Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Defense of Moderate Calvinism

Following are excerpts of some excellent thoughts that were recently shared by David Ponter in a thread on Terry Tiessen's blog. David does a nice job of laying out the Moderate Calvinist reasoning here. We recognize that there are various types of Calvinists in the world. My convictions are decidedly moderate, but I have found immense value in learning from higher and lower Calvinists, too. I've even found the occasional hyper-Calvinist or Arminian whose Biblical admonitions stir my heart and lead me to Christ. I try not to pick (too many) fights. However, if you want to know what makes us Moderate Calvinists tick, the following is a great summary. David writes:
If I may, you say: 
"I also agree that “four point” Calvinism is incoherent. In the three middle points of TULIP, we find the economy of the Trinity in salvation summed up – the Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit efficaciously applies the Son’s work. To assert that the Father has chosen particular people from before he created the world and that the Holy Spirit effects salvation in the hearts and lives of these people, but then to suggest that the Son died with the intention of saving everyone (not just those whom the Father gave to him [Jn 17:9]) seriously disrupts the unity of purpose within the Trinity." 
David: That seems to be a common objection to moderate-classic Calvinism, but it flows from a misunderstanding. If you lock your thinking into 5 points or 4 points then such misreading may result. The error lies in thinking that TULIP mirrors the 5 points of Dort. The L in Tulip focuses on a negation: “Christ did not die for such and such,” or “he only died for such and such.” In Dort, however, the focus is only on efficacy: Christ especually died for such and such. Dort makes no pronouncement against any other sense in which it may be said that Christ died for all. Indeed, quite a few of the delegates held to a classic Augustinian and medieval position that Christ died for all men as to the satisfaction, sustaining a universal sufficiency, but for the elect as to efficacy and intent to actually save. When folk are locked into 5 or 4 point thinking, this classic-moderate view of Calvinism looks contradictory, as it appears that 4 point Calvinism denies that Christ died for any one especially and effectually. Classic-moderate Calvinism held that the extent of the satisfaction is universal, but the intent to apply is limited to the elect. 
The other problem comes from the fact that 5 point thinking argues that the classic position posits conflict within the Trinity. This would be a strange thing for any Banner of Truth or John Murray Type calvinist to claim, as its “in kind” the very objection the Hoeksemians urged against the free offer and God’s revealed desire that all men be saved. The standard hyper objection is how could the Father desire the salvation of all, when the Son only died to make salvation possible for the elect alone, etc. The evangelical Calvinist response is to rightly posit the twofold aspect of God’s will. By secret will and intention, The whole Trinity determines to save the elect alone. By revealed will intention, the whole Trinity, however, also desires the salvation of all men, and that a way of salvation be made possible for all. Of course, under the terms of 5 point TULIP thinking that last idea is problematic. And so in the same way, the classic-moderate Calvinist says that God by secret intention designed the effectual and unconditional salvation of the elect, and also the whole Trinity by revealed will intention, also designed that the satisfaction of Christ truly be of such a nature that it is a universally sufficient satisfaction for all, thereby properly grounding the offer. 
Or stated another way, Curt Daniel sums up the answer to your objection: 
“Then there is the argument from the Trinity. It is argued that if Christ died for all men equally, then there would be conflict within the Trinity. The Father chose only some and the Spirit regenerates only some, so how could the Son die for all men in general? Actually, this argument needs refinement. There are general and particular aspects about the work of each member of the Trinity. The Father loves all men as creatures, but gives special love only to the elect. The Spirit calls all men, but efficaciously calls only the elect. Similarly, the Son died for all men, but died in a special manner for the elect. We must keep the balance with each of these. If, on the one hand, we believe only in a strictly Limited Atonement, then we can easily back into a strictly particular work of the Father and the Spirit. The result is Hyper-Calvinism, rejecting both Common Grace and the universal Free Offer of the Gospel. On the other hand, if the atonement is strictly universal, then there would be disparity. The tendency would be towards Arminianism – the result would be to reject election and the special calling of the Spirit.” Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Good Books, 2003), 371.

Let us try this question: “for whose sins was Christ punished?” 
The standard TULIP answer is: “for the sins of the elect alone.” 
The classic-moderate Calvinist answer is: “for the sins of all men, all mankind.” 
Once we have that question on the table, we can being to identify the proper entailments. In terms of the TULIP position, the very nature of the satisfaction is limited, as well as its intent. So extent and intent are coterminous. 
In classic-moderate Calvinism, the extent is unlimited and universal, but the intent (to effectually apply) is limited. 
Dort only affirms this proposition against the Arminians: there is an effectual intent to apply the satisfaction which is limited to the elect. This proposition is affirmed by all classic-moderate Calvinists of all wings,whether Davenantian, or Amyraldian, Baxterian, or the Calamy variety; all forms of what literature calls hypothetical universalism. The same statement, tho understood as having different consequences and connections, is also understood by TULIP proponents. 
Further, a limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect only, cannot ground a universal sufficiency. It can only ground a hypothetical sufficiency. As Owen, Witsius, Turretin and co, note, on the terms of limited satisfaction, it can only be said that the satisfaction is of such an infinite internal or intrinsic value, that had God elected more, it *would* *have* *been* sufficient for them too. When the classic proponents of limited satisfaction (Owen, et al) define the sufficiency of the death of Christ, they can only do so by using ‘conditional contrary-to-fact subjunctives.’ “If Paul had been paying attention, he would have seen the speeding car…” The meaning is, he didnt see the speeding car. With me so far? 
The classic-moderate Calvinist says that the satisfaction is actually sufficient for all exactly because Christ was punished for all human sin, the sins of all. He sustained a perfect satisfaction for the sins of all mankind. Thus extent is universal. However, contrary to Arminianism, intent is limited. Dort itself does not speak to the extent question, it is neutral. It only speaks to the intent question. The modern TULIP, however, speaks to extent as well as intent: as did Owen and others of that school within the broader Reformed movements.
The standard TULIP answer to the question above is to reply: If it were the case that Christ was punished for the sins of all men, then all men must be saved, because God cannot demand a second punishment for sin from the person for whom Christ has already suffered. This argument dates back to Perkins (at least), but was made popular by Owen; the double payment argument which under-girds his famous trilemma: ‘Christ either suffered for all the sins of some men, all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men…’ etc. The double payment argument, however, has been refuted by men like Polhil down to C Hodge and Dabney and Shedd. 
Historically, in terms of those first and second generation Reformers which we can access in extant translations, in all of them, with one or two possible exception, affirmed an unlimited satisfaction for all human sin. Names such as Musculus, Luther, Bullinger, Zwingli, Gualther, Cranmer, Ridley, even Calvin. I know this will touch some buttons for you, but it is actually not that hard to document:
Did you notice the implicit, yet Biblically grounded, paradoxes in David's argument? Notice, also, that affirming these Moderate Calvinist paradoxes has a long and prestigious precedent in the history of Reformed theology. High Calvinists are true Calvinists . . . but so are moderates. Studying the differences can be very beneficial, providing one is not pugnacious or arrogant about his own conclusions.

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