4 1/2 Point Calvinists?

Blogger Tony Byrnes blogged over at Theological Meditations: Sufficiency Analogies on the sufficiency of the atonement as understood historically in its theological development. You will note that semantics really do matter in this discussion. He makes the following comments in the post:

The efficiency, or the effectual application of Christ’s death, was thought to involve the necessary work of the Holy Spirit working through a sovereign regenerating act and the instrumentality of faith. In other words, Christ’s death, taken by itself, does not ipso facto release anyone from their sin debt. Faith (as an instrument) appropriates the benefit, and only the elect obtain it because of the Spirit quickening them in order that they may have the moral liberty (removal of the moral barrier) to do so. The rest do not obtain it because of their own remaining moral depravity, i.e., they have only themselves to blame. There are no physical or natural barriers in the way of the non-elect that blocks their pardon. Only their own stubborness is the barrier.

As the Synod Dort says:
“However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient [Tony: there are no natural barriers in the way], but because they themselves are at fault [Tony: their own moral barrier remains].”

I personally hold the view of John Owen and would state that the efficacy of the atonement is aimed solely for the elect. I believe that the regenerating work of the Spirit proceeds from the divine decree of the Father’s choosing, the Son’s definite purchasing, and thus consequently the Spirit’s applying. I therefore do believe in a hypothetical efficacy for all men.

It’s important to note that from our perspective we must function within the paradigm of the atonement being actually sufficient for all. We do not see the elect and therefore can only call all men to repentance, knowing that the atonement is sufficient for all who turn to him. Jesus promises to cast out none who come to him. The doctrinal affirmation of the divine decree in a restricted sense ought not hinder our evangelistic efforts at all. We call all to the conditions of repentance, everyone.

Tony is on to something in his understanding of the Synod of Dordt. It speaks of the atonement’s lack of application owing only to man’s inability and not so much to the divine decree to restrict the application to a definite number. Some have called this “4 1/2 point Calvinism”. The argument would be that the restriction is not owing to the aim of the cross, but rather in the application of the Spirit in regenerating only the elect. I do not agree with such a view, but it is been an interesting and controversial suggestion. R.T. Kendall wrote a thesis, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford University Press, 1979, 2d ed. Paternoster, 1997), contending for such a view and there have been some others who consider themselves 4 1/2 pointers.

I would venture to say that I function within my fallibility as to the specific recipients of the divine decree and therefore preach the Gospel freely (as opposed to hyper-Calvinism) to the all men. While we might disagree on the nature of the hypothetical efficiency, etc, it is safe to say that we are not universalists and therefore believe the terms of repentance need to be met for conversion. We both believe in man’s inability and the necessary work of the Spirit in conversion. We therefore function in like fashion, only drawing distinct doctrinal understandings of the efficiency of the atonement regarding those who aren’t converted.


© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

12 comments on “4 1/2 Point Calvinists?
    • Thanks Joel for the link. I reject their logical inference that the scope of the atonement was for all and that God then procured salvation through the Spirit’s agency only after seeing that none would come to Jesus. We are in need of the Spirit, but this decree was part of the unifying decree to save sinners. There’s an organic unity within the Godhead that makes sense of it all.

  1. (thought I ought to post this here too, not just on Facebook)

    I’ve been chewing this topic over again this week, after hearing of a brother seeking licensure in our Presbytery who is really wrestling on this one point. Much as I am a convinced 5-pointer, it does sometimes strike me that the way we seek to lay out the biblical grounds and details of the doctrine in our systematics sometimes misses something of its biblical shape.

    In particular, in focusing on its foundation in the “divine decree”, many presentations do little of nothing to relate the doctrine to the HIGH PRIESTLY work of Christ… which strikes me as more than a bit odd when the central word we use is “ATONEMENT”! My point – the high priest makes the sacrifice and then PRESENTS it to God for acceptance, in intercessory prayer on behalf of the people. Perhaps then, the emphasis ought to be more on the fact that Christ, having made the sacrifice of himself, presents himself to God as he intercedes for HIS PEOPLE (isn’t this the picture of Hebrews? also of 1 Jn 2?)

    One more piece — when God *accepts* the high priest’s sacrifice-and-prayer and so forgives and accepts the people, the priest returns to pronounce that in the priestly blessing/benediction on the people (seen in Leviticus 9, articulated in Numbers 6). More than that, for Christ, he receives and POURS OUT the Blessing of the Spirit on his own (Acts 2). (Along the same lines, I believe many/most? have overlooked the importance of the mention of BLESSING in the discussion of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7. That was a CENTRAL work of the high priest following on the acceptance of the sacrifice.)

    Again, I’m not suggesting theologizing on the decrees is wrong here.. but at least for me, using the sort of biblical categories and structure I’ve sketched out here is more helpful, less cold and abstract.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Bruce!!! Always appreciate your feedback. Your emphasis on Jesus’s priestly ministry does make more sense with the Biblical data than trying to explain to someone the order of divine decrees in the ordu salutis. I am a full 5 pointer and don’t believe that limited scope of the Spirit’s regenerating work is a plan B or mere application of the atonement. The scope of the atonement is already mentioned by Christ prior to the cross when he declared that he was laying down his life for the sheep. John’s Gospel also casts Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” according to the Baptist’s rendering. Jesus qualifies the “world” as the sheep he lays his life done for. The Spirit is the application of the divine decree by bringing us into union with Christ and all his benefits.

  2. Pastor Rick, thanks for taking the time to comment on this post and topic. As one who is still trying to sort all this out I really appreciate your thoughts.

    The way I understood the post from Tony and the position he is putting forth as the “classic Lombardian formula”, is that he would agree that the efficacy of the atonement is aimed solely for the elect and that there is a hypothetical efficacy for all men. But he would not agree that the sufficiency of the atonement is solely for the elect. He would maintain that there is an actual sufficiency for all men, not a hypothetical sufficiency and that Jesus actually suffered sufficiently for the guilt of everyone he shares a nature with, but with an efficacious purpose towards the elect alone. I don’t think he would see this as a “4 ½ point Calvinist view but a 5 point Calvinist view with a different trajectory when it comes to the “L”.

    I was not brought up in a “Reformed” tradition and for me this has been the most difficult doctrine I have had to wrestle with. Many of the arguments I have heard from the Reformed side seem to flow from trying to be consistent within a “system” or“logic” and for me this has not been enough and I have sometimes found the logic to be flawed. Arguments from mere deduction have not been enough either.

    I agree with Owen on the method he put forth in his defense of the Trinity and I think it should be applied to the atonement as well. I have replaced the word Trinity with [limited atonement] in the quote below:

    “These being the respects which the doctrine of [limited atonement] falls under, the necessary method of faith and reason, in the believing and declaring of it, is plain and evident:— First. The revelation of it is to be asserted and vindicated, as it is proposed to be believed, for the ends mentioned… This being received and admitted by faith, the explication of it is,—Secondly, to be insisted on, and not taken into consideration until the others be admitted. And herein lies the preposterous course of those who fallaciously and captiously go about to oppose this sacred truth: — they will always begin their opposition, not unto the revelation of it, but unto the explanation of it; which is used only for farther edification.”

    So, this is where I am at, what I am searching for and asking. What is revealed, an actual sufficiency for all men or only for the elect?

  3. Hi Rick,

    Nice to meet you, and thanks for linking to my blog in this post. I thought I would say a few things about my post, the theology and history of it, and then address a few things in your post.

    The point of my sufficiency analogies is to try to get people to see the difference between the classic Lombardian model of sufficiency and the later Owenic view of “sufficiency.” During and after the Reformation period, men within the Reformed and/or Augustinian tradition followed either one of these trajectories. One way to get at the differences is to ask, “for whose sins was Christ punished?” There are only two possible answers: 1) Christ was punished for the sin of every man, or 2) Christ was only punished for the sin of the elect. The first view is an unlimited imputation view while the second is a limited imputation view. What people often miss is that each of these views were held by men within the orthodox Reformed tradition.

    Those holding to an unlimited imputation perspective still strongly held to the efficacy of God’s purpose in special election, even in the decretal intent of Christ in dying. In other words, among the Reformed orthodox, there were those who said Christ satisfied for the sin of all men, but argued that He still had an effectual purpose in His death to bring about the salvation of His elect. Among scholars today, such as Richard Muller, this position is being called “hypothetical universalism,” even though that label is unnecessary, confusing, and has a pejorative background. It also needs to be noted that scholars today (Richard Muller, Jonathan Moore, Carl Trueman, Robert Letham, and Robert Godfrey, for example) are distinguishing between varieties of “hypothetical universalism,” noting that it is an error to associate all these men with the Amyraldian position within this trajectory. Muller therefore speaks of a non-Amyraldian kind of “hypothetical universalism” that goes back to Musculus, Bullinger, Ursinus, Kimedoncius, Zanchi, Twisse, Ussher, Davenant and even John Bunyan. Some, such as Jonathan Moore, therefore distinguish between an English variety of “hypothetical universalism” as distinguished from the Amyraldian variety of “hypothetical universalism.” The English variety was present at the Synod of Dort (mainly the English and Bremen delegates) and also at the Westminster Assembly (Calamy, Vines, Seaman, Scudder, Walker, Harris, etc.). This non-Amyraldian trajectory has been forgotten, eclipsed, neglected and misunderstood and misrepresented in recent history, but recent scholarship (such as Richard Muller) is starting to improve the historical record.

    Anyway, the schoolmen (Lombard, Aquinas, etc.), the early Reformers, some influential delegates at the Synod of Dort, the Saumur theologians (Amyraut, Testard, etc.) and several men at the Westminster Assembly all held to an unlimited imputation of sin to Christ, and therefore conceived of the “sufficiency” of Christ’s death in that classic sense. Christ’s death is sufficient to save every man because He in fact satisfied for every man. His death is therefore announceable to every man as applicable to every man; the only thing lacking in those perishing is want of faith, not a suitable God-ordained remedy for their condition.

    Since Beza, Owen, Turretin and others maintain that Christ only satisfied for the sin of the elect (limited imputation), they found fault with the classic Lombardian Formula on the “sufficiency” point. Therefore, Owen revised it in a hypothetical way, such that Christ’s death could have been sufficient for all had God so intended it to be a price for all. In the case of the non-elect, it is not actually sufficient to save them, but it could have been, in another logically possible world, had God so intended it to be a price/satisfaction/payment for their sin. Since Christ’s death did not satisfy for the sin of the non-elect, it is not actually sufficient for them in this world, hence Owen’s use of modal language (“could have been,” etc.).

    This is the contrast between an ordained sufficiency (sufficientia ordinata) and a mere or bare sufficiency (nuda sufficientia). Sometimes this is called an “extrinsic sufficiency” in contrast to an “intrinsic sufficiency.” Extrinsic sufficiency is the view that Christ’s death is applicable to every man since it was reckoned a price for every man (unlimited imputation of sin to Christ). Since the Owenists maintain a limited imputation of sin to Christ, His death is only extrinsically sufficient to save the elect (not every man), but it is only intrinsically sufficient for the rest, due to the Godman’s infinite intrinsic worth.

    Modern discussions use confusing language in the debates and discussions, which prompts Richard Muller to say:

    “It must incidentally be questioned as to whether such terms as ‘limited’ and ‘universal atonement’ can ever do justice to an early modern discussion and debate that did not use this language but instead had recourse to questions of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s satisfaction.” Richard Muller, “Diversity in the Reformed Tradition: A Historiographical Introduction,” in Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin and Mark Jones (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011), 14f.

    The same thing goes for the labels “4-point,” “4 1/2-point,” and “5-point” Calvinism. Such labels go with the modern TULIP invention in the early 1900’s. Everyone in the broad Reformed tradition, in terms of their soteriology, must see particularity in Christ’s special intent in dying, which issues in the special, efficacious call of the Holy Spirit to apply Christ’s death to the elect alone. However, the question is: must one also adhere to a limitation in the imputation of sin to Christ as well? And if so, why? It is not fair for Owenists to claim orthodoxy for themselves alone on the point, and to brush off the others as all “Amyraldians.” The history is much more complex than that, and so the Reformed confessional tradition, as Richard Muller has said, is broad enough to include all of these trajectories (i.e. “various forms of hypothetical universalism” vs. “a more particularistic definition”) within it. As Muller says (Ibid., 25), “the presence of various forms of hypothetical universalism as well as various approaches to a more particularistic definition renders it rather problematic to describe the tradition as ‘on the whole’ particularistic and thereby to identify hypothetical universalism as a dissident, subordinate stream of the tradition, rather than as one significant stream (or, parhaps two!) among others, having equal claim to confessional orthodoxy.” This information by Muller and others has yet to trickle down to the average Calvinist laymen today, which is why there is so much confusion apparent in Internet discussions. Simplistic categories and reductionistic labels are a manifestation of the ongoing problem. Virtually all Calvinists writing on the Internet today have a simplistic three-basket mentality, so to speak. They think Calvinism=Owenism and anything else is either Amyraldianism or Arminianism. No, as Muller and others are showing, there are at least three positions within Reformed orthodoxy itself, i.e. two kinds of “hypothetical universalism” and the “more particularisitic” branch which is so popular today.

    When we consider the death of Christ, it would be helpful to distinguish between three areas: intent, extent and application. Since Calvinists today automatically read “intent” as “effectual purpose” (i.e. decretal will), we can say that all Calvinists (including all forms of “hypothetical universalism”) maintain that Christ had a effectual intent in dying that pertains to the elect alone. All should (and do, at least implicitly) concede that. Then, the issue of extent, or sin-bearing, is the highly disputed point. Again, for whose sins was Christ punished? This gets at the extent question, which is the same thing as the sufficiency dispute discussed above. In the area of application, we can ask if the death of Christ of itself contains its own application, or whether that is actually grounded the sending of the Holy Spirit to apply to the elect alone. One of the disputes in this area concerns whether Christ “purchased faith” for all for whom He died. Or, to bring in other complications, when is the death of Christ applied to all of the elect? In eternity (eternal justification)? At the time of the cross (justification prior to faith)? or at the point when the Spirit brings them to saving faith (justification logically after faith)?

    Discussions about intent, extent and application, as well as discussions about the meaning of “sufficiency” would be an improvement over talk of “4-point,” “4 1/2-point,” or “5-point” Calvinism, etc. Everyone at the Synod of Dort believed in all of the “points” expressed in their written document, since it was broad and deliberately ambiguous enough to include all their perspectives. What they differed over was whether Christ suffered for the sin of all mankind, or not. The fundamental difference was over the sufficiency of His death, since they differed over the imputation question (unlimited or limited). That’s where the conversation should be today, I think, rather than continue the three-basket mindset with the overly simplistic and reductionistic labels.

    I hope that helps to clarify some of the categories and history. Thanks again for the link.

    Grace to you,

    p.s. You’ll see that I added a link to the top of my sufficiency post that will give theological students the ability to read some primary sources on the subject.

    • But what do you mean by “the position”? If one is referring to the Saumur theologians, then “Amyraldism” seems fair, even though it might be better to tag them as Cameronians since the main guy who influenced them was John Cameron. However, the label “Amyraldian” becomes problematic when trying to label the English moderates when they show no dependence on Amyraut, and even have slight or potential criticisms of the Saumur school (as in John Davenant). Not only does that problem exist, but one would have to engage in anachronism when labeling early Reformed/pre-Amyraldian theologians as “Amyraldian.” Dr. Richard Muller has rightly identified Musculus, Bullinger, Ursinus, Kimedoncius, Zanchi, Twisse and Ussher as advocating a form of “hypothetical universalism,” and they came before the days of Amyraut and the Saumur disputes. Therefore, broadbrushing the entire classic-moderate position as “Amyraldian” is problematic, to say the least, and it is rejected by contemporary Reformed historical theologians (Muller, Trueman, etc.). There is no “the position.” There’s variety and diverse streams within the moderate position itself, just as there is diversity in the high orthodox position (differing lapsarians perspectives, for example) as well.

      While it may be popular in some books, and among some Calvinists on the Internet, even those editing Wikipedia, it is an error to broadbrush the less particularistic position as necessarily “Amyraldian.” In fact, that label also too frequently functions as a kind of slur, suggesting such things as “sub-Calvinistic,” “half-Remonstrant,” “pseudo-Calvinist,” “sub-orthodox,” etc. Richard Muller’s point point is that all of these positions (i.e. all forms of “Hypothetical Universalism” and the “more particularistic” view on the death of Christ) are within the boundaries of Reformed orthodoxy, and many of the best Reformed theologians have held the “less particularistic” position, and Muller even includes John Bunyan in the list. Here’s another thing: Even the Puritan Stephen Charnock is in this group, and after he takes an unlimited reading of the world in John 1:29, he references Amyraut’s take on the passage. As one doctoral thesis observes:

      “”If number of citations are any indication it would appear the School of Saumur in France made the largest impression on Charnock next to puritanism. In his Works he cited Moise Amyraut 130 times and Jean Daille 79 times.” Larry Daniel Siekawitch, Stephen Charnonck’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: A Case Study of the Balance of Head and Heart in Restoration Puritanism (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wales, Bangor, 2007), 70.

      Who wants to suggest that Charnock is less than orthodox in his Calvinism? Yet observe what Charnock says when speaking of *unbelievers* at the final judgment:

      “When, therefore, every offer of mercy shall accompany men to the tribunal of the judge, and this charge be heard from his month: I have redeemed you by my blood, and you have trod it under foot; I have invited you to faith and repentance, but you would rather wallow in the excrement of sin; I have called you by the motions of my Spirit, and you have proved rebellious; I have encouraged you by promises of great reward, but yon made no account of them; wherein have I been wanting?” Stephen Charnock, “The Misery of Unbelievers,” in Works, 4:342-343.

      Apparently those about to be damned were redeemed, in Charnock’s view. John Howe is another example of a Puritan stalwart who was within this moderate camp, and he was just as illustrious as Owen in his own day, yet how neglected he is today!

      Anyway, examples could be multiplied, but the point remains. It is seriously problematic historically to broadbrush all in the classic-moderate camp as “Amyraldian” when 1) some existed before the days of Amyraut and 2) some show no dependence on Amyraut (Ussher, Davenant, Preston, etc.). Amyraut is just an example of one man within this broad stream that even goes back to the days of Augustine and Prosper (Augustine’s defender).

      Ad fontes!

      • Tony, good thoughts yet again. The Charnock quotes show that you have researched deeply into this topic. I think Joel was simply letting me know what some of these views are generally referred to as. There is much nuance in just about every theological concept that could arguably prohibit broad applications, but I think that certain broad-stroking is permissible when trying to make a brief reference. You have studied this issue more than anyone I have conversed with and can understand your zeal for the truth and clear application of terminology. Thanks again for your helpful comments.

        • Thanks, Rick. I understand. One term that is sometimes used by historians to generally describe the classic/moderate view is “dualism” or a “dual aspect theory,” given its two-fold view of Christ’s intention in dying. In this view, Christ intended to suffer sufficiently for all men (in order to render all men saveable and therefore offerable); and He also intended to secure the sure basis by which He would save all those appointed to eternal life by the Father through the eventual sending of the Holy Spirit to grant faith to all the elect, and thus to efficaciously apply the benefits of His death to them. Just as there is duality to God’s salvific will (desires to save all but purposes to save the elect), God’s grace (general/common and special grace), God’s love (general and special) and God’s call (external and internal), so there is a dual aspect to Christ’s penal substitutionary death, including the universal imputation of sin to Him.

          The “Dualism” label seems to accurately and objectively describe all those in this group (both pre-Reformation and post-Reformation) without suggesting–even if unintentionally–that they were all followers of Amyraut or that the view originated with him. Incidentally, Amyraut was constantly accused with “novelty” by the Rivet family, Spanheim, and Du Moulin, but that just wasn’t true. While he had unique federal categories (common in his day) and expressions through which he filtered his dualism, the dualism itself was not novel. Even Amyraut’s “conditional decree” language used for God’s legislative will (not some pre-temporal/lapsarian decretal scheme as his critics think) was not new. He picked up that terminology from earlier Reformers, such as Zanchi, who in turn probably got it from Aquinas and others (Bucer, Musculus, etc.). Later theologians (Davenant, Polhill, Baxter) were using “conditional decree” for God’s revealed will, not for a certain lapsarian ordering. The point: It’s even common for the history books to get that wrong.

          Anyway, thanks for allowing several of my lengthy comments here and for what seems to be your irenic attitude in these sometimes complicated areas. I’m used to interacting in an hostile environment in the blogosphere, so the contrary is a breath of fresh air. If you or others have any questions you’d like to consider, I’m content to keep things on a purely *descriptive* level so that people can get an accurate picture of *all* the options *within* the orthodox Calvinistic perspective, and then let them sort it out on their own to see which view best accounts for the totality of the biblical data. Because many old books are now in digital format, it is easier to put the primary sources on the table for objective consideration, so I’d be glad to help in that respect.

          Grace to you,

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