Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 2

In his article entitled, “Calvinism: What does it mean?,” Dr. Garrett makes the following comment on hyper-Calvinism:

A third meaning, no longer in common use, takes Calvinism to be the professed teaching of certain 18th-century English Congregationalists and Particular Baptists, a group believing that only the “elect” could be saved. These teachings we now properly label “Hyper-Calvinism.” Five distinctive teachings of Hyper-Calvinism can be identified:

– God’s decree from eternity to elect some human beings for salvation and reprobate (or eternally damn) others as being logically the first of God’s decrees (a teaching known as supralapsarianism);

– an eternal covenant among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the redemption of elect humans through the Son (covenant of redemption);

– the eternal justification of the elect without the requisite faith on the part of the elect in history (eternal justification);

– the discouragement of the preacher’s “offering of grace” indiscriminately to his hearers (no offers of grace) and

– Christians as not obligated to obey the moral law of the Old Testament (antinomianism).

Before offering my own thoughts I want to point you to other responses that are worth reading. Michael Haykin has responded to Dr. Garrett in his typical, irenic and careful way, taking exception to Dr. Garrett at several points. Timmy Brister, in his typical, balanced and comprehensive way, has already posted 4 of his multi-part responses with more to come (1, 2, 3, 4). Both of these men are worth reading.

To call these five points “distinctive” teachings of hyper-Calvinism suggests that those who hold to any of them are advocating, at least partially, hyper-Calvinism. While that case can be made for the last three of those teachings, it cannot be made for the first two. The first two of Garrett’s points are held by many Calvinists who are decidedly against the deadly error or hyperism. John Bunyan was a supralapsarian and the Philadelpia Baptist Confession of Faith recognizes a covenant of redemption, stating that the covenant of grace “is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect” (chapter 7, para. 3).

While nearly all hyper-Calvinists affirm the covenant of redemption and are supralapsarian, not all who hold those points of theology are hyper-Calvinistic. Had Garrett limited his “distinctive” teachings to the last three on his list, I would have no reason to take exception.

In an excellent article on hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson provides this helpful definition by Peter Toon:

1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes 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. . . .
2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, “Hyper-Calvinism,” New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]

I find this definition far less problematic than Dr. Garrett’s “five distinctive teachings” approach.

Dr. Garrett makes the following claim later in this article:

Total depravity may not have been a key difference between the men of Dort and the Remonstrates. The interpretation of faith and repentance by Dort as gifts from God and by the Remonstrates as human duties may have been a leading difference, for the third article in the Remonstrant confession of faith refers to “saving faith.”

Evangelical Calvinism does not believe that the claim that repentance and faith are gifts of grace and the claim that they are universal duties are mutually exclusive. The Bible teaches both. At Mars Hill Paul said, “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). Repentance is clearly a duty required. But it is also the gift of God. As Peter puts it, “”He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31; cf. Acts 11:18).

It is also the duty of people to believe the Gospel. Paul and Silas commanded the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31; cf. Matthew 11:28). But faith is also the gift of God. As Paul puts it, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake , not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

The Canons of Dort recognize that faith and repentance are obligations. They state, “By this ministry [preaching of the Gospel] people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified” (1.3). Further, those who do not believe are to be blamed for the cause lies in them and “not at all in God” (1.5). As the New Hampshire Confession puts it, “We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God” (8).

Indeed, it is at just this point where the real biblical strength of evangelical Calvinism is seen most clearly. It willingly integrates those teachings of the Bible that tend to make the rational mind think they cannot be believed at the same time; ie. that faith is both a gift and a duty, or that man is both depraved and responsible. The Bible teaches both. True Calvinism recognizes this and affirms both.