Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism: BOTH Overemphasize
While the vast majority of the feedback I get from the content of my teaching, preaching, and writings is very positive, this article is written in response to some Arminians and a handful of Hyper-Calvinists who have written to me making similar complaints about the so-called errors in my theological position and the theology of Historic Classical Evangelical Calvinism.
"Let us arouse ourselves to the sternest fidelity, labouring to win souls as much as
if at all depended wholly upon ourselves, while we fall back, in faith, upon the
glorious fact that everything rests with the eternal God." - Charles Spurgeon
There is a major error that can be found in BOTH Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism and it is the tendency to be one-sided with the word of God. Each position tends to reject the twin biblical truths that go hand in hand: that God's will is sovereign and effectual in the salvation of humanity AND that man is responsible to believe the gospel.
In contrast to these extremes, historic evangelical Calvinism has always taught that while repentance and conversion are the results of the effectual work of the Holy Spirit alone, it also boldly claims the responsibility of all humanity to repent and for conversion to take place. Like the quote used above from Spurgeon states, we all need to hold these truths while allowing the appropriate biblical tension to exist. To the shock and dismay of Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists alike, historic evangelical Calvinism whole-heartedly embraces the free proclamation of the gospel to all humanity. A truly biblical Calvinism can never stop being both evangelistic and teach that regeneration is completely the result of the working of God's grace alone. Some of the greatest pastors and theologians of all time have seen the need of teaching this balance. Historic Calvinists like George Whitefield, Jonathon Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James M. Boice, and more recently R.C. Sproul, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper have all made this a significant element of their ministries.
In Preaching Do Not Restrict:
We should never restrict God's command and loving invitation to all humanity to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. God instructs us to proclaim this gospel to every creature; a gospel that has specific promises offered to all:
Romans 10:13 - "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (ESV).
John 3:18a - "Whoever believes in him is not condemned ..." (ESV).
Revelation 22:17 - "The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who
hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take
the water of life without price" (ESV).
Acts 13:38-39 - "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man
forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed
from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (ESV).
When we look at the clear testimony of Scripture, the apostles preached the gospel to all whether or not they were God's elect. How would they know? It is clear that the secret will of God, which is unknown to us for a reason, is meant to be left with God. The distinction God would want us to make, therefore, is not to whom we preach the gospel but instead to let it either be applied by the Holy Spirit or left to be tossed aside by humanity.
All of us are still growing in our understanding of God through His Self-revelation to us found in the Scriptures. I have no doubt that there are some things in my theology that I am wrong about. My limitations as a human being keep me from seeing the entire picture yet I intensely apply my faculties and prayers for grace to be as close as I possibly can to embracing the entire counsel of Scripture, and this is not without the help of some of the greatest theological minds God has placed in the history of the church. Quite frankly, I am not the least bit interested in defending any specific system or person but I have found the Reformed faith to be the most faithful to a balanced and complete view of Scripture. I think something has to be right about my view when I'm receiving a regular trickling of communication in opposition to my positions from BOTH the Hyper-Calvinists and Arminian camps.. The Hyper-Calvinists usually say something along the lines that I should stop pretending to be Reformed and to go join the Arminians (now remember, my emphasis here is on the Hyper-Calvinists). Arminians tend to tell me that my God is unloving and unjust and my doctrines are actually "hellish." Well, imagine that.
The Inability of the Sinner:
Here is something that might interest some of you that both of these positions, who doctrinally oppose traditional, historical, evangelical Calvinism, have in common: Hyper-Calvinists and Arminians both argue that sinners cannot be required to do what they are unable to do. Hyper-Calvinists will argue that ability belongs only to the elect so we have to first find out who they are and preach only to them. Arminianism, on the other hand, believes that since God commands all to believe the gospel, we must, therefore, have the natural ability to do so. Both of these positions are clearly reading something INTO the text, because responsibility does not necessarily imply moral ability. Statements in the Scripture like "If you are willing," "whosoever believes," and "choose life" are clearly presented in hypothetical tone. Go ahead, take a fresh look for yourself. A grammar specialist would explain that this is a "conditional statement that asserts nothing indicatively" (John W. Hendryx). What the Scriptures say we "should" do does not necessarily imply what we "can" do. For instance, the Ten Commandments speak of what we should or should not do but they do not imply that we have the ability to adhere to them. The law of God was given, in large part, so that we would be stripped of having any hope in ourselves. Even faith itself is a command (1 John 3:23) that we cannot fulfill without God applying His regenerative grace to us through the Holy Spirit (John 6:63-65). Nonetheless, we preach the gospel because it holds within it the "seed" of which the Holy Spirit "germinates" in order to bring His people to life. He supernaturally enables us and enlightens our understanding so we come out of our darkness and look away from ourselves to Christ alone for salvation.
1 Thessalonians 1:5a - "because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also
in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (ESV). (See also James 1:18
and 1 Peter 1:23, 25).
Extent of the Atonement:
Here is another area that these two systems have in common: Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism make the extent of the atonement a part of all gospel presentations to unbelievers. Hyper-Calvinists make sure that the unbeliever understands all of the theological implications and nuances regarding the limited atonement, or particular redemption, before they can be saved which is unnecessary and confusing at this point in a seekers journey. Arminians, on the other hand, falsely teach that Christ died for every single person who has lived or will live. But the historic Calvinist, instead of trying to fit the truth of a limited atonement, or particular redemption, into the gospel, goes to the Scriptures and finds that neither of these views are correct in the way the gospel should be proclaimed. Instead, historic Calvinists teach that Christ died, not for all humanity, but rather for all who would believe and then we call them to faith in Christ. Like Peter in Acts 2 we preach that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" and "the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." I believe this is the true balance of Scripture. Peter proclaimed the gospel to all but he rests in the fact that their belief, their faith, ultimately depends on the work and drawing of God alone.
God's Desire for Humanity to be Saved:
Due to a lop-sided view of Scripture, another mistake that these unbalanced systems have in common is that they go to extremes in the degrees to which God desires humanity to be saved. The Hyper-Calvinists will pontificate that God has absolutely no desire for all humanity to be saved, even when confronted with glaring texts of Scripture saying otherwise. The Arminians err equally on this issue by dogmatically asserting that since God desires all humanity to be saved there is absolutely no way He could possibly have any "elect" that He has chosen, also even when confronted with glaring passages of Scripture that say otherwise. In both cases there is a jump in unaccompanied human logic. Again, the historical evangelical Calvinist instead embraces the whole counsel of Scripture that these other positions only partially grab hold of. Now, let me say this, I am convinced that each of these positions are attempting to do the right thing, but they both have an unbalanced, lop-sided view of Scripture. Therefore, they repeatedly oppose historic evangelical Calvinism.
This group has their good points in that they are rational, creedal, and place on emphasis on lining up their theology by intellectually understanding critical doctrines but this alone often leads to a Christianity without affection and a form of dry, dead orthodoxy. Although they believe many of the right things, their belief doesn't go far enough. The domain of grace is much wider than they can dream of and therefore they miss out on truths that make up the complete "evangelical circle." The God of the gospel would have us proclaim his deep and sincere desire for all to come to faith. This requires a big heart, generosity of soul, and a mind of great character.
On the other hand, this group is often filled with emotion, enthusiasm, and affection, but love appears to be the only attribute of their God and they hold to this in such a way that it undermines any basic, fully formed, doctrinal truth regarding what God has revealed of Himself as a whole. Therefore, their vision of God is too small and falls sadly short in proclaiming the entire truth about who God really is as He is revealed in Scripture. The more seemingly "uncomfortable" attributes of God are often left out. Like the Hyper-Calvinists, their beliefs about God do not go far enough either.
Just as an interesting side note, whenever I debate with Christians, I'll say evangelicals, who claim, "I am not a Calvinist or an Arminian," when I question them about their specific doctrinal position regarding grace, they almost exclusively describe the Arminian position.
This group desperately calls all people to repentance, not because they are able to respond on their own, but because we are commanded to present the powerful word of God which the Holy Spirit sovereignly enables people to respond to as He applies the grace of regeneration to His elect, to those the Father has given to the Son from eternity (John 6:37, 39).
In conclusion, a truly biblical Calvinism must never stop being evangelistic and we must always hold in tension the two biblical truths that God desires all humanity to turn and be saved, together with the truth that those who ARE saved receive salvation because of the grace of God alone and not because of any choice we make or because of any good He sees in our actions (John 1:13). Some are eternally damned, not because of some fatalistic view of double predestination, but because they reject the gospel according to the providence of God. In other words, the unredeemed are lost because of their sin, hostility, and wickedness and they receive precisely what is due to them from a perfectly just God. But the believers are found innocent, not because we were naturally more humble or obedient, but because God's grace alone, which is infinitely more than we deserve. We need to be faithful to the whole counsel of Scripture and therefore preach a complete and honest Christianity. Historically, this balanced view of Scripture has been most faithfully handed down as Calvinism (when it is viewed and understood correctly).
By Rev. Jeff Hagan, (ThD), DMin, MA, MCC
(c) Jeffrey D. Hagan. All rights reserved.