August 23, 2007

Beeke and Pederson on Davenant

In their new book, Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson write the following about John Davenant:

“In 1618, Davenant became a royal chaplain. That same year, King James I chose Davenant along with three other delegates to represent the Church of England at the Synod of Dort. Davenant, a moderate Calvinist, took an active role in synodical deliberations. John Hales said Davenant defeated “learnedly and fully…certain distinctions framed by the [Arminian] remonstrants.” Johannes Bogerman, chairman of the synod, said that Davenant’s experience and skill in the “laws and histories” helped the delegates “better order their debates and votes.”

Regrettably, Davenant held to a “hypothetical universalism,” a mild form of universal redemption, attested to not only by James Ussher and Richard Baxter but also by Davenant’s A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, which he finished shortly after leaving Dortrecht. This treatise presents the view that Davenant defended at the synod. Ultimately, Davenant and the English delegates won synod over to the view that the debate on redemption must be worked out in terms of both sufficiency and efficiency, i.e., that Christ’s death was sufficient in terms of its intrinsic worth to save a thousand worlds, but was efficient or efficacious only for the elect. Davenant’s views went further, however, claiming that the Father and the Son had a conditional intention to save all, though that condition was not absolutely efficacious (see W. Robert Godfrey, “Tensions With International Calvinism: The Debate on the Atonement at the Synod of Dort” [Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1974], pp. 179–88).”

Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), p. 170.

I would like to make a few observations on this entry about Davenant:

1) Davenant is rightly called a "moderate Calvinist." I would prefer to call it classical Calvinism, since I deem him to be in Calvin's own position. For more on this label, see my An Explanation of a Few Calvinistic Labels.

2) Notice the bias in the book. When introducing Davenant's redemption views, it is prefaced by the term "Regrettably." There is a desire to prescribe and not merely to objectively describe various positions in this book. The bias is also evident in their entry on Edward Polhill. They write:
"The second work [in Polhill's recently republished Works (Soli Deo Gloria, 1998)], "The Divine Will Considered in Its Decrees," printed in 1673, explains the nature of God's will and the eternal decrees of election and predestination. In this treatise Polhill unfortunately argues for some form of universal redemption, much the same as John Davenant and John Preston do. John Owen, who read Polhill's work, critiqued him on this point, but still highly commended the book." Ibid., p. 482.

3) "Regrettably," Beeke and Pederson go on to mischaracterize Davenant's position. It is not a "hypothetical universalism." The universal aspect to Christ's death is a real universality. That is, Christ really did intend and suffer for the sins of the entire human race, according to the revealed will of God. There's nothing "hypothetical" about it. Usually this position is viewed by its opponents through some form of ordered decretalism (since they themselves adhere to ordered decretalism--either infra or supralapsarian), hence the "hypothetical universalism" description; as if God, in an antecedent decree, willed the salvation of all men through the death of Christ. But, seeing that none of them would believe, consequently decreed to save only the elect and give Christ to die for them alone. The "antecedent" decree is entirely hypothetical, which is not the way to view Amyraut, Davenant, Ussher or Baxter. For more on this, see my post on Amyraut and Ordered Decretalism. Some time in the future I will investigate Davenant's Animadversions...Upon a Treatise Intitled God’s Love to Mankind (1641. 536 pp.) to see if he adheres to a form of ordered decretalism.. Dr. Curt Daniel sells a copy of this work for $35. This work is not among those that are available online for free.

4) Again, "regrettably," Dr. Beeke and Pederson use misleading language when describing Davenant's sufficiency views. They speak of Davenant's view as saying "Christ’s death was sufficient in terms of its intrinsic worth to save a thousand worlds." An Owenist or high Calvinist has no problem affirming an infinite "instrinsic worth" to Christ's death. The point of Davenant is to affirm an EXTRINSIC (formal) or ordained sufficiency for all, since Christ really bore the penalty that was due every sinner (unlimited imputation), and not just the guilt of the sin of the elect alone (limited imputation). Davenant actually argues against a bare, material or mere instrisic sufficiency perspective. For more on that, read Davenant for yourself. See my post on Davenant's Sufficiency Distinctions. Ad fontes!

5) Also, Dr. Beeke and Pederson say that Davenant claimed that the Father and the Son had a conditional intention to save all, though that condition was not absolutely efficacious. This is true, but should not be controversial. Davenant is just affirming that God wills the salvation of all men on condition of faith. What is controversial is Davenant's willingness to call God's revealed will an "intention." Moreover, when Amyraut and others maintained that God conditionally decreed the salvation of all men, he was using the term "decree" in the legislative sense, not in the sense of God's efficacious will [For more on this, see F. P. van Stam's doctoral thesis The controversy over the theology of Saumur, 1635-1650 (Amsterdam: APA-Holland University Press, 1988)]. He, therefore, was also just affirming God's universal saving will. All orthodox Calvinists affirm God's universal saving "will," but not all refer to that will as an "intention," since that term, in their view, connotes something efficacious, as with the term "purpose." I have no problem with such language since I think God acts on his revealed will by pleading with men to believe in the gospel call through his people, and even sends his Son to redeem all men sufficiently (paying their ransom price), as Calvin and Vermigli maintained. It is, as Dabney says in his Indiscriminate Proposals, an "active principle" in God's will. Davenant is no more extreme (which "goes further" seems to suggest in the quote above) or imbalanced than the early Reformers and church fathers.

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