With the present resurgence of interest in Reformed theology, there has also come a resurgence of interest in Calvinistic and Reformed controversies. And one of the most controversial of the Reformed theologians of the 16th & 17th centuries is M. Amyrault.
I will not post it now, but a brief history of Amyraut and his tenure at the Academy of Saumur is really must reading for those of us who hold to Reformed theology. When all is said and done, he proves to be a most honorable, godly and able man – whether one agrees with his formulations or not. His 3 trials (charged with heresy) each ended in his acquittal – though his detractors often tend to speak his name with disdain still. He is often seen as a “de-former” of Calvinistic thought, and the father (or at least popularizer) of “4-Point Calvinism”. (Actually, I think it is a misnomer to call the view 4 point Calvinism – but we’ll do that another day) Scholars the likes of Alan Clifford (see Dr. Clifford’s powerful work – ATONEMENT AND JUSTIFICATION: ENGLISH EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY 1640-1790: AN EVALUATION an absolute MUST read) contend that Amyraut was in fact all along only contending for and protecting Calvin’s more balanced view on the atonement.
Dr. Clifford (a most amiable 2nd “lightening rod”) has gone on to form the AMYRALDIAN ASSOCIATION as a means of educating the Church on Amyraut, what he taught, and its importance. And, educating us as to the place Amyraut’s theology ought to have in our present day Reformed halls.
One thing that has become increasing clear to me over the past few years in studying these matters and wrestling with them personally is – that the present, popular notion that a strict view of “limited atonement” is THE Reformed view, is simply historically inaccurate. There truly has been quite a spectrum of views on this topic from orthodox Reformed and Calvinistic divines all along. A spectrum I am convinced would be healthy for us to recover in our day.
In my own reading of Amyraut (what little I have done to date) I am not by any means convinced I can receive his entire schema so as to call myself “Amyraldian”. I say that with this proviso: If in fact “Amyraldianism” can (and SHOULD be) fully defined by virtue of what Dr. Clifford states below – I do not how I can avoid it! I must say I no longer look askance at those who would choose to take the moniker as I once would. Which then (finally!) leads me to what I really wanted to post below.
At this year’s Amyraldian Association conference in England – hosted by Dr. Clifford (a man I have come to deeply appreciate, admire and love through his writings and generous correspondence with me) – Dr. Clifford’s paper contained the following paragraph:
“What then is Amyraldianism? Let us have a brief refresher course. Rooted in a dualistic conception of the divine will (see Deuteronomy 29: 29), Calvin taught that Christ was offered as the Redeemer of the whole world according to God’s ‘revealed’ conditional will albeit only received by elected believers according to God’s ‘hidden’ absolute will. Notwithstanding the rationally-challenging paradox involved, Calvin maintained the doctrines of universal atonement and divine election side by side. Faced by clear biblical evidence for both, he refused to tamper with the scriptural texts. Logic was not allowed to dictate one emphasis at the expense of the other. Typical of his numerous statements on the extent of the atonement, Calvin commented thus on Romans 5: 18: ‘Paul makes grace common to all, 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’.”
Whether or not this serves as an accurate and comprehensive summary of Amyraldianism – I will have to leave to Dr. Clifford and both his scholarly friends and foes to sort out for officialdom. The whole of Dr. Clifford’s paper deals directly and handily with the formidable critics of his thesis.
What I can say is – that this is a concise and accurate statement of how I personally have come to understand the atonement tension in Scripture (barring the term “universal atonement” which I still do not think is the most accurate – though I have no other). If Amyraut and Calvin held the same view (with each other as well as with me) – grand. If not, so be it. This is how I understand it. Hopefully, this can serve to clarify what I was laboring so to express in all of my preceding papers on the topic.
Now, if you choose to hang a name on me in this regard – I will leave that choice up to you. Personally, I wouldn’t call it Calvinistic, Amyraldian, Cliffordian, Baxterian, Cameronian, Bunyanism, Ryle-ism, Twisse-ism, Davenantian, Dortian or any other (though there are literally scores more which could be listed here) “ian” or “ism”.
For myself, I just think its Biblical.