Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who or what is a Hyper-Calvinist?

Question: "Who or what is a Hyper-Calvinist?"
Answer: "Anyone who is more Calvinistic than I am!"

Some folks regularly write about and against "the Hyper-Calvinists" as if that is some readily identifiable group, when in fact it is not.

Free Will Baptists look at Southern Baptists and say they are hyper; while Southern Baptists look at Calvinistic Southern Baptists and say they are hyper; while the Calvinistic Southern Baptists look at the Limited Predestinarian Primitive Baptists and say they are hyper; while the Limited Predestinarian Primitive Baptists look at the Absolute Predestinarian Primitive Baptists and say they are hyper! You get the picture.

Many would think the Absoluters wouldn't have anybody to point the finger at, but then there's the
Outside the Camp folks who believe a true Christian "...obviously believes that Arminianism is a false gospel, that all who hold to it are lost, and that all who claim to believe the true gospel but who speak peace to those who bring a false gospel of Arminianism are lost." I'm not sure if there is anyone more hyper than that! ;-O

The point is not just about what the above groups believe, but to point out that "Hyper-Calvinism" is truly a matter of perspective. AND the use of the term is generally pejorative, a type of argumentum ad hominem debate sometimes called poisoning the well. The fact that one is a Hyper-Calvinist should be "proof" enough that they are wrong, shouldn't it?

Ultimately, if we're reading discussion about "Hyper-Calvinism" we must try to find in the context of the writer just whom he/she thinks is a Hyper-Calvinist to properly understand what is being written.


clinch64 said...

This reminds me of a documentary I saw some years ago. Part of it was concerning an elderly musician from North Carolina, I believe. He was asked if he belonged to any church. He said no, and lamented the fact of how each one believed their way to be the right way. He said, " I'm afraid I might join the wrong one". Humorous but something to contemplate.

Neil Vaught

Anonymous said...

Neil, I had something similar happen in a church I pastored in Quebec. A lumber baron's wife and daughter faithfully attended church, the same pew each Sunday. I met the baron at the local shop one day and asked him about attending services. He replied, "Too many hypocrites!" I retorted, "There is always room for one more."

The next Sunday he was there with his wife and daughter. Eventually he came to faith in Christ. We never know, do we?

Labels are very useful on medicine bottles and garments. I never had much use for them in religion.



amity said...

"Too many hypocrites!" I retorted, "There is always room for one more."

Perfect retort. I wish I were that quick witted! And God moves in a mysterious way...

I think it is a mistake to necessarily expect professors of Christianity to be any better than "ordinary" people. Believers are transformed in some way, but not necessarily any obvious way, although it 'ought' to be so. That doesn't make them hypocrites, exactly. Just sinners. It is wonderful to see some who do shine forth quite a bit of light. But I am weary of hearing people using belief in depravity to excuse all manner of bad behavior. Reminds me of Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it" line. Yes, you are BAD, but you can certainly DO better! Nonetheless, church is not supposed to be a social club, so not looking for the one with the *nicest* people!

Anyway, on to hyper-Calvinism. Does this imply doctrines that go beyond ordinary Calvinism in some way? More Calvinist than Calvin himself? Similar to being 'more royalist than the king?' In what way? In any way?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Amity, yes I think the term "Hyper-Calvinism" does, or is intended to, imply doctrines that go beyond ordinary Calvinism.

What I said in the original blog may sound like I am saying that there cannot be any such thing as "Hyper-Calvinism". But that is not exactly my point. My main point is that the terminology is imprecise and often inflammatory. For example, while there may be quite a bit of variation with "Calvinism", there is still enough consensus for one to understand what is generally being spoken of when the terms "Calvinist" and "Calvinism" are used. The same is not true of Hyper-Calvinism.

What is ordinary Calvinism? I think for the most part (and in most people's understanding), Calvinism is a soteriology -- a theology of salvation. According to Wikipedia, "...the central issue in Calvinist theology that is often used to represent the whole is the system's particular soteriology (doctrine of salvation), which emphasizes that man is incapable of adding anything from himself to obtain salvation and that God alone is the initiator at every stage of salvation, including the formation of faith and every decision to follow Christ." I think there are some other issues that go hand in hand with this, such as the sovereignty of God. Some would go further to say that Calvinism encompasses "Reformed Theology", including such things a the regulative principle of worship and Covenant Theology (which includes paedo-baptism). But most discussions of Calvinism, in my experience, usually center around the TULIP principles (which is soteriology) -- Total inability, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.

The Wikipedia article on Hyper-Calvinism seems to indicate the proper use of the term "Hyper-Calvinism" is connected to "extremes" (from whose point of view?) that were held by some English Particular Baptists and became particularly noticable among the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists. John Gill often is included in lists of "Hyper-Calvinists", but I seem to remember someone, Gene Bridges perhaps, showing on the Baptist Board that Gill did not hold some of the ("Hyper-Calvinistic") doctrines often credited to him.

Ultimately, it seems to me that most people use what Wikipedia calls "the non-technical use of the term" "usually as a derogatory term" which is applied to any variety of doctrines which are often considered to be outside of "Calvinist orthodoxy" (whatever that is in the opinion of the writer).

Now let me sum up what I see as a few problems:

The use of term "Hyper-Calvinist" is most often pejorative and derogatory.* It makes "Calvinism" the standard of orthodoxy for judging what is "hyper" (over, above) and sub (below, beneath). It seems to imply that we were shooting for Calvinism and overshot the mark. Perhaps one should consider we were never shooting for Calvinism in the first place! And most of all, its "non-technical" use often implies that there is a fixed meaning in the way the term is used, when in fact it is fluid. That makes it imperative for those who use it to define what they mean by the term when they use it (which isn't a bad idea for all of us when we're throwing terminology around). As Jim said, labels are much more useful for medicine bottles, garments, etc. than in religion. In the one the ingredients are fixed, while in the other they are not.

*Is "hyper" Calvinism intended to be derogatory? Try calling it "super" Calvinism and see if that gives it a little different connotation! ;-D

Anonymous said...

At arriving at any branch of Calvinism, we must read beyond Calvin, and in particular, his Institutes. We must always remember that Calvin was quite young when he wrote the Institutes, and he further developed his theology later in life. For example, compare the Institutes with his commentary on Romans. They are worlds apart; in the first he was decidedly supralapsarianist, the proper designation for the word "hyper-calvinist"; in the latter Calvin had espoused the sublapsarian position, which, by the way, is the typical viewpoint of Calvinistic Baptists.

I forget who said it now, but we must always view the moral world as two lines meeting only in infinity, which is also an accurate mathematical reality. These lines representing God's plans, and man's plans. The two run together, but God is always in control and from eternity. Whilst the human line was always there, it was not occupied until creation.

I have always found the confusion with theology in that men fail to examine the whole...Since I can decide to eat ice cream, I must have free will. We tend to forget God's permissive will, which includes disobedience, which does have its own consequences.

I used to say years ago that "I was not in love with the name Baptist, but I was in love with what it stood for." Now for that to remain true, we must truly examine the defining factors of what a Baptist is, whether they were called Baptists or not at that particular time in history.

Ah, the labels we might wear, the gowns we might adorn and the crown we should aspire to in our Lord Jesus.



amity said...

So it would seem that anyone whose beliefs are similar to Calvin's but with some points of difference is to be labelled a "Hyper-Calvinist"? This seems to assume that such views are necessarily 'more extreme' than Calvin's by someone's standards. Are there no "Hypo-Calvinists" or "Sub-Calvinists" out there? Or para-Calvinists? And was Calvin 'extreme' to begin with, that we may tar someone with the assertion that they are even 'more extreme' than Calvin? I was more comfortable with the term "Hyper-Calvinist" when I thought it meant "not quite according to Calvin" which was before I read that Wikipedia article! Some of those who were originally accused of hyper-Calvinism in that article might arrive at the conclusion that there are many more people among the elect than Calvin himself might have thought. The article is better than it was but still not comfortable with the implication that hyper-Calvinists do not love their neighbors like 'real' Calvinists do! (in the section on historical Calvinism)

At any rate my eyes are opened about the term.

amity said...

... or how about "extra-Calvinist." I like that term even better.

Still I am frustrated that we must identify a set of beliefs by reference to Calvin at all, like he *invented* this soteriology! (thanks for new vocabulary word for the day, Robert.)

Anonymous said...

Calvin does not claim to be the inventor. He gives much of the credit to Augustine, and of course, the early church.

On his five points, they were just a response to the five points of Arminianism.



amity said...

Five points of Arminianism...?

Thank you, Jim, you are a huge help!

R. L. Vaughn said...

This will probably make interesting further reading:

The Five Articles of the Remonstrants
Who was Arminius?
Arminian Basics