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Spiritual Declension: Lessons from Early 18th Century Particular Baptists, Part 3-The Chilling Effect of Hyper-Calvinism

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  1. […] Spiritual Declension: Lessons from Early 18th Century Particular Baptists, Part 3-The Chilling Effec… __________________ For the Glory of our King, Joe Johnson Slave of Christ, husband, father, Preacherboy at Cornerstone Community Church, Escanaba, MI. and TMS graduate. Personal website – SoundLife.org I do not know, and I do not say, that a person cannot believe in Revelation and in evolution, too, for a man may believe that which is infinitely wise and also that which is only asinine. ~ CHS […]

  2. I have enjoyed reading Parts I and II of your series, but I cannot say I enjoyed this post.

    James White is an incredibly active Reformed Baptist evangelist, yet he denies the free offer of the gospel as you have defined it and as John Murray defined it.

    Your thesis, that denying the free offer of the gospel as defined by Murray leads to cold, stale, inactive churches, is utterly refuted by the example of James White.

    I humbly suggest it’s time to go back to the drawing board. I look forward to the rest of the series.

    brandon

    January 20, 2009 at 6:13 am

  3. Brandon,

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the first two parts of this series. I’m sorry Part 3 was not quite as edifying. I won’t speak for Pastor Smith or for Dr. White (whose position on this topic I am unfamiliar with).

    I suspect that the position you hold (and allege Dr. White holds) is akin to “High Calvinism.” Exponents of this view would include Dr. Gordon Clark, John Gerstner, David Engelsma, and Matthew Winzer. These men do in fact believe that we should command all men everywhere to repent and believe. What we may not do, however, is to portray God as in any sense desiring the salvation of the non-elect. At best, God delights in a universal command but not a sincere, well-meant offer to all sinners indiscriminately. Some concede that the preacher (since he’s not omniscient) may communicate indiscriminately his own human desire for the welfare of all his hearers. But he may not depict God as entertaining this same desire.

    This is certainly a different position from that represented by men like Hussey. But I agree with Pastor Smith that it’s an unhealthy and unbiblical view. It colors our presentation of the “good news.” It conditions our view of God. Hence, it’s not inconsequential. I hope, God willing, to publish a series of posts, in which I plan to argue that both Hyper-Calvinism as well as “High Calvinism” (which in my view is just a softer view of Hyper-Calvinism) are untenable in light of careful exegesis and are non sequitur deductions from other doctrines.

    Sincerely yours,
    Bob Gonzales

    deangonzales

    January 20, 2009 at 5:52 pm

  4. Bob,

    Thanks for the reply. I understand High Calvinists are not Hyper-Calvinists like Hussey… but no one reading this article would understand that. You may not believe High Calvinism is Biblical, but it is just incorrect to say that it results in dead churches that do not engage in evangelism.

    If you are not familiar with Dr. White’s position, please view the video link in which he very strongly rejects Murray and his claim that God has a desire to save the reprobate. Again, you can argue how Biblical that view is, but to associate it with Hyper-Calvinism, with a refusal to evangelize, is simply wrong and terribly misleading.

    brandon

    January 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm

  5. Dear Brandon,

    I have great respect for James White and very much appreciate his ministry. I have heard or read comments by others implying that his view of the free offer is one of denying the concept of “sincerity” or “sincere desire” in it while acknowledging that we should preach the gospel to the lost and call them to repent and believe with the promise of salvation to those who do. This is a much milder view then what characterized some early 18th century PB’s, though I still believe it is an error. However I am unfamiliar firsthand with what Dr. White says on this matter and, therefore, must refrain from assumptions about his position.

    I would point out that you slightly misrepresented me in your response. You say, “Your thesis, that denying the free offer of the gospel as defined by Murray leads to cold, stale, inactive churches, is utterly refuted by the example of James White.”

    That is not exactly what I said. Here is what I said, “Hyper-Calvinism TENDS to squelch evangelistic and missionary zeal in the church”….”churches coming under this influence TENDED to be marked by a lack a passion for evangelism and missions that brought an appalling deadness to the churches.”[4]

    Under this last statement I have footnote 4 which says, “I am aware that there were some Hyper-Calvinist ministries that were well attended. See Oliver, History of the English Calvinistic Baptists: 1771-1892.”

    These statements are an implied acknowledgement that there are exceptions. Thus none of them are refuted by the evangelistic example or zeal of James White as you state.

    Also exceptions to a rule do not refute the general correctness of a rule that is stated as a general rule, not an absolute one.

    I notice in Dr. Gonzales comment above that he will write further on this subject and I will therefore leave that to him. He has addressed it well in other contexts. Hope your dislike of this post will not keep you from reading and enjoying the remaining posts in my series.

    Every Blessing to You in Christ,

    Jeff Smith

    jsmitheasley

    January 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

  6. Brandon,

    I wanted to make a further comment after reading your brief response to Dr. Gonzales’s comment. I grant, brother, that there is a distinction, as some define terms, between High Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism.

    However you will notice that my statements about “sincere desire” were in the portion of the blog in which I was defining the free offer of the gospel, not defining Hyper-Calvinism.

    My definition of Hyper-Calvinism is given in the first paragraph of the blog…Here is the definition I give… “What is Hyper-Calvinism? The hallmark of Hyper-Calvinism is the rejection of the free offer of the gospel to all men. It is the belief that preachers should not give indiscriminate invitations and exhortations to sinners to believe the gospel and come to Christ and to come to Christ immediately”

    It is my understanding that this is an accurate historical definition of Hyper-Calvinism and I think you may agree. However I grant that an element of confusion may be there because the free offer has not yet been defined at that point and my definition later is not accepted by some who are more in the category of “High Calvinists”

    Perhaps in the latter part of the blog when I give a definition of the free offer (an element of which you don’t agree with) I should have opened up the fact that some accept two of the points of that definition but not one of them.(the one I was underscoring)

    I wonder though, brother, did not the fact that this is the point I argued for and emphasized as the one we need to be careful about imply that some are okay with two of the points but not this third one? Why else would I be defending it?

    However, again, it probably would have been a more precise section if at some point I had clearly mentioned that the definition I give of the free offer is not accepted by some who nonetheless would define themselves as believing in the free offer(according to a different definition)

    Thank you for your input.

    Jeff Smith

    jsmitheasley

    January 20, 2009 at 7:36 pm

  7. Hey Robert,

    I had to wonder at this:

    Exponents of this view would include Dr. Gordon Clark, John Gerstner, David Engelsma, and Matthew Winzer.

    David: I think you wont help our understanding if you blur the distinctions between high and hyper-Calvinism. If we take Phil’s primer–and I confirmed this recently by way of a phone conversation–he is primarily concerned with marking hypercalvinism as the denial of the well-meant and sincere offer.

    For Phil, and rightly so, one who denies that should be classed as hyper. Yet this is the very thing Gordon Clark, John Gerstner, David Engelsma, and Matthew Winzer have done.

    Gerstner in his first edition of Wrongly Dividing denied that even the non-elect are called by the Gospel. They only hear the call to the elect. In his preface to Engelsma’s Hypercalvinism and the Call of the Gospel (second edition), he explicitly denies the well-meant offer. Winzer has said much the same. Clark the same.

    If we reduce (wrongly so I believe) the marker of hypercalvinism to a denial of the well-meant offer, then by all standards, the men I’ve listed above all qualify.

    Take care,
    David

    David

    January 22, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    • Dear David,

      I appreciate your thoughts and am sympathetic with your concerns. I believe that the error of so-called “High Calvinism” is driven by some of the same faulty reasoning as the kind of thinking represented in Hussey’s God’s Operations of Grace but No Offers of Grace. Moreover, insasmuch as this position fails to reflect the balance of Scripture, I believe it’s a detriment to the gospel and the church. I am planning, DV, to post a series of blogs that will support the free and sincere offer of the gospel. The study will be primarily exegetical and theological. But I will likely be seeking your guidance for good historical materials that support the exegetical and theological conclusions. Please keep in touch.

      deangonzales

      January 24, 2009 at 12:11 am

  8. Dr. Gonzales,

    Blushing, I must admit that it was my great grandfather’s publishing house that resurrected Hussey. To my knowledge, the Primitive Publications 1973 abridgement of God’s Operations of Grace but No Offers of Grace is still the only edition to appear in modern times. The original 1792 edition is still here among my great-grandfather’s books. It was procured from an antique book dealer in Belfast for a $1.

    While I have no sympathy for his hyper-Calvinism, I believe my great-grandfather at least gave modern Calvinists a mental reference point to guide them away from the obvious dangers they might have otherwise have stumbled into.

    Regarding the comments of others, I must say that I believe Pastor Smith and others have probably understated, if anything, the destructive nature of this hyper-Calvinistic theology on the 18th Century Baptists. The other reasons specified in this series can just about all be traced back in one way or another to the entrance of that tragic doctrinal error. Like older Baptist historians such Armitage and Cramp, I am of the opinion that hyper-Calvinism is almost singularly to blame for the decline of these dear people.

    When the Gospel is deliberately stifled to suit a man-made theological system, one cannot comprehend the umbrage God takes to the churches that are so unfaithful to their stewardship of Truth.

    Jason Crawford

    January 24, 2009 at 1:54 am

  9. hey Robert,

    I am still looking forward to your series. I think it is much needed. I just read Jason’s comments. His thoughts their echo what Ive also come to conclude. I know I beaten this drum before, but back in the ’90s I was corresponding with a lot of RBs, Calvinist Baptist churches, and Maurice Roberts of the Banner of Truth in the UK. The men I corresponded with were all able to see the killing effects of hypercalvinism. Anyway, they could see what hyperism does. When I came to the States and talked with RBs here, its as if they had no real appreciation for what hyperism does to churches and to Christians. That’s been a concern for me since then.

    I know what hypercalvinism does to the church as a whole and to individuals from my own experience back in Australia. It has a cultic impact as well, which is also under appreciated.

    Regarding the labels: the term “high” has been used–even in 19thC literature–to cover Bezarian Calvinism, Supralapsarian, Double-Predestinarian Calvinism, etc. These wings are not hypercalvinist, in themselves. I think it is best if we do not use a term which is broad enough to even include Bezarian types of Calvinism. Hypercalvinism, on the other hand, has a solid established definition which includes the denial of duty-faith, to the denial of the well-meant offer, and God’s revealed will. It’s a well-recognized term defined by Calvinists themselves who are academics or Scholars.

    Of course, this is all my own opinion, and does not count for much. I just think we need to stay with the firm label of hypercalvinism to describe folk like Gill, Brine, Hussey, Hoeksema et al. I say this because we are not saying that these men simply had a more emphatic Calvinism, stressing some aspect of historic Calvinism. Hyperism is a real break from all forms of mainstream Calvinism.

    Anyway, thanks.

    Take care,
    David

    David

    January 26, 2009 at 3:23 pm


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