In 2006, Ergun Caner preached a message called “Why I am Predestined not to be a Hyper-Calvinist!” His message at the Thomas Road Baptist Church confused the differences between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, and finished with a deplorable illustration where Caner suggested that in heaven he would stand up and declare the rightness of his views.
For the record, in heaven, Calvinist-Arminian debates will be over and only One Person who will be standing, and it won’t be Ergun Caner. Everyone, including Liberty’s former dean, will be bowing to the One who is the Lamb that was slain for peoples from all nations, and Christians from all soteriological persuasions.
Nevertheless, Caner’s polemical message is just one of many places where Hyper-Calvinism is confused with Calvinism, a term that Carl Truman has more recently suggested is “profoundly unhelpful” (see his article on the subject, “Calvin and Calvinism“). It seems that more often than not, when someone denigrates Calvinism, they do so by confusing it with many of the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism.
A bit of historical clarification is in order–especially, if we care about the Golden Rule and loving others enough to understand their position.
Thus, enter Kevin DeYoung and Peter Toon. This week, DeYoung, a Michigan pastor, has proffered a brief explanation of the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and those who take seriously the Reformed doctrines of grace. He points to Peter Toon’s book, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity 1689-1765, as a helpful though dense book on the matter, and he shows a number of ways that well-intentioned but errant men slipped from the warm, evangelical Reformed Orthodoxy to the anti-evangelistic notions of Hyper-Calvinism.
DeYoung quotes Toon at length to spell out the greatest differences:
[Hyper-Calvinism] was a system of theology, or a system of the doctrines of God, man and grace, which was framed to exalt and honour and glory of God and did so at the expense of minimising the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners to God. It places excessive emphasis on the immanent acts of God–eternal justification, eternal adoption and the eternal covenant of grace. In practice, this meant that “Christ and Him crucified”, the central message of the apostles, was obscured.
It also often made no distinction between the secret and the revealed will of God, and tried to deduce the duty of men from what it taught concerning the secret, eternal decrees of God.
Excessive emphasis was also placed on the doctrine of irresistible grace with the tendency to state that an elect man is not only passive in regeneration but also in conversion as well. The absorbing interest in the eternal, immanent acts of God and in irresistible grace led to the notion that grace must only be offered to those for whom it was intended.
Finally, a valid assurance of salvation was seen as consisting in an inner feeling and conviction of being eternally elected by God. So Hyper-Calvinism led its adherents to hold that evangelism was not necessary and to place much emphasis on introspection in order to discover whether or not one was elect. (144-45)
According to such views, most Reformed thinkers today are far, far removed from Hyper-Calvinism. In fact, the most articulate defenders of the doctrines of grace are often the greatest champions for biblical missions and evangelism–just read Let the Nations Be Glad.
For those who have thought much on this matter, or read blogs or books on the subject, it is often the case that there is more heat than light, and that often titles and terms are misused. Toon’s explanation and DeYoung’s synthesis, however, provide a helpful distinction between these two historical movements in Church History.
For believers on both sides of the theological fence, rightly understanding the difference between Reformed Theology and Hyper-Calvinism is imperative for rightly dividing the Word of Truth and protecting the church from unnecessary division caused by pejorative labels and misrepresentation.
For those who have ears to hear, DeYoung’s thoughtful blog post, “The What and Why of Hyper-Calvinism” provides much help in discerning truth from error, and recognizing the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and the seriously Reformed. It is vital reading for anyone thinking on these things.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss