If THIS is Amyraldianism…

amyraultIf you don’t recognize him, the fellow pictured to the left here is Moise Amyrault. You can also view his visage next to the definition of “lightening rod” in most theological dictionaries.

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.

6 thoughts on “If THIS is Amyraldianism…

  1. Wisdom would seem to mandate that we pick a label that accurately describes the concept we believe in (dualism), rather than choosing a label that asssociates us with a single advocate (Amyraut) of a variety of that concept. Simply calling ourselves “Calvinists,” while accurate, will not do either because that term may fairly apply to the stricter views we reject as well. “Classic Calvinists” or “Augustinians” is good, since it associates us with what most (if not all) of the early Reformers believed, and they pre-date Amyraut. Moreover, it is simply unwise to describe our position as “Amyraldian,” since 1) his original writings are not readily available to the public (nor the dissertations that describe his views); 2) because his system is largely known through unreliable secondary sources; and 3) he clearly was not as careful in his terminology as was Davenant.

    Amyraut, as you know, represents only one trajectory within the dualistic model. Ussher and Davenant were both explicit dualists that represent another trajectory that is distinct and independent from the Saumur school and their terminology. If people want to insist in associating my “atonement” views with a particular thinker in the past that was explicitly dualistic (i.e. clearly reacting against stricter forms of Calvinism, or the Gottschalk trajectory), then I would pick Davenant, Martinius or Ussher, rather than Amyraut. When Clifford pins the label “Amyraldian” on any teacher that is dualistic, like Jonathan Edwards for example, he is not helping the church to accurately understand history, or our opponents to accurately understand us. While I deeply respect Clifford’s scholarly research and godly character, I still groan at the rash way in which he seems to label all things dualistic as automatically “Amyraldian.”

  2. I should have also mentioned that I deeply respect Clifford’s boldness and honesty as well. Those are two qualities I admire in teachers. There are some “classic Calvinists” who are very honest with the sources, but they are timid and cowardly. I despise that, and Clifford is not that way, thank God!

  3. Hey Tony,

    What is more, Amyraut’s theology was explicitly nested in a Federalist construct. Its clear that this construct was not adopted by the original Swiss Reformers, or by classical Augustinians.

    Then on top of that we do have the lapsarian question.

    When moderns, scholars and lay, rightly or wrongly, think of Amyraut’s system, these other dynamics are included in the conceptualization. For some of us, and for the early Swiss, these other dynamics may be entirely absent. It might be like calling Barengarius a Calvinist (on the Sacrament that is).


  4. Tony – I could not agree more for the need to have a really workable and solidly descriptive label unattached to a proponent who may or may not share other crucial areas of understanding and agreement. In essence (to act contrary to what I just said) I would probably consider myself a “Davenantian Dualist.” But because “dualism” already represents certain philosophical and theological categories, we need to define the KIND of dualism we are even referring to in the process.

    I also have to second your commendation of Dr. Clifford’s courage and boldness. I find it so wonderfully refreshing.

    And David – your comments are absolutely spot on here.

    The label needs to incorporate the fact we are referring to the atonement (not dualism in the abstract), that we see the dual nature of the atonement, and that such duality has to do with a tension regarding God’s hidden and eternal decree and that part of it which is His revealed in His preceptive decrees.

    Utilizing a bit of Davenant’s language, perhaps something like a “UNIVERSALLY APPLICABLE BUT SOVEREIGNLY APPLIED” atonement may inch ever so slightly closer to the goal.

    Thanks for all the dialogue.

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