Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Debater's Potter - Part 4 - Chapter 1

If you're just coming to this article directly, please go back and start at Part 1. These articles are tending toward the long side and I will not have space here to go back over the previous material covered.

These articles are my immediate, (almost) real-time, reaction to what I'm reading in Dr. James R. White's The Potter's Freedom. I am not writing a rebuttal, though I may interact with some of his text in such a way that may read as though I am writing a rebuttal. My purpose is to record how a non-Calvinist-non-Arminian reacts to this book.

So far I've covered the title, quotes of praise for the book by like minded theologians, the preface, the forewords, and the introduction. This time we're going to start into the book proper.

As Dr. White was closing out his introduction to the book he said that we would "now turn" to exegetical arguments from the Scriptures. Keeping that in mind, here is how he opens Chapter 1.

Chapter 1

The Vital Issue

Unter the subtitle "The Vital Issue" Dr. White begins his first chapter, and apparently his argument proper, by explaining what the Roman Catholic founder of the Jesuits believed. White quotes Ignatius of Loyola riling against the "heresies of the Protestants" and then explains:
"One of the charges Loyala made to his followers involved the danger of allowing the Protestants to so emphasize the power of God that the "freedom of man" would be eclipsed." 
What does this have to do with Geisler? Or his book Chosen But Free? White then talks about "middle knowledge."
"...the idea that God knows what free agents will do given certain circumstances, but their actions are still "free" in the sense that they are not fixed. The entire reason why the concept was developed was to "get around" the preaching of the Reformers that emphasized the sovereignty of God, the freedom of God, as ultimate in all things. The "heretics" were preaching that God is the Potter, men are the clay, formed as He wills, not as they will." 
Why does White put "quotes" around "get around"? Is this a quote from Chosen But Free (CBF)? No it is not.

Is White really starting the first chapter of his book by calling Geisler a Roman Catholic because Ignatius of Loyal had a similar view on a particular part of the subject at hand? Is White suggesting that Geisler has adopted his view to "get around" God's sovereignty? Is White seriously doing either of these? Is this the "vital issue"?

It was at this point in reading the book that I decided to write these articles. As I admitted from the start I am offended by White's chosen tone, argument, and behaviour. I'm actually quite calmed down about it now, but the issue is nonetheless the same. So far The Potter's Freedom (TPF) is little more than an annoyance with a haughty title.

White goes on to state:
"Such a system could speak often of grace as long as that grace was merely a necessary aid but never an efficient power that saves. As long ast he ultimate "control" of salvation was kept out of God's hands, all would be well. Sadly, to this very day, nominal "Protestants" embrace Molina's desperate attempt to get around God's freedom." 
White then says that the very first written debate of the Reformation was focused on the very same thing. We looked at this part of TPF way back in Part 1 of this series. White argues that the Reformation wasn't about the things that I have been taught it was about, and that you have probably been taught it was about. White argues that The Great Reformation was about Determinism, which White equates with the Sovereignty of God.

White continues with this interesting attack on any who would disagree with him.
"...but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love." 
Is this what Geisler is arguing against in CBF? Is he arguing that God doesn't have the right or the power to do what He wills without asking men? Does Geisler even argue that God "consults" men in making His decisions or doing what He wills? NOT AT ALL. Over and over again in TPF White complains about how anyone who just read CBF would not find out about all the arguments for Reformed theology.  Isn't it strange then that White himself would write a response, or attempt a rebuttal, of CBF and so sorely change Geisler's argument to something more preferable?

It gets worse however.
"The Christian loves God as He reveals Himself. The non-Christian seeks to conform God to an image that is less threatening to him in his rebellion." 
I would that more Christians would accept that God is as He has revealed Himself. Yet do you see the False Dilemia built here? Either you agree with White or you're not a Christian.

We are then treated to:
"Whether the work of salvation is perfectly accomplished by God for His own glory or is dependent upon man's cooperation and assistance is the watershed issue that separates biblical Christianity from everything else." 
While Geisler does write of cooperation with regard to justification he does not mean it the way that White is presenting it. Geisler does not argue that God need's man's assistance or permission. He means that from man's point of view the sinner is freely believing the Gospel that God has revealed through the work of the Spirit. John 16:5-11 Geisler isn't saying that God need's man's help, but that both the will of God and the will of man are in operation at the same time. 
Next up there is another interesting statement.
"The writer of this work has absolute confidence that the Reformed proclamation of the Gospel will never pass from this world..." 
You mean since the Reformation right? What about before that? Well explaining why White goes on to say:
"Why? Because God's Word will never fall." 
I could go back to faulting White for his high view of the work of men, but one thing I can give the guy is that he is awfully confident of his position.

We then get another promise about the book:
"Because of this conviction, this work will focus primarily upon biblical issues." 
Perhaps this would have inspired me before reading the first 4 chapters, but now it reads like another one of those grab your attention but say nothing one liners. ie "This is a Christ centered church." What exactly do they mean by that? What does White mean by focusing primarily upon biblical issues?

A Necessary Definition
"What are the "doctrines of grace," and why do they matter? Such is like asking, "What does the Bible teach about the very heart of the gospel, and does it matter one way or the other?" 
Oh boy... well he goes on to say that they are "biblical teachings" which define the goal and means of God's perfect work of redemption. He then asserts that they separate the Christian faith from the works-based religions and away from ourselves to solely God's grace and mercy. Well, except when it comes to assurance of Salvation. That's when the Reformed theologian ensures the person will look very very closely at themselves and their works. See Testing the Test and 'But' Theology.

White then gives definitions of the "doctrines of grace" which are commonly referred to as TULIP. You can read my testing of Total Inability here, and a less scholarly work on all 5 points of TULIP here.

White explains that the history of the debate between determinism and everything else, can be traced back through history well before the Reformation. He even says:
"...the issue can be found clearly addressed in the New Testament itself..." 
One wonders why that hasn't been the focus of the book thus far then. If the NT is so clear on the subject, as White has thus far stated twice, then why are we reading about Roman Catholics who have nothing to do with the book he is attempting a rebuttal of?

White says that because of sin man constantly wants to insert himself into the work of Salvation and:
"That is one reason why I do not believe the common "five points" listed above is enough for today. There is a sixth point, one that lies at the head of the list, that must be firmly proclaimed and defended today: the freedom of God." 
John Piper, whose work White praises as having no need of defense, says he's actually a 7 Point Calvinist.  Piper's 6th point is similar in that he calls for Double Predestination (or God actively choosing people not only to go to Heaven, but also to go to eternity in the Lake of Fire) and a 7th that God is making the "best of all possible worlds."

I'm always amused at the battle stance of Calvinists. How dare you question John MacArthur!?! Or John Piper!?! Or RC Sproul!?!?! Or James White!?!!? Or Calvin!?!?! Or Augustine!?! Their works need no defense! They are profoundly biblical! They have been gifted by God to express the truths of the Gospel! Yet, if you compare the works of these men you find that they OFTEN have SIGNIFICANT disagreement between them.

New Reformed, Calvinist, 5 Point Calvinist, 4 Point Calvinist, Modified Calvinist, I ask you this. In your praise of the works of the Puritans, do you ever consider why you don't run your assembly of Believers by Puritan standards? Is their doctrine "profoundly biblical"? Why then do you not continue in their work? If it is not profoundly biblical then why do you say that it is? I'm confused.

The Free and Proper Kingship of God

White explains that "since" most of us don't bow to a king we see little reason why we should bow to God.  Oh yes.. that's why I think your Lordship Salvation view of the Gospel is wrong. I am just not used to bowing to a king.... Did you get this argument from Richard Dawkins?

White asks:
"How can anyone read the Bible and not hear its constant testimony to the unfettered, unlimited, undiminished authority of God to do as He wishes with His creation?.... God truly can do as He pleases without getting permission from anyone including man... "

Who is White arguing against here? Seriously, he is not arguing against Geisler so who then?

White (finally!) offers the following passages to support his view.  I'm so tempted to steal the wind from my next article at this point. SO TEMPTED! Remember that White's view is Determinism, not that God accomplishes what He wills. White's view is that God actively determines every choice and happening from the smallest particle interaction to every fleeting thought in the minds of men, for all of History past, present, and future.
Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 14:27; Isaiah 46:9-10; Psalm 33:8-11; Isaiah 41:21-23; Prov 21:1; Daniel 4:34-35; Jer 18:4-6
These passages DO speak of God being free, and powerful, to do anything He chooses. What they don't say is that God decided I would have the TV on while I'm writing this article. Or that I would include that statement in this article. Or that you would react the way you just did to my including that thought. What is clear from Scripture is that God raises up people into positions He chooses and uses them as He wills. God is able to make a person choose to do what He wants them to do. He is free to do so.

Geisler never once argues against that. Geisler says that God does such within the nature that God has revealed He has.

White says that God didn't have to ask permission of Israel to reform it. He says that the "clay" has no inherent rights.  White then quotes the NIV version of Isaiah 29:16. Shame he didn't include the context which we find revealed in Isaiah 29:15-16. Not that even quoting only vs 16 alone give credence to the idea that God determines your every choice.

The Decrees of the King

Read this closely.
"The conjunction of God's absolute freedom and His Creatorship results in the doctrine of God's Decrees: the soul-comforting truth that God has wisely and perfectly decreed whatsoever comes to pass in this universe." 
It is the "conjunction" of Determinism and that God is Creator that results in the unique view that God has decreed everything that happens in the universe for all of time. Not the Scriptures, which we are told are so clear and plain on the subject, but one's view of Determinism and that God is Creator.  Why can White not say that the Decrees of God are from the Scriptures, or exegetical? Because they are not found anywhere in the Scriptures, nor are they alluded to anywhere in the Scriptures, nor are they required by anything that IS written in the Scriptures. They truly are merely a fabrication used to explain how God might accomplish Determinism.

How extensive are "the decrees"?
"This extends not only to inanimate objects... but to every aspect of human history, personal relationships, and most importantly, to the life of every man, woman and child." 
Why did Lance Armstrong win the Tour De France each time? God decreed it. Why did that commercial break get really loud? God decreed it. Why did you get pimples the night before your first dance? God decreed it. Why did your daughter smile when you told her she was pretty? God decreed it. Why did your daughter get raped? God decreed it.

Is it possible that God could decree all of these things? Yes of course! Could God do this? Sure He could. The question that Geisler asks, and seeks to answer, is not COULD God do these things, but WOULD God do these things. Not is God Sovereign, because as Geisler is ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY CLEAR, God IS and fully so. Absolutely free to do exactly as He chooses. But what WOULD the God of the Scriptures choose?

*UPDATE* It is plainly true from the Scriptures that God ALLOWS these things to happen, if He himself is not the instigator. From Satan asking permission to sift Peter, to God suggesting Job as a target for Satan. A Biblical view of God's sovereignty is that He has the power to interviene, He has the final say, He determines limits, and instigates as He chooses - yet morally free agents make their own choices and God uses them to accomplish His will.

*UPDATE 2* This may seem over the top, but Norm Geisler's If God, Why Evil? A New Way to Think About the Question is a very strong work on the "problem" of evil in the world.

Several times now White has said that the Scriptures are plain enough, and clear enough, that simply presenting either them - or the "truths" of them will be compelling enough to make his case. However:
"One of the most striking evidences of God's sovereign control over the affairs of men is hidden from a cursory reading of the Scriptures."
He quotes Isaiah 10:5-7 and explains:
"But, God is clear: the woe He is announcing is on the very instrument He is using to punish Israel! Assyria is not a willing party to the punishment of Israel: they do not intend to be involved in God's work, "but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations" Assyria had one purpose, God another, and all in the same historical events." 
White goes on to quote Isaiah 10:12-17 to explain that God will punish Assyria for its intentions. What's the problem here? How does Geisler disagree with this? Assyria didn't want to help God accomplish His will, it wanted to accomplish their own will. God used them and their actions to accomplish His will.

Yet, I have to ask of White's theology, how is a Just God to punish Assyria for the intentions that He decided it would have? Could He do this? Is He powerful enough? Sovereign enough? Yes, absolutely. It is not COULD He do this, but rather WOULD He do this?

In attempt to answer these obvious questions White seems to contradict his previous assertions.
"Assyria has one purpose in heart: but it is God's purpose that prevails. Yet God is perfectly just to judge on the basis of Assyria's sinful intentions. Assyria acts in accordance with its desires, and yet, what is done is the fulfillment of God's decree." 
White then referes to the more well known passage of Gen 15:19-21.

Momentarily ducking the obvious questions about his application of Isaiah 10, White decides to attempt an answer of this one instead.
"One might ask, "But if God decreed that this event would take place, how can He still hold Joseph's brothers personally accountable for their actions?" Even if we did not have an answer to this question, it would not matter: God makes it clear that He does hold men accountable. But it is clear that they are judged on the basis of the intention of their hearts." 
That God decreed something to happen for His purposes, and made it happen, is not at all offensive to Geisler's point of view (or mine for that matter.) The issue is whether God causes someone to choose to do evil or not. WOULD God do that?
"We dare not think that Joseph's brothers were forced against the desires of their hearts to commit the evil... They desired to do this: indeed if God had not intervened it is sure they would have killed him outright.... but God preserved Joseph's life..." 
Are we still reading the same book? We dare not think that God would force them to do something? Had God not "intervened"?

If God determines everything that happens as White explained in detail above, then God did force them to intend, and to do, them and the Assyrians, and my fingers writing this article right now.

What strange words to say about the Potter. We "dare not think" that He would do something? Is this not the same author who spoke of the plain absurdity of the Clay questioning the Potter?

If God determines everything that happens as White explained in detail above, then God CANNOT "intervene" for He has foreordained, previously decreed every event to happen. He cannot "intervene" to stop something from happening because He has previously determined exactly everything that would happen.

Going on as though he has somehow made his point at all, White says the greatest example of God determining everything is the cross work of Christ.
"Surely no one can suggest that the cross was an after-thought, a desperate attempt to "fix" things after all had gone awry." 
"Yet, these Christians knew something that man today have forgotten: what took place at Calvary had been predestined by the sovereign decree of God."  
Seriously, who exactly is White arguing against? Does Geisler once say in CBF or ever in his ministry even that the Cross was "God's desperate attempt to "fix" things after all had gone awry."?  I could argue that the Cross was by Covenant between the Father and the Son, not Decree. But, is White saying that Geisler doesn't think that Christ was "crucified from the foundation of the World"? Rev 13:8; Heb 13:20-21

The Vital Conclusion

After quoting Jonah 2:9 White offers:
"The most fundamental difference between the God-centered Gospel of the Apostles and of the Reformers and all other viewpoints is summed up in these few words. Is salvation a work of God and man, a cooperative effort? Is it something that God "sets up" like a cosmic multi-level marketing program where we "work the numbers" and gain eternal life as a the final prize? Is it a grand and beautiful design that simply awaits man's turning of the key, so to speak, to work? Is salvation of the Lord, of men, or a mixture of both?"
Again, who is he arguing against? Further, the "salvation" that Jonah was talking about was deliverance. If one reads Jonah 2:1-10 we find that Jonah was in the belly of the fish, and that his heart fainted and he gave up. That's when he remembered the mercy of the Lord, and he prayed to Him. Jonah says that he will sacrifice and pay what is due - he'll do what the Lord told him to do and go to Nineveh to preach. He recognizes that deliverance, his situation, and theirs, is of the Lord. It is His to save.

Jonah is not saying that God made the decision for him, or that God regenerated Jonah's heart so that he would have a new nature that would be obedient to God (which is going to be the argument White uses in the next few chapters). Jonah believes that God is merciful, knows that in order for him to be delivered from the belly of the fish that he must agree to do what God has told him to do.  Just quoting Jonah 2:9 by itself, and then explaining it through the eyes of Reformed theology seems to be a strong case. Except that the Reformed view doesn't hold up to a reading of the chapter the verse comes from.  God had a fish eat Jonah to get Jonah to do what God wanted Jonah to do. God did not regenerate him, or give him repentance, or give him faith, or anything like all the various things White argues. God put a situation into play that God knew would cause Jonah to do what God wanted to accomplish.

In the last paragraph of this chapter White seems to tie its content to Geisler saying:
"Many, including Dr. Geisler, speak of the sovereignty of God. But what do they mean? Dr. Geisler's position is unusual---almost unique. Since he claims it is in harmony with a "moderate Calvinistic" view, we need to understand his presentation and how it differs from the historic Reformed position." 
So the "vital issue" and the "vital conclusion" are supposed to be about Geisler but have nothing to do with his theology, or his work in CBF. What exactly is this book supposed to be about? Who cares if Dr. Geisler's position is different than the historic Reformed position? I thought White was against tradition and religion...

I almost stopped reading the book altogether during this chapter several times. The man seems to have an agenda to discredit Geisler even if he has to use everything except Geisler's work to do it. So far, this is not the book I expected to read. I will continue however.

Thanks for reading! I'm sure we'll get to more Biblical arguments soon-ish.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kev,

Once again this is an excellent article. Thank you! I would like to bring up a point that doesn’t get discussed a lot by five point Calvinists when the topic is the Divine Decrees and God’s sovereignty. Right on cue Dr. White says that for God to have absolute freedom and sovereignty His creatures can not have free will (a limited form of sovereignty). This is always related back to God’s decrees in eternity past. Basically God decreed it and we do it (any five point Calvinists reading this are free to correct my understanding if they wish).

All Christians agree that God interacts with His creatures. Since every creaturely thought, action, and interaction with God Himself has been decreed in eternity past hasn’t God also done away with His freedom as well? Since my actions have all been determined then so have God’s interactions with me. There is no other way.

This line of thought can be taken a step farther. In this theological system God knows everything (omniscience) because He decreed them in eternity past. Does God know what He will be doing in 1 year, 10 years, or a million years from now? If so then even His actions have been decreed and are fixed. Even God ends out loosing His freedom.

I hope this makes sense.


Kevl said...

Hi Glenn,

Yes it does indeed make sense. I've often had the same thought. Since the 5 (4,6 or 7) point Calvinist sees anything being able to change, or act, as an assault on God's Sovereignty in the end this removes God's own sovereignty.

God cannot "interact" with something that is set in stone. He cannot "intervene" into something set in stone.

In the end God is powerless to act Himself.

To play the Reformer's advocate, they would say that this is actually in keeping with their view of the nature of God.

First, His initial decision on how to make History happen must have been perfect because He Himself is perfect - therefore He would have neither need nor desire to change anything "as it goes."

Further since God is unchanging, any decision He made is unchanging.

Finally, they would see God as having to "react" to something in History as Him not being actually sovereign. As White puts it in TPF, that God would be subject to His creation, or that His creation would somehow get the final say.

One of the biggest problems with Reformed theology which doesn't get explored enough is that they (seemingly unkowningly) have a view of God that makes Him like a man. Subject to Time, and actually limited in His ability to BE sovereign.

Pete's article God's Rube Goldberg Machine explores the Reformed position's limited sovereignty issue.

Chuck Missler, and even Norm Geisler both explore the fact that God is not inside Time or History, and that God is not subject to a "point of view." He doesn't "look ahead" as it were. He is outside of Time and has a view, and can interact with ALL of it.

God is not waiting for the future.

The Reformed theologian will think that he has contended well with your argument when he explains that God is unchanging.

However, what if we look "before" History, into Eternity Past (from our point of view).

When could a Reformed theologian say that God actually made a decision? Is not the act of decision a "change" in their view?

How could God make plans, if everything that happens in His Creation (which includes Heaven) is by His decree?

Even if we put the decision back to "before" God created Heaven and the Heavenly Hosts. The very act of deciding something is changing one's mind, which the Reformed theologian says is not possible for God.

With all their talk of exalting God, and promoting His sovereignty they actually have a low view of it. IMO.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kev,

You make a good point regarding the Reformed view of God being immutable (unchanging). That is something I have encountered before but had forgotten about. This is another point where I disagree with Reformed theology and I don’t see how our views can be reconciled. I believe that when the scripture teaches God is immutable it is in regards to His Divine attributes. In other words God has always been (and always will be) love, justice, righteousness, veracity, etc. While His attributes don’t change he is “allowed” to have freedom of action and thought as long as those actions and thoughts are consistent with His attributes. In my view the Reformed teaching on this pretty much forces God to be, for lack of a better word, inert.

Thank you once again.