Six months ago I picked up Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism by Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot and Dr. Gary Crampton, and I’ve finally gotten around to reading this little gem of a book.
Dr. Talbot and Dr. Crampton’s work is a “theological primer”, which means it’s an introductory work on the subject, giving a general overview of Calvinism. While it may not go as deep as other works on Calvinism, it is one of the best starting places I’ve read through. If you’re not sure which of these three groups you fit into, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, or Arminianism, I highly recommend reading this book. If you’re a Christian, you’re going to lean towards one of these teachings, so you might as well be conversant in the terminology and Bibles verses that are part of the debate. Not to mention the fact that last year Time magazine named “The New Calvinism” as one of “The Top 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now“. Therefore any time spent on discovering what the Bible says about these doctrines is time well spent.
The authors clearly explain their objectives early on in the book (p. 18), followed up by a quote from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon.
It is our intention to show that the historical faith of the Christian Church is that system of theology which is commonly known as Calvinism. And that it is the only which is consistent with the Word of God. Charles Spurgeon writes:
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.
The authors lay out the 5 main points of Calvinism and devote a short chapter to each. Along the way, the authors contrast the beliefs of Calvnism with those of Arminianism. Other chapters are devoted to the topics of the sovereignty of God, Divine Providence, “Is God the author of sin?”, and a final chapter summarizing the three viewpoints mentioned in the title. Each chapter is followed by 5-6 questions which allow you to explore your beliefs on the different doctrines presented.
Occassionally, Hyper-Calvinism comes up, but the majority of the book focuses on Calvinism vs Arminianism. The authors do make a good point on page 20 saying that many who attack the doctrines of Calvinism do so under the guise of calling it “Hyper-Calvinism”. And unless one has a working knowledge of the main points, this type of attack is very ineffective.
Having done quite a bit of in-depth study on Calvinism and Arminianism the past year, I particularly found chapter 5 “the Atonement of Christ” helpful in summarizing the main viewpoints found in Christianity.
The question before us is this: “For whom did Christ die?” There are only four possible answers:
1) Christ died for all of the sins of all men: if this is the correct answer to our question, then, of necessity, all men will be saved. This is inescapable…This is the doctrine of Universalism, which the Word of God refutes. Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15, and other passages as well, speak of a final judgment when some will be sent to hell (see especially Matthew 25:41,46).
2) He died for some of the sins of all men: if this is the answer, then all men must pay the price for those sins which were not atoned for in the death of Christ. Yet, the Bible teaches that just one sin against an eternal God is worthy of eternal punishment (James 2:10, Galatians 3:10).
3) He died for none of the sins of all men: if this is the case, then obviously no one could possibly be saved. Again, every sin of every saved person must be atoned for.
4) He died for all of the sins of some men: this is the only conceivable answer. We have seen that the Bible teaches this view of the atonement of Christ over and over again. Those for whom Christ died, and they alone, will be saved. They are the ones whom the Father has chosen from all eternity (Ephesians 1:4; they are the ones whom the Spirit regenerates and seals (Titus 3:5-6; Ephesians 1:13-14); they are the ones whom the Son redeems (Ephesians 1:7).
The three appendices are nice additions to the book, especially the essay entitled “A Display of Arminianism” by 17th century theologian John Owen. Owen is not always easy reading, but this short essay gives the reader a view into the mind of one of Christianity’s best theologians. (I’m looking forward to reading more of Owen’s works in the coming year, Lord willing.)
I do have two small critiques. The first is that the authors rarely explained where the views of hyper-Calvinism differed with Calvinism itself. Granted, the major errors of hyper-Calvinism were brought out where necessary, but more could have been said in my opinion. Seeing as this term in included in the title, and the fact many of Calvinism’s attackers wrongly classify it as the “hyper” variety, it would have been nice to have a sharper contrast between the two.
The second critique is that a couple of the chapters felt incomplete. Had I been completely new to the views and terminology presented in the book, I could see where I might have been left with some unanswered questions at the end of each chapter. But alas the authors do label it as only a primer so answers to deeper questions must be found in more detailed works.
Overall the book was well written and highly recommended for beginners on this topic. Even if you’re well versed on the subject you will find much use in the short summary, which can be helpful in explaining it to others.