What Is Hyper-Calvinism?

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 all at 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:

Antinomianism

Belief is not a commanded duty; the non-elect are not responsible for their unbelief

Call of the gospel not offered to all men, but only to the “awakened”

Denial of common grace

Eternal justification

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.

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3 thoughts on “What Is Hyper-Calvinism?

  1. Greetings. I followed your link from Denny’s blog. I was strongly tempted to respond there, but I’m sure I’ve worn out my welcome there (and I thought your comment sort of spoke for itself).

    You wrote: “Calvin did not burn Servetus at the stake, the city council of Geneva did. Calvin argued that Servetus should be beheaded”

    Yes. He argued that a mentally ill man (as you suggested) who had done him no personal wrong should be decapitated. In all seriousness, do you think this earns Calvin a “Humanitarian of the Year” award?

    Replace “Calvin” with “Mohammed” and “Christian” with “Muslim”. You wouldn’t find your entire paragraph to be a bit barbaric?

    If not, I really don’t know what to say to you other than that your religious sensibilities have apparently eliminated your humanity.

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  2. I do not agree with Calvin’s sentiment that Servetus needed to be put to death as a heretic. As a Baptist, I do not believe that it is the duty of the state to enforce the first table of the law (see the writings of John Leland). We fight against heretics with the Sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17; 2 Cor 10:4), not the Sword of government. But your initial comment was completely incorrect that Calvin had Servetus burned at the stake. He did not, the city council of Geneva did. If Servetus had to die, then Calvin viewed beheading as a more humane form of punishment. It is rather remarkable that Servetus was the only person in Geneva put to death for heresy during the life of Calvin considering that heretics were commonly put to death for their beliefs during the Reformation era. Calvin was only a witness for the prosecution and the lead prosecutor was Claude Rigot along with Nicholas de la Fontaine (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/comserv.html). Calvin wanted Servetus to turn from his error because God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and Calvin would agree with that (see Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel 18: “God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the Gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined he is to pity.”). That’s why Calvin took great risk in traveling to Paris to try to meet with Servetus and visiting Servetus in prison to try to convince him of the error of his ways. Making insulting comments about my humanity reflects a misunderstanding of the Christian gospel that calls all men to repentance and faith lest they perish in their sins as Jesus himself said (John 8:24). I highly recommend that you read Paul Washer’s book “The Gospel’s Power and Message” if you want to understand the Christian message. http://www.amazon.com/Gospels-Power-Message-Recovering-Gospel/dp/1601781954

    And Servetus did mean Calvin personal harm because Servetus counter-argued during the trial that it was Calvin who was the heretic, not him.

    See Robert Willis’ book on the subject if you really want to dig into history and not just make passing comments on blog articles that reflect personal bias: https://books.google.com/books?id=YlE3AAAAMAAJ

    At least read Mark Talbot’s article if you don’t have time to read an entire book on the subject:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-servetus-affair

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