What’s the Difference Between Arminianism, Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism?

What's the Difference Between Arminianism, Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism?

The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones was reported to have said that “the ignorant Arminian doesn’t know the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.” Based on the frequency with which the two are often confused I would suggest that the ignorance is not limited to our Arminian friends. While much more could be said, the following summary reveals the basic differences between Arminianism, Calvinism, and hyper-Calvinism.

The Similarity of Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism

In one sense, hyper-Calvinism, like Arminianism, is a rationalistic perversion of true Calvinism. Whereas Arminianism undermines divine sovereignty, hyper-Calvinism undermines human responsibility. The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition, namely that human ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.

Arminian Rationalism

The Arminian looks at this premise and says, “Agreed! We know that the Bible holds all people responsible to repent and believe [which is true]. Therefore we must conclude that all men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe [which is false, according to the Bible].” Thus, Arminians teach that unconverted people have within themselves the spiritual ability to repent and believe, albeit such ability must be aided by grace.

Hyper-Calvinist Rationalism

The hyper-Calvinist takes the same premise (that man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive) and says, “Agreed! We know that the Bible teaches that in and of themselves all men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe [which is true]. Therefore we must conclude that unconverted people are not under obligation to repent and believe the gospel [which is false, according to the Bible].”

Biblical Calvinism

In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, “Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfill his duty to repent and believe.” And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches. The Calvinist view may appear irrational but in reality is supra-rational—it is revealed.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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