Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Book: John Calvin Goes to Berkeley

What happens when a dogmatic Calvinist attempts “Reformation” within an on-campus, Christian organization of college students, who are relatively inexperienced in the Free Will vs. Predestination controversy? What happens when the dogmatic Calvinist becomes even more vigilant, when pressured by his aggressive Calvinist Pastor, using the threat of withholding his recommendation for admission to the Calvinistic, Westminster Theological Seminary? What happens when the inexperienced, non-Calvinist students take up the noble challenge of believing in God for an answer to the age old mystery on Predestination? What happens when the pressures of college life gets in the way of their research? What if that college is the University of California at Berkeley, or more affectionately known as “Beserkeley”? Find out, in the new book, “John Calvin Goes To Berkeley”?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good

A dissertation was written to explore the potential Gnostic influence on Augustine’s (354-430) doctrine of Predestination. John Calvin (1509-1564) admits that his theology was already developed by Augustine, so the question is then: How did Augustine arrive at his view of Predestination, which is quite the opposite of what was publicly taught within the church for the first 300 years of early church history. It should be noted that Augustine was himself a Gnostic Manichaean for nearly a decade before converting to Catholicism. Generally, it is thought that Augustine developed his theology on predestination after debating with Pelagius (354-420/440), but Kam-lun E. Lee suggests that it was developed from Augustine’s debates with the Manichaeans, in terms of the inevitability of personal evil and divine cosmic ordering (or divine sovereignty, if you will).

The Manichaeans represent the Persian branch of Gnosticism, and they taught both determinism and total depravity. However, their determinism was based upon dualistic mythology (p.128, 209), and also maintained a carnal outlook on bodily pleasure.

Lee writes: “It is evident that the preceding discourse reflects Augustine’s conscious effort to seek an alternative explanation of the phenomenon of what the Manichees believe to be caused by a metaphysical evil principle (xxiii.44), and only in De uera religione has he embarked on developing a full theory.” (p.117)

The determistic Manichaeans had a dualistic view of the origin of sin, while Augustinian determinism had a monistic view of the origin of sin. Therefore, determinism is the common root between Gnosticism and Augustinianism.

Lee writes: “[The] concept of the inevitability of personal evil is fundamental to the development of his doctrine of predestination. Therefore, from this consideration, we may say that Manichaeism has contributed to the doctrine by drawing Augustine to wrestle with the issue of the evil principle in the context of the Manichaean concept of the Good as the Beautiful.” (p.139)

Lee writes: “We will show that Augustine’s consideration of cosmic order as beautiful is his address to the Manichaean view of the universe.” (p.140)

Lee writes: “The notion of cosmic order is actually the framework of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, and is his response to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil.” (p.144)

Lee writes: “...Augustine’s concern is to affirm the initiative of God, the summe esse, to preserve the existence of the universe by maintaining its proper order.” (p.147)

Lee writes: “Manichaeism, as understood by Augustine, seeks to answer the question unde sit malum? (mor. II.ii.2) and arrives at a dualistic solution well reflected in its cosmogony which is constituted in three Moments: the pristine universe, the present world order, and the eschatological restoration.” (p.149)

Lee writes: “...the Manichees arrive at the conclusion that the present universe is a mixture of both good and evil. Augustine, reasoning along similar lines, concludes differently. He argues that an individual creature is good because of the harmonious congruence of its parts, just as the universe is good by reason of its harmonious order (mon. II.v.7-ix.18).” (p.153)

Lee writes: “But since, according to Augustine, God is good and he is the only ground of existence, then how can something evil come out of the good God? In the affirmation of a Trinitarian monism, Augustine is faced with the challenge of explaining the total goodness of the universe despite the presence of evil in it. To put it in Manichaean terms, Augustine must show that the universe is wholly beautiful.” (p.154)

Is the origin of evil, one’s voluntary defection from God? Or, is the origin of evil, God’s pre-determination that evil is a creation of God that is to be manifested, in order for God to display the sum total of His various attributes?

Lee writes: “In the preceding discussion, we have shown the first part of Manichaean influence on Augustine’s doctrine of predestination by demonstrating that the doctrine assumes a two-tiered framework of cosmic order, which is his response to the Manichaean view of the universe. While the Manichees believe that the universe is an admixture of both good and evil, Augustine thinks that it is good, therefore beautiful, as a whole.” (p.163)

So what should we say, it’s all good, because it comes from God?

Lee writes: “[Augustine] draws on the Manichees for insights of experience of personal evil, borrowing from them the double notion of ‘wickedness’ and ‘mortality,’ although he has substantially transformed these simplistic ideas into an elaborate theory that eventually does away with dualism.” (p.169)

Lee writes: “It is recognized that in Contra Fortunatum (392) Augustine, due to Fortunatus’ invocation of Pualine support for the notion of the inevitability of evil, is forced to focus on Paul’s notion of the flesh as an intrinsic principle rebellious to what is instituted by God.” (p.172)

Fortunatus was a Manichaean Gnostic, with whom Augustine had been debating, and Fortunatus had appealed to the writings of the Apostle Paul. But the Gnostics did not correctly teach Pauline theology. So what exactly did Augustine learn from them?

Lee writes: “As Augustine focuses more on the Pauline writings, the shift of attention from consuetudo to concupiscentia hinted at in De sermone domine in monte I becomes more apparent in his first systematic commentary on the Book of Romans.” (p.177)

So what other biblical proof-texts did Augustine witness of the Gnostics in their debates? Virtually all of the familiar proof-texts evident in the Calvinist vs. Arminianism debates of today, were present in Augustine’s fully developed view of predestination.

Lee writes: “...Augustine’s emphasis on the hiddenness of divine ordering at this point signals a gradual shift toward a more predestinarian view. The idea of hiddenness of divine judgment indeed reflects his attempt to incorporate the notion of election into the hidden divine operation of the cosmic order. The fact that Augustine is giving up his theory of election by divine foreknowledge is also reflected in his explanation of selective calling.” (p.189)

Lee writes: “...as soon as Augustine is convinced of the total inability of the human initiative and the total hiddenness of divine judgment, the formulation of his mature view is just a matter of time.” (p.190)

Lee writes: “...the only other factor needed besides the notion of concupiscentia for Augustine to arrive at his mature view of grace is the notion of limited salvation....” (p.191)

Lee writes: “The final transition to the mature view is marked by the phasing out of the idea of election by foreknowledge. ... As Augustine diminishes the place of human initiative, increasingly he ascribes election to the hiddenness of divine judgment.” (p.194)

Lee writes: “Thus, considered psychologically, the human will is free, but the outcome of the willing is divinely arranged and therefore guaranteed.” (p.198)

Lee writes: “But for a solution as to why one is chosen and another not, Augustine has to appeal to God’s secret arrangement....” (p.198)

Lee writes: “From Augustine’s perspective, God’s administering of his hidden arrangement to confer grace and pass judgment is an ordering of good and evil (Faus. XXI.2-3). It then seems logical for him to make God’s secret administration of salvation part of the grand cosmic order....” (p.199)

Lee writes: “While the outcome of the individual salvation in the former case is not predetermined, the latter case reflects the determinism that is inherent in the notion of effectual calling.” (p.200)

Lee writes: “...by grace, some are set apart from rest of the sinful mass...whom God has already secretly called at the beginning of the world...each one’s destiny is fixed in the eternal plan of God...which could well be a part of the cosmic ordering.” (p.202)

Lee writes: “As such, the determinism inspired by the Manichaean notion of the Good in terms of the concepts of consuetudo and concupiscentia, under the aspect of limited salvation, is brought to its logical conclusion.” (p.204)

In summary, Lee writes: “Augustine borrowed from the Manichees their dual notion of evil as ‘wickedness’ and as ‘mortality.’ These were considered evil because they are the antithesis of tranquil pleasure at the spiritual and the physical levels of existence. He shared with the Manichees the view that these aspects of evil are inevitable so long as life is lived in this world. Together, these borrowed approaches to evil helped Augustine to formulate an alterative explanation of the principle of personal evil....” (p.205)

Lee writes: “...the framework of cosmic order within which Augustine developed his doctrine is a result of his response to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil. In this response, he again employs the Manichaean idea of the Good to affirm that the whole universe is beautiful despite the presence of evil. So long as evil is put in its proper place, the cosmic harmony is preserved.” (p.206)

But was this kind of “cosmic order” in support of, or in contradiction to, the theology of the first 300 years of church history? “...the theological climate in Augustine’s time fostered free will and responsibility. Determinism would have gone against the tide.” (p.207)

Lee writes: “The Manichaean explanation for the cause of personal evil is relatively straightforward. One cannot escape from moral evil because there is a metaphysical evil principle at work behind the soul. In other words, one sins involuntarily. Considered cosmologically, the human soul is thrown into the predicament of constant struggle with evil not by its own choice but by the determination of an external factor. According to the Manichaean myth, this factor is the good principle or the God who sends the good soul to be mixed with evil in order to block the invasion of an advancing enemy (mor. II.xii.25; Faus XX.17, XXII.22; Fort. 7; nat. bon. xlii).” (pp.208-209)

Lee writes: “...once he began responding to the Manichaean view regarding the macrocosm, he could not avoid the issue of determinism. In his alternative proposal, divine cosmic ordering, Augustine had to address the question of what ultimately determines an individual’s place in the universal order. Since the more deeply one is bonded to evil, the less one is able to control one’s destiny, the belief in the inevitability of personal evil would then imply a view that the determination is made by the God who orders the cosmos. Expressed in the language of predestination, this view means that God has the power to elect from the massa damnata those who receive salvation and to leave the rest in damnation.” (p.210)

So the question is this: Did Augustine take the mythology of Gnostic determism, and bring it under the pale of Christian orthodoxy, simply by tinkering with it, by removing the mythological, dualistic component, and making the cause of evil, entirely the product of monistic, divine cosmic ordering, or otherwise stated, divine sovereignty? Is Augustinian predestination the “Christian” link to Gnosticism? Insofar as theological determinism, that appears to be the case. Who among the early Church theologians, prior to Augustine, taught Augustinian predestination? It appears to be a theology that was born out of Augustine’s research of Gnosticism.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Norman Geisler & Unconditional Election

Norman Geisler writes: “…God is the unconditional source of the election, and that election is done with full foreknowledge of all things. But we have demonstrated that the elect will freely choose to believe. Election is not based on or dependent on foreknowledge. Rather, it is merely in accord with it (see chapter 3).” (Chosen But Free, p.69)

Geisler presents an analogy to help clarify his proposed distinction.

Geisler continues: “An illustration is in order. Suppose a young man (whom we will call Jim) is contemplating marriage, and knows two young ladies (whom we will call Joan and Betty), either of whom would make a good wife for him. As a Christian, he has three basic choices: (1) to propose to neither of them; (2) to propose to Joan; or (3) to propose to Betty. Bear in mind that the young man is under no compulsion. There is nothing outside his own will that places demands on him to choose any one of the three options (or any other one). Suppose further that the young man happens to know that if he proposes to Joan she will say yes and if he proposes to Betty she will say no. Suppose, then in accordance with this foreknowledge of how she will freely respond, that Jim chooses to propose to Joan. Suppose even that he knew she would be reluctant at first but with persistent and loving persuasion she would eventually—freely—accept his offer. The decision on his part was entirely free, uncoerced, and not based on anything outside himself. But it was also a decision that was with full knowledge of the response and which respected the free choice of the person to whom he decided to propose. This is analogous to what moderate Calvinists believe about God’s unconditional election.” (Chosen But Free, pp.69-70)

It seems evident that Jim chose to propose to Joan (as opposed to Betty) because he knew that he could get a yes from her. So why couldn’t you say that he chose her “based upon” and “dependent on” his special knowledge of her response? In other words, I’m simply not understanding Geisler’s asserted dichotomy.

Geisler adds: “It is clear, of course, that God chose us before we chose to accept Him. And our decision to accept His offer of salvation is not the basis for His choice of us. We did not choose Him--either first or as the basis of His choice of us.” (Chosen But Free, p.74)

I simply do not understand how the illustration has clarified the distinction between “based on” vs. “in accord with.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Is Calvin Controversial?

Doug Wilson, Mark Talbot, and Sam Storms are 3 speakers at the upcoming, Desiring God Conference, and each answer the question, "Why was Calvin controversial?"

Here is the link to the videos.

I'll admit. I was stunned by these three interviews. I think that the problem is that they were each presented with a complex question, and simply shot from the hip, and the result was quite astounding.

Doug Wilson: “Calvin is associated with so much controversy because he was a good man and a faithful servant.”

If you asked the current Watchtower, Mormon or Seven Day Adventist leadership, about why their cult leaders were controversial, would you expect them to answer differently?

Doug Wilson: “Calvin is an object of controversy for the same reason that…the apostle Paul was, for the same reason that the prophets in the Old Testament were. He was a faithful servant in a fallen world, and there is no way that you can open fire on the devil in such a way that he will not fire back. If you become a threat to the devil, he will try to take you out, and that is why Calvin is controversial.”

So where does this leave the Arminian? “Fallen” servants of the devil, doing the bidding of their master, the devil, who is “firing back”? Where is this line of reasoning going? Also, would a cultist answer that question any differently? Certainly the Watchtower would say that Charles Taze Russell was controversial because he was a good man, faithfully preaching the truth to a fallen world, receiving opposition from the devil. I don’t understand how Wilson’s explanation is in the slightest way distinguishable from cultism in general.

Mark Talbot: “I think Calvin is associated with a lot of controversy, primarily because any time you clearly speak the Christian truth, you are going to be controversial. The fact is that there are only two kinds of people in the world…those who are unregenerate and those who are regenerate. If you speak the Christian message clearly, then you are necessarily going to arouse opposition among those people whose hearts have not yet been regenerated by God.”

So John Calvin is controversial because you’re an unsaved, unregenerate child of the devil who is lashing back? (Notice at the 0:50 mark where Talbot flashes a smile.)

Mark Talbot: Concerning Servetus, “Calvin lived in a different time, and we now are culturally, in quite a different spot.”

Product of his time? That should absolutely never be how we measure Christian conduct.

Mark Talbot: “We don’t put Calvin within his context, and understand that within his context, he was actually quite moderate about the ways that he thought about things such as heresy.”

“Quite moderate”? John Calvin was known as the “Genevese Dictator.” He had all sorts of enforced moral crimes in his attempt to establish a Utopian Society. Vance’s book outlines these in detail (shown below). Calvin was intolerant of dissenting views and was surprisingly abusive in his writings, especially, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. Attempts to soften his image, seem to be little more than revisionism.

Sam Storms: “The question is why Calvin is associated with so much controversy, and he is, and I think that it’s due to several factors. Certainly his theology. People instinctively and naturally do not embrace such a high emphasis on the sovereignty of God.”

Finally, yes, theology is indeed at the heart of Calvin’s controversy. However, it should be pointed out that while the “high emphasis” on the “sovereignty of God” is the primary selling point of Calvinism, the reality of the controversy of Calvin’s theology, is that it naturally makes God the “author of sin,” which is something that the Neo-Platonic philosopher, Florinus (180), asserted in favor of, and which the Gnostic Manichaeans also asserted, but which Irenaeus (130-200), an early church father, rejected, by citing Matthew 23:37.

Sam Storms: “You mention ‘Geneva’ in the 16th century to people today, and they think ‘Theocracy’ and this heavy-handed, legalistic, oppression of the people, and that was not the case. … And I think that people have this idea that Calvin wanted to impose some kind of theocratic rule on the people of God, and he didn’t.”

Is this Conference going to be dedicated to revisionist propaganda?

Sam Storms: “One reason why he is associated with controversy is because of us [meaning other Calvinists]. … We need to try to be winsome and loving in our presentation of what we perceive to be the truth.”

Is one way to go about it, by asserting that Calvin is right and the devil is mad, and naturally “unregenerate” people have become aroused? ...because that seems to be the Calvinist message in the videos.

Why is John Calvin controversial?

It’s due to his theology and his personal conduct as the leader of Geneva.

In terms of personal conduct, the historcal background is that John Calvin was initially banished from his role in Geneva in 1538 and then recalled in 1541. Here are some quotes....

Laurence Vance: “Boettner, although trying to defend Calvin, nevertheless explains the reason why: ‘Due to an attempt of Calvin and Farel to enforce a too severe system of discipline in Geneva, it became necessary for them to leave the city temporarily.’” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.81)

Laurence Vance: “The rejection of popery by the city of Geneva did not necessarily mean that all of its citizens were now model Christians. Many simply went along with the Reformation for political reasons. The evils of a united Church and State—Catholic or Protestant—were not yet recognized. Consequently, ‘a set of severe regulations’ were introduced, even before Calvin arrived in the city. There were laws governing dress, music, games, church attendance, dancing, blasphemy, and oaths. Education became free but compulsory. One citizen who refused to attend sermons was imprisoned, forced to go hear sermons, and finally banished from the city. Naturally, there were many residents of Geneva who rebelled against the strict system of discipline. A hair-dresser was imprisoned for two days for arranging a bride’s hair in an unseemly manner. Two Anabaptists were banished from the city on account of their theological views. Penalties were assessed for making noise or laughing during church. A gambler was publicly punished. Many of the leaders of the opposition to Calvin were among those who at first supported the reform efforts. Thus, Calvin’s ‘reign’ in Geneva was doomed to failure.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, pp.83-84)

Laurence Vance: “We are told by Calvinists that ‘Calvin envisioned a model Christian community based upon the Bible and patterned after the early church.’ This has been variously termed a theocracy, a biblocracy, a clerocracy, and a christocracy.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.84)

Laurence Vance: “The rules and regulations introduced in Geneva during Calvin’s ministry left no area of life untouched. This is why Calvin has frequently been labeled ‘the Genevese dictator’ who ‘would tolerate in Geneva the opinions of only one person, his own.’ Besides the usual laws against dancing, profanity, gambling, and immodesty, the number of dishes eaten at a meal was regulated. Attendance at public worship was made mandatory and watchmen were directed to see that people went to church. Press censorship was instituted and books judged to be heretical or immoral were banned. Interest on loans was capped at 5 percent. The naming of children was regulated. Naming a child after a Catholic saint was a penal offense. During an outbreak if the plague in 1545, over twenty persons were burnt alive for witchcraft, and Calvin himself was involved in the prosecutions. From 1542 to 1546, fifty-eight people were executed and seventy-six exiled from Geneva. Torture was freely used to extract confessions. The Calvinist John McNeil admits that ‘in Calvin’s later years, and under his influence, the laws of Geneva became more detailed and more stringent.’ Calvin was involved in every conceivable aspect of city life: safety regulations to protect children, laws against recruiting mercenaries, new inventions, the introduction of cloth manufacturing, and even dentistry. He was consulted not only on all important state affairs, but only the supervision of the markets and assistance for the poor. Calvin was especially severe with incorrigible adulterers—he favored the death penalty. Those guilty of fornication or adultery were fined and imprisoned. Nevertheless, these laws did not stamp out adultery, for Calvin’s own sister-in-law and stepdaughter were found guilty. Calvin’s theory of a theocracy is professed to be based on the Holy Scriptures, but as Schaff astutely observes: ‘It is impossible to deny that this kind of legislation savors more of the austerity of old heathen Rome and the Levitical code than of the gospel of Christ, and that the actual exercise of discipline was often petty, pedantic, and unnecessarily severe.’” (The Other Side of Calvinism, pp.84-85)

In terms of the controversy of John Calvin in the matter of theology…

Laurence Vance: “There was also some opposition in Geneva to Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. In 1551 a medical doctor named Jerome Bolsec (c. 1520-1584) questioned Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. After merely being reprimanded in May, Bolsec was arrested in October for affirming that ‘those who posit an eternal decree in God by which he has ordained some to life and the rest to death make of Him a tyrant, and in fact an idol, as the pagans made of Jupiter.’ For this he was banished from the city in December and threatened with the whip if he returned. The next year, Jean Trolliet, a city notary whom Calvin had previously rejected as a minister, attached Calvin’s view of predestination for making God the author of sin. Calvin appealed to the city council and they ruled in his favor, declaring that ‘Calvin’s book of the Institutes was a good and godly composition, that its doctrine was godly doctrine, that he was esteemed as a good and true minister of this city, and that thenceforward no one should dare to speak against this book and its doctrine.’” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.86)

Vances notes the following positive aspect of Calvin’s reign.

Laurence Vance: Ironically, Geneva became a haven for those who fled their native land due to religious persecution. … Geneva was also a home to exiles from England during the reign of Bloody Mary (1553-1558).” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.87)

Vance explains the account of Servetus on pp.89-100.

This information should at least provide some background information on why both Calvin’s personal conduct and theological teachings contributed to him being controversial.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Book Study at SEA

SEA, the Society of Evangelical Arminians, is currently undertaking a book review with its author, Roger E. Olson, who is also a fellow member of SEA. I have the pleasure of participation in this study, as each week, we study one chapter at a time, and then discuss it, together with the feedback of the book's author. Very nice!

I would like to review chapter 1, including the Introduction.

Olson: “The debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is often said to be based on a disagreement about predestination and free will. That is the common, almost folkloric myth about this entire subject.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.19)

I certainly agree.

The next quote fascinates me, in terms of the historical perspective:

Olson: “Arminius did not believe he was introducing anything new to Christian theology. Whether he in fact did is debatable. He explicitly appealed to the early church fathers, used medieval theological methods and conclusions, and pointed to Protestant synergists before himself.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.22)

Olson next discusses a myth concerning Arminian theology: “One of the most prevalent myths spread by some Calvinists about Arminianism is that it is the most popular type of theology in evangelical pulpits and pews. My experience contradicts this belief. Much depends on how we regard Arminian theology. The Calvinist critics would be correct if Arminianism were semi-Pelagianism. But it is not so, as I hope to show. The gospel preached and the doctrine of salvation taught in most evangelical pulpits and lecterns, and believed in most evangelical pews, is not classical Arminianism but semi-Pelagianism if not outright Pelagianism.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.30)

This is key. Arminians attempt to distance themselves from Pelagians by focusing on the necessity of intervening, preceding grace, Prevenient Grace, whereas the latter states that fallen man has, of himself, sufficient power to initiate salvation, irrespective of a “divine appointment” of grace. Of course, Pelagians may wish to dispute such a remark in their own book, Pelagian Theology: Myths and Realities. Of course, I haven’t seen such a book yet. Nevertheless, Calvinists are aware of this distinction, and make very little of it. Here is an excerpt from Calvinist, R.C. Sproul:

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Semi-Pelagianism salutes the necessity of grace, but under close scrutiny one wonders if the difference between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is a distinction without a difference.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187)

The basis for this charge is because although God takes the first step in seeking, convicting, knocking and opening hearts to receive Him, “this step is not decisive, and can be thwarted by the sinner. If the sinner refuses to cooperate with or assent to this proffered grace, then grace is to no avail.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187)

So in other words, according to Calvinism, any theology whereby God sovereignly gives a person a genuine opportunity to respond to grace, is still Pelagian, as long as the offered grace does not conclusively determine action, but leaves the decision to the sinner to decide for himself:

Sproul continues: “The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? ... Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively?” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187)

In other words, if one person receives Christ, but another does not, what makes the difference? (To the Calvinist, God is the decisive difference, regenerating the one but not the other. To the Arminian, God makes the decisive difference, insomuch that reception of God’s grace is the act of non-resistance).

Sproul writes:Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation.” (What is Reformed Theology?, pp.187-188)

In other words, according to Sproul, any decision left to man, either to accept or reject, is still fundamentally Pelagian, whether grace facilitates the decision or is absent altogether. That is a fairly hard-line standard, to which Olson has taken exception:

Olson: “I’ve been fighting this battle, to clear the good name of Arminian theology (by showing how it different from Semi-Pelagianism) for years now with very limited success. I find that most of the people doing the misrepresenting of Arminianism and aggressively asserting the sole theological correctness of Reformed theology (their version of it) have little or no interest in being educated about real Arminian theology. Their minds are already made up; don’t confuse them with the facts. Every year I have a group of Calvinist pastors from a local Reformed church come to my class and speak. One of them started out by saying “Arminianism is just Pelagianism.” After several such unfortunate encounters I gave them copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities on the condition they read it. To the best of my knowledge they never have.” (SEA)

Olson also makes one statement that I wish to follow-up upon: “It is also the Arminian interpretation of 1 Timothy 4:10, which indicates two salvations through Christ: one universal for all people and one especially for all who believe.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.33)

Where in the context is Paul speaking of Jesus as a temporal Savior vs. an eternal Savior? My thought is that this is speaking of Jesus as Savior in the eternal sense alone, and that “especially” signifies the sole beneficiaries of the universal atonement. Obviously this is not Universalism, but that will do little to hinder the Calvinist chickens with their theological heads cut off. They want the only alternative to their interpretation to be Universalism, so that they can paint the opposition as heretics.

Olson: “A crucial Arminain doctrine is prevenient grace, which Calvinists also believe, but Arminians interpret it differently. Prevenient grace is simply the convicting, calling, enlightening and enabling grace of God that goes before conversion and makes repentance and faith possible. Calvinists interpret it as irresistible and effectual; the person in whom I works will repent and believe unto salvation. Arminians interpret it as resistible; people are always able to resist the grace of God, as Scripture warns (Acts 7:51).” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.35)

I found this to be a good point. The issue is not whether Prevenient Grace is exclusively an Arminian concept, but how it is understood by Calvinists and Arminians, whether the enablement thereof is resistible or irresistible.

A very significant issue to Olson, in rejecting Calvinism, is over the Problem of Evil:

Olson: “The issue is most emphatically not a humanistic vision of autonomous free will, as if Arminians were in love with free agency for its own sake. Any fair-minded reading of Arminius, Wesley or any other classical Arminian will reveal that this is not so. Rather, the issue is the character of God and the nature of personal relationship.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.38)

Olson: “Arminians affirm that God is in charge of nature and history but deny that God controls every event. Arminians deny that God ‘hides a smiling face’ behind the horrors of history. The devil is not ‘God’s devil’ or even an instrument of God’s providential self-glorification. The Fall was not foreordained by God for some secret purpose.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.38)

The following is an excellent statement made by Olson, explaining how Calvinists, Arminians, and for that matter, any Christian theologian, is to engage polemics:

Olson: “Before you disagree make sure you understand. In other words, we must make sure that we can describe another’s theological position as he or she would describe it before we criticize or condemn.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.41)

Olson: “Much of the harsh polemics of traditional Calvinist-Arminian debate could and should be overcome simply by understanding each others’ real theological positions.” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.59)

Now, of course, a Calvinist may charge you with failure to meet the standard set forth above, but make sure that you request specifics, otherwise consider the source, as the Calvinist may simply be slinging mud.

Speaking on Election, Olson states: “Election is corporate--God's determination of Christ to be the Savior of that group of people who repent and believe (Eph 1); predestination is individual--God's foreknowledge of those who will repent and believe (Rom 8:29).” (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p.37)

Let me come right out and say that this statement isn't strong enough. Let me explain why, by providing a quote from a Calvinist:

Speaking on Arminianism, Calvinist Ron Rhodes writes: “This view says that God used His foreknowledge to look down the corridors of time to see who would respond favorably to His gospel message, and on that basis He decreed certain persons to salvation.” (Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses, p.269)

That is an Arminian Myth that Roger Olson doesn't refute (at least, not yet in this chapter). In constrast, the Arminian perspective on Election is that God the Father has decreed salvation for those in Christ. John Gill famously asked if God perceives people receiving Christ, what point would there be in electing thusly. The problem is that Calvinist election focuses on getting people in Christ, whereas Arminian election deals with people from the standpoint of already being in Christ, and what they are predestined, corporately, to receive, on that basis.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

“Giant Sale! All merchandise half price”

Dave Hunt illustrates:

“A merchant advertises, ‘Giant Sale! All merchandise half price.’ Eager customers, however, discover that certain items are excluded from the sale. When they complain that the ad read all merchandise, the merchant says, ‘I didn’t mean all “without exception,” but all “without distinction.” All kinds of products are indeed on sale, but not every item of every kind.’ This would be misleading advertising, and customers would have a legitimate complaint. Yet the Calvinist insists that God uses this same kind of deception in offering salvation to ‘whosoever will.’” (What Love is This?, pp.319-320)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hunt critiques Piper

While reading Dave Hunt’s book, What Love is This?, I came across an interesting comment regarding a quote from Calvinist, John Piper, concerning the universal benefit of Calvary.

John Piper: “We do not deny that all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is ‘the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.’ What we deny is that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way. All of God’s mercy toward unbelievers—from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the gospel (John 3:16)—is made possible because of the cross.” (What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism)

Before I get to Dave Hunt’s quote, I find it absolutely astonishing how “all men” means one thing at 1st Timothy 2:4, and then something altogether different at 1st Timothy 4:10. That just blows me away, but anyway, on to Dave Hunt’s comment.

Dave Hunt: “Trying to reason with those who espouse such obviously contradictory statements leaves one with a sense of complete frustration. Proclaiming the gospel to those He has predestined to damnation is an act of God’s mercy, by which He is giving ‘opportunity for salvation’ to those who can’t be saved?! And the gospel being preached to the doomed non-elect stems from God’s ‘mercy toward unbelievers’ flowing from the Cross?” (What Love is This?, p.192)

Hunt does a fairly solid job. It’s user-friendly and engaging. The history is on par with the quality of Lawrence Vance’s book The Other Side of Calvinism, but it’s the exegesis that puts this volume ahead of Vance. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ron Rhodes: Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses

4-Point Calvinist, Ron Rhodes, has a few new books out.


Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses, though in parts does have a Calvinist perspective, is not focused primarily on advancing Calvinism, but simply offers a perspective on difficult passages which range across the entire theological spectrum. It’s a must have.

In terms of Calvinism, I was able to extract some good quotes:

1st Timonthy 5:21: “Who are the elect angels?”

2nd John 1:1: “Who is the ‘chosen lady’?”

Matthew 22:14: “What did Jesus mean when He said, ‘Many are invited, but few are chosen’?”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

John Piper on Irresistible Grace

John Piper explains “Irresistible Grace”:

“This is what we mean when we use terms like sovereign grace or irresistible grace. We mean that the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, and therefore he is omnipotent and sovereign. And therefore, he is irresistible and infallibly effective in his regenerating work. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t resist him. We do. The Bible is plain about that (Acts 7:51). What the sovereignty of grace and the sovereignty of the Spirit mean is that when God chooses, he can overcome the rebellion and resistance of our wills. He can make Christ look so compelling that our resistance is broken and we freely come to him and receive him and believe him.” (The Free Will of the Wind)

No, that’s not at all, the Calvinist teaching on Irresistible Grace. Irresistible Grace is not about popping faith on a person, as John MacArthur teaches, nor is it about making Christ look compelling, as John Piper teaches.

The fundamental concept behind the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace is a heart-swap. According to Calvinism, when God effecatiously draws a person, it is not by popping faith, nor is it by making Christ look compelling, but by God allegedly, preemptively, removing the heart of stone, and implanting a heart of flesh, i.e. removing the unregenerate heart, and exchanging it for a regenerate heart, through which, a person may then irresistibly receive Christ. The primary mechanism for the Calvinist conversion is a heart-transplant, and Piper seems to overlook it, and by doing so, misses the deeper issue, which is that you do not receive the Holy Spirit except “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:13), which is also why Calvinist, James White, actually taught that “the elect” are preemptively placed/birthed in Christ, prior to receiving Christ:

Calvinist, James White, writes: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191, emphasis mine)

This error by James White, by placing unbelievers in Christ, ultimately unravels Calvinism altogether. Here is an article on that point:


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Calvinists are Sneaky

A new article was added to the "Common Charges" section, which basically asserts that Calvinists tend to be sneaky, when trying to discuss the atonement with other Christians. They'll say things like, "Christ came and died for sin," or that "Christ died for sinners," while not fully disclosing exactly what they believe about it. Here's the article:


Friday, May 1, 2009

John Piper and the Glory of God

Calvinist, John Piper, explains: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And I don’t want to turn that against the fact that God does indeed glorify his wrath by punishing justly those who refuse to be satisfied in him.” (Desiring God)

Question: Is God “most glorified” when people love and worship Him, or is God most glorified when people reject and forsake Him?

Answer: It appears that according to Calvinism, the answer depends upon whether they are elect or non-elect.

Here is the most recent article added to the “Common Charges” section:


Thursday, April 30, 2009

1st Thessalonians 1:4

I haven't posted in a while, and intended to review the Middle Knowledge article by Ken Keathley, but just never got into it.

However, I've recently edited the write-up for 1st Thessalonians 1:4, and welcome feedback.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Middle Knowledge

What is Middle Knowledge?

Middle knowledge entails God’s knowledge of all hypothetical situations, all contingencies, that is, all of the what-ifs.

What do Calvinists believe about Middle Knowledge?

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: "God's omniscience refers to God's total knowledge of all things actual and potential. God knows not only all that is, but everything that possibly could be. The expert chess player exemplifies a kind of omniscience, though it is limited to the options of chess play. He knows that his opponent can make move A, B, C, or D, and so forth. Each possible move opens up certain counter-moves. The more moves ahead the expert can consider, the more he can control his chess-game destiny. The more options and counter-options one considers, the more complex and difficult the reasoning. In reality no chess player is omniscient. God knows not only all available options, but also which option will be exercised. He knows the end from the beginning. God's omniscience excludes both ignorance and learning. If there is ignorance in the mind of God, then divine omniscience is a hollow, indeed fraudulent, phrase. Learning always presupposes a certain level of ignorance. One simply cannot learn what one already knows. There is no learning curve for God. Since no gaps exist in his knowledge, there is nothing for him to learn. For us to know what will happen tomorrow, we must guess concerning things that are contingent. If I say to a friend, 'What are you going to do tomorrow?' he might reply, 'That depends.' Those two words acknowledge that there are contingencies ahead and that what happens to us depends on these contingencies. It is said that God knows all contingencies, but none of them contingently. God never says to himself, 'That depends.' Nothing is contingent to him. He knows all things that will happen because he ordains everything that does happen. This is crucial to our understanding of God's omniscience. He does not know what will happen by virtue of exceedingly good guesswork about future events. He knows it with certainty because he has decreed it." (What is Reformed Theology?, pp.171-172)

Question: If God has Middle Knowledge, then why didn't He use it to save everyone, or to bring about His kingdom on earth, or to minimize sin?

Let's address this in 4 steps:

1) Do Calvinists agree with Arminians that God possesses Middle Knowledge?

Yes, based upon Sproul’s quote. However, the Calvinist perspective is that God’s Middle Knowledge is simply the logical result of an immutable decree, though nevertheless, both sides agree with the general concept of Middle Knowledge.

2) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to limit sin?

According to Calvinism, God limits sin, to only those sins which are aligned to the sovereign purpose of God. (As previously discussed, that eliminates Compatibilism, and leaves room only enough for Hard Determinism.) Arminians insist that God does not ordain sin, or create sin for a purpose, or create sin by necessity, but rather that God takes the sin of others and uses it for a purpose, which is a big difference between God creating the fact of sin. Arminians believe that God created the fact of freedom, rather than the fact of sin, and then God uses men’s freedom, in order to initiate His own sovereign plans and desires.

3) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to bring about the kingdom of God on earth?

Arminians believe that God used His Middle Knowledge of what Israel would have freely done, and planned Calvary accordingly (see Acts 2:23). The opposing Calvinist view affirms that God knows all contingencies (i.e. Middle Knowledge), but never knows anything contingently, and that is a major distinctive. In other words, according to Calvinism, God’s knowledge is not of what man would do, on his own, but what man would do, from the stand point of what necessarily follows from a predetermined, all-encompassing, decree.

4) Why doesn’t God use His Middle Knowledge to save everyone?

I may disagree slightly with most Arminians on this point, because I believe that God could save anyone and everyone, by their own free choice, if God simply applied sufficient pressure. In other words, think of someone who is the most “lost” and “depraved” person that you know, and imagine if Jesus appeared to them, just as Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus along the road to Damascus, and spoke with him, and blinded him for three days. You have to imagine that no matter how much a person is depraved, absolutely no one is too depraved for God to be able to reach. That doesn’t magnify man, but rather magnifies the ability of God to reach sinners, no matter how far off they may be. My understanding is that God does not give an irresistible grace, as per Calvinism, but rather that God gives a sufficient grace, that is, an enabling grace (i.e. Prevenient Grace), where someone is placed in a situation where they “can” receive Him, all by the divine intervention of God. The reason why one embraces or rejects this grace, thus depends upon the individual, and it’s not a matter of man seeking God, but God seeking man, and forcing the decision upon man. Man is therefore “passive” in terms of whether grace comes to him, and is only “active” in terms of whether he accepts or rejects the matter set before him, and on that account, is held accountable by God. There is also a strain of Calvinism, though is not the norm, that God uses His Middle Knowledge to bring about the salvation of His “elect.” There is also a strain of Arminianism that teaches that God used His Middle Knowledge to choose to effectuate the world in which the “most” amount of people would end up getting saved. (I do not subscribe to this view, but am studying it more carefully. It was taught by William Lane Craig and Ken Keathley. You can find Keathley’s presentation here. My next post will more fully address Keathley’s presentation on Molinism, in which he actually rejects both Calvinism and Arminianism.)

This issue was present in two prior Blogs:



The next Blog post will address Molinism, as taught by Ken Keathley.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Church History

Tommy Nelson is the Senior Pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas. His theological perspective is Calvinistic. He is slightly monotone and can be overly negative at times, but nevertheless, he did a fine job in teaching a series on “Church History,” and I highly recommend it to you.

Mac Brunson, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Jacksonville, FL, also taught a series on Church History, and I highly recommend that as well. Mac Brunson is a gifted communicator and teacher, and non-Calvinistic, so if you wish to hear his series as well, you may contact the First Baptist Bookstore at 904-356-6077 and have it shipped to you. Buy both! I did. Mac Brunson and Tommy Nelson are also going to be at the Pastor's Conference in 2009.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The nature of Free Will

The nature of Free Will: why does one person choose one way, and not another? Calvinism has the answer. Calvinism tells us that one person chooses one way, and another person, another way, because God predetermined their choices. However, it's not really "Free Will" to say that someone has the freedom to do that which is scripted of them, but that's not the point. The point is that the Calvinist argument ultimately broke down for Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, when dealing with Adam & Eve, and you might add Lucifer and the fallen angels for that matter:

Calvinist. R.C. Sproul, states: “But Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know.” (Chosen By God, p.31)

This is problematic for the Calvinist argument, because their argument against Prevenient Grace is that it fails to determine action, by merely enabling a person to render a free choice, whether to accept what is put to them by God, or to reject it, and therefore it fails to answer the fundamental answer of why a person chooses what he does. And now you know, that the very same question also applies to Adam & Eve, which R.C. Sproul admits that he has never found anyone who can explain it. However, realize that Sproul could have stated that God determined their fall (due to sovereignty principles), and that's why they freely chose what they did, but he refused to go that far. Why?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

James White responds to Troy Brooks

On a youtube clip, Calvinist James White, responds to an OSAS Arminian, Troy Brooks, who presents 6 issues to address.

1a) Troy’s first question deals with the Calvinist doctrine of Preterition in lieu of God’s universal saving love. In other words, how can God love everyone if He has allegedly “passed by” most, as per “Westminster” terminology.

James White responded by stating that a) God has differentiated degrees of love, and b) is not required to provide an “opportunity” for anyone to be saved, and if God saved even as little as just one person, then that would be an amazing display of grace.

My thought would be to first target the concept of “kinds, levels and types” of love. Turn to Luke 10:30-37 and ask yourself whether the priest and Levite demonstrated a “kind, level or type” of love to the Samaritan, whom they “passed by.” Surely, the answer would have to be “no,” and that would be significant, because the debate would therefore no longer center on whether God has undifferentiated “kinds, levels and types” of love, but whether Preterition is any kind of love at all. This will eliminate the “degrees of love” defense, and reduce it to a more straightforward matter of “loving vs. not loving.” Once that’s done, James White can never go back to a “kinds of love” defense. Now he’s left with two classes: Those God sovereignly elects to love vs. those God sovereignly elects to hate, and it’s not a matter of “dead, rebel sinners” first hating God, because according to the Westminster, God first hated them by deterministically scripting whatsoever comes to pass, whatsoever they should ever say and do. Once that’s set in place, it’s time for John 3:16. James White states that the “reason for the giving [of the Son] was so that believers might be saved.” However, in actuality, the reason for the Father’s giving of His Son was so that “the world” (whom He loves) would have a Savior, and on that account, whosoever in the world that should believe in Him, would not perish but have eternal life. It’s fairly straightforward stuff, but White must play a shell-game with John 3:16 in order shift the object of the Father’s love from “the world” to “believers,” and by extension, those elected to believe.

So that’s the issue. First establish the basis of love (by dispatching the “kinds of love” defense), and then apply Scripture, in terms of who God said that He loved. From there, it’s just a matter of James White having to spin John 3:16, and then ultimately retreat to Romans 9:13, in which he stated in Debating Calvinism: “No matter how one understands ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED’ (Romans 9:13), this verse alone should be enough to refute such an errant view of God’s love.” (Debating Calvinism, p.268) From there, you can simply point out that Paul was quoting Malachi 1:2-4, and the rest is academic, as “Esau” was defined as “Edom,” in whom God said that He was “indignant forever” on account of their betrayal of Israel during the Babylonian captivity, as recorded in the book of Obadiah, rather than an arbitrary, sovereign election to hatred, and besides, no matter how far we get from God, He has still made a provision for our redemption through His Son, in which even the worst of us can be redeemed, as the apostle Paul had confessed to being the worst of the worst on account of having murdered Christians. (1st Corinthians 15:9)

1b) The next issue raised is whether God needs evil to accomplish good, or whether God simply uses evil to accomplish good.

James White responds by deferring to his Westminster “traditions” by assuming an all-encompassing “creative decree.” He then states that “God does not force anyone to commit evil,” and explains how God is “restraining evil” which he “permits to come into existence,” but which is little more than double-talk, when he just finished describing an all-encompassing decree of Determinism! That’s what I find particularly fascinating with his approach. The consistent theme of James White is that he is not straightforward in how he articulates his theology.

James White then responds with the question of whether God, with His exhaustive omniscience, foreknowing that by creating the fact of freedom, will someday result in the acts of sin, means that by proceeding ahead with such a future anyway, means that God has a specific “purpose” for sin. First of all, it should be pointed out, that if God has a purpose for sin-A, then He does not have a purpose for sins B through Z, and hence a depraved person’s freedom to commit sins B through Z, stands in opposition to the alleged “purpose” of sin-A, and thus the freedom of a depraved person to commit sins B through Z, must be eliminated, and reduced down to only the desire to commit sin-A, and thus the “free will” of Compatibilism is really nothing more than the freedom to do that which is scripted, to the exclusion of all other “free” choices, and hence, Compatibilism, in that sense, is reduced to nothing more than a thorough-going Hard Determinism, and in fact, is why some Calvinists indeed reject Compatibilism in favor of Hard Determinism. For more on this point, see here.

James White asks, “Which is it? Does God create with a purpose for sin, or not?” The answer is no. It first needs to be pointed out that there are things in which God specifically stated that He did not decree, such as the command to commit child sacrifice, as recorded at Jeremiah 32:35. For more on this verse, see here.

Second, as Norman Geisler stated, “God made the fact of freedom; we are responsible for the acts of freedom.” (Chosen But Free, p.23) For more on this point, see here.

So God has created a world with the fact of freedom, which has resulted in the acts of freedom, and God uses our acts of freedom, even the sinful ones, in order to bring about good, namely Calvary, as recorded at Acts 2:23. This stands opposed to the perspective that God has scripted sin “by necessity” in order to bring about a scripted good, in order for God to be able to display His various attributes. The difference is that either God foreknows our acts of freedom and determines His interaction accordingly, or God scripts whatsoever comes to pass. Usually the Calvinist complaint is “how” God could then know the future, without having determined it, which is a question that White asked in Debating Calvinism on p.163. For more on this point, see here.

His perspective, then, is that God must script everything, in order to foreknow anything. This represents a rather odd presentation of the omniscience of an eternal Being, who exists independent of time. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, for such an eternal Being, all time must seem as one “eternal now,” and on that account, God can know the future self-determined choices of others, possessing the power of contrary choice, without having to determine them, because He is present in what we call “the future,” and such knowledge is not merely “passive knowledge,” because God is interacting. God can relay such prophecy as Revelation 20:7-9, in terms of what others do, and then state what He does in response. So it’s by no means merely passive.

Traditionally, Calvinists have defended the “author of sin” charge on the basis that God uses “secondary causes,” but once again, even this defense is refuted by Scripture, when God rejected King David’s secondary-causes when bringing about the murder of Uriah. For more on that point, see here.

2) The next issue by Troy Brooks concerns a salvation without repentance. Yes, Calvinists do believe that God regenerates without repentance, but then White attempts to distinguish “regeneration” from “salvation” in Debating Calvinism on p.293.

White responds by calling Troy Brooks “ignorant.” This is classic White-speak. Geisler did a fantastic job of exposing White-speak in the appendix of Chosen But Free. It should be noted that this methodology is directly in contrast to the apostle Paul, who instructs: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2nd Timothy 2:24-26)

James White explains: “they are changed…they are made ‘new creatures.’” White raises this point in Debating Calvinism on p.191, which is also something that I quote extensively: “When the time comes in God’s sovereign providence to bring to spiritual life each of those for whom Christ died, the Spirit of God will not only effectively accomplish that work of regeneration but that new creature in Christ will, unfailingly, believe in Jesus Christ (‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me’). Hence, we are not saved ‘without’ faith, but at the same time, Christ’s atonement is not rendered useless and vain without the addition of libertarian free will.” (Debating Calvinism, p.191)

The fundamental issue is that according to the theology of James White, a person must become preemptively birthed “in Christ” in order to unfailingly come to Christ. In other words, all that which is in Christ, namely regeneration, a new heart, a new spirit, a new nature, ect., is the vehicle by which a person may freely come to Christ initially, just as a seasoned Christian freely comes to Christ repeatedly. For they ride in the same vehicle, the vehicle of Regeneration. The problem is that it’s impossible for an unbeliever to be “in Christ.” Unbelievers, we are told by Christ, remain condemned, as per John 3:18. In contrast, those who are in Christ, are “now no longer under condemnation,” as per Romans 8:1. So there is no such animal as an unbeliever in Christ, and moreover, Ephesians 1:13 outlines the order of operations in becoming sealed in Christ: Hears the Gospel, believes in the Gospel and then is sealed in Christ. Moreover, Romans 8:33 marks the identity of the New Covenant “elect” by confirming that they are free from condemnation, which we know as a distinguishing feature of those in Christ, that is, Christians. That means that there is no such animal as an “elect unbeliever.” On that account, the methodology of James White is severely challenged, whether he chooses to recognize it or not.

3) Taking on Total Inability, Troy Brooks then explains that man has the ability to “choose” good. Arminianism would agree, only insomuch that God’s grace makes it possible (i.e. the Holy Spirit seeking, drawing, knocking, convicting, pricking, piercing and even opening unregenerate hearts to respond to His call). It should be noted that both Arminians and Calvinists stand in agreement on the fundamental necessity of God’s preceding grace (i.e. Prevenient Grace), though the difference is that Arminianism holds such Prevenient Grace as resistible, whereas Calvinism holds it as irresistible. However, the argument of R.C. Sproul is that such Arminianism, becomes a “distinction without a difference” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.187), when contrasted with Pelagianism, since both require that with the appropriation of such preceding grace, it is still ultimately left to the individual to respond to God, and why does one respond and not another? For more, see here. Obviously the common denominator is “Free Will,” and it is fair for Calvinists to point that out. However, Arminians prefer that Calvinists instead refer to it as “Freed Will,” that is, freed by grace to believe, and honestly, who are the Calvinists to say that God cannot condescend to man on this level? Is God not sovereign enough to deal with mankind in any manner that He chooses? So what if God should give man the ability to make a freed choice? White warns Brooks about standing before God someday after using such rhetoric as “robots,” but I would warn Calvinists about using rhetoric like calling God a “feeble” “impotent” “lackey,” and a “cosmic bellhop,” and in White’s own words, “a weak and beggarly miser,” if God chose to condescend to man in a non-Calvinistic manner, and.regardless, God still gets the last word anyway, when every knee shall bow. (Philippians 2:10-11) Whether man takes the “way of escape” or not, as per 1st Corinthians 10:13, God is no less sovereign, and God still remains in control since He perpetually limits our range of choices, insomuch that He does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to handle.

4) Troy Brooks raises the question of why God would plead for the salvation of some, if He has no intention of granting them any opportunity to receive His offer? This is actually a fantastic point, because Calvinism makes a mockery of the patience of God. For in “what” is God being patient, if He has appointed an irresistible grace for some, while withholding the means of repentance for others? This is just another example of Scripture being incompatible with Calvinism.

James White’s defense is that the “command to repent is extended to all people.” As a 5-Point Calvinist, that’s a major flaw on his part. For to even tell someone to repent, is to imply that they have a Savior to whom such repentance will be received, and hence you are essentially telling them that Jesus died for them. This is why careful Calvinists are noted for saying that Jesus died “for sin” (not necessarily yours, unless you are one of the Calvinistically elect), rather than to stand with the apostle Paul and affirm that Jesus died for “our sins,” according to the “gospel” that he described at 1st Corinthians 15:3. For more on this point, see here.

James White then states that “there is not a single person who wants to be saved who will not be saved. The problem is that there is none who want to be saved, until God, by His Spirit, grants spiritual life.” I would just love for him to try to explain that to the Jehovah’s Witnesses with whom he debates. Believe me, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who we would recognize as being lost, absolutely do “want” to be saved, which is why they work so hard for it. It is said that when a Jehovah’s Witness goes door to door, it is not to save you, but to save themselves. For they are told by their Watchtower elders that unless they put in the approved amount of time in field work, they will not be spared at Armageddon. So they want to be saved, but the problem is that they are putting their trust in men (the Watchtower organization), rather than putting their trust in Christ. For more on this point, see here.

White adds the familiar phrase of “I do not know who the elect are,” and hence he preaches to “all men,” but not “all men” (of course) in the individual and distributive sense, but only in terms of “groups” of men. (sarcasm off). I’m going to add a rather radical thought. I know who the elect are. The elect are redeemed, born again Christians. After all, Romans 8:33 tells us that they are free from condemnation, which we know to be a distinguishing feature of those who are in Christ, that is, believers (i.e. Christians). Essentially, White’s comment echoes the traditional rhetoric of Calvinists who state, “we don’t know who the elect are.”

Next, White gets a little animated by saying that God, as depicted by Arminians, has “failed,” if men should reject and spurn His grace. I wonder if White has ever contemplated his “tradition” with Matthew 22:2, in terms of Jesus’ parable of the king who gave a mass invitation to a wedding feast, but which was rejected by many. For more on this point, see here.

5) Troy Brooks next raises his concern over the “contradictory,” dual willed, secrecy theories of Calvinism.

White responds by affirming that God has two wills, but does White acknowledge that according to his theology, these wills, at times, contradict one another? Take for instance, Ezekiel 33:7-11, in which God states that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Now by the Calvinistic “script” theory, in which God’s “creative decree” predetermines whatsoever comes to pass, you would have the apparent contradiction between what God says that He takes no pleasure in, versus what Calvinists insist that God has secretly decreed. This is perhaps what Troy Brooks had intended, by his charge that Calvinism espouses a form of Dualism, in which God’s will is set apart as double and contradictory.

6) The final issue raised by Troy Brooks is that if, according to Calvinism, that God could save all (unilaterally and monergistically with an Irresistible Grace), then why doesn’t He, or is the God according to Calvinists, less loving than men?

White answers by stating that God has chosen not to give all men an Irresistible Grace, because “God chose to demonstrate the full range of His attributes.”

I find it amazing that, according to Calvinists like James White, God needs to send people to Hell (viz. the “immutable script,” the “creative decree”), in order for God to be able to show everyone just how good He is. I wonder if James White has ever contemplated whether God would have gotten more glory by decreeing him to Hell, rather than some other poor “arbitrary soul” viz. Unconditional Reprobation. Perhaps he thinks it’s “the other guy” who makes a better fit for helping God display His attributes. It’s like the old Calvinist saying:

We are the Lord’s elected few,

Let all the rest be damned;

There’s room enough in hell for you,

We won’t have heaven crammed!

(The Other Side of Calvinism, p.300)