June 21, 2006

Caricatures of Hyper-Calvinism

"I'm not a hyper-Calvinist! I think we should preach to all. I am not against evangelism." Ever heard that before? It's quite common. Reformed people today are very busy creating a caricatured view of Hyper-Calvinism when they respond to critics (so that they are not identified with it or don't look so close to it themselves). From what they say, one would think that Hyper-Calvinists didn't believe one should preach to all. Dr. Curt Daniel writes this in his dissertation:
In spite of their theological position on other points, the Hyper-Calvinists have stressed the primacy of preaching in a way that surprises many of their critics. Contrary to the opinion of some opponents, they nearly always believed that the Gospel is to be preached indiscriminately to all men. This is not a minority view either, nor a later development, for we find it from the very beginning. Hussey gave as the first answer to the question above (Tony: the question was: “How must we preach the Gospel, if we do not offer the Gospel?”), “We must preach the doctrine of salvation to all sinners, in general, within the hearing.” The same opinion can be found in the special subject of our study, Dr. John Gill: “the Gospel is to be preached to all.” Of course, this applies only to rational creatures; but as all men have the natural duty to hear and believe what God reveals to them, so the preacher has the duty to preach and proclaim to all.
Dr. Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1983), 448–449.

And then in another book:
With the exception of a few extreme Primitive Baptists, all Hyper-Calvinists have believed that we are to "preach" the Gospel to all, but "offer" it to none. Preach, explain, command -yes. Offer - no. Some have also quibbled over the word "invite", arguing that we can only invite "sensible [convicted] sinners", not sinners in general. All this is related to anti-missionism.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Springfield: Good Books, 2003), 89.

Update on 6-23-12:

I'll include some things I quoted on the SBCToday blog in 2011 (click).

What the classical Hyper-Calvinists were against was free offers, particularly if one is suggesting in the indiscriminate offer that God wills the eternal well-being, i.e. the salvation, of every man who hears the gospel. They were not necessarily against preaching to all.

In the recent True Church Conference on Hyper-Calvinism, notice what Dr. Michael Haykin said about John Gill’s rejection of free offers:
He admitted that the “gospel is indeed ordered to be preached to every creature to whom it is sent and comes….Gill stated, “that there are universal offers of grace and salvation made to all men, I utterly deny.” Not even to the elect does God make an “offer” of salvation.
Iain Murray is the same, and says this about Hyper-Calvinists preaching to all:
If God has chosen an elect people, then, Hyper-Calvinism argued, he can have no desire for the salvation of any others and to speak as though he had, is to deny the particularity of grace. Of course, Hyper-Calvinists accepted that the gospel be preached to all, but they denied that such preaching was intended to demonstrate any love on the part of God for all, or any invitation to all to receive mercy.
Gerald Priest wrote the following in the Denver Baptist Theological Journal:
What troubled Robert Hall and certainly Andrew Fuller was the fact that, for all his assertions of proclaiming the gospel to everyone, Gill undervalued the general call when insisting upon the effectual call.
Robert Oliver (who thinks Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist), writing in the Banner of Truth, said:
As Dr Nettles shows, he [Gill] did believe in evangelism, as, in fact, many other Hyper-Calvinists have done.
These men agree with Daniel's position above.

In the audio in this post, one can hear D. A. Carson saying the same thing.

And, as I say in a comment below, Phil Johnson notes that:
Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the "gospel" they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God's decree as it pertains to the reprobate.
One can see all of these men (Daniel, Haykin, Murray, Priest, Oliver, Carson and Johnson), who have studied the issue, admitting that Hyper-Calvinists believed in “preaching” to all men. What Hyper-Calvinists were actually against were free “offers,” since “offers” presuppose certain theological issues they viewed as problematic (i.e., conditionalism in the New Covenant, man’s ability to accept, God’s willingness to give, an objective sufficiency in Christ's death for all, etc.) and contrary to the “doctrine of sovereign grace.”

The Gospel Standard confession in Article 29 says:
While we believe that the Gospel is to be preached in or proclaimed to all the world, we deny offers of grace; that is to say, that the gospel is to be offered indiscriminately to all.
Articles of Faith and Rules (Harpenden, UK: Gospel Standard Trust Publications, 2008), 35.
Hypers, I acknowledge, claim they do preach the gospel to all, but Spurgeon was referring to the fact that they limit the gospel invitation to the sensible. Giving the invitation to all, however, is an essential part of preaching the gospel to every creature; without it, the gospel is not being preached as it should be.
David H. J. Gay, The Gospel Offer is Free: A Reply to George Ella’s Rejection of the Gospel Offer, 2nd ed. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; England: Brachus, 2012), 179n35.

[Note: See also the comments section for more relevant quotes.]


Aaron Mills said...

Hi Tony,

All I know is that I'm a Calvinist and I believe the clear affirmation of Scripture is that we preach the gospel to all men. Whatever someone's position is about God's preceptive and decretal wills, the above affirmation does not change. I think you are lumping High Calvinists in with Hyper-Calvinists incorrectly, there is a proper and historically accurate distinction to be made...

--Jon Unyan

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Jon,

Since you have spent so much time reading my blog, I am suprised that you would think that I don't know there's a proper historical distinction between high Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. I am not "lumping" them together. I am just saying that they are conceptually closer than most people think. While they are distinct, the jump from high Calvinism to hyper-Calvinism is not that far. It's not a case of one being for indescriminate preaching (high calvinism) and one being against indescriminate preaching (the caricatured version of hyperism). That's my point, and it’s clear enough in the main blog entry.

Aaron Mills said...

Hi Tony,

I know that you understand there is a proper historical distinction between hyper and high Calvinism. My point is that the distinction is crucial, and I've noticed at times that you lump them together when refuting their respective positions. Now you obviously do this because you don't view them as being very far apart, but I think their essential distinctions are profound. As I stated in my comments, I have no problem preaching the gospel to all men, believing it is God's free and earnest offer of salvation to every sinner. I believe this is the proper biblical view and I don't have to exaggerate the claims of hyper Calvinists to appear more biblical as a high Calvinist. As I re-read my previous post I see that I didn't clearly express what I meant by saying I thought you were lumping them together and there is a distinction to be made, but I hope what I wrote here clarifies my comments.....

Thanks, brother

--Jon Unyan

Tony Byrne said...


I only make associations between them when addressing things they have in common, such as a strictly limited atonement view. That's probably what you have noticed in reading my blog since I've talked about that so frequently. There is some overlap between the two positions on some points and other areas where they do not overlap. You must think that I have unfairly lumped them together somewhere. If so, please show me where. Don't merely assert that I have a third time.

I've spent the last several years doing a concentrated study on hyperism and how it conceptually developed. I also thoroughly understand high Calvinism since I was immersed in that system for 14+ years. I am weary of the condescension that I get from other Calvinists, as if I don't sufficiently understand high and hyper-Calvinism. I can explain both at least as well (if not better) than most of them can. The typical "you don't understand our position" won't work with me as it does with non-Calvinists.

I never said that high Calvinists have a problem with preaching the gospel to all men, or that they believe that God freely and earnestly offers salvation to every sinner. This is what makes them different from hypers. However, as I stated in my post, all hypers should not be thought to be against indescriminate preaching or evangelism. That's a the common caricature.

High Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism are conceptually closer than most of them think. One would have to be a special kind of moron to be against evangelism, and alot of hypers are not that stupid. They may preach to all, but only think that God is sincerely offering Christ to the elect alone. Or, they may not think of God's gift as an offer at all (either to the elect or the non-elect), particularly a WELL-MEANT offer to the non-elect. They think this way because of their conception of God's will and the nature of Christ's death, and these conceptions are very similar to what High Calvinists think on that same subjects. While their are crucial differences, there is also significant overlap.

If you're going to assert that I "lump them together" in some unfair way, then document where I have done that. I stand by everything I have said in this post and others. It's true that high's frequently caricature hyperism.

Aaron Mills said...

Hi Tony,

I didn't mean to imply that you don't understand hyper or high Calvinism by any means, you understand both of them very well. I also didn't mean to be condescending in my comments, if I was I ask for your forgiveness. It also may be true that high Calvinists frequently caricature hyperism, although that would not be my experience personally. What high Calvinists were you referring to? Published ones or people you know personally or correspond with via the Internet?

As far as asserting that you "lump" them together at times, let me correct my terminology because I don't know that "lump" is the best word I could use. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I think you view them as being closer to each other than they really are. In your post you stated "Reformed people today are very busy creating a caricatured view of Hyper-Calvinism when they respond to critics (so that they don't look so close to it themselves)." I agree that there is overlap between the two positions, but the differences are substantial as far as being biblical. High Calvinism is more balanced than hyperism (and I don't think I'm spreading theological propaganda by saying so :-).

--Jon Unyan

Mathew Sims said...

You will find a very clear picture of what hyper Calvinist believe if you look at Brandan Kraft's response to Phil Johnson's Primer on Hyper Calvinism.Kraft no doubt proudly claims to be a hyper calvinist and defines his position.

Mathew Sims
Soli Deo Gloria

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Mathew,

I have interacted with Brandan on paltalk and in other places. I am acquainted with what he believes. If there is material online that concerns hyper-Calvinism, most likely I have already seen it or read it.

Tony Byrne said...

Phil Johnson said this in his Primer on Hyper-Calvinism:

"Some common (but not quite precise) definitions: Hyper-Calvinism is sometimes defined as the view that God will save the elect apart from any means. Some, but very few, modern hyper-Calvinists hold such an extreme view. Those who do hold this view oppose all forms of evangelism and preaching to the unsaved, because they believe God will save whomever He chooses, apart from human means."

Tony Byrne said...

Phil Johson also said this in his Primer that pertains to this subject:

"Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the "gospel" they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God's decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, "The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not." Thus the good news about Christ's death and resurrection is supplanted by a message about election and reprobation—usually with an inordinate stress on reprobation. In practical terms, the hyper-Calvinist "gospel" often reduces to the message that God simply and single-mindedly hates those whom He has chosen to damn, and there is nothing whatsoever they can do about it.
Deliberately excluded from hyper-Calvinist "evangelism" is any pleading with the sinner to be reconciled with God. Sinners are not told that God offers them forgiveness or salvation. In fact, most hyper-Calvinists categorically deny that God makes any offer in the gospel whatsoever.

The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." The whole thrust of the gospel, properly presented, is to convey an offer (in the sense of a tender, a proffer, or a proposal) of divine peace and mercy to all who come under its hearing. The apostle's language is even stronger, suggesting the true gospel preacher begs sinners to be reconciled to God—or rather he stands "in Christ's stead," pleading thus with the sinner. Hyper-Calvinism in essence denies the concept of human responsibility, and so it must eliminate any such pleading, resulting in a skewed presentation of the gospel."

Tony Byrne said...

Spurgeon refers to:

"...those ultra-Calvinistic theologians who say, "You may instruct and warn the ungodly, but you must not invite or entreat them."

Spurgeon, "On Conversion as Our Aim," in Second Series of Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1978), 186.

Notice that the hyper-Calvinists were for instructing and warning the ungodly, but not for inviting and entreating them.

Tony Byrne said...

"Numerous Hyper-Calvinists have appealed not only to Hussey's Operations but even to the very title of the book to substantiate their claims that we can preach but not offer."

Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1983), 408, n55.

Tony Byrne said...

Phil Johnson also said this to a commenter on his blog:

Dave Crater first said: "Hyper-calvinism means something very specific: the idea that evangelism is incompatible with predestination."

Phil then responded: "I've read most of the major published works on hyper-Calvinism ranging from Iain Murray to Peter Toon to David Engelsma. I've also read several unpublished academic works on the subject. And I don't know of a single serious student of the subject that would accept your definition."

Phil Johnson, 3:02 PM, October 08, 2007

Phil Johnson also said to him:

"Hyper-Calvinists may or may not deny the need for "evangelism." Most actually would not. What they do typically deny is that the gospel constitutes a well-meant proposal of mercy to all, or that it calls all hearers (rather than the elect alone) to faith and repentance.

(There are several similar and related errors that are either characteristic of hyper-Calvinism or tend strongly towards hyper-Calvinism. I outlined some of these in my article on hyper-Calvinism.)

The point here, however, is that to reduce your definition of hyper-Calvinism (as you did) to "the belief that evangelism is incompatible with predestination" is to define it in a deliberately reductionistic way that actually removes the true distinguishing characteristics of hyper-Calvinism from the definition."

Phil Johnson, 9:18 AM, October 09, 2007