CALVINUS: Authentic Calvinism, A Clarification
Alan C. Clifford
64pp pbk £4.95
This book explores the hotly debated question: did John Calvin teach limited atonement? Selected extracts from his writings allow the sixteenth-century Genevan reformer to speak for himself on this and closely related subjects such as the free offer of the gospel, the breadth of God’s love and the availability of grace. The reader is then able to decide whether Amyraldianism is a deviant theology or - as the seventeenth-century French theologian Moïse Amyraut claimed - a reaffirmation of authentic Calvinism. First published over a decade ago, this second edition evaluates more recent scholarship. The highly controversial issues in question continue to command the attention of theologians and others involved in regular pastoral ministry. Clearly, such matters still await a valid verdict. It is the author’s view that the authentic biblical legacy of John Calvin challenges the ‘confessional correctness’ of Westminster Confession ‘Owenite’ orthodoxy.
Dr Clifford is currently pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, England
The advantages of AMYRALDIANISM
It should now be clear that the traditional two-cornered contest between Calvinism and Arminianism is an inadequate portrayal of the issues. Not only should Amyraldianism be seen as a ‘referee’; it also qualifies as the most persuasive challenger in a three-cornered contest. To make matters even clearer, the so-called Calvinist (or really High Calvinist) contender should really be named ‘Owenism’. Accordingly we may conclude that ‘Owenites’ face awkward questions.
First, if a universal gospel offer is to be made, what precisely is on offer if not a universally-available redemption?
Second, if Christ died only for the elect, does it not become necessary for enquirers to discover their election before they come to Christ?
Third, what are the non-elect guilty of rejecting if nothing was ever offered to them?
The Amyraldian or Authentic Calvinist position possesses five advantages:
First, it provides an object lesson on how to avoid extreme reductionist hermeneutics. Theory is ever to be the servant not the master of the textual data.
Second, it enables us to accept plain statements of Scripture as they are without forcing them into a theological mould, e. g. ’world’ = ’the world of the elect’ (as Owen maintains). How can Owenites criticise Roman Catholics and the cults for tampering with the text when they do likewise?
Third, in keeping with God’s plain declarations, it proclaims a universal compassion for the world without unwarranted restrictions. Thus the Owenite tendency to produce clinically-clear heads and callously-cramped hearts is reduced. Sadly, not all Owenites are like Whitefield and Spurgeon whose compassion arguably exceeded their creed.
Fourth, it is, in the best biblical sense, conciliatory. As has been noted, Ralph Wardlaw considered that High Calvinism provided too easy an excuse for the Arminians to reject true Calvinism.
Fifth, without prying into the profundities and complexities of God’s inscrutable sovereign purposes, it enables us to pursue an uninhibited mission of mercy to a lost world. We leave the results to God. While faith is evidence of election, present unbelief is not necessarily proof of non-election. There is always hope for everyone we proclaim Christ to.
FIRST EDITION REVIEW EXTRACTS:
This book reflects the author’s conclusions about Calvinism through his doctoral studies. He explores the hotly-debated issue of whether Calvin taught limited atonement. In the light of this, he examines the validity of interpretations of Calvinism made by subsequent theologians, particularly that of the French pastor Moïse Amyraut (1596-1664). ... After the introduction comes the focal point of the book: a selection of 90 extracts from the writings of John Calvin, directly expounding his views on the extent of the atonement. It is wonderful to have set before you a collection of quotations from Calvin’s writings on this subject, which allow the reformer to speak for himself. This whole section is written without comment, leaving the reader to decide where Calvin really stood. ... Whatever one’s opinions about ‘authentic Calvinism’, one would have to admit that Dr Clifford writes authoritatively and convincingly on a subject with which he is thoroughly acquainted and has extensively researched. ... [The] content is thought-provoking and stimulating, and challenging reading, especially for all who claim to be ‘authentic’ Calvinists!KATHY CHILDRESS, Evangelicals Now
According to God’s revealed will or intention the death of Christ is universal in its scope, but conditional upon the human response; according to his secret will or decree it is restricted in its scope but absolute and unconditional. Thus Calvin affirms both a conditional salvation made available to all and an efficacious, unconditional salvation given to the elect alone. It is this antinomy the author claims, rightly in my view, that makes sense of the diverse statements that Calvin makes on the subject. ... The debate about Calvin’s teaching on the intent of the atonement looks set to run and run. Those who in future turn their minds to it will not be able to ignore this volume and will especially be grateful for the opportunity to review the wide range of Calvin material which is gathered together in the core of the book.TONY LANE, Evangelical Quarterly
The great value of the book is the way in which the overall argument is related to Calvin’s writings. ... Some authors give only sections of what Calvin wrote, some are historically selective, others give only one emphasis and leave the drift of the whole for the reader to search out. The author has done a fine job in rectifying that problem by presenting his arguments holistically. ... It must be said, and it is inevitably so, that the arguments are often subtle, all are closely argued, and at times, some can be philosophically quite sophisticated. ... However, despite the nature of the discussion, and the enormous literature generated, this book is a model of clarity and perspicacious argumentation. It is demanding, by its nature, but careful and diligent reading will give even the near novice a fine introduction to the whole issue. It is a valuable work in the continuing debate. Whether or not it will fulfil the author’s wish that these issues ‘will now be settled once and for all’ remains to be seen, but it will deserve a serious reply from opponents. If Dr Kendall set the cat amongst the pigeons then Dr Clifford continues to rattle the reformed cage. Let the reader read and discern.JOHN F. DUNN, English Churchman
Dr Clifford’s scholarship is undoubtedly detailed, but his hope of settling the controversies in this volume presumably depends on the assumption that readers will have perused his more detailed study on Atonement and Justification. ... Note: 1996 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Moïse Amyraut, whose authentic Calvinist credentials Clifford is anxious to reassert in this piece.STEPHEN WILLIAMS, Themelios
This is an unusual book but it debates an all-too-familiar field. ... Clifford’s claim that Calvin makes universal-sounding statements too strong to reconcile with Owen’s approach seems formidable. Equally it suggests that whilst Calvin’s work predates the classical differences between parties in the Reformed tradition, the subject was not quite as alien to the great Reformer as we might think. A surprising side benefit of the study also shows that Calvin was a missionary at heart and advocated personal evangelism. ... The author supplies a spirited introduction defending Amyraut and his successors, who challenged the seventeenth-century Calvinist ‘high orthodoxy’ with its belief in limited atonement. It is some time since Amyraut found an advocate, but the case presented here is more than worthy of such a distinguished figure. The argument will certainly rumble on yet, but all parties will have to take account of this little but forceful book.ROY KEARSLEY, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology