I know, I know. I will be accused of being “uncharitable” simply for deconstructing Calvinism. Apparently what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. I have at least twenty-five volumes about Calvinism by leading Calvinist theologians on my bookshelf (and these are only examples of contemporary Calvinism!). All contain attempted deconstructions of Arminianism—attempts to demonstrate its inner contradictions and its ultimate illegitimacy as biblical theology. I don’t consider that “uncharitable” so long as the authors do not misrepresent Arminian theology—which they often do. Even then I don’t consider it uncharitable unless I suspect they knew better or should have known better. I do consider it uncharitable when they say things like “Arminians are Christians—just barely” and “Arminianism is on the brink of heresy” and the best explanation for Arminianism is “demonic deception” and “one can no more be an ‘Arminian evangelical’ than a ‘Catholic evangelical’.” I don’t take offense or consider it uncharitable when a Calvinist says Arminianism is “profoundly mistaken” or that Arminians are guilty of a “felicitous inconsistency.” I disagree but do not take offense or consider such claims “uncharitable.”
Knowing full well that many Calvinists who visit my blog will wrongly take offense, I forge ahead anyway. Not because I want to give offense but because there are many folks out there who are confused about Calvinism and have not considered it from every angle. Before they commit to it, they should consider it from every angle. They should step back and look at it in an objective mode—critically examining it in the light of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I have done that with Arminianism; I have read numerous critical treatments of Arminianism—some by Arminians themselves (e.g., Ben Witherington)! I have studied theology under non-Arminians and have engaged in detailed, “fine grained” debate with anti-Arminians. I have read all the major, respected Calvinist theologians. I suspect very few Calvinists can say the same about engaging with Arminianism! I have given my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities to several Calvinist pastors and theologians on the condition that they read it and respond. To date not one has responded to the book—to me.
Here, today, in this blog post, I wish to demonstrate why classical “T.U.L.I.P.” Calvinism logically leads to hyper-Calvinism. In other words, my thesis is that, contrary to what most Calvinists claim, hyper-Calvinism is logically consistent Calvinism.
The key to this argument is unconditional particular election to salvation, not limited atonement or irresistible grace. In other words, anyone who believes in unconditional particular election to salvation (commonly but somewhat fallaciously called “predestination”) ought to embrace hyper-Calvinism and, insofar as they do not, are guilty of inconsistency, incoherence, contradiction which is always a sure sign of error.
What is “hyper-Calvinism?” Technically speaking, hyper-Calvinism is belief that the gospel message to sinners, when made indiscriminately to a group of people or an unknown individual, is not a “well-meant offer of grace” so that indiscriminate evangelism, “solicitation of faith,” is incorrect and ought to be avoided. A hyper-Calvinist is one who believes that the gospel of the cross of Christ ought to be preached but not offered to people in such a way that would imply that they may hear, accept and be saved. Some hyper-Calvinists (e.g., Primitive Baptists) avoid organized evangelism and missions altogether. Most do not avoid it entirely but only avoid offering God’s saving grace to people indiscriminately.
Some years ago, in one particular episode of intra-Calvinist controversy over this issue, the Christian Reformed Church officially affirmed that the gospel message proclaimed to sinners, including the non-elect (!), is a “well meant offer” of God’s grace unto salvation. The denomination affirmed that even from God’s perspective it is a well meant offer to the non-elect. Most Calvinists agree with this; those that do not and therefore avoid indiscriminate evangelism rightly deserve the label “hyper-Calvinist.” The pastor-theologian at the center of that particular controversy was Herman Hoeksema not to be confused with Anthony Hoekema or any member of his family. (The latter was a leading CRC theologian; the former was not related to him.) Hoeksema left the CRC over this issue, believing that the gospel message cannot be a well meant offer to the non-elect and that therefore indiscriminate evangelism should be avoided, and founded his own Reformed denomination.
The argument that Calvinist belief in unconditional particular election of individuals to salvation leads inexorably, logically, to hyper-Calvinism (a la Hoeksema) should be transparent to any thinking person. If I came to believe in it I would have to join Hoeksema’s crowd to avoid total cognitive dissonance and even contradiction. God has chosen certain persons to save out of the mass of perdition that is fallen humanity and has decided not to save other certain persons. By an eternal decree God has identified whom he will save and whom he will not save even if not to us. He knows who they are because he has chosen them. The non-elect have no real chance of being saved. God will not extend to them the “inward call” which is the basis for regeneration.
The issue at the center of the hyper-Calvinism controversy is this: Is the “outward call”only, by itself, without the inward call, a well-meant offer to the non-elect? The answer should be obvious. And yet…non-hyper-Calvinists do not see the obvious. Only hyper-Calvinists see it.
One answer offered by non-hyper-Calvinists is that it is a well meant offer because we who pronounce the outward call on behalf of God do not know who the elect are and who the non-elect are. So when we offer God’s saving grace to all indiscriminately we subjectively mean it as valid, legitimate. Therefore it is, for us, a well-meant offer.
The first thing to say about that is that this is not what the CRC decided! The denomination decided that even from God’s perspective it is a well-meant offer to the non-elect! But even so, taking up the answer….
Imagine any hypothetical but realistic scenario in which I “offer” a great gift to a group of people or an unknown individual indiscriminately all the while knowing that some of them are ineligible from the outset for the gift. There are only a hundred gifts but I offer it to a thousand people. Even if I somehow know that only a hundred will ask to receive the gift, my indiscriminate offer to the thousand cannot be called a well-meant offer. It was deceptive.
But suppose I don’t know how many “gifts” there are. All I know as the offerer is that there are fewer than the number of people I am offering them to. Unless I make that clear and avoid offering it to all I am being deceptive; it cannot be a well-meant offer.
The upshot is that whenever I offer a gift to a group of people knowing (or believing) there are fewer gifts than the number of people I’m offering them to I ought strictly to avoid making the offer indiscriminately. All I should say, to avoid deception, is that there are some gifts and some people can have them. Most hyper-Calvinists are perfectly “okay” with stating to any group of people that God saves people through Jesus Christ. What they are not “okay” with is offering God’s salvation to everyone and then leaving it up to God to give it to those he has chosen—because my “offer to everyone” amounts to deceit. Also it undermines, conflicts with, what I believe. It pits practice against theology.
(I suppose now that someone will argue that I have misrepresented hyper-Calvinism. It is an essentially contested concept; there is no “official” definition. But within the CRC and similar traditional confessional Reformed denominations it is generally considered as I have described it.)
Note to Potential Responders: Please stick to the “rules governing discussion here.” I have stated them many times. Do not post hyperlinks. Do not post lengthy essays; keep responses to a couple hundred words at most. Do not misrepresent what I said. Do not go off on a tangent; stick to the main point. Be civil and respectful of persons. Do not just quote Scripture or post a sermon. Engage the topic in a dialogical fashion. Give supporting reasons for assertions.
[Link to the original post and comments on Roger Olson’s blog]