A helpful resource on hypothetical universalism

After decades of believing in particular redemption after the high Calvinist fashion of John Owen, John Murray and others, I moved to classical moderate Calvinism and hypothetical universalism. I still consider myself a 5 point Calvinist, which I take to mean that I affirm the Canons of Dort (popularly referred to as TULIP), even though many high Calvinists would call hypothetical universalists 4 point Calvinists. I explained my reasons previously on this blog.

If this subject interests you, I commend to you a fine discussion of the differences between theologians generally committed to hypothetical universalism. Michael Lynch, a PhD student at Calvin Theological Seminary, presented it at a Junius Institute Colloquium on the topic, “Early Modern Hypothetical Universalism: Reflections on the Status Quaestionis and Modern Scholarship.”

I find helpful Lynch’s distinction between the position represented by Amyraut and the French theologians at Saumur, and the position represented by English theologians, Richard Baxter and John Davenant. I am in the English camp. Also very helpful is Lynch’s study of the differences between John Owen and Richard Baxter, who were prolific writers in the high Calvinist and classic moderate Calvinist positions respectively. Understandings of Lombard’s formula that the death of Christ was “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect,” which was affirmed by Dort, are helpfully analyzed, including an insightful examination of the different ways Owen and Baxter affirm the “sufficiency” of Christ’s work. From his study, Lynch concludes that the question at issue between 17th Reformed theologians was: “on behalf of whose sins did God intend Christ to make satisfaction?”

Audio of Lynch’s talk is available through the Junius Institute, which is directed by Richard Muller.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

4 replies on “A helpful resource on hypothetical universalism”

Hi I recently have started to affirm hypothetical universalism I was wondering what are the differences in veiws?


Hypothetical universalism is the belief that Jesus made an atoning sacrifice which was universally sufficient. Anyone who appropriates Jesus’ saving work by faith, will be saved.

Hypothetical universalism differs from simple soteriological universalism, which asserts that everyone will be saved, because everyone will believe. Generally, this includes a belief in post-mortem salvation, since it is obvious that not everyone dies in faith.

Hypothetical universalism differs from the “limited atonement,” affirmed by the construction of TULIP. “Limited atonement asserts that God had only one intention in sending Christ to die for the salvation of sinners, namely, the intention to save the elect, those whom God had eternally chosen to be saved. By contrast, hypothetical universalism believes that God had a general as well as a particular intent in Christ’s saving work. God intended to make an atonement sufficient for everyone, but efficient only for those who believe. This was specifically affirmed in the Canons agreed upon at the Synod of Dort: “sufficient for all and efficient for the elect.”

Perhaps take a look at why this view is logically and metaphysically incoherent.

This post addresses the cliché, sufficient for all, efficient for the elect. My first post on your site is more thoroughgoing but doesn’t address the cliché.

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