Sunday, March 14, 2010

Curt Daniel's Thesis: Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill

Fred Butler had asked for my opinion of Dr. Daniel's doctoral thesis (March, 1983) on the topic of John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (the title simply reads: "Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill"). As I mentioned to him immediately, I have a copy of the thesis, but I'm not read to give my full opinion of it. Nevertheless, I may be able to provide a few thoughts on it. The thoughts relate to the use of Dr. Daniel's thesis in two ways: (1) as an alleged demonstration that John Gill is Hyper-Calvinist and (2) as a standard for "Hyper-Calvinism" in discussions of that label.

I. Was Dr. Daniel's treatise aimed at addressing the issue of whether Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist?

The key question to the dissertation is the question of the definition of Hyper-Calvinism. The preface of the treatise explains, "The immediate aim of this work will be seen to be the definition of what has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism." (p. vi) The careful reader will note the odd result of this methodology. "Hyper-Calvinism" is to be treated as a label that is already applied to a nebulous thing, and the aim is simply to help determine the boundaries of that nebulous thing. The aim is not, evidently, to determine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, the aim is to determine what "Hyper-Calvinism" must include, given its existing usage against Gill.

We see this same principle of approach explained more clearly in the "Summary" section:
Since the Reformation, there have arisen several varieties of theology associated with John Calvin. One of the most extreme has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism, but scholars have not been agreed as to what exactly constitutes this school. By a thorough examination of the works of those usually cited as Hyper-Calvinists in the context of the on-going progress of Calvinism in general, a definite pattern can be detected and through an investigation of the pertinent doctrines a definition of the term 'Hyper-Calvinism' can be attained.
(p. x)

Notice then that Daniel does not propose to examine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist, but rather proceeds based on the assumption that Gill has been properly labeled a Hyper-Calvinist and seeks to define Hyper-Calvinism based on Gill's theology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Daniel is remarkably vague in terms of what constitutes hyper-calvinism for him. In the "Summary" section, Daniel states:
Specifically this means that the most tangible tenet of Hyper-Calvinism has been the rejection of the theology of the Free Offer (with special reference to the word offer'), Duty-Faith (that saving faith in Christ is required by the Moral Law of all who hear the Gospel), and indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities.
(p. x)

One wonders whether Daniel means to suggest that Hyper-Calvinism has some intangible tenets in addition to the tangible ones. Nevertheless, let me provide a few comments on this pseudo-definition of "Hyper-Calvinism" as applied to Gill.

It does seem that Gill did not like to use the term "offer" in reference to the gospel and that Gill distinguished carefully between the moral law and the gospel. These points seem (at least on their face) to agree with Daniel's description of Gill. Finally, it would be hard to imagine that Gill (as a Calvinist) could fail to reject indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities, since those privileges and responsibilities belong to the redeemed (and Calvinists reject universal redemption). Gill, however, did teach that the gospel is to be preached to men indiscriminately. Thus, if one were to consider "redemptive privileges and responsibilities" to simply mean the gospel, then Daniel's description would not appear to be accurate.

My point in this post, however, is not to argue with Daniel's characterization of Gill (that would require me to do more than state my facial agreement or disagreement with him). Instead, my point is to note that Daniel's thesis proceeds from the assumption that there is a nebulous thing referred to by the time of Daniel's writing (1983) as "Hyper-Calvinism" and the assumption that John Gill's theology is within the boundaries of that theological label.

Thus, in debates over the proper use of the label "Hyper-Calvinism" it would not be appropriate to claim that Dr. Daniel's lengthy thesis is proof that Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist. It did not aim to provide that proof, and the methodology employed by Curt Daniel guaranteed that Gill would fall within the boundaries of "Hyper-Calvinism" regardless of the details of Gill's theology.

We have, sadly, seen quite a number of people attempt to argue that Gill must be a Hyper-Calvinist on Dr. Daniel's authority. As noted above, however, the bulk of Daniel's thesis is concerned simply with defining "Hyper-Calvinism" on the basis of Gill, not determining whether Gill should be included in the label. There is a brief section (pp. 746-67) that interacts a little with Englesma over whether the label is correct, but that is hardly the focus of Dr. Daniel's work.

II. If we use Dr. Daniel's thesis to define Hyper-Calvinism, what is the result?

One obvious result of using Dr. Daniel's thesis to define "Hyper-Calvinism" is that my beloved brethren in the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) will end up getting labeled. Dr. Daniel explains:
This could be summarized even further: it is the rejection of the word 'offer' in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons. In all our researches, the only real tangible thing which differentiates the Hyper from the High Calvinists is the word 'offer'. The Supralapsarians were brought to the very door of Hyper-Calvinism but those who accepted free offers failed to enter into the realm of the most extreme variety of Calvinism that the history of Reformed theology has yet seen.
(p. 767)

The PRC has historically opposed the use of the term "offer" in connection with the gospel, because of the connotations associated with that word. They have rightly noted that in relatively modern times the term has become associated with a synergistic soteriology. There was an older Reformed usage, however, and that usage is reflected in documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith. For example:
Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
(London Baptist Confession of Faith 7:2)

Also see:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
(Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3)

Even see:
The olde Testament is not contrary to the newe, for both in the olde and newe Testament euerlastyng lyfe is offered to mankynde by Christe, who is the onlye mediatour betweene God and man, being both God and man.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man.
(Thirty Nine Articles, 7)

Thus, those Presbyterians of the Scottish tradition (such as myself) and Reformed Baptists (such as my friend, Dr. James White) have confessional grounds for using the term in a specific way that predates the modern times. In contrast, the three forms of unity (Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism), which reflect the Dutch heritage of the PRC, do not include a similar usage of "offer."

There is also some Continental precedent for "offer" usage:
What Is the Church? The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, namely, of those who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all benefits which are freely offered through Christ.
(Second Helvetic Confession, 17)

See also:
Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, "It is a trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:12Ä13). Neither is this call without result for those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these "all" are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from his special and definite purpose. But that, by God's will, the elect alone believe in the external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God
(Formula Consensus Helvetica, Canon 19)

This precedent, however, is Swiss - not Dutch - and consequently not so persuasive to our Dutch Reformed brethren. Thus, some of the most conservative of them (particularly those in PRC) continue to oppose the use of the term "offer" in connection with evangelism, even while taking the position that this is simply consistent Calvinism, not "hyper-Calvinism." They continue to oppose that term, even while maintaining the duty of all sinners to repent - and even while continuing to evangelize the lost indiscriminately.


The main point above has been to demonstrate that it is inappropriate to argue that Dr. Daniel's doctoral thesis is a 900 page demonstration of Gill's alleged Hyper-Calvinism. Instead, it is a 900 page work that takes Gill's identity as a Hyper-Calvinist largely as an unproven premise. Pointing that fact out is not the same as providing a demonstration that the premise was wrong.

Secondarily, we have noted that those who are confessional Presbyterians (aside from the Dutch) or Reformed Baptists tend to avoid Dr. Daniel's definition of Hyper-Calvinism, even if only narrowly. Whether or not we reject his definition as grouping those who truly deny man's responsibility with those who truly hold to man's responsibility, we may note that Dr. Daniel's definition is not broad enough for the purposes of those who have, in recent times, attempted to rely upon him.

One final note before closing. Dr. Daniel seems to vacillate a little over the issue of what constitutes "Calvinism." At certain times he seems to attempt to use Calvin's theology to define Calvinism. However, towards the conclusion of the thesis we find an interesting acknowledgment:
In a similar way, it has long been popular to define 'Calvinism' in terms of the 'Five Points of Calvinism'. Without arguing the point that Calvin himself does not speak of 'Five Points', it must be acknowledged that these Points were formulated at Dort and are historically and technically more appropriate to defining 'Calvinism' than 'Calvin's theology'. Whether there is a difference between the two is another matter.
(pp. 760-61)

- TurretinFan


steve said...

I'd also note that we should avoid letting the opposition define the terms of the debate, and shift the focus from truth to labels.

Of course, if the opposition uses a prejudicial label, then that needs to be corrected.

But, ultimately, the only important question is whether or not a given position is true or false, and not how it is labeled.

Opponents of Calvinism frequently resort to prejudicial labels and prejudicial slogans ("Hypercalvinist!" "Author of sin!)" to shortcircuit the argument.

Godismyjudge said...

Thus, those Presbyterians of the Scottish tradition (such as myself) and Reformed Baptists (such as my friend, Dr. James White) have confessional grounds for using the term in a specific way that predates the modern times. In contrast, the three forms of unity (Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism), which reflect the Dutch heritage of the PRC, do not include a similar usage of "offer."

Dort's lingo seems close enough.

The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Turretinfan said...


That's within a denial.

Another denial makes it more explicit:

Article 14: The Way God Gives Faith

In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent--the act of believing--from man's choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.

Turretinfan said...

I don't wish for my previous statement to be taken as suggesting that there is disagreement within Dordt, or even that the synod necessarily would have disagreed with positively stating the matter. There are, nevertheless, two ambiguities with respect to the passage you mention:

1) it is in a negative clause; and

2) it is not clear to whom the offer is being made.

steve said...

Is the ambiguity in the Latin, or is that an artifact of the English translation?

Godismyjudge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Godismyjudge said...


Here’s the latin:

Quod multi per ministerium Evangelii vocati, non veniunt et non convertuntur, hujus culpa non est in Evangelio, nec in Christo per Evangelium oblato, nec in Deo per Evangelium vocante, et dona etiam varia iis conferente, sed in vocatis ipsis, quorum aliqui verbum vitæ non admittunt securi; alii admittunt quidem, sed non in cor immittunt, ideoque post evanidum fidei temporariæ gaudium resiliunt; alii spinis curaram et voluptatibus sæculi semen verbi suffocant, fructusque nullos proferunt; quod Servator noster seminis parabola docet, Matt. xiii.

A literal transition of the phrase ‘nec in Christo per Evangelium oblato’ would be ‘nor on Christ by the Gospel offered’. Gospel is the subject that performed the completed action of offering.

Looking at the context, the completed offering seems to refer back to the "many who are called through the ministry of the gospel". Perhaps TF has a different take.

God be with you,

Andrew Suttles said...

TFan -

Did you intend to write the following?

Gill, however, did teach that the gospel is to be preached to me indiscriminately.

Are you trying to tell us something, or is the word "me" a typo? :)

Andrew Suttles said...

Michael Haykin of the Andrew Fuller Center recently presented a paper on Gill and Hyper-Calvinism at a Church Conference. The paper can be found here: Hyper-Calvinism and the Theology of John Gill.

A recent post on Haykin's blog announcing the posting is here.

Andrew Suttles said...

I'd also like to post a link to a series of blog posts on this very subject by Paul Helm. The posts were pointed out on Dr. Haykin's blog, also.

Post 1.

Turretinfan said...

"Are you trying to tell us something, or is the word "me" a typo? :)"

LOL - thanks for the correction.

Turretinfan said...


The Latin use of "oblata" does not completely remove the ambiguity. The verb is in a perfect passive participle, which would tend to confirm a reference to Christ's accomplished offering of himself to the Father.

I wouldn't necessarily be strictly opposed to the interpretation Dan is giving it. I'm simply noting that the likely objections of those who would not view "offer" as confessionally mandated terminology.

- TurretinFan

Strong Tower said...

Well Andrew, what's the point? The two contradict one another. Both men are gracious in their treatment of the opposition. Helm's presentation is much more convincing Haykin's. Gill has been set up as the smoking gun for those who want to smoke out what Helms is correct about, Gill was not hyper-Calvinist. Nor is White, nor is Johnson, nor are almost all who follow the system named after Jean. Haykin would follow, I suppose the WCF/2LBCF's warning about in handling the teaching of the doctrine of predestination, wisely. Neither men deny that doctrine, no orthodox Christian does. But the boys who would slam the barn door shut on Calvinism in the SBC will not have any of it. It is they that keep stirring the pot with inflamatory falsehoods and accusations. They glom on to nuance of words but not in the innocence of scholarship but the interest of agenda. And scholars are often wrong in their interpretations of others making the orchard ripe for cherry picking. They often struggle with words to express what they mean. That doesn't make their meaning wrong. The fault resides in the fallibility of the hearers, usually, as we all know that we can be taken wrongly when we mean well.

I think Haykin is wrong in more than one way. He is to be thanked for his efforts, but in his paper, his own prejudicial predispositions cry out in his assertions that have no grounding in the paper. It is obvious that he has imported what he believes to be the case into his investigation. He has contaminated the crime scene, albeit innocently.

This is alot of what ynottony/Tony/Byrne does. Haykin though, doesn't harbor the hatred that seems to burn in the rhetoric of the Allensian school of all things anti-Calvinist.

Andrew Suttles said...

ST -

"Well Andrew, what's the point? The two contradict one another."

Sorry, I didn't realize that. I've had the Haykin paper open on my desktop for a few days now and haven't found the time to read it. I'm really surprised to hear your summary of his conclusions. I thought Haykin was a Calvinist. It sounds like you are saying he is not. I wasn't trying to argue for/against Dr. Daniel's thesis so much as to provide another sournce of information that I recently came across.

As to our Baptist brothers who deny the doctrines of grace, we need to interact with them in a spirit of grace and humility. If we challenge them by Scripture, they will search the Scriptures and come to these conclusions themselves.

Strong Tower said...

No, I am not challenging his Calvinism, just his conclusion and his branding Gill hyper. Helms is Calvinist and disagrees. I happen to think Helms is right. I am not very familiar with Haykin. I didn't appreciate his opinionating in the middle of discursive writing and that in reference to Gill's theological milieu having a chilling effect on evangelism/missions. It is a view that is myopic, a tale told by the Arminian faction, neglecting 99% of missionary efforts in christendom and in the realm of Reformation chuches. I attend a PCA, now. It supports a mission established nearly 300 years ago, in Africa. Carey might well be the father of modern missions, but surely only within a very confined cirle of influence.

I thank you for the source. I read Helm often but hadn't read anything by Haykin until now.

A final note. I am not very kind, though I wasn't trying to be unkind to you. I make it a game. It is a persona I have taken on because it is the way the opposition acts. They have cowtow the Calvinists, so, I use their language and harsh rhetoric and they just don't seem to get it. Often, my friends around Cavlington miss it too. I try to point to truth, though I am just like anyone else, blind to my own prejudices until I am slapped upside my knowledge base. Compared to TF and steve up there, I am sandwich board, hawking others wares.

Strong Tower said...


if you understand me better, you're one up on my wife.