Arminianism, Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism
Extracted from Ordained Servant, vol. 10, no. 3 (July 2001), p. 59
In spite of the formal similarity between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism has much in common with Arminianism. In fact, Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism appear to be "alter egos" of the same problem. This is illustrated by an examination of certain presuppositions upon which their systems operate.
Presupposition #1: God's Decree God's Desire
Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism both require that God's decree and God's desire correspond. The Arminian believes that since God desires that all should be saved, he did not decree that only some will be saved. The Hyper-Calvinist believes that since God decrees that only some will be saved, he does not desire that all should be saved. So, the Arminian collapses God's decree into his desire, and the Hyper-Calvinist collapses God's desire into his decree. Or you could say that they each effectively erase one for the other. But both extremes arise from the principle agreement that there must be no tension between God's decree and God's desire. The Calvinist, on the other hand, recognizes an important distinction between the decree and desire of God, and lives with the tension that there are some things which God decrees but does not desire (like sin and damnation), and there are some things which God desires but does not decree (like universal repentance and salvation).
Presupposition #2: The Love of God
Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists both believe God's love is restricted by his intent to save. Arminians believe God loves the whole world, therefore he is prepared to save the whole world. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since God only saves the elect he only loves the elect. But, Calvinists believe that in some way God loves even those he does not intend to save.
Presupposition #3: Ability and Responsibility
Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists both believe that ability to exercise saving faith and responsibility to exercise saving faith must correspond. Arminians suppose that since all are responsible to exercise saving faith, all must be able. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since only the elect are able only the elect are responsible. But, true Calvinists believe that even though many are not able to exercise saving faith, all are responsible to exercise saving faith.
Presupposition #4: The Extent of the Atonement and the Free-Offer of the Gospel
Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists both believe that knowledge of the extent of the atonement is necessary for the proclamation of the gospel. Arminians say that since the gospel must be proclaimed to all the atonement must be extended to all. Hyper-Calvinists believe that since the saving benefit of the atonement only extends to the elect, the gospel offer is really only for the elect. Yet, Calvinists believe that though we know the benefits of the atonement will not extend to all in a saving way, the benefits are to be offered to all in the preaching of the gospel.
These four points demonstrate that, in principle, Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism are similar in that both attempt to get rid of the tension by the use of human reason. Calvinism, on the other hand, is a system that is willing to live with a quiet tension, in order to avoid both of these errors.
Brenton Ferry is currently serving as pastor of Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Mount Airy, NC. Mr. Ferry is one of a growing number of younger ministers of the OPC who have participated in studies offered by the Ministerial Training Institute.