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

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