Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Debater's Potter - Part 8 - Chapter 4

Welcome back to this on going series on Dr. James R. White's book The Potter's Freedom(TPF) as I read, react to and interact with his book as a Non-Calvinist-Non-Arminian. Last time we looked at the book Dr. White is attempting to rebut, Dr. Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free(CBF) and found it to be very unlike how White has characterized it in TPF.

We are all the way up to Chapter 4 and that means we have a long way to go, but I am confident if I breeze through that I'll be accused of misrepresenting White, and intentionally ducking arguments. So on we go!

Chapter 4 - The Will of Man

"The single most important quotation in all of Chosen But Free is found on pages 233-234:" 
Because it seems so important to White I'm going to quote CBF here:
"God's grace works synergistically on free will. That is, it must be received to be effective. There are no conditions for giving grace, but there is one condition for receiving it--faith. Put in other terms, God's justifying grace works cooperatively, not operatively. 
Faith is a precondition for receiving God's gift of salvation... Faith is logically prior to regeneration, since we are saved "through faith" (Eph 2:8-9) and "justified by faith" (Rom 5:1 NASB)." 
As soon as one reads Geisler use the word "synergistically" one knows how White will respond, and he does as expected:
"Synergism versus monergism. Grace dependent upon man's volition versus the powerful, all-sufficient grace preached by the Reformation... here Dr. Geisler summarizes his soteriology by promoting the very position the Reformers rejected long ago. Saying God's grace "works synergistically on free will" is not a Reformed view." 
Notice please; once again White is offended that Geisler disagrees with his Reformed theology, not with the Bible. After his offense is made clear White goes on to imply that Geisler is actually a Roman Catholic (again).
"Rome likewise teaches this kind of synergism..."
He goes on for a bit on this but it is little more than a rehash of Chapter 1. After, he brings forth the Reformed Calvinists claim:
"Synergism is the hallmark of man's religions: monergism is the mark of the biblical gospel." 
This bold statement is left completely unsupported. Instead, he goes on to mock Geisler for a bit. His mocking picks up a theme of cleverly re-interpreting what Geisler argues to be something that would be  received at least as being distasteful, to (as I would receive it) being blasphemous.
"While God tries to save as many people as possible (limited, however, by human free will), one thing He manages to do without hindrance is to sovereignly will the freedom of man to resist His salvific will." 
It is exceedingly hard to take the man seriously in any scholarly fashion because he continually engages in this type of fallacious argumentation. Then White accuses Geisler of not using "meaningful exegesis" (whatever that is supposed to mean), which also undermines White's own argument since as of yet there has been exactly ZERO exegesis (meaningful or otherwise) in TPF.  After his rant, White moves on to (what I think is) a very interesting part of Geisler's argument in CBF.
"Geisler begins by arguing that men must be free or else 1) God is to be blamed for the origin of evil and 2) men cannot be held responsible otherwise. The fact that the Bible addresses both of these issues clearly (as we have seen above) is not addressed before Geisler comes to his conclusion that the reformed viewpoint cannot be the right one." 
I'm not sure where White thinks he has shown what the Bible "clearly" says about these things "above" I have read this book in exceeding detail, and have re-read each chapter at least twice before commenting. I ASSUME White must mean that how God works the evil that men intend for His own purpose, and that while God has determined everything and man can will nothing that God doesn't actually go against someone's will because God gives them that will... I could however be wrong. It is possible that White produced Scripture "above" which "clearly" shows the Reformed position is correct and I just missed it; not. ;)

White then goes on to complain that Geisler "completely ignored" arguments about these very issues made by Calvin, Turrentin, Hodge, Wright and Reymond. He then states:
"This is one of the major reasons why knowledgeable Reformed readers are so troubled by CBF's cavalier attitude toward such vital issues. To conclude that the entire system is bankrupt by the third page of the "discussion" shows a lack of concern for meaningful interaction or representation."
Now I find this very entertaining... but we've covered how White's accusations against Geisler are better pointed at himself several times already. Perhaps White is confused that Geisler is actually NOT in agreement with White's version of the Reformation, and Reformed theology. White seems to consistently be caught by surprise by this fact.

Apparently White has returned to the beginning of CBF, and this is his response to the first chapter. Notice that in all of our studies so far, White has not actually responded to ANYTHING from CBF's first chapter. You can see what I'm talking about by reading the Part 7 of this series where I give a review of CBF's first two chapters. Or better yet you can read Chosen But Free yourself.

To copy White: This is why I as a knowledgeable reader am so troubled with TPF's cavalier attitude toward such vital issues! White doesn't even ATTEMPT to answer the questions posed to Extreme Calvinists in the first chapter of CBF. Such as: Why blame me? Who made the Devil do it? Who made the Devil? Unlike TPF which seems to be little more than a smeer campaign against Geisler CBF digs into these questions, and many more.
"The second chapter of CBF presents the following reasons why "free will" must be true 1) Without it, men are not responsible for their actions (p. 25); 2) It is part of the way God created man (p. 22); 3) The Bible teaches free will (p. 32); 4) Denial of free will makes God the author of sin (pp. 20-21). Later in the book he argues that to embrace the Reformed position with its denial of human "free will" leads to "failing to take personal responsibility for our actions." 
Instead of answering any of these White quotes N.T. Wright's similar view of Arminian doctrine and says that:
"Wright managed to outline the second chapter of CBF to years before it was written!" 
I'm sure this was added to amuse his readers. But does anyone consider it is any kind of answer... moving from one type of mocking to another White offers what he calls an:
"example of a conversation between a Calvinist and an Arminian fits the presentation in CBF so closely that one again cannot miss the identification of Dr. Geisler's position as thoroughly Arminian:"

As amusing as these "example" conversations are they are often amusing to those who agree with you and deeply offensive to those who disagree. I think that the following, light hearted, "example" of consistent Calvinistic witnessing is funny. As offensive as I am sure it is to Calvinists, I think it is consistent with White's theology - if perhaps not his practice.

I always get a laugh out of that video, and then I feel guilty for laughing because in actuality it is tragic.

White continues:
"We are told that reason "demands that all moral creatures be morally free, that is, they have the ability to respond one way or another." Why or how reason can "demand" this is not clear."
Sigh, this is just another example of White refusing to admit he understands Geisler's argument. It is telling that White leaves out the first word of the sentence he quotes; the word "Therefore". Here is Geisler's point, you can determine if it is clear enough for White to understand or not.
"However, sound reason demands that there is no responsibility where there is no ability to respond. It is not rational to hold someone responsible when they could not have responded. And God is not irrational. His omniscience means God is the most rational Being in the universe. Therefore, reason also demands that all moral creatures are morally free; that is they have the ability to respond one way or another. 
Geisler adds footnote 21 at this point "Minimally, free will is the ability to do otherwise. The degree to which a person is free is debated among Christians who reject the extreme Calvinist's view (see appendices 1 and 4). What they agree on is that one cannot be both forced and free (see Chapter 4)."  
Whatever evil we do and are responsible for, we could have responded otherwise."
I just don't see the validity of White's claim that Geisler did not clearly explain why and how "reason demands" this to be so. There is more of the same that I just don't need to comment on, and then we find:
"Dr. Geisler knows that true Calvinists do not make the claim that the image of God is erased, for he includes a footnote that says:"
I have to giggle at the term "true Calvinists." Why is there such an obsession with adding the word "true" to the front of titles and terms in Calvinism? Are you a "true Christ Follower?" Do you have "true saving faith"? Are you "truly saved?" Apparently the "true Calvinists" agree with White's theology. Here's Geisler's footnote:
"Footnote 154 Some extreme Calvinists deny that they believe the image of God is "destroyed" in fallen humans--at least formally. But logically this is what their view demands and practically this is what they hold."
White responds:
"We are given no logical reason to accept this claim, and given the many errors found in CBF's understanding of the Reformed position there is really no reason to extend credulity to such an assertion."
Once again White claims there is no reason given but Geisler writes:
"A defense of moderate Calvinism is found in Chapters 4 & 5 ("Avoiding Extreme Calvinism") in two ways: explicitly by a critique of extreme Calvinism and implicitly in the implied alternative. Further criticisms of the extreme Calvinist view are recorded in Appendices 1-9. Footnotes 154 155"
I very much tire of reading people who don't expect their work to be examined at all.  White goes to his next paragraph and starts it with:
"Do Calvinists believe man has a will or not?" 
He doesn't answer the question at all in the paragraph, but he claims that Geisler holds that unless a will is "free" it is not "real." That enslavement equals destruction - "the clear distinctions of the Reformed confessions of faith notwithstanding." Sigh... 

Now in order to attempt an answer at his own question, White will grossly mischaracterize Geisler's point. It seems the purpose is to avoid having to answer his own question.
"Dr. Geisler says that "extreme Calvinists" believe unregenerate men cannot "respond to God." This is simply untrue."
Really? That is simply untrue? Reformed Online puts it this way: "A heart of stone is totally unresponsive to spiritual truth. An unregenerate man will no more respond to the gospel than will a rock. Regeneration is absolutely essential if fallen man is to believe." The near infallible (j/k) puts it this way: "The natural man does not have the mind of Christ so even if someone preaches to him until he is blue in the face, he will not respond to the gospel unless God grants belief and repentance (see John 6:65 & 2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:8)." and also this way "A blind man cannot see unless given new eyes. Shining a light into a blind man's eyes will not help him see. Nor will people respond to the word of God apart form the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. "

Apparently White is wrong... but wait!! Not if you see it the way White wants you to.
"Unregenerate men who are enemies of God most assuredly respond to God: in a universally negative fashion..... so it is simply untrue to assert they do not respond to God."
Even if you haven't read CBF I'm COMPLETELY SURE that you who are reading this article are able to tell the context in which Geisler made that statement is exactly the same as the context in which the articles at Monergism and Reformed Online both said the exact same statement. White is simply twisting CBF and making clever arguments as much as is humanly possible.

But why does White behave this way? Well I can't read the man's intentions any better than I can read his mind, but I did notice one thing. He never answered his own question, in the context he asked it. "Do Calvinists believe man has a will or not?" Not to mention, the many other much more important questions about and challenges to his theology that Geisler asks and points out in CBF's first two chapters.

Abandoning the question, White moves on to what he calls a "common error" "of Arminians" which he says is found in CBF:
"Dr. Geisler says that we cannot believe God "violates" the free choice of any human being in order to save that person."
White goes on to interpret this and argue against his interpretation but I find the argument most funny because White wrote in his first chapter:
"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..." 
I think I discussed before that in a universe where every detail has been decreed to happen exactly as it will it is impossible to intervene. Yet it is funny to read White say "We dare not think that Joseph's brothers were forced against the desires of their hearts..." Why do we dare not? Doesn't the Potter have absolute freedom? Are you offended by His freedom? I jest... I jest...

OK here's White's actual argument:
"The Bible is very clear that God in His sovereign mercy frees men from bondage and sin and raises them to spiritual life. He does this not because the sinner does something to allow Him to so act, but solely on the basis of His sovereign power. This is not dehumanizing man but freeing man. Because of this fundamental misunderstanding, CBF represents the Reformed view as teaching a "violation" of man's will."
We of course are not given any Scripture to back any of this up. This is merely speculation of how a God of the Calvinist understanding would accomplish pre-faith regeneration. Of course Pre-Faith Regeneration is a completely extra-biblical thesis, that is it is something not found in or required by the Scriptures. He also adds the idea that Geisler teaches that God needs man to "allow" Him to do something. God doesn't violate the will of man, not because God needs man to allow Him, not because God is not free to, not because God is not able to, but because the God of the Scripture would not. What's more the God of the Scripture is so powerful that He doesn't NEED TO.

So if man universally responds to the grace of God in rebellion, as was White's argument against CBF above, then how is changing a person's will not "violating" it? Calling such "freeing" man from the bondage of his sinful will doesn't change the fact that it violates his sinful will. If China invaded the USA and claimed to be "freeing" the US citizens from their bondage to the US government would calling it "freeing them" change the fact that the US citizens don't want to be Chinese?  The argument is laughable in my opinion.
"There is no other way of interpreting Geisler's intention. He was not merely saying that God would not "violate" man's freedom: he was explicitly asserting that God "will do everything within His loving power to save all He can." That phrase "all that He can" is anathema to any kind of Reformed belief.... the God of Scripture is able to save perfectly and completely all He desires to save: the fact that not all are saved leads inexorably to the truth of divine election."
I wonder if finding creative ways to interpret Geisler got old for White as he wrote TPF. Here we find White implying that Geisler teaches that God is not able to save more people, it is outside of His power and abilities. Where as Geisler really teaches that God will not save more because to do so would to be go outside of His character and attributes. Geisler does not teach a weak God, God teaches a consistent, truthful, loving, and all powerful God. The very same God the Scriptures teach about. 

Dead In Sin
"Reformed authors frequently point to the biblical teaching that man is "dead in sin" as substantiation of their belief that God must be absolutely sovereign and salvation must be completely of free grace and not a synergistic cooperation between God and man since man is not capable of "cooperating" anymore than a corpse is able to help in its own resurrection." 
Yep that's what they say.
"CBF invests a great deal of effort in the attempt to redefine "spiritual death" so that it is no longer incompatible with "free choice" and human autonomy."
I didn't notice that when I read CBF.... but once again this is just another example of White being surprised that Geisler disagrees with him. Apparently if you disagree with White you are "redefining" something.  How does White "define" what he calls "spiritual death"?
"Unregenerate man is fully capable of understanding the facts of the gospel: he is simply incapable, due to his corruption and enmity, to submit himself to that gospel."
"Submit himself to that gospel"? What does that mean? The Gospel is a Report to be Believed is a good article for White to read. 

How does White explain his definition of being "dead in sin" which he calls "spiritual death" (a name chosen for no reason from Scripture that I can discern)? Writing of Eph 2 White asserts:
"But obviously Paul intends something more than "separation" when he contrasts the horrific state of the "spiritually dead" with the glorious position of the person who is alive in Christ. The very use of the imagery of resurrection shows us this." 
Oh... that's how you get that Paul was saying people cannot savingly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ? "Obviously" he meant something more... too bad Paul didn't have access to back then. He would have been more clear I'm sure.... again I jest! I jest! Believe me these articles are not fun to write... not even in the slightest.

White makes an informative statement right here which I think we would be remiss not to look at:
"What is "obliterated" is the ability of man to subject himself to the law of God, not the man himself."
He's talking about what is destroyed in a man. It is interesting that to White, believing the Gospel is the same as subjecting oneself to the "law of God." It is this foundation that he builds the rest of his theology on. It is this all together wrong interpretation of believing that forces White to see TULIP in the rest of Scripture. This is manifested again when talking about sinful man coming to faith:
"Are we to believe that such a person who is totally separated from God can come up with righteous desires, love for truth, repentance toward God, etc., simply from themselves?"
Is this what must happen for a person to be saved? This truly is the thrust of White's actual argument. Since he holds to Lordship Salvation and the Scriptures are clear that unregenerate man cannot do what is pleasing to God then White must hold to a view like TULIP.

White then talks about Romans 1:18-32 and says:
"So while the unsaved man knows the truth of God's existence, this is clearly not the same thing as asserting that he is able to embrace and obey the gospel. The two concepts are completely distinct, and no effort is made by CBF to connect the two." 
While I would agree, somewhat, with White here. The two concepts are different in that one is general and the other is specific. White's Lordship Salvation aside, one what grounds does White base that men are NOT able to believe the Gospel while they can believe that God exists? He doesn't say.

What is more important however is that Paul says some very important things in the passage. Rom 1:24, Rom 1:26, Rom 1:28. God gave them over to a debased mind. Is not White's position that men are "slaves to sin" their will is already in "bondage to sin" and that this means they can do nothing but sin? Not only WHY would Paul write then that God would "give them over" to their debased mind - but HOW could that even be accomplished logically. White offers NO explanation for this.

Further, White asserts in TPF over and over that God does not interact with Humanity based on anything but Himself. Why then does Paul say that because of the people's behaviour - their refusal to worship God - that "therefore" God gives them over? Geisler isn't arguing that Rom 1 proves people can believe the Gospel, he argues that it shows God's interaction with people. Those who refuse are turned over to their debased mind, those who don't refuse? They are apparently NOT turned over to their debased mind.
White then spends a few pages complaining that Geisler isn't being exegetical (pot, kettle) and that his views are Arminian.... doesn't this get old? I am even getting exhausted with noticing it. Such behavior must be tiresome to keep up. 

White asks:
"But what does it mean to say that a spiritually dead person, while dead, can still "reach out and accept the lifeline"? How can that be? Dead men do not reach out for anything."
Great question... but perhaps you could ask it in the context of what Geisler is arguing. Geisler indicates that being dead in sin is being separated from God. Not that one is inanimate. Of course White doesn't consistently argue that the one who is dead in sin is inanimate either. For White's idea of this dead man is that he is limp with regard to believing but active with regard to rebellion. Look on a battlefield sometime Dr. White. Dead men don't fight. Your analogy fails you. 

He brings up Col 2:12-13. He says of it:
"Colossians 2:12-13 likewise teaches the truth that man is dead in sin outside of Christ."
Then he quotes CBF:
"Finally, in the parallel passage (Col 2:12-13) Paul speaks of those "dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature" being able to believe. For he said, "you have been raised with Him through your faith in the power of God."
To which White responds:
"This is all that is said. The analogy of baptism that is used in 2:11-12 precedes Paul's use of the word "dead," which is again connected with "being made alive" by Christ."
Oooh verses 11-12 precede verses 12-13?
"Seemingly the assertion being made is the person who has faith in the power of God is an unregenerate spiritually dead person."
Seems like White can understand Geisler when he wants to. He continues:
"How this is proven from the text, or why we should be lieve this in light of Paul's statement in Romans 8:8, is not explained." 
LOL.. OK I'm sorry but I just have to laugh. First, read the passage. Paul says it, not Geisler. How were we entered into all of this? Through faith.

COL 2:11-15
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Second, we've already seen how White completely disregards what Paul is teaching in Romans 8 back in Part 6 of this series.

At this point, the article is getting too long to continue. Next time I'll look at the rest of Chapter 4 of TPF where White accuses Geisler of "A Tremendous Inconsistency" and looks at several passages of Scripture. Interestingly in one case, White is completely correct about his exegesis of the passage - yet it  undermines his argument, even though Geisler is absolutely wrong about the very same passage.

Until next time, thanks for reading!


wisdomknowledge said...

Hi Kev,

I really have a hard time believing that Dr. White could write this with a straight face:

"Dr. Geisler says that "extreme Calvinists" believe unregenerate men cannot "respond to God." This is simply untrue."

I am going to provide a quotes from R.C. Sproul which contradicts Dr. Whites statement:

In this (Arminian) view fallen man is seen as a drowning man who is unable to swim. He has gone under twice and bobbed to the surface for the last time. If he goes under again he will die. His only hope is for God to throw him a life preserver. God throws the lifeline and tosses it precisely to the edge of the man’s outstretched fingers. All the man has to do to be saved is to grab hold. If he will only grab hold of the life preserver, God will tow him in. If he refuses the life preserver, he will certainly perish. Again in this (Arminian) illustration the utter helplessness of sinful man without God’s assistance is emphasized. The drowning man is in a serious condition. He cannot save himself. However, he is still alive; he can still stretch forth his fingers. His fingers are the crucial link to salvation. His eternal destiny depends upon what he does with his fingers. (But) Paul says the man is dead. He is not merely drowning, he has already sunk to the bottom of the sea. It is futile to throw a life preserver to a man who has already drowned. If I understand Paul, I hear him saying that God dives into the water and pulls a dead man from the bottom of the sea and then performs a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He breathes into the dead man new life...

Calvinism: A Closer Look
Chapter 13
Utter Depravity, Utter Oneness, Utter Bliss

Kevl said...

Hi Glenn, I've had a hard time to believe that Dr. White has written much of this book with a straight face. It is pretty hard to offend me but he has managed to do so.

I've actually emailed him personally to ask him some questions. It will be interesting to see if/how he responds.

Right now I'm reading Chapter 7, and in that chapter we finally will get to the meat of his calvinism.