April 12, 2010

Donald Dunkerley on "Hyper-Calvinism Today"

You are not likely to find it in any theological dictionary or encyclopedia, but there is a term that has been used to describe some who profess to be pure followers of John Calvin: Hyper-Calvinists.

Among those who have made free use of the term, Hyper-Calvinist, was John MacLeod. He uses it in his book, Scottish Theology, based on lectures delivered at Westminster Seminary in 1939. By the phrase he means, in particular, that view of Calvinism which holds that "there is no worldwide call to Christ sent out to all sinners, neither are all men bidden to take Him as their Savior."

Hyper-Calvinists, says Dr MacLeod, "maintain that Christ should be held forth or offered as Savior to those only whom God effectually calls."

What does Dr. MacLeod think of this approach to the Biblical doctrine of sovereignty? It is "a kind of preaching that sidetracks the Evangel and fences and hedges with elaborate restrictions the enjoyment of God's free salvation (and) like that of Hagar, engenders to bondage."

However, those among the Scottish Calvinists who historically "have restricted the offer of the Savior and of salvation in Him to the elect only have been almost neglible minority."

Hyper-Calvinism, then, refers to such an exaggerated emphasis on God's sovereignty that the effect is to cripple evangelism.

Strictly speaking, this is the view that, because God has an elect people He will infallibly save, therefore He does not love all, there is no offer of salvation to all and so there is also no obligation on us to proclaim an offer of salvation to all.

Hyper-Calvinism in this technical sense is the official theological position of certain denominations, such as the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists in England and the Protestant Reformed Church (of Dutch background) in our own country.

Some writers, such as the late John R. Rice, unfairly charge that all who hold to the so-called Five Points of Calvinism are, by definition, Hyper-Calvinists. But this is to confuse orthodox Calvinism with the unorthodox, to confound the normal with the abberation, and to reject as anti-evangelistic some of the most powerful Calvinistic evangelists of history, including John Bunyan, George Whitefield, David Brainerd and C. H. Spurgeon.

In the formal sense there are few Hyper-Calvinists among us, because it is part of our theological training to know that orthodox Calvinists accept and teach the free offer of the Gospel. Moreover, this offer is clearly taught in our Westminster standards. Chapter 6 of the Confession of Faith, speaking of God's work in the Covenant of Grace, says, "He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved." (See also Larger Catechism question 32 and Shorter Catechism question 86.)

On the other hand, to say we are not Hyper-Calvinists in the formal sense because it is rejected by our creeds, does not mean that we have altogether escaped its influence. The spirit of Hyper-Calvinism is infectious. A person may still exaggerate God's sovereignty so that his evangelism is crippled, even though he knows better than to say there is no free offer of the Gospel.

In other words, if a man's understanding of God's sovereignty prevents him from offering the Gospel freely to sinners, he is a Hyper-Calvinist in practice even if he is not one in theory!

Le me give some examples.

As Reformed (Calvinsitic) Christians see it, the Bible teaches that, while God has a special love for His elect, there is also a general love of God for all. "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" says Ezekiel 18:23. The passage continues: "Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" And II Peter 3:9 says, "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, bue everyone to come to repentance."

The Lord demonstrated a love for all. The rich young ruler hardly seems to be one of the elect, yet Mark 10:21 says, "Jesus looked at him and loved him." And Jesus sorrowed over the unrepentant city crying, "How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37).

Yet there are those who tell us it is "un-Reformed" and wrong to say to [page 15 begins here] an unbeliever, "God loves you" or "Jesus loves you." Is this not Hyper-Calvinism?

Again, the orthodox Reformed faith teaches that, while the death of Christ was offered with special reference to the elect, it looks beyond, for it effects a free offer of the Gospel to all, it is sufficient for the sins of all and it removes all legal obstacles against anyone's coming to God.

Yet there are those who tell us it is "un-Reformed" and wrong to say to an unbeliever, "Christ died for you." Is this not Hyper-Calvinism?

I remember a seminary student who insisted at a conference that it is wrong to say to unbelievers, "God loves you" and "Christ died for your sins." When asked what he did with John 3:16, he replied, "John 3:16 is a very difficult verse. I would never preach from John 3:16."

Do we wonder that some Calvinists themselves show so little love and concern for the souls of those going to hell when, according to them, it is wrong to speak of God having such love and concern?

Hyper-Calvinists will say that God saves those that believe, but they will not invite any to believe, much less plead with any to believe, because that would appear to deny the teaching that none are able to believe unless they are elect.

There are even some who are more genuinely Reformed but who announce the terms of salvation without ever appealing to sinners to come to Christ. Is this not Hyper-Calvinism?

Some not only themselves avoid inviting sinner to Christ, but for supposedly "Reformed" reasons object to anyone who does invite them, especially if he gives an "open invitation" to respond to Christ publicly. Is this objection also not Hyper-Calvinism?

Hyper-Calvinists believe the Gospel offers we read in the Bible are intended only for those who, in their language, are "felt sinners." That is, such persons feel the guilt and condemnation of their sin because they have received already such conviction as the Holy Spirit only gives to the elect. Gospel invitations, therefore, are for those who already evidence their election by severe conviction. Is this not Hyper-Calvinism?

But what of those who do not evidence this conviction? The Hyper-Calvinist would not tell him, "Come to Jesus, just as you are," for he regards such counsel as spurious un-Reformed "decisionism." The Hyper Calvinist would tell him to prepare himself for grace by reading and hearing the Word, through which God might sovereignly give him repentance and salvation.

The Hyper-Calvinist rejects "decisionism" in favor of "preparationism."

By rejecting "decisionism," the Hyper-Calvinist objects to more than simply inviting all men to decide for Christ. He protests also against attempting to give immediate assurance of salvation to those who decide. "I believe, therefore, I am saved," is a type of assurance that offends the Hyper-Calvinist, who believes that one can know he is saved only when he has many good works to attest that he is truly elect of God.

Salvation may be by grace but, for the Hyper-Calvinist, assurance of salvation is more by works. For assurance they do not so much look to the cross of Christ as they look within for evidences of grace.

I remember once hearing a prominent Calvinist preacher inveighing against decisionism and the immediate assurance of salvation that God sometimes sends. "You must be saved for at least three years before you have accumulated enough good works to be sure that you are truly saved and not just a stony-ground-hearer," he said.

This view affects evangelism. The message becomes, "Ho, everyone that thirsts: Come to the waters. But the waters will not assuage your thirst and you will not be sure you are drinking, until you have been drinking for three years."

That preacher would object to being called a Hyper-Calvinist. But I wonder!

There are, I believe, many who profess to believe in the free offer of the Gospel, but are Hyper-Calvinists in practice. They fail to practice what they say they believe. They fail to tell people that God loves them and that there is benefit in Christ's atonement for them. They refrain from pleading with people to come to Christ just as they are and from giving them assurance of salvation when they come.

David Brainard, the 18th-century Presbyterian evangelist to the American Indians, described an amazing spiritual movement which brought many of his hearers to Christ. He said, "This great awakening, this surprising concern, was never excited by any harangues of terror, but always appeared most remarkable when I insisted upon the compassions of a dying Savior, the plentiful provisions of the Gospel and the free offers of divine grace to needy distressed sinners; this work of grace having begun and carried on by almost one continued strain of Gospel invitation to perishing sinners."

Such compassionate evangelism is what we lack and urgently need in our day.
Donald A. Dunkerley, "Hyper-Calvinism Today," in The Presbyterian Journal (November 18, 1981): 14–15. The article says, "The author is a full-time preaching evangelist with the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship. Formerly, he was pastor of the McIlwain Memorial Church of Pensacola, Fla., and director of the Pensacola Theological Institute. He lives in Pensacola."

1 comment:

Cadis said...

Excellent! He really articulates what I too believe is the crux of the matter, hinderance of the gospel call!