Amyraldism, also known as Four-Point Calvinism, is a theological framework within Reformed theology devised by the French Reformed theologian Moses Amyraut in the 17th century. It seeks to reconcile God’s sovereignty in salvation with human responsibility. The name comes from its adherence to four of the five points of Calvinism while modifying the other.
The Five Points of Calvinism
The Five Points of Calvinism originate from the Canons of Dort, a synod held in 1618-1619 by the Dutch Reformed Church to counter Arminianism. The points are remembered by the acronym TULIP:
T – Total Depravity: Humans are spiritually dead and enslaved to sin. Salvation must be initiated by God.
U – Unconditional Election: God chose who would be saved before the foundation of the world, not based on any foreseen faith or merit.
L – Limited Atonement: Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect only.
I – Irresistible Grace: When God calls the elect to salvation, they cannot resist.
P – Perseverance of the Saints: The elect will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him.
Amyraldism keeps to all these points except for limited atonement.
Amyraldism’s Modification of Limited Atonement
In Amyraldism, Christ’s atonement is not limited only to the elect. Instead, Amyraldians hold to universal atonement – that Christ died for all people and not just for the elect. His death made salvation possible for everyone.
However, the benefits of Christ’s atonement are only applied to those God unconditionally elects. Though Christ’s sacrifice was made for all, God only grants the gift of faith to the elect so that they respond to the Gospel call.
So Amyraldians affirm both God’s unconditional election of some as well as the universality of Christ’s atonement. This sets Amyraldism apart from 5-point Calvinism, which sees Christ dying only for the elect.
Other Distinctives of Amyraldism
Aside from their view on the extent of atonement, Amyraldians have other theological distinctives:
1. Logical order of God’s decrees – In Amyraldism, God’s decree to elect some and pass others by (election and reprobation) logically comes after His decree to permit the Fall of man through Adam’s sin. God first permitted the Fall in order to make way for redemption in Christ.
2. Hypothetical universalism – God hypothetically wills the salvation of all on condition of faith. So Christ’s atonement made salvation possible for all, but only the elect will respond in faith to the Gospel call.
3. Common grace – To explain God’s universal love, Amyraldians taught that God grants common grace universally. Things like rain, food, and temporal blessings are given by God to all as manifestations of His general love.
4. Governmental theory of atonement – Some Amyraldians adapted Grotius’s governmental theory to explain how Christ’s death can make salvation possible for all. Christ suffered as a public example of God’s displeasure with sin, thus opening the way for God to pardon people through faith in Christ.
So Amyraldism affirms both unconditional particular election and universal atonement. God unconditionally elects some to salvation, but Christ’s death is theoretically for all people.
Historical Background of Amyraldism
Amyraldism arose in the 17th century among French Calvinists influenced by professors at the Academy of Saumur, including John Cameron and Moise Amyraut.
Several factors led to the rise of Amyraldism:
1. Reaction against limited atonement – Some felt that limited atonement was inconsistent with God’s love and the offer of the Gospel to all. Amyraldism was an attempt to reconcile full divine sovereignty with the universality of the Gospel offer.
2. Response to Arminianism – In trying to stress God’s desire to see all saved, some Reformed theologians were accused of falling into Arminianism. Amyraldism tried to show a middle way between an emphasis on God’s sovereignty (Calvinism) and human free will (Arminianism).
3. Biblical studies – Fresh studies of Scripture led some to believe that the Bible taught that Christ died for all people, not just the elect. This led to questioning limited atonement.
4. Influence of medieval tradition – Amyraldism was influenced by the medieval tradition’s debate on the order of God’s decrees. The idea of God first decreeing to permit the Fall came from medieval scholasticism.
So Amyraldism arose as an attempt to modify one point of Calvinism while affirming the other four points in response to theological pressures in 17th century France.
Responses to Amyraldism
As a modification of high Calvinism, Amyraldism was controversial and elicited responses:
1. Acceptance – Some Calvinists accepted Amyraldism as a legitimate expression of Reformed theology, such as Richard Baxter. Amyraldianism had adherents in France, Holland, England and Puritan New England.
2. Rejections – High Calvinists like Francis Turretin forcefully argued against Amyraldianism as inconsistent with the Canons of Dort and Reformed scholasticism. English Calvinists like John Owen also rejected Amyraldism.
3. Compromise – Some tried mediating between Amyraldism and high Calvinism by teaching that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect. This distinction was later made by moderate Calvinists as well.
4. Confessional debate – Amyraldianism was a topic of debate when French Reformed confessions were drafted in the 17th century. The Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) was written to provide guidance on the Amyraldian controversy.
So the introduction of Amyraldianism led to significant debate within Reformed circles in the 17th century on the nature and extent of the atonement. It remains an alternative model of Calvinism.
Theological Evaluation of Amyraldism
Theologians have offered various analyses of Amyraldism’s merits and issues:
– Upholds God’s unconditional election as taught in Scripture
– Accounts for the universal offer of the Gospel
– Explains God’s love for all more than limited atonement
– Affirms human responsibility to accept the Gospel
– Inconsistent with limits of saving grace to the elect
– Hypothetical universalism is doubtful if God only intends the elect to be saved
– Order of the decrees is contrived and not clearly from Scripture
– Risks separating God’s decrees from His nature if He first decreed sin
– Amyraldism is an inconsistent or unstable form of Calvinism that tries to insert unconditional election within an overall Arminian framework
– An artificial theological via media between Calvinism and Arminianism, but not faithful to elements of either system
– Tries to uphold God’s sovereignty and human responsibility through contradictory premises
So while well-intentioned, Amyraldism has inherent theological tensions as it oscillates between Calvinism and non-Reformed thinking on the atonement.
Key Names Associated with Amyraldism
– Moses Amyraut: 1596-1664, French Reformed theologian, main formulator of Amyraldism
– John Cameron: 1579-1625, Scottish theologian at Saumur, teacher of Amyraut
– Louis Cappel: 1585-1658, French Huguenot theologian, Amyraldian controversialist
– Josue de la Place: 1596-1665, professor at Saumur, defender of Amyraldianism
– Richard Baxter: 1615-1691, English Puritan divine, adopted Amyraldianism
– Francis Turretin: 1623-1687, Swiss Calvinist theologian, opponent of Amyraldianism
– John Davenant: 1576-1641, English delegate to the Synod of Dort, Amyraldian sympathizer
– Jonathan Edwards: 1703-1758, American revivalist influenced by Amyraldianism
This covers some of the main figures involved in Amyraldism, both as proponents and opponents, and its overall place in Calvinist history.
Theological Implications of Amyraldism
Some key implications of the Amyraldian system:
1. God’s love – Stresses God’s compassion for all humanity as seen in Christ’s universal atonement. But His particular saving love is only for the elect.
2. Election and Gospel preaching – Unconditional election must be taught along with the Gospel call to all to repent and believe. The general offer of salvation is genuine though only the elect will respond positively.
3. Christ’s satisfaction – By His death, Christ made salvation possible for all people, but His atonement is not definitively effective for anyone until applied by the Spirit through regeneration and faith.
4. Common grace – God shows a type of love and grace to unbelievers through universal natural and moral blessings. But saving grace is reserved for the elect alone.
5. Human responsibility – Though God must open blind eyes, all people still have a duty to repent and believe the Gospel. Rejection of the Gospel aggravates condemnation.
So Amyraldism has implications for understanding divine love, the divine decrees, and the extent of Christ’s atonement that distinguishes it from high Calvinism.
Amyraldism Compared with Calvinism and Arminianism
– Unconditional election
– Limited atonement
– Irresistible grace
– Perseverance of the saints
Emphasizes God’s sovereignty in salvation. Grace cannot ultimately be resisted.
– Conditional election
– Unlimited atonement
– Resistible grace
– Conditional security
Emphasizes free will in salvation. Grace can be resisted by believers.
– Unconditional election
– Unlimited atonement
– Irresistible grace
– Perseverance of the saints
Seeks a middle way. Upholds sovereignty (unconditional election, irresistible grace) and human responsibility (unlimited atonement).
So Amyraldism tries to chart a path between the poles of Calvinism and Arminianism in many respects. It has features of both systems.
Critiques of Amyraldism from Other Perspectives
1. Arminian Critique
– Unconditional election seems unjust and arbitrary if Christ died for all
– Saving some unconditionally but not others compromises God’s impartial love
– Irresistible grace and perseverance contradict human free will in salvation
2. High Calvinist Critique
– Unlimited atonement is inconsistent with the doctrine of election
– Christ’s death actually saved people, not just made salvation possible
– Hypothetical universalism is illogical if God’s intent is particular
– Order of decrees artificial since God’s nature necessitates all His acts
3. Lutheran Critique
– Limited election and atonement only for some undermines Christ’s universal promises
– Gospel should convey God’s earnest desire for all to be saved, not just the elect
– Security is founded on Christ’s work, not some inner persevering grace
So from other perspectives, Amyraldism can be seen as partly inconsistent, artificial, or off-balance theologically. It does not sit entirely comfortably with other traditions.
Modern Influence of Amyraldianism
Though not as influential today, Amyraldian ideas have had some modern advocates:
1. Moderate Calvinism – Many later Reformed theologians have been Amyraldian or modified Amyraldian in adopting a universal sufficiency/particular efficiency model of the atonement.
2. 18th Century Baptists – English Baptist Andrew Fuller affirmed a form of Amyraldianism, which influenced many Baptists after him.
3. 19th Century Presbyterians – Men like Albert Barnes and Charles Hodge adapted Amyraldian notions of a universal atonement while retaining particular election.
4. 20th Century Continuance – B.B. Warfield, R.B. Kuiper, and John Gerstner carried modified Amyraldian sentiments into the 20th century at Princeton Seminary.
5. Prominent Theologians – John Davenant, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, and J.C. Ryle all Amyraldianly modified the Calvinist doctrine of atonement.
So later Reformed thinkers have often found Amyraldianism attractive as a way to uphold divine sovereignty while also accommodating a universal offer of salvation.
Connection to Other Theological Concepts
Amyraldism relates to several other theological ideas:
– Hypothetical Universalism – The concept that Christ’s death enabled God to hypothetically offer salvation to all contingent on faith, though only the elect will exercise saving faith.
– Sufficient-Efficient Model – Christ’s death was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect. A way to reconcile universalextent and limited intent.
– Well-Meant Gospel Offer – The view that God lovingly offers salvation to all in the Gospel call, desiring their positive response.
– Governmental Atonement Theory – Christ’s death served as a public demonstration of God’s displeasure with sin so He could pardon sinners who believe while upholding justice.
– Common Grace – The grace God shows to all humans by restraining evil, giving temporal blessings, and enabling moral good in society.
So Amyraldism intersects with these other biblical and theological concepts related to the extent of the atonement and divine grace.
In summary, Amyraldism teaches:
– Unconditional election of the elect by God
– Christ died sufficiently for all but efficiently only for the elect
– Through His atonement, God enabled the universal Gospel offer to all
– This view arose to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility
– It adapts 4 points of Calvinism while modifying limited atonement
– Amyraldism continues to influence moderate Calvinist thinkers
So while contentious historically, Amyraldianism represented an attempt to reshape one point of Calvinism while staying faithful to the other pillars of Reformed soteriology, with ongoing relevance into modern times.