Jared Smith On Various Issues

Hyper-Calvinists: A Caricature

Wade Burleson wrote an article entitled, “The Problem of Calling People Hyper-Calvinists”.[1] Having attended the John 3:16 Conference in 2008, he described how Dr. David Allen, Professor of Preaching at Southwestern Theological Seminary, circulated a handout that listed a dozen names identified as “Hyper-Calvinists”. Following Dr. Allen in the pulpit, was Dr. Steve Lempke of New Orleans, who made the observation, “I am not sure that there is such a thing as a living hyper-calvinist. I find that those who call others hyper-calvinists have simply run into people more calvinistic than they are.”

Yet, there is a listing for “Hyper-Calvinism” in the New Dictionary of Theology.[2] The definition is framed by Dr. Curt Daniel, who earned a doctorate studying “hyper” Calvinism:

“It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.”[3]

This is a classic definition attributed to those that hold high views of sovereign grace. They are herded together, branded with the label “Hyper-Calvinist” and put out to pasture. Uninformed (or misinformed) Christians accept the label and believe the definition. Forthwith, many faithful ministers of the gospel are maligned, and a large number of brethren are ostracized, for subscribing to high views of sovereign grace. As for the above definition—it is a silly caricature. Not only does it misrepresent the position, but definitions like this are responsible for creating a number of ominous myths connected with this group of brethren. In this article, I will address the misrepresentations.

A note about the name: “Hyper” is a label evidently designed to create fear and alarm. As Wade Burleson pointed out, “The reason the “hyper-calvinist” label bothers me is because those who use it seem to believe that the alleged hyper-calvinist is not preaching the gospel, has no concern for the lost, and is not orthodox in his view of salvation.” All three of these assumptions are wrong, and therefore a much preferred title is High-Calvinist, which is the name I will use throughout this critique.

The Misrepresentations:

1. “It is that school of supralapsarianism…”

Did God set His love upon the elect before considering the human race created and fallen (Supralapsarianism—before the fall), or did He make this choice after viewing them as created and fallen (Infralapsarianism—after the fall; Sublapsarianism—under the fall)? George Ella, in his defense of John Gill against the charge of hyper-calvinism warns, “Anyone who accuses anybody of being Hyper-Calvinistic on the grounds of Supralapsarianism is treading on thin ice and leaving solid Biblical and even rational reasoning for metaphysical abstractions…Louis Berkoff, in his standard work Systematic Theology…is prepared to state dogmatically that “Calvin was clearly a Supralapsarian”…Thus rather than being “more Calvinistic than Calvin”, to use Naylor’s definition culled from Fuller, in the point of Supralapsarianism, if Gill were a Supralapsarian he would be quite as Calvinistic as Calvin’…”[4] Although I believe the order in the scheme of election is an important issue to the framework of the covenant of grace, it is certainly not a distinguishing mark of a High-Calvinist. Not only did John Gill subscribe to both views, but George Ella himself is a Sublapsarian.[5] Both men reject duty faith and the free offer.

2. “…Which so stresses the sovereignty of God…”

Can the sovereignty of God be over stressed? He is either absolutely sovereign, or partially sovereign. Whereas we do well to keep in moderation all things that have limits, yet to apply such moderation to God who has no limits, is to reduce Him to the restrictions of a creature. God is essentially sovereign, as God, and therefore no extreme measure of sovereignty can be ascribed to Him—“And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan 4:34) I have often heard it stated by Fullerites that there is a tension that exists between the sovereignty of God and the will of man. But this is to put God and man on the same level; it is to make the Creator equal to the creature. God Himself declares there is absolutely no tension between Him and any of His creatures—Isaiah 46:9-11: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”

3. “…by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time…”

How can anyone over-emphasize something that is unknown?[6] If it is not known (secret), then there is nothing that can be emphasized. However, what Curt Daniel evidently means by God’s secret will, is the subject he introduced at the beginning—supralapsarianism. He supposes the Scriptures do not reveal the order in the scheme of election, and therefore it is a “secret”, or purely speculative matter. Henceforth, Daniel is arguing that the High-Calvinist interprets the concrete doctrines of God’s Word, by his speculative knowledge of God’s will (or for another argument he is likely making, see endnote #6). However, Daniel’s position can only be sustained if the order of the scheme of election is indeed, not revealed in Scripture. In 1736, a man named Jon Burt wrote a pamphlet against Supralapsarianism. His first argument was that the doctrine is not found in the Bible. In answer to this assertion, John Gill wrote, “He proposes to show, that [Supralapsarianism] is destitute of support from the scripture, and tells us, he has often wondered what part of sacred writ can be produced to support it…If the man is really ignorant, as I am inclined to think he is, and does not know what parts of sacred writ the Supralapsarians have produced to support their doctrine, he has acted a weak part in meddling with the controversy; if he does know, he has acted a worse in concealing of them…every one knows, that knows any thing of this controversy, that the scriptural part of it is about the sense of the ninth chapter of the epistle to the Romans…”[7] Now, it is disingenuous to suggest the High-Calvinist is speculating about the secret will of God, when the subject of Supralapsarianism is revealed in Scripture. As it forms part of God’s revealed will, the High-Calvinist cannot be over-emphasizing the secret will of God. On the point of the High-Calvinist emphasizing eternity over time—this again is a misrepresentation of the issue. The High-Calvinist interprets time by eternity—he/she understands that whatever comes to pass in time, has been foreordained by God from eternity. This is actually a key issue, for the High-Calvinist would argue one of the leading factors that creates so much confusion in the mind of the Arminian/Fullerite, is that they make the mistake of interpreting eternity by time.

4. “…that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners…”

This is not true. The High-Calvinist does not minimize the responsibility of sinners by magnifying the sovereignty of God. Rather, he rightly identifies the sinners’ responsibility. All sinners are brought into the world under the terms and promises of the covenant of works. In virtue of their union with Adam, they are conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity; they are under the wrath and condemnation of God; yet they all remain responsible to perfectly obey the law God has inscribed upon their hearts. The unregenerate are called upon to repent of their sins, worship the one true and living God and perfectly obey His law—but there is absolutely no saving value in these obligations. It isn’t until the Spirit of God imparts a new nature to the soul (new birth), that the regenerate sinner is experientially released from the terms and promises of the covenant of works, and is brought under the covenant of grace. Thereafter, the regenerate are responsible to God under a new covenant, having been delivered from the old. At no time are the unregenerate or regenerate responsible under the terms and promises of both covenants simultaneously. Henceforth, it is misleading to charge the High-Calvinist with minimizing the responsibility of sinners—he/she actually distinguishes and establishes the proper boundaries of it.

5. “…notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel…”

As if it is a foregone conclusion that the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel is Scriptural. This idea of an “offer” is not derived from the Scriptures, it is read into them. The preaching of the gospel is always set forth to be precisely that—“preaching”. It is a proclamation, declaration or announcement of the good news. To “offer” the gospel takes the whole matter a step further than that authorized by Christ. “But”, says one, “If you don’t ‘offer’ the gospel, then you’re not applying the message!” That is not true. An “application” of the message to the various conditions and cases of the hearers is part of the proclamation. An “offer” of the gift of God in Christ is not a declaration or application, but a presumption. It is presumed that an “offer” must be given, which is then used for the basis of other ideas (that the unregenerate are responsible to believe savingly on Christ), although the opposite is taught in Scripture (Jn 1:12,13; Rom 9:16). Ultimately, the High-Calvinist need not even reject the “offer” based on a theological framework—he is able to discard it on the basis that the Scriptures do not prescribe it by precept or example.

6. “…thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus…”

“Undermine” is the wrong word. High-Calvinism repudiates the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus Christ. The responsibility (duty) of sinners is restricted to the covenant under which they have been brought. The unregenerate are duty-bound to the covenant of works—there is absolutely no provisions or promises of redemption through Christ contained in that covenant. Unless the unregenerate are experientially released (new birth) from the covenant of works, they will be forever duty-bound to it. However, once the sinner has been born again, he/she is brought experientially under the covenant of grace, whereby it becomes his/her privilege (duty) to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus. One of the leading problems with the foregoing definition of High-Calvinism, is that it insinuates some kind of sinister consequence where sinners are not welcomed to believe on Christ, even if they wanted to. This could not be further from the truth. Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (Jn 6:37) While the High-Calvinist rejects the free offer, yet he believes it is a free gospel provided for all thirsty souls—Isaiah 55:1: “Ho, every one that THIRSTETH, come ye to the waters.”; John 7:37: “If any man THIRST, let him come unto Me and drink.”; Revelation 22:17: “Let him that is ATHIRST come, and whosoever WILL let him take the water of life freely.”; Matthew 11:28: “Come unto Me, all ye that LABOUR and are HEAVY LADEN, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:15: “He that hath EARS to HEAR, let him HEAR.” However, such thirsting, willing, longing and hearing is the result of the Holy Spirit quickening the soul, rather than a lead up to it—sinners are invited to drink, come and hear; they are not commanded to thirst, will (believe) and to have ears. These are faculties belonging to the new nature in Christ, and therefore can only be exercised after the sinner has been born again. The preacher does not proclaim the gospel to make salvation available to sinners, he preaches to sinners in order that God might gather His elect. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (Jn 10:14-16) It is a particular gospel, preached for the specific purpose, of reaching a peculiar people, by proclaiming a precise message, to all sinners! It only becomes the duty of the sinner to exercise saving faith in the Lord Jesus, after he/she has been conquered by grace, and therefore brought experientially (regeneration) under the gracious covenant.

7. “…with the assurance that Christ actually died for them;”

It is unclear to me whether this statement is a reference to the preacher’s assurance, or the sinner’s assurance. I will therefore answer both:

(1) The Preacher’s Assurance.

The definition may contend, that the High-Calvinist preacher undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus, because he doesn’t have the assurance that Christ actually died for those sinners. To this charge, I would again point out that the chief reason the High-Calvinist rejects the duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus, is because they are confined to the obligations of the covenant of works. This covenant makes no provision for salvation, nor does it promise salvation, neither does it demand a belief in Christ unto salvation. So long as the sinner remains unregenerate, he/she has absolutely nothing to do with the covenant of grace (experientially). In addition, the High-Calvinist refuses to offer the gospel to sinners, for not only does the offer itself contradict the message of God’s power unto salvation, but it also falsely asserts that Christ “actually” died for the elect/non-elect. In fact, it is this “assurance” that Christ “actually” died for all sinners that exposes the underbelly of the Fullerite—the Moderate-Calvinist is able to offer the gift of God to sinners, and demand they exercise gracious covenant privileges, because he/she believes in universal redemption. It is therefore questionable whether the Fullerite should even be labeled a Calvinist.

(2) The Sinner’s Assurance.

The definition may suggest, that the sinner who is saved, and brought under the influence of High-Calvinist teachings, lacks the assurance that Christ “actually” died for him/her. I doubt this is the intended meaning, but it does tie in with the final statement of the definition—“…and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.” To this charge, I would point out two things: First, this assurance that Christ “actually” died for the believer is one of the chief blessings secured by the covenant of grace. How else does the believer have joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17)? How else does the believer boldly come before the throne of grace in time of need (Heb 4:16)? How else does the believer rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:2)? How else does the believer confess that he/she is a stranger and pilgrim on the earth, seeking a heavenly country (Heb 11:13,14)? In fact, such assurance and boldness belongs more to those whose views of sovereign grace are high, for they are confident of this very thing, that He which has begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6). Unlike the cold and rigid duty-faith gospel of the Arminian/Fullerite, the High-Calvinist subscribes to an experiential gospel, where the Holy Spirit works in His people both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). The High-Calvinist knows Christ died for him/her, because the Spirit of God (experientially) bears witness with his/her spirit (Rom 8:16). Saving faith is living faith (Jn 15:5; 1 Cor 6:19,20). Second, this introspection in search to know whether or not one is elect is a healthy exercise of the soul. Shouldn’t every believer give diligence to make his/her calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10)? Indeed, every believer should regularly examine the heart, to be sure he/she is in the faith—to prove the authenticity of his/her life in Christ (2 Cor 13:5). And praise God, the Holy Spirit bears witness with the spirit of His people that they are the children of God—and if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16,17). Yes, the High-Calvinist, along with all believers, searches to know whether or not he/she is elect, because it is part of keeping the heart with all diligence (Prov 4:23). To allege the High-Calvinist creates for himself/herself a morbid introversion by meditating on the electing love of Jehovah is absurd. The fact is, regeneration is impossible without redemption; redemption is meaningless without election. Sinners are born again by the Spirit of God, because they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ; they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, because they have been chosen by the love of the Father. The High-Calvinist searches to know whether he/she is elect, by the assurance that he/she is redeemed and regenerated.

Now, each of the foregoing statements, forming part of the larger definition, is either inaccurate, misleading or unremarkable descriptions of the High-Calvinist. Sadly, however, this is the type of caricature that has been accepted by mainline Christian denominations. It is hoped the people of God will give greater care examining the Scriptures, before passing sentence against those whom they do not fully understand.

[1] The Problem with Calling People a Hyper-Calvinist.
[2] Dr. Curt Daniel, “Hyper-Calvinism,” New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.
[3] I have selected this definition over others, because it appears to be widely used as the definitive statement on Hyper-Calvinism. I have cited the reference from Phil Johnson’s, “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism”. Although Johnson outlines his own five-fold definition of a Hyper-Calvinist, it pales in comparison with the “definitive statement”. Nevertheless, since Johnson asserts “…hyper-Calvinism undermine[s] evangelism or twist[s] the gospel message”, I have chosen to critique his pamphlet, which will be forthcoming.
[4] John Gill and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism.
[5] Duty-Faith and the Protestant Reformed Churches.
[6] “The secret and the revealed will of Cod…The former is the will of God’s decree, which is largely hidden in God, while the latter is the will of the precept, which is revealed in the law and in the gospel…The secret will of God pertains to all things which He wills either to effect or to permit, and which are therefore absolutely fixed. The revealed will prescribes the duties of man, and represents the way in which he can enjoy the blessings of God.” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 77,78). I do not agree God’s secret will correlates with His decree, whereas His revealed will correlates with His precepts—as if the secret will is all about God’s choice, but His revealed will is all about man’s choice. Of course, this is the argument brought against the High-Calvinist—that by magnifying the secret (God’s choice), he/she diminishes the revealed (man’s choice). No, rather, I see the secret will of God to be all things that are hidden and remain a mystery, but this does not automatically include all things connected with His eternal decree. As outlined in Romans 9 or Ephesians 1, there are aspects of God’s decree that are revealed, and these things naturally fall within the scope of His revealed will. All that has been revealed, whether it relates to eternity or time, is to be the framework around which we understand the truth (gospel). It is pure folly to pit the will of God against itself, as if there is a tension between the eternal and the temporal; between God and man. The eternal decree governs all things temporal, and as there is perfect harmony between the one and the other, so the temporal is to be interpreted by the eternal.
[7] John Gill, Truth Defended, 1736.