I have come to think of the defense of Calvinism as mainly the endeavor to equate logical differences with semantic distinctions. In other words, when a Reformed scholar defends Calvinism, the main strategy he uses is to control the language of the debate as if doing so is the same as defending Reformed theology rationally. Most of them are doing this with the sincere belief that discussing the proper way to talk about Reformed theology is the same as discussion the rational/theological merits of Reformed theology.
This is made clear when considering the term “hyper-Calvinism”. If I’m right about my “control the language” strategy, then hyper-Calvinism will be a nebulous term without grounding in the real world. To be clear, my thesis is not “Calvinists are being insincere when they differentiate their beliefs from ‘hyper-Calvinism'”. I’m sure they are. My thesis is that hyper-Calvinism does not exist in the real world; it doesn’t actually exist. Calvinists cannot name a single actual hyper-Calvinist, there is no hyper-Calvinist confession, there are no self-professed hyper-Calvinist scholars, and no one is pastoring a church under the self-proclaimed doctrine of hyper-Calvinism.
During this article series, I will hunt for the elusive hyper-Calvinist through the writings of the most prominent Calvinist scholars on the most trafficked Calvinist websites; Tim Challies, Ligonier with Michael Horton, Got Questions, and the Gospel Coalition with Justin Taylor and then Kevin DeYoung. As I review articles I am looking for a clear definition of hyper-Calvinism as well as asking these questions: Who is a hyper-Calvinist? What person self-identifies as one? Who leads a church which proclaims to be a hyper-Calvinist church? A hyper-Calvinist organization? Who is writing articles under the guise of hyper-Calvinism?
First Up, Tim Challies
Please read the full article over on Challies. I will quote parts of it as we begin our trek into the forest to find the Reformed Sasquatch.
Frankly speaking, a hyper-Calvinist can be any Calvinist to a person who doesn’t understand Calvinism. So today, just briefly, and because the term has come up a few times in recent weeks, I want to narrow in on a more accurate definition of it.
OK, so a hyper-Calvinist does not even need to be a Calvinist. I’m not sure if this is narrowing the definition down, but Tim says we’re going to get to it so let’s not delay him.
While most Calvinists hold to the five points of Calvinism as summarized by the acronym TULIP, there are some who refer to themselves as six or seven-point Calvinists. One person who is known to identify himself as a seven-point Calvinist is John Piper.
A name! John Piper is a seven-point Calvinist! Does that mean he’s a hyper-Calvinist?
Yet even someone who is willing to extend Calvinism beyond the five points is not “hyper.” A seven-point Calvinist is not a hyper-Calvinist.
Bah, OK then. I guess that would have been too easy.
Part of the confusion about this term no doubt arises from the use of the prefix “hyper.” “Hyper” does not refer, as many might think, to enthusiasm or excitement. Rather its basic meaning is along the lines of “excessive or excessively.”…So a hyper-Calvinist is one who goes beyond and over the bounds of what Calvinism teaches (and thus over the bounds of what the Bible teaches). He is excessive in his application of the doctrines.
According to Tim Challies, “hyper-Calvinism” = Excessive application of the doctrines of Calvinism.
This manifests itself in an over-emphasis of one aspect of God’s character at the expense of another. Hyper-Calvinists emphasize God’s sovereignty but de-emphasize God’s love. They tend to set God’s sovereignty at odds with the clear biblical call to human responsibility.
Then Challies references Phil Johnson who has a definition:
A hyper-Calvinist is one who:
1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,” OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.
So being a hyper-Calvinist is about what you say. No wonder it is so hard to find a real hyper-Calvinist; you have to find someone who is willing to say that God does not love the non-elect in any way.
Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of a Hyper-Calvinist is an unwillingness to evangelize at all, or to evangelize without extending a call to accept and believe the gospel.
OK great! Who does this? You are not going to name a single person or organization, are you?
At the top of his article, Tim Challies said:
Almost any Calvinist who adheres to the doctrines of grace is likely to be considered a hyper-Calvinist by at least someone.
Ironically, almost any Calvinist is likely to be considered a hyper-Calvinist, except by Tim Challies, who apparently does not consider anyone to be a hyper-Calvinist.
Tim Challies Does Not Understand Hyper-Calvinism
Alright, so this article was not helpful in our search for the Reformed Sasquatch. But I think we have learned something: Tim Challies does not seem to understand what is the Provisionist/non-Calvinist criticism of Reformed theology. Johnson and Challies are pretending as if the criticism is not “the logical conclusion of Calvinism is a decrease in evangelistic fervor” and are changing it to “Calvinists don’t evangelize”. The real criticism is that even if every Calvinist is evangelizing every week, Reformed doctrine removes the rational and theological basis for evangelism. Answering with “yea but we do evangelize” does not answer the criticism.
Even worse, Challies stumbles onto the logical conclusion of Reformed theology and does not even realize it. In discussing John Piper’s seven-point Calvinism he says:
Double predestination is widely considered the sixth-point. It is simply the other side to predestination, that just as God sovereignly chooses those whom He will save, in the same way he chooses those whom He will not save.
Right. If which individuals God saves, and who He does not save, is up to Him and Him alone, will this effectual salvation be hindered by any lack of evangelism on our individual parts? Will it be effected by heaps of evangelism on our individual parts? Of course not. It would be perfectly rational and correct for me to subjectively decide “I’m not ever going to evangelize” and I can be fully confident that, if Reformed theology is true, God’s elect will still be saved.
I can hear the Reformed voice-in-my-head saying phrases like “God ordains the ends and the means” and “evangelism is a command”. Even if true, those phrases do not make the previous paragraph irrational or incorrect. “God ordains me to evangelize as a part of His effectual salvation” and “God commands me to evangelize anyway” do not change the facts of the previous paragraph, do they?
Of course I have little confidence that articles like this one will make any real difference. The term hyper-Calvinist is a convenient and baggage-filled one to lob into an argument or discussion. But at least now we know whether or not we truly fit that mold!
The irony of this statement is that it is actually the Calvinist who uses the term hyper-Calvinist as a convenient distraction to lob into an argument or discussion to deny or dismiss the logical and theological conclusions of Calvinism. This is objectively what Tim Challies is doing in this very article. He’s twisting the objections to Calvinism to be about behavior in evangelism as if that behavior popped into existence out of a vacuum and had no antecedent rational stimulus.
Why do some Calvinists, who have yet to be named, excessively apply the doctrines of Reformed theology? Could it be because the Reformed doctrines themselves lead some people to that logical end and those people do not think they are being excessive at all? That’s the question under discussion.
Thanks to Tim Challies, we now know what we are looking for but alas, we are not closer to finding it. Stay tuned, I will keep hunting for the elusive hyper-Calvinist!