Moïse Amyraut and Four-Point Calvinism

The theology of Moïse Amyraut (1596-1664) should not be neglected, for the simple reason that Amyraldianism (sometimes referred to as four-point Calvinism) is yet another departure from classical Calvinism. Amyraut believes that he is the accurate interpreter of Calvin and that the high or strict Calvinists (supralapsarians) who follow Calvin's successor Theodore Beza (1519-1605) are to be blamed for the so-called Arminian error.

For example, Brian Armstrong shares Amyraut's thoughts on the doctrine of election, writing:
The usual approach to Amyraut's doctrine of predestination has been to summarize his Brief Traitte, singling out the doctrines which are at variance with the teaching of Calvinist orthodoxy. In this way his distinctive teachings relating to this doctrine have been set forth. And the discussions have centered on the problem of the so-called "hypothetical universalism," for no one has missed his insistence that Christ's sacrifice was egalement pour tous, that "the salvation that he has received from his Father in order to communicate it to men in the sanctification of the Spirit and in the glorification of the body is destined equally for all. ..."
I wonder at the motive behind the presumed negative charge of "hypothetical universalism": Do those who lay such a charge to systems like Amyraldianism and Arminianism recoil at the notion of God's salvation, even the salvation of all people? If so, why? Would God be any less glorious had He unconditionally elected to save all people? Would God be any less worthy of honor and praise should He save all people on the merits of the cross of Christ? If Christ's cross can satisfy God's wrath against sin, does Christ's satisfaction inherently include a limiting factor of which we are not aware -- not a conditional nature to receiving the benefits of His atonement but a limiting factor? St Paul asks, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of his wrath that are made for destruction" (Rom. 9:22 NRSV)? But God did display His wrath -- He clearly displayed His wrath against sin on Christ Jesus our Lord.

The reason why wrath remains is because all people are still not atoned. Some people reject Christ's atonement: others are "justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith." (Rom. 3:23, 24) Atonement has been made for all, but atonement has not been applied to all, since application of the atonement requires the grace of God and the individual's faith in Christ. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." (John 3:36 NIV) Armstrong continues:
Nor has anyone missed his [Amyraut's] equal insistence that this universal offer was conditional, that God "has necessarily affixed the condition to it, that of believing in His Son," that "these words God wills the salvation of all men necessarily meets with this limitation, provided that they believe. If they do not believe, He does not will it, this will of making the grace of salvation universal and common to all men being in such a way conditional that without the accomplishment of the condition it is completely inefficacious."

But at the same time it has also been recognized that Amyraut taught a doctrine of absolute predestination [unconditional election: he assumes the Arminian position of conditional election an error]. It has been noticed that alongside his teaching that Christ died equally for all men on condition of faith he taught that our participation in salvation "depends absolutely on this -- that God employs His mercy with perfect liberty and concerning which we cannot seek out any cause other than His will:" that "there is no cause whatever in men for this diversity of the favor of God toward them. ..."1
Amyraut (and all who follow his theology) is seeking to strike a balance between the Calvinists of Dordt and the Arminians, as well as to maintain what he views as explicitly taught in Scripture regarding the atonement: that God has unconditionally elected to save some, yet has offered salvation through Christ's atonement to the whole world.

We argue, however, that this view is insufficient in answering the dilemma: If God unconditionally elected to save only some, then in what sense is Christ's atonement genuinely available to those whom God never unconditionally elected and, hence, never intended to save -- never intended to apply that atonement to them? The short answer is that there is no acceptable, feasible answer, and this view remains an inconsistent theological option. However, by their very nature, Amyraldians do not mind living with this theological tension. Calvinists and Arminians refuse to live with such tension, believing that there are answers in Scripture as to how God's sovereignty and humanity's freed will coalesce; the latter denying exhaustive determinism, regarding it as unbiblical; the former denying libertarian free will.

I think we are accurate to assume that most Calvinists deny free will, though there are certainly inconsistent exceptions; and also that Calvinists are inaccurate to assume that Arminians deny God's sovereignty; though we certainly deny that God meticulously directs, and has decreed, the evil choices people make. Yet, how these two camps define these terms in focus differ.


Amyraut demonstrates something magnanimous, however. Arminius is by far not the only one in the Reformed tradition to protest Theodore Beza's supralapsarian Calvinism and the Synod of Dordt's infralapsarian position (and there are disgruntled supralapsarians at the Synod of Dordt, as well, arguing against infralapsarians). Naturally, both Arminius and Amyraut are considered heretics by the overly-zealous, high and low Calvinists of the seventeenth century.

What is peculiar about Amyraut, however, is his insistence that he alone aptly interprets Calvin. If that were true, then it would appear that all other Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists; and also true that theological hyper-Calvinists belong in some other category entirely. I do not believe, however, that this is so. I think Theodore Beza accurately interprets John Calvin, which, then, posits Calvin as a supralapsarian Calvinist, a position which is condemned by the orthodox Council of Orange in 529 AD.

Moreover, some Calvinists label Amyraldianism as a modified Arminianism, but that will not do at all. Though there are three points with which both systems agree (Total Depravity, Unlimited or General Atonement, and Resistible Grace, i.e., that faith precedes regeneration), Arminians can never admit that God unconditionally elected to save one person and not another, founded merely on an eternal decree.2 The person God will not save is the person who will not trust Christ Jesus (John 3:36; 1 Cor. 1:21).

But what about the matter of hypothetical universalism? I have both heard and read this charge against classical Arminianism more times than I care to count. Someone said to me, "You Arminians believe that Universalism is a possibility." Thus Arminians are charged with believing that all people could have, hypothetically, been saved: it was at least a possibility. Whosoever will continue to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God raised Him from the dead, can and will be saved by the grace of God and continued faith in Him (Rom. 10:9-10). This is what Scripture explicitly teaches. The only nature of the hypothetical here is grounded in the extent to whom salvation (and atonement) is offered: whosoever. This is more than a mere hypothetical. Anyone can be saved. The complications arrive when we debate about contingencies.

From God's omniscient perspective, there is no such reality, in a strict sense, as hypothetical universalism (dismissing the concepts of Open Theism, and Molinism's view of possible worlds; we are concerned with what God knows will inevitably come to pass). Since God knows all who will and will not be saved, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then there can be no actual theology of universalism or potential universalism. Even from our finite perspective, we know that universalism is not a possibility, because Jesus said that there are few who find the narrow gate which leads to life (Matt. 7:13, 14). Christ's command to everyone is to enter through the narrow gate, but only few will: most people will follow the broad path which leads to hell. You may ask, Then why must we say that Christ Jesus died for all people, since all people cannot and will not be saved?

We must confess that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly teaches such (cf. John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:4, 5, 6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2). We must admit that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly teaches that it was God's desire to reconcile all people unto Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10); and to graciously offer eternal life with Him through faith in Christ to all (John 3:16, 17); who, through the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17; 10:11-17), will trust solely in Him, having been completely and personally and experientially reconciled unto God once faith is placed in Jesus.

We must also confess that Christ died for all people because Scripture explicitly indicates that God will hold every person responsible on the Day of Reckoning (Acts 17:30, 31). No one will be able to blame God for his or her eternal destiny in hell because He genuinely, graciously offered them eternal life through faith in Christ's sacrifice (Rom. 3:21-26), through the instrumental power and message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:11-17); and graciously enabled them to believe in Him (John 6:44-45; Phil. 1:29) through the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11).

Thus no one will be able to say to God, "I did not believe on Christ because You did not unconditionally elect me unto faith and salvation, and Christ Jesus did not die for me." The sinner is wrong on both counts. The responsibility to believe in Christ belongs to the sinner, and the responsibility to spread the gospel belongs to the believer, because the Holy Spirit uses both in convicting sinners of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). Salvation really is offered and available to all; the atonement of Christ really is offered and available to all; there will be no viable excuses when God, in Christ, judges all of guilty humanity.

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1 Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 169-170.

2 "Any eternal decree of God concerning creation must be actualized in time . . . Arminius admits the distinction between the decree and its execution in time, but he does not acknowledge such a vast distinction between their causes, and therefore he believes that the distinction is not enough to salvage Franciscus Gomarus's supralapsarian version of predestination." Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 107.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.