Posted by: reformbama | September 20, 2010

“Calvinism On Trial”

Calvinism on Trial
(Handout – Study Notes)

A Response to Dave Hunt’s Attack on the Doctrines of Grace

Phil Johnson

Executive Director, Grace to You

For more of Phil’s sermons and messages go to:

Last year Dave Hunt released a thick (444-page) book titled, What Love Is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. As the subtitle suggests, Mr. Hunt is strongly opposed to Calvinism. In effect, he says Calvinism is a different gospel. He also suggests that the teaching of Calvinism so misrepresents God that Calvinists are guilty of worshiping a god of their own making. He has such harsh words for Calvinists that many readers have concluded he is consigning Calvinism to the dung-heap of the cults—and in several places one might even get the impression he is not too sure about the salvation of anyone who is committed to Calvinism as a system of theology.

Dave Hunt, in typical fashion, writes with an authoritative tone and overbearing conviction. Banking on his reputation as a keen discerner of error and a bold exposer of heretics, he gives the impression of a man on a lonely, desperate crusade to rescue the evangelical movement from its most subtle and deadly enemy yet.

What is this latest threat to orthodoxy among evangelicals? Turns out it’s the theology of all the key Protestant Reformers. It’s the theology of the Puritans. It’s the theology of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Charles Spurgeon. It’s also the theology of James Montgomery Boice, R. C. Sproul, Al Mohler, and John MacArthur.

According to Dave Hunt, all of those men are guilty of seriously corrupting the gospel and slandering the character of God. And in his attack on their theology, Hunt pulls no punches. He charges them with turning God into a monster, making men into puppets, and replacing the concept of grace with an unjust notion of divine favoritism. He emphatically believes that God is obliged to love everyone the same. He denies that God has foreordained whatever comes to pass. And he is convinced that Calvinists worship a god who does violence to the human will.

In short, Dave Hunt’s book is a digest of every hackneyed argument ever brought against Calvinism. He brings together both the best and the worst of anti-Calvinist thought, blending and repackaging it all in a format that is easy to read and understand. He gives the impression of thoroughness and scholarship. And he aims to convince the naive that this difficult subject is really quite simple.

I normally like to begin every book review by saying something positive about the book. There’s simply not anything good I can sincerely say about this book. It is seriously flawed by a number of significant shortcomings:


Dave Hunt severely misunderstands and misrepresents the history of Calvinism. It seems he has spent much of his life arguing against fringe groups and cults. Now, he has decided to portray Calvinism as a fringe idea or a cult, simply because he doesn’t like it. Calvinism offends his common-sense notions of justice and love. In correspondence about his book, he has complained that he is “mystified” by the arguments for God’s sovereignty in salvation. He often appeals to common sense and rational arguments (rather than the Bible) to make his points about the character of God—as if he has forgotten that Scripture, not human wisdom, is the means by which God has revealed Himself to us.

Hunt is simply wrong to portray Calvinism as a divergent theology foreign to mainstream evangelicalism. It is an unassailable matter of fact that all the major Protestant Reformers essentially agreed on the doctrines of divine sovereignty and the bondage of the human will. Hunt’s own “free-will” soteriology is the innovation. On this issue, he is closer to classic Tridentine Roman Catholicism than he is to historic Protestantism.

In a radio interview on August 11, 2000, Dave Hunt told James White, “I’m very ignorant of the Reformers. I have not had time to read them. Uh, there are truckloads, I guess, of their writings. And I like to just kind of pretend that we’re back there in the days of the apostles before all of these things were written. And I like to go to the Bible. So whether a Reformer said this or that, I don’t know.”

Within two months after making that statement, however, Dave Hunt was offering his manuscript debunking the Reformers’ theology for preliminary reviews. Within eighteen months, the book was published, filled with copious quotations about Calvin and the Reformers, but with almost no quotations from any leading Calvinists or Calvinist creeds that would allow them to explain what they believe in their own words.

Instead, Hunt routinely borrows selective quotations from anti-Calvinist sources in order to portray Calvin as a man whose “grossly un-Christian behavior as the ‘Protestant Pope’ of Geneva” is a blight on church history (p. 13). Hunt also claims that Calvinism stems from Roman Catholic roots and insists that “most of those who regard themselves Calvinists are largely unaware of what John Calvin and his early followers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries actually believed and practiced” (ibid.). So now, barely more than two meager years after the admission he made to James White, Dave Hunt says the Calvinists, not Dave Hunt, are the ignorant ones when it comes to the facts of what the Protestant Reformers believed and practiced.

It therefore seems fair to ask: How, precisely, did Dave Hunt gain so much expertise about the Reformers after his radio interview with James White in August 2000 (when he boasted of his own ignorance) and beforehe finished writing his book a few scant months later (where he lectures Calvinists regarding their supposed ignorance of the “real” facts about Calvin and the Reformation)?

Dave Hunt’s actual “research” method seems to consist of reading some virulently anti-Calvinist resources and assembling a digest of their favorite arguments (with hardly any reference to the careful and copious answers to those arguments Calvinist authors have already published). Hunt quotes frequently from recent anti-Calvinist authors such as Laurence Vance (The other Side of Calvinism); George Bryson (The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting); and Norm Geisler (Chosen but Free). But if he ever quotes Calvin, Spurgeon, or any other historic Calvinist leader, it is nearly always to cite something another anti-Calvinist author has already used to make an argument against Calvinism. Furthermore, he almost never quotes a Calvinist without an instant and facile dismissal of the Calvinist position.

Hunt’s own footnotes also show that he relies far too heavily on secondary sources. Even when primary sources are readily available, he often doesn’t bother to go to the original sources to check his citations.

This practice may be the reason for an embarrassing error in Hunt’s treatment of Charles Spurgeon. On page 19, Hunt makes this claim: “Spurgeon himself, so often quoted by Calvinists to support their view, rejected Limited Atonement, though it lies at the very heart of Calvinism and follows inevitably from its other points—and he did so in unequivocal language.” Hunt then quotes a passage from Spurgeon’s “A Defence of Calvinism” in which Spurgeon defended the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work.

The problem for Hunt is that all mainstream Calvinists affirm the infinite sufficiency of the atonement. Even the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, the original manifesto of “Five Point Calvinism” states, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (2nd Head, art. 3).

Moreover, in the very article Hunt was quoting from, Spurgeon wrote,

If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption.

If Hunt had simply checked the context of the original quotation, he could not have honestly claimed that Spurgeon “rejected Limited Atonement . . . in unequivocal language.” I believe Hunt’s error was not deliberately duplicitous but stemmed from shoddy and hasty research—as did many of the errors found in his work. Yet even after his error about Spurgeon was pointed out to him, Hunt refused to acknowledge the error, insisting instead that Spurgeon, like all Calvinists, was guilty of self-contradiction.

For the rest go here Calvinism On Trial


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