Monday, November 05, 2007

Can there really be such a thing as a 4 point Calvinist?

Sufficiency, Efficiency and the Logical Inconsistency of the Ante-Applicationist Position


Can there really be such a thing as a 4 point Calvinist?

One thing that all Calvinists share is the particularistic view of redemption. Only the elect will be saved and election is dependent alone on God’s sovereign grace. For logical reasons which will become apparent later on, the majority of Calvinists have understood this particularism to lead necessarily to the “L” of the tulip acronym, (limited atonement). The vast majority of Reformed theologians, whether of the infralapsarian or supralapsarian position, affirm this. But there is a group that maintain, along with evangelical universalists (Arminians), that Christ died for all men. They insist, in spite of their adherence to the remaining four points of Calvinism, that the divine soteric activity is not particular but universal and reject the historic Reformed position. This theology, known under the various names of ante-applicationism, post redemptionism, hypothetical universalism, and four point Calvinism is most properly referred to as Amyraldianism after Moise Amyraut (1596-1664).

Amyraldians attempt to resolve the logical tension between particular redemption and their espoused universalism by the order in which they place the Divine decrees and the position given that decree (commonly called the discriminating or distinguishing decree) in the redemptive plan of God. The decrees are listed below in the Amyraldian order with the discriminating decree italicized.

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 work of Christ
4. the election of some men to salvation and the reprobation of the others
5. the decree to apply Christ’s redemptive benefits to the elect

It will be noticed that the first three decrees are universal and the last two particular in regards to their referents. The discriminating decree is placed after the decree to redeem all men (post redemptionism) and before the decree to apply Christ’s soteric benefits to the elect (ante-applicationism). The first decree refers to the creation of all men, the second pertains to the fall of Adam and thus all his progeny and the third to the redemptive work of Christ. The Amyraldian places the decrees in this order for it keeps the discriminating decree below (or after) those decrees which are viewed as having a universal referent i.e. all men. Amyraldians appeal to John 12:32; Rom 5:18; 8:32; 11:32, II Cor. 5:14,15; I Tim. 2:5-6; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 2:9; John 3:16; I John 2:2; II Cor. 5:19 insisting that these demand the discriminating decree be kept subsequent to the cross and any decree that discriminates among men.

Because the Amyraldian recognizes Scriptures clear stand on the issue of election he understands that a discriminating decree must be introduced into God’s eternal plan. In order to preserve what he believes to be the universalism of the Cross he includes it subsequent to the redemptive decree (thinking to preserve the universal work of the cross) and prior to the application of the soteric benefits to the elect thereby preserving “particular redemption” and freeing himself from the doctrine of “limited atonement.” While this may preserve the Amyraldians right to call himself Calvinistic, it stands outside virtually all the historic reformed creedal statements such as those reflected in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

But does Amyraldianism obtain? The answer is no for several reasons. From Robert Reymond:

It demonstrates a logical inconsistency in that it’s scheme has at least two of the three Persons of the Trinity working in opposition to each other. By decree the Son died with the intention to save all men and by decree the Spirit savingly applies the soteric benefits of Christ only to some.

Because the Son and the Spirit in their respective roles are executing the Father’s eternal purpose, Amyraldianism by implication posits that either a chronological element, which in effect cancels the eternality of the divine purpose, or that an irrational element, which in effect imputes confusion to the divine purpose, resides in the decrees, either element of which assaults the nature of God.

There is too the element of the exhaustive nature of Divine foreknowledge.

B.B. Warfield asks:

“How is it possible to contend that God gave his Son to die for all men, alike and equally; and at the same time to declare that when he gave his Son to die, he already fully intended that his death should not avail for all men alike and equally, but only for some which he would select (which, because he is God and there is no subsequence of time in his decrees, he had already selected) to be it’s beneficiaries?”

He answers his own question:

“As much as God is God, it is impossible to contend that God intends the gift of his Son for all men alike and equally and at the same time intends that it shall not actually save all but only a select body which he himself provides for it. The schematization of the order of the decrees presented by the Amyraldians, in a word, necessarily implies a chronological relation of precedence and subsequence among the decrees [or irrationality per Reymond] , the assumption of which abolishes God.

Reymond again:

When Amyraldianism urges that the Bible teaches that both by divine decree and in history Christ’s death, represented by it as unrestricted regarding its referents, was intended to save all men without exception [the doctrine of unlimited atonement], it must necessarily join forces with Arminian universalism which shares this aspect of its vision and turn away altogether from a real substitutionary atonement. But this is to wound Christianity as the redemptive purpose of God fatally at its heart, for (unless one is prepared to affirm the final universal salvation of all men) one cannot have an atonement of infinite intrinsic value and at the same time an atonement of universal extension. One can have one or the other but not both.

If by his death and resurrection, Christ actually propitiated God’s wrath, paid sin’s penalty, and truly substituted Himself for, (for the sake of, on behalf of, and in the stead and place of sinners); if by His vicarious death and resurrection He did all that was necessary to save men then that salvation is necessarily guaranteed. Since it is clear, first by Scripture and then by the historical record, that neither have, nor shall all men become Christians it must be concluded that Christ did not die to save all men but for some men only i.e. the elect. All those for whom Christ died will be saved. If Christ did his work for all men without exception not intending the benefits of that work for one man in any respect different from any other man, it must necessarily follow that Christ actually died neither savingly nor substitutionally for any man since he did not do for those who are saved anything that he did not do for those that are lost and the one thing that he did not do for the lost was save them.

It appears then that four point Calvinism is inconsistent, positing internal contradictions. Perhaps the problem is a simple confusion between sufficiency and efficiency. Christ’s work, though sufficient for all, is efficient only for the elect. Limited atonement does not necessitate a reduction in the sufficiency or infinite worth of Christ’s vicarious death but rightly understands it to be efficient only for those whom God marked out before the foundation of the world.

Both the infralapsarian and supralapsarian schematization of the decrees escape the Amyraldian confusion. Only one is logically consistent though. Different discussion for a different time.

Infralapsarianism: Historic principle.
1. decree to create the world and all men
2. the decree that all men should fall
3. the election of some fallen men to salvation and the reprobation of the others
4. the decree to redeem the elect
5. the decree to apply the soteric benefits to the elect.

Supralapsarianism: Teleological principle
1. the election of some men to salvation and the reprobation of the others
2. the decree to apply the soteric benefits to the elect
3. the decree to redeem the elect
4. the decree that men should fall
5. the decree to create the world and all men.

The majority of the above is from Robert Reymonds New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

Thanks Westmin!

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