2008April17, Thursday

Can’t Tell an Infralapsarian from an Amyraldian

Posted in My Life, Theology at 10:09 by Trey Austin

Well, on Tuesday, Dr. White addressed me and some of the people i know on his Dividing Line program. Once again, he did so dismissively and derisively. Apparently, from what he said on his show, he has lots of people whom he loves and gets along with, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with them—but i and my friends who do emphasize a more balanced Calvinism than the Owenists are not among them. From what Dr. White said, the qualification for such respect is to be on the inside of his loop over at AOmin and directly supporting what he does in whatever fashion. That’s fine.

One thing he did do was derisively to refer to me (the one whose blog he quoted last week), and others who agree with me in a general way on some particular issues, as being “Amyraldians.” He also says that we have a “hobby horse” that we ride. Now, some of you might not understand all that, but one reason is that David (“Flynn” on many mail and chat groups) has made it an emphasis of his to bring to the attention of the Reformed world that the idea of what constitutes true and proper Calvinism is itself imbalanced in lots of ways, judging from the writings of the early Reformers and other Reformed writers down through the years. Many of us, who agree with David in this respect, also emphasize the issue from time to time (some of us more than others). But the truth is, and I hope David won’t take this the wrong way, but David is a nobody. In fact, he’s more of a nobody than i am—and i’m a nobody. As the Reformed world goes, i am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament (ordained in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and serving in the Presbyterian Church in America, with my membership being in Westminster Presbytery), but David is just a fellow with access to lots of original source documents to look stuff up. On his blog, David does, however, quote lots and lots and lots of folks, Calvin in particular, about lots of issues: God’s love, God’s will, God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s hatred, Christ’s atoning work (and various passages of Scripture that are controversial on this front), the well-meant offer, the efficacy of the sacraments, &c.; so to be fair, David has lots of things he emphasizes, not just one. However, David does have one particular thing he quotes lots of is about the nature of Christ’s atonement and how it relates to all men.

Now, i know that it is not popular to focus on this issue, and most Calvinists are perfectly content to answer the question “For whom did Christ die?” in a very direct way: “The elect alone”—and never want to qualify that at all, because, in their minds, it’s as simple as that. For a time, i actually held that point of view, myself—in fact, the article that convinced me of this initially was James White’s “Was Anyone Saved at the Cross?” However, when i began to read the Reformers beyond the scholastic Puritans (White made the Puritan John Owen’s famous “Trilemma” the centerpiece of his article), and when i saw that they answered this question differently than i clearly did, i wanted to know why they gave much more qualified answers than we often hear on the floor of our presbytery meetings to ordinands and candidates for licensure. Come to find out, the Reformed world is bigger than Reformed Baptists on one side and Reformed Presbyterians on the other, with the only thing separating them being the nature and purpose of the sacraments. No, there is a great breadth in the way many Reformers answer lots of questions about lots of things, from the nature of the Covenants, the nature of the sacraments, the nature of the Church, the nature of epistemology, and yes, even the nature of Christ’s atonement—those for whom it was made, different senses in its being offered, different purposes it serves for different people, and all kinds of other issues—and beyond.

So, here’s the rub: when we start talking about the way Christ’s atoning work relates not just to the elect, as those whom God intends to save, but also to the non-elect, whom he does not intend to save, does that then make us Amyraldians? Well, that seems to be James White’s answer (though, he himself admitted in the article i mentioned above that he once considered himself a “four-point” Calvinist), and he paints the so-called “Ponterites” (in which he includes me) as being Amyraldians, or four-point Calvinists. A couple of things i will say in this regard.

First, i do not use the five points of TULIP to describe my Reformed views. I used to, but you will never find me referring to it in any way, either in sermons, teaching, or conversations, unless i am directly asked, and even when i explain them generally, i demur from being a person who holds them hard and fast as a standard for anything. I believe the TULIP is unhelpful, unweildy, imbalanced, and overly simplistic—and while simplistic is just what many people want today, i’m not one of them.

Second, even if a person rejects the idea of particular atonement altogether and has a full-blown general atonement (Note: i do not hold to general atonement in any sense) along with some view of unconditional election, that doesn’t necessarily make a person an Amyraldian. Amyraldianism or Amyraldism (here again, people have tried to over-simplify it, but such an attempt is improper) is a system of theology otherwise known as “Post-Redemptionism,” because in their scheme, God’s election of some to be saved didn’t take place before all other decrees (like Supralapsarianism), nor after the decrees to create and to allow the fall (like Infralapsarianism), but after the decree to send Christ to redeem the sinful world (again, “Post-Redemptionism”), and only because God saw that sinful men wouldn’t, of themselves, choose to come to Christ as the redeemer. Yes, this is the discussion of Supralapsiarianism, Infralapsarianism, and related issues (on a completely unrelated topic, my first successful googlewhack was “Infralapsarian handbell,” [no quotes]; i don’t think it’s still one, but it was my first successful try). Amyraldism, though, fits into this discussion, even though most Reformed scholars (at least more recent ones) don’t include it there. Now, the point is that there is a logic to the order of decrees, and we want to see what Scripture implies systematically spelled out in these orderings of God’s decrees. (For a basic primer on the issue, see Phillip Johnson’s “Notes on Supralapsarianism & Infralapsarianism”.)

So, if we’re to be accurate in using these terms, true Amyraldism isn’t only about whether Christ died for all (i.e., just bare “four-point Calvinism”); it is about the whole theological framework that makes that true. Amyraldism is a school of theology holding one particular position among all the various other positions on ordered decretalism. Ordered decretalism is that discussion everyone acts like is so useless, but their answers to it determine lots of things they presuppose without ever knowing it. I am decidedly Infralapsarian in my views, but Amyraldism has its own distinct ordering of decrees that makes the equal applicability of Christ’s atonement logical in their schema (i.e., hypothetical universalism). As an Infralapsarian, i don’t hold to that view, as i don’t hold that Christ’s atonement is *EQUALLY* applicable to all men (i.e., it is more applicable to the elect as those to whom God intended to apply it savingly, but it is also applicable, but not in the same way, to the non-elect, as those to whom God offers salvation in Christ, gives all good things in life, gives the common operations of the Spirit, &c.). I understand the logic behind Amyraldism, just as i understand the logic behind Supralapsarianism, but i reject both for the point in between. So, yes, i am going to see things differently than Supralapsarians, who by and large see that Christ’s atonement has only to do with the elect and none others (i.e., the strict particularism, affirming that Christ died for no one but the elect in any sense at all, tends to go along with Supralapsarianism, not categorically, but as a general rule), and that’s because i affirm that Christ’s atonement does have something to do with the non-elect. But my affirmation of that doesn’t make me an Amyraldian; it just makes me a consistent Infralapsarian.

So we have three views within the broader Reformed world with regard to ordered decretalism: Supralapsarians, Infralapsarians, and Amyraldians. These various views generally have three different ways of understanding how the atoning work of Christ relates to the world of lost sinners. Supralapsarians generally say it only applies to the elect in any sense, Amyraldians generally say that it applies to all men equally, and Infralapsarians say generally that it applies to all men, but especially and most directly to the elect (i.e., not equally to all men).

There are lots of folks who don’t want to come down on the matter one way or another. R. L. Dabney was one of those. David Ponter is also one. But like Dabney, while not taking a side on the issue, i see Ponter’s views as aligning most closely with Infralapsarianism, not with Amyraldism.

So, i hope that Dr. White and his friends (one whom he mentioned being “TurretinFan”) would recognize these distinctions in theological views and attempt to be more accurate in their references in the future. And since TurretinFan has such a penchant for the Larger Catechism, i’m sure he won’t mind living up to the duties required in and staying away from the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment as explicated in the WLC:

Question 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering: What we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

While i would love to be one of the people Dr. White respects and regards with fondness as he does some others, i doubt i ever will be. That’s fine. I certainly won’t lose any sleep over it. I will say for the record, though, that, in spite of his misrepresentation and derision of me, in spite of his seeming inability or unwillingness to qualify an answer about God’s desire to save all men (which question in the debate with Mr. Gregg i had nothing to do with asking, nor did any person whom i know, to my knowledge), and in spite of his favoring of people who also relish the opportunity to run me and those with whom i agree down, i still respect Dr. White as a gifted leader in Christ’s Church, as an able defender of the faith, and most of all, as a brother in Christ whom i love dearly and want to see succeed in all that he does for the Kingdom.

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3 Comments »

  1. Tony said,

    Trey,

    James White is on record saying that Amyraldism is not technically four-pointism. He said the following on the Dividing Line:

    “And that’s why folks who run around calling themselves four pointers who do not know who Amyraut was and cannot exactly tell you what Amyraut actually believed. That’s “Amyraldianism” and that’s not actually four pointism, by the way. Some people think it is, but… (Caller speaks for a moment)…Amyraldianism is not technically four pointism.”

    Therefore, your following words are not accurate:

    “…he paints the so-called “Ponterites” (in which he includes me) as being Amyraldians, or four-point Calvinists.”

    He did call us “Amyraldians,” but not four-point Calvinists, that I can recall.

    Also, with respect to Amyraldism and ordered decretalism, John Quick reports what the Amyraldian party said before a French Synod (probably Alencon) this way:

    “2) As to making distinct decrees in the council of God, the first of which is to save all men, through Jesus Christ, if they shall believe in him, the second to give faith unto some particular persons, Amyraut, along with Testard, declared, that they did this upon no other account than of accommodating it unto that manner and order which the spirit of man observeth in his reasonings for the succour of his own infirmity; they otherwise believing, that though they considered this decree as diverse, yet it was formed in God in one and the self-same moment, without any succession of thought or order of priority and posteriority.” Quick’s Synodicon, Vol. ii. p. 355.

    Also, take a look at what Brian Armstrong says about Amyraut and lapsarian speculations.

    I would correct some other things in Trey’s post above with all credo-baptistic humility (to be redundant), but this will have to do for now 🙂 lol

  2. Trey Austin said,

    I remember him making this comment, Tony, but that’s all the more reason why his comments vis-a-vis “Ponterites” are so problematic. He actually knows what an Amyraldian is, and yet he still persists in calling those who have a perfectly acceptable Reformed view “Amyraldian.”

    And, too, Tony, there is a real issue as to whether what is “Amyraldism” properly speaking is attributable to Amyraut himself, just for the reasons you mention through your quote.

    I point out again that the Marrowmen (a group that heavily influence the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in which i learned my Reformed Theology and which ordained me—after all, the ARP Church’s denominational seminary, at which i studied, is called “Erskine” for a reason!) were accused of Arminianism and Amyraldianism as well, yet Berkhof and others defend their orthodoxy against such scurrilous claims. I hope people will take notice.

    And, Tony, your credo-baptistic humility is a credit to your creed of men.

  3. David Gray said,

    Pastor Austin thanks for a great essay, it was very helpful to me.


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