Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I still don't want to be a Hyper-Calvinist (hyper-modified)

I am always interested (terrified of?) one flavor of hyper-Calvinism of which I have been accused: the denial that the gospel is a "sincere" offer of salvation made to all persons.

The tension here, for the Calvinist, is rather obvious. Only the elect will be regenerated by grace, come to faith in Christ, and receive the gift of salvation. Only the elect hear an inward call. Therefore, how can the offer be sincere?

Imagine a universe where the requirement for salvation was to describe, accurately, what was depicted in a picture chosen at random. And in this bizarro universe their crazy god was true to their word--that anyone who achieved this would have eternal life. Certainly we could agree that the offer was universal. But in what sense is it sincere?

Doesn't an offer, if it is to be called sincere, imply that the offer not only may be accepted (or rejected) but can be accepted (or rejected)?

In that sense of sincere, our gospel is even less sincere than this bizarre offer. Our gospel is presented (and I fully agree that it should be!) to the unselect--blind as bats. But in the bizarro universe the sighted still have to, by choice, describe the picture. With our gospel the sighted are predestined to tell what they see.

And if that is correct, then how is the gospel offer sincere for anyone? For the elect it is like a Don Corleone offer—it cannot be refused—and for the non-elect it is literally asking the impossible.

I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist. I want someone to demonstrate, from scripture, how the offer is sincere (in they way I use that word) for everyone. Or even for anyone. Or to give me an alternate definition of sincere that isn't diluted of all meaning.

Some background may be helpful. I first realized that I was a hyper-Calvinist (of this flavor) when reading an essay from John MacArthur's man Friday, Phil Johnson:
This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.
Johnson, after describing hyper-Calvinsim, went on to give the first of several examples that don't seem to fit:
The most famous example of this kind of hyper-Calvinism was when John Ryland heard William Carey talking about becoming a missionary to India, and told him, "Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, He will do it without your help."
Now I agree that there is something seriously wrong with this sentiment. But in my opinion, the flaw in Ryland's rebuke to Carey was not in the denial that there is a sincere offer for everyone, but in his blatant disregard for God's command to preach the gospel to the world, and most likely in his understanding of why we are to preach the gospel, which is to glorify God, not to make converts—although that is wonderful when it happens.

Phil Johnson goes on to give five ways one can be a Hyper-Calvinist, writing:
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
  1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR 
  2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR 
  3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR 
  4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR 
  5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.
Notice that Johnson, when describing the hyper-Calvinist spirit (which I quoted above) used the adjective sincere. In giving his five ways by which one crosses the boundary into hyper-Calvinism, he omitted sincere in item three. I assume, however, that it is implied.

In my own scorecard, I am in big danger, I know, of being a Type-3 hyper-Calvinist.

Okay, I'm willing to be instructed. I don't want to be a hyper-Calvinist of any type. I want someone to explain exactly how the gospel offer is sincere, in the way we would use "sincere offer" (both may and can be accepted/rejected.)

So I continued reading Johnson's essay.
Many modern hyper-Calvinists salve themselves by thinking their view cannot really be hyper-Calvinism because, after all, they believe in proclaiming the gospel to all. However, the "gospel" they proclaim is a truncated soteriology with an undue emphasis on God's decree as it pertains to the reprobate. One hyper-Calvinist, reacting to my comments about this subject on an e-mail list, declared, "The message of the Gospel is that God saves those who are His own and damns those who are not."
Well, no, that doesn't apply to me. I never mention election when presenting the Gospel. I tell people that if they recognize that they are sinners they should repent, and that salvation is a free gift for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. Johnson's example of someone who gives a corrupted gospel message does nothing to help me understand how the offer of salvation is "sincere" for all.

Johnson continues:
The hyper-Calvinist position at this point amounts to a repudiation of the very gist of 2 Corinthians 5:20: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
No, not in my case. The way I witness—telling those that they must acknowledge their sinfulness and that God will forgive—is completely in line with 2 Corinthians 5:20. Now it is true that, in the back of my mind, unspoken I know (or rather believe, I could be wrong!) that only the elect will be regenerated and acquire the moral ability to come to Christ. But of course I have no idea who is or is not elect. And it is also true that I view the purpose of witnessing more as glorifying God—by making his mercies known—than I view it as being beneficial to the hearer. However, I never alter the gospel in the way that Johnson suggests is the natural manifestation of my hyper-Calvinism.

He is making a classic straw man argument.

Johnson then goes into detail on the five forms of hyper-Calvinism. So I anticipate some answers in his in-depth examination of Type 3 hyper-Calvinsism. But there is no substance in Johnson's essay at this point; he merely refers to additional sources. He says nothing other than the view is wrong, nothing to help me with my conundrum about how an offer for which the hearer has a moral inability to assent can, in any manner, be sincere. At this point I get it that Johnson views this as hyper-Calvinism—I would just like some scriptural proof that directly supports his assertion.

So on the basis of Johnson's essay, I stood accused of being a hyper-Calvinist. But his essay was ultimately unsatisfying; it merely defined hyper-Calvinism, gave examples that did not apply, and offered no scriptural proof.

With that backdrop, you can imagine how happy I was to find the aforementioned essay by Michael S. Horton in the November, 2005 edition of Tabletalk.

In a paragraph under the heading Is the Gospel for Everyone Horton begins with:
Isn't it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
Here I am a little nervous. I don't deny that God insists that, as evangelists, we must be sincere and indiscriminate in proclaiming the gospel. I want Horton to address whether God Himself makes a sincere offer of salvation to everyone. Horton diverted in midstream. Forget about us, tell me about God.

It really doesn't matter, because Horton doesn't answer his own (in my opinion ill-formed) question. He simply goes on to declare it a mystery, and then give the standard Calvinistic description of the outward and inward calls. I completely agree with his explanation of the calls, even as I lament that it offers no insight to the question at hand. It is a related but off-target point that Horton makes.

Horton then states that both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages, resolving the mystery in terms of either the free offer of the gospel or election. Like Johnson, Horton labels the pathology, describes inaccurate symptoms, and offers no substantive explanation.

I was very disappointed. I am left as always, with the feeling that nobody, from a Calvinistic perspective, can support the notion that God makes a sincere offer of salvation to all. And I am left, as always, with the impression that they simply cannot make such a statement (that God does not make a sincere offer to all), intuiting that it impugns the character of God. They label it as hyper-Calvinism, call it a mystery, offer anecdotal evidence that doesn't fit, or explanations for theological points not actually in dispute.

Or maybe, buried in Romans 9:
22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom. 9:22-23)
they really can see a sincere offer for all. I can't. 

I guess I'm destined to carry the shame of being a hyper-Calvinist.

1 comment:

  1. My initial thought is that "hyper-Calvinists" tend to withhold the Gospel from those they don't think are elect (the famous "heathen" quote.)

    Whether or not God makes a sincere offer, His command to us is to preach the Gospel to every living creature. Our preaching of the Gospel assumes that everybody we preach to is elect.

    If God knows the future, any offer made to those that He already knows will not accept is not altogether sincere either.