Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Theological Word of the Day: Hyper-Calvinism

Date June 25, 2010

Hyper-Calvinism is a pejorative designation for those who are believed to go beyond historic Calvinism in their doctrine. Although there is no one way to designate a Calvinist as “hyper,” there are many extremes that might carry such a designation. Among these extremes: the belief that we do not need to evangelize, the belief that God is the author of evil and sin, the belief that God does not love the non-elect, the belief that God actively elected people to go to hell (the reprobate) before he created them (superlapsarianism), the belief in meticulous sovereignty (that God is the immediate cause of all things), and/or that true Christians will always be Calvinist. All of these are not defining characteristics of historic Calvinism.

Unfortunately the comments are closed on this posting at the Theological Word of the Day for this term. If the comments were open I would have made an extensive comment, particularly since this definition makes classical Calvinism "hyper-Calvinism." Why would I say that? Let me explain.

First of all, the author of the definition cannot decide what the criteria are for defining a "hyper-Calvinist". He says that there is "no one way to designate a Calvinist as 'hyper'." If we are going to pejoratively label someone or some denomination as "hyper-Calvinist" surely there must be some objective standard by which to judge such theology? In fact, there are several such standards. We call them the Reformed symbols or the Reformed confessions. Another term is the Reformed standards, which would include the accompanying catechisms which instruct new believers in the basics of the Reformed understanding of the Christian faith. Another standard by which we could judge such a person or denomination is John Calvin's Institutes, which is considered the first authoritative and universally accepted systematic theology of the Reformed or "Calvinistic" faith. So how does our author's statement line up with the Reformed confessions? Let us investigate.

Our author implies that the "pejorative" term is an acceptable one for anyone who holds to any single one of the markers he identifies as an indication of "hyper-Calvinism." Let us examine point by point the designations which deserve the pejorative label of "hyper-Calvinist as indicated by the writer. First, he says that the extremes of "hyper-Calvinism are:

1. The belief that we do not need to evangelize.

This point seems to be a legitimate one. However, no Reformed denomination that I know of takes this view, with the one exception of the Primitive Baptists. Clearly Scripture commands evangelism and preaching and teaching the Gospel is God's appointed means for saving His elect. (See Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 8:28-32; Romans 10:8-18).

2. The belief that God is the author of evil and sin.

This point is ambiguous. It implies that anyone who believes God is sovereign over evil also believes that God is the author of evil. Here another ambiguity arises. What "kind" of evil is the author speaking about? Theologically speaking there are two major divisions of the concept of evil. The first is moral evil committed or conceived by free moral agents like angels or human beings. The second is classified as catastrophes or "acts of God." Events that would fall into the latter category would be floods, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, storms of various kinds, meteorites, volcanoes, diseases and other natural disasters. Clearly the Bible does teach that God is in absolute control over all catastrophic events. Isaiah 45:7 says this:

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7 ESV)

I could go through the Scriptures and give many cross references and proof texts supporting the general assertion made in Isaiah 45:7. (See Amos 3:6; Luke 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 29:20-28; Joshua 7:7; Isaiah 29:6). The Bible teaches that God is in providential control of "evil" in the form of calamities and disasters. That much is clear. No Calvinist I know of would say that the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was merely a chance event which was outside of God's control. If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent then surely God could have prevented this disaster?

Which leads me to the next point. Is God in control of moral evil? The short answer is yes. But how is this possible if we have free choice and a real human autonomy? I am glad you asked. First of all, we ought to note that God does not make humans "robots" who simply act by God's direct action upon them. Calvinism is often accused of making mankind merely puppets who act and react by the direct action of God upon them. However, this is a straw man argument. The Westminster Confession of Faith clarifies this doctrine for us:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 11:33, Heb. 6:17, Rom. 9:15,18) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James 1:13,17, 1 John 1:5) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23, Matt. 17:12, Acts 4:27–28, John 19:11, Prov. 16:33)

The Westminster confession of faith : An authentic modern version. 1985 (Rev. EPC ed.). Signal Mountain, TN: Summertown Texts.

Clearly, the Westminster Confession says that God does not violate the will of fallen men, including the elect and the non-elect. John Calvin in discussing the fall of Adam quotes Augustine favorably when Augustine said that God willingly permits that which is against God's will. In other words, God's decrees have to do with what actually happens in real time while God's law is His preceptive will or what God commands us to to do. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, 18.3, "Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He Stays Pure," Calvin says:

The former wishes what God wills not, the latter wishes what God also wills. And yet the filial affection of the former is more consonant to the good will of God, though willing differently, than the unnatural affection of the latter, though willing the same thing; so much does approbation or condemnation depend on what it is befitting in man, and what in God to will, and to what end the will of each has respect. For the things which God rightly wills, he accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men,”—(August. Enchirid. ad Laurent. cap. 101). He had said a little before (cap. 100), that the apostate angels, by their revolt, and all the reprobate, as far as they themselves were concerned, did what God willed not; but, in regard to his omnipotence, it was impossible for them to do so: for, while they act against the will of God, his will is accomplished in them. Hence he exclaims, “Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! so that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil,” (Augustin. in Ps. 111:2). (See Instrumentality of the Wicked).

Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1996). Institutes of the Christian religion (electronic ed.) (I, xviii, 3). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.

As can be easily seen from the above, both the Westminster Confession and the Institutes of the Christian Religion affirm that God is in absolute control of moral evil without being the direct cause of moral evil. Even more to the point, the Bible clearly teaches this doctrine in many places. The most obvious example of this is the story of Joseph being sold into slavery(Genesis 37:28; Genesis 50:20). Another example is the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

"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-- 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 2:22-23 ESV)

Our writer is correct that God is not the "author" of evil. However, it is not correct to say that God is not in absolute control of the actions of free moral agents, even if they freely choose to sin and rebel. God can and does use even rebellion for His own glory (Romans 9:6; Romans 9:19-23). The accusation that God is the "author of evil" is simply a straw man fallacy leveled at Calvinists by those who refuse to accept the whole counsel of God as it is written in the Holy Scriptures. Taking the statement of the definition above at face value one would think that being a Calvinist is in and of itself "hyper-Calvinism."

3. The belief that God does not love the non-elect.

Again, the author of this theological definition does not seem to recognize that historic or classical Calvinism does in fact teach that God does not love the reprobate or the non-elect. This should not be a controversial doctrine since it is taught in Romans 9:13. That God does not love the "non-elect" is also taught by Calvin:

Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. Thus for a time a pious affection prevailed in Saul, disposing him to love God. Knowing that he was treated with paternal kindness, he was in some degree attracted by it. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection. The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them or their sins, and also propitious to their persons. It is not from fictitious dread that they deprecate his anger, and yet they retake themselves to him with tranquil confidence. It hence appears that the faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretence. (See III:2.12).

Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1996). Institutes of the Christian religion (electronic ed.) (III, ii, 12). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.

Now clearly Calvin says that God loves only the elect and that God does not "hate" the elect, though they can fall under His anger for a time. It is not illogical therefore to take this at face value and say that God does hate the "non-elect" since God only loves the elect and does not "hate" the elect. It is the flip side of election. Election = God's unconditional love. Reprobation = God's justice against the fallen human race applied by passing over some of them. (See Romans 9:13; Malachi 1:2-3; John 6:70; John 13:18).

4. The belief that God actively elected people to go to hell (the reprobate) before he created them (superlapsarianism).

This statement is so full of contradictions that it is difficult to know exactly what the author means to say here. First of all, how can God not actively elect since that is a sovereign decree of God in the first place? Secondly, "election" is the doctrine that God chooses to have mercy on some and not on others. So in that sense, God does not "elect" the reprobate. In fact, He does not choose to have mercy on them but hardens whom He will harden (Romans 9:16-18). Election or electing therefore applies only to the elect and not to the reprobate. But this would involve a choice to pass over some of fallen mankind and this is predestined as well since God could have chosen to give all men without distinction election to mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We know from Scripture that this is not so. Judas Iscariot was not chosen and was destined to stumbled. (See 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 1:4) Calvin's commentary on 1 Peter 2:8 clearly shows the possibility of the interpretation that God destines the reprobate for rejection:

Whereunto also they were appointed, or, to which they had been ordained. This passage may be explained in two ways. It is, indeed, certain that Peter spoke of the Jews; and the common interpretation is, that they were appointed to believe, for the promise of salvation was destined for them. But the other sense is equally suitable, that they had been appointed to unbelief; as Pharaoh is said to have been set up for this end, that he might resist God, and all the reprobate are destined for the same purpose. And what inclines me to this meaning is the particle καὶ (also) which is put in. (See 1 Peter 2:8).

And finally, the author seems not to know that both infralapsarianism supralapsarianism teach that election and reprobation are decrees made before creation. The order of the decrees is a logical order and not a temporal order that falls out in time. This can easily be seen in the Canons of Dort where the controversy over the order of the decrees was the dispute that ultimately led to the Arminian heresy:

Article 6
God's Eternal Decree

That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God's eternal decree, "For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world," (Acts 15:18)."Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will," (Ephesians 1:11).According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, and merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.

Article 7
Election Defined

Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.

This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than the others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of his mercy, and for the praise of his glorious grace; as it is written: "According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved," (Ephesians 1:4,5,6).And elsewhere: "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified," (Romans 8:30). (See First Head of Doctrine, 6 and 7).

You will have to forgive me for quoting from Phillip Johnson here but this is the most concise and clear explanation of the dispute between the Supralapsarians and the Infralapsarians I could find online. Obviously, I do not agree with Phil Johnson's definition of "hyper-Calvinism" since he is a Reformed Baptist and biased against the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. However, he does have a good chart explaining the differences on this page:

The distinction between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism has to do with the logical order of God's eternal decrees, not the timing of election. Neither side suggests that the elect were chosen after Adam sinned. God made His choice before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4)—long before Adam sinned. Both infras and supras (and even many Arminians) agree on this. (See Notes on Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism).

Just two more points in the definition to which I will respond. The next being:

5. The belief in meticulous sovereignty (that God is the immediate cause of all things).

Again, this one is ambiguous since no Calvinist I know of denies that God is in charge of absolutely everything that happens. So to say that God is not the "immediate cause" of all things implies that God is not the cause of all things at all, which is not Calvinism but Arminianism or worse. The fact of the matter is that the Reformed confessions unanimously affirm that God brings every single detail of every event to pass. Not only so but Scripture affirms this as well. The difference is that God works through secondary means rather than primary means. (See Westminster Confession 3:1)

And the final point of the definition says:

6. And/or that true Christians will always be Calvinist.

This point is misleading as well. Most Calvinists acknowledge that those who are Protestants and uphold the five solas of the Protestant Reformation are genuinely Christian. However, not every denomination agrees to the same extent on the meaning of those solas. Most Arminians can affirm the five solas to one degree or another so being an Arminian does not in and of itself negate salvation. That being said, however, some Arminians and Amyraldians are for all practical purposes outright pelagian, especially those who adopt the views of Charles Finney. Semi-pelagianism is very close to pelagianism and sometimes the line between the two becomes fuzzy in today's Evangelicalism where pragmatism and libertarian free will are emphasized above the Scriptures and God's sovereignty in salvation. (See Christless Christianity). It has been my experience that usually the pejorative term "hyper-Calvinism" is unjustified in the vast majority of the cases. For example, many have labelled the Protestant Reformed Church in America as "hyper-Calvinist" based on their rejection of the relatively late doctrines of common grace and the free offer of the Gospel expressed in the Three Points of Common Grace. However, this is unjustified since the doctrines of the PRCA are directly based on Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity.

The problem with the above definition is that it really defines nothing and instead poses several straw man fallacies against the actual and real position of most Calvinists. While there are certainly internecine disagreements among Calvinists over issues like the logical order of the divine decrees and the issue of common grace versus unconditional grace, this definition overgeneralizes and does not make the finer distinctions necessary for a proper understanding of the doctrine of God and the double decrees to election and reprobation. In fact, about the only denomination which might remotely fit the above description is the Primitive Baptists and even here there is no consistency from one church or association to another; basically, the Primitive Baptists have no seminary and no formal training for their ministers so opinions will vary from minister to minister and from church to church. My strongest disagreement with Primitive Baptists is their belief that God has not ordained Gospel preaching as the only way of salvation and as the appointed means of saving God's elect. God owes those who have not heard the Gospel nothing. In this case, I might be accused of being more "hyper" than the "hyper-Calvinists"! (Acts 4:11-12; John 14:6).


William Price said...

Well responded to. The truth is, to some Armenians, all Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists. Straw man arguments are all they seem to muster.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your kind remarks, William. Looks like you have a good blog there.

Reformation and Revival Sovereign Grace Ministries

May the peace of God be with you!

Romans 5:1-2; Romans 8:1-2


Dominic said...

Well argued. Thank you. The presuppositions in this piece could have been so easily accepted by many. Good work for the Gospel.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your comments, Dominic. Peace!

+Sola Scriptura+
+Sola Gratia+
+Sola Fide+
+Solus Christus+
+Soli Deo Gloria+

muddleglum said...

>The belief that we do not need to evangelize.
This point seems to be a legitimate one. However, no Reformed denomination that I know of takes this view, with the one exception of the Primitive Baptists

?!?Interesting. I work with a man who is a Primitive Baptist missionary in Scotland and know of at least one other. Both evangelize.
I suspect that you are using "Reformed" to specify narrowly, but I know that the particular Baptists in England were Calvinist, AND didn't believe in evangelism. William Carey and Spurgeon both had their problems with these folks.

>Calvinism is often accused of making mankind merely puppets who act and react by the direct action of God upon them.

This is one ...

I better give it up. You are saying too much in one blog post.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Hi, Muddlegum...

There is a distinction between Reformed or "Particular" Baptists and the Primitive Baptists. Primitive Baptists separated from the others over having organized Sunday schools, missions, and seminaries.

My grandfather and great grandfather were both Primitive Baptists. Also, I visited the local Primitive Baptist church just recently. During the sermon the minister said that God can save people who are not members of the church, implying that those who have not heard the Gospel in other parts of the world could be elect.

I don't agree with that, of course.

Anyway, I notice that you're hearing impaired. I have one bad ear and one good one so I can identify with you to a small degree. A friend of mine from high school lost his hearing at age 16. I learned to finger spell and do some basic signs so we could talk better. That's been so long ago I've forgotten much of what I knew.

Anyway, may God bless you and may the peace of God be with you.


Augustinian said...


Great analysis and rebuttal! Interestingly, I've recently been told by some Arminians (or should I say, neo-Pelagians?) that there was no difference between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism.

Keep up the good work. Grace, mercy, and peace to you!

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks for your kind remarks, Augustinian. Unfortunately these day many Evangelicals have been so deceived by the pelagianism of Finney that they are now saying the Protestant Reformation is over. Many Anglicans think the Reformation is just a sectarian split over a misunderstanding but what really matters is the ecumenical creeds and the visible "catholic" church. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is really important is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not a visible unity around the "historic" episcopate, apostolic succession, a papist view of 7 sacraments, and a papist reading of Scripture. (Lambeth Quadrilateral).

Apostolic doctrine trumps apostolic succession every time.



Charlie J. Ray said...

The Formula Consensus Helvitica condemns the Amyraldian position and straightforwardly says that God hates the reprobate:

For these and all other kindred teachings are in no wise insignificant deviations from the form of sound words respecting Divine Election; because the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God's purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded, even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred (Rom. 9:10-13). The same Holy Scriptures testify that the counsel and the will of God change not, but stand immovable, and God in the heavens doeth whatsoever he will (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 46:10); for God is infinitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance, and change of purpose. Formula Consensus Helvitica

The Amyraldian view seems to be in the mind of the author of this definition of "hyper-Calvinism."

Support Reasonable Christian Ministries with your generous donation.