Why does supralapsarianism seem to be so popular when the Synod of Dort teaches infralapsarianism?

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Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I find it puzzling that so many (on the internet at least) seem to boast of being supralapsarian when the reformed standards teach infralapsarianism, and these boasts seem to come from those who pride themselves on their strict, uncompromising Calvinism. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I really do find it strange.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Dort and Westminster favor sublapsarian language, but I would not say they teach it. There were notable supralapsarians in both assemblies.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I essentially agree with Tim, though I have no personal position on the lapsarian question other than agreeing with R. L. Dabney's observation that the question ought never to have arisen. (Having read Reformed theology from the sources for twenty years, I have never been able to fully get my head around the issue or determine which view is correct.) Guy Richard's CPJ article on Samuel Rutherford's lapsarian position as a guide to understanding the Westminster Confession is very useful on this subject.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
Dort and Westminster favor sublapsarian language, but I would not say they teach it. There were notable supralapsarians in both assemblies.
"This... involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession."
That's not an infralapsarian statement?
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
"This... involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession."
That's not an infralapsarian statement?

It could if one thinks God "decides after" He looks upon His creation....:)
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I’ve always understood that the Reformed confessions lean toward infralapsarianism, yet they don’t take a hard stance on it so as not to exclude supralapsarianism, which is surely an orthodox option.

But I agree with Dabney as well (and Bavinck): the question ought never to have been raised. Some things are simply to wonderful for us.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
What does "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" mean if not that God chose sinners to save in Christ? (Rather than the supralapsarian teaching that God chose some men, considered as neither good nor bad, to become saints, and others to become reprobates).
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I’m confused about this thread. Is it asking about what the confessions communicate, or whether or not supralapsarianism is biblical?
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Perhaps, you read too much into things. There are known infra and supra theologians who were Westminster divines and at Dort.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
"This... involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession."
That's not an infralapsarian statement?
Here is a portion from Fesko's book on the Westminster confession:

The Object of Predestination

The divines did not want to write an academic theological treatise, but they nevertheless engaged in a number of technical debates in the course of writing the Standards. One such issue was the question of the object of predestination. In other words, when God elects people unto salvation, does he take sin into account? Does God predestine people apart from any consideration of sin and the fall, or does he choose people that are already considered as fallen and thus in need of redemption? And if God does account for the fall, how does he do so? The Confession does not explicitly address this particular question, but it does lean in the direction of infralapsarianism. Briefly, infralapsarians argue that in the decree the object of predestination is created and fallen man. Supralapsarians, on the other hand, argue that in the decree the object of predestination is man as creatable and liable to fall.63 In the past, some confessional documents left the issue completely undefined, such as William Whitaker’s Lambeth Articles (1595), which state, “God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death” (§ 1). However, the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) expressly decided in favor of infralapsarianism, though it makes no mention of supralapsarianism: “Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, he chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin.”64 The Confession takes a similar path: “As God hath appointed the Elect unto glory; so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his Will, fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ” (3.6, emphasis added). The divines could have simply written: “they who are elected are redeemed by Christ.” In the assembly’s Annotations, for example, we find the following explanation of Romans 9:21, reflecting the infralapsarian view with its mention of election from the corrupt mass of humanity: “By this metaphor,” namely, the potter’s lump of clay, “is intimated the originall of all mankind out of one bloud, Act. 17.26. out of this corrupt masse, it is in Gods power of his free will to appoint some to everlasting glory, and others to everlasting shame and ignominie.”65 The divines, therefore, specifically chose to indicate that God predestined fallen man to eternal life. But like the Synod of Dort before them, the divines make no mention of supralapsarianism. Questions arise as to whether supralapsarianism was slighted or viewed as heterodox. In other words, how can someone who was a supralapsarian subscribe to a document that expresses itself in an infralapsarian direction? There are two things to consider. First, a number of theologians of the period viewed the question of the object of predestination as an intramural debate. True, sometimes this debate was quite heated; Baxter notes, “There is no part of this Controversie more contentiously and I fear presumptuously and too audaciously handled.”66 Others, such as Francis Junius (1545–1602), Twisse, Turretin, and Leigh argue that there were no significant differences among the proponents of the different positions. Junius, for example, told Arminius that the different opinions were “seemingly opposed, but not really contrary.”67 Turretin likewise remarks: We must take notice that whatever the disagreement of theologians may be on this subject, yet the foundation of faith remains secure on both sides and that they are equally opposed to the deadly error of Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. Both they who ascend higher in this matter and include the creation or the fall of man in the decree of predestination, and they who suppose both all agree in this: that men were considered by God as equal (not unequal) and such that their choice depended upon God alone (from which foundation all heretics depart).68 Twisse also comments a number of times not only that the Synod of Dort allowed supralapsarianism, but also that the issue of disagreement was not enough to cause a breach between the different parties. Twisse believes that the disagreement was over a matter of “mere logick.”69 Second, confessions are not exhaustive documents but only state the basic position of the church as a whole. The Confession’s statement that predestined man was considered fallen in Adam does not, therefore, automatically preclude a supralapsarian position. After all, theologians of the period expressed their views in variegated ways. The well-known supralapsarian Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644), one of the delegates to the Synod of Dort, outlines the object of predestination as follows: Regarding the goal, with respect to the intention, the human object of predestination is creatable man [homo creabilis]. Regarding the goal with respect to execution, the human object of predestination is man to be created and created, man being permitted to fall and fallen [homo condendus, conditus, permittendus in lapsum, lapsus].70 In other words, even a supralapsarian such as Maccovius understood the object of predestination in some sense to be created and fallen man. Edward Leigh offers a similar dissection of the issue: “Man simply considered is the object of Predestination, in respect of the preordination of the end; but man corrupted, if we respect the ordination of the means which tend to that end; or man absolutely, in respect of the supreme or last end, not in respect of this, or that subordinate end.”71 In other words, theologians might look at the object of predestination absolutely or relatively, and depending upon each one’s vantage point, give different answers to the question of who was the object of election.

As for me, I agree with the others in this thread. Either side of the debate is one-sided and more or less forces a chain of events into the mind of God who exists outside of time. I do tend toward sublapsarian terminology, however. Dabney also seems to favor this.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
What does "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" mean if not that God chose sinners to save in Christ? (Rather than the supralapsarian teaching that God chose some men, considered as neither good nor bad, to become saints, and others to become reprobates).
This portion of Bavinck may be helpful, and I would highly recommend reading his entire discussion on the matter. It is both brilliant and devotional!

The problem is not solved by means of an appeal to Scripture. Whereas infralapsarianism is supported by all those passages in which election and reprobation have reference to a fallen universe, and are represented as deeds of mercy and of justice, Deut. 7:6-8; Matt. 12:25, 26; John 15:19; Rom. 9:15, 16; Eph. 1:4-12; II Tim. 1:9; supralapsarianism seeks its strength in all those texts that declare God's absolute sovereignty, especially with reference to sin, Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:4; Is. 10:15; 45:9; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:17, 19-21. The fact that each of the two views leans for support on a certain group of texts without doing full justice to a different group indicates the one-sided character of both theories.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
Having read Reformed theology from the sources for twenty years, I have never been able to fully get my head around the issue or determine which view is correct.
That's because it's an invalid question. I'm with Dabney on this one too. However, to the extent that both positions reflect a certain view of God's character and a certain way of looking at how his plan unfolds, to my mind the infra view is more fitting and in accord with the sense of Scripture. But, I refuse to legitimize the question by identifying as either supra or infra.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Professor
Didn’t Gillespie even though a Supra. himself, didn’t impose that on verbiage of the confession though he probably could have as influential as he was?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Narrowly to the OP, supralapsarianism remains popular because a variety of Biblical texts seem to lend support, because of the logic of means and ends, and because of the support of significant theologians. It also contributes to its persistent popularity that many rejections of supralapsarianism are not well-argued, can be based on misunderstanding, and often seem to arise more from aesthetic squeamishness than from careful exegesis or theological rigor.

Turretin and especially Van Mastricht do substantially better in their critiques, but they don't engage the Christological supralapsarianism of Thomas Goodwin and others like him.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
Narrowly to the OP, supralapsarianism remains popular because a variety of Biblical texts seem to lend support, because of the logic of means and ends, and because of the support of significant theologians. It also contributes to its persistent popularity that many rejections of supralapsarianism are not well-argued, can be based on misunderstanding, and often seem to arise more from aesthetic squeamishness than from careful exegesis or theological rigor.

Turretin and especially Van Mastricht do substantially better in their critiques, but they don't engage the Christological supralapsarianism of Thomas Goodwin and others like him.
This could be because a lot of rejections of the supra position fail to take into account its real problem which is that it based on an invalid premise. One can't really argue the opposite of it, but one can argue that it's problematic to attempt to discern a logical order in God's decrees (and perhaps inimical to the Reformed proscription on needless speculation), that it perhaps nuances one's view of God in an unhelpful way to posit him damning anyone apart from the fall (which seems to me an inevitable result of viewing election/reprobation as logically prior), and that temporally the order is Fall --> Redemption, which, even if it tells us nothing about God's eternal decree, ought to at least indicate to us that we ought to think in terms of that order - marked from before the foundation of the world for salvation from our sins.

But yeah, if you try to argue against the supra position with infra, that's going to raise as many issues as it solves.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Professor
I’ve always thought it was peculiar that many who find this question a waste of time, nevertheless, have a strong opinion one way or another.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
I’ve always thought it was peculiar that many who find this question a waste of time, nevertheless, have a strong opinion one way or another.
Believing it to be an invalid question is not the same as believing the discussion to be a waste of time.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I’m confused about this thread. Is it asking about what the confessions communicate, or whether or not supralapsarianism is biblical?
It's about what the title says I suppose, but it was stated that the question should never have arisen, and pointing out that scripture explicitly states our sinfulness is prior to Christ dying for us seems like a reasonable way of showing the question is worth addressing.
Perhaps, you read too much into things. There are known infra and supra theologians who were Westminster divines and at Dort.
I don't think I do. The Leiden Synopsis, written by four members of the Synod, criticizes supralapsarian and employs language nearly identical to that of the Canons of Dort as an explicitly infralapsarianism formulation. Was there any supralapsarian at the Synod besides Maccovius, whose views were controversial enough for him to be put on trial?
Narrowly to the OP, supralapsarianism remains popular because a variety of Biblical texts seem to lend support, because of the logic of means and ends, and because of the support of significant theologians. It also contributes to its persistent popularity that many rejections of supralapsarianism are not well-argued, can be based on misunderstanding, and often seem to arise more from aesthetic squeamishness than from careful exegesis or theological rigor.

Turretin and especially Van Mastricht do substantially better in their critiques, but they don't engage the Christological supralapsarianism of Thomas Goodwin and others like him.
Fair enough. I found the critique in the Leiden Synopsis persuasive, also.
 
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