It is a most interesting site.
It is a most informative site.
It is even dangerous, in its own way. At least if you are interested in Reformed theology past and present. Once you enter it, it is hard to extract yourself and get back to real time and to things that need more immediate attention. It is easy to ‘get lost,’ as they say, and let more pressing matters ‘go begging’ for a time.
I am talking about an online website that was recently brought to my attention by a colleague—[www.monergism.com].
If you wonder about the word “monergism,” it is of Greek derivation, meaning “one only power (or energy).” It was coined to stand in contrast to the error of synergism, that hydra-headed error that through the ages has posited salvation as a cooperative venture between the divine will and the human ability to respond appropriately.
In the site’s own words, “Monergism: The view that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects regeneration in Christians. It is in contrast with synergism, the view that there is a cooperation between the divine and the human in the regeneration process. Monergism is a redemption which was purchased by Christ for those the Father has given Him (I Pet. 1:3; John 3:5). This grace works independently of any human cooperation and conveys that grace to the fallen soul whereby the person who is to be saved is effectually enabled to respond to the gospel call (John 1:13; Acts 2:39, 13:48; Rom. 9:16). It is that supernatural work of God alone whereby we are granted the spiritual ability to comply with the conditions of the covenant of grace; that is, to apprehend the Redeemer by a living faith, to accept the terms of salvation, to repent of idols and to love God and Mediator supremely.”
Whoever is (or are) responsible for putting this site together and maintaining it ought to be commended. It is quite a site. The site describes itself as being dedicated to “Classic Articles and Resources of the Historic Christian Faith.” Its real focus is Reformed, Calvinistic theology—focusing on the stalwarts of the past, but including writers of recent vintage as well (R. C. Sproul and James Montgomery Boice come to mind, along with men of lesser name-recognition). It includes writings on topics ranging from Atonement to Worship, from Antinomianism to Justification, as well as large sections lifted from classic books and commentaries of the main Calvinistic theologians and preachers of the past. And you can add to that a great variety of sermons from the past and the present printed out in full. It is like having a good seminary library at your finger tips. What is in its ‘stacks’ goes on and on. It ties into other sites of theological interest as well. Let the browser who has other, more pressing, responsibilities beware.
Too bad the whole internet isn’t like this. One would not have such misgivings about use of the internet and going on-line.
Be that as it may, we bring this site to your attention not only in the hopes that the interested reader will put the site to good use, but because there are certain sections that are of special interest to us as Protestant Reformed. For instance, what caught our eye browsing through some of the site’s many ‘offerings’ was the topic of hyper-Calvinism. This for a Protestant Reformed preacher is always a matter of interest, if for no other reason than that we know that in ecclesiastical circles we are commonly labeled as the foremost remaining specimen of this error. One always wonders how the error will be represented and described, whose names and writings will appear for and against it, and whether names familiar to us will appear (be they friend or critic).
Well they do, and we are. That is, names familiar to us appear, and our own name as denomination comes up as well.
By and large the articles and writers listed for your reading pleasure under this section deal with the free offer of the gospel, and in a favorable light, as one might suspect (and fear).
But not all. A certain Steve Hays, while critical of Hoeksema’s stand against common grace, indicates he is convinced Hoeksema’s criticism of the free offer was valid and ought to be considered more seriously than it has been. One might wonder how one can approve of common grace while opposing the free offer of the gospel, since they have become so absolutely intertwined, but there it is. In one of his “blog responses” Hays makes some useful distinctions in the use of the word “offer,” pointing out that those who used it early on in various Reformed documents and confessions had something else in mind than those who now want to affix the adjectives “free” and “well-meant” to the word “offer.”
But read it for yourselves (under Triablogue). You might not agree with Hays’ appraisal that John Murray was a more careful and thorough exegete than Hoeksema (nor with a few other caveats as well), but then, he does go on record as recommending the much maligned Hoeksema as a theologian worth reading, with things of value to say. As they say, “We will take what we can get”; and “You can’t win them all.”
For one to go on record these days suggesting that he finds things in Hoeksema worth reading, recommending him for his “logical” thought, and then expect to be taken seriously in Reformed theological circles, takes a rare courage. These days you will be taken far more seriously if you go on record claiming to be a Calvinist, but then maintain that you cannot find any place really to fit eternal election (predestination) into one’s system of thought in any meaningful way, deny that election has any real bearing on the various other doctrines (e.g., the covenant of grace, the call of the gospel, or even justification these days), and insist you cannot see how it has much bearing on preaching and its content either.
It is strange. Every anti-Calvinist sees predestination as standing at the verycenter of Calvinistic theology and thought, part of the very texture and design of the Calvinistic fabric (and, for that very reason, wants no part either of it or of Him, that Master Weaver, the predestinating God); and yet it seems that just about every self-professed Calvinistic theologian of the past century or so has gone out of his way to demonstrate that really predestination is not all that central to the Calvinistic, Reformed way of looking at things. The grace of election and the truth of predestination is treated like a price tag affixed to the Calvinistic garment, to take note of, but having precious little to do with the texture and design of its fabric at all.
How strange. Is it any wonder why Calvinists and Arminians find themselves shopping at the same theological store these days?
Indeed, things do not quite add up. It is as if the opponents of Calvinism realize much more clearly what is at stake in confessing God to be a sovereign, predestinating God than its professed promoters. I find it utterly baffling at times. You would think that instead of seeing how adroitly they can extract the truth and reality of election (which makes salvation all of grace indeed— Eph. 1:4, 5 and Eph. 2:1-5) from key doctrines, the Calvinistic theologians would be striving instead to understand how this deeper wisdom of God (with the Christ of the covenant at its heart) has bearing on all the doctrines of grace.
What could be plainer in this connection than Paul’s book of Romans, written as the apostle struggled to come to grips with the mystery of God’s dealing with Israel, setting the nation of his ancestry aside, and sending the gospel with its promises to the Gentile nations instead. Has the Word of God (which is to say, the very truthfulness of God in keeping His word of promise) failed? How can that be! Ahhh, the answer. It has to do with election, the sovereign, predestinating purpose of God with a true Israel to be drawn from all humanity as known by God and given to Christ from the very beginning. And the lights went on. Now it can be explained. Deep is the wisdom of God. If you do not see that as you read Romans and get to the heart of Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11, all I can say is that you aren’t trying to understand Romans, you are looking for ways to get around the apostle’s plain case and argument.
But I digress—because I cannot understand why professing Calvinistic theologians are always trying to see how little bearing particular, personal election has on various doctrines, rather than striving to see the revealed predestinating purpose of God for His own woven into the whole.
Unless it embarrasses them somehow? But why?
All that being said, I must get back to the real reason for this article and the one that will follow, namely, the free offer of the gospel. This is my concern in the matter of hyper-Calvinism and its charge. That we are called names by some in this or that circle is not all that important to me. But the question in this instance is why? What is it that in the estimation of most of the Calvinistic church world renders us worthy of being dismissed as hyper-Calvinists?
The answer is not so difficult to ascertain. It has to do with our denial of the free offer of the gospel. And that is a matter of concern. What is at stake is nothing less than the gospel, the content of the preaching, yes its very marrow, how the precious name of Jesus will be offered (set before) all. And that is a matter of importance, supreme importance. For that reason, what I read in an article or two on the site warrants some response.
What is of interest, and even ironic, is that this section on (and against) hyper-Calvinism opens with a quote from Rev. Ron Hanko, and with approval. The quote is worth quoting in full because it exposes the true error of the true ‘hypers.’
The hyper-Calvinist, then, makes the same mistake as the Arminians and free-willists, only he draws a different conclusion. Both think that to command or demand repentance and faith of dead sinners must imply that such sinners are not dead and have in themselves the ability to repent and believe. The free-willist says, then: “To command must imply ability, therefore, men must have the ability.” The hyper-Calvinist says: “To command must imply ability, therefore we will not command any but the elect” (emphasis mine—kk).
Adding to the irony of it all is that the site concludes with the written transcript of the debate between Richard Mouw and Prof. David Engelsma on “Common Grace: Is It Reformed?”
So in a section warning against the danger of hyper-Calvinism, most of the articles of which are in favor of the free-offer, the first and last words are by two PR ministers.
Surely, that is how it should be!
Maybe the creator of the site does not know Rev. Ron Hanko’s affiliation. I have an idea, however, that he does, and perhaps has a sense humor as well. Cannot criticize a man for that.
On a more serious note is the opening article that is listed in the section of hyper-Calvinism. It is an article by a certain Phil Johnson. It is lifted from Mr. Johnson’s own personal site, under a section he labels “Bad Theology.” There he warns against the evils of hyper-Calvinism, spells out what he considers to be the chief earmarks of this dangerous heresy, and lists the Protestant Reformed churches as the prime representative of this deadly species still at large today. He has read Prof. David Engelsma’s book dealing with the free offer of the gospel, and he did not much like what he read. (The Professor is aware of the criticism and is well able to defend himself.)
Our concern is with what Mr. Johnson and others have decided defines hyper-Calvinism. What it amounts to is a redefinition. If such is allowed, no one is safe from being labeled with any heresy.
Next time we will have some quotes from Mr. Johnson, listing what he considers to be the earmarks of hyper-Calvinism, and considering the error of the free offer a bit more in depth.