Where’s the Line Between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism? image

Where’s the Line Between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism?

We all know where the line between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism is. Calvinism (hooray) is the good stuff: the sovereignty of God, the grace of God which saves wretches like us, the golden chain, and the perseverance of the saints. Hyper-Calvinism (boo, hiss) is the bad stuff: fatalism, the inability to pray, and apathy in evangelism, summed up in that story about the Baptist leader who told William Carey to sit down because if God wanted to save the heathen, he would do it without either of their help. Easy.

Or is it? I read a fair bit of Calvinist theology, but it’s not always easy to tell the difference. For instance: is it hyper-Calvinist to believe in double predestination? Is it hyper-Calvinist to say that Jesus did not die for the world, but only for the elect? Is it hyper-Calvinist to believe that our response to sickness ought to be to counsel the individual on how to see the sovereignty of God at work, rather than to pray that God would heal them? Is it hyper-Calvinist to tell people that all human sin has been decreed by God since before the beginning of time? Is it hyper-Calvinist to say that the first evil inclination in history was God’s? Or that God ordained the existence of Satan, and Adam’s fall into sin, for his greater glory? Or is all that (or some of it) just good old-fashioned Calvinism?

Let’s earth this. Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a post summarising what Calvin himself said we should do when we visit the sick, and gave the following six points:

1. People need the gospel more than ever when they are ill.
2. Remind the sick from the word of God that God is sovereign over their illness and has sent it for their good.
3. If the illness is severe, comfort the sick with the sure knowledge that those who die in the Lord have nothing to fear.
4. If the sick consider their sins to be light and trivial, teach them of the justice of God and call them to embrace the mercy of Christ.
5. If the sick are afflicted in their consciences, help them find rest in Christ.
6. Don’t be afraid to bring some small token of physical relief - books, flowers, balloons, games, movies, a homemade card.

I love Kevin, and have quoted him numerous times here. But notice: not a word about anointing them with oil or praying for them to be healed. Not a word about the explicit biblical instructions given about what elders do when people are sick (James 5:14-16). We have balloons, but the prayer of faith is strangely absent. So: is that hyper-Calvinism, on the basis that it seems to be ignoring the most relevant Scripture passage on the basis of a theological system? Or is it merely Calvinism, since it stems from Calvin himself?

Or consider what Jerry Bridges says in Trusting God, and apply it to someone who has experienced horrendous abuse:

Is someone ‘out to get you’? That person absolutely cannot execute his malicious plan unless God had first decreed it … if God permits it, it is because the ungodly action is part of God’s plan.

Is that hyper-Calvinism? Or is it regular Calvinism? How would we know?

I guess there are two obvious ways of answering that question. The first is to ask whether Calvin himself taught it; if he did, it’s Calvinism, if not, it’s hyper-Calvinism. The second is to ask whether, in order to preserve the Calvinist system, it takes us somewhere that is demonstrably unbiblical. By preference, I’d incline to the second - in that Calvin himself could be hyper-Calvinist at times - and consequently would regard a number of the above as hyper-Calvinist even if Calvin himself taught them. But I’m aware many would find this counterintuitive, or downright bizarre, and would prefer to keep “hyper” as a prefix for things that go beyond the Institutes.

What do you think? Are DeYoung and Bridges hyper-Calvinists? And more importantly: are they right?

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