Calvinism (Reformed Theology) and Hyper-Calvinism
I thought I would begin this post with a quote I saw recently over at Founders.
Hyper-Calvinism is a very serious error. It is a doctrinal parasite that sucks the life out of vital Christianity where it takes hold. It should be resisted with courage and strength by all who love Christ and His church. Therefore, it should be exposed where it exists.
Dr. Tom Ascol, director of Founders Ministries, is a 5-point Calvinist, as am I. But wait -- isn't a 5-point Calvinist a Hyper-Calvinist? Dr. Ascol answers that question further down in his article I just cited:
Those of us who are evangelical Calvinists--or historic Southern Baptists--are used to being accused of hyper-Calvinism out of both ignorance and malice. Such accusations, though unhelpful and even painful, are easy to dismiss because, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, "The ignorant Arminian does not know the difference between a Calvinist and a hyper-Calvinist."
So then, what *IS* the difference? Why is Hyper-Calvinism so dangerous? What is Hyper-Calvinism, or evangelical Calvinism for that matter?
It might help to describe one of the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism" first, and to mention how Arminianism plays into this argument as well. The reason is, surprisingly, Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism fall into the same error, as we shall see shortly. First, the famous flower, though I'll only focus on the first point. You can get an excellent overview of all five points of Reformed Soteriology (the study of salvation) at The Highway, and that is the place where I'll be getting the bulk of my definition for the first point, not because I can't define it, but why reinvent the wheel? :)
However, with that said, I have compiled a brief definition of all five points, and it appears below:
T -- Total Depravity, sometimes referred to as "Total Inability" because of what it implies. It states that all of man, including his will, is completely depraved and is completely unwilling and thus unable to choose God.
U -- Unconditional Election. There is no merit or good work of ANY kind in man that causes God to choose him for salvation. God's choosing of some to salvation is an act of His grace alone.
L -- Limited Atonement, perhaps better said as "Particular Redemption" or "Definite Atonement." The sacrifice of Christ was intended to save only the elect, propitiate all their sins, and purchase everything needed for their salvation, guaranteeing that they would be saved.
I -- Irresistable Grace or Effectual Calling. This doesn't mean that God's invitation in the Gospel cannot be resisted at all; it happens all the time. However, when God truly sets out to save someone, He always succeeds in His efforts. God's grace in this sense ALWAYS succeeds; it is invincible.
P -- Perseverance of the Saints. All of those in Christ will persevere to the end. The elect can never be lost.
That is really what Reformed people (Calvinists) believe, specifically related to salvation. You'll see a lot of definitions out there that don't line up very well with these, but I'd say 99.99% of the time (or maybe even 100%) when this happens, those definitions are from people who are NOT Reformed. They end up defining the terms incorrectly (like Elmer Towns has done), and end up attacking a system of beliefs that doesn't exist.
In any case, as I said, I am going to focus my efforts on the T above -- Total Depravity. A fuller definition of the doctrine that Reformed people such as myself believe can be found at the Highway, but I'll quote it here:
Total Inability or Total Depravity
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not - indeed he cannot - choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance to bring a sinner to Christ - it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.
This is absolutely critical to understand. This indeed is the teaching of the Scriptures, which one cannot get away from (see Romans 3:10-18, John 3:19-21, and Romans 8:6-8 as some powerful examples). Let's contrast this with the Arminian slant on Depravity:
Free-Will or Human Ability
Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man's freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man's freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God's Spirit and be regenerated or resist God's grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man's act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner's gift to God; it is man's contribution to salvation.
There is an inherent problem in this -- the fact that man contributes something to his salvation. If there is any merit of work that we contribute to it, then we have a works-based salvation in some way. Grace is only grace if is is 100% grace. If there is even a trillionth of one percent works involved (such as a willingness to believe that comes from man rather than from God) then we have a violation of Ephesians 2:8-9 as well as Romans 11:6.
So then, an Arminian in some sense destroys the sovereignty and grace of God, insisting that there must be someting in man that he can do to respond to the Gospel, since he (man) is commanded to respond in repentance to it.
How does this relate to hyper-Calvinism, you might ask? Excellent question, and the answer is that hyper-Calvinism fails at this same point, but they reverse the order in the error that Arminianism has. A hyper-Calvinist would say, since man is not capable of responding to the Gospel on his own, then he doesn't need to repent and believe the Gospel. Dr. Ascol mentions this in an excellent article located here. I have cited a good portion of it below:
The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition: Man's ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.
The Arminian looks at this premise and says, "Agreed! We know that all men are held responsbile to repent and believe [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that all men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe [which is false, according to the Bible]." Thus, Arminians teach that unconverted people have within themselves the spiritual ability to repent and believe.
The hyper-Calvinist takes the same premise (that man's ability and responsibility are coextensive) and says, "Agreed! We know that, in and of themselves, all men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that unconverted people are not under obligation to repent and believe the gospel [which is false, according to the Bible]."
In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, "Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfuill his duty to repent and believe." And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches.
Re-read that if you have to so that you can grasp the full force of what is being said. Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists fail at the same point. The thing is, hyper-Calvinism is in fact a much more dangerous belief, because it destroys evangelism.
To elaborate on this further and better, Phil Johnson, who maintains the Spurgeon Archive, has written an excellent article exposing the errors of hyper-Calvinism here, and I'll be quoting from it extensively as I proceed throughout the remainder of this thread.
I am in complete agreement with Phil Johnson in his opening statements:
Lest anyone wonder where my own convictions lie, I am a Calvinist. I am a five-point Calvinist, affirming without reservation the Canons of the Synod of Dordt. And when I speak of hyper-Calvinism, I am not using the term as a careless pejorative. I'm not an Arminian who labels all Calvinism "hyper." When I employ the term, I am using it in its historical sense.
History teaches us that hyper-Calvinism is as much a threat to true Calvinism as Arminianism is.
I too am a five point Calvinist as I've said already. A lot of people (including notable people like Dr. Norman Geisler, and Dr. Ergun Caner) use the term hyper-Calvinist or "strong" Calvinist to refer to a 5-point Calvinist. There is a serious problem with this labeling for two main reasons:
1.) It ignores the historical definition of a hyper-Calvinist except for one part of that definition -- that the movement is anti-evangelistic in some way. That being said,
2.) Truly Reformed people (5-point Calvinists) are then accused of being anti-evangelistic. Since a wrong definition of hyper-Calvinism is used (except for the issue about it being opposed to evangelism), Reformed Christians such as myself are wrongfully slandered, even though the people doing the slandering may in fact have good intentions.
So then, let's find out what hyper-Calvinists really believe, and how to identify them. Truly, these beliefs are heretical and dangerous and should be exposed. Not only that, but they should be guarded against strongly, and Phil Johnson agrees:
Virtually every revival of true Calvinism since the Puritan era has been hijacked, crippled, or ultimately killed by hyper-Calvinist influences. Modern Calvinists would do well to be on guard against the influence of these deadly trends.
With that said, let's expound a bit on a few things. One thing that hyper-Calvinists tend to do is put too much emphasis on the "secret" or "decretive" will of God. Dr. Johnson explains:
Hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of "the will of God," hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God's will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees.
There is an important difference between the two. God's "revealed" or "preceptive" will is what He has commanded to be done or not to be done. The Ten Commandments are a prime example of this. Now, God's "secret" will or "decretive" will is something that, by and large, is hidden from us. For example, who the elect are is a secret; we don't know. God has decreed who will be saved from before the foundation of the world as is indicated in Ephesians 1. However, He doesn't let us in on who they are. They are the ones who will respond to the Gospel because God has chosen them. You don't know you're elect until God has saved you.
The concept of "two wills in God" is something seen repeatedly in Scripture. Dr. John Piper has an EXCELLENT article about this over on his website, and though I do not agree completely with his exegetical conclusions on 2 Timothy, his article is very scripturally and theologically sound, and explains the issue wonderfully. I recommend reading it.
However, since his article is longer than this post, I'll bring up a few passages that indicate this relationship. Though there are several passages and incidents we could consider, the greatest example of it has to be the death of Christ. Let's first consider Isaiah 53:10-11 below:
Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Isaiah 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Here we have part of Isaiah's predection of the death of Christ, where Christ bears the sins of many, for it says that he made "many to be accounted righteous." Now, notice that the text indicates that it was the will of God for this to happen. The word rendered "will" in this passage carries with it the idea of being pleased to do something. God was pleased to crush Jesus on the cross, and that it was GOD Who put Him to grief.
What makes this really, REALLY interesting is how Peter describes the death of Christ in the book of Acts:
Acts 2:22 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
...and also in chapter three...
Acts 3:14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,
Acts 3:15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Acts 3:16 And his name--by faith in his name--has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
Acts 3:17 "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.
Acts 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.
Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
Here we see something fascinating. Peter affirms what was said in Isaiah 53 but in different words. He says that Jesus was delivered up according to God's definite plan. It would happen as foretold. Now, notice what he calls on his hearers to do because of their role in it -- he demands that they repent! Even though this event was planned, and even though their role in it was planned and ordained, God still demanded that they repent of their sin in crucifying Christ.
Judas's role in all of this comes out too, and in just one verse!
Luke 22:22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!
Again, Jesus was going to be put to death because God determined it -- but Judas was still responsible for his sin. Judas bore the blame of the evil he did -- not God, and Judas was clearly under condemnation for it. Note: God is NEVER blamed for any sin that is done in Scripture; man is always at fault, and if man were to be let go to sin all that he could, this world would cease to exist pretty quickly; we'd destroy ourselves. More on this at a later time, sooner if requested. ANYWAY....
So, we see that in one sense, God decreed the death of Jesus and those who would put Him to death. In another sense, God's will was violated, because they murdered the Son of God, and therefore needed to repent of their sin. In the first case we have the "decretive will" of God, and in the second we have the "preceptive will" of God. God's decretive will is not always secret (as we can see in these verses), but often it is (in the case of the elect). Hyper-Calvinists stress God's will of decree to a fault, often minimizing God's preceptive will. The problem is, as I've already said, it is often impossible to determine what God's decrees are in many areas. We have been given His precepts; we are to obey them, and not try to explain them away wondering what God's decree might be in a particular situation. Knowing that God has decreed everything should encourage us to obey His precepts most forcefully, because He's in absolute control! Hyper-Calvinists often miss that.
Moving on, Hyper-Calvinism comes in five main varieties, which Dr. Johnson lists and explains very well. I'll cite them and elaborate briefly. Reading his full article that I linked to above will provide more detail and should prove helpful in identifying this errant theological system.
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.
Every one of these problems undermines evangelism. Now, the hyper-Calvinist will claim that he DOES do evangelism -- but the message he puts out is not really the Gospel at all. They deny that there is any sincere call in the declaration of the Gospel for people to believe it and repent. Dr. Johnson explains:
Deliberately excluded from hyper-Calvinist "evangelism" is any pleading with the sinner to be reconciled with God. Sinners are not told that God offers them forgiveness or salvation. In fact, most hyper-Calvinists categorically deny that God makes any offer in the gospel whatsoever.
The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." The whole thrust of the gospel, properly presented, is to convey an offer (in the sense of a tender, a proffer, or a proposal) of divine peace and mercy to all who come under its hearing. The apostle's language is even stronger, suggesting the true gospel preacher begs sinners to be reconciled to God—or rather he stands "in Christ's stead," pleading thus with the sinner. Hyper-Calvinism in essence denies the concept of human responsibility, and so it must eliminate any such pleading, resulting in a skewed presentation of the gospel.
So, let's examine each of the false beliefs of Hyper-Calvinists. Remember, only one of these is required for someone to be in this camp, but often more than one is espoused.
The first error and brand of Hyper-Calvinism is The denial of the gospel call. They insist that an invitation only be given to the elect to believe the Gospel, calling only on them to be believers. This falls away from REAL Calvinism in important ways. Dr. Johnson elaborates:
Historic Reformed theology notes that there are two different senses in which Scripture uses the word "call." The apostle Paul usually employs the word to speak of the effectual call, whereby an elect sinner is sovereignly drawn by God unto salvation. Obviously this "call" applies only to the elect alone (Rom. 8:28-30).
But Scripture also describes a general call. In Matthew 22:14, Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Here, those who are "called" are clearly more in number than the elect. So our Lord is quite obviously using the word "call" in a different sense from how Paul used it in Romans 8:30.
True Reformed Christians (REAL Calvinists) make this distinction and insist that the invitation to believe the Gospel be given to any and everyone, elect or not. The simple reason for this is something I've stated a few pages up -- we have no idea who the elect are! The general call indicated by Jesus in Matthew 22:14 is something that this variety of Hyper-Calvinists (from here on, HC's) ignore. They are interested only in God's effectual call which is how God brings His elect to Himself. So, they ignore Jesus's clear example in Mark 1:14-15, Philip's example in Acts 8:40, Jesus's example in Matthew 11:28-29 and that of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to name a few. We are to preach the Gospel indiscriminately to everyone, which includes calling them to repent and be reconciled to God; this brand of HC denies that.
Not only that, but their version of the Gospel tends to be skewed. Dr. Johnson points this out below, beginning first with a quote from an email he received from a HC:
"The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not." Thus the good news about Christ's death and resurrection is supplanted by a message about election and reprobation—usually with an inordinate stress on reprobation.
I don't have a problem at all making some reference to election when presenting the Gospel; the fact that God chose to save anyone at all is amazingly good news, and I mention it in passing in my own tract that I wrote and posted on this blog. However, to say only that, and therefore to exclude the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross, is to preach an incomplete Gospel at best and a false Gospel at worst.
The second error and variety of HC's is the denial of faith as a duty. I've already referenced this at the beginning of the post with the reference to Dr. Ascol's post on it, where I mentioned that HC's and Arminians fail at the same point. The Arminian denies God's total sovereignty and man's Total Depravity when they insist that since all men are required to believe the Gospel (which is true) they must have the ability in and of themselves to believe it (which is not true). This kind of HC reverses this, saying that men don't have the ability to believe the Gospel in and of themselves to believe the Gospel (which is true), so then people must not need to repent and believe the Gospel (which is not true). The denial of faith as a duty and the need to repent is a clear mark of HC.
The third error and variety of HC is the denial of the gospel offer. This has already been addressed above in how a HC refuses to give much of an invitation (if any) for someone to receive Christ. The reason for this is that they deny that the Gospel makes any kind of offer to anyone but the elect. Again, this mistake is an overemphasis on God's Decretive Will, and ignores the fact that God Himself made offers to people of salvation if they would repent (per Romans 10:20-21), and commanded people to repent, regardless if they were elect or not (per Mark 1:14-15).
The fourth error and flavor of HC is the denial of common grace. Common Grace is that doctrine that states God has love to all mankind in some way, even if it is not salvific love. That is, any good that any person experiences is an act of the grace of God in some sense. Dr. Johnson describes it very well:
The idea of common grace is implicit throughout Scripture. "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps. 145:9). "He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:18-19). "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45).
The distinction between common grace and special grace closely parallels the distinction between the general call and the effectual call. Common grace is extended to everyone. It is God's goodness to humanity in general whereby God graciously restrains the full expression of sin and mitigates sin's destructive effects in human society. Common grace imposes moral constraints on people's behavior, maintains a semblance of order in human affairs, enforces a sense of right and wrong through conscience and civil government, enables men and women to appreciate beauty and goodness, and imparts blessings of all kinds to elect and non-elect alike. God "causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45). That is common grace.
This kind of HC denies that this kind of grace even exists, and thus proves to be opposed to Scripture.
The last error and final kind of HC is the denial of God's love toward the reprobate. Someone who is "reprobate" is someone who is not elect. I'll let Dr. Johnson explain this one:
Type-5 hyper-Calvinism is closely related to type-4. To deny that God in any sense loves the reprobate is to suggest that God holds us to a higher standard than He himself follows, for he instructs us to love our enemies—and Scripture teaches that when we love our enemies, we are behaving like God, who shows lovingkindness even to the reprobate (Deut. 10:18; Matt. 5:44-45).
Jesus commands that we love our enemies, and He showed love even to people who rejected him when He was on earth. The problem this view has is a failure to distinguish between the two kinds of God's love. Dr. Johnson brings it out:
This error stems from a failure to differentiate between God's redemptive love, which is reserved for the elect alone, and His love of compassion, which is expressed in the goodness He shows to all His creatures.
So there you have it. This is HyperCalvinism, and as you can see, it is quite a bit different from true Reformed (Calvinistic) Theology. HC is kind of hard to define as you've seen, because there are so many streams of it. However, they all hold one thing in common -- they damage the work of evangelism. HC's do this by overemphasizing God's Decretive Will to the exclusion of His Preceptive Will, and also embrace one or more of the following errors: denial of the Gospel call, denial of faith as a duty, denial of the Gospel offer, denial of common grace, and denial of God's love toward the reprobate.
If indeed this error is found to be anywhere, it should be exposed, and those who hold to it should be called on to repent of their false beliefs.
May God grant us understanding and bring glory to His Name.