Ron Frost


**I wrote this about 4 years ago now, before I ever heard of TF Torrance, Scottish Theology (our Evangelical Calvinism), or things like “Christ’s vicarious life for us,” etc. I think what Frost has called “Affective Theology” is an excellent complement to what we are doing in “Evangelical Calvinism;” as it really develops the “Spirit’s” work in our union with Christ (or Christ’s union with us, better). Beyond that, the history of this movement is also very telling, “Affective Theology” (aka The Spiritual Bretheren, or Free Grace Calvinists [my label]) represents another instanciation of Calvinists, albeit in England and not Scotland, who saw the theological and pastoral problems that Federal Calvinism presented. Like their Scottish counterparts, they sought a way to think out Calvin[ist] themes in more ‘Evangelical’ and in fact ‘Trinitarian’ ways. I am presenting this post to introduce the reality, for one thing, that, indeed, Calvinism (in her history) is not a monolithic “thing;” that there are Calvinism[s] out there that I think capture the intentions and beauty of what scripture presents us with, as well as with what Calvin originally seemed to be intending (just see his “order” of the 1559 Institutes, he starts with ‘the Doctrine of God’ — Trinity). I hope you find this little offering inspiring and enlightening; if I was aware of what I am now (i.e. Evangelical Calvinism) I probably would have framed things in this article a little differently, but overall I think this piece still has some legs, and makes points that are still very pertinent to the aim and intentions of this blog . . . see you in the comments**

Here is a brief sketch to a historical system of theology (don’t let the historical part scare you away) that I was first introduced to while in seminary, under the tutelage of Dr. Ron Frost. This theology is known as Affective Theology (or even Free Grace Theology–different than the popular movement being forwarded currently by Zane Hodges). I am a proponent of this form of theological engagement (qualified at a few points, I actually like to assimilate this with “Scottish Theology”), and believe that it beautifully captures the intention of scripture relative to things salvific and God’s nature. This framework was communicated in Puritan England by people such as Richard Sibbes and William Erbery amongst others. This was a movement that was responding to the stringent “precianism” of Federal Theology (Calvinism) articulated by fellows such as William Perkins and William Aames. Notice a testimonial offered by a man named Humphrey Mills, someone who new what it meant to live under the unbearable burden of the moralistic proving ground spawned by the inevitable consequence of “Perseverance of the Saints” and “Limited Atonement/Election”, here he speaks in his own words about the freedom of conscience he finally felt under the teaching/preaching of Sibbes:

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had muchof God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)

Here’s a heart freed from the constant burden of looking to self for assurance of salvation; and prompted to look up to Christ for freedom and salvation.

Sibbes was one of the key-note articulates against the popery he observed with the moralistic tradition provided framework through the Calvinist doctrines. Sibbes believed, along with others, that external works should never be the basis for assurance of salvation–in fact Sibbes believed that assurance of salvation should not even be a functional premise within a soteriological construct; such as Calvinism provided. Sibbes was part of a movement known as Free-Grace, this was ” . . . the party of Puritans who opposed any idea that grace is conditioned by human cooperation.” (Frost, The Devoted Life, 81). Notice this quote offered by William Erbery, a contemporary of Sibbes, as he discusses progression of Purtian thought ending with that kind of Free-Grace preaching exemplified most clearly by Sibbes, note:

I observed four great steps of God’s glorious appearance in men’s preaching. First, how low and legal were their teachings as they learned the way of preaching from Mr. Perkins, Bolton, Byfield and Dod and Dike. . . . Next the doctrine of free grace came forth, but with less success or fruit of conversion by Doctor Preston, Sibs [Sibbes], [and] Crisp. . . . Thirdly the letter of scripture, and flesh of Christ hath been highly set up by both the famous Goodwins: . . . [Thomas] excels in spiritual discourses of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession, yet much according to the flesh, for he meddles not with the mystery of Christ in us. . . . [The fourth step] is the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit. (Frost, The Devoted Life, quoting from: William Erbery, The Testimony of William Erbery (London: n.p. 1658)

As Erbery highlights, Sibbes’, amongst the other Free-Grace teachers, was not taken as seriously as the predominate moralistic (Calvinist) teachers, i.e. Perkins, Bolton, et al. But notice where Erbery’s quote leaves off, “the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit”, to this we now turn. This is an important point of departure for the teaching of Affective Theology, as defined by Sibbes, i.e. the immediacy of the Holy Spirit in the person’s life.

While Sibbes believed works were an aspect of salvation, he did not believe that these should be a barometer for determining a person’s salvation. Furthermore he believed constant obsession with such thinking was a product of an unscriptural understanding foisted on the laity of Puritan England by the Calvinist Divines. Note Ron Frost’s assessment of Sibbes’ approach here:

While Sibbes acknowledged some biblical support in calling Christians to obedience as a duty (Erbery’s category of ‘low and legal’ preaching) Sibbes clearly understood that duty can only be sustained if it is supported by the motivation of desire. Thus Sibbes featured God’s winsome love more than his power: the Spirit accomplishes both conversion and sanctification by a single means: through the revelation of God’s attractiveness by an immediate, personal disclosure. This unmediated initiative was seen to be the means by which God draws a response of heartfelt devotion from the elect.” (Ron Frost. Kellp Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life”, 82)

Notice the relational nature of the salvific event, the Holy Spirit comes to the heart of the “elect” and showers the heart of the sinner with the beautiful person of Jesus Christ. It is as the heart of the sinner is enflamed a love by the work of the Holy Spirit that the sinner responds back in love–given the overwhelming attractiveness of the sweet Savior. Another thing of note, is that the primary instrument used for disclosing sweet Jesus to the heart of the sinner is through the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, notice the centrality that heart, motive, and desire play in the thought of Sibbes’ as articulated by Frost. This to me is very important, because it takes seriously what God takes seriously, and alone searches, the hearts and motives of men (see Jer. 17:9 and many other passages). This is God’s concern, the motives, and desires of men and women; this is contrary to the system that emphasized external moralistic duties as the basis of determining one’s election (which by the way had horrific ramifications for Christian ethics as well)– Calvinism. Sibbes’ approach, and his affective anthropology, i.e. the defining feature of man (i.e. where values and motives take shape), was directly contrary to the Calvinist anthropology that saw the intellect and will as the defining features of man, and actually saw the “affections” as that which was the weakest part of man. In Calvinist thought it is within the will via interaction with the intellect that becomes enlivened by a “created quality” or Grace. It is through this created quality of Grace that man is able to cooperate with God and thus keep the duty driven moralistic standards consequently proving one’s election and salvation (like Humphrey Mills lived under).

Conversely, Sibbes saw grace as a relational characteristic of God imbued upon the heart of man. It is through this transformative intervention that man’s heart is changed (II Cor 3), and drawn to God. Note Frost’s description here, as he contrasts the Calvinist understanding of grace and the historic Free-Grace (Affective Theology) understanding of grace (as articulated by Sibbes):

In this framework some additional theological assumptions were revised. For instance, Sibbes understood grace to be God’s love offered immediately (rather than mediately) by the Spirit to the elect. By identifying grace primarily as a relational characteristic of God—the expression of his goodness—instead of a created quality or an empowerment of the will, Sibbes insisted that God transforms human desires by the Spirit’s immediate love and communion. Faith, for Sibbes, was not a human act-of-the-will but a response to God’s divine wooing. God’s laws, Sibbes argued, must be ’sweetened by the gospel’ and offered within a framework of ‘free grace.’ He also held a moderately developed form of affective anthropology (which is as further explained by Frost: Augustine’s affective position emerged in the Pelagian debate. Augustine held sin to be concupiscence of the heart—an enslavement to a love of self rather than God. In Augustine’s anthropology the heart is held to generate values; the mind uses the heart’s values to consider its options and to offer its best judgments; the will uses those judgments to engage in action. . . .”)Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life”, 82)

This represents the touchstone, and most basic understanding of historic Free-Grace theology, or Affective Theology. Some highlights to take away: Affective Theology (AT) believes man heart is in total bondage to self-love; AT believes that man cannot cooperate whatsoever with God in salvation; AT believes that until the heart is transformed by God’s love through the Holy Spirit’s enflaming work, man will never find rest or salvation; AT believes contra historic Calvinist teaching that the emphasis of salvation is relationally based given the identification of God’s gift of grace with the work and person of the Holy Spirit; AT believes, given the relational basis, is not obsessed with proving one’s election since works are not the foundational component of AT’s framework of salvation.

I’ll leave it here for now, there is much more to be said about this perspective . . . especially about the framework that served as the touchstone for Affective Theology. That touchstone is found in Ephesians 5, and the Pauline marriage discussion. The marital framework provided in this beautiful epistle is picked up by AT and pressed into as the picture, but more than a picture (actually an ontological reality), of what union, and thus communion with Christ, is all about. I.e. this is contrary to the covenental framework provided by Calvinism, and the “contractual” implications provided by such a system (e.g. you keep your end of the contract, and God will keep His—). The marital framework, rooted in the New Covenant, is no longer obsessed with personal performance–but instead is overwhelmed with the beauty of her bride-groom [Jesus]–marriage presupposes relationship, i.e. nothing to prove, just something to grow in–ultimately finding consummation in glorification and celebrated at the marriage supper feast of the Lamb.

**I see Richard Sibbes, and his camp — The Spiritual Brethren — as very closely tied to their Scottish counterparts, also known as Evangelical Calvinist** — Let me just add, if you’re going to comment make sure it’s on point to this post; if you are going to say its wrong then show me how Perkins, for example is being misrepresented. Don’t give me these anecdotal assertions like: “well, that’s not what Federal Theology really teaches,” or whatever other red herrings you want to use. I’m dealing with the “history” of Federal Calvinism, not what you “think” it entails in your comfortable, insulated “Calvinist” environs.**

Richard Sibbes, English Puritan and pastor, according to Ron Frost, believed that the “law” was not the mechanism for determining if a person was one of the elect of God. This is contrary to the federal, or covenantal view forwarded by William Perkins and others. In fact, it was by keeping the law, by the Spirits’ enablement, according to Perkins, that a person ultimately would ‘realize’ their justification. Notice:

. . . In England John Bradford, Thomas Wilcox, and Richard Greenham all pointed to the law for the same purpose. Tipson links these men to Perkins’ theology in arguing that they all represented a model in which conversion is a process rather than a dramatic event. . . . (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology,” 28)

Of course none of these men, as good Protestants, would be asserting that any of these good works, or “law-keeping”, would be anything other than Christ’s good works flowing through them — albeit as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit or Grace.

This position has been labeled, “Nomist”, or in English, “Law-ist”, someone who places a high premium on the Mosaic law, and its function in the appropriation of salvation (of course this all needs to caveated with the fact that this “keeping of the Law,” is what defines Christ’s “active obedience,” but the real problem here is how the Federalist understands “union with Christ”). This emphasis, known as Federal theology, is being revivified today by some. Contrary to Perkins, Richard Sibbes forwarded an anti-nomist position which emphasized the immediacy and direct work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the elect — which both served as the means of salvation, which immediately resulted in “real” spiritual union with Christ.

Sibbes offered his more characteristic view of the law in The Hidden Life in which he argued that a persons’ affections are drawn to Christ in the regenerated life so that a Christian becomes functionally dead to the law. A person is not to look for salvation or even “comfort” from the use of the “moral law”. In his making the point that salvation is not found in keeping the moral, Sibbes was simply repeating an orthodoxy shared by the nomists. The context in which he placed the point is the distinctive element. He held that Christ’s communion with a believer is in some sense perceptible. Such experiences of communion, generally regarded as spontaneous increases of affection for Christ, transcend the law as a guide for behavior. As in marriage, the mutual commitment of love, rather than rule-driven behaviors, was seen to be the point of spiritual union. The Christian’s behavior is increasingly shaped by a devotion to Christ as accomplished by the Spirit. . . .

. . . While the nomist model emphasized the continuity of the law in the old and new Testaments, seeing it as God’s chief tool in producing sanctification, Sibbes came to view the law as obsolete in the presence of Christ’s self-revelation. Sibbes spelled out the fundamental discontinuity of the two Testaments in his aptly-titled sermon series, The Excellency of the Gospel Above the Law. It is this principle, that the Old Testament law is inferior to the Spirit’s work in the New, that most characterize the antinomists. Sibbes, it seems, was not so much influenced by the law-grace polarity of Luther (Sibbes, as all the early Reformers did, continued to honor the law as revealing something of God’s character), as much as he was shaped by a very literal exegesis of 2 Corinthians 3: 17-18. This was the crux interpretum for antinomists and the text on which the exposition of the Excellency of the Gospel rested. It released Sibbes from a primary orientation to Old Testament law in describing the life of faith. (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology,” 37-38)

Obviously Sibbes emphasized the immediate work of the Spirit, which resulted in a real union with Christ. This is contrary to Perkins, who believed in an ad hoc union with Christ; which one could only “really” realize as he or she persevered in good works (i.e. practical syllogism, to be discussed later). In other words, for Perkins, certainty of election was a mediated reality, determined by one’s behavior relative to their cooperation with grace. This framework, for people who followed Perkins (which was the majority of Puritan England), resulted in an inward/introspective spirituality; since this perspective was very individuated and obsessed with personal holiness — for all the wrong reasons. Perkins in many ways serves as a forerunner for the later developed, Pietism, which climaxed with Schleiermacher (fodder for another post).

Sibbes’ emphasis on the immediacy of the Spirit, instead of promoting an incipient Pietism, allows the person to be obsessed and consumed by the beauty and majesty of Christ. This approach emphasizes a Trinitarian approach to salvation, which has a high pneumatology, leading to an even higher Christology — as the person of Christ and his works are magnified in the bride/bridegroom relationship, between Christ and his Church. I think this is much more fruitful than the approach offered by Perkins, and anyone who might fit his soteriological paradigm.

Recently I have been interacting with a rather distinguished commenter (I think I know who he is [using my inductive tools], but he prefers to remain anonymous, that’s fine, but his ideas are now public, so I will respond to those), his name is Kenneth P. He believes that I am too rushed, too premature, in fact immature in my analysis of the ‘Reformed tradition’; that “my history” does not comport with history in reality. Thus he believes, by implication, that the premise of my blog is aloof — e.g. a non-starter if you will. Given who this commenter is, I want to show his ‘ideas’ all due respect — he’s done the research, he’s spent the time. Here he critiques my apparently nascent understanding of the history:

. . . But the fact is that you have not drunk deeply enough at the wells of the tradition you are aiming to reclaim/revise/critique in some way. An example: “We have Lutherans, Anabaptists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, etc., etc.; all could bear the name of ‘Reformed’ — it’s all of our heritage.”

The problem here is that you confuse Reformation traditon with Reformed tradition. Out of your list, only Presbyterians are actually Reformed even while they are all Reformation theologies – and that’s because Reformed theology is creedally/confessionally based, not simply on one person or an electic pick and mix of doctrines. That’s just a historical fact of terminology, before we start asking any evaluative questions. Any Lutheran in the C17 would NOT want to be called Reformed! This is one example of your revisonism (I think it’s unintended rather than deliberate?). Elsewhere, conversely, in other instances on this blog you draw lines of discontinuity within the tradition which are far too premature.

To this I respond that I agree and disagree. First I disagree that I have misunderstood, maybe overstated, what in fact Reformation tradition encompasses. My point was to generalize, assert that to say that one is ‘Reformed’ could be construed in polymorphous ways. What I was intending to communicate is that we need more pinpointedness in distinguishing someone from the ‘Reformation tradition’; other than just saying the ‘Reformed tradition’ — Kenneth doesn’t like the designation, Calvinist, which I think, historically, is a viable label.

I agree that there is the distinction that Kenneth is making, but I think it is unhelpful to label it ‘Reformed’; without further nuancing it with “Calvinist.” Kenneth himself makes the point that the Lutherans of the 17th century would not take the label ‘Reformed’, which signifies to me that there was somebody, some group who the Lutherans did not want to be associated with — i.e. the ‘Reformed’ or the ‘Calvinists’.

Really though, this point on ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ is to quibble — even if Kenneth wouldn’t think so. In other words, relative to the premise of this blog, to make Kenneth happy we would change the name to: The Evangelical Reformed. I could live with that, I actually like the label ‘Reformed’ better (although I’ve found it to be imprecise, at points); but this isn’t really the point of dispute, at least for me.

The point of dispute revolves around this statement from Kenneth:

. . . Elsewhere, conversely, in other instances on this blog you draw lines of discontinuity within the tradition which are far too premature.

Of course it is hard to offer much defense against this, since Kenneth doesn’t cite any solid examples; but I get his point.

This all gets at the nub of what this blog is about; viz. identifying a wrinkle, a substantial nuance within the ‘Reformed/Calvinist’ tradition. My operating assumption is that there is most certainly a competition of sorts within the ‘Reformed’ tradition. It is too easy to say that I prematurely draw lines of discontinuity between apparently competing movements within the ‘Calvinist tradition’. Of course the burden is to demonstrate that there in fact is a mutually exclusive trajectory at work within the Calvinist tradition; one that is at odds, and does not cohere with what we know of the ‘Reformed tradition’ today (e.g. Westminster).

It seems, according to Kenneth’s comments, that he accepts the methodology and premises at work in Richard Muller’s work. I like to think of Muller’s approach as analogous to a steamroller. I say this because the way Muller presents things, is that what we have in the Protestant Reformation (magesterial and post) is this “movement” that incorporates all kinds of strands and trajectories (Thomist, Augustinian, Nominalist, etc.) — except of course, the ‘Scotist trajectory’. Muller says:

. . . Beyond the issue of medieval background, there is also the issue of the ongoing examination, discussion, appropriation, and rejection of Aristotle and Aristotelianism in the philosophy and theology of the Renaissance, Reformation, and post-Reformation eras. It is simply not the case that, at the moment of Luther’s protest against Aristotle, Aristotle and Aristotelianism disappeared from the map of European intellectual history or were universally banned from the thought-world of the Reformation. Whatever one decides about the implication and result of Luther’s early attack on Aristotle, there remains a history of Aristotelianism in the universities and in the thought of the Protestant as well as the Roman Catholic world both during and after the Reformation. That is a fact of history-to ignore it is to prejudice the analysis of period.

Here he is responding to a former prof of mine (Ron Frost) in a dispute they had in the Trinity Journal. While there certainly is a ‘Reformed’ tradition, to frame it the way that Muller (and then Kenneth apparently) does is to misrepresent the material divergence within this broader Reformed tradition. Muller, as illustrated in the quote, frames the history of this whole ‘Reformed’ tradition as represented by its Aristotelian/Thomistic/Scholastic form. This is not correct, this is to misrepresent the ‘Reformed tradition’; it is to misrepresent by failing to identify substantive distinctives represented by the continuum that we call the ‘Reformed tradition’.

The goal of this blog is to correct this caricature by Muller, I say caricature because he fails to give account to the part of the Tradition that took shape under John Knox, and others — the Scottish tradition. This ‘tradition’ represents the set of beliefs that shapes what we have been calling Evangelical Calvinism. Unlike what Muller would say is ‘The Tradition’ (which is best exemplified by the Westminster divines), the Scottish tradition worked from Scotist assumptions — Scotist metaphysics. Muller’s tradition is shaped by Thomist assumptions, these are exclusive from eachother; and therefore this has ‘drastic’ theological implications for how we understand a Doctrine of God, and then subsequent dogma.

So, far from engaging an binary biurfacating of things — as Kenneth claims I’m doing — the Tradition, so called, is multifocal. If we are really going to talk about the Reformed tradition (my ‘Calvinist’); then we ought to include its whole tradition. This is the contention of my blog, Scottish theology has not been given a credible place within the ‘Tradition’ (as far as I can see); simply because it has been deemed as ‘heterodox’ because it does not fit into what the gatekeepers of the ‘Tradition’ has said the ‘Tradition’ is. And this is because the ‘Tradition’ and ‘Thomism’, as evinced in Muller’s construction, cannot allow this to be.

I realize Muller is supposedly doing ‘history’, but if he was doing sound non-revisionist history he would include the Scotists within it; instead he lets theological commitments subvert his interpretive work, and thus in his accounting Scottish theology does not deserve to be included at the table of what it means to be ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ — let alone Evangelical Calvinist.

**I wanted to post this because of some discussion in the previous post on ‘Irresistable Grace’, and the distinction between Federal and Evangelical Calvinism, respectively. I see Affective-Free Grace Calvinism commensurate, in many ways, with what we have been calling ‘Evangelical Calvinism’ here.** (This is a repost, I’ve modified it a little, but not my opening paragraph).**

The following is a lengthy quote highlighting the differences between Federal Calvinism and ‘Affective-Free Grace Calvinism’. William Perkins represents the Federal “Vision” side, while Richard Sibbes the “Free-Grace” perspective. The quote is taken from Ron Frost’s unpublished PhD dissertation on Richard Sibbes and English Puritanism. He is providing conclusion to a discussion he had previously undertaken where he had articulated, in detail (with bibliographic support), the disparate “covenantal approaches” reflected by Perkins and Sibbes. The primary disjunction between the two is how they framed the Adam-motif (i.e. first and second Adam theology, see Rom. 5, etc.); and the different trajectories this placed their soteriological outlooks upon. Perkins forwarded the “Federal” model, which assumes continuity between the “law-keeping” of the first Adam and second Adam (i.e. think “Covenant of Works”); while Sibbes forwarded the “Marital Mystical” construct, which assumes some discontinuity between the “two Adams;” viz. while Christ truly represents us before the Father (juridical–i.e. forensic or legal), He also takes us as His spouse, which is presupposed by a real union with Him. The main difference, then, between Perkins and Sibbes, according to Frost, is that Perkins framed salvation purely as legal and “juridical”, which did not assume a “real union” with Christ; while Sibbes framed his view, not just as legal, but beyond that, as a Marriage framework, which is presupposed by a “real union” with Christ.

A Brief Glossary of Terms: **Privative Sin = the privation or absence of God’s righteousness [negative definition of sin] — **Positive Sin = Self love vs. God’s love.
Enough said on my part, lets hear from Frost:

Some final observations may be made about the positive and privative views of sin. The two approaches differ fundamentally on the reason for sin; while man is identified as responsible for sin in both views, he tends to be portrayed more as a pliable innocent overcome by the serpent’s deceit in the privative model. It is Adam presented as inadequate, not because he was unable to fulfill the law, but, because, in his mutability as a creature, he was vulnerable to moral change. This the serpent exploited while God was willfully away. In scholastic terms, the formal cause of sin was twofold, given the double causality associated with God’s sovereignty. God, as the primary agent for all things, determined the outcome by his withdrawal. In this he was arbitrary but just. The second agent, Adam, failed to apply the grace he had available and thus was culpable for his own fall, albeit as something of a victim. In both considerations the issue of grace is pivotal in its absence. For the privative model, as seen in both Thomistic and Reformed theology, this leads to a greater emphasis on the acquisition and application of grace in hypostatized or commodity-like terms, and a tendency toward Aristotelian moralism — the establishing of one’s righteousness through righteous actions based on grace. To the degree that grace becomes an impersonal quality, the greater the impression one has that something worthy of appreciation, if not merit, is being accomplished.

The doctrine of positive sin, on the other hand, rejects any tendency to see man as a victim; Adam is always the culprit in that he willfully replaced the Creator with the creature as the object of absolute devotion. It also recognizes human mutability as a fact which allows the fall, but rejects it as a meaningful explanation. The fall, in positive sin, remains an impenetrable mystery; Adam is not portrayed as deceived and God is not portrayed as withholding grace. In the positive model sin is always a competition: Adam seeks to usurp God’s role while God confounds Adam’s autonomy.
Thus, the most important difference between the two models is found in the way God is portrayed. In the privative view, as Aquinas and Perkins have it, he remains a supplier of grace — withholding what is needed for salvation except to the elect. He even remains parsimonious to the elect but, as their efforts prevail, is increasingly generous. In the positive view, on the other hand, he is an enemy until conversion which comes by the Spirit’s direct intervention. He invites the elect to see God as he really is: righteous, strong, and loving. Conversion, in fact, is a litmus for the two views: the privative model generally adopts a catechetical process which culminates in an affirmation of faith. The positive model, while recognizing that the Spirit uses prevenient stirrings, expects a more distinct Paul-light conversion which displays the moment in which selfish autonomy melts before God’s self disclosure. For the one, nature remains very much in view; for the other, God, once unveiled by grace, dominates the scene.

The importance of the affections for Sibbes and the nomists differed in profound ways. For Sibbes the affections were both the avenue by which sin entered the world and the avenue by which God, through the Spirit, restores the fallen soul. Slavery of the will was seen to be an enslavement by one’s own desires, something broken only by transforming vision of God as more desirable than anything human autonomy offers. Perkins and the nomists, on the other hand, saw the affections as a subordinate element of the will; they also provided a suitable theology for the prominent will by adopting the Thomist privation-enablement model of sin and grace.

Perkins and the nomists thus established human responsibility as the center-theme of salvation; the moral law became the locus of the soul in the process of sanctification. The belief that the covenant of grace is essentially a legal contract shaped all spirituality into a restorative stance: life is seen as an effort to regain and sustain Adam’s original obedience through the Spirit-enabled will. This generated a Christology which emphasized the juridical work of Christ to the point that, for pastoral ministry, the purpose of restored communion was easily reduced into the preaching of moralist endeavor.

Against this view, Sibbes, in line with Augustine, emphasized the place of Christ as much more than the source of justification, but primarily as one to be loved. The promise of the indwelling Spirit, whose ministry in Christ’s life is now allocated to the Christian, gives promise of a greater hope than the nomists offered: full and eternal intimacy of the Godhead through a true, although mystical, union with Christ. The feet of the soul are the affections and the affections are meant for communion with God. (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology,” [unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, 1996 University of London Kings College], 94-96)

What is of note, in regards to a discussion on “Grace” and “Sin;” is that if Frost’s argument is true (and I’m convinced that it is), then you can be a Federal Calvinist, and still be as “Semi-Pelagian” as Roman Catholics. That’s why I would want to avoid the TULIP’s understanding of “Irresistable Grace,” and at least understand it in the ‘re-framed’-Trinitarian ways provided by someone like Richard Sibbes.

Here is an account and testimony given by a fellow, from the 17th century, who had been living under the legalistic constraints that Federal-Westminster Calvinism had burdened him with (his account represents the type of sentiment felt by many in Puritan England who actually internalized and understood the implications of the ‘Calvinism’ they were living under). It wasn’t until this ‘brother’ was exposed to the ‘Free Grace of Christ’ through the preaching and teaching of Richard Sibbes that he finally understood what it meant to be a ‘slave set free’:

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)

I just wanted to share this to illustrate what the “weight” of following through on the implications of “Classic Calvinism” actually looks like. And then see what it looks like for that burden to be lifted off through an Evangelical Calvinist Gospel.

**The following quote is a little lengthy, not too bad, but if you want to skip to the bottom, to my “List of Assertions,” and closing paragraph you might just want to interact at that level (the quote substantiates or at least provides fodder for my assertions). Some might find this beyond where you’re at in your understanding (i.e. might be a little “heady”); if so, you can always ask for clarification. I plan on writing some more posts on “defining” Evangelical Calvinism soon (this piece actually helps provide an example of what it’s not ;-). Also the tone here is a little polemical**

William Perkins (1558-1602), a Cambridge theologian, and English clergyman can be considered to be one of the founders of what today is known as Calvinism. When people say they are ‘Reformed’ (esp. in America), this is one of your forbears who you are beholden to for the theological categories you think through — to one degree of intensity or another. If you, more popularly, follow the teachings of John Piper, Michael Horton, Carl Trueman, and even John MacArthur, amongst others; then you follow in the trajectory that William Perkins set so long ago.

William Perkins followed the scholastic tradition (conceptually); that is to say, he adopted the Aristotelian framework assimilated by Thomas Aquinas to explain and articulate who God is (ontologically), and thus what salvation entails as corollary. Part of adopting this framework, for Perkins, means that he must cast God in terms of immutability (there have been reifications of this term to fit a more trinitarian understanding — I say this just so that some of you know that I am aware of this); God cannot have any kind of contingency or composition, here is how Perkins says it: “God’s immutability of nature is that by which he is void of all composition, division, and change” [Perkins, Golden Chaine, 1. 11, first cited by: Ron Frost, “Sibbes’ Theology of Grace UnPublished PhD Dissertation,” 61]. This has a drastic impact upon how God’s life is understood, and emphasied to be, viz. as singular (simplicity); furthermore it implies that the Johannine notion of “God is love” to be a figment of God’s disclosure in time, but not a reality of who God is in eternity (since love would imply ‘composition’, ‘division’, and ‘change’). The following is a quote (from Ron Frost’s dissertation) that further elucidates and substantiates my claims thus far:

2. Love and the will. In speaking of God, apart from any one of the triad of persons, Perkins identified a primary essence which is “void and free from all passion” [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 25]. Love, if seen as essentially affective, would include an element of contingency, namely, God’s desire that his creation respond to his love as the complement to his own love. If, however, love is a component of the will, God merely requires such a response . In the Golden Chaine, then, love is striking in its absence as a motivation in God; this despite the primacy of love in biblical descriptions of God. As illustrated in the chart of the Chaine [which Frost provides on the previous page], love appears only after the mediatorial work of Christ.

Perkins also believed that if God’s love is perceived as an inherent motivation (that is, as an affection), it would imply the prospect of universal salvation. He raised an “objection” in the Golden Chaine to make the point, a point which illustrates Perkins’ position that love is defined by God’s arbitrary determinations:

Object. Election is nothing else but dilection or love; but this we know, that God loves all his creatures. Therefore he elects all his creatures.Answer. I. I deny that to elect is to love, but to ordain and appoint to love.II. God does love all his creatures, yet not all equally, but every one in their place [Perkins, “Golden Chaine,” 1. 109, Cited by Frost, 62].

This reflected Perkins’ synthetic definition of God’s love. In his Treatise of God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will, Perkins posed the question “whether there be such an affection of love in God, as is in man and beast.”

I answer that affections of the creature are not properly incident unto God, because they make many changes, and God is without change. And therefore all affections, and the love that is in man and beast is ascribed to God by figure [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace, 1.723, cited by Frost].

Thus, God must be understood to express his immutable will in a manner that accomplishes “the same things that love makes the creature do”. God, then, lacks any inherent affections but he still chooses to do the actions of love or hatred, and uses anthropomorphic language, while working out his eternal purposes: “Because his will is his essence or Godhead indeed.” [Perkins, “God’s Free Grace,” 1.703, cited by Frost] [brackets all mine] (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology [Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of London, King’s College, 1996],” 61-2).

List of Assertions

  • This is the origin and framing of contemporary thinking about “double-predestination” (supralapsarianism) and the import of God’s decrees.
  • According to Perkins, to sustain the above framing, and as a result of using Aristotle’s “immutability,” God cannot love within Himself — within His own life freely. Thus God is different in eternity (ad intra) than He is in time as the “mediator” (ad extra).
  • In other words, the decrees of God (absolutum decretum) create space for God, “to love,” without impinging upon His real life, which according to Perkins, cannot love (or there would be change).
  • Furthermore, Perkins’ view implies that there is another God behind the back of Jesus.
  • At bottom, Perkins’ God cannot love, He cannot (in His real life in eternity) have compassion, or greive; He is only able to do this in time because His decrees allow Him to do so (in other words, God becomes subserviant to His decrees — so in the end He really is contingent on Human history, He is determined by His decrees — He is thus, not truly free!).

I wonder if any of this causes any contemporary Calvinists of today any kind of pause. If your view of double-predestination is framed by Perkins’ view (which it is, if you follow Westminster Calvinism), then I wonder what that further says about your view of God. Are you willing to take on the same assumptions on God’s immutability that Perkins does? Or, because you know scripture won’t let you, are you going to say: “I don’t believe that nonsense,” and move on, assuming that what Perkins and Westminster articulated has no bearing on your own “biblical viewpoint?” Enquiring minds want to know!