Question: "What is Amyraldism / Four-Point Calvinism?"
Answer: Amyraldism (sometimes spelled Amyraldianism) is an off-shoot of Calvinism that holds to four of Calvinism’s five points—limited atonement being the only point to be rejected. For this reason, Amyraldism is sometimes called “four-point Calvinism” or “moderate Calvinism.” Amyraldism is named after Moses Amyraut (Moyses Amyraldus), a 16th-century French theologian who was influential in the development of the doctrine of “hypothetical redemption” or “hypothetical universalism.” Some Calvinists see Amyraldism as a “liberal” form of Calvinism; others see it as an unnecessary compromise with Arminianism; still others see it as inconsistent with itself and therefore illogical.
In order to better understand Amyraldism, it is beneficial to recap what Calvinism is. Classic Calvinism centers on the so-called five points of Calvinism, which are summarized below:
1. Total Depravity – Man, in his fallen state, is completely incapable of doing any good that is acceptable to God.
2. Unconditional Election – As a result of man’s total depravity, he is unable (and unwilling) to come to God for salvation. Therefore, God must sovereignly choose those who will be saved. His decision to elect individuals for salvation is unconditional. It is not based on anything that man is or does but solely on God’s grace.
3. Limited Atonement – In order to save those whom God has unconditionally elected, atonement for their sin had to be made. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of the elect and secure their pardon by His death on the cross.
4. Irresistible Grace – The Holy Spirit applies the finished work of salvation to the elect by irresistibly drawing them to faith and repentance. This saving call of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted and is referred to as an efficacious call.
5. Perseverance of the Saints – Those whom God has elected, atoned for, and efficaciously called are preserved in faith until the last day. They will never fall away because God has secured them with the seal of the Holy Spirit. The saints persevere because God preserves them.
As mentioned above, the particular point that Amyraldism denies is the third point, limited atonement. Amyraldism replaces it with unlimited atonement, or the concept of “hypothetical universalism,” which asserts that Christ died for the sins of all people, not just the elect. Amyraldism preserves the doctrine of unconditional election even while teaching unlimited atonement this way: because God knew that not all would respond in faith to Christ’s atonement (due to man’s total depravity), He elected some to whom He would impart saving faith.
Amyraldism is somewhere between Calvinism and Arminianism when it comes to the extent of the atonement. Calvinism teaches that the atonement is limited to the elect; Christ’s death on the cross makes salvation a reality for the elect. Arminianism teaches that the atonement is unlimited and available to all; Christ’s death on the cross makes salvation possible to all, and man must exercise faith to make salvation actual. Amyraldism teaches that Christ died for all men, but God only applies this salvation to those whom He has chosen. This is related to a view held in some Calvinistic circles called “unlimited/limited atonement.”
Amyraldism seems to resolve a problem that a belief in limited atonement presents—namely, the difficulty of reconciling Calvinism with passages that teach Christ died for everyone (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2). But Amyraldism is not without its own difficulty: if Christ died for all men, then, logically, there are people in hell right now whose sins have been atoned for. Those in hell are not the elect, according to Amyraldism, so did God pass over people for whom Christ died? This is the main theological question facing Amyraldians, who respond by saying God’s salvation (through the unlimited sacrifice of Christ) is offered to everyone equally. But this salvation has a condition: faith. In one sense, God’s grace is universal—He desires all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)—but, in another sense, His grace is narrowed down and applied (through election) only to those who do not reject salvation.
Amyraldism, or four-point Calvinism, is popular today among many evangelicals, including independent Bible churches, Baptists, and some Presbyterians. Four-point Calvinism is also, essentially, the position of Got Questions Ministries, as we hold the view that the extent of the atonement was unlimited.