Oliver D. Crisp on heretical Hypothetical Universalism

"In fact, hypothetical universalism has never been repudiated by a Reformed synod or council. The French theologians of the Academy of Saumur, where one version of the doctrine flourished in the seventeenth century, were never formally condemned for their views on this matter.6 The only confessional symbol that does take issue with hypothetical universalism in its Saumurian guise is the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). But this is a late document, written in large part by the Swiss theologian Johann Heinrich Heidegger, and its influence was short-lived.7 It is not a subordinate standard for any Reformed communion, and even in its criticism of the doctrine does not label it heretical. It is not beyond the bounds of confessional orthodoxy in the Reformed tradition. In this way, it is quite different from, say, the Remonstrant doctrines that called for the condemnations of the Synod of Dort. The Three Forms of Unity -- the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort -- as well as the Anglican Articles of Religion, which do have the status of subordinate standards or confessions for many Reformed and Anglican communions, are consistent with hypothetical universalism.8

Of these symbols, the condemnations of Dort have the most pointed things to say about the scope of Christ’s atonement. However, and contrary to some popular presentations on the matter, there is no good reason to think that Dort affirmed a doctrine of atonement that excludes hypothetical universalism. In fact, some of the most prominent delegates at the synod, including the German Reformed Martinius, and several members of the British delegation, including its leader, Bishop John Davenant, were in favor of hypothetical universalism.9 This can be seen in the relevant article of the synod, 2.8, 'Christ’s Death and Human Redemption through It,' which deals with the scope of the atonement thus:

'For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that Christ should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death). It was also God’s will that Christ should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.' 10

Clearly, this article applies the benefits of Christ’s work only to those with faith, whom God has elected. Christ’s work is said to 'work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation.' But this is entirely consistent with the claim that the work of Christ is sufficient for the salvation of all humanity in principle, though it is effectual only for the elect who are given faith. As Jonathan Moore points out, '[A]s it stands, what the Canons teach here is that Christ’s effectual redemptive work was ‘only’ for the elect.' He goes on: 'This leaves the door open -- even if it is only a back door -- for any subscriber to hold privately to an ineffectual redemptive work for the non-elect, or, to put it differently, Christ dying for the non-elect sufficiently but not efficiently -- precisely what a hypothetical universalist usage of the Lombardian formula entailed.'11 In short, the relevant canon of the Synod of Dort does not exclude Reformed theologians persuaded by the hypothetical universalist doctrine. This is precisely why British delegates like Bishop Davenant and Bishop Ward were able to sign on to the articles. 

The doctrine of Davenant and a number of other Anglican divines represents a strand of historic hypothetical universalism, which developed in England independently of, and earlier than, the Amyraldian version. Although it informed theological debate in the early-modern period of English theology, it was not censured in synods and was not repudiated by the major post-Reformation symbol of Great Britain after the Articles of Religion, namely, the Westminster Confession.12" (Oliver D. Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 178-181. [Italics original--CD]
6 As Muller remarks, 'Amyraldian hypothetical universalism can be recognize as belonging to the internal diversity of the Reformed tradition itself.' Earlier in the same passage, he writes, 'The French Synods, while objecting to some of the formulations of Amyraut and Testard, refrained from condemning their views and it was left to the Formula Consensus Helvetica, a document of limited geographical reach and short-lived use, to disapprove the doctrine -- yet without identifying it as a heresy' (ibid., 19).

7 Canon 6 of the Formula, which is directed against the Saumurian theologians, reads as follows: 'Wherefore, we can not agree with the opinion of those who teach: 1) that God, move by philanthropy, or a kind of special love for the fallen of the human race, did, in a kind conditioned willing, first moving of pity, as they call it, or inefficacious desire, determine the salvation of all, conditionally, i.e., if they would believe, 2) that he appointed Christ Mediator for all and each of the fallen; and 3) that, at length, certain ones whom he regarded, not simply as sinners in the first Adam, but as redeemed in the second Adam, he elected, that is, he determined graciously to bestow on these, in time, the saving gift of faith; and in this sole act election properly so called is complete. For these and all other similar teachings are in no way insignificant deviations from the proper teaching concerning divine election.' See Martin I. Klauber, 'The Helvetic Formula Consensus (1675): An Introduction and Translation,' Trinity Journal (1990): 103-23. cf. the remarks of Philip Schaff on the theological and historical context of this symbol in The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes, 6th ed., vol. I, The History of Creeds (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker, 1983), 477-89. As we shall see, the objections raised in the Formula do not have purchase with other versions of hypothetical universalism, which the symbol does not even address.

8 See the Heidelberg Catechism answer to question 37: 'What dost thou understand by the word Suffered’ [in the creed],' to which the response given is '[H]e bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, in order that by his passion, as the only atoning sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul.' Translation in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol 3. The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, 319. Similarly, the twenty-first of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England reads, 'The Offering of Christ once made, is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sinnes of the whole worlde, both originall and actuall.' Schaff. Creeds of Christendom, 3:507. The relevant article of the Belgic Confession, article 21, is ambiguous on the scope of the atonement.

9 For discussion, see Thomas, Extent of the Atonement; and Anthony Milton ed., The British Delegation at the Synod of Dort (1618-1 619), Church of England Record Society 13 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2005), especially part 6, which reproduces the text of George Carleton et al., The Collegiate Suffrage of the Divines of Great Britain; Concerning the Five Articles Controverted in the Low Countries (London: Milbourne, 1629). See also Nicholas Tyack, 'The British Delegation at the Synod of Dort' in Anti-Calvinists: The Rise English Armiianism ca.1590-1040 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 99.

10 The Canons of Dort, reproduced in English translation in Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids, MI : CRC, 1988), 130-31.

11 Moore, 'Extent of the Atonement,' 146.