Sunday, 19 April 2009

Symptoms of hyper-Calvinism

All of a sudden many of the CU students at Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria seem to be thinking about Calvinism and Arminianism. I think that thinking about the sovereignty of God in this way has got to be a brilliant thing so long as it is done humbly and with Scripture open.

I had one conversation recently with a student on this issue, and we got to talking about hyper-Calvinism (that is, one who goes beyond and over the bounds of what Calvinism teaches, and excessive in application of the doctrines of Calvinism). The student asked me what the symptoms of hyper-Calvinism are.

Tim Challies cites Phil Johnson who theologically defines hyper-Calvinists with a five-fold definition. According to Johnson, a hyper-Calvinist is someone 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 what then would be the symptoms of slipping into hyper-Calvinism? It would seem to me that there are several:
  1. A lack of commitment to evangelism and world mission (possibly even an unwillingness to evangelise at all - or at least to evangelise without appealing that non-believers accept and believe the gospel);
  2. A lack of commitment to political engagement and the desire to improve society (because there is no common grace in non-believers);
  3. A perceived lack of value in anything made by non-believers (again rooting from the belief that no common grace exists). Art, for instance, is seen as something made by a reprobate person rather than someone made in the image of God using their God-given talents;
  4. A tendency towards arrogance and elitism, and an attitude of deploring the 'non-elect';
  5. A strongly fatalistic prayer life that does not seek to grow in relationship with the Father;
  6. A lack of assurance (because the believer is constantly looking for evidence within themselves that they really are elect).
What do others think? (It's worth noting that I know at least two people who have rejected a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture, to my mind because they equate Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism).


PostTenebrasLux said...

Helpful post, Dray! The "5 points" of hyper-calvinism are a really simple, clear summary. I'm going to record that.

Your experience of the rejection of a Calvinistic understanding of salvation has been my experience as well. I honestly can't remember speaking to an opponent of these doctrines and recognizing my beliefs in what they say. As you said, what they are normally rejecting is hyper-calvinism, and I'll join them in that.

Steven Stanton said...

Maybe hyper-calvinism itself is a symptom of particular attitudes to doctrine and logic?

étrangère said...

My friends whose father is hyper-calvinist struggle(d) to 'become Christians', because they were never encouraged to trust in Christ, but only told they could do nothing but wait until God chose to save them.

peterdray said...

Thanks for your comments all, helpful as always.

Stanton - I agree. I would think that this maybe roots from an over-stressed 'evangelical' commitment that God can be known and an Enlightenment desire to tie up all loose ends. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

In (rightly) showing hyper-calvinism to be unbiblical, I think I'd want to be wary of giving the impression that there's a "spectrum" between hyper-calvinism on one extreme and (say) Open Theism on the other. A lot of theological debates get mapped in this way (Fundamentalist - Conservative - Liberal; Charismatic - Cessassionist etc.) and I just find it unhelpful because it implies there is an ideal "middle ground" when in fact the different positions are really mutually exclusive, because they reflect different understandings of core issues (like who God is!).
I have friends in my CU who quite happily claim to be "a bit of both" or "somewhere in between" on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate; when (and this isn't fashionable in postmodern theology!) I have to say that some of these choices are binary. Someone who believes in conditional election and irresistable grace isn't a moderate among extremists; they're inconsistent.

peterdray said...

Cheers agape,

I think I'd want to say that both hyper-Calvinism and Arminiamism both reject aspects of Scriptural revelation. Often Calvinism are Arminianism are opposed, but I think more correctly it's Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism. Perhaps hyper-Calvinism is more dangerous though.