What is Hyper-Calvinism?

by Mike Ratliff

11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 NASB)

At a former church in Oklahoma in 1997 I donated a great deal of my free time to rewire the office areas for network access, configured the networking gear they had and helped them get their peer-to-peer network operational. Not long after that, the church staff had the pastor’s secretary call me to come up to the church after work, which I did. When I got there, they presented me with a gift in gratitude. It was a John MacArthur Study Bible, which had just been released on the market. I still have it. One Sunday not long after this, I was talking with some fellow deacons in between services. One noticed my new Bible and told me that John MacArthur was a Hyper-Calvinist. That was actually the first time I had ever heard that term so I was not sure what he meant. I was not even sure what Calvinism was. I had never heard of the term Arminianism either.

A lot has changed since then. When I began studying doctrine I kept running into the vestiges of some very intense debates between Arminians and Calvinists. I studied them both and discovered that my own theology (such as it was) was simply a mishmash of both systems. I think this is the state of most Southern Baptists since doctrine is so lightly taught and, therefore, not understood well across the majority of the churches in that denomination. Over several months of study, prayer, and repentance, I came to the place where I became a five-point Calvinist. It was tough. When I began blogging and participating in “discussions” across the Internet about these things, I experienced my first taste of ridicule, accusation, and outright hostility because I was a Calvinist. The term Hyper-Calvinist was “hurled” a great deal against all Reformed believers in those discussions. To be honest, I was not prepared for that.

I did more research and found excellent resources at Monergism.com, A Puritans Mind, and many others that had scholarly articles that laid out the differences between Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Calvinism, and Hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism interested me quite a bit because of the accusations. It was as I studied it that I saw clearly that it was not genuine Calvinism at all and, in fact, was the culprit behind the ending of the Great Awakening in the mid-18th Century. Follow this link to a fine article that clearly lays out what Hyper-Calvinism really is. It was also through this study that I saw that true Calvinism is highly evangelical. No one would argue that Charles Spurgeon was a Hyper-Calvinist since he was called the “Prince of Preachers” and preached the gospel fervently until his death. However, He was a 5-point Calvinist as was John Broadus and Asahel Nettlton. John MacArthur is no Hyper-Calvinist either.

What each of us should do who are Calvinists is examine ourselves to see if we are leaning too far towards the hyper side of Reformed theology. We must never forget that God created a system of salvation based on His Sovereignty while Man is still responsible to repent and believe. We are under orders to make disciples from all nations. We elect no one. That is God’s purview not ours. Just as we deny that people are saved through “decisional regeneration” we also deny that people are saved through “doctrinal regeneration.”

I am amazed when I run across a person who is just as I was before 2004 when God changed everything. Their spiritual immaturity is amazingly blind. This makes them vulnerable to all sorts of bad theology and wrong focus as those who know how to manipulate people do so within them with a vengeance. Their devotion to their local church or denomination is idolatrous and their pride in belonging to their “group” who believes just like them is the evidence of that blindness. I am speaking from my own experience here my brethren. I remember very well what I was like back then. I also remember very well as I was awakened from that spiritual confusion how many who I thought were my friends became quite vicious with me, calling me a Hyper-Calvinist, as I told them the truth. What struck me about that though was that they had no basis for their wrath. They could not give me a concrete reason for their resistance let alone any scripture to back up why they hated Reformed Theology so. The reason is, of course, that they were ensnared by the idol of Free Will. It keeps its victims in ignorance because any serious study of God’s Word reveals the fallacy of it. It is very similar to the idol of Hyper-Calvinism, however; in its case, the blinding mechanism is doctrinal pride rather then ignorance.

My brethren, as I stated above, we should examine ourselves and repent of what God shows us. Let us forsake doctrinal pride of any type. We are nothing nor can we do anything good outside of God’s grace as we abide in Christ (John 15).

Soli Deo Gloria!

23 thoughts on “What is Hyper-Calvinism?

  1. This was a much needed article. Many lump all ‘calvinists’ or ‘reformed’ into the Hyper-Calvinism group. They only know what they’ve heard without reading how glorious reformed doctrine (NOT hyper) is. Thank you for writing about it, Mike.
    Soli Deo Gloria- indeed!


  2. Thanks for clarifying the issue. I have to agree with you fully, I believe the 5 doctrines of grace does not make anyone a hyper-calvinist, nor should it make anyone non-evangelistic.
    Just one quick point. As a Baptist that believes in all 5 doctrines of grace, I do not consider myself a Calvinist.
    To me, the title Calvinist implies that I am a follower of John Calvin’s teachings. Although I may agree with him concerning God’s working of grace in the salvation experience of man, there is MUCH upon which I disagree with Calvin…his beliefs concerning baptism, the last things, the universal church etc.
    Therefore, although many would give me the title Calvinist, I AM NOT A FOLLOWER OF CALVIN AND HIS TEACHINGS. I am a follower of Christ and His teachings (which I believe most closely align with Baptist doctrine) who happens to agree with Calvin’s teachings on grace.

    Again, thanks for a great posting. Lord bless you.


  3. Mike, I am so reminded of my experience in the last church I was in….I was in effect , thrown out..for liking the doctrines of grace, distributing works of Spurgeon, arguing that a true believer can never lose his salvation.. mostly for questioning the elders about doctrine..
    Was compared to Uzzah….(in 2 Samuel 6) for doing the last ! It was only then that I realised how Arminian the leaders were…
    In a few weeks the Lord led me to find what is, perhaps, the only church of the reformed tradition in our city. Haven’t found any other….and we are a tiny church and in some way affiliated to MacArthur’s Grace Community Church . Isn’t the Lord wonderful in His ways?!


  4. Rob, then you and I and Dr. James White are in full agreement. I think that lines us up with brother John Bunyan as well. 🙂 Reformed Baptists you and I are aligned with theologically will find that what we believe is also what the Reformed Baptist puritans believed and put forth as the London Baptist Confession of 1689.


  5. Mike, thanks for this article (and the one you linked to about your own change of mind in this area). I get weary of the condescension and mockery from other Christians who are “tired of the the Calvinist/Arminian debate”, as if its so obvious that Calvinists are wrong and we should all just move on to more important things. If mischaracterizing the Doctrines of Grace doesn’t work, then they resort to “well its just a paradox and we’ll never fully understand it so let’s just let it alone”. But I believe its very important what we believe about salvation and God’s sovereignty, because it ripples throughout all other areas of what we believe about God. And from what I’ve seen, the belief in man’s unhindered free will is at the root of so many of the false teachings that have overtaken the church today. It’s so encouraging to hear others, such as yourself, who feel that what we believe about this topic does matter!


  6. Thanks Penelope, yes, you nailed it. This is the dividing line. What you believe about the Sovereignty of God and the free will of man affects how you handle all aspects of theology. How do you pray for the lost? How do you pray for a sick and/or dying person to be healed? How do you pray for missions? How do you pray for the Kingdom to come, et cetera? We call for all believers to handle the Word of God consistently. If they do then these issues will be resolved easily and quickly. The reason these “debates” or “conflicts” or whatever is that people refuse to do so. I have long held to the belief that one of Satan’s main weapons is confusion which leads people into the inability to reason. This is why we must stay in the Word, pray for wisdom and discernment and obey the Lord in all things. If we do this, then we may be pariahs in the eyes of those who hate the truth, but those in the Lord will see that and repent.


  7. Mike, per your comment about confusion and the inability to reason. I constantly have to remind myself of the spiritual aspect behind all this, and that’s a big part of the battle for me. I keep asking and wondering … “why are people so against this doctrine when it seems to be so clearly presented in the Word”? It continues to shock me time after time and I am working on learning to expect it. Because some days it does begin to feel as if maybe I’m the one missing something obvious. It’s a battle, that’s for sure.


  8. Penelope, you are a thinker. So am I. However, we are also called to stand firm and be involved in the battle. When we know the truth and we are involved with people who are in error there is always that part of us that demands we keep silent or back away or not get involved in it. Why? If we stand for truth and present the truth this makes us RESPONSIBLE for DEFENDING it. That is huge. It is a big step to go from knowing the truth to defending the truth. However, that is what all of are called to do.


  9. I loved this article because it’s very similar to what my husband and I have experienced in the past 7 years as we’ve come to embrace reformed theology. Both of us were raised non-denominational. A Presbyterian friend of ours made an innocent comment to me a few years ago “It’s amazing that we can be such good friends, since I’m Calvinist and you’re Arminian. I was like, “What’s an Arminian?” I had no idea what she was talking about. Once we started looking into the matter, it was as if all of the puzzle pieces finally came together. We were like, “How did we miss this before?!” God is so good!!!


  10. Pingback: What is Hyper-Calvinism? | GalatiaU

  11. KB, YES! Yes, he is. He brings his people to faith regardless of the theological morass surrounding them. I’m not at all surprised that real believers can be such good friends who are not lined theologically in these things. Why? We all have the same Lord and he draws us together. How much closer we are though when we come to know our God more intimately as he has revealed himself in his Word!


  12. Great article! I find so many Christians are quite “ignorant” of basic doctrine, and happy to be that way. The Bible Study I taught last fall/winter was on Hermaneutics and then on the difference kinds of Theology (such as Covenant Theology). When discussing what to do this year, one person said “I’d like to go back to studying the Bible”! Duh, what were we studying, Grimm’s Fairy tales? It’s sad, especially in this “information age” that we live in where people don’t want to take the time to study and research for themselves.

    Thank you and keep up the great articles! We need your expertise. Blessings~~~


  13. April, what a great tandem of classes! Hermeneutics then Covenant Theology! If you take those two and if you “get it” in both of them then man does the Bible open up for you. I just finished Michael Horton’s book Introducing Covenant Theology and it was far more in depth than just an intro type book. I loved it. After going through that book I can now look back on all those years of “churchology,” that is, Christianity minus any definite theology that is so prevalent in so much of Western Christianity and I see my rescue from it over the last 20 years or so as God’s work alone. The visible church is full of idols and false doctrine. This has produced Christians that are confused and all focused on their religiosity rather than on knowing what they believe and why they believe it. When we reach that stage of knowing then we can also obey grow and become those Christlike believers our Lord desires.


  14. It would be huge if I did that here Dennis, but here is what the London Baptist Confession of Faith from 1689 says about it:


    Paragraph 1. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.1
    1 Matt. 17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19

    Paragraph 2. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God,2 but yet was unstable, so that he might fall from it.3
    2 Eccles. 7:29
    3 Gen. 3:6

    Paragraph 3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;4 so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin,5 is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.6
    4 Rom. 5:6, 8:7
    5 Eph. 2:1,5
    6 Titus 3:3-5; John 6:44

    Paragraph 4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin,7 and by His grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;8 yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions, he does not perfectly, nor only will, that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.9
    7 Col. 1:13; John 8:36
    8 Phil. 2:13
    9 Rom. 7:15,18,19,21,23

    Paragraph 5. This will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in
    the state of glory only.10
    10 Eph. 4:13


  15. Very good post! There are far too many muddled and befuddled “Christians”(?) out there who have no clue what they believe because they are following a ‘someone’ NOT the Only One. Lately it seems to me that believers aren’t afraid of doctrine, but are afraid to stray too far from their pastor/leader/teacher. We are all told to study ourselves to be approved… a worker of the Lord Jesus who rightly knows the truth of Scripture.
    So pleased I found you blog site!!
    Be blessed in your service to the King of Kings!


  16. Yes, the confusion relies in ignorance! I have met a few who claim to be Calvinist, but believe being 5 point is Hyper-Calvinism. Limited Atonement makes them nervous believing it contradicts God’s omni-benevolence. Others state if we hold to Election we are boasting of elitism, “Elect” Christian compared to those who are “non Elect” – Oy!


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