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The Battle for Gospel PreachingDespite the warnings of some, I do not believe the Southern Baptist Convention (or conservative evangelicalism for that matter) is currently facing the threat of Hyper-Calvinism. When properly defined, Hyper-Calvinism denies the universal intent of God’s love and denies the free offer of the gospel. I have never met a Calvinist who fits this description.

But I do believe that the current Reformed Resurgence taking place among young evangelicals will probably spawn off some cases of Hyper-Calvinism over the next decade or so. This prediction is not made as a slight against my Calvinist brethren. Just as a resurgence of Arminianism may lead to the heresy of Open Theism, a resurgence of Calvinism can lead to its counter-heresy of Hyper-Calvinism as well.

Iain Murray’s Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching(Banner of Truth, 2002) is a short book that describes the great Charles Spurgeon’s battles with the Hyper-Calvinists of his day. While many Calvinists point to Spurgeon as a hero against Arminian theology, it is rare to see him held up as an example of avoiding the Hyper-Calvinist tendencies occasionally manifested among adherents to Calvinist theology. Murray’s book is a good pointer in the right direction. Read this from his introduction:

“While I know of no evidence that Hyper-Calvinism is recovering strength, it would appear that the priority which soul-winning had in Spurgeon’s ministry is not commonly seen to be our priority. The revival of doctrine has scarcely been matched by a revival of evangelism… Doctrine without usefulness is no prize.” (xiv)

Murray wants us to see the other side of Spurgeon. Not only his Calvinist convictions over against Arminianism, but his Calvinist convictions against the heresy of the Hyper-Calvinists of his day. I agree with Murray when he states the reasons why viewing Spurgeon in this light is necessary:

“Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why Spurgeon’s first controversy has been so little thought of in these last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant.” (40)

The central thrust of the attack against Spurgeon is his view of “duty-faith.” Spurgeon believed in calling sinners to repentance. The Hyper-Calvinists believed that “saving faith in Christ cannot be the duty of sinners, for if we exhort the dead in trespasses and sins to trust in Christ we are attributing a power to them which they do not have.” (58).

The main source of conflict for Spurgeon’s opponents is doctrinal. However, Murray’s account shows that a fair amount of politics and intrigue were involved as well. Spurgeon’s rising popularity did not endear him to many of the traditionalist churches in town.

Murray does not shy away from the harsh aspects of Hyper-Calvinism. He quotes one preacher as saying:

“I believe that God does hate some of you and that he always will! Do what you will he will hate you, whether you believe or not – whether you pray or not – whether you repent or not – God hates you and will hate you!” (63)

Spurgeon responds to this heretical twisting of Calvinism by turning to the Scriptures. He argues that gospel invitations are universal in their scope, that faith is demanded of all, that man is wholly responsible for his own sin, and that the character of God is love.

I strongly recommend that Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike read Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. Perhaps it will help us keep the neo-Reformed movement from careening off track. It might even help Calvinists and non-Calvinists find some common ground, as they join hands in rejecting this heresy. Those who are now embracing Spurgeon’s Calvinist theology would do well to embrace his antipathy toward the Hyper-Calvinist error.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog


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9 thoughts on “A Good Weapon against Hyper-Calvinism”

  1. Mason says:

    Trevin, I’m interested in your use of the term “the neo-Reformed movement”, especially in light of the recent tensions that term caused when used in McKnight’s endorsement of Wright’s upcoming book on Justification. How would you define that term and who exactly does it apply to? I would assume Piper, Driscoll, and their crowd but is that correct?

  2. Trevin Wax says:

    I don’t know how others use the term, but this is the way I think of the “neo-Reformed.”

    Specifically, I am referring to the Young, Restless, Reformed movement documented by journalist Collin Hansen – a movement that transcends denominational lines.

    It is not “classically Reformed” – in that this movement focuses primarily upon soteriology. The neo-Reformed are united by 5 points of Calvinism, not by ecclesiological convictions and other matters important to the “old” Reformed.

    I am not using the term in a perjorative sense, as I would probably be considered (in some ways) loosely affiliated with this movement, even if I am not a 5-point Calvinist.

  3. RJ says:

    As you like to use the term “neo-Reformed” to mean a particular thing, I believe, you also have a different definition of “hyper” than I do.By my definition I have personally met several “hyper-Calvinists”. I expect that is due to differences of our definitions. In fact there are many authors around today, some of the very popular, who I put in this category. But I do think that some of the hyper- authors do a very good job of cloaking their views in their books; after all they don’t want to drive away customers. Book customers that is.

  4. Mason says:

    Thanks for the clarification Trevin. I assumed you were not using it pejoratively, but still with the term just coming into wider use (at least in my reading) I’m never sure if we are all referring to the same thing by it.
    Very interesting review of Murray’s book by the way, I’ll have to pick it up sometime.

  5. Lori says:

    I am a lurker and a laymen (just a Mom with all boys), you and the people who comment are FAR wiser and smarter than me, but you are touching on a subject that smacked me in the head last night during church (at my Southern Baptist church). We are studying end-times, all was going well until my teacher began studying various religions and how they got started (aka. false religions).

    My teacher stated (and I quote), “they (meaning Calvinists) secretly enter churches of many faiths, not just Baptists, and begin to slowly try to change the doctrine of faith. They are very sly.” She also said, “I wish they would just get their own church and leave the Baptists alone.” She taught that if your hold Calvinist beliefs you do not believe in missions and they don’t believe in evangelism, I disagree.

    If since God predetermined what happens there is no need to evangelize, she said. But I think if we hold that assumption then we place ourself in knowing what God knows. For example: My father in law is not a Christian, I will still witness to him (even at his old age) until my last breath. I do not know if he will accept or reject Christ, that is not for me to know.

    I have considered my self a Baptist all my life, but I do hold the view of elections. My personal belief is that we have free will. But God KNEW even before we were made if we would accept him or not.
    God is all-knowing. My teacher stated you don’t become the ‘elect’ until you accept Christ. I agree to the extent that you are not a Christian until you accept Christ, but God foreknew your decision.
    This is why I believe in election then faith.

    I STRONGLY agree that there are subjects within the Christian faith that we can “agree to disagree” on (ex. election, rapture, etc..) But to stand up and say that people who hold the view of election is eroding the Baptist faith and comes mighty close to calling it a “false religion.” SHOCKS ME.

    Sorry for this length. I do not agree with the quotes you mentioned on “Hyper-Calvinism” and I agree things can go spinning off track easily. And I do embrace the antipathy of “hyper-Calvinism.”

    But as a Baptist born and raised I was shocked to hear such strong teaching against some Calvinism beliefs.

    Thank you for letting me babble, my head is spinning trying to come to grips with everything that was taught last night.

    Have a great day.

  6. iMONK says:

    Murray can do no wrong. I suggest his books at every opportunity. I highly recommend this one, and the Forgotten Spurgeon, and his book on Wesley and his associates. And the book on Revivalism. And…..

    Seriously, Murray is reformed but he’s got maturity and perspective, something that has apparently run low at the home office.

    Murray has also done a lot of good audio that can be found at Sound Word Associates.

    The man is a gift.

  7. Matthew Svoboda says:

    I with iMONK, suggest Murray at every opportunity. The only one I have ever been dissappointed in is his work of Martin Lloyd-Jones.

  8. Richard W. Wilson says:

    First a rejoinder, I am all in favor of marshalling arguments against hyper-Calvinists, in part because they may incline in a trajectory against Calvinism in general as well. Calvinists tend to believe Calvin’s faith and practice most faithfully represents the truths of Scripture. I tend to think that the homeland he fought for (not exactly following Jesus in the process) best represents the results of his doctrine today: Switzerland, the pre-eminent bastion of Mammonism. Today we find the pre-eminent citadel of capitalism experiencing a resurgence of Calvinism. Hummm, mere coincidence? That may be another discussion, but be that as it may:

    As in all matters theological, the ultimate weapon against anything called or actually heresy is adherence and appeal to the whole of Christian Scripture. In that light there is no more important comment in your review than when you say:

    “Spurgeon responds to this heretical twisting of Calvinism by turning to the Scriptures.”

    Continuing this:
    “He argues that gospel invitations are universal in their scope, that faith is demanded of all, that man is wholly responsible for his own sin, and that the character of God is love.”
    Sounds like good doctrine to me.

    Moving on: I realize this is a review of a book about looking to Spurgeon for help in debates against hyper Calvinism, but what would you suggest for help (if it is needed) against open theism (since you mentioned it)? Who are the preachers and/or authors that you feel most powerfully provide “weapons” against what you call “the heresy of open theism”? Who are the apostles with authority to bring such charges? Exegetically, which scriptures do you think most forcefully argue for God knowing absolutely everything that will ever happen from the eternal past or from outside of time? I’ve looked and haven’t found any of God’s Word that makes that point. So, how is it a heresy to argue from Scripture toward the conclusions of open theism? The assumption that “historic Christianity” defines the truths of Scripture seems to be basis for most opposition to “re-conceiving” our understanding of what God knows. Even the definition of “heresy” implies that assumption. Appeals to Calvinist theology tend to rely on the same assumptions.

    Personally, Christologically, Spiritually, and ecclesially, I’d suggest all of us would do well by being very reticent to cast the charge of heresy as broadly as Trevin does. Arguments are fine, but anathemas and charges of HERESY are either prophetic or demonic. The presumption is always that the one making the charge has grasped the essence of true biblical doctrine and those who disagree are in spiritually mortal error. It is all too easy to assume “I am right and you are wrong,” but I doubt Christ will be impressed with our performance if we do. Who among us claims to have the mind of Christ without error?

    All the best to those in Christ our Lord and Savior,
    Richard W. Wilson

  9. Tammy Kihlstadius says:

    I believe in the doctrine of election; which is a better way to say it than “Calvnism.” However, we have just left a Baptist church where the Pastor preached that God hates the non-elect. This came out of the blue, after 17 years of being at that church. My older kids took such offense at this that one even walked out and refuse to ever come back. The leadership/deacons hold watered down, mixed-up views of Calvinism, armenianism and others. This confuses children and young believers. I have seen the damage. Please realize how important consistent good solid doctrine should be taught to children; they need the foundation.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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