Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thoughts on Hyper-Calvinism

Justin Taylor recently published a post on his blog discussing a few thoughts on the subject of "Hyper-Calvinism" that interest me. It is an easy label to throw around for some just as some Calvinists are equally adept at accusing Arminians of being Pelagians or semi-Pelagians. I don't know if there is a corresponding label of Hyper-Arminian that would be comparable to the Hyper-Calvinist application. Arminianism is in many ways a reaction to Calvinism and in that regard I suppose an Arminian who would deny that Calvinism is within the pale of orthodoxy and salvation could be defined as a Hyper-Arminian. However, such a denial is not a hyper-extension of any particular Arminian doctrine so I would suggest the "Hyper" label is inappropriate. With the Calvinist, it is not quite as easy to dismiss.

As Taylor points out in his post, Calvinists themselves have defined what constitutes a "Hyper-Calvinist". Phil Johnson stated as such several years ago with his own definitions (generally accepted among most Calvinists). Others have done so as well. What is still in question however is whether the church at large is bound by the definitions set by Calvinists in what might appear as a self serving defense. Personally, I have few qualms with Johnson's definitions and I am more than willing to have Calvinists define themselves as they wish. Others have expressed different opinions on the matter with a common objection being that the Hyper-Calvinist is the only consistent Calvinist. It is an understandable and logical conclusion but such a suggestion focuses only on the unique distinctions of the Calvinist faith i.e. TULIP or Calvinist predestinarianism as it was once referred to in the early years of these disputes. It ignores the reality that with regard to most doctrines of orthodox Christianity (at least western Protestant orthodoxy), the Calvinist is well within the pale of orthodoxy along with his Arminian, Lutheran and General Baptist brethren. The Hyper-Calvinist, on the other hand, denies the same fellowship to anybody who rejects the Calvinist dogma. In that sense, I do not believe it is fair to state that the only consistent Calvinist is a Hyper-Calvinist.

Johnson identified five versions of the Hyper-Calvinist. As mentioned above I have no problem with his definitions although one in particular does raise some questions. He states with regard to his first version or variety ... "Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear". Many Calvinists would claim that since regeneration must occur first in order to "hear", that not all "hear" in the sense of being witness to the preaching of the Cross e.g. the message not efficaciously intended for all who physically hear. In that sense, the Calvinist who believes such can excuse himself from Johnson's definition by defining "hear" to match his theological dogma. It is similar to the common Calvinist objection of "world" being applied universally in John's Gospel. (Since Calvin can be reasonably argued as having been a proponent of unlimited atonement, he would not fall into that slippery slope of association).

I agree with Taylor and Johnson that Hyper-Calvinism, as they define it, undermines the Gospel and should be actively opposed. Then again, I also believe the unique doctrines of mainstream Calvinism undermine the Gospel and attack the very character of God and should be actively opposed. In that I am a consistent Arminian.