2007June23, Saturday

The FV, Hyper-Calvinism, and Misdirected Mail

Posted in The Church, Theology at 14:34 by Trey Austin

Over at the Bayly Blog (i love those guys!), they put up a post today about the troubling nature of a blog post by one of the committee members who sat on the Ad Interim Committee for the PCA General Assembly that studied the Federal Vision. That post, originally from “reformedmusings,” by one Mr. Bob Mattes, an elder in the PCA (Please Note: I do not use those strange and cacophonic titles “TE” and “RE,” so if you see me say “elder,” just know that i mean what PCAs call “RE,” and likewise, when i say “minister,” i mean what my well-intentioned but inventive brothers mean when they say “TE”), basically says that the FV “misdirects” the mail that is meant for the elect to all Church members without regard to elect status.

Now, some of you will know that i have a great distaste for High and Hyper-Calvinism, and many of you share that distaste with me. Many of you can see where this argument is going, and you will also see that i won’t like it—not, mind you, because of am an outright proponent of the FV, but because i believe that it is Hyper-Calvinistic to claim that God’s promises of grace and salvation are for the elect alone.

Here’s the comment i posted at the Bayly’s blog under their post:

First of all, i’m glad to see that the Baylys have seen something of the bias that has been evident to a lot of people (not just FV advocates, but those of us who think that Christian love and fellowship shouldn’t be hindered by the small differences that are being blown out of proportion).

Second, to mention *SLAVERY* in a discussion of the FV is to commit the fallacy of “poisoning the well.” Since one’s view of slavery in general (much less his view of slavery in the antebellum US) has absolutely *NOTHING* to do with the issues involved in the FV (except that two of the men whose stance on the FV is unpopular also have a particularly unpopular view of slavery), the mentioning of it by anyone (even a man whose character has been vouched for several times in recent weeks by the Baylys) can only be an attempt to color the view one has of Wilson apart from the FV matter that will, then, affect the view one has of the FV, which Wilson advocates. The fact is, one can disagree with Wilson’s view on slavery and agree with him on issues about the FV, and visa versa. The things are not systematically connected at all.

Third, those who *DO* advocate a view of slavery in which they believe it can be practiced in a way that is biblical and non-sinful do so precisely by appealing to God’s Law and the provisions for governing slavery, and, of course, those provisions always make man-stealing of any kind illegal and punishable to the highest degree. The attempt to make the view worse by claiming that they believe man-stealing is a good thing (which they do not) are not only dishonest, but they are also men who can’t form decent arguments without resorting to illogical fallacies.

Finally, the post at reformedmusings strike me not only as biased (they are that), but also as tending toward Hyper-Calvinism. To paraphrase the overall argument made, if you are not elect, God’s promises are no good for you. I don’t see how this man can affirm the well-meant offer in any real sense if he is not even willing to affirm God’s well-meant promises to all Covenant members.

Basically the argument assumes that a name has to be listed in order for the promise of God to be good. However, God has promised not only the elect eternal life, but he has promised *ALL MEN* eternal life, *IF* they will trust in Christ the Savior of all men. God does give, in his sovereign grace, the grace of regeneration (and, flowing from it, faith and repentance) to all of his elect, and to them alone (in the full sense); however, it does not follow from that fact that the promises of God are for them only. The promise is for all men, and it is to be received by faith. If it is not received by faith, then it will not come to fruition.

If we were to follow the man’s analogy out, the reason he would be unqualified for the inheritance would *NOT* be because he got mail that was intended for someone else (this is the Primitive Baptist and other Hyper-Calvinist argument), but because he was never truly member of the family of the “uncle” that died. Had he been adopted or born into the family, it would have been his. And even if he were born or adopted into the family, if he were to break faith and be disinherited, no matter what the letter promised, his break with his family would have disqualified him.

Truth is, the traditional Calvinistic distinction between God’s decretive will and God’s preceptive will would have been able to distill out the equivocation illustrated in the post you linked. God can desire something preceptively that is broken and never comes to pass, because he did not ordain it in his decretive will. This goes for God’s desire for all men to repent and be saved (2 Pet. 3:9, & al.), for his desire for all men (especially his Covenant members) to obey his commandments (Exod. 20:1, ff.; Deut. 5:1, ff., & al.), and God’s desire (expressed in special promises) that all of the Church will be saved and sanctified (references too numerous to recount). That not all men respond, and that not all men obey, and that not all Covenant members are saved and sanctified is explained by the decretive will, but we should never allow the decretive will to so dominate in our thinking that the precept and promises of God are limited to only that which is true for (or to those who are elected in) God’s decretive will. That is to fall into Hyper-Calvinism.

This isn’t rocket science. This is just basic Christian theology. If anyone denies the sincere well-meant offer of the Gospel, he’s a Hyper-Calvinist. If anyone denies the love of God for all men (especially the love of God for all members of his Church and Covenant), he is a Hyper-Calvinist. It is one thing to believe and teach (as all real Calvinists do, from FVists to Reformed Baptists) that only the elect *WILL* be saved; it is quite another thing to say that the promises of grace and salvation in Christ are only ever *FOR* the elect in any sense. To say that causes one to stop being an Evangelical Calvinist (“Evangelical” in the traditional sense of the word), and causes him to start being a Hyper-Calvinist. Of course, this isn’t surprising, given the influence of the internet (cf., http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/06/quick-and-dirty-calvinism.html) with the medium driving the exposition many times, but it is lamentable nonetheless.

I have often wondered whether the issues involved in the debate over High Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, as opposed to “moderate” and “low” Calvinism, are at work in the antipathy toward the FV. I wonder how many anti-FVers would affirm the free and well-meant offer, God’s desire that all men be saved, and the universal sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. My sense is that you’d probably find that a tendency away from those things will also be (not necessarily always, but generally) accompanied by a tendency away from the FV.

I have to say one thing, though: it is very ironic to me that the only person with a coherent argument against the FV that does not misrepresent their position is an argument against it from a Hyper-Calvinistic standpoint. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, since, from where i’m standing, the FV is simply a focus on God’s preceptive will in Church life, dealing with things as they are in history, and not as they are in God’s predestination (i.e., the decretive will).

Anyone ever got the impression i mentioned in my comment? Have you noticed a pattern to the anti-FV rhetoric as being so focused on the decretive will that it displaces, delimits, or demolishes the preceptive will? I can’t help but thinking that’s really the problem here. Neo-Calvinism: trained in the High and Hyper-Calvinism that flows from the works of the Reformed Scholastics and Puritans; not all that familiar with the first- and second-generation Reformers and their views; reacts to the FV because of its more moderate Calvinism, which is the “free offer” language and idea inherent in their view of the Covenant; their indoctrination in the talking points (and not the finer points) of Reformed theology (e.g., “God’s will is never thwarted”); and their devotion to making all Scripture subservient to “the system” at all costs (even if you have to ignore the authorital intent, the flow of the argument, and the long-standing view of the passage throughout the history of the Church). I don’t know; it’s at least possible.


  1. Fr. Bill said,

    Pr. Trey,

    I have watched and read the FV folks before they were known as FV folks. I count some as good friends, as well as many more who are adamant anti-FV folks. My relationships with members of the anti-FV appear to be fairly stable and untouched by my lack of anti-FV fervency and my general applause for the FV folks for the following reasons:

    1. I am not Presbyterian. Methodists would call me Calvinist, but the truly reformed (pro- and anti-FV alike) would question that. To the truly reformed, I call myself “barely reformed,” and let it go at that. So, because I am off the reformed reservation already, I’m “permitted” by my confreres within Presbyterianism to hold contrary convictions because they have no denominational significance. No one in the PCA is going to bring me up on charges in a PCA church court, for example.

    2. The TRs (pro- and anti-FV alike) usually have a benevolent condescension toward guys like me. They’re genuinely appreciative of people like me when we can make common cause against a common foe (e.g. the comp-egal controversies). But, they and I alike usually steer away from confrontations in the areas where we all know we have significant disagreements (e.g. sacramental dynamics and spirituality).

    3. In this kind of climate, the appearance and development of the FV thinking has appeared *to me* rather differently than it has appeared to anti-FV folks within the PCA, OPC, and similar Presbyterian denominational bodies. THEY view the FV as a major challenge to and departure from established Presbyterian doctrinal formulations. And, the contest between these camps — within the Presbyterian universe, mind you — proceeds in terms of those doctrinal formulations. I get positively cross-eyed reading guys on both sides of the fight when they delve into decretal theology, covenants which have no existence in Holy Writ, but which are Absolutely Foundational to covenant theology, etc. It sounds as if they took lessons in theological method from the Tridentine Catholics! Wildly different conclusions, but identical scholastic methods.

    Again, this is how it looks to one who has steadfastly refused to dive into that well.

    4. Meanwhile, to us who are barely reformed, to whom the truly reformed (pro- and anti-FV alilke) amicably and lovingly condescend, the FVers appear to us as a segment of Presbyterianism which has been trying to grope its way back toward the catholic (note the small “c”) center of the faith on a number of fronts — in terms of pastoral practice, in terms of worship, in terms of the formulation and emphasis of doctrine, in terms of recovering from a program of “reformation by amputation” in which Presbyterians were outpaced only by the Anabaptists and their heirs.

    Seven years ago, I spent an afternoon with a fellow who is acknowledged on all sides to be a leader of the FV point of view today. I told him pretty much everything in Point 4 above, in almost exactly those words. I remember clearly using the words “groping your way back to the catholic center of the faith” when telling him how he and his ministry appeared to me. Then I asked him to correct my impressions of him and others around him in their ministry.

    He gave me a gentle and encouraing smile and said, “You could put it that way. In our circles those are fighting words. Calvin is too Catholic for many in our circles. But, we don’t think so.”

    I certainly don’t wish to trivialize the controversy within the PCA. I must say it looks like much sturm und drang over things that I do not think have the weight imputed to them, especially by the anti-FV leadership of the PCA. But, as I said, I don’t live and move and have my ecclesiastical or spiritual being in those climes.

  2. mark said,

    Trey, if you go to the anti-fv page at fpcjackson.org you will see they have an essay from Engelsma linked. Englesma is Protestant Reformed and thinks Lillback’s book on Calvin and the covenant represents “apostasy at the hightes levels.”

    Also, Cal Beisner is a Clarkian and probably also rejects the free offer (though I can’t remember seeing direct evidence).

  3. Trey Austin said,

    Mark, yes, i have seen that. The PRC folks no only reject what Calvin really said (for its reinterpretation through Hoeksema), but when you present them with any evidence from Calvin himself to the contrary, they do what they do with Scripture: rationalize and decretalize.

    Of course, the rationalism of Clarkians is not much better. They can’t live with any kind of tension. Did you ever read Clark’s little booklet (under 60 pages, if memory serves) that claims to “solve” the problem of evil? How arrogant! Greater men have written greater works on the subject. His was simply a defaulting to God’s decrees and making man’s action and responsibility empty and meaningless.

    As i said, my suspicion is that there is more going on than political bedfellows. This is a fundamental agreement that theology and all of life should be explained from the decretal perspective rather than the preceptive and historical.

  4. Steven W said,


    Keep up the good work on this front. I think we are seeing an alternative religion being constructed (or revamped) through all of this, and it is very helpful to have men who have already fought some of these battles.

  5. tempe said,

    Haven’t read the “second generation of Reformers”? You mean like Melancthon? 😉

  6. Trey Austin said,

    Tim, i was actually thinking more along the lines of the “Reformed” Reformers (e.g., Bullinger, Oecolampadius, Cranmer, Capito, Bucer, Vermigli, Knox, &c.). However, Melancthon does count as a second-generation Reformer.

    I’d bet dollars to doorknobs that Mr. Mattes hasn’t read a stitch of Oecolampadius and wouldn’t know the first thing about him. He acts as if he has this Reformed theology thing sewn up, but those are the worst kinds of Calvinists, as far as i’m concerned. They think that their Puritan-style Calvinism is *THE* Reformed tradition. Well, ask the Hungarian Reformed Synod (the only conservative thing that is part of the UCC) if they are Reformed, and you’ll hear very quickly that they are—but Puritan they are not.

    In fact, i propose that all of the “conservative” Reformed denominations give up the WSs and the 3FU and adopt the Second Helvetic (the most catholic and pastoral of all the Reformed symbols), so that we can be a united Church under a united Confession and break with the baggage of the past to keep us moving toward the future instead of stuck in the 1640s (Westminster Assembly), the 1740s (First Great Awakening), the 1860s (the birth of Southern Presbyterianism), or the 1960s (the fight over Liberalism in the Southern Church).

  7. […] I just read a good post over at Water From A Rock. The author, Trey, talks about how Neo-Calvinism (what I call psuedo-reformed) is essentially hyper-Calvinism because it seeks to see everything from a decretive standpoint. He has some great insight about the relation between hyper-Calvinism and the rejection of FV. His post reminded me about a discussion I had with a (basically Arminian) non-Calvinist on myspace. I find it interesting because he found my understanding of covenant and apostasy attractive. I’m pretty sure that if I would have presented the average psuedo-reformed (neo-Calvinst) position, he would have been far less impressed. The discussion went as follows:  RR: 1. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from THE faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” […]

  8. […] It is little wonder that as Calvin’s paradigm continues to fall out of acceptance in mainstream Calvinistic churches today, hyper-calvinism continues to be embraced more and more.  Let us ask for God to send his grace and strengthen those faithful ministers who are currently seeking to combat this encroaching danger. […]

  9. […] pronouncements which are often historically flawed.  He previously alarmed another blogger by seemingly denying the free offer of the gospel.   I believe he later back-tracked on this, as he was really just unaware of how certain loci of […]

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