Amyraut affirmed or 'Owenism, a caricature of Calvinism'

For whom did Christ die?

or 'Owenism, a caricature of Calvinism'
By Alan C. Clifford
Charenton Reformed Publishing
64 pages. ISBN 0 9526716 7 0

Alan Clifford is a man with a mission, to champion the theologian Moise Amyraut (1596-1664) as the 'authentic expression' of the theology of John Calvin against the many who say that Calvin's theological descent passes through the likes of John Owen and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Not so, says Dr. Clifford, that is 'Owenism', not 'Calvinism'. A dispute over the family silver, you might say.

Amyraut held that Christ intended his death for all without exception (were they to believe), hence the phrase 'hypothetical universalism' sometimes used to describe the position. Nevertheless, God the Father eternally decreed the salvation of the elect, and the Spirit effectively applies Christ's victory to them. Clifford claims that Amyraut alone does justice to the universal scope of the gospel to be found in Calvin's thought.

If this pamphlet is intended to advance the debate, then its format does not help. Provoked by a recent critique of Amyraldianism given in a lecture by Ian Hamilton, Clifford retorts by quoting extensively from his own earlier writings on this very subject (Calvinus, 1996) and Atonement and Justification (1990). He quotes Ian Hamilton much less extensively and intersperses bits from hosts of other writers as witnesses either for the defence or the prosecution. The bibliographical data are poor. My guess is that if you haven't been convinced by what Dr. Clifford has already published, then Amyraut Affirmed won't do it either.

In a brief review, three brief reactions: On the evidence provided here it seems clear enough what Amyraut did: he turned Calvin's stress on the need for indiscriminate preaching to all who will hear into a theory of the atonement of Christ. The offering of Christ to all became Christ's offering of himself on the cross for all. I counted between 40 and 50 quotations from Calvin in the pamphlet. Presumably this is the best evidence there is of Calvin's 'universalistic' side. In the bulk of them, Calvin insists that either God or Christ or the preacher 'calls' (10, 28, 29, 46) or 'offers' (18, 30, 33, 34, 38, 46, 60) or is 'commissioned' (17-18, 35) ) or 'exhorts' (28-9) or 'invites' (45) or 'stretches out his hand' (60) or 'labours' (43, 60). This is in order to 'do their utmost to bring the whole world into Christ's fold' (32). This is not evidence for Amyraldianism so much as for good old-fashioned gospel preaching.

Dr. Clifford does not seriously engage the most fundamental theological criticism of Amyraldianism, that it places the intention of the Son in atoning at odds with that of the Father in electing and of the Spirit in calling. To say that according to Amyraldianism there is in each of the persons of the Trinity a 'dualism' (51) simply relocates the problem: a contradiction at the heart of the godhead.

Finally, for all his protestations to the contrary, it is hard to avoid the thought that notwithstanding the eager proof-texting from Calvin, Dr. Clifford may be trying to put into his mouth precise answers to issues that only arose after his death. But then so may some of the Owenites be as well.

Paul Helm