Archive for the ‘Curt Daniel’ Category

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

March 14, 2010

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.

Conclusion

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

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John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (?)

December 10, 2008

One oft-repeated charge against the great theologian, John Gill, has been that is a “hyper-Calvinist.” Leading the way amongst the crowd of folks levying such a charge would seem to be Dr. Curt Daniel, whose 900 page doctoral thesis was titled “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill.” I was pleased to see that at least one person has found the time to provide a detailed review of the thesis (link). It seems to me that the most valuable part of the book review is found in a few short paragraphs:

By failing to make this fundamental distinction, Daniel labels all who deny the “offer” as hyper-Calvinists, regardless what specific doctrine of the offer they have in mind. The result is that those whose rejection of the “offer” consists of a denial of universal love dependent on the will of the sinner are tarred with Daniel’s broad brush of hyper-Calvinism, even though they preach to all and call all to believe in Jesus Christ.

The second fault is gross. Daniel argues that genuine Calvinism is the doctrine of a saving love of God and a death of Jesus Christ for all without exception. On this basis, the proper “offer” is, in fact, the “bold declaration” to all who hear the gospel, “God loves you, Christ died for you, and now God pleads with you to believe so that you may be saved” (p. 459). Accompanying this offer is “a sufficient common grace” that enables all to accept the offer, if only they will (pp. 161, 162).

It is Daniel’s basic thesis that hyper-Calvinism began to develop when, after Calvin, the Reformed faith adopted limited atonement. This jeopardized the offer. What is necessary for the warding off of hyper-Calvinism is the embrace of universal atonement. This involves repudiating the decree of reprobation.

This is the remedy for hyper-Calvinism! This exotic mixture of Arminianism and Amyraldianism, Daniel calls, with a kind of fetching modesty, “Low Calvinism.” It is, indeed, low – very low. It is abased and debased “Calvinism.” The glory of salvation in this gospel belongs to the sinner. Using his “sufficient common grace” rightly, he not only saves himself by accepting the offer but also makes the death of Christ atoning and the love of God successful.

Nevertheless, I encourage the reader to check out the entirety of the book review for himself.

Undoubtedly, Gill made errors – but to label Gill a Hyper-Calvinist is really quite imbalanced and inappropriate. I submit as evidence this commentary by John Gill on Matthew 11:28:

Mat 11:28 – Come unto me,…. Christ having signified, that the knowledge of God, and the mysteries of grace, are only to be come at through him; and that he has all things relating to the peace, comfort, happiness, and salvation of men in his hands, kindly invites and encourages souls to come unto him for the same: by which is meant, not a local coming, or a coming to hear him preach; for so his hearers, to whom he more immediately directed his speech, were come already; and many of them did, as multitudes may, and do, in this sense, come to Christ, who never knew him, nor receive any spiritual benefit by him: nor is it a bare coming under the ordinances of Christ, submission to baptism, or an attendance at the Lord’s supper, the latter of which was not yet instituted; and both may be performed by men, who are not yet come to Christ: but it is to be understood of believing in Christ, the going of the soul to him, in the exercise of grace on him, of desire after him, love to him, faith and hope in him: believing in Christ, and coming to him, are terms synonymous, Joh_6:35. Those who come to Christ aright, come as sinners, to a full, suitable, able, and willing Saviour; venture their souls upon him, and trust in him for righteousness, life, and salvation, which they are encouraged to do, by this kind invitation; which shows his willingness to save, and his readiness to give relief to distressed minds. The persons invited, are not “all” the individuals of mankind, but with a restriction,

all ye that labour, and are heavy laden; meaning, not these who are labouring in the service of sin and Satan, are laden with iniquity, and insensible of it: these are not weary of sin, nor burdened with it; not do they want or desire any rest for their souls; but such who groan, being burdened with the guilt of sin upon their consciences, and are pressed down with the unsupportable yoke of the law, and the load of human traditions; and have been labouring till they are weary, in order to obtain peace of conscience, and rest for their souls, by the observance of these things, but in vain. These are encouraged to come to him, lay down their burdens at his feet, look to, and lay hold by faith on his person, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; when they should enjoy that true spiritual consolation, which could never be attained to by the works of the law.

And I will give you rest; spiritual rest here, peace of conscience, ease of mind, tranquillity of soul, through an application of pardoning grace, a view of free justification by the righteousness of Christ, and full atonement of sin by his sacrifice; and eternal rest hereafter, in Abraham’s bosom, in the arms of Jesus, in perfect and uninterrupted communion with Father, Son, and Spirit. The Jews say (y), that מנוחת תורה, “the law is rest”; and so explain Gen_49:15 of it: but a truly sensible sinner enjoys no rest, but in Christ; it is like Noah’s dove, which could find no rest for the soles of its feet, until it returned to the ark; and they themselves expect perfect rest in the days of the Messiah, and call his world מנוחה, rest (z).

(y) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 39. 3. (z) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 150. 2.

-TurretinFan


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