"Hyper-Calvinism" is a term of reproach and condemnation. It is the
charge that a theological teaching which claims to be Calvinism has, in fact,
so exaggerated and distorted Calvinism that it is not genuine Calvinism at
all. The body of doctrines described as hyper-Calvinism is accused of having
gone beyond true Calvinism so that, although it has a semblance of Calvinism,
it is in reality a perversion of Calvinism. Indeed, the seriousness of the
epithet "hyper-Calvinism" is that it alleges a theological position to be
The fundamental error of hyper-Calvinism is its restriction of the preaching
of the gospel. With appeal to the Calvinist doctrine of divine predestination,
it limits the preaching of the gospel to the elect. There may be no bringing
of the joyful tidings to all men and women indiscriminately. Especially forbidden
is the earnest, urgent call to all men and women without distinction to come
to the Savior by believing on Him.
Because the Protestant Reformed Churches in North America reject the well-meant
offer of the gospel, these churches are commonly condemned and dismissed in
Calvinistic circles as hyper-Calvinists.
This has been the judgment upon the Protestant Reformed Churches by the Christian
Reformed Church and her theologians from the beginning of the separate existence
of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924. Although he did not use the term
"hyper-Calvinists," this was the charge against the Protestant Reformed Churches
by H.J. Kuiper. Writing at the time of the controversy over common grace that
resulted in the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches, Kuiper declared:
One of the most serious aspects of the present
denial of the of Common Grace is the denial of the general offer of salvation.
It robs the gospel of its evangelical note. It is bound in time to create
an attitude of religious passivism and fatalism which has been the curse
of every church where the preaching of election was not counterbalanced
by the proclamation of the sinner's responsibility and of God's sincere
offer of salvation to all without discrimination.(1)
It was this charge that Herman Hoeksema warded off in his book, *Een
Kracht Gods tot Zaligheid of Genade Geen Aanbod (A Power of God unto Salvation
or Grace No Offer). The editor of the Christian Reformed publication
DeWachter (The Watchman) was alleging that Hoeksema's rejection of
the well-meant offer meant that the gospel should be preached only to the
elect. Hoeksema was responding to this allegation when he wrote:
I emphasize, the doctrine [of the well-meant offer,
which Hoeksema rejected - DJE] is not that the gospel must be preached by
the preacher to all men without distinction. But it is that God Himself
offers His grace to all men and with that, therefore, reveals the earnest
desire that it shall be accepted by all.... Our difference, therefore, has
absolutely nothing to do with the question whether the gospel must also
be preached according to the will of God to all who are in our audience,
reprobate as well as elect.(2)
Christian Reformed histories invariably present the common grace controversy
as the Christian Reformed Church's rejection of hyper-Calvinism.
There was a deliberate refusal to allow the Arminian
overemphasis on common grace to force the Christian Reformed Church to the
opposite extreme of denying that grace altogether. One of the accusations
against the Rev. Hoeksema... concerned his "insufficient Gospel preaching."
The charge was that he preached only for the elect, implicitly denying the
sincerity of the Gospel call to the unconverted... The Christian Reformed
Church has found it necessary to guard consistently against a tendency to
hyper-orthodoxy by way of reaction against Arminianism.(3)
The official line of the Christian Reformed Church
is that she "opposed [the] doctrinal deviation...[of] hyper-Calvinism in the
Common Grace controversy."(4)
This charge against the Protestant Reformed Churches and their theology is
spread more widely not only throughout Reformed circles worldwide but also
in the broad sphere of evangelical Christianity. Influential Reformed theologian
G.C. Berkouwer criticized Herman Hoeksema as a classic hyper-Calvinist:
It is here that Hoeksema's exegesis of the Canons goes awry, because now
the symmetry between election and reprobation becomes a scheme in which
the gospel can no longer be truly preached. The missionary mandate, "Make
disciples of all the nations" (Matt.
28:19), can no longer function properly, according
to its undeniable emphasis on the purpose of the gospel.... We can no longer
speak of glad tidings that go out into the world, except where the gospel
reaches the elect. We do not know who they are, but, the purpose of the
gospel is twofold: salvation and hardening. The symmetry casts its shadow
over the kerygma.(5)
Presbyterians are of the same mind and do not hesitate
to speak it. In the course of his impassioned defense of a universal love
of God in Christ and of a universal will of God unto salvation expressed in
the offer of redemption to all men, Scottish Presbyterian theologian Donald
Macleod gives a scathing denunciation of the predestinarian theology of Herman
Hoeksema: "virtually blasphemous"; "well-nigh blasphemous speculation." (6)
A book circulates among Presbyterians in Australia
and New Zealand that is devoted to the refutation of the doctrine of the call
of the gospel held by the Protestant Reformed Churches. Christ Freely
Offered defends the free offer as God's delight in and "pursuit of" the
salvation of every sinner (many of whom, however, He fails to catch) and castigates
the Protestant Reformed denial of the well-meant offer as hyper-Calvinism.(7)
By the present time, the hyper-Calvinism of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant
Reformed Churches is authoritatively and permanently established in the theological
dictionaries. This is enough to daunt all but the hardiest (some would say
"foolhardiest") soul! How can one resist the wisdom and power of the dictionaries?
InterVarsity Press has published The New Dictionary
of Theology. The article on "Hyper-Calvinism" describes the error as
emphasizing "irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be
no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the
elect.... It undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly
in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them."
Having described the error, the Dictionary confidently identifies
the sole modern hyper-Calvinist: "The most prominent recent theologian is
the Dutch-American, Herman Hoeksema, in his Reformed Dogmatics."(8)
It came as a shock to the Reformed and evangelical communities, therefore,
that the renowned Presbyterian theologian John H. Gerstner recently defended
the rejection of the well-meant offer by the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In a chapter entitled "Spurious Calvinism" in which he exposes the Arminianism
of dispensationalism with regard to every one of the "Five Points of Calvinism,"
Gerstner subjects the well-meant offer of contemporary Calvinism to searching
We must also sadly admit that the majority of Reformed theologians today
seriously err concerning the nature of the love of God for reprobates. We
mention this here only because this defect in contemporary Reformed theology
makes it all the easier for the dispensationalists to continue in their
Most Reformed theologians also include, as a by-product of the Atonement,
the well-meant offer of the gospel by which all men can be saved. Some Reformed
theologians take a further step still and say that God even intends that
they should be saved by this Atonement which nevertheless was made only
for the elect. For example, John Murray and Ned Stonehouse write: "Our Lord...
says expressly that he willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting
grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and
protect." One may sadly say that Westminster Theological Seminary stands
for this misunderstanding of the Reformed Doctrine since not only John Murray
and Ned Stonehouse, but also Cornelius VanTil, R.B. Kuiper, John Frame,
and, so far as we know, all of the faculty, have favored it. The Christian
Reformed Church had already in 1920 taken this sad step away from the Reformed
orthodoxy and has been declining ever since. The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
had even earlier, though somewhat ambiguously, departed and the present
mainline Presbyterian church affirms that "The Risen Christ is the savior
for all men."
The Presbyterian Church in the United States (now part of the Presbyterian
Church, U.S.A.) is not far behind, and the separatist Presbyterians such
as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America
are following in this train. Only the Protestant Reformed Church seems willing
to hold to the whole counsel of God on this doctrine.
Gerstner sees the will-meant offer as laying a foundation
for "a radical break with the Reformed tradition." The well-meant offer teaches
that God is frustrated in His desire to save certain persons. But, says Gerstner,
"God, if He could be frustrated in His desires, simply would not be God."(9)
The issue of the well-meant offer is very much alive in Calvinistic circles.
It is the purpose of this book to show that the rejection of the well-meant
offer by the Protestant Reformed Churches is not hyper-Calvinism. This rejection
involves no restriction of the promiscuous, lively, urgent preaching of the
gospel. It entails no hesitation to call everyone in the preacher's audience
to repentance and faith. It originates in no determination to weaken the responsibility
of man before the face of the sovereign God.
Rejection of the well-meant offer is pure, sound, consistent Calvinism. It
arises out of the Reformed faith itself. It is merely the negative side of
the unique Reformed doctrine of the preaching of the gospel as the divine
call. It harmonizes perfectly with the other truths of the Reformed faith.
Its avowed purpose is the maintenance of the Reformed faith.
The well-meant offer, on the contrary, is not Reformed. It conflicts with
basic Reformed truths, notably the truth of predestination. It betrays embarrassment
with certain essential doctrines of Calvinism, particularly reprobation. The
well-meant offer is, to coin a term, "hypo-Calvinism," that is, a teaching
that falls below true Calvinism and that works the apostasy from
Calvinism of the churches that try to hold the well-meant offer in tension
with the "Five Points of Calvinism."
It is also a purpose of this book to give a sharp warning against the real
threat of hyper-Calvinism. Some Calvinists have succumbed to hyper-Calvinism.
Zealous for the glory of God in the saving of the elect by sovereign grace
alone, they denied that the gospel should be preached to all. They specifically
denied that the church should call all hearers to faith in the Savior.
It may even be the case that some Reformed and Presbyterian Christians, especially
in the British Isles, sincerely confuse the rejection of the well-meant offer
by the Protestant Reformed Churches with this genuine hyper-Calvinism. For
certain hyper-Calvinists in England spoke of their view as the denial of the
offer of salvation.
Hyper-Calvinism is a danger.
It is a danger exactly to the church that embraces the truth of sovereign,
particular grace with believing heart by the mighty working of the Spirit
of Christ. It is no danger to most churches today. It is no danger to most
Reformed and Presbyterian churches today.
The church that confesses sovereign grace must guard against the temptation
of restricting the preaching of the gospel: hyper-Calvinism.
The church that confesses sovereign grace must give her defense of sovereign
grace in preaching: the call of the gospel.
This book is such an apology and a warning: Hyper-Calvinism & the
Call of the Gospel.
Back to the top
Reprinted from Hyper-Calvinism & The Call of the Gospel by permission
from the Reformed Free Publishing Association.
1. H.J. Kuiper, The Three Points of Common Grace (Grand
Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1925), p.13.
2. Herman Hoeksema, Een Kracht Gods tot Zaligheid
of Genade Geen Aanbod (Grand Rapids: Doorn Printe, 1930), pp. 9,10,20.
The translation of the Dutch is mine.
3. John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church:
A Study in Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), pp. 85,86.
4. Clarence Boomsma, "The CRC: What is Happening to Us?"
Banner 108 (September 28 1973), pp. 14,15.
5. G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, trans. Hugo
Bekker (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), p. 223.
6. Donald Macleod, Behold Your God (n.p.: Christian
Focus Publications, 1990), pp. 117-155.
7. K. W. Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered: A Discussion
of the General Offer of Salvation in the Light of Particular Atonement
(Strathpine North, Australia: Covenanter Press, 1978).
8. New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B.
Ferguson, David F. Wright, J.I. Packer (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press,
1988), pp. 324,325.
9. John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of
Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth
& Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1991), pp, 125-131.