There is a great deal of confusion surrounding what defines Calvinism, hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, and all the moderating positions and “ism’s” in-between. My hope is that this article will help you to accurately identify the errors of hyper-Calvinism from true Calvinism and understand why hyper-Calvinists believed what they did so we don’t make the same mistake. One of the most important things you need to know about hyper-Calvinism is that there is more than one kind of hyper-Calvinism – each with varying levels of consistency. Of course, a hyper-Calvinist would never refer to himself as a hyper-Calvinist, but as a true Calvinist in contrast to what they might call “hypo-Calvinism” which is really just regular Calvinism. Baptists who are hyper-Calvinists often refer to themselves as “Primitive Baptists,” “Old School Baptists,” or “Strict Baptists” which is ironic considering that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is not consistent with hyper-Calvinism (see paragraph 7.2). These terms are not to be confused with “Reformed Baptist” which describes someone who holds to the 1689 Confession or “Particular Baptist” which describes a person who is a Baptist and a Calvinist. Then, some people who are not Calvinists, but hold to a moderating position somewhere in-between Calvinism and Arminianism, refer to Calvinism as “High Calvinism” which is the Calvinism of the Synod of Dort which defined what Calvinism or reformed theology is in contrast to the Articles of Remonstrance which outlines the beliefs of the followers of Jacobus Arminius, the founder of Arminianism.
It also doesn’t help matters that hyper-Calvinists will seamlessly transition between defending Calvinism to defending the tenets of hyper-Calvinism so that the reader who has not studied Calvinism before is unable to distinguish between the two. Often, Calvinism is incorrectly referred to as hyper-Calvinism in order to dissuade people from reading the writings of John Calvin and the Puritans. Another problem with defining hyper-Calvinism is that not many Christians in America have experienced hyper-Calvinism firsthand so they incorrectly associate Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism not realizing that they are radically different from each other. It is unfortunate that hyper-Calvinism has the name “Calvinism” in it at all because it is actually a departure from the theology of the reformer John Calvin.
To rightly understand hyper-Calvinism, we need to analyze the writings of the leading hyper-Calvinists and dissect their arguments. The problem though is that if you asked the average Christian who the leading hyper-Calvinists were and what they believed, you would most likely get an inaccurate and caricatured definition of Calvinism. Can you tell me who the leading hyper-Calvinists of the 18th and 19th centuries were? We need to know our enemy in order to understand him and refute his arguments. The most consistent hyper-Calvinists of that era were Joseph Hussey, William Huntington, Daniel Whitaker, and William Palmer. On the other hand, Tobias Crisp, John Skepp, John Brine, and John Gill were hyper-Calvinistic to a lesser degree and thankfully inconsistent in their hyper-Calvinism since they did preach the gospel evangelically. William Gadsby fits somewhere in-between the two groups since he opposed the foreign missionary movement, yet faithfully (though inconsistently) preached the gospel in his home church. In giving a broad overarching definition to hyper-Calvinism, I have created an “ABC’s of Hyper-Calvinism” which outlines seven of its most distinctive beliefs:
Denial of common grace
Full knowledge of God’s sovereignty in salvation is necessary for justification
Go and make disciples of all nations is not binding on Christians today
I would consider “F” and “G” to be the most extreme forms of hyper-Calvinism since they confuse justification with sanctification and deny that the great commission is still relevant for Christians today. As I mentioned earlier, there is more than one kind of hyper-Calvinism and not every person that I listed above would agree with all seven of the characteristics of hyper-Calvinism that I have given. For example, John Gill appeared to believe in common grace, rightly distinguished between justification and sanctification, and believed that the great commission was still binding on Christians today – yet he held to a form of eternal justification, denied that the gospel should be considered a call or offer, and made a distinction between evangelical repentance leading to salvation which God only demands of the elect and general repentance which is the duty of every man. Each defender of hyper-Calvinism must be evaluated on his own terms and critiqued individually. The problem is we don’t have the time or patience to meticulously read through all their writings and compare and contrast their beliefs to one another. The result is that we create hasty generalizations and lump everyone who taught a certain error in together with everyone else who taught the same error even though there may be a world of difference between what a false teacher who is not saved taught in comparison to someone who may be a genuine Christian but was inconsistent in his beliefs. I would not therefore put John Gill in the same category as Joseph Hussey or William Huntington who were more unbiblical than Gill. My next article will examine and critique the tenets of hyper-Calvinism on the basis of Scripture.