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What is “Hyper-Calvinism”? Phil Johnson has a good primer on the subject:

A fivefold definition: The definition I am proposing outlines five varieties of hyper-Calvinism, listed here in a declining order, from the worst kind to a less extreme variety (which some might prefer to class as “ultra-high Calvinism”):

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

  1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear,
  2. OR Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner,
  3. OR 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),
  4. OR Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,”
  5. OR Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

All five varieties of hyper-Calvinism undermine evangelism or twist the gospel message.

Read the whole thing.

For more on this subject, see Iain Murray’s book, Spurgeon v. Hyper Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching.

You can also read Phil Johnson’s latest response to the ongoing caricatures and misunderstandings of David Allen–a professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a participant in the “John 3:16″ conference.

Update: Link to the “response” now fixed.

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18 thoughts on “What Is Hyper-Calvinism?”

  1. DJP says:

    It’s good you noticed, and noted this, for your readership. Phil is an absolute master of concise, eloquent clarity. The more who read him, the better.

    Both the core controversy here and some of the subsequent meta give a remarkable instance of people disagreeing with an author as he explains what he meant by what he wrote.

    What hope of them handling ancient documents accurately?

  2. zaxxaz says:

    Hi Justin,

    1st time comment (I think)

    I would certainly call myself a calvinist, however here in Scotland there is quite a battle over the does God love the sinner, how can he, if He cannot look on Sin outside of Christ and they are objects of Wrath? Also, how can the Gospel call be free and open to all when in fact it is essentially only open to the elect in any real way as it can only help them. Sorry if I am notmaking much sense, but to be honest out church is nearly splitting over these things!
    Appreciate your help and direction.
    Jim Coyle

  3. Luke says:

    If God does not love sinners, the gospel is meaningless…(see John 3:16).

    Also, we should be careful to believe fully someone re-explaining what they wrote, it is impossible that their analysis of their previous work would not be influenced by the criticisms leveled against it, causing drift from the original work. A dialogue would be better, not an apologetic that sounds alot like, “I said that…” and “no you didnt…”

  4. Eric says:

    Those are big questions, but let me offer one thought: we believe these things because the Bible seems to teach them. When we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, how can we not see some sort of love God has for those who are perishing? When we see the gospel freely proclaimed to all that any who would believe might have eternal life, how can we justify not preaching it as freely and openly?
    I think one of our great dangers as Calvinists is to take the little glimpses God has given us of his secret will and then expand it in a way which undercuts the truths of His revealed will. I might not be able to deduce what it means for God to love those who are perishing while they are still under His wrath, but I don’t think the alternative is compatible with the God the Scriptures give us. Theology must always be thoroughly biblical first, and then only as reasonable or sensible as the confines of Scripture allow us to be afterward.
    As for the issue splitting your church, that breaks my heart. You guys will be in my prayers.

  5. jmark says:


    Re the first question:

    Don Carson’s little book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” deals with this issue. He shows how there are 5 different ways the bible speaks of his love:
    The inter-trinitarian love; his providential love over all; his salvific stance to his fallen the world; his effective selecting love for the elect; his conditional-on-obedience love towards his own people.

    He also argues that God can at teh same time show love and hatred towards the sinner.

    You may find it helpful.


  6. Greg says:

    God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Romans 5:8

    The greatest show of love ever was – and is continually – shown to sinners. Both before and after conversion.

  7. DJP says:

    Funny stuff, Luke.

    You’re sure you know what John 3:16 means, but not sure Phil knows what he meant?

  8. Luke says:

    Yeah, its simple. Im sure Phil knows what he meant, im just sayingits natural in the justification of our position, to be steadily changing the argument (albeit sometimes improving it). In any event, I probably wouldnt have named names (like Dr. Allen) but when analyzing a spade, its best done with a short argument which breeds dialogue instead of justification which seems to always blame the other guy for misinterpreting your position. Something akin to, “Well, if you were really smart, or paying attention you would have understood me, and probably agreed with me, because what I really meant was…” This type of justification will go on endlessly.
    Also, Phil’s argument may be well ordered, accurate, or maybe even completely theological sound, it is not concise.

  9. johnMark says:

    Funny thing…if Phil Johnson thought James White was a hyper-calvinist wouldn’t it seem as if they would have stopped ministering together by now?

    It just doesn’t seem hard to figure out just from anecdotal evidence that Phil defending himself is consistent with what he originally said and meant.


  10. Ken Stewart says:

    I thank Phil Johnson for his efforts to warn against this serious current problem. I think it is generally true, as he contends, that revivals of Calvinistic doctrines bring in their boat-wakes revivals of hyper Calvinism also.

    My fear is that with the current revival of Calvinism now 50 years old, 'practical' hyper-Calvinism is far more pervasive (even) than he indicates. By 'practical' hyper-Calvinism, I mean the self-consciously Calvinist preacher who -while he would deny being hyper – ends up there by default.Many presbyteries of the PCA (with which I am affiliated) ask ordination candidates whether they can affirm the 5 points; very few presbyteries are concerned about the _sense_ in which the 5 points are held.

    I observe that many who deny the hyper label nevertheless never preach evangelistic sermons, never plead with sinners to believe, never preach about the great love of God (even in the nuanced way outlined by Don Carson)and never preach about the sufficiency of Christ's atonement to save all who come to God by him (because they are so hung up on the idea of the atonement's 'limitation', in spite of Dordt's insistence that it was an atonement capable of saving mutliple worlds).
    It is my personal opinion that the usual articulation of the 5 points (which leaves the definition of the terms to the one brandishing the acrostic)does nothing to banish 'practical' hyper Calvinism and much to advance it – even among those who insist that 'hyper' is no fit description of their theological position.
    One of the interesting comparisons that is made by Collin Hansen in his recent 'Young, Restless, and Reformed' is between the Calvinists who take the sixteenth century as their ideal (he uses Michael Horton as an example) and those who take the eighteenth century as their ideal (most of the pastor-preachers featured by Hansen are in this second category). The sad fact is that the very large sixteenth-century oriented Calvinist movement in North America and the English -speaking world (a movement much larger than the YR&R movement Hansen features)does not easily clear itself from the suggestion that it is 'practically' hyper-Calvinist. This movement is not characterized by fervent Gospel preaching, pleading with sinners, an extolling of the love of God or insistent on the sufficiency of Christ's atonement. Thus, in my context, I am not worried about card-carrying 'hypers', but with the much greater number who approximate this position while never dreaming that they have gone over to the other side.
    Ken Stewart

  11. irreverend fox says:

    anyone who thinks James White is a hyper-Calvinist has not read much of his stuff and has not listened much to his show.

    he’s just a hard core, very passionate CALVINIST.

    I’m a Southern Baptist church planter and I am well aware of the Caner/Allen types. anyone, to them, who…like…really really really REALLY believes the doctrines of grace all HYPER-CALVINISTS.

  12. spud tooley says:

    well, jt, let no one accuse you of putting warm, fuzzy topics out on a holiday weekend to bring us all together around a warm fire in christian brotherhood…

    if all we’re interested in is which labels apply, fine: have your debate.

    if you really think your arguments are making logical sense, you are doing logic a disservice.

    any form of theology that you label ‘hyper-‘ is automatically judged by that very label itself, is it not? perhaps it’s a subtle ad hominem approach that only those careful enough to look for it see.

    however, that does not change the fact that any form of it is the absolutely completely logical collective endpoint of the 5 points of non-hyper calvinism, anti-hyper calvinism, even hyperbolic calvinism.

    with points that say TOTAL depravity and IRRESISTIBLE grace, the obvious question is, what part of TOTAL and IRRESISTIBLE do you not understand?

    it continues to be a silly -issing contest where you constantly come back to, well, you don’t understand calvinisim… or, you don’t understand what i’m saying.

    if anyone doesn’t understand the obvious, it’s the 5-pointers like phil and djp. say ‘God has a part and man has a part’ if that’s what you want it to be, and leave it at that. but also add, ‘it is finished’ really didn’t. or wasn’t. or whatever word the clever zinger requires to be grammatically correct. but end this charade that there’s this great logical system where evetything fits and anyone with any rational sense can ‘clearly’ see that it’s right.

    it isn’t logical.
    everything doesn’t fit.
    you’re not completely rational.
    and, above all, if any framework sits on a belief that God has earmarked some people to be burned forever and ever, no way in that sadistic hell is it possibly right.

    and happy day after thanksgiving. it’s obvious i need to go eat some more sweets, isn’t it…

    OT: i encourage all of you to get a book called ‘I.O.U.S.A’ and try to catch a screening of it when it comes through your town. we need to have a groundswell of common-sense civic responsibility come back through our country, and i think one of the key places for it to start is within our churches. this film is not a christian film; however, as christians we need to see what part the last few verses of acts 2 mean in the context of the tough financial times that are about to hit all of us.

    off my soapbox.

    ga tech 34, uga 8 tomorrow … you read it here first.

  13. Luke says:

    Man, i never thought i would say this, but spud tooley is least about one thing…subtle ad hominem…but im not sure if that compares to Dr. Allen’s less subtle ad hominem.

  14. Deb says:

    Excellent article. This was one of my favorite quotes:

    “the sinner’s inability to obey God does not nullify his duty to do so. This is a crucial point—perhaps the most crucial point of all—because it is the very point that ultimately distinguishes true Calvinism from both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism. Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists will protest that it is illogical or unjust to teach that God demands what sin renders us incapable of doing.

    But it is neither illogical or unjust. Sin itself is a moral issue, and since sin is the cause of our inability, it is, as Jonathan Edwards said, a moral inability, not a natural one. The defect in man is his own fault, not God’s. Therefore man’s own inability is something he is guilty for, and that inability cannot therefore be seen as something that relieves the sinner of responsibility.”

  15. spud tooley says:

    The sinner’s inability to obey God does not nullify his duty to do so. Arminians and hyper-Calvinists will protest that it is illogical or unjust to teach that God demands what sin renders us incapable of doing.

    throwing a winged bird out of the nest and expecting him to fly before he hits bottom is quite different from throwing a wingless bird to his certain death. the mother bird gave birth to both of them. if she tosses them both out of the nest, responsibility for the death of the crippled one is fully and completely hers.

    of course, that analogy is so perfect and simple i suppose you can be forgiven for failing to grasp it.

    still, can one possibly find a better example than the italicized quote above of what we’re warned about in second timothy:

    “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

    seems we might just be in the end times after all…

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

  16. Reform says:

    Good article by Phil Johnson. Yet most of his points were not made biblically, but more pragmatically.

    Is there another source online that you would recommend that would show the details of Hyper-Calvinism historically and how they justify their beliefs biblically; and then show through the Scriptures how Hyper-Calvinism is unbiblical and truly a concern for the church today?

    Thank you.

  17. InAwe says:

    I thought this was an extremely insightful article by PJ.

    Mike – cherry picking other people’s quotes and characterizing your mother bird analogy as “perfect” is not helpful. Did you even read the article? I doubt it.

  18. spud tooley says:

    ‘perfect’ was a bit much, wasn’t it… sorry. should have used a more qualitative term … ‘beautiful’, maybe? ‘timeless’? i’m open to suggestions.

    but, yes i did read the article. even went and read allen’s article that started the whole sordid affair. from all the blog entries one would think the entire SBC was wrapped up in this pointless hair-splitting exercise.
    if so, that would certainly explain the falling numbers in the denomination. of course, being left behind (pun intended) while the rest of the world moves on is probably worn as a badge of honor – ‘Jesus said the world would hate us’ and all that. seems we can profit in either up or down markets…

    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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