Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Debater's Potter - Part 2

This series of articles are about my experience, as a non-Calvinist-non-Arminian, reading Dr. James R. White's book The Potter's Freedom. If you're just starting here, please start with the introduction in Part 1, thanks! These articles are being written AS I READ THE BOOK, so they are almost real-time reaction to it. I may change my opinions as I go. I may be persuaded. I may be offended, as I already have been with regard to White's treatment of Dr. Norman Geisler.

Why am I writing these articles? Well for some strange reason people tend to take interest in my opinions about Calvinism. Why do an as I go sort of real-time thing instead of just a wrap up after I read the book? Because, otherwise, I may not ever finish the book. I'm finding it tiresome already. I suspect that if I am writing that I'll be forced to finish it.

I DO NOT INTEND TO OFFEND ANYONE WITH THESE ARTICLES. I am reacting as I read his book. I suspect I am far from the only person who has or will react in similar fashion.

These tend to get long... so I'll skip any more introduction and just jump right back into the book from about where we left off last time.

Foreword to the Second Edition, October 2008

White writes that in comparison to Chosen But Free (CBF) that:
...this book's primary essence is exegetical. It opens the Scriptures and lets them speak. It is not a work of philosophy. It is not even a work of systematic theology per se. 
In a later paragraph:
...and all I have to do is get out of the way and let the Scriptures do their work to see true followers of Christ respond to the Spirit-breathed words of the Bible.  
Such may turn out to be the case as I continue to read. Perhaps once I am done the book I will agree that looking back over the work as a whole that being primarily exegetical was true of the majority of the text. However, as of yet that has not been the case.  I chose the title of this series of articles to be The Debater's Potter because this book, at least as far as I have gotten so far, reads like a popular debate. White is defining the argument in terms which he believes he has a strong argument against, is painting his opponent in the worst possible light, and (as we'll shortly see) is tying his opponent to a system or point of view which is most clearly wrong - as though that were Geisler's view, or even the foundation for Geisler's view.

White shoots an early shot across the bow of Geisler's ship which I am sure resounds with his personal audience of followers.
"I am able to provide a strong contrast between the man-centeredness of reducing the work of Christ to "Jesus made us saveable" and the God-centeredness of the simple proclamation, "Jesus saves." 
We'll see I suppose. However, this is not how I would characterize Geisler's position at all.


It is most entertaining to me to find White being shocked at the following statements he attributes to Geisler:
The system is contradictory. Proponents go through exegetical contortions in order to make a text say what their preconceived theology mandates it must say. The Bible is seriously lacking in verses that support some of the main elements of this system. These people misuse texts of Scripture. The God worshiped by these people is not all-loving. Central aspects of this system are shocking. The very heart of the system is a hideous error." The system at its heart is theologically inconsistent, philosophically insufficient, and morally repugnant. 
White asks his readers to consider if these are about Mormonism, the Watchtower Society or possibly Roman Catholicism. Given how White will use Roman Catholicism in his first chapter I find that he includes it here most amusing. Then he states:
No... All of these phrases are used of simple Reformed Theology, the theology of Calvin, the Westminister Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Francis Turrentin, the Puritans, John Owen, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Cunningham, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, B.B. Warfield, Hermann Bavinck, Abraham Kuyper, John Murray, Edwin Palmer, John Gerstner, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. 
Surprised? I certainly was when I first read Chosen But Free... 
Well hey all of THOSE people couldn't be wrong could they? I guess that seals the deal.

Now here is what I believe to be an important statement by Dr. White:
"And as an apologist, I firmly believe that the only consistently biblical response to the challenges made to the Christian faith is that offered by Reformed Theology." 
Then he tells us that the works of the men he names above "really need no defense" as I quoted in Part 1.

He goes on to state that CBF will be a source of great confusion and that he intends to offer "five sources of confusion that [he] believe[s] are created by the discussion in CBF." 

Redefinition of the Terms of the Debate
"The first thing that any informed reader discovers in reading CBF is that it presents a complete revision of the historic set of terms that have been used by theologians to frame and explain the debate." 
This seems like a loaded statement to me. What exactly is the authority he is appealing to here? White then states:
"Dr. Geisler chose arbitrarily to identify his position as "moderate Calvinism" and historic Reformed theology becomes "extreme Calvinism." 
If the reader reads CBF they will find that there is nothing arbitrary about Geisler's names. Dr. White is a student of Logic, and language. There is no reason for him to make such a fantastic statement other than to try to control the thoughts of his readers. Unfortunately, he is only managing to alienate this reader.  White completely skips the reasons that Geisler gives for his naming convention and goes on to try to control the reader's impression of Geisler's theology.
"The problem becomes clear when we consider for just a moment that Dr. Geisler: 1) denies Calvin's doctrine of God's sovereignty and decrees; 2) denies Calvin's doctrine of the Total Depravity of man and his enslavement to sin; 3) denies Calvin's believe that God's electing grace is given without any condition whatsoever to a particular people (the elect); and 4) denies, vociferously, Calvin's doctrine of the grace of God that brings new life to dead sinners. One could even argue that Dr. Geisler disagrees with Calvin's doctrine of atonement and with the very foundation of Calvin's doctrine of perseverance as well. If that is true, why should Dr. Geisler wish to be called any kind of Calvinist at all?" 
1) Geisler does not deny God's sovereignty, he denies White's understanding of it. I'm not sure if White holds the same view that Calvin did. I would have to read too extensively in Calvin right now to be sure, and it just isn't that critical to the article.

2) Geisler denies neither. He denies the Total Inability of man understanding of Total Depravity. Calvin did not author TULIP, and based on my study of Calvin, he would not agree with all 5 points.

3) Geisler does argue for a conditional election. Election conditioned on belief.

4) Oooh vociferously is a big word!  Geisler does not deny regeneration. He denies that regeneration happens prior to faith.

Geisler does deny that Christ died only for the Elect. It is absolutely clear from the Scriptures that Christ died for all the world, and that even those who will surely spend eternity in the Lake of Fire were bought by the Lord they deny.

White does however ask a good question. If White defines Calvinism, then why would anyone want to be called a Calvinist of any kind. I have often called my views "Calvinistic" because I believe in Grace, Salvation by Grace through Faith alone in Christ alone, Eternal Security among a few other things that sound Calvinistic. However, if Calvinism is White's to define, then I ought not ever claim the name at all.

Here's the problem. The section's title seemed to indicate that Geisler had "redefined the terms of the debate" as one of White's "five sources of confusion" yet all White did was half-accurately indicate that Geisler disagrees with TULIP. News flash: that's why Geisler wrote CBF! Saying that Calvinism is wrong doesn't "redefine the terms of the debate." However much the many forms of Calvinism disagree with each other the only deadly sin when talking about Calvinism is saying it isn't true. White doesn't even seem to attempt to show how this is supposed to lead to the confusion he is so vehemently concerned about.

Poor Representation
CFB takes no pains to accurately or adequately represent Reformed theology that is it so strongly denounces.
Pot, meet Kettle.
"All through the book the Reformed view of God's sovereign regeneration of the sinner, where God graciously grants spiritual life, faith, and repentance to a person who was spiritually dead, condemned, and incapable of doing anything pleasing in God's sight, is inaccurately portrayed as "force" and "coercion," all in an attempt to make Calvinism look like something it is not." 
OK Dr. White, what IS it then? He fails to tell us what he thinks is wrong about Geisler's characterization. Is it a technical issue? Geisler does not believe that God uses a "force" on people, but he does characterize White's Particular Redemption and Pre-Faith Regeneration as forcing Himself on group of people who don't want Him, while letting everyone else be condemned. Is Geisler wrong? How so?

White then moves on to:
"There is simply no attempt to interact on a meaningful level with the many Reformed works that provide in-depth, serious biblical exegesis and argumentation of the Reformed position." 
Unlike The Potter's Freedom, CBF didn't have the mission to go after a particular person in his work. He is making a mostly philosophical argument, based on the God the Scriptures reveal. I believe that Geisler is right to ignore many of these works, as those which I have read do exactly what Geisler says of them... When I've looked at the best work on Total Inability I found absolutely NO Biblical support for this doctrine. Why would you expect a Dr. of Geisler's stature to waste space in his book interacting meaningfully with works that have no basis? That's Geisler's point of view, and it is largely my point of view as well. It is unreasonable to think that Geisler would do so simply to please men like White. It is absurd to criticize him on these grounds, especially given the nature of CBF.

Then we get back to my wanting to introduce the Pot to the Kettle again:
"And even here, the Reformed material is handled in such a cavalier manner as to make even the effort of citing it worthless. This is clearly seen in the way which CBF will quote as little as a single sentence, and on the basis of this, accuse Reformed writers of "changing" Scripture." 
Then after quoting the section of CBF that he has issue with (I'll quote it for you in a moment) he states:
This citation is from page 214 of Owen's work. Was this great Christian scholar suggesting that we should "retranslate" John 3:16? Is this a fair representation of Owen's position? Not in the slightest.
The constant over the top praise of Reformed theologians does get tiresome. That aside, here's what White quotes from Owen's work:
First, if this word whosoever be distributive, then it is restrictive of the love of God to some, and not to others, --to one part of the distribution and not the other. And if it do not restrain the love of God, intending the Salvation of some, then it is not distributive of the fore-mentioned object of it; and if it do restrain it, then all are not intended in the love which moved God to give his Son. Secondly, I deny that the word here is distributive of the object of God's love, but only declarative of his end and aim in giving Christ in the pursuit of that love, --to wit, that all believers might be saved. So that the sense is "God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved." And this is all that is by any  (besides a few worthless cavils) objected from this place to disprove our interpretation...
I have not yet shared the portion of CBF that White takes issue with yet because I want you to see his full argument first. Here we see that after what seems to match Geisler's description of how Reformed theologians handle the Text that Owen suggests that the "sense" of John 3:16 is, and he offers it in quotations, "God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved."

White is correct, Owen did not suggest "that we should 'retranslate' John 3:16" Now here is what White quotes Geisler from CBF:
Arguably, the best defense of extreme Calvinism on limited atonement comes from John Owen. His response to this passage is a shocking retranslation to: "God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave His Son with this intention, that by Him believers might be saved"! This needs no response, simply a sober reminder that God repeatedly exhorts us not to add or subtract from His words (Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19). 
Now forgive me for asking, but did Geisler really say that Owen said we "should retranslate John 3:16"? Read his words yourself. For someone who takes such great offense at his theology being "misrepresented" Dr. White seems to have little issue with committing a similar crime. Geisler clearly said that Owen's response to the passage was to retranslate it as he did.

White then goes on in his reply to Geisler on this subject stating:
"As anyone reading the passage in context can see, to charge Owen with alteration of the Word of God is quiet simply ridiculous. He not only specifically says, "the sense is..." (a phrase that would have to be cited on the basis of mere honesty if CBF is serious in accusing Owen of "adding" to the Word of God, but it is painfully obvious that Owen is interpreting the passage in the light of the preceding ten pages of argumentation he had provided." 
So so long as someone provides 10 pages of argumentation they can offer a "sense" of a passage that includes MOSTLY things that are NOT written in the passage? How is providing the sense of a sentence which comes from OUT SIDE of that sentence, and out side of the Book the sentence is written in to boot, EXEGETICAL? How is it that such a provision is not EISEGETICAL? How can such a thing be thought of as anything BUT "adding" to the words of God? Does John 3:16 include the thoughts that Owen says are the "sense" of that verse? Are these hidden in the Greek? Are they hidden in the structure of the sentence? No they are not. IF TULIP or modern Calvinism, which Geisler would call "Extreme Calvinism" because it is more Calvinistic than Calvin was, is true then John 3:16 MUST mean what  Owen says is the "sense" of it. However, John 3:16 doesn't say what Owen says is it's "sense."

How does this twisted claim against Geisler get a pass by White's many enthusiastic readers? I would not let Geisler get away with anything of the kind.

After discussion of other works, White finishes this part of his introduction with:
"Indeed, if all one read was CBF, one would not be aware that there was substantial Reformed exegetical defense of the Calvinistic position." 
Is it Geisler's responsibility to support the Reformed position? I wonder if White will be responsible enough to his readers to include the substantial non-Reformed exegetical defense of the non-Calvanistic position.

Conclusion of Part 2

Well that is as far as I can get today. I continue to hope that once I get to the "exegetical" arguments that I'll find the work less offensive. I will no doubt find his defense of his theology tiresome and convoluted; as has been my experience with all defenses of Calvinism I've read in the past. I have no intention of attempting to disprove all of his arguments. Such a work would no doubt take over a year of research and writing. I'm just going to be reacting to them.

I hope that readers of this series can tell that I'm not "offended by God being free to do what He wills" or that I think that mankind "must have free will." So far my only offense has been with how unfairly White has treated Geisler. That offense is dying down in me, thankfully, but what I'm finding is that I'm shocked at White's inconsistency. What he accuses Geisler of doing he tends to do himself. I'm also not convinced that his accusations against Geisler are altogether accurate. Though I have little doubt that there are some "debate practices" going on in Geisler's CBF as well.

To see my views on TULIP and what I think of each of the doctrines in more detail than I'll be able to provide in this series please see:

Testing TULIP: Total Inability which is an EXHAUSTIVE look at this doctrine to see IF it is Biblical or not. And;

Tripping TULIP


Jan said...


How far in to the book is all this? Because so far White hasn't said anything relevant.


Kevl said...

Hi Jan,

This is only half way through his introduction to the book. I've read the first two chapters as well, it doesn't get much better in them.

I've been told that it is an "exegetical" book. As of yet I have not seen this to be the case. However, he has been building his case from a foundation of his choosing.

I'll continue to write as I read.