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 discussing the rational/theological merits of Reformed theology.
This is made clear when considering the term “hyper-Calvinism”. To be clear, my thesis is not “Calvinists are being insincere when they differentiate their beliefs from ‘hyper-Calvinism’”. I’m sure they are and I acknowledge the distinction they are making. My thesis is that hyper-Calvinism does not exist in the real world; it doesn’t actually exist, and so has become a scapegoat for Calvinist scholars to red herring away criticism of Reformed theology without actually responding to it.
As we continue our article series on the hunt for the elusive hyper-Calvinist (part one was responding to an article by Tim Challies) we will search in the prose of Micheal Horton at Ligonier
I enjoy Michael Horton, his systematic theology is great. I’m optimistic that his article will be productive and at least point me in the right direction. He begins:
Often, detractors define Reformed theology not according to what it actually teaches, but according to where they think its logic naturally leads. Even more tragically, some hyper-Calvinists have followed the same course. Either way, “Calvinism” ends up being defined by extreme positions that it does not in fact hold as scriptural.
Immediately, Horton presumes that hyper-Calvinists are not Calvinists. He frames the debate as between Calvinism and not-Calvinism, with himself as the arbiter of which is which. However, that’s the question at hand; “Is hyper-Calvinism consistent, rational Calvinism?” For Michael Horton, the answer to that question is “no” before we have even defined “hyper-Calvinism” or found anyone who espouses it.
Further, Horton acknowledges that the argument is about the logical ends of Reformed theology and acknowledges that some Reformed people become hyper-Calvinists. This is great! But then he just…stops thinking down that road. His next statement is a clear example of my thesis at work within scholarly Calvinism:
The charges leveled against Reformed theology, of which hyper-Calvinism is actually guilty, received a definitive response at the international Synod of Dort (1618–1619), along with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
Horton literally passes off the logical ends criticism and passes it on to “hyper-Calvinism”. “They’re the guilty ones, y’all, not us”. I will endeavor to show exactly how Horton is scapegoating here.
It’s Not Us, It’s Them
“Is God the Author of Sin?” is the first “logical ends” criticism Horton wants to pass off onto the hyper-Calvinists. Horton’s answer is:
Sin and evil have their origin not in God or creation, but in the personal will and action of creatures.
So, presumably, there are these hyper-Calvinists out there who are saying “sin and evil have their origin in God” and this is where us non-Calvinists get the idea Reformed theology is also guilty of this charge. Dr. Horton never tells us who these people are.
If there was a healthy internal debate within Reformed theology where hyper-Calvinists were regularly named and criticized then my thesis would be significantly weakened. I will continue to search for signs this debate is happening but so far all I see is that an immensely popular pastor like John Piper can say things like “How do we know God always controls everything? My answer is that we know this because the Bible teaches it” and “God governs all human plans and acts” and yet Horton passes off the source of our criticism as aimed incorrectly. If Dr. Horton is so concerned about the non-Calvinist criticism of “Calvinism makes God the author of sin” then why does he not address the actual basis for that criticism; Calvinism’s most popular pastors!
By keeping the source of our criticism nebulous and the real culprits anonymous, Horton is using the term “hyper-Calvinism” as a scapegoat to avoid dealing rationally with the criticism and its source.
We Have the Same Goal
This is why Michael Horton is great. He goes on to succinctly and clearly describe the balance Reformed theology attempts to strike when considering God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.
On one hand, God “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:15); on the other, God does not — in fact, cannot — do evil. . .We know from Scripture that both are true, but not how.
Perhaps the most succinct statement of this point is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chap. 3.1): “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;” — there’s one guardrail — “yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin
We also want to uphold both of these truths. We share the same goal. However, let me make an observation and then ask Michael Horton two questions.
Ultimately, Dr. Horton’s answer to our “logical ends” criticism is that the truth is not logical. Reason does not apply to this truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility; it’s both but our Reason faculties cannot grasp how. Bringing our reason to bear on the question is inappropriate because “is not for us to probe any further”.
My first question is this: How do you know the truth is not logical? Did you use your reasoning faculties to come to that conclusion?
Secondly, Dr. Horton, could it be that our concern for the logical ends of Calvinism is that its doctrines claim to, but actually fail to, hold up that “Sin and evil have their origin not in God or creation, but in the personal will and action of creatures”? Could it be that we acknowledge the affirmations of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and your sincere adherence to them, while at the same time finding the affirmation inadequate to assuage the logical conclusion it set in motion with “God…did…freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever may come to pass”?
Radical Ad-Hoc Category Creation
Michael Horton asks the question on every non-Calvinist’s mind:
Isn’t it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
Dr. Horton must ask and answer this question because both the question and the answer are intuitive. He must provide an explanation for how the Gospel appeal can be both for everyone and its outcome determined at the same time because the answer “Yes, this makes the Gospel appeal duplicitous” is intuitively true. He must overcome the intuition of our rational minds.
How does he overcome our intuition? By creating new logical categories and asking us to believe both despite what our intuition tells us.
The Canons of Dort pick up on a phrase that was often found in the medieval textbooks (“sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect only”)
Sufficient and efficient: logical categories created by the Canons of Dort which are tasked with bearing the weight of defending God of the charge of being duplicitous with His Gospel appeal. I cannot help but be dismissive here because I have never heard a good reason to believe those two categories succeed in doing what Dort, and Horton, merely claim they do.
He creates two more categories:
Here once again we are faced with mystery — and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff in speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel
Outward call and inward call with a little sprinkle of general love and salvific love. Reformed scholars are asking us to accept the practice of ad hoc category creation and, further, that the creation of these rational categories defends God’s love. This is one of the fundamental philosophical divides between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Control That Language!
This article, by truly one of the best Reformed scholars, has clearly affirmed every point of my thesis. First, Horton does not name any hyper-Calvinists, then he shoves any criticism of Reformed theology on to them, creates rational categories to assuage the criticism and then, to answer another charge against Reformed theology, seek to control the language of the debate.
Does God love everybody, or is His kindness simply a cloak for His wrath — fattening the wicked for the slaughter, as some hyper-Calvinists have argued?
Right after he asks this hypothetical, he says this sentence.
Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness…
He’s not arguing against the question, he is simply changing the subject. “Yea sure but also look at God’s goodness”.
This criticism does not land on Reformed theology because…
However, it must be said that whatever kindness God shows to anyone for any reason after the fall, can only be regarded as gracious. Once again, we face two guardrails that we dare not transgress: God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life.
Horton does not attempt to reason with the criticism and show how God’s kindness is not “simply a cloak for His wrath”, he just simply takes that same concept and calls it “gracious”. It essence, he is saying “Yes but you ought not to talk about it like that, instead you ought to call it gracious”. It’s not a “cover” it is “common” while the underlying meaning remains the same.
God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life.
That is true. It is also true that not every Christian and non-Christian flourishes and some have generally down-right terrible lives. It is true that, for everyone, life is tragically difficult. It is true that the best God’s “common, sustaining grace” provides the unbeliever with is the hope of some semblance of fleeting happiness on the Earth before spending eternity in Hell with absolutely no chance or choice of recovery. If Horton is careful to only talk about one side of the Truth Coin then he can make it sound like the non-Calvinist criticism is weak without ever providing an argument against it.
Michael Horton has not brought us any closer to finding someone who will engage rationally with our criticism nor towards these dastardly hyper-Calvinists who keep giving Calvinism a bad name. Alas, my search for the elusive hyper-Calvinist continues.