Calvinism & Hyper-Calvinism

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According to Monergism.com, hyper-Calvinism’s errors include the following: “that God is the author of sin and of evil, that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect; that the number of the elect at any time may be known; that it is wrong to evangelize; that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith; that men who have once sincerely professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do; that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others; that the children of unbelievers dying in infancy are certainly damned . . .”

They also teach that “the true church is only invisible, and salvation is not connected with the visible church . . . that the grace of God does not work for the betterment of all men; that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination; and that only Calvinists are Christians (Neo-gnostic Calvinism).”

Such things are downright shocking. I would, however, like to focus on just one of these false teachings today. The overarching question I have is, “But does not Calvinism logically lead to this (particular) hyper-Calvinistic belief?”

I do believe that there is a way to be a consistent Calvinist without falling into hyper-Calvinism, as long as the parameters of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are well-balanced and biblically maintained. That is quite a task for anyone, I know.

Hyper-Calvinism teaches that “God is the author of sin and of evil, that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect.” The very first sentence on the topic of free will, as stated by John Calvin in his Institutes, notes, “Enough would seem to have been said on the subject of man’s will, were there not some who endeavor to urge him to his ruin by a false opinion of liberty, and at the same time, in order to support their own opinion, assail ours.”

A “false opinion of liberty”? Friends, if there is no free will, then God is the author of sin and of evil, as the hyper-Calvinists have suggested (though we know from Scripture that this is an impossibility — James 1.13).

One can not have one’s cake and eat it too. Either humanity is free to will and also responsible for that will, or God is the Puppet Master over His creatures (and yes, I intentionally left out the notion of Compatibilism; that should be a separate post). And then Calvin admits, “If any one will dispute with God, and endeavor to evade his judgment, by pretending that he [that is, man] could not have done otherwise, the answer already given is sufficient, that it is owing not to creation, but the corruption of nature, that man has become the slave of sin, and can will nothing but evil.”

Such a distorted view of depravity is what led Calvin (and those who follow his logic) to conclude that humanity is in such a state, that only regeneration can turn such a wicked heart towards faith in Jesus Christ (thus regeneration must precede faith if a sinner is to be saved). The matter really becomes one of whether sin is necessary or voluntary.

Calvin wrote, “If sin, say they, is necessary, it ceases to be sin; if it is voluntary, it may be avoided. Such, too, were the weapons with which Pelagius assailed Augustine. But we are unwilling to crush them by the weight of his name until we have satisfactorily disposed of the objections themselves. I deny, therefore, that sin ought to be the less imputed because it is necessary; and, on the other hand, I deny the inference, that sin may be avoided because it is voluntary.”

Is this so? Here he confesses that sin is inevitable, not because it may or may not be voluntary, but because God makes sin necessary. It is one thing for God to allow sin, or ordain sin due to foreknown choices. It is quite another thing for God to foreordain which sins a person will perform! Calvin is suggesting (as are some Calvinists) that God causes sin and holds people responsible for their committing the sin.

My brother asked, Is this not the logic of Adam while he was in the garden? Adam did not take responsibility when he sinned, but blamed God for the woman whom He had given him. No, Adam; the blame is yours, because God did not cause you to disobey Him.

How is that reasoning any different from the hyper-Calvinist who believes that God is the author (originator/cause) of sin and of evil . . . and that secondary causes are of no effect? The only difference between the two is that the hyper-Calvinist denies that humans are responsible for their actions and Calvinists believe that God will hold humans responsible for the actions which He has foreordained them to commit!

Nothing, in my opinion, is more contradictory concerning free will than a statement made by Reformed theologian Loraine Boettner, who wrote, “God so governs the inward feelings, external environment, habits, desires, motives, etc., of men that they freely do what He purposes.”

They “freely do what He purposes”? Really? That is a blatant contradiction. A person cannot be “made” to do something of one’s own “free will.” The two shall never meet. There is nothing more contradictory than to state that somone was forced to do something of his own free will. And Boettner has, once again, in my opinion, supported the notion of God as a Puppet Master.

No statement, however, is more to the point than that of John Owen’s “OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN GOVERNING THE WORLD DIVERSELY, THRUST FROM THIS PRE-EMINENCE BY THE ARMINIAN IDOL OF FREE-WILL.” Owen believes that Arminians want God off the throne and man’s free will on it. No. If one is going to destroy the Arminians’ position of free will, then he or she should at least understand what the Arminian actually believes. A person should not set up a straw man only to knock it down with ease and declare victory in Jesus!

Arminius wrote (and I never tire of repeating this!), “In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and [attenuatum] weakened; but it is also [captivatum] imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except as are excited by Divine grace.”1

Does that sound like the idol of free will? No! Orthodox, Classical, Reformation Arminians believe that the will is in bondage to sin, in that no one can believe in Christ Jesus (or do anything worthy of the merit or the grace of God); and that God must grace the sinner, setting him or her free from sin, in order to freely choose Christ Jesus. Yes, we differ from the Calvinistic tradition that regeneration precedes faith and the theory of irresistible grace. However, we are not semi-Pelagians vying for the free will of man.

But we also must distinguish what we mean by free will. God has granted His creatures a measure of free will. It is not total freedom. We maintain that even God is not totally free (e.g. He cannot sin, nor cause sin, nor be unholy, etc.). God indeed governs His world; and according to His exhaustive foreknowledge of all events has ordained whatever comes to pass. Notice, however, that I argue, God has ordained whatever comes to pass according to His exhaustive foreknowledge of all events, not according to some eternal plan divorced from His foreknowledge.

The difference here is paramount. Our contention that God has ordained whatever comes to pass according to His exhaustive foreknowledge of all events is grounded in our belief that God has granted His creatures a measure of freedom of will, and will hold them responsible for their choices. But to say that God has purposed, by a mere decree, what actions and feelings a person shall demonstrate is beyond, we believe, what the Bible teaches.

1 James Arminius, “Twenty-Five Public Disputations: On the Free Will of Man and its Powers,” The Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 192.