Tolerant Calvinism or Dead Calvinism?

There is a particularly nasty form of Hyper-Calvinism that seems to be popular these days. Lurking in the wings to catch the new Calvinists who aren't fully grounded in history, it says that only Calvinists are saved, and that those Calvinists who tolerate Arminians as brethren are in fact themselves unsaved, having remained in their sins because they did not repudiate a false Gospel. It applies the label "Dead Calvinist" to those it asserts tolerate a false Gospel.

The reason why this form of Hyper-Calvinism is so nasty is that it causes division in the church by declaring a non-essential to be an essential. As such it is a particularly nasty perversion of the Gospel, and is as dangerous as the Arminianism it refutes.

Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Proper understanding of the mechanics of salvation, while good, is not necessary to be a true believer. To make it a requirement is to risk espousing a Gospel of works, a mental excercise. Certainly the Devil and the demons understand true doctrine, but it doesn't help them. And it won't help the Hyper-Calvinists either.

I am going to stop short of declaring this one a cult, since what is at stake is whether the Hyper-Calvinist is trusting in his hyper-calvinism to save him, or is trusting in Jesus. Since Calvinism almost by definition focusses one's trust in Jesus and his atoning work on the cross, this one, while nasty, and a blight on the church because of the divisiveness it causes over non-essential issues, is not outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

Jesus Himself was quite clear on the requirements for salvation, belief in Him (and who He says He is and His work on the cross), and repentance of sins. So yes your doctrine of who Christ is (and therefore who God is) has to be correct. A false cross is also warned against in the NT, so your understanding of the fact that Jesus paid the price for your sins also has to be correct. Dare I say that repentance of sins is also a requirement, or as us Calvinists would say, is the result of a genuine salvation vs. a false one.

But Jesus never listed a technical description of how regeneration works as a requirement of salvation, although He did clearly teach what has come to be known as Calvinism today. The apostles echoed the same set of requirements, and described the tenets of Calvinism the same way Jesus did. They warn loudly of the dangers of a false God or a false Gospel, but don't at all warn of misunderstanding election, although they describe it clearly enough.

The Hyper-Calvinists are quite consistent in their thinking, labelling the great Calvinists in history as ministers of the Devil, because they failed to repudiate Arminianism. Some have gone so far as to accuse Calvin himself as not being Calvinistic enough, since he too did not repudiate the early forms of Arminianism sufficiently for their tastes. Somehow the irony of their claim to be "true" calvinists is lost on them.

Sadly, I was highly tempted by this nasty form of Hyper-Calvinism during the first several months after I became a Calvinist. I have run into it repeatedly on the web in my virtual travels. My belief is that Hyper-Calvinism of this form appeals to intellectual pride in a big way, hence its seductive appeal to me.

It was a long time before the issue was completely settled in my mind, so I thought I would go through some of the highlights in the hopes that it might help a Hyper-Calvinist or two.

Confusing to me was that Spurgeon called Arminianism heresy. He used the word in its modern sense, meaning any false teaching. But I was only familiar with the use of the word the way the ancient church used it, referring to a teaching sufficiently false that loss of salvation occurred.

Worse, the Synod of Dort apparently believed Arminianism was a full departure from the faith, condemning the Arminians as the worst kind of unchristian heretics.

I never completely adopted the view, because Spurgeon described John Wesley (a famous Arminian) as a great man of God. For a long time I thought Spurgeon was spouting double-speak and thought perhaps he was a compromiser (as the Hyper-Calvinists assert).

It was really my continuing studies of theological history that opened my eyes to the truth. So let us explore what really happened.

The earliest major confrontation in history with a theology that could be branded as Arminianism actually occurred over a millenia before Calvin's students faced it at Dort.

Augustine asserted that God chooses who gets saved as part of his stand against Pelagius. Augustine ably refuted Pelagius in scathing terms, and earned the status of a hero of the faith in so doing.

Arminianism is often branded as semi-pelagianism by its opponents, since it adopts some, but not all of Pelagius' teachings. Pelagius asserted among other things, that the decision of who gets saved rests entirely with man, since the responsibility to have faith rests with us. He also asserted a stance that was essentially salvation by works, that a sinless life was possible, and even required after initial salvation to enter heaven.

After the Pelagian controversy ended, some Bishops contacted Augustine and asked, wasn't Pelagius right about a few things, such as the decision to "accept" Christ is ours, because otherwise it makes us automatons, having no will of our own, and it removes from us the responsibility of faith, and to use our wills to serve God?

Augustine's response is extremely significant. Unlike Pelagius, he treated them as brothers in Christ who were confused, and gently instructed them that while God chooses, He does not ignore our will or fail to require faith, but rather faith comes from Him and He changes our wills to be focussed towards Him. Thus the position that salvation is entirely from God dates back much earlier than Calvin.

John Calvin, who expanded Augustine's view that salvation is entirely of God, did not overturn Augustine's view that confusion on the issue of election is not sufficient to prevent one's salvation.

The Synod of Dort however, clearly held the view that Arminianism prevented salvation. They also went on to persecute Arminians mercilessly, thus confirming in my mind that they were not operating in the Spirit of God, but rather in the spirit of doctrinal legalism. We do however accept the Canons of Dort as an excellent writeup on the issues.

George Whitefield (a Calvinist) faced John Wesley (the great popularizer of Armininism), and never denied he was a man of God, but strongly denied his doctrines. It is not generally known today, but Methodism (a strongly Arminian denomination), was originally Calvinist since it was founded by Whitefield, but Wesley sucessfully changed their thinking to be Arminian, and it remains so to this day.

Great modern Calvinists, such as R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur also hold that Arminians can be saved.

And the thing that really turned it in my mind is that this form of Hyper-Calvinism asserts that all of the above greats were in fact ministers of a false Gospel, servants of the Devil, because they failed to repudiate Arminianism as they should have.

I hope you can see that in the light of history, their position is laughable at best, and deeply disturbing at worst, since their view necessarily anathemizes the entire reformation and even Calvin himself.

It has been said that Hyper-Calvinism tends to flourish during revivals of Calvinism, this is no surprise since the Devil seems to have a corrupting viewpoint for many orthodox positions.

This particular brand of Hyper-Calvinism rose up during a revival of Calvinism that occurred in the 1990's and seems to be associated with internet forms of expression. I am saddened to watch how it tarnishes both the name of Calvin and Jesus.

Of the many forms of Hyper-Calvinism out there, some are orthodox, and some aren't (meaning loss of salvation). As distasteful as the viewpoint is, we must include as brethren those who hold this belief.


I must admit this article has been rewritten as a kind of retraction, I once concluded that this form of Hyper-Calvinism was in fact a cult, which was repeating their error in reverse. I no longer hold that view (I was kindly corrected by people who know more than I do).