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Calvin, Heshusius, and Rouwendal’s Critique of Roger Nicole and Paul Helm

December 17, 2008

I decided to post Rouwendal’s comments here:

Pieter Rouwendal on Calvin and Heshusius

What is interesting is that this singular, yes I said “singular,” quotation is the only comment people can find from Calvin where he even looks like saying Christ did not die for the non-elect. No matter how much some folk “quote-mine” Calvin, this is all they have. Cunningham, himself acknowledged this. As Cunningham says:

Of all the passages in Calvin’s writings, bearing more or less directly upon this subject,–which we remember to have read or have seen produced on either side,–there is only one which, with anything like confidence, can be regarded as formally and explicitly denying an unlimited atonement

Cunningham says that Calvin’s remarks to Heshusius is an explicit denial of a universal atonement. However, then he immediately says, “But it stands alone,–so far as we know,–in Calvin’s writings, and for this reason we do not found much upon it.”

Then with a nice rhetorical flourish, Cunningham steps back from that concession, saying,

…though, at the same time, we must observe, that it is not easy to understand how, if Calvin really believed in a universal atonement for the human race, such a statement could ever have dropped from him.

[Source: Cunningham, Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, 396.]

The problematic in all this, is that Cunningham has said up a false dilemma which has trapped a lot of modern scholarship and pseudo-scholarship since then.

Rouwendal is exacty right when he says here is no statement from Calvin that Christ did not die for all men. He says: “The words Calvin chooses do not deny that Christ died for all men, but rather that he died for the ungodly.”

Rouwendal has seen what some of us saw a long time ago.

Unfortunately some of our uber-apologists will continue to quote-mine this singular quotation, trot it out and imagine that it trumps all the data we have from Calvin proving the contrary. That is the hypocrisy in what they do: our uber-apologist opponents are the very ones doing the very things they accuse others of doing.

To conclude: I think Rouwendal is spot on here. Even if one does not believe in the dual-aspect theory of the expiation and redemption, even if one believes that Calvin denied unlimited expiation and redemption, Calvin’s remarks to Heshusius in no way prove that Calvin held to limited expiation and redemption. 

What is left for our internet cowboys is to fall back on Calvin’s comments on 1 Jn 2:2 (which are also off-point) or to a series of irrelevant highly inferential arguments, and in the final analysis, naked assertion mixed with a good dose of attempted intimidation and other forms of ad hominems.

Our uber-apologist opponents cannot argue directly from the primary sources, but only engage in a smoke-and-mirrors response based on datum from selective post-Calvin sources, which they have selectively quote-mined.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Flynn permalink*
    December 17, 2008 10:58 am

    Now here I want to add a sort of “footnote.” In reality, the so-called “quote-mining” is not the problem, no matter who does it. Rather, what is the problem is: are the “quotes” accurate and in context?

    This should be really obvious. All historical investigation can only be based on inductive analysis. The inductive process accumulates the raw datum, and then collates, catalogs and classifies this datum. Then the historian engages in critical interpretation of the data.

    What we are not seeing from our opponents is any serious attempt to engage the historical investigative process and in so doing work from the primary sources. Rather they will engage in divergence fallacies by citing irrelevant material from post-Calvin eras. In terms of the historical investigation, this evasion is completely irrelevant.

    Historical investigation is far more complex than simple “quote-mining,” however, inductive analysis is, nonetheless, essential.

    Some folk should really move beyond catchy one-line phrases and sound-bites.


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