I do not often devote the blog to a book review. However, a visitor came to the LRF last week and gave me a book to read. Here is my critique of the book.
Dave Hunt’s A Calvinist’s Honest Doubts Resolved (The Berean Call [Bend, OR, 2005]) is based on an excerpt from his much longer work called What Love Is This: Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. It is well known that Hunt was a virulent anti-Calvinist. The sad thing is that Hunt either never understood Calvinism, or—and this is worse—he deliberately misrepresented it.
The thesis of this short book is that Calvinism destroys faith and makes assurance of salvation impossible, hence the Doubts in the title. Hunt insists that if eternal, unchangeable, unconditional election is true, then nobody can possibly know that he is elect—and therefore saved. He references various writers, including Calvin himself, to try to prove this. Apart from the fact that, as we will show, he misquotes and twists the words of Calvin and others, one work which he fails to use is the original “Five Points of Calvinism,” the Canons of Dordt. The reader is advised to study Head I, Articles 12-13, 15-16 in particular.
The approach of Honest Doubts is to describe the spiritual journey of a man called Al who starts as a Roman Catholic, becomes an enthusiastic evangelical Arminian, embraces Calvinism for a while—although, crucially, his wife Jan does not—struggles with assurance and finally renounces Calvinism and becomes Arminian again. Al and Jan are not real people, but Hunt claims that their stories are based upon conversations he has had.
The first thing we notice is that when Al was an Arminian he was happy, humble and enthusiastic about witnessing. When he becomes a Calvinist Al becomes proud and intellectual, looking down on his less enlightened brethren, as he sees them. He spends less time in the Word of God and more time reading Calvinistic books. The second thing we notice is that Honest Doubts contains very little exegesis and relies almost entirely upon emotional arguments. Passages are quoted—John 3:16; II Peter 3:9, etc—and when any attempt is made to exegete them in context, this is dismissed by Al’s wife (the Arminian foil) in words such as these: “Please, Al, don’t complicate the Bible … You go ahead and study Calvinism. I’ll stick with my simple faith” (73). The message is loud and clear: Calvinism ruins faith and makes one a theological and intellectual snob (27, 43). This is ironic because near the beginning of the book the critics of Al’s (newly Calvinistic) pastor complain: “they were no longer receiving the well-rounded biblical exegesis that had attracted them in the first place” (27). One will search this book in vain for “well-rounded biblical exegesis”!
As in his book What Love Is This? Hunt assumes in Honest Doubts as a basic premise that God must love everyone and if He does not, He must be morally deficient. And, if God does not save everyone—which Hunt does not believe, of course—He must at the very least desire the salvation of all and make provision for the salvation of all. This conviction of Hunt—and of Hunt’s Arminian protagonist Jan and Hunt’s confused, doubting Calvinist protagonist Al—is expressed more than once. “Isn’t God supposed to be a God of love? In my simple mind it didn’t make sense that the God of the Bible didn’t love everyone enough to want them all in heaven …” (11). “I didn’t ask whether God was obligated to love everyone. Of course, He isn’t—not by any law. He makes the laws. But isn’t love His very essence? He is love. So His very nature compels Him to love everyone …” (57). “I can’t believe that the God I know sends anyone to hell that He could rescue!” (72). “Now he wondered how predestining multitudes to eternal torment could be to the glory of God’s grace—and how even the salvation of the elect could glorify God if He could have done the same for all, but didn’t” (76). “If grace was irresistible, why not just impart it to everyone? Wouldn’t love do that?” (80). “How could God who is love allow anyone to perish whom He could save?” (80). All of these questions presuppose one thing: God who is love must love everyone. We grant that Hunt denies that God is obligated by an external law to love everyone, but if God is love He must desire the salvation of all by an inner, innate compulsion. By that logic, God must have an inner compulsion to love the devil and all the demons! And yet God has made no provision for the angels who fell (II Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
Hunt does not understand the simple statement “God is love.” The word “is” refers, of course, to the very being of God. If God “is” something—whether love (I John 4:8, 16), light (I John 1:5) or spirit (John 4:24)—He is it eternally, unchangeably and infinitely. That means that God is (or was) love even before He made the universe. Before God spoke the archangels into being; before God framed the heavens and populated the earth with animals of every kind and then made Adam and Eve, God was love. When God drowned the entire population of planet earth except eight souls, God was love. When God rained fire and brimstone from heaven upon Sodom, God was love. When God raised up Pharaoh and destroyed him and his army in the Red Sea, after killing all the firstborn of Egypt, God was love (Ps. 136:10, 15). When God left countless heathen in the Old Testament in impenetrable spiritual darkness so that they perished without hope, He was love (Ps. 147:11, 19-20; Eph. 2:12). When Christ comes in “flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel,” God will still be love (II Thess. 1:8). When God casts the wicked into hell He will be love too (Matt. 25:41, 46). But none of this means that God in order to be love must love everything and everyone.
That Hunt cannot understand this shows that he has an emotional—and not a theological—understanding of God. That God is love means, first, that God loves Himself. Without any reference to the creature, God delights in Himself as the ever blessed God. Second, God loves Himself in the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father loves the Son in the Holy Spirit; and the Son loves the Father in the Holy Spirit. Third, that God is love means that He hates the wicked (Ps. 5:4-6; 11:5-7). If God is devoted to Himself as the highest and only good—that is, if He loves Himself—how could He for a moment tolerate that any creature opposes Him? God hates evil because He is holy and loves Himself.
This means that even if God had decreed not to create, or, having decreed to create, had decreed to damn all men and angels for their sins, He would not be less love than He is and always has been. The only difference would be that God would not have revealed His love to any creature. God was not—emphatically not—compelled to reveal His love to any creature. He chose to do so as a free act of His sovereign will. It pleased Him to do so.
I hope we can all see the irony: Hunt insists that for our love for God to be genuine it must be a free choice. We must not be—as Jan pejoratively puts it—“programmed” to believe (84) . But God must will to reveal His love to all because He is love. God forbid that He should be willing to make His wrath and power known (Rom. 9:22)! Who is Dave Hunt—or Al or Jan—that they reply against God and determine for God what that love is, what it looks like, how it is exercised and whether we will accept it (Rom. 9:19-20)? Thus our wills are freer than the will of Almighty God! Besides all this, the “love” which Hunt champions is ineffectual—it tries but fails to save; it is changeable—it seeks the sinner his whole life but when spurned it turns into furious wrath, unless Hunt believes that God continues to love sinners in hell! It sounds very nice—and appeals to our emotions—to say that God is love means that God loves everybody, but if all that “love” means is that God has a well meaning desire to save everybody which is never realized, what have we achieved?
Hunt also misses the point that predestination is not about the hatred of God but about His love (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:4-5; Col. 3:12; I Thess. 1:4; II Thess. 2:13, 16; I John 4:19). As a typical Arminian calumniator he stresses reprobation over election, which the Bible never does. Instead of rejoicing that God in infinite love and mercy chooses to save any—indeed many, a number none, certainly not Hunt, can count—he complains that Calvinists believe in a God “pleased to damn billions” (75, 104). Hunt cannot see that God might have a good purpose in reprobation; that no reprobate is ever damned unjustly and that God is perfectly righteous and will defend himself against the accusations of all men (Rom. 9:14).
My favourite part of the book is Hunt’s discussion of that compromised Calvinism which sees God’s love in a nuanced way. Al’s Calvinistic pastor fears that Al might have become confused by “Hypercalvinism” and gives him John MacArthur’s book on the love of God. This makes Al even more confused because MacArthur argues that God loves the reprobate with a sincere, but non saving, love. This is contradiction and doublespeak, as Hunt rightly explains. The Bible does not teach two or more different loves of God. Here Hunt is correct.
Hunt’s protagonist Al is a tortured soul and one does feel sorry for him but Calvinism is not to blame. Al does not understand—and Hunt has him deliberately twist—the teachings of Calvinism. First, Hunt does not understand spiritual death (Eph. 2:1). He accuses Calvinists of equating it with physical death. “Physically dead people not only can’t believe but can’t sin or do anything else” (9). No Calvinist has ever made that blunder. Spiritually dead sinners are actively opposed to God and greedily commit sin (Eph. 4:17-19). The point is that they cannot and will not believe, submit to God, repent or come to Jesus without effectual grace (John 3:19-20; Rom. 8:7-8). Second, Hunt does not understand regeneration or its place in salvation itself. He rejects the idea that regeneration could be something which God does in a person “without any desire or cooperation on their part and without even knowing what is happening to them at the time” (9) and especially that it could be something which precedes [conscious] faith. But when Jesus speaks about regeneration in John 3 this is exactly what He says! “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (v. 8). I must presume that Dave Hunt could not remember the exact order of events in his birth—did he come out head first; did he cry before or after the cutting of the umbilical cord, etc? Then why does he have poor Al torture himself with the question of his new birth, except to make Calvinism seem odious to the reader? God does not have us feel, experience or even remember the exact moment of our regeneration, although some might remember the first moment of conscious faith. But a grown man does not worry that he might not have been born. The fact that he is alive in the present is proof positive that he was born in the past! Of course, Al’s Calvinistic friends and pastor never tell him that. His pastor even advises him that doubting is good! (37). Here is one example of Al’s struggle: “Even now he wanted to believe, wanted to be saved … But it had to be the wishful thinking of a totally depraved mind, because he could not identify any time when he could have been sovereignly regenerated prior to what he had thought was his conversion. It simply hadn’t happened—he was now devastatingly sure of that!” Notice Al’s—and Hunt’s—mistake: Hunt believes that a man can hunger and thirst after righteousness, be truly sorry for sin, love God from the heart and not be regenerate. The Canons of Dordt call these “infallible fruits of election” (Head I, Art. 12, 16; III/IV, Art. 13 and Rejection 4).
Besides this, Hunt does not appreciate the Ordo Salutis, a Latin term which means the order of salvation (Rom. 8:30). He says that to teach that regeneration precedes faith—and by the way, we mean precedes it logically; conscious faith might and often does occur immediately after or simultaneous with regeneration—means “having to get saved before you can get saved” (8). Hunt does not see that regeneration and faith are both part of salvation and that salvation in the Bible does not equate to that moment when a sinner supposedly invited Jesus into his heart! How would Hunt understand Paul: “Being now justified by his blood [saved] we shall be saved [saved] from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9); and “Now is our salvation [saved] nearer than when we first believed” [saved] (Rom. 13:11). Salvation is a process with distinct steps, but—and here is the killer for Arminians—all the steps of salvation are the works of God. In some of these works, such as regeneration, we are passive; in other, such as sanctification and faith, we are active and conscious, but it is God who saves from beginning to end.
Hunt seemingly delights to slander Calvin. How else can one explain his quotations from the Institutes in an attempt to prove several assertions? First, Calvin was an Augustinian and therefore a Roman Catholic—brilliant logic! Second, Calvin believed in baptismal regeneration and was therefore a Roman Catholic—Hunt selectively quotes Calvin and (this is priceless) has a Romish priest quote Calvin to the seeking Al, now tempted in his despair to return to Rome, see 85-87. Hunt also shows scant understanding of the Reformed understanding of the sacraments. Hunt’s third assertion is that Calvin denied assurance of salvation. This is most egregious. In a section from the Institutes where Calvin is discussing predestination, Calvin warns the reader not to seek for assurance of election outside of Christ and the Scriptures. Hunt gives Al’s conclusion: “Al was devastated. To try to be sure you’re one of the elect would be fatal” (80). Hunt omits the section (just after the section he quotes) where Calvin writes this: “And though the discussion of predestination is regarded as a perilous sea, yet in sailing over it the navigation is calm and safe, nay pleasant, provided we do not voluntarily court danger. For as a fatal abyss engulfs those who, to be assured of their election, pry into the eternal counsel of God without the word, yet those who investigate it rightly, and in the order in which it is exhibited in the word, reap from it rich fruits of consolation” (Institutes III, xxiv, 4). Let the reader judge whether Hunt was honest in his citations from Calvin.
But what assurance does Arminianism give to Al the Arminian? He knows he is saved because God loves everyone which includes him. But there are plenty of people—according to Hunt—whom God loves who still perish. I ask: What love is that? O, but God really wants to save them, and He has made provision for their salvation but He cannot force us! What mother with a child allows the child to run into traffic and be killed because she won’t “violate” the child’s freewill by forcefully pulling the child out of harm’s way? God’s love is no assurance to anyone because God’s “love” for billions ends in the lake of fire! Al the Arminian can know he is saved because Christ died for him. He knows this because Christ died for all men. But there are plenty of people—again, according to Hunt—for whom Christ died who still perish. I ask: What atonement is that? If Christ died for all men but saved no one by His death, then what possible comfort can Al have that he will not end up in the like of fire along with billions whose sins Christ supposedly atoned for? Arminianism touts “world” and “all men,” but in so doing robs the words “atonement,” “redemption,” “propitiation,” “satisfaction” and “reconciliation” and even that little word “for” of their biblical meaning.
Here is official Calvinism’s teaching on assurance: “The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God—such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.” (Canons of Dordt, Head I, Article 12).
This book is an anti-Calvinist rant. There is nothing honest about it.