An Open Letter to Thomas Ascol and Earnest C. Reisiger,

Editors of The Foundation Journal.

Dear Brethren in Christ,

     You will be aware that until the late eighties in Britain and on the Continent of Europe, the issue of Calvinism v. Hyper-Calvinism was not a major factor in evangelical debate. There is much evidence to suggest that it was not even a minor factor. After 1988, however, certain orthodox Calvinistic leaders had a frightening vision of Hyper-Calvinism flooding evangelicalism. They took this as a sign from God, authorising them to make the combating of Hyper-Calvinism a major issue in their programme of evangelism.

     Since then, it appears that there has been a revival of Hyper-Calvinism in Great Britain and The Netherlands and the campaigners against it now feel justified in their action. What appears to be, does not always reflect what is. Cleansing the churches of Hyper-Calvinism has become an issue throughout evangelical and reformed churches. This debate is, however, back-firing on the intentions of its sponsors. It is doing tremendous harm and limiting the spread of the gospel radically. It has resulted in brother being suspicious of brother and one cannot help noticing that brethren are being unjustly accused of Hyper-Calvinism who were, according to former standards, quite orthodox. Those who preach God’s sovereignty, election, predestination and effectual atonement now seem invariably to be labelled ‘Hypers’. With their backs to the wall, these men are becoming over-suspicious of their accusers and over-reacting. They are tempted to view others as Arminians merely because they say that God is love, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the gospel ought to be preached to all men everywhere as the Spirit leads. What is actually happening is that the full gospel of redemption through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is being split down the middle and two conflicting gospels are being artificially created. Striving to heal the breach, some brethren, hopelessly out of their depth theologically, are saying that there is a third gospel, which is the true gospel, namely the gospel of paradox. It all reminds one of Babel! What is more, none of these gospels is being preached with a view to the conversion of souls but with a view to scoring over the alleged enemy.

     You have both set up two highly dubious theories which echo the manifestos of the present sponsors of the Hyper-Calvinism controversy. You maintain that where orthodox Calvinism is alive and active, Hyper-Calvinism will raise its ugly head. This theory destroys itself as it works both ways. Hyper-Calvinism was almost none existent until the recent debate started. This suggests to me that when the orthodox faith is strong, Hyper-Calvinism fears to show its ugly face. On the other hand, there is ample evidence to show that, because of the present debate, full reformed preaching has been weakened greatly and, if we are to believe recent articles of yours, Hyper-Calvinism was never such a threat as now.

     The second dubious theory is to use the maxim “Forewarned is fore-armed” as a reason for diverting evangelical energies into highly-controversial side-tracks. This reminds me of the ‘reforms’ in sex education in schools. Teach the kids sex from Kindergarten age and there will be fewer illegitimate children, they told us in the sixties. Of course, human nature being what it is, there are so many illegitimate children nowadays, they have stopped even calling them such and the practice receives general approval. Since then marriage itself is deemed by many as a superfluous binding. Here in Holland (I live near the border), liberal teaching on drugs and liberal access to them were initially designed to put people off drugs. Now Holland has a terrible problem with escalating drug addiction. In moral and spiritual things, given the perversity of man, to forewarn is often to disarm! It is obvious for all to see that the present debate which has been artificially thrust upon us for the alleged purpose of forewarning us is producing the very state against which we are supposed to be warned. Actually, you contradict yourselves here. The realist in you sometimes triumphs over the theorist. You both believe that there has been a renewal of Calvinism which has not been accompanied by a growth of Hyper-Calvinism. Then why pretend that it has? Why write articles such as If I were your son . . . and An Open Letter About Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism as if Hyper-Calvinism is, very much with us (Ascol) or, banging at the door (Reisinger)? Why are you calling ‘Fire’ when not even yourselves have seen a blaze or even a puff of smoke? Why cause panic?

     What is strange about your articles is that you write of Hyper-Calvinism as if everybody knew what you were talking about. I must be a very poor reader as I became quite frustrated trying to imagine just to whom you were referring as you never told me. Then, right at the end of the issue, you make an attempt at a definition. If this had been put at the beginning, you would have helped readers no end. There is much in the definition which suggests that what Americans call Hyper-Calvinism is different to what is claimed in Britain. Yours is also more theologically defensible. It would thus pay you to be more cautious about what British views you let loose on your churches with the latest 1,500 free copy offer of Iain Murray’s latest book. Iain has made it quite clear that his criteria are different. Much broader and with intricate detail but not allowing for freedom of conscience on these matters. They have become a new kind of Traditions of the Elders. The broader the surface of an argument, the more it leaves itself open to criticism.

     The Banner’s is a system of negatives. Hyper-Calvinists are those who do not preach the gospel to unbelievers; do not believe that a sinner need not be made ‘sensible’ by the Spirit before becoming aware of his lost state; do not believe that saving faith is a duty of the law; do not preach that every sinner can be guaranteed salvation; do not use terms such as ‘the free offer` because they have become ambiguous and are not Scriptural; do not believe that the flesh cannot be made righteous; do not believe that election and predestination are on reception; do not hold that justification is merely ‘as if’; do not believe that repentance and faith are human conditions of salvation but believe that all conditions for our salvation were settled by Christ; do not refer to Christ’s sufferings alone as the condition of salvation but also to his obedience to the law; do not believe that Christ was above the law and had no need to fulfil it in all respects; do not accept that Christ did not put Himself under the law and have no teaching on holiness which they feel is ‘imputed’ only.

     These are items I have picked up recently in the evangelical press and from regular correspondence with some fifty friends and critics. If I thought about the matter longer, I would certainly remember more. I am not saying even Iain uses all these criteria, though I suspect he uses most. His followers are either slowly coming into this kind of thinking or quickly leaving so they do not necessary hold to all these points. As you will clearly see, most of these denials were common to our Reformers and preachers of the 18th century revival, including absolute jewels of orthodoxy such as Whitefield and Hervey. Actually the only safe pointer of Hyper-Calvinism which would come near your definition is not preaching to unbelievers. Sad, for them, however, the Bannerites have not come up with one person’s name who did not preach to believers, although they have claimed that a number of preachers to thousands have held such ideas. I would add not seeing the need for holiness to my definition of an imaginary Hyper-Calvinist. I have never met such a ‘Christian’, nor read of one. My humble opinion is that these guys just do not exist and the whole exercise that Iain has set on foot is one unholy waste of good gospel time. If you examine the Bannerite or Hulsean, (call it what you will), view of Hyper-Calvinism, you will find that the only men, historically speaking, who are exempt from suspicion are Latitudinarians, Neo-Platonists, Fullerites, Chandlerians and the New Divinity School. People, of course, who skated on the far borders of orthodoxy. Even Andrew Fuller would not be fully exempt because of his views of the gospel as explained to Button and Taylor.

     Holding this extreme negative view, has, indeed, made Bannerism, as it has come to be called, rub out the names of many saints from their book of orthodoxy. Think of John Brown of Whitburn. He was judged as ‘moderate’ by his contemporaries. He wrote that a wise preacher who was grounded in the Scriptures would not use the following ‘unevangelical expressions’:

“God is reconcilable; Make your peace with God; Sinners may hope in God, but they must not immediately appropriate him; Fall in with the terms of the gospel; Christ and salvation are freely offered to penitent sinners; Fulfil the conditions of the covenant on your part, and God will fulfil those on his.”

     This ‘moderate’ would be accused by today’s Bannerite enthusiasts as been the rankest Hyper-Calvinist. Brown was thinking of gentle James Hervey’s all-round ministry when he complimented him in this way. Hervey, whom Balleinesees as the first evangelical pastor in the Midlands and Whitefield pronounced him one of the holiest men this world had ever seen. Read Hervey on the distinction between law and gospel. All duties are under the law. Everything pertaining to faith and salvation are under the gospel. There was no law-gospel mishmash for him! Wesley told Hervey that he was an Antinomian. Bannerism would agree but they claim not to be Arminians themselves but reformed men. Think too of Whitefield and Romaine on actual justification. It was Whitefield’s sermon on justification which sealed Hervey’s salvation but this sermon is Antinomian to modern hunters of Hyper-Calvinists. Romaine has already been thrown out by the Banner. Did not Iain deny in a Banner article that we are justified for real! And did not Romaine stress that our justification is actual? Now we are told by the Banner that Romaine was unbalanced with an unscriptural view of faith (the same as most of his evangelical contemporaries) defective in his spiritual, evangelical and experimental works, a school master to bring the soul to ‘theoretical Antinomianism’, he ‘rested upon a basis of sovereign mercy’ and could only be understood by the intelligent etc. etc.. My own personal opinion is that the one who is guilty of such libel opens himself to the charge of practical Antinomianism. As you see, resting on God’s sovereignty is a red rag to some theological bullies. I could go on through dozens of the saints who are all rapidly coming under Banner broadsides. Think of Robert Hawker, for instance. Once the doyen of evangelicals, praised by the ex-prostitutes, old soldiers, down and outs and African believers whom he helped to glory, his orthodoxy is now called ‘dangerous’ and even ‘poison’. A Strict Baptist library known to me used to be manned by Gillites and bought all of his and Hawker’s books. Now they are giving them away because they do not want them to pollute their library. Actually, they really ought to burn them to be consistent! Look at the old Bulletins of the British Strict Baptist Historical Society. I could say ‘Yea and Amen’ to those of up to even a few years ago but now they are praising the very off-line men whom they disowned previously. Talk of winds of change! What is crystal clear is that Bannerism has no eyes for true Hyper-Calvinism as defined by you. The people whom they are against believe in preaching to sinners just as much as the best of us. Indeed, they are the best of us. These men have also a high standard of holiness, so I am satisfied with them, even if Mr. Murray is not.

     My next open letter to you will be on the subject of the Banner’s misuse of Spurgeon for ulterior motives and show how Brother Reisinger’s strange usage of Spurgeon, following Mr. Murray, cannot possibly help solve any problems whatsoever and, indeed is fully designed to create new ones. I do really think Spurgeon has not deserved to be used in Mr. Murray’s advertising campaign like this. Spurgeon, is far nearer Gill and Huntington than he is Grotius and Chandler. But as he says himself, it is impossible to be always consistent. Who will criticise that? It is, however, inconsistent with the testimony of a professed Calvinist such as Iain, to quote Spurgeon so often as if he were forcing him to appear not only inconsistent but as an out and out Arminian. He has been persistently provoking fellow Calvinists with carefully culled words of Spurgeon to provoke their opposition, only to gloat and taunt them for being anti-Spurgeon. Few of Iain’s so-called Hypers show such disrespect to Spurgeon.

     In closing, I must ask Brother Reisinger to consider Jim Packer’s use of Spurgeon in his Preface to Owen’s Death of Death, where a Spurgeon emerges, sympathetic to me but would make a number of Mr. Murray’s people feel uncomfortable. Think, too of Spurgeon’s words in his autobiography against his brethren who felt that Jesus wished to save all men yet allowed those to go to hell for whom His death had atoned. Again, this would anger many of Mr. Murray’s followers. May I refer you, Brother Ascol to the Witsius you love? I hear that my article on Witsius in the ET angered one director of the EP, a very hot anti-Antinomian man, so much that he asked for a ban on my articles. May I ask you to go through Witsius with which ever Bannerite comes your way and discuss him on the law, on faith, on righteousness, on justification, on the covenant of works, on the covenant of Christ with his Father and of the covenant of Christ with his elect and even on effectual calling. You will be surprised how many enemies you will suddenly make.

     Dear Brethren, the Scriptures tell us that if our own eyes offend us, we should pluck them out. It does not tell us to pluck out the offending eyes of our brethren. The reason for the present Hyper-Calvinist controversy grew on British soil, it has been fought out on British and European soil and has caused enough havoc there. Can you give me one good reason why this plague of plagues should be let loose on the Southern Baptists as if you were doing them a good turn? Do you want to go down in history as the two men who brought the Southern Baptists to their knees, not in prayer but in chains of madness and controversy?

     May we all have the vision, understanding and brotherly love of both Spurgeon and Witsius- and the patience of Job with one another!