Ergun Caner on Calvinism

Ergun Caner is writing publicly about Calvinism now.

Let’s see how he fares shall we?

I am not a Hyper Calvinist. I am not an Arminian.

Neither am I, but then I know what hyper-Calvinism is. Dr. Caner has to redefine the historical usage of this term in order to characterize traditional Calvinists as hypers.

I am a Baptist, and historically we have dwelt somewhere in the middle. Indeed, we have been all over the map on this issue.

This is a category mistake. Saying one is a Baptist not a Calvinist or an Arminian is like saying I am not blue or red, I’m a Baptist. He has to ignore all the Particular Baptists, the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations, Kiokee Church and Georgia Association, and the Holston Association, as well as Boyce, Mell, Broadus, even Lottie Moon herself. Were they “in the middle?” Read Dagg and Boyce.


Let’s take a test, Dr.Caner:

Dr. Caner affirms that election is based on God foreseeing ahead of time who will believe. You said at Founders “elected because I selected.” Is this Calvinist or Arminian?

Dr. Caner affirms general atonement. Is this Calvinist or Arminian? It is either Arminian or Amyraldian. Since Dr. Caner states he was elected because he selected, he is no Amyraldian.

Dr. Caner is a synergist and affirms the resistibility of grace and denies monergistic regeneration. Is this Calvinist or Arminian?

Dr. Caner affirms the security of the believer. This is Calvinist, if and only if he affirms that one’s life must manifest some fruit (e.g perseverance) as a result of his conversion. If not, Dr. Caner isn’t a Calvinist or an Arminian here, he’s an antinomian.

Dr. Caner affirms, I suppose that all men can believe in Christ and are not spiritually unable to repent and exercise faith in Christ. Elmer Towns of Liberty University and Seminary on his website (www.elmertowns.com), states clearly, “It is our position that common grace is extended to all and that everyone has an opportunity and the ability to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. It seems to us that only if God makes the same provisions for all and makes the same offers to all, is He truly just.” (emphasis mine). Unless Dr. Towns is redefining terms, this is clearly a reference to human ability by way of design, not universal prevenient grace as postulated by Arminians. Arminians teach that UPG comes as a benefit of the cross itself. It is, therefore, a type of special grace. It is difficult to ascertain what Dr. Caner believes on this, but we know he approves of Towns. If this is so, then we know that he is not an Arminian or a Calvinist, since we both affirm man’s inability to repent and
believe of himself. He’s closer to being a functional Pelagian on this, rather than Arminian, so I’ll agree that Dr. Caner is not a Calvinist or an Arminian, but he’s not a Baptist on this either.

Dr. Caner is a Baptist, but he’s also a functional Unitarian, since he puts election and regeneration outside a chain of grace by making them depend on man for the Father to foresee faith and the Spirit to regenerate the believer. So, let’s be clear, he sacrifices his Trinitarianism on the altar of libertarian freedom. If he follows Dr. Towns language and has no doctrine of universal prevenient grace, he’s a functional Pelagian too.

Also for the sake of fairness, I must add that one cannot solely blame our Reformed brothers, either. Baptists are notorious for “fighting and fussing” over such issues as the color of the carpet and the location of the water fountains. This is not the first scuffle into which we have walked and it certainly will not be the last.

So much for all those debates on the doctrines of grace coming from Baptists from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Dr. Caner has to pretend these didn’t happen to belittle them. How is discussing God’s ability to perfectly save His people from their sins on the level as fussing over the color of the carpet.

So I will not be misunderstood, let me define the term. A Neo-Calvinist is a Hyper Calvinist with a twist.

As we’ll see, Dr. Caner has no clue what a hyper-Calvinist is. He means “Five Point Calvinist.”

He cannot discuss anything without referencing Calvinism. For the “Neo-Calvinist,” you are either Reformed, or you are teaching heresy.

Well, let’s see. If Scripture teaches it and you do not teach it and in fact contradict it, then what you doing? Dr. Caner has called Calvinism a virus and false doctrine. Is this not heresy? Who, then, has been accusing whom of teaching heresy?

It is the prism through which every doctrine is filtered.

This is grossly oversimplified. It is a worldview, but it is a worldview focused on God. What other valid worldview is there?

To further clarify, this type of Hyper Calvinist believes:

Read the article closely, this comes on the heels of accusing Calvinists of sowing discord in churches and seminaries, but this man has made Calvinism his whipping boy, and this man is the one who went to the Founders blog to stir up trouble with his brother Emir. So, while accusing Calvinists of sowing division, he gives himself and Emir a free pass. Furthermore, if you listen to the Drs. Caner, Dr. Falwell, and Dr. Towns libertarian freedom is the prism through which their doctrine is filtered, and Dr. Caner has accused Calvinism of being a virus and of being heresy.

1. Double Predestination. Simply put, they believe that a small group of people are predestined, even before the Creation, for heaven, and that the vast majority of the world is predestined, even created for, hell.

This is a tendentious mischaracterization. It depends on what you mean by double predestination. If you mean that God acts positively to effectually call the elect to salvation and passes the rest over, letting them go their own way, yes, we affirm this. This is not, however, hyper-Calvinism. This is traditional Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism, Dr. Caner, affirms that God puts fresh unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate. This is called equal ultimacy. I’d add that, if for argument’s sake we taught this, then it would still not violate human nature, since, by nature, men hate God and do not want to repent and
believe anyway.

This is also an argument Dr. Caner must answer himself. Why does God create people knowing they will never be saved and never hear the gospel. Will he seriously argue that the people of China in the first century BC. were not created for reprobation? By the way, he should read Prov. 16:4 and Jude 4, just for starters.

What Calvinist states that it is the very few who have been elected? Has he not read Boettner? He specifically states that there is no reason whatsoever to assume this.

2. Not all babies who die go to heaven. They do not say outright that “non-elect babies who die go to hell.” They simply say that they leave such issues to the sovereignty of God. This raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn’t it? Thankfully, most theologians through the centuries have denied this teaching.

Fallacy: oversimplification. Traditionally, Warfield has classified no fewer than five different positions on this issue:

1.From the beginning a few held with Zwingli that death in infancy is a sign of election, and hence that all who die in infancy are the children of God and enter at once into glory. After Zwingli, Bishop Hooper was probably the first to embrace this view. It has more lately become the ruling view.

2.At the opposite extreme a very few held that the only sure sign of election is faith with its fruits, and, therefore, we can have no real ground of knowledge concerning the fate of any infant; as, however, God certainly has his elect among them too, each man can cherish the hope that his children are of the elect. Peter Martyr approaches this sadly agnostic position.

3.Many held that faith and the promise are sure signs of election, and accordingly all believes and their children are certainly saved; but the lack of faith and the promise is an equally sure sign of reprobation, so that all the children of unbelievers, dying such, are equally certainly lost. The younger Spanheim, for example, writes…”they are justly reprobated by God on account of the corruption and guilt derived to them by natural propagation.

4.More held that faith and the promise are certain signs of election, so that the salvation of believers’ children is certain, while the lack of the promise only leaves us in ignorance of God’s purpose;nevertheless that there is good ground for asserting that both election and reprobation have place in this unknown sphere. Accordingly, they held that all the infants of believers, dying such, are saved, but that some of the infants of unbelievers, dying such, are lost. Probably no higher expression of this general view can be found that John Owen’s.

5.Most Calvinists of the past, however, have simply held that faith and the promise are marks by which we may know assuredly that all those who believe and their children, dying such, are elect and saved, while the absence of sure marks of either election or reprobation in infants, dying such outside the covenant, leaves us without ground for inference concerning them…It is this cautious, agnostic view which has the best historical right to be called the general Calvinistic one.

Warfield, Works, 9:431-434.

Warfield also mentions that “Calvin seems, while speaking with admirable caution, to imply that he believed some infants dying such to be lost,” ibid. 431, n66. If we accept what he says, that would, it seems make Calvin a hyper-Calvinist, correct?

R. C. Sproul even calls the doctrines of infant salvation “speculative.” (Providence, Tape 10,Q&A). Sproul points out that some reformers believe that all babies who die are numbered among the elect, and other reformers believe that all babies of saved parents who die are numbered among the elect.

According to Boettner:

Most Calvinistic theologians have held that those who die in infancy are saved. The Scriptures seem to teach plainly enough that the children of believers are saved; but they are silent or practically so in regard to those of the heathens. The Westminster Confession does not pass judgment on the children of heathens who die before coming to years of accountability. Where the Scriptures are silent, the Confession, too, preserves silence. Our outstanding theologians, however, mindful of the fact that God’s “tender mercies are over all His works,” and depending on His mercy widened as broadly as possible, have entertained a charitable hope that since these infants have never committed any actual sin themselves, their inherited sin would be pardoned and they would be saved on wholly evangelical principles.Such, for instance, was the position held by Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield. Concerning those who die in infancy, Dr. Warfield says: “Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act.

(Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 143-144)

Scripture itself is largely silent on this issue, so this doesn’t cast aspersions on God’s character to leave it in God’s hands and not speak where He has not clearly spoken. It simply depends on how convinced one is about the exegetical arguments as to which position one takes. I wonder, is David’s, “I will go to him” is really meant to infer universal infant salvation for all infants who die in infancy? That’s a rather grand,
sentimental application of the text. God may well do this. I think there is a pretty good chance He does. On the other hand, I must admit (a) He would not be unjust not to do this; and (b) if He does, it is by way of Calvary, not some kind of “age of accountability” that mitigates against us being counted guilty in Adam.

Those who affirm reprobation of infants, at least by way of abstract possibility, believe that it as it seems to lack in biblical certainty, it would be unloving to extend to someone “absolute assurance” where Scripture itself is not absolutely clear. What we can give unshakable assurance to, is that God is just and righteous desiring that none should perish; delighting not in the death of the wicked; and is at the same time both loving and holy, just and merciful, wrathful and full of grace. And in all that He does, He does with absolute perfection befitting His own righteous, holy character after the council of His will, to accomplish His purpose, for His own pleasure and for His glory alone (Cf., Ephesians 1:4-14). And it is there, that we must rest, find our resolve, and leave it with Him. simply put, there are too few Scriptures chasing this particular issue for either side to speak with great certainty,

3. God’s “love for mankind” must be redefined. Yes, they will say, God does love the world, but His love is a matter of degrees.

Has he ever read D.A. Carson? Did God love Judas Iscariot as much as Paul? Will Dr. Caner argue that Judas was not predestined to betray Christ, per Acts? Will he seriously argue that lost persons living in North America in the first century were loved salvifically by God and yet born with no hope and thus foreordained to hell?

He can love a person and still predestine them for hell. Citations such as John 3:16, II Peter 3:9, and others, are redefined or reassigned to some other topic, such as eschatology. They do not believe that God wants a relationship with everyone. That would go against their system and theology.

So much for exegesis. Is this man serious? How is 2 Peter 3:9 reassigning the topic to eschatology, when that is the context of the text?

In this text: “any” and “all” are both universal class quantifiers. What is the referent? Answer: “You/us” delimits “any” and “all.” However, unless there are other clues in the text itself, these delimiters could be out of place and the text could be universal. Are there any additional clues? Yes!

In 3:3-7 Peter sets up an “us/them” dichotomy. “Them” refers to unbelievers, specifically false teachers, who have risen up and are preaching against the Second Coming. They are mockers, “following after their own lusts,” and making light of the promise of Christ’s return. Peter speaks of this happening in “the last days,” and, since these kinds of men have risen up throughout history, we know Peter thinks of the present day as the last days. In verse 8, Peter directs his message to his audience, telling them not to let what follows escape their (“your”) attention. “You” is his audience, whom he clearly says in 1:2 have received Christ and in 1:10 are “brethren,” and in 3:1 are “beloved.”

You, which is delimiting “all” and “any” refers to the brethren, beloved, those who have received Christ.Peter is teaching that, contrary to the mockers and false teachers, God is not at all slow concerning His promise. What promise? Answer: the return of the Lord, and He is patient toward you (beloved) not desiring that any (of you) perish, but all (of you) come to repentance. To come and not perish to repentance is defined in v.14: that Christians be found by Christ in peace, spotless, and blameless, and on guard against error. Peter is teaching two things: (1) God is holding off the Second Coming until all those who have been chosen for salvation according to His plan and that (2) God is being kind toward those living at the time of His coming, commanding them to be ready and prepared.

I’d add that this is not a uniquely Reformed view of the text. See Richard Bauckham in Word Commentary. He tells us that this follows the OT motif where God withholds judgment for the sake of the covenant community. He is no Calvinist. He has more in common with Moltmann than Calvin, but this currently the standard commentary.

“God’s patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay…The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment” (312-313).

4. Invitations are an insult to the sovereignty of God. Disturbing as this may sound, some ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services.

This is another straw man. We do not oppose invitations. We oppose the invitation system and the abuses associated with it, like Baptist evangelist Junior Hill who entered Hunter Hills Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC a couple of years ago, opened his Bible, read one Scripture and gave a one hour invitation. We constantly exhort people to repent and believe. My pastor and folks from our church preach at the local abortion clinic every few weeks. When the text allows, we give a public, traditional invitation, but when the text does not lend itself to it, we do not. In fact, many of us have replaced the regular invitation with a time of question and answer. So, while Dr. Falwell and Ergun Caner are not held accountable for their preaching by their congregation (oh, that somebody would have questioned him on Romans 9 for saying God rejected Esau because of what he did!), we are held very solidly accountable for what we preach. Of course, Dr. Falwell himself believes Charles Finney was a great evangelist, so maybe this should come as no surprise. I wonder if Dr. Caner has chatted with him about Finney.

5. Calvinism is the only Gospel. Simply put, when a person holds this narrow view, they become exclusivists. They believe that Calvinism, and only Calvinism, is the preaching of the Gospel. One historian wrote, “Calvinism is just another name for Christianity.”1 If that is true, what does that say about the myriad of preachers throughout Church history who were not Calvinists? Were they even saved?

This is another mischaracterization of what Calvinists affirm. First of all, if Scripture teaches it, then that would make it another name of Christianity. By the way, he footnotes Gerstner here, as cited in Dave Hunt. He makes all these assertions and there is but one footnote. This isn’t scholarship, Dr. Caner. Why didn’t he footnote the rest of his assertions?

A. There is a difference between a traditional Calvinist stating this and a true hyper-Calvinist. A true hyper-Calvinist might state that a non-Calvinist isn’t saved. This is extremely rare.

B. Calvinism has narrow and a broad meaning when Calvinists state this. It can refer to the famous Five Points or it can have much broader meaning, referring to a worldview and a particular view of God.

Calvinism is the gospel by way of dogmatic usage, in that, as a comprehensive, systematic soteriology it identifies the source of salvation, the condition of men, the nature of the atonement, the necessity of grace, and the assurance of salvation for all who will believe far more accurately than Arminianism. This is what Spurgeon meant. It is also a worldiview that shapes much of the way we view the world.

Arminianism is a mixture of truth and error as a system and a worldview. How can anybody look at historical theology and not see this? Arminianism is inherently Unitarian at a functional level. It puts, in its more Pelagian forms (like the easy believism of Dave Hunt)m both election and regeneration outside a chain effected by grace; only the cross is in view. Ergo, this is functional Unitarianism. In classic Arminianism, the kind with a real doctrine of prevenient grace (in the former this is explicitly equated with common grace, cf. Elmer Towns), a person is enabled to believe from a state of equipoise effected by grace, so, while regeneration is outside the chain of grace directly, indirectly it resides inside of it, because faith would not result in it apart from this grace. The Father, however, because He bases election on foreseen faith, is still outside the chain of grace. Ergo, this is “Bi-Nitarian.” It’s not without reason that Arminianism has historically flirted with Socinianism as a result of this. Let’s not forget the General Baptists and early Arminians in general turned to Socinianism relatively quickly, and it was only via the New Connection that they survived among Baptists. The crossroads of theological liberalism also tends to lie near or in Arminianism. Moreover, Arminianism tends toward neo-sacramentalism in Baptist churches where it takes hold, contrary to our eccelsiology. We do not affirm baptismal regeneration, yet so much emphasis is put on aisle walking and hand raising and sacramental prayers (decisional regeneration) that we end up creating neo-Campbellite sacraments of our own when we do this.

That said, it is also true not all Arminians are of the same stripe. I don’t want to paint them with a broad brush.

If you define “gospel” in exegetical terms, both Arminianism and Calvinism affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the necessity of Sola Fide and personal conversion. When “gospel” is defined in this manner, closer to exegetical usage, the essential issue addressed by the Gospel is that man is a sinner, under the condemnation of God. The Gospel never calls upon the unregenerate to believe that they are unable to believe. Rather, it calls upon us to recognize our guilt before God, and to see Christ’s sacrificial death as the sole remedy for our guilt and condemnation.

The Gospel message is about guilt, condemnation and forgiveness. It is not about “Who chose whom?”, or “Where does faith come from?” Gospel-faith is trust in the person of Christ, having the confidence that He, by means of His Substitutionary death, has borne our sin and is fully able to forgive everyone who calls upon Him for salvation. Gospel-faith recognizes that Christ saves only those who trust in Him. It does not necessarily recognize the truth that this trust is God-given. One need not know or believe that God is the one behind your repentance and faith to experience repentance and faith. One need not understand the nature of justification before he experiences it.
One need not believe in eternal security in order to be eternally secure; one need not believe it is impossible to fall away and fail to persevere in the faith in order not to fall away and persevere in the faith. Ergo, in this sense, both Calvinism and Arminianism can be said to encapsulate the gospel.

C. Broadly speaking, Calvinism is a worldview. J.I Packer put it this way in his intro to John Owen’s

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the ‘five points’ indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible – the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the ‘five points’ present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the ‘five points’ is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel – that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

I would strongly encourage you to take the time to read the rest here:

http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/deathofdeath.html

Packer goes on to state wisely:

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind – election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit – as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of
redemption being all mankind, of calling, all who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the ‘five
points’, as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the areas in which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

Dr. Caner continues:

Yet, being a Baptist goes back even further than a building. In the 16th century, our Anabaptist forefathers were not so mingled with the Reformed movement in Geneva. In fact, they were hunted in virtually every country in continental Europe. Men such as Michael Sattler and Balthasar Hubmaier suffered at the hands of all of the Magisterial Reform movements, including the Calvinists.

A. Dr. Caner conveniently overlooks all the Particular Baptists who were Calvinists.

B. How does the persecution of the Anabaptists constitute exculpatory evidence against these doctrines? Caner argues like an atheist, believing sociological phenomena qualify as exculpatory evidence against the Resurrection.

C. Caner assumes, without benefit of argument, a particular theory of Baptist history.

“Calvinism has never heard of him before, and if its advocates ever think of him hereafter it will never be in a connection flattering to his vanity.”

(P.H. Mell on anti-Calvinist Russell Reneau). It could have been said just as easily about Ergun Caner.

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10 Comments on “Ergun Caner on Calvinism”

  1. John Weaver Says:

    In a related vein recently announced candidate for the office of SBC President, Dr. Jerry Sutton said the following in an interview on SBC outpost:
    I only believe that Calvinism could be dangerous to the Convention if it morphs into that hyper-Calvinism which I think was displayed by men like John Gill.
    I use Gills Expositions frequently and have not noticed that it is “hyper-Calvinistic”. Perhaps someone could explain to me what Dr. Sutton is refering to, as I am at a loss to understand it. Is there some grounds for this claim, or is it another instance of redefining those who eschew emotional appeals and deceptive evangelistic tactics as “hyper-Calvinists”?

  2. chuck Says:

    Whether or not Gill was a hyper-Calvinist is a widely debated topic across the board- by Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. I do think Gill was less evangelistic than he probably should have been, and at times he pushed the limits. But hyper-Calvinist? I’m inclined to say no. Tom Nettles talks about this in By His Grace and For His Glory. However, my church history professor in college- a thoroughgoing Calvinist who is active in the Founders Movement- disagrees with Nettles’ assessment. Either way, his expositions are helpful.

  3. Nathan Says:

    Dr. Caner does not need to try to refute calvinism if he has no idea what it is.

  4. Gene Says:

    Different historians classify Gill differently. I’m inclined to agree with Dr. Nettles, as most folks I’ve seen classify Gill as a hyper tend to do so on the presumption that high Calvinism and hyper Calvinism are close enough cousins to be the same. Gill was a high Calvinist, but the jury is out on whether he was supralapsarian or infra. If infra, he could not have been a hyper. A hypers are supras, but not all supras are hypers.

    Gill’s use of the offers vocabulary usually throws people who read it today without knowing his operative categories. You have to remember, Gill was an academic who was trying to be extremely precise. His precision is his downfall, because others who were not as precise have taken and still take his work and misunderstand it, thus historians have had a hard time with where to place him.

    For one thing, they take Ivimey’s discussion of Gills’ support for Crisp to assume it meant he affirmed the doctrine of eternal justification. Gill denied that doctrine. Ivimey is also a critic of Gill put criticizes him for not saying more about evangelical repentance and faith in language he finds acceptable.

    Gill was closest to being a supralapsarian, but this is not exclupatory evidence since supras and infras affirm the very same things about election and reprobation. One needs to find a supra who affirms equal ultimacy to make this charge stick. Gill divides the supra scheme into two parts: postive and negative, where the positive is active, with God effectuating His decree to elect by regeneration; it is passive with respect to reprobation by God passing men over, not by God putting fresh unbelief in their hearts and minds. He says that the degree of reprobation “puts nothing in them, it leaves them as it finds them, and therefore does them no injustice.”

    A doctrine of eternal justification naturally leads to antinomiianism, for if one is justified already from birth (before actually), then one can rationalize that one is still imputed righteous for his sins, ultimately collapsing into fatalism and antinomianism. Gill denies antinomianism and his treatment of the Ten Commandments proves it. He even discusses the evangelical use of the law at length.

    Gill did not deny duty faith. This is the single most commonly adduced charge against him, and it seems based on his rejection of the offers vocabulary.

    True, he did state: GOd does not require all men to believe in Christ and where he does it is according to the revelation he makes of him. He does not require the heath, who are w/o external revelation of Christ to believe him at all; and those who have the outward ministry of the word unattendend w/ the special illuminations of God’s Spirit are obliged to believe nor further than the external revelations they enjyoy reaches. (Cause of God and Truth). However, is simply stating here that man is not condemned for disbelieving the gospel, rather he is condemned for his sins. The basis for the condemnation of those who have never heard is not their rejection of Christ, but their sins. In short, if they die without hearing the gospel, they are justly condemned and their separation from the gospel reflects the presumptive judgment of God. This is not, as some have thought, a denial of duty faith.

    Elsewhere he writes that “It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord and obey His will, though he has not a power, yea, even thogugh God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot beleive and obey.” This is for those who hear the gospel and/or are from societies where much revelation has come. The responsibility to believe is not based on men’s ability (hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism) but it is indexed to the amount of light they have received by way of the gospel. If they received no light, they are justly condemned, but, to be saved, they need the gospel. It was the abuse of this idea of his by the hypers who picked up on it that has most often led to the charge he was a hyper.

    Gill’s take on the offers vocabulary is what really, really throws us for a loop today, because when we see “offer” we think “free offer of the gospel” and the duty of the ministrer to urge people to come to Christ.

    First, Gill teaches that is men’s responsibility to call everyone to come to Christ. Secondly, for Gill, he was making a category distinction over those who spoke of an offer of grace. Grace, he says is not offered in the gospel, it is given by God. To speak of an offer of grace is therefore a category error. Gill’s other category for offers is the offer of the gospel. The preacher is to offer the gospel to every person, for, unlike offering grace, offering the gospel is his duty and within his power. (“The mihister should preach the gospel with a view to seeing all his hearers converted..it is one part of the gospel ministry ot persuade men.”) It is this very thing that Hussey, Wayman, and others disputed.

    At times he does mention sensible sinners, but this is not the sinner who has so peered into the mind of God that he has a warrant to believe (believing he is elect to adduce his responsibility to believe), rather a sensible sinner to Gill means “aware of personal sinfulness.” In other words, “under conviction” by our parlance. One simply has to read Gill with a sense of historical distance and an awareness of his categories. You can’t restrict his language on offers especially with this in mind.

    Some have used a statement that he did not issue an evangelistic invitation from his pulpit as exculpatory evidence. However, that can be interpreted as coming from his belief that the gospel is its own inherent invitation. One would have to read “altar call” into “invitation” in order to arrive at that conclusion. That would be a semantic anachronism.

  5. John Weaver Says:

    Thanks Gene, that helped 🙂 It’s helpful to clear some of these matters up as the term “hyper-Calvinist” is being thrown around so much these days as an epithet and divorced from its historic usage. Rather like Caners use of the term “moderate Calvinist”, which besides being meaningless doesn’t accurately describe his doctrinal position.

  6. Gordan Says:

    Gene, I appreciate your work in summarizing the historic positions taken by the Reformed in the area of infants dying in infancy.

    This was a purely academic question for me until March, when my own son died in the womb. Suddenly now it means more.

    I think that Caner’s antagonism toward Calvinism may stem (more than we know) from his misunderstanding of this particular issue, as I have heard that he and his wife have suffered a similar loss to my own. Do not underestimate old-fashioned pain as a motivator for a man to do all sorts of outrageous things.

    They say that “All politics is local.” To a large extent I’m convinced that in a similar way, “All theology is personal.”

    Caner thinks Calvinism must place his child in Hell. No wonder he hates it (Calvinism.) I think it’s possible that all the other pseudo-theological objections are merely there to justify that hatred.

    SDG

  7. Tony Says:

    “Gill is the Coryphaeus of hyper-Calvinism, but if his followers never went beyond their master, they would not go very far astray.”

    Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, page 16, Kregel 1998.

    Spurgeon was right! Notice he even says the “Coryphaeus” of hyper-Calvinism. That’s no small charge.

    Yes, Gill was a hyper-Calvinist, just as Spurgeon himself said. He did IN FACT (despite what Gene says) reject offers and duty-faith.

    If you’re able, get Dr. Curt Daniel’s authoritative work on the subject: Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill. Nettles’ analysis is inaccurate. He’s not reading The Cause of God and Truth carefully, but one may not quickly see that since he even gets many of his footnotes wrong.

    The supra/infra does not necessarily decide the issue. The issue comes down to a denial of one or more of the following points:

    1) A denial of the universal love of God (Gill did not deny this)

    2) A denial of common grace (Gill did not deny this)

    3) A denial of free offers (Gill did deny this – the gospel is not an “offer”)

    4) A denial of duty-faith (Gill did IN FACT deny this)

    What can be confusing is that people don’t get his distinction between natural faith and supernatural or evangelical faith. He would say that nature faith is the duty of all, but not evangelical faith. When the orthodox speak of “duty-faith,” they mean that all men are responsible to EVANGELICALLY believe. This is what Gill denied. Natural faith is something distinct. It’s civil obedience. It concerns external compliance to physical threats. God threatened the Ninevites with physical catastrophe if they did not repent. All that was required of them was civil obedience or conformity to escape physical doom, not that it was their “duty” to believe God in the evangelical sense. Read The Cause of God and Truth for yourself. You will see that he makes these sorts of distinctions. All men are duty-bound to NATURALLY repent and believe, but supernatural faith/repentence is not a duty. Some people read Gill’s affirmation that natural faith is a duty and think, “Oh, he didn’t reject duty-faith.” It’s not true. They just don’t get the distinctions Gill is making.

    Furthermore, “offers” imply conditions and the evangelical covenant, in Gill’s view, is unconditional. Duty-faith and offers are logicaly connected. Gill knew that and he rejected both. Read The Cause of God and Truth for yourself, and you will see. Ad Fontes! To the primary sources!

  8. Tony Says:

    Incidently, when I say that all men are responsible to believe the gospel in the evangelical sense, here’s what I mean:

    God is (sincerely or well-meaningly) indescriminately (whether to the elect or non-elect) OFFERING Jesus Christ to everyone who hears the external call of the gospel, and all of those who hear it are duty-bound to believe/repent (duty-faith) in the evangelical sense (not mere external or civil conformity – natural faith).

    This is what Gill was against. It’s not that he was not willing to preach to all indescriminately, but he denied that the gospel was an “offer,” since that implies some sort of conditionalism. The Evangelical Covenant is conditional in one sense and unconditional in another. When Calvinsts deny that the gospel covenant is conditional, they mean that man cannot merit it. Faith is not a meritorious cause. However, they do not deny that faith is an instrumental condition. Some do not like to call faith a condition because it can be easily confused with a meritorious condition. But, even as John Flavel pointed out to certain hyper-Calvinistic baptists in his day, the act of faith is a condition or a sine qua non for justification. One can go so far in rejection of conditions that they fail to make a necessary distinction between meritorious and instrumental conditions. Also, one can go too far in their view of total inability. Fallen man is without moral ability to believe, but he still possesses constitutional ability, and is therefore responsible to believe when hearing the external call of the gospel.

    Gill denied that the evangelical covenant was conditional in any sense, and he denied that men are responsible to believe in the evangelical sense. The rejection of duty-faith and offers are connected in this way.

    Gill was a hyper-Calvinist, but he’s not as bad as some of the more anti-evangelistic variety, or as bad as those in the Protestant Reformed Church. It’s historically inaccurate to say only those who were anti-missionary or anti-evangelistic were hyper-Calvinists. Some of them would preach to all but not “offer” Christ to any.

    Listen to Dr. Curt Daniel’s lectures for more on these subjects:
    http://faithbibleonline.net/page4.html

  9. Tony Says:

    Gill on Isaiah 55:7:

    “III. It is intimated, that such who are in the Calvinistical way of thinking, say, that God promises pardon and life to the non-elect, on condition of their faith and repentance: and it is asked, “How can a God of truth and sincerity be said to promise to them pardon and salvation, seriously and in good earnest, who are, by his own act of preterition, infallibly and unfrustrably excluded from it?” I answer,

    1. Who the men are that say so, I do not know, and must leave them to defend their own positions, who only are accountable for the consequences of them; for my own part, I utterly deny that there is any promise of pardon made to the non-elect at all, not on any condition whatever. The promise of pardon is a promise of the covenant of grace, and which is made to none but to such who are in that covenant, in which the non-elect have no share; to whom the blessing of pardon belongs, to them only is the promise of it made: the blessing of it only belongs to such for whom Christ died, whose blood was shed for the remission of sin; and these are the elect of God only: and though the gospel declaration of pardon is made in indefinite terms, to every one that believes; the reason is, because all those who are interested in the covenant of grace, and for whom Christ died, God does in his own time, give faith and repentance, and along with them forgiveness of sins.”

    http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Cause_of_God_and_Truth/Part%201/section_17.htm

    The above is just a small sample of his thinking on this matter. This quote supports what I was saying about Gill above.

  10. Gene Says:

    Gill differed on several points with hypers of his day. There is a central point, and this is the one you bring up, that makes him appear to hold to a hyper view.

    “No man will be lost or damned, because he has not this special faith, to say that God will damn any man because he has not this special faith in Christ is to represent him as the most cruel of all beings, as Arminians sya we make him to be; to damn a man for that which is solely in his own power to give; for no man can believe in Christ with this sort of faith, unless it be given to him of his Father; and which yet he determines not to give to him, as unto all the non-elect; and which man never had in his power to have or exercise, no, not in the state of innocence.”

    Gill did deny the non-elect are obligated to evangelical obedience, because the necessity of such did not exist in unfallen humanity in Adam. However, he distinguished between that which is incumbent upon men by this method and by virtue of them being sinners. As to whether we characterize this summons as an “offer” or something else is one-sided. If you run through the various prooftexts for the offer of the gospel, it is various described as an offer, invitation, command, calling, gift, &c. It is a mistake to insist on one of these formulations to the exclusion of the others. That leads to unscriptural reductionism.

    What, exactly, is there in the offer of the gospel (or whatever we want to call it) that we should not urge upon elect and reprobate alike?

    Take repentance. Don’t all men have a moral duty to obey God? And if they sin, don’t they have an obligation to repent? Gill simply distinguishes between the types of repentance and faith to which different men (elect and reprobate) are held accountable on judgment day itself.

    Total depravity subtracts from their ability, but not their duty. To say otherwise is to say that the more wicked I am, the less responsible I am for my sin. By that line of logic, the more evil I am, the more innocent I am. What about faith in Christ? If it is true that Christ is the Savior of the world and the Lord of the universe, then shouldn’t everyone believe that and trust in him? Isn’t there a standing obligation on the part of everyone to believe in whatever is true simply because it is true? Ah, but if Christ didn’t die for the reprobate, then they are not qualified to believe in him, right? Arminians frame the gospel in this manner as do hyper-Calvinists. Gill, however, distinguishes between what men are responsible for doing by way of Adam and by way of simply having universal obligations to believe what is true or to repent from sin legally.

    Gill held to an distinction between the external revelation of the gospel, and the internal revelation of effectual calling. “If only an external revelation is made, the faith required is an assent unto it, and a reception of it, and such who do not attend to the evidence it brings with it, and despise it shall be damned.” In other words, all men hear the gospel have a duty to believe it because it is true, regardless of whether or not they are able to repent and believe it by way of saving faith, for saving faith as such is a gift from God by way of grace. This is not, therefore, a denial of an offer of the gospel, but of an offer of grace, according to the categories Gill uses. Only God can offer grace, in Gill, but all preachers can present an external presentation of the gospel, and differing types of repentance and faith are indexed to each.

    He calls these historical faith and evangelical faith, though he prefers not to us the term “saving faith” as it places an emphasis on the believer’s character not God’s grace), including a distinction between legal repentance and evangelical repentance. All men are bound to repent of their sins legally, but not all men are bound to repent evangelically, because evangelical faith only comes to the elect by way of effectual calling. Men, however, universally bound, to repent of their sins legally and historically when they hear the gospel. Historical faith and legal repentance are thus underwriting evangelical repentance and faith in Gill’s theology, but he is not denying the “free offer of the gospel” in the terms you are asserting, for when Gill spoke on preaching itself, he stated very clearly that when preaching is in view, the minister is bound to evangelical preaching itself, because he did not know whether men themselves are elect or reprobate. This stands in stark contrast to his successors who told men to look for warrants to believe and such.

    Gill in The Cause of God and Truth, Chapter 1 refutes “nemo obligatur ad impossible” by showing that often people are justly required to do that which is impossible in their current condition. However, Gill says it is difficult in his opinion to show that God requires spiritual and evangelical obedience in the unregenerate.

    Gill states that Christ came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance. This was not legal, but evangelical. He was not speaking only of an internal call at this point, for he is speaking of the public ministries of Christ, the apostles, and John the Baptist. “Repent and believe the gospel,” said Gill, and in speaking of the apostles, he calls them evangelical preachers.

    As to men’s duty, he writes, “It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord, and obey His will, though he not a power, yea, even though God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot believe and obey. So it was Pharaoh’s duty to believe and obey the Lord, and let Israel go; though God determined to harden his heart, that he should not let them god. However, there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving faith of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it would be difficult to prove that God requires these things of them and should that appear, yet the impossibiliy of doing them arises from the corruption of their hearts, being destitute of the grace of God, and not from the decree of reprobation, which though it denies them that grace and strength, without which they cannot believe and obey in this sense, yet it takes none from them and does no injustice.” (The Cause of God and Truth, 158)

    Man’s inability does not exempt him from ANY duty, though the grace of God alone can cure him of unrepentance and unbelief. Unbelief and unrepentance come from his own wickedness and nature, not the decree of reprobation itself, and, should it be proven that God hold those reprobated in the decree responsible to believe savingly, Gill would clearly agree. Men are not condemned, therefore, for a lack of grace, which only God can give them, but for their impenitence and unbelief, which arises from their own love of evil and hatred for God. “To conclude otherwise,” he writes, “would lead to an absurdity, i.e. because man is so corrupt he cannot be subject to the law without the aid of an omnipotent power, it can be no sin in him to remain unsubjected to it” (Cause, 165-66).

    While many exhibit, therefore, only a legal repentance and a historical faith, and the non-elect may be theoretically obligated to hold the “faith of the elect,” no man is in a position to know God’s decrees of election and reprobation, ergo, men are consequently to assume they are bound to legally, historically, and evangelically repent whenever they hear the gospel, and ministers are to preach the gospel in a gospel way, intending the audience to respond evangelically. The gospel minister, if he follows Christ’s example and that of the apostles, has no warrant to expect his hearers to exercise any other kind of faith, according to Gill.

    When Gill denied that universal offers of grace and salvation are made to all men, he was speaking to the charge of insincerity level at the doctrine of unconditional election made by Wesley. Gill pegged his answer to Wesley’s Arminianism. Since grace and salvation as such are not offered BY GOD to all men, but are rather bestowed freely from above BY GOD to THE ELECT, there is no insincerity in the universal preaching of the gospel, by the yardstick that Wesley had offered, for as an Arminian, Wesley was committed to assert that men cannot be held responsible for what they cannot do, ergo, since the non-elect cannot repent, the offer of the grace and salvation is insincere. Gill simply answers Wesley by Wesley’s own yardstick and reminds him that grace and salvation as such are given by God freelyt to the elect only and not to the non-elect, but there is a difference between the offer of the gospel itself and an offer of grace and salvation. Only God can offer the latter, a minister can offer the former, and each party: the hearer, the preacher, and God is bound to a particular set of things offered.

    Salvation is not offered at all by God, upon any condition whatsoever, to any of the sons of men, no not to the elect, they are CHOSEN to it, Christ has procured it fror them, the gospel publishes and reveals it, and the Spirit of God consequently publishes it to them, much less to the non-elect, or to all mankind, and consquently this doctrine, or God according to it, is not chargeable with delusion and insult (Wesley’s terms). Salvation and grace are bestowed, not offered, to undeserving sinners and this gift involves no injustice or insincerity.

    Gill’s rejection of the nomenclature, and concept of an “offer” was written this way, because he felt the force of the argument that an offer accompanied by the gift of the ability would make God an insincere, deceiftul Being. He writes this when discussing ministers who say that they are offering salvation itself to their hearers, because, in his ears, they were doing what only God can do. They could offer the gospel and they had certain expectations that came from that, but they could not offer grace and salvation as such. I think he’s parsing his words way, way too much, especially by our own, more relaxed phraseology, but I think he’s also conscious of a kind of reductionism as discussed above, and he is wanting to avoid this.

    In other words, as a practical matter, the reprobate will never believe it any way, while only the elect will believe it, so where’s the insincerity from God, since only God gives grace and salvation? Wesley would say they can’t be held responsible to repent and believe if they cannot. Gill says, that if that is so, it is not because of an offer of grace, but because of what a non-elect person is, in the mind of God, responsible to do. He may not, theoretically, be bound to repent and believe in the same sense as the elect person, but he is in no position to know whether he is elect or reprobate. So, while from God’s perspective, he is only held responsible for legal and historical repentance and faith, he is, from his perspective bound simply to repent and believe, and that to evangelical faith and repentance, since that is the assumption that lies behind the intent of the minister’s preaching, since neither he nor the minister can know the mind of God. There is no insincerity in the MINISTER”s offer of the gospel, in that the MINISTER (as opposed to God) is in no position to know the decree of God, because he is unable to know this, but he is duty bound to preach universally to all without discrimination.

    See “The Doctrine of Predestination Stated and Set in the Scripture Light” in Sermons and Tracts, Gill


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