August 25, 2009

On "Dortian Calvinism," and Other Sloppy Labels

I recently read a post on Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin's blog dealing with “Dortian” Calvinism and “regular” Calvinism, so I decided to leave a few comments that I will post here as well, with a few adjustments.

In conversations I’ve had with Dr. David Allen (Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), it seems that he was (previously) under the impression that “Dortian Calvinism” was Calvinism with the strict view of limited atonement. He is now very much aware of the historical diversity among Calvinists on the issue of the extent of Christ’s satisfaction. So, the label “Dortian Calvinism” is, for the most part, erroneously being used only to describe Calvinists with the Owenic perspective on the extent of Christ’s death. Through his own studies and through my conversations with Dr. Allen, men of his soteriological persuasion are seeing the historical inaccuracy of such language. I suspect that we will see the decline of the label “Dortian Calvinism” in the future, which is good. There was significant diversity at Dort, and all parties (whether Calvinistic or not) should at least acknowledge that fact.


Incidentally, the labels "5 point" and "4 point" Calvinism should also be dropped, but, unfortunately, I doubt that will be the case, due in part to theological laziness. Even Amyraut taught a limitation in Christ's intentionality as it related to the elect and consequently in the Holy Spirit's application of his benefits, but not in the imputation of sin to Christ (unlike Owen). John Davenant, who should be distinguished from the Amyraldian trajectory (as recently acknowledged by Dr. Richard Muller), taught a similar kind of dualism, i.e. Christ suffered for the sins of all men, but with a special intentionality to ultimately apply the benefits only to the elect.

Strict particularists and Dualists (in the English and Bremen delegations) were both present at Dort, and the Dortian language was left ambiguous enough to include BOTH parties. So, if the "5 points" come from Dort, they can ALL be considered "5 pointers." If the "5 points" come from John Owen (or Beza, Turretin, etc.), then only the strict particularists can be called "5 pointers."

Notice what J. L. Dagg even says about the historical label "particular redemption":
The adaptedness of Christ's death to serve as a ground for universal gospel invitations, constitutes it in the view of some persons a universal redemption. . . Other persons who maintain the doctrine of particular redemption, distinguish between redemption and atonement, and because of the adaptedness referred to, consider the death of Christ an atonement for the sins of all men; or as an atonement for sin in the abstract.
J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990), 326.

Dagg knows about "others" who "maintain the doctrine of 'particular redemption'" who yet "consider the death of Christ an atonement for the sins of all men." If one reads W. G. T. Shedd carefully, one can see that he fits in this latter description by Dagg. But here's the point: Just as people automatically associate the label "5 pointer" with Owenism today, even so they automatically equate the term "particular redemption" with the view that "Christ only suffered for the sins of the elect." The language is imprecise, so this automatic association of ideas may be an error.

We're better off talking about where people find the limitation as we distinguish between the 1) intent, 2) extent and 3) application.

1) Does one think Christ has a special intention that corresponds to the concept of unconditional election? All Calvinists must agree that he did. That's one area where there can be a kind of "limitation."

2) Does one, in addition to the above, think that the limited special intent also causes a limit in the imputation of sin to Christ, so that he was only judicially punished for the elect? That's another degree of limitation, and not all Calvinists (even at Dort) agree on this issue.

3) Does one think that the eternal application of Christ's benefits only to some human beings (the believing elect) results from the Holy Spirit effectually operating in accord with the inter-Trinitarian purpose of unconditional election? This is another area of "limitation."

All Calvinists must agree to #1 and #3, but they do not all agree on #2. I'm content to call those who agree with #1 and #3 "moderate Calvinists," while those who also agree with the further limitation in #2 "strict Calvinists," since Christ was strictly or solely punished for the sins of the elect, not all mankind. That seems fair, and much more accurate than the sloppy "4 point" or "5 point" or "Dortian Calvinist" labels. It's not as easy to explain in conversations because people generally want to use quick and easy bumper sticker theological slogans, rather than critically engage the facts.


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, Tony. I'd like to see the 4- and 5-point labels go away too, but I think that unlikely. It's so widely accepted that even guys like Bruce Ware who still see both limited and unlimited components in the atonement call themselves a 4-point Calvinist.

In my very amateurish style I posted some thoughts about Bruce Ware's view a while back. In that post, I observed:

"For whatever it’s worth, it doesn’t seem accurate to me to call either Ware or Amyraut a 4-point Calvinist. If I understand their positions correctly, neither of them concede any of the traditional 5 points of Calvinism. Rather, both add a point. Amyraut believed in a definite atonement of the elect, but he also believed that God wills salvation in more than one way. Bruce Ware believes in a definite atonement as well, but he also believes that God has more than one intention in the atonement."

The issue came up again in the comments, and I reiterated:

"As I alluded to in my original post, it’s not that I concede any of the five points of Calvinism, although I would use the term definite atonement in the place of limited atonement. However, I have been convinced by Scripture that in addition to a definite atonement, there is an umlimited expiation (1 John 2:2), a view shared by R.L. Dabney and others. I would have to say, as Derek did, that although logic pulls me toward a strict 5-point Calvinism, it is Scripture that leads me away from it."

I don't know sound or accurate all of that is, but those are some of my thoughts on the subject.

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Barry,

Frankly, I just cringe every time I see the "4 point" or "5 point" labels being used in the discussion. It wouldn't surprise me if these labels were coined by strict Calvinists, since many of them want to say that their view is the orthodox "Dort" position. Dort allows for the strict view AND a dualist position, or a Davenantian form of universal redemption.

Incidentally, in one of Piper's interactions with Ware on the subject, Piper did not want to call Ware a "4 pointer." Even he could see that Ware still had the essential Calvinistic components of limitation in his "multi-intentional" view. Anyway, I can tell that Ware is not well-studied on the point, particularly since he supervised Gary Shultz's doctoral dissertation, which is exceedingly sloppy in the history section, but good in the exegetical part.

Neither logic nor scripture pulls me toward the strict view of Christ's death. The supposed "logic" of it only follows if one first swallows the hidden commercial premises, or some of the assumed false either/or dilemmas.

As far as labels go, I am fine with being called a moderate Calvinist, or a "Dualist." I am also fine with saying that I hold to a Calvinistic form of universal redemption. The key issue is whether or not one thinks Christ was only punished for the sins of the elect, or to limited imputation. That's where some have departed from the historic consensus of the church, that Christ suffered for all he shares a nature with.