Paul Helm – The Two Callings

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What made the difference? What explains the division between those who accept and those who reject the preaching of the good news? It is tempting to look for an explanation of the difference in the way we explain other differences between people, in terms of class, or occupation, or age or personality. But the evidence provided by the New Testament does not lend any support to such an approach, for an examination of the lives of those who became Christians reveals a great variety of backgrounds, not one common factor. Some Christians were rich (Luke 19:1-10) and some were poor (I Cor. 1:26). Some were free (Gal. 3:28), others were slaves (I Pet. 2:18). There were young and old, men and women, Jews and Gentiles. Besides, there is not the least suggestion that the apostles thought that their message was for a particular group or type, nor that they believed that what they said was tailored to be more acceptable to some than to others.

So what makes the difference? Why is it that some believe the good news and some do not? What explanation does Scripture itself offer?

Scripture teaches that besides the general ‘call’, the preaching of the gospel to all alike, there is a further ‘call’, a call from God which itself brings a response from those who are called, the response of repentance and faith in Christ and of sincere obedience to what God requires. Not all who are called are called in this sense. Not all who are called by the general preaching of the gospel are called by God in such a way as to ensure the appropriate response.

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Paul Helm – Hypothetical Universalism

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John Davenant

Recently there has been quite a bit of interest in the variety of views held by Reformed Theologians within the parameters of confessional orthodoxy. For example, it is argued the view that is described as ‘Amyraldian’ or ‘hypothetical universalist’ is in fact a variety of views. It has been generally assumed that these are two names for the same thing, but recent work has reminded us that Amyraldianism was a more radical set of positions than others in this family, and in fact that ‘hypothetical universalism’ is an umbrella term for various views of differing strengths, each of them distinct from Amyraldianism proper, that is, from the Amyraldianism of Möise Amyraut, and of John Cameron. This is not a new thought but it is novel to most of us, I suspect. Recent scholarship has involved delving into the distinctive views of various reformed communities and cultures – Dutch, Engish, French, Genevan and so on. In this post (and maybe in other posts; we’ll see how we get on), my aim is to give the broad outline of these two positions, and to refer to some of the figures involved.

A start

It will do not harm to start with Calvin. A distinction respecting the death of Christ that goes back to before the Reformation, is the expression that that death of Christ is sufficient for all, efficient only for the elect. It is usually thought to start with Peter Lombard. Here’s a comment of Calvin’s on it. ‘This solution has long prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow what has been said is true….’ He goes on to say it does not fit I John 2.1, the passage under consideration. So he approves the formula, though he does not often use it, but not to understand this particular verse. This is from his commentary on I John.

Hypothetical universalism

One motivation for some who are now called ‘hypothetical universalists’ is to preserve that universalism, ‘sufficient for all’, and also a universalism of Christ’s death of a different kind, from that of those who think of ‘the world’ in John 3.16 as ‘the world of the elect’ or the ‘all’ in….as ‘some of every kind’ or gloss it as ‘only Saviour of the world’. Instead, to think of it as ‘each and every human being’ while at the same time doing justice to other NT data and so preserving a sense in which Christ died only for the elect. It is this latter that keeps them within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy. (I think that the phrase ‘hypothetical universalism’ was not theirs, but that of later scholarship). Another way of expressing this concern for a particular interpretation of John 3.16 and other similar universalistically-interpreted verses in the case of some English hypothetical universalists was their anxiety to be in line with, and so to preserve, the expression in Article XXXI of the XXXIX Articles of Religion of the Church of England, a part of which reads. ‘The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone….’

In chapter 5 of his Calvin and the Reformed Tradition (Baker, 2012), Richard Muller takes his reader through the reflections of Bishop Davenant, one of the English Delegation to the Synod of Dordt, who wrote elaborately on this universalism. Davenant was at pains to stress that this death is not a salvific universalism, as regards the question of those who fully benefit from it. Nonetheless everyone benefits from it, to some degree or another. Whereas Calvin attribute common operations to the Holy Spirit, Davenant attributes them to Christ’s death.

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Paul Helm – Molinism 101

God’s Knowledge

In thinking about God’s knowledge theologically it was customary for many years, until and including the Reformation, to distinguish between God’s necessary knowledge and His free knowledge. The distinction is obvious and natural. God’s necessary knowledge includes several kinds of truths. It is the knowledge of matters such as the truths of mathematics (for example, 2+2=4). It is also the knowledge of truths such as the whole is greater than the part and no circle can be a square. God’s necessary knowledge also includes His knowledge of all possibilities, such as possible people, the possible lives they could lead, and the whole range of possible worlds. These are known to God immediately and intuitively.

God’s free knowledge, on the other hand, is His knowledge of His decree (of that which, in His wisdom, God freely and unchangeably ordained to come to pass). That which God decrees is obviously a subset of all the possibilities that are known to Him. His decree also has its source solely in His mind and will.
Middle Knowledge

In the late 1500’s a new kind of knowledge was proposed by two Iberian Jesuit thinkers, Luis de Molina (1535-1600) and Pedro da Fonseca (1528-1599). Middle knowledge (or ‘Molinism’ as it came to be called), was their contribution to a controversy within the Roman Catholic church over grace, free will and predestination. In our own time Molinism has been proposed by Alvin Plantinga and others in connection with God’s relation to evil. I think it is fair to say that while Roman Catholic theologians have long discussed middle knowledge in their textbooks, recent interest in it has been due to Plantinga and his discussion of the topic in his book God, Freedom and Evil.

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