Richard Baxter: A Strange Theological Mix

Richard Baxter (d. 1691) was a pastor and prolific writer who, broadly speaking, was a Puritan.  However, unlike many other Puritans, he rejected some key aspects of Reformed theology.  Here’s how Beeke and Pederson summarize:

“Baxter’s writings are a strange theological mix.  He was one of a few Puritans whose doctrines of God’s decrees, atonement, and justification were anything but Reformed.  Though he generally structured his theology along Reformed lines of thought, he frequently leaned towards Arminian thinking.  He developed his own notion of universal redemption, which offended Calvinists, but retained a form of personal election, which offended Arminians.  He rejected reprobation.  He was greatly influenced by the Amyraldians and incorporated much of their thinking, including hypothetical universalism, which teaches that Christ hypothetically died for all men, but his death only has real benefit to those who believe.  For Baxter, Christ’s death was more of a legal satisfaction of the law than a personal substitutionary death on behalf of elect sinners.”

“Baxter’s approach to justification has been called neonomianism (that is, ‘new law’); he said that God has made a new law offering forgiveness to repentant breakers of the old law.  Faith and repentance – the new laws that must be obeyed – become the believer’s personal, saving righteousness that is sustained by preserving grace.  Baxter’s soteriology, then, is Amyraldian with the addition of Arminian ‘new law’ teaching.  Happily, these erroneous doctrines do not surface much in Baxter’s devotional writings, which are geared mainly to encourage one’s sanctification rather than to teach theology.”

Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 66.

shane lems
hammond, wi

3 thoughts on “Richard Baxter: A Strange Theological Mix”

  1. If Baxter were alive and teaching today, we wouldn’t give him any attention at all. We’d probably view him the same way that we view NPP/Federal Vision men.

    It’s troubling to see that Baxter gets a pass just because he fits under the exalted name of “Puritan.”


  2. In addition to faith and repentance, I’ve found that Baxter also included perseverance, gratitude, and forgiving others as conditions of the gospel’s new law. Some distinguish between hard legalism and soft legalism – hard being in regards to justification and soft being legalism with respect to sanctification. It’s hard for me to distinguish which one Baxter was. The irony is that in fighting antinomianism – that is what gave rise to his neonomianism – Baxter became an antinomian in a sense on account of actually having too low a view of the law.


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