1:13). The ordinary use of the word however is a writer as of a book. In this case all Bible believers agree that God is the author of the Bible and yet it contains prophesies of all sorts of evils such as the betrayel and crucifixion of Christ(Acts 1:16-21), false Christs and prophets(Matt. 24:24) and the actions of the Beast in Revelation(Rev. 11:7). Isaiah 45:7 also explicitly informs us that God not only forms the light but he also creates darkness and then goes on to say that God not only makes peace but creates evil. Nothing happens by chance but by the predestined plan of God. Not even the wicked can look to God and boast of defying His predestined plan as "The Lord has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom."(Prov. 16:4) God has even appointed our death(Heb. 9:27) and so whether by cancer, murder, suicide or any other way we can be certain that this is one appointment we will not miss. God is the ultimate author of everything and as Gordon Clark aptly put in his excellent book God and Evil "In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God works all things, not some things only, after the counsel of His own will"(p27).


In his book Chosen By God R.C. Sproul includes a chapter called Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Is Predestination Double. In it Sproul makes the intriguing claim that he holds to double predestination all the while denying "equal ultimacy". He makes the claim using his wit and illogic that election is a positive(active) decree and reprobation is a negative(passive) decree. He bombasts equal ultimists as "hyper-calvinists" and other pejoratives. Let us look at scripture and see if he is correct. We have already seen from Proverbs 16:4 that God makes even the wicked for Himself. It would have been better for Judas and every other reprobate person if they had never been born as we learn in Matthew 26:24 but God creates them for Himself and has reserved them for the day of wrath(Job 21:30, Jude 4). God, we learn in Romans 9:22,23, wants to show His wrath and make His power known and does so by raising up leaders like the Pharaoh and hardening their hearts, blinding their eyes and deafening their ears to the truth(Rom. 9:17,18, Isaiah 6:9,10, 29:9,10, Mark 4:11,12). Hardening, blinding and deafening are actions and not passively just allowed. Sproul puts himself in the position of judging God as evil in doing this by not accepting the clear teaching of God's Word. Psalm 135 tells us "Whatever the Lord pleases He does" and goes on to say "He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt" and "slew mighty kings" and in Deuteronomy 28:63 we learn that "the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing". God has equally, ultimately, actively and doubly predestined everything that has ever happened and that will happen.
A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith by Robert L. Reymond-A systematic theology by a Presbyterian Supracalvinist who holds to Equal Ultimacy.
The History And Theology Of Calvinism by Curt Daniel-Essentially a systematic theology by an Baptistic Infracalvinist. It is very informative from the other side and has an excellent chapter, albeit inconsistent with his infra position, on the hardening of the reprobate.
God And Evil: The Problem Solved by Gordon Clark-A wonderful treatise on evil from a Presbyterian Supracalvinist Equal Ultimist perspective.
Chosen By God by R. C. Sproul- From a Presbyterian Infracalvinist perspective.
The Pleasures Of God by John Piper- From a Calvinistic Baptist perspective.
Perspectives On Election: 5 Views by Chad Owen Brand- See the chapters by Robert Reymond and Bruce Ware(InfraCalvinist Baptist).
A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism by Clendenen & Waggoner- See especially the chapter "A Molinist View of Election, or How to Be a Consistent Infralapsarian" by Molinist Ken Keathley which shows the fine line (if any) between Molinism and Infracalvinism.
Diversity Within the Reformed Tradition: Supra-and Infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster by J.V. Fesko- A historical study advocating a Supracalvinist view while denying Equal Ultimacy by an Orthodox Presbyterian.
The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century Volume Two by Ligon Duncan- J. V. Fesko makes another attempt at formulating a Supracalvinism while denying Equal Ultimacy in his chapter "The Westminster Confession and Lapsarianism: Calvin and the Divines".

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Throughout the history of depraved man’s assault on God’s sovereignty, several names and movements have come to the forefront. Lost in the shuffle of the more popular Pelagianism and Arminianism is Molinism. Molinism is named after the Jesuit Priest and Theologian, Luis De Molina(1535-1600). Luis was a professor for many years at Evora, Portugal until taking the chair of moral theology in Madrid. In this capacity and in his work Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiæ donis, divina præscientia, providentia, prædestinatione et reprobatione (Lisbon, 1588) he set out to find and promote a moderate view on predestination and free will. His goal was to balance the extremes as he saw it of Augustine and Pelagius.

In his quest Molina divided the knowledge of God into three categories. Sometimes the first two categories are called necessary truths and contingent truths and other times natural knowledge and free knowledge but the third category is always called “middle knowledge”. The necessary truth or natural knowledge of God is said to be God’s knowledge of the truths like the law of non-contradiction or cause and effect. God’s existence is a necessary truth and not a matter of His will. Contingent truths or free knowledge are truths that God creates as in “God said ‘let there be light’, and there was light”. Middle knowledge is according to Molina that knowledge“… by which, in virtue of the most profound and inscrutable comprehension of each free will, He(God) saw in his own essence what each such will would do with its innate freedom were it to be placed in this or that or, indeed, in infinitely many orders of things- even though it would really be able, if it so willed, to do the opposite…”. (Quoted by William Craig in The Grace Of God, The Will Of Man p 147). William Craig goes on to say, “Thus, whereas by His natural knowledge God knows that, say, Peter when placed under a certain set of circumstances could either deny Christ or not deny Christ, being free to do either under identical circumstances, by His middle knowledge God knows what Peter would do if placed under those circumstances.”(Citation above p147)

The chief motivation for this line of thinking is sin. If God predestines everything that happens then He must therefore be the author of sin. Traditional orthodoxy understands God to have a Preceptive Will which is God’s revealed commands of us such as “thou shalt not kill”(Matt. 19:18) and a Decretive Will which is God determining before creation how everything will happen such as in His decree of Christ’s death(Acts 1:16, 2:23). Molinism adds to this a Permissive Will in which God simply foresaw the sins of man and passively decreed to allow them. Molinist Ken Keathley in the book A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism claims “God controls all things He does not cause all things”(p196) and later states “God did not cause the fall; He allowed it”(p197). For Molinism man’s will is free to either accept Christ or reject Him. It would distinguish itself from Arminianism in that God sovereignly controls circumstances which lead up to either rejection or salvation, for instance God chooses where to send missionaries and who hears the Gospel.


Molinism fails as a scriptural system for the same reason as all man-centered systems do. It places salvation and history in the will of man instead of in the grace and purpose of God. John 1:12 and 13 say “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Just as our physical birth was not our choosing but our parents, so to our spiritual birth is from God and not our “free will”. Romans 9:16 again states that “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” It is the purpose of God that determines history and not the works of man (Rom. 9:11). In Proverbs 21:1 we read that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Surely any “free will” decision made would come from the heart but God controls the heart and so determines our will. We do not even know how to pray properly according to Rom. 8:26 and need the intercession of the Holy Spirit for that (Rom. 8:27).

As for the question of sin, God is not the immediate cause (author) of evil in that he does not perform any evil. God is however the ultimate cause of everything including evil as Isaiah 45:7 teaches us. Whereas God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Heb. 6:18), God used a fallen angel in 2 Chronicles 18:19-22 to deceive Ahab, and will send a “strong delusion” in the end times so “that they (reprobates) shall believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). Notice that God assured the fallen angel in 2 Chronicles 18:21 that “You shall persuade him and also prevail”. God did not just passively know this but he hardened Ahab’s heart to ensure this would happen as he did to the Pharoah in Exodus 4:21. We should honestly and earnestly pray as our Lord Jesus prayed for our Father to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil so as not to sin against our God (Matt. 6:13). For further on this see my Theodicy.
Molinism also fails logically to be a self consistent system. It is rediculous to say God controls all things but does not cause all things as God must therefore control the cause of all things. Also to claim that God knows possible futures that never will exist is rediculous as there is no future without God. God has designed and determined every second of eternal destiny and this destiny can only happen one way otherwise it is not destined. God does not permit anything but ordains everything. As to God's relation to evil, Molinism also falls short. How would a man be perceived that sat idly by all the while able to stop a massacre from occuring but "permitting" it to happen? Does a permissive will alleviate the problem? Just as human authors like Stephen King and George Lucas create in their novels evil situations and people but are not themselves guilty of the evil, much more so is God not to be judged by us His creation (Rom. 9:14,19-21).
William Craig's chapter "Middle Knowledge, A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?" in
A Case For Arminianism: The Grace of God, The Will of Man by Clark Pinnock
Ken Keathley's chapter "A Molinist View of Election, or How to be a Consistent Infralapsarian" in A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism by Ray Clendenen & Brad Waggoner
A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology by Kirk R. MacGregor