Scot McKnight has posted a letter from one of his readers who is having problems with “hyper-Calvinists,” but the difficulties to which he refers include nothing of what hyper-Calvinists actually believe. Rather, the real difficulty with the ones that he labels “hyper-Calvinists” is that they are self-righteous and condescending in their eagerness about regular Calvinism. If the letter-writer’s description is accurate, then the problem is not Hyper-Calvinism or even regular Calvinism. The problem is sinâ€”self-righteousness, condescension, and arrogance, to be specific.
My quibble with this anonymous letter is not so much that it mis-defines “hyper-Calvinism.” Nor am I disputing the fact that professed Calvinists often behave badly. They often do, and every instance is an occasion for repentance. My concern with the letter is that readers might come away with the idea that there is something wrong with the doctrines of grace simply because some of its supposed adherents are ungracious. I would simply point out that we should be careful not to conclude that the doctrines themselves are false simply because people with bad character believe them. On the contrary, is it not the case that defenders of Calvinism have not truly been gripped by the doctrine they profess when they behave self-righteously, condescendingly, and arrogantly? The sinful attitudes betray the very truths they claim as most precious.
The letter also links John Piper with the error of hyper-Calvinism: “we are getting killed by very vocal, self-righteous hyper-calvinists, especially those who are connected with Piper’s church.” Once again, according to the letter, the problem is not hyper-Calvinism per se, but unchristian attitudes. Is the letter implying that such attitudes are somehow the fruit of Piper’s ministry? If so, then I would suggest that the charge is unjustified (e.g., listen to the first 6 minutes of this, to the entire recording of this, or read this). John Piper is a flawed human just like the rest of us. But to imply that he advocates hyper-Calvinism or the sinful attitudes that go along with it is not accurate.
When I first embraced the doctrines of grace as a young man, I was very much like the malcontents described in the letter. I was caustic, arrogant, and condescending. I came to realize, however, that there was a problem inside of me, and it wasn’t Calvinism. It was me. My own sin was motivating me to behave in ways that run counter to the very humility that God’s sovereign grace should engender in sinners. Over the years, the Lord has used the ministry of John Piper perhaps more than any other to help drive out some of my sorry attitudes (but I am, alas, still a work in process).
My own experience of the doctrines of grace and of John Piper’s ministry is very different than the one portrayed in the letter on McKnight’s blog, and I hope that readers might consider another point of view as they test all things by the Scriptures.