The False Charge of Hyper-Calvinism

Earlier this week I received notice that Phil Johnson (known for his popular website devoted to Charles Spurgeon and for his close association with John MacArthur) accuses the Protestant Reformed Churches and Herman Hoeksema of bad theology for rejecting “the free offer of the gospel.” Johnson has created three webpages with links to websites that promote what he considers bad theology. One page is entitled “Bad theology,” the second “Really bad theology,” and the third “Really, really bad theology.” On the “Bad theology” page Johnson provides a link to the PRCA website (unfortunately the link he uses is no longer active) and to Hoeksema’s book Whosever Will (fortunately this link still works). Johnson’s main criticism is that Hoeksema and the PRCA reject the free offer of the gospel and are therefore guilty of hyper-Calvinism.

Under the link to the PRCA website (which can actually be found at prca.org) he writes:

There are some helpful, even excellent, resources linked here. I deliberated long and hard about whether to put this in the "Helpful Resources" category. The problem is that the PRC holds to an extreme Calvinism that denies God's common grace and the free offer of the gospel. This is a form of hyper-Calvinism, and is fraught with many dangerous ramifications. I could not with good conscience give it a thumbs up. Not a few people have written to ask how I could class a denomination that adheres to the Three Forms of Unity in this category. But the PRC's most distinctive feature—its utter denial of the gospel's free offer—is, after all, bad theology.

Under the link to Whosoever Will he writes:

These are Herman Hoeksema's writings on grace and the gospel call. His perspective on these issues amounts to a kind of hyper-Calvinism. He denies that the gospel invitation includes a bona fide offer of salvation to anyone but the elect. Hoeksema was brilliant, and a good writer. In fact, there is enough of real value here that I originally placed it in the "helpful" category. But the more I see of the fruits of this kind of thinking, the more convinced I am that it deserves to be plainly labeled as bad theology.

In a full response to Johnson’s charge of hyper-Calvinism against Hoeksema and the PRCA I would take the time to demonstrate that the charge is false because it is based on wrong definition of what hyper-Calvinism is. And I would take the time to demonstrate that Johnson should be more concerned about the fruit of accepting the free offer rather than rejecting it. But I have committed myself to keeping these posts shorter and limit myself to explaining that although we may be a bit indignant that this false charge of hyper-Calvinism is still lodged against us despite our efforts to demonstrate it is not true, we must expect this charge and should even be encouraged by it.

Why should we expect and even be encouraged by the charge of hyper-Calvinism? I’ll answer that with some help from Prof. Engelsma’s recently republished book (with many fine improvements!) on this subject entitled Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. In this book Professor Engelsma explains that hyper-Calvinism is a serious error and a real threat to the church. But he explains that hyper-Calvinism is not a threat to a church that accepts the free-offer of the gospel. The church that believes God loves everyone in the preaching cannot be accused of hyper-Calvinism and is not in danger of adopting the error. If we were not charged with hyper-Calvinism, false though the charge is, it would possibly be a sign that we have accepted the Arminian error of universal and resistible grace in the preaching of the gospel. But Prof. Englesma writes, “[Hyper-Calvinism] is a danger exactly to the church that embraces the truth of sovereign, particular grace with believing heart by the mighty Spirit of Christ” (p. 8).

We must take the error of hyper-Calvinism seriously and make sure that we do not slip into it. But if we examine ourselves and find that we have not fallen into the real error of hyper-Calvinism then we may rejoice. Then we know that the false charge of hyper-Calvinism is only an indication that our theological opponents insist on making this accusation on the ground that we reject the well-meant offer. Rejecting the well-meant offer does not mean that we are hyper-Calvinist. It means that we reject universal and resistible grace in the preaching and continue to maintain the biblical and Reformed truth of sovereign particular grace. So to be charged with hyper-Calvinism by those who hold to an Arminian doctrine of the gospel call is only a sign that we continue to hold to the Reformed gospel of sovereign, particular grace.

 

This article was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times each week. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us. 

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