August 24, 2009

Anthony Hoekema (1913–1988) on Rationalism, God's Universal Saving Desire and Hyper-Calvinism

Avoiding a Rationalistic Solution

Peter Toon, in his The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, points out that among the English nonconformists of the late seventeeth and middle eighteenth centuries there emerged a type of Hyper-Calvinism which, like that of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches, denied the well-meant gospel call. One of the reasons why this type of theology developed, according to Toon, was an overly rationalistic understanding of God's dealings with human beings.

The same comment can be made, I believe, about the position of Herman Hoeksema and his followers on the gospel call—it is based on an overly rationalistic understanding of God's dealings with his human creatures. Here is the crux of the matter. The Bible teaches, as we saw above, that God seriously desires that all who hear the gospel should believe in Christ and be saved. The same Bible also teaches that God has chosen or elected his own people in Christ from before the creation of the world. To our finite minds it seems impossible that both of these teachings could be true. A kind of rational solution of the problem could go into either of two directions: (1) To say that God wants all who hear the gospel to be saved; that therefore he gives to all who hear sufficient grace to be saved if they so desire; this grace is, however, always resistable; many do resist and thus frustrate God's design. This is the Arminian solution, which leaves us with a God who is not sovereign, and which thus denies a truth clearly taught in Scripture. (2) The other type of rational solution is that of Hoeksema and the Hyper-Calvinists: Since the Bible teaches election and reprobation, it simply cannot be true that God desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes. Therefore we must say that God desires the salvation only of the elect among the hearers of the gospel. This kind of solution may seem to satisfy our minds, but it completely fails to do justice to Scripture passages like Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 23:37, 2 Corinthians 5:20, and 2 Peter 3:9.

We must refuse to go into either of these two rationalisic directions. Since the Scriptures teach both eternal election and the well-meant gospel call, we must continue to hold on to both, even though we cannot reconcile these two teachings with our finite minds. We should remember that we cannot lock God up in the prison of human logic. Our theology must maintain the Scriptural paradox. With Calvin, our theological concern must be not to build rationally coherent system, but to be faithful to all the teachings of the Bible.

The well-meant gospel call has tremendous significance for missions. The missionary or evangelist must bring the gospel message with this confidence: "Not only do I desire each of you to turn from your sins to God so that you may be saved, but this is God's desire as well. God has no pleasure in the death of anyone who is not living in harmony with his will; God wants you to turn from your ways and live. God is therefore making his appeal through me, as I say to you, 'Be reconciled to God!'" With this confidence we must bring the gospel to everyone, trusting that God will bless the word and will bring about the results which he has decreed.
Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 78–79.

Observe the following points from the quote:

1) Hyper-Calvinists reject the well-meant offer of the gospel.
2) Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Church are Hyper-Calvinists for their rejection of the well-meant offer.
3) The crux of the issue is whether or not God seriously desires the salvation of all men.
4) It is the Hyper-Calvinists who reject this idea because the Bible teaches election and reprobation.
5) Their rationalistic solution does not square with such passages as 2 Pet. 3:9, Ezek. 33:11, Matt. 23:37 and 2 Cor. 5:20.
6) "The well-meant gospel call" is interchangeble with God's desire for the salvation of all. To reject the latter is to reject the former.
7) Hoekema thinks his position is like Calvin's, in that it avoids either of the "rationalistic solutions."
8) The missionary's message "must" involve the fact that God [not merely the preacher] desires the salvation of all those that hear the external gospel call.

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