Covenant, Universal Call And Definite Atonement -- By: Roger R. Nicole

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:3 (Sep 1995)
Article: Covenant, Universal Call And Definite Atonement
Author: Roger R. Nicole


Covenant, Universal Call
And Definite Atonement

Roger Nicole*

There are three propositions that have achieved a great deal of currency and acceptance among historians of dogma and that deserve in my opinion to be roundly challenged, the more so since one and two appear plainly mutually incompatible. They are as follows: (1) Definite atonement was not and could not be the position of John Calvin; it is a development produced by a kind of Calvinistic scholasticism for which Beza is mainly to blame. See for example R. T. Kendall and, with much better documentation, Curt Daniel and Adam Clifford. (2) The federal theology movement, which had a strong representation in the Netherlands and later in New England, constituted a softening of the original position of Calvinism and indeed of John Calvin himself. Calvin and his immediate successors viewed God as nuda potentia, one who was giving no account to anybody of his own sovereign decisions, even those that involved the eternal destiny of angels and humans either in heaven or in hell. The federal position, it was asserted, softened this harshness by emphasizing that God had voluntarily bound himself by a covenant (foedus) in which his decisions would not appear so arbitrary but would be structured in terms of a compact with reciprocal commitment. See for example Perry Miller. (3) Definite atonement and a universal well-meant offer of the gospel are incompatible; one will have to choose one or the other. Arminians, Amyraldians and others choose a universal call, while J. Brine, J. Hussey, K. Schilder and H. Hoeksema choose definite atonement and reject the propriety of a universal invitation.

I. The First Proposition

With respect to the first proposition, I may perhaps refer to an article I wrote in which an historical survey of the handling of this question was followed by an examination of texts of Calvin allegedly supportive of universal atonement and a series of thirteen arguments to vindicate the opposite position. 1

II. The Second Proposition

With respect to the second proposition, we may note that a softening of strict Calvinism, if present at all, is likely to occur in relation to definite

* Roger Nicole is professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando Campus, P.O. Box 945120, Maitland, FL 32794–5120.

atonement, which appears to many to be the most unacceptable of the five points. If indeed federal theology softened original Calvinism, then two implications would appear to follow.

First, original Calvinism presumably held to definite atonement or else would ...

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