09 June 2016
(For Parts 1, 2, and 3 of my comments on The Davenant Trust’s Convivium Irenicum 2016 go here, here, and here.)
What is hypothetical universalism (HU)? And what do the Reformed confessions and theologians have to say about it? There were the subjects of Michael Lynch’s paper. The original answer to the first questions is straightforward. Peter Lombard’s pithy aphorism sums up HU: Christ’s death is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect. But what does it mean to say Christ’s death is “sufficient for all”? And, for those who subscribe to the Westminster standards, is there any sense in which “sufficient for all” can be cabined so as to remain consistent with those standards?
Lynch carefully worked his way through the post-Westminster arguments in England that pitted Richard Baxter against William Cunningham in their disputations over the meaning of Westminster Confession of Faith 3.8, 8.5, and 8.8. Perhaps my lack of focus on the details of the debate says more about me than the importance of the issue. In any event, some form of HU is consistent with the WCF but it’s not precisely clear how it should be stated.
Like many before him and surely more to follow, Paul Nidelisky took a shot at answering the question of the relationship between a strong doctrine of God’s providence and the meaning of free will. Nidelisky had the advantage(?) of not being a theologian and approached the issue as an analytic philosopher of metaphysics. His first of three points—and one with which I fully concur—is to define “free will” in terms of a power. In other words, my will is free so long as I have the power to do otherwise even though I will never actualize that power apart from God’s providential decree. (The so-called irrefragability of Christ’s bones is the prototypical biblical example.)
Moving the argument another step down the chain of how God brings his decrees to fruition in human affairs is more problematic. Nidelisky took the position that God so decrees all of the multiple contingencies of each person’s life that she will inevitably choose in accordance with his decree with respect to matters in the domain of the will. While not entirely clear how this differs from Molinism, Nidelisky contended that it did. In any, his too was a working paper so we can all look forward to the published version to learn how Nedilisky works out all the multitude of perplexing details.