A History Lesson on Hyper-Calvinism

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


Four Volumes of Biblical Theology…for free!!!

Simon Gerrit De Graaf  was a minister of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands during the early twentieth-century (1889-1955).  During the course of his ministry he wrote a four-volume work called Promise and DeliveranceIt is a comprehensive set of lessons tracing the redemptive story of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.  While long in content, its original intention was aimed at teaching children how to read the Bible with eyes to see the grand story of “promise and deliverance.”  Here is what the Publisher’s Note says in Volume I:

Each chapter of Promise and Deliverance begins with a short discussion of points to bear in mind when studying the story or telling it to children. After this introductory section, the author formulates the story’s main thought in a single sentence. For the sake of emphasis, this sentence is set off from the rest of the text and printed in italic type. Then comes the narrative itself, which makes up the bulk of the chapter. Since some readers will also want to use the narrative sections as a story Bible aimed at older children, the narrative is presented in slightly larger type than the background material at the beginning of each chapter, which is not intended for reading aloud.

So, much like Jonathan Gibson’s The Story of a Kingdom , De Graaf’s work looks to be an excellent resource in studying the Bible diachronically, that is along the lines of redemptive histor.  In a brief review, Drew Goodmanson remarks, “De Graaf does a great job moving beyond the ‘moral lesson’ or ‘typical point’ used in the stories of the Bible to seeing OT stories as foreshadows of Jesus and all part of the redemptive plan of God.”   That is the kind of reading that we need more of, especially for children. But here is what makes it even better– the whole set is now available online for free. 

Paiedea Books, which publishes the four-volume work, has put each volume up online and has made available at no cost a great resource for understanding Biblical Theology and for reading the Bible better.  I would encourage you to check them out yourself.

Volume I : From Creation To The Conquest of Canaan

Volume II : The Failure of Israel’s Theocracy

Volume III: Christ’s Ministry and Death

Volume IV: Christ and the Church

Soli Deo Gloria, dss