15 January, 2017

A Critique of Anthony Hoekema’s “Saved By Grace”

Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1April, 2000]

The defense of the well-meant offer of salvation was taken up [in the generation succeeding Louis Berkhof] by Anthony Hoekema, professor of systematic theology at Calvin Seminary from 1958 to 1978. His study of soteriology, Saved by Grace, was published a year after his death in 1988. Hoekema’s defense of the well-meant offer is largely dependant on the arguments of Berkhof and A. C. De Jong. In his chapter on “The Gospel Call,” Hoekema identifies three parts of the external call: (1) a presentation of the facts of the gospel and of the way of salvation; (2) an invitation to come to Christ in repentance and faith; and (3) a promise of forgiveness and salvation, conditional upon repentance and faith.44 Hoekema then defends the well-meant offer over against the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He declares that the Christian Reformed Church, “in contrast to [Herman] Hoeksema, and in agreement with the majority of Reformed theologians, affirms that God does seriously desire the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes.”45 The preaching of the gospel is “a well-meant offer of salvation, not just on the part of the preacher, but on God’s part as well, to all who hear it, and ... God seriously and earnestly desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel call comes.”46

Hoekema begins his analysis of the issue by reminding his readers that “Hoeksema’s theology is dominated by the overruling causality of the double decree of election and reprobation.”47 This characterization is based on the conclusions of two critics of Hoeksema’s views: A. C. De Jong and, indirectly, G. C. Berkouwer.48 Having thus discredited Hoeksema’s theological method from the outset, Hoekema defends the well-meant offer by citing numerous texts,49 along with excerpts from John Calvin’s comments on two of these texts: Ezekiel 18:23 and II Peter 3:9. We will examine Calvin’s interpretation of Ezekiel 18 in detail below. Calvin’s comments on II Peter 3:9 (“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”) explain that this passage does not refer to God’s secret purpose, “according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel.” In the gospel, God “stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.”50 Calvin does not say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate. In fact, when he cites this passage in the Institutes, he says that when God “promises that he will give a certain few a heart of stone [Ezek. 36:26], let him be asked whether he wants to convert all.”51

Hoekema argues that the phrase “ma boulomenos tinas apolesthai” precludes the possibility of limiting this passage to the elect. But he fails to nuance the meaning of the divine will. Calvin obviously relates this passage to God’s will of the precept, or revealed will, which does not relate to God’s will regarding the fate of specific individuals. The Leiden Synopsis makes the following distinction, which could equally be applied to this passage:

Thus they delude themselves, who extend the grace of God’s calling to all, and to every individual. For they not only confuse that love of God for humanity (filanqrwpiva) by which he embraces all persons as creatures, with that [love] by which he has decreed to receive in grace certain persons from among the common mass of sinful humanity, who were lost in their sin, and that they should follow his beloved Son Jesus Christ; they also rob Godwho is bound by noneof any freedom to single out those whom he will from among the rest of his enemies, all equally unworthy of his mercy, in order that he might convey them from a state of guilt to a state of sin.52

Hoekema does recognize that the passages he cites in defense of the well-meant offer refer to God’s revealed will, but he does not appear to properly discern what that revealed will entails.53 What it in fact does entail will become quite clear when we come to Turretin’s discussion of the calling of the reprobate. Hoekema also repeats Berkhof’s argument that the Synod of Dort agreed with the Remonstrants’ contention that God offers salvation to all, but that the synod nonetheless asserted that this offer was compatible with election and limited atonement.54 Like Berkhof, he fails to make a distinction between call and offer.

The solution that Hoekema ultimately proposes is that we avoid “a rationalistic solution.” He mentions the phenomenon of English hyper-Calvinism, which, “like that of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches, denied the well-meant gospel call.”55 This statement is regrettable for several reasons. First, Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches do not deny the serious call of the gospel; they simply deny that this call should be characterized as an offer of salvation or represented as God’s intention to impart salvation. Second, the charge of hyper-Calvinism is an unjustified and uncharitable instance of guilt by association.56 Finally, Hoekema charges that the doctrine of the well-meant offer “has tremendous significance for missions,” implying, regrettably, that the denial of that doctrine entails a diminishment of missionary motivation.57

Hoekema asserts that there are two rationalistic solutions that must be avoided: the Arminian proposal of universal, sufficient grace, and the ostensibly hyper-Calvinist contention that the call does not imply God’s desire to save the reprobate. We must continue to hold to both election and the well-meant offer, “even though we cannot reconcile these two teachings with our finite minds.” We cannot “lock God up in the prison of human logic.”58 Hoekema appeals to what he calls the “Scriptural paradox,” by which he means that we must believe that apparently incompatible theological statements are in fact somehow resolved in the mind of God.59

Hoekema appeals to Calvin to justify this methodbut not to Calvin himself. He cites Edward Dowey’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Calvin as a dialectical theologian, a Barthian before Barth. On this basis, Hoekema contends that Calvin “was willing to combine doctrines which were clear in themselves but logically incompatible with each other, since he found them both in the Bible.”60 But this interpretation of Calvin’s methodology is wholly untenable; it cannot be squared with the way Calvin actually operates, particularly in his theological treatises. Calvin argues with his opponents by pointing out the logical inconsistencies in their arguments, and demonstrating both the biblical faithfulness and the logical coherence of his own.

Our theological concern, Hoekema concludes, “must not be to build a rationally coherent system, but to be faithful to all the teachings of the Bible.”61 This sentiment, however, is at odds with the Reformation and pre-Reformation conviction that God’s revelation is not only reasonable, but accessible to reason, and capable of a coherent systematization. The fact that not everything is revealed to us, and that our theology is limited by our human capacities, does not give us permission to advance an incoherent system of theology. We may not set faith over against logic or confession over against understanding.62


44. Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 68-70. In connection with the third part, Hoekema makes the curious assertion that, because the sinner cannot fulfill the condition on his or her own, the sinner “must pray that God will empower him or her to do so, and give God the praise when he does so” (p. 70). The Reformed tradition, however, denies that sinners have any inclination to fulfill these conditions until after the regenerating and empowering work of the Holy Spirit has already occurred.

45. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 72.

46. Ibid., 73.

47. Ibid., 72. This common accusation is typical of G. C. Berkouwer’s theological method of correlation, which, to be fair, could in turn be characterized as dominated by the overruling dialectic of the correlation of mutually exclusive viewpoints, without the necessity of arriving at a concrete theological conclusion.

48. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 72, n. 4. Hoekema bases this characterization on De Jong, Well-Meant Offer, 42-43. Regrettably, Hoekema provides little evidence that he has made a careful study of the actual writings of Hoeksema and other Protestant Reformed authors. His arguments largely repeat and augment themes from Berkhof and De Jong.

49. “These texts are Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11; Matthew 23:37; II Peter 3:9, and II Corinthians 5:20, Saved by Grace, 73-77.

50. “Respondeo, non de arcano Dei consilio hic fieri mentionem quo destinati sunt reprobi in suum exitium: sed tantum de voluntate quae nobis in evangelio patefit. Omnibus enim promiscue manum illic porrigit Deus, sed eos tantum apprehendit ut ad se ducat quos ante conditum mundum elegit,” John Calvin, Ioannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. JW. Baum, AE. Cunitz, and E. Reuss, 59 volumes, Corpus Reformatorum, vols. 29-87 (Braunschweig: Schwetschke, 1863-1900), 55:475-76, hereafter cited as CO; English translations of Calvin’s commentaries are taken, with alteration as necessary, from the Calvin Translation Society edition (Edinburgh, 1843-1855), cited as CTS (here, CTS Catholic Epistles, 419-20), and emended when necessary.

51. Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.16: “Sane conversio in Dei manu est; an velit omnes convertere, inter-rogetur ipse: dum paucis quibusdam se daturum promittit cor carneum, aliis cor lapideum relinquendo.” Latin citations of the Institutes are from Ioannis Calvini Opera Selecta, 5 vols., ed. Peter Barth and Wilhelm Niesel (Munich: Christian Kaiser, 1926-52), 4:429, hereafter cited as OS.

52. “Hallucinantur ergo qui gratiam Dei vocantis ad omnes et singulos homines extendunt. Nam praeterquam quod illam Dei philanthroopian, qua Deus omnes homines ut suas creaturas complectitur, cum ista confundunt, qua certos aliquos ex communi hominum peccatorum suo vitio pereuntium turba in gratiam suscipere, atque in Filio dilectionis suae Jesu Christo prosequi decrevit; Deum nemini obstrictum omni spoliant libertate, ex perduellibus misericordia sua pariter indignis, quos vult, ab aliis segregandi, ut eos ex statu reatus, in statum gratiae transferat,” Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, ed. Herman Bavinck, 6th ed. (Leiden: D. Donner, 1881), 30.27.

53. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 76.

54. Ibid., 77-78.

55. Ibid., 78.

56. David J. Engelsma persuasively puts this charge to rest in his Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel.

57. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 79.

58. Ibid., 79.

59. Ibid., 6. Hoekema discusses “the concept of paradox” on pp. 5-7.

60. Ibid., 6. Hoekema repeats A. C. De Jong’s argument almost verbatim, including the reference to Dowey, without crediting De Jong; cf. The Well-Meant Offer, 123-27.

61. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 79.

62. “This is the problem in De Jong’s Well-Meant Offer. De Jong, following Berkouwer, employs an existentialistic methodology of correlation that is hostile to the concept of a coherent theological system. Thus he can argue that Calvin speaks “from the viewpoint of faith and not in terms of logical objectivity” (p. 112). Divine sovereignty and human responsibility “is confessed and not explained, for if it could be explained it would no longer be confessed” (p. 99). Like Berkouwer, he argues that the concept of causality is qualitatively different when applied to God than it is when predicated of creatures (p. 98). This assertion is not biblically based, but founded in the Kantian distinction, and insuperable divide, between the noumenal and phenomenal realmsa distinction that renders the reliability of God’s revelation suspect. While De Jong criticizes Hoeksema’s methodology in terms of its ostensible “competitive polarity motif,” his own methodology also constitutes the imposition of an extra-biblical conceptual construct, namely, the dialectical “both/and” of the correlation motif. One could easily argue that the “either/or” motif is in fact more dominant in Scripture. We should be wary of the fact that Berkouwer’s methodology ultimately led him to reject the historical intention of the Canons of Dort I:6; see his “Vragen rondom de Belijdenis,” Gereformeerd Theologisch Tijdschrift 63, no. 1 (1963): 141. For an insightful analysis and critique of Berkouwer’s methodology, see Hendrikus Berkhof, “De Method van Berkouwers Theologie,” in Ex Auditu Verbi, Festschrift for G. C. Berkouwer, ed. R. Schippers et al. (Kampen: Kok, 1965), 37-55.

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