Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
David Allen on John Owen
11/29/2008 - James White
The Q&A section of the John 3:16 Conference was mildly interesting. Thankfully, at least one Calvinist asked a direct, clear question. Noting that David Allen had chosen to spend the vast majority of his time repeating the arguments of Ponter and Byrne (rather than dealing with biblical materials), the question was asked if he would do more than the "read my paper on such and such a website" response and comment on Owen's argument for the atonement, which they referred to as the "double payment argument." Finally some serious argumentation to interact with.
A Former Calvinist "Saved Out of Calvinism"
11/28/2008 - James White
A Few More Thoughts on the SBC Inquisition
11/26/2008 - James White
In a matter of weeks I will be engaging Bart Ehrman on whether textual variation precludes the possibility of inspiration. It will be a vitally important debate, one that I hope will be of tremendous benefit to the entire body of Christ. And though I have no reason to think Dr. Ehrman is spending a lot of time focusing upon my position, I surely am focusing upon his. Hence, I have extensive reading and studying to do over the next number of weeks. I trust our regular blog readers will keep this in mind, and pray for me as I prepare for this vital encounter. [By the way, there is still room for you to join us for the debate, and even the cruise!].
I will continue my response to David Allen on Tuesday of next week. I must admit I am grieved by this whole situation. I know there are some who live for "blog conflict" and the like. I am not one of them. When I engage in controversy I try to do it for the sake of the furtherance of the truth of the gospel and the edification of God's people. I must admit, I am sick and tired of those who seem utterly intent upon promoting a narrow agenda, one-string banjo players who seem to have little else to do in life but to pluck their very limited number of notes.
In any case, this entire "he's an X" "no, you're a Y!" childishness makes me ill. Evidently, for a whole group of folks, the idea is this: hyper-Calvinism is dangerous (it is). Therefore, anyone with a higher Calvinism (one that seeks internal consistency in theology and exegesis, and does not find a lot of comfort in "antinomy" and "mystery") than these folks is to be stigmatized as a "hyper-Calvinist," even if they have shown, demonstrated, and proved their balance as a churchman, evangelist, preacher, theologian, or apologist. In the process, men of old who said and taught great things are harangued and attacked without the slightest effort to distinguish between the good and the bad in their writings and teachings. It is even to the point that if you interpret particular texts in a particular way, you are "hyper," even when those using these terms are utterly incapable of even attempting to prove you have mishandled the texts. It is amazing, and it is sad.
It was mentioned in my chat channel yesterday that, ironically, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) addressed this sixty years ago. Evidently, they did not have to identify those who disagreed with Murray as "hyper-Calvinists" back then. Too bad their maturity is not possessed by all today. (Click here for the article).
I guess the best way to refute the false accusations against me is not by playing the "my expert defines it this way" game. It is by simply living a balanced Christian life, demonstrating that the accusations are vacuous, and those making them little more than troublers of the body of Christ. Let the reader mark them out now and ask a simple question: what will they have accomplished ten years from now? Let time attend to the witness chair.
In any case, I did wish to briefly comment on the abuse of the historical sources that David Allen utilized. He claims to have a huge Puritan library, and I don't doubt that he does. He chided folks for not reading original sources. Yet, it seems to me that his presentation was massively dependent upon...secondary sources, in particular, as he himself stated, Tony Bryne and David Ponter. This comes out especially in his attempt to enlist Jonathan Edwards in the cause of denying particular redemption. It seems highly likely to me that Allen pulled the single citation he read on the topic directly from Tony Bryne's blog, where it appeared back in May of this year. It is a single citation from The Freedom of the Will.
From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby. As appears by what has been now shown, God has the actual salvation or redemption of a certain number in his proper absolute design, and of a certain number only; and therefore such a design only can be prosecuted in any thing God does, in order to the salvation of men. God pursues a proper design of the salvation of the elect in giving Christ to die, and prosecutes such a design with respect to no other, most strictly speaking; for it is impossible, that God should prosecute any other design than only such as he has: he certainly does not, in the highest propriety and strictness of speech, pursue a design that he has not. And, indeed, such a particularity and limitation of redemption will as infallibly follow, from the doctrine of God's foreknowledge, as from that of the decree. For it is as impossible, in strictness of speech, that God should prosecute a design, or aim at a thing, which he at the same time most perfectly knows will not be accomplished, as that he should use endeavours for that which is beside his decree.
Please don't ask me how anyone can read this and find universal atonement in it. I truly do not understand it, for it is clearly Edwards' intention to emphasize the specific purpose of God in the salvation of the elect. But this is not the first time I've encountered folks who can read phrases like "a particularity and limitation of redemption" and think it is actually saying the opposite. Traditions die hard. I would direct anyone to read the conclusion of Edwards' treatise (from which the above comes: in the eye-strain edition of Edwards' works, it is page 88 of volume 1) and see if it was his intention to give aid and comfort to the viewpoints of David Allen.
I wrote to a published Edwards scholar and inquired as to his opinion. He responded that it is very obvious that Edwards held to particular redemption, and noted in passing two texts indicating this.
This is certain, that God did not intend to save those by the death of Christ, that he certainly knew from all eternity he should not save by his death. Wherefore, it is certain that if he intended to save any by the death of Christ, he intended to save those whom he certainly knew he should save by his death. This is all that was ever pleaded for. (Works of JE, Vol 13, Yale UP, 1994, 211).
"Now can we suppose that Christ came down from heaven and went through all this upon uncertainties, not knowing what purchase he should get, how great or how small? Did he die only upon probabilities, without absolute certainty who, or how many, or whether any should be redeemed by what he did and suffered?" (ibid, 212).
Now, Dr. Allen seemed to want to fault modern Calvinists for not reading original sources. He also assumed we would all be shocked at what he was saying. I found that more than a little condescending, to be perfectly honest with you. It seemed hard to avoid the conclusion that he was accusing Sproul and Piper and MacArthur and Dever of being either ignorant or dishonest...or both. And though he had the temerity of accusing me of being a hyper-Calvinist, he didn't show the slightest familiarity with The Potter's Freedom, let alone the arguments it presents regarding particular redemption. In any case, it seems to me that Allen pulled his assertion about Edwards (which he presented with great flair and showmanship) directly from Byrne, and that without examining the context. Which seems to be the very thing he was busily faulting the rest of us for doing.
Well, as always, such situations as this one give us an opportunity to grow and learn. As such, we should be thankful for them.
Phil Johnson on "Desire"
11/26/2008 - James White
The Pyromaniac himself has weighed in on the John 3:16 Conference allegations that if you don't believe God is eternally bummed about failing to save those He desires to save you are a hyper-Calvinist. You can read his always well-written blog entry here. Hopefully by now you have gotten to the heart of the issue on this matter: Dr. Allen, and most of those who oppose Reformed theology (but who likewise seem utterly unwilling to engage the topic when the other side will be equally represented), find the term "hyper-Calvinism" a useful pejorative. Useful in the sense that it helps them to try to insulate their followers from actually hearing what the other side has to say. Hence, when I seek to be fully consistent in my beliefs, and as a result, refuse to portray God as having eternally decreed His own unhappiness, I am labeled a "hyper-Calvinist" (despite the fact that it is painfully obvious Calvin surely agreed). I see no evidence that God will be standing upon the parapets of hell weeping for eternity because of His failure to accomplish His will. I can proclaim God's command to repent and believe to all men, and I can do so with passion, not because I pretend to look into God's heart and mind, but because I know the reality of God's wrath, the sin of man, and I believe implicitly the promise of God that anyone who turns in faith to Christ will be saved. And as I noted on the DL yesterday, while the synergists get a lot of mileage out of preaching "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life if you will only let him into your heart" the absolutely necessary counterpoint to their feel-good proclamation is "however, I can never tell you He can truly save you perfectly and completely because, after all, my entire point is that He is helpless aside from your cooperation." Do they consistently follow through on that point? Of course not. Most embrace the "I have my ticket punched and I'm on my way to heaven, don't bother me about consistency or the work of the Spirit in my life" viewpoint. Makes not a lick of sense, but since they almost never put themselves in a position where they can be challenged on the topic (I was a part of an SBC mega church once: I know the culture, and if "Pastor" says it, you better believe it, brother) the incoherence of their systematic theology is rarely highlighted.
I am thankful Phil can put up with my slightly "stiffer" form of Calvinism. I would be more on the Reymond side than the Murray side, for example, and I am for a pretty obvious reason, I hope. How many of my Reformed compatriots are taking their soteriology into the contexts I do? Not many. When I have Roman Catholics and Mormons and JW's and Oneness Pentecostals and liberals and Muslims and atheists picking apart every book I write and every article I publish, well, the result is to be expected. I'm a bit focused on consistency. Sorta comes with the territory. If I can't back it up with sound and consistent exegesis, well, I'm not likely to find that position amenable to my faith. That's why I take the position I do regarding 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4: I simply have not found any counter-exegesis that makes any sense of the passages. And I am not one for doing the, "Well, Super Theologian X held a different view" routine.
I note also a very fascinating exchange taking place in the comments on Tom Ascol's last blog entry, found here. Malcom Yarnell scares me. Evidently, if I find my Presbyeterian brothers to be co-laborers in the kingdom, firm believers in the gospel of grace, compatriots in the battle against the powers of darkness and brothers in their passion for the freedom of God in salvation and the glory of Christ as Savior and Mediator, I'm just not quite "Baptist" enough for him. Of course, I also ran across this comment from him that made my head spin: "In response, please note that I consider the Roman Catholic church in the same way I do Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, although I do prefer the latter’s doctrines in some ways: the churches hold to innovations that countermand the New Testament, and thus may be classified as sub-New Testament." - Malcolm." "Prefer the latter's doctrines in some ways"???? I am simply left without words at such a statement. Amazing, just amazing.
The Reliability of the New Testament Text
11/26/2008 - James White
My presentation on the reliability of the New Testament from Durham, North Carolina. Warning! Long one! Might not want to try to watch this without a good connection!
David Allen's False Accusation
11/24/2008 - James White
David Allen is a Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He spoke at the John 3:16 Conference recently--the "lets circle the wagons and warn everyone about the Calvinists" get-together that was lacking the one thing that truth demands: serious interaction with the other side. Well, serious exegesis likewise was nowhere to be found, too. But in any case, I was quickly notified after his talk that he accused me of hyper-Calvinism, and after reading some reports from those in attendance, briefly commented on the absurdity of the charge. [He has written in defense of his accusation here]. I noted with some humor that the likes of Hunt and Patterson and Vines and Allen were safely ensconced in the friendly environs of a super-church in Georgia while I was standing before audiences of Muslims and Christians in London proclaiming the glory of the person of Christ and calling all those who could hear me to faith in Jesus Christ. In case Dr. Allen is unaware of this, hyper-Calvinists do not call all men to faith in Christ. That is why they don't like me and attack me at every opportunity. Obviously, my unwillingness to ascribe incoherence and inconsistency to the will of God does not mean I do not freely and openly call all men to faith in Christ. I put together some examples from my trip to London (and the debate at Duke). I think they speak for themselves. What hyper-Calvinist speaks as I do here?
I will play David Allen's comments on the DL tomorrow and interact with them. Till then, I simply point out that he seems to wish to establish a definition that forces one to somehow confess what God desires without providing any biblical basis for how we as creatures are to know this. Does God command repentance? Of course. Of all? Yes, of all. Do you proclaim the gospel to all? Yes, to all. Do you say it is the duty of all to believe? Surely, of course. Do you believe the proclamation of the gospel is the means by which God's Spirit draws the elect unto Christ? Most assuredly. So what is the single basis of Allen's accustion of "hyper-Calvinism"? My refusal to believe God decreed His eternal disappointment. I find nothing in Scripture or in the LBCF1689 that forces me to believe that God chose to create in such a fashion as to create His own unhappiness, His own lack of fulfillment. I see no reason to believe that God desires to do something He does not will to accomplish. It is only man's limited nature that even raises the issue, for we know that the proclamation of God's law reveals God's prescriptive will, i.e., do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not lie, etc. Hence we ascribe to God the concept of "desire" and say God does not "desire" that man do these things. Yet, we likewise know that texts like Genesis 50:20 tell us that God has willed that such events take place, and that, in fact, He uses them to accomplish His own purposes, His own glory. The problem is in trying to read into God's will our own self-limitations. I can freely offer the gospel to all, not because I reject election, nor because I ascribe to God a human-oriented desire that runs directly counter to His own self-revelation and consistency, but because I do not know the identity of the elect, and I have the full promise of Scripture that no man, no woman, no child, will ever, ever turn in faith to Jesus Christ and yet be rejected by Him. ALL who believe will be saved. Will any man believe outside of God's grace, God's granting of repentance and faith? Surely not, but again, I do not possess knowledge of the identity of the elect. Hence, I can freely and properly proclaim the duty to repent and believe to all, knowing that those who do so will be those God has drawn to Himself. I find myself completely consistent with the Apostle who likewise said he endured all the trials and tribulations of the ministry "for the sake of the elect" (2 Timothy 2:10).
"Ladies and Gentlemen, James White is a hyper-Calvinist." So accuses David Allen. Ladies and gentlemen, David Allen is making false accusations. I repudiate the false accusation, and assert that my confession of faith, and twenty five years of ministry and evangelism, expose the accusation for what it is. But who I am is irrelevant: I challenge David Allen to stand before the students and faculty of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and engage me on one battleground only: the inspired, inerrant, living text of the sacred Scriptures, the Bible. Do what was not done in Georgia: go to the text consistently and in depth and deal with John 6, John 10, Ephesians 1, Romans 8 and 9, and do so without hiding from the challenge of those on the other side. I have proven my ability to engage in such debate fairly and with honor and respect. I do not have to accuse David Allen of anything. I don't have to try to scare people away from listening to him. Go ahead! Listen! Examine! Study! But unlike those at the John 3:16 Conference, I have proven my ability to engage the best they have to offer, directly, without hiding. There would be no greater opportunity for the students of SWBTS to see the exposure of one their own leaders have identified as a "hyper-Calvinist" than in such an encounter! Will that happen? I doubt it, since the facts are clear. I'm not a hyper-Calvinist, and the last thing the leadership wants is both sides to be presented with fairness and clarity. And that, my friends, speaks volumes, does it not?
Update from the PyroManiac/John 3:16 Conference
11/08/2008 - James White
I noted last evening the irony of my being in London to do four debates on Islam (one on the Trinity and Shirk, one on the Deity of Christ, and a two-parter with Shabir Ally on Jesus and Muhammad in the Bible) and the "John 3:16 Conferenc" in Woodstock, Georgia. As those of you who travel thousands of miles across seven time zones know, the day of your arrival can be a little bit surreal, and I wrote that post in that state. Hence its brevity! In any case, I noted last evening that Phil Johnson had commented on the issue as well, and his post can be found here. I thank Phil for taking time out of his busy editing schedule to post that. I will be seeing him at the end of this journey. Unfortunately, last I knew, his travel schedule will not allow him to attend the dialogue with Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah at Duke University the evening before our conference begins. In any case, I am thankful for the clarification.
I am living proof that a "high Calvinist" can be biblically grounded and yet can stand firmly against hyperism. I am often identified as a "compromiser" by the small cadre of hypers out there, some of whom live behind a keyboard. I drive them nuts since I am obviously unashamed of my Reformed position and in fact identify it as the heart and soul of my apologetic zeal. I fully know how my views could become cold and academic, and I know there have been those in the past who have fallen into that trap. Of course, I can identify the dangers of loss of balance in reference to almost any theological position, any divine truth. Beware the genetic fallacy when evaluating argumentation! It is one of the most common flaws in modern thought.
In any case, the hypers detest me, and there is a reason for it! I do everything they detest while upholding the Kingship of God in glorifying Himself in the salvation of His elect. Meanwhile, the synergists of all stripes, including those modern Southern Baptists who refuse to use historical terminology of their position (indeed, who rarely have sufficient "system" in their "systematic theology" so that their views can be identified in any consistent fashion other than "non-Reformed"), will continue to throw the "hyper-Calvinist" moniker around as a scare tactic, hoping, it seems, that their significantly less than compelling argumentation will be enough to keep the promising young minds in their churches from considering Reformed theology. But, alas, just as is the case amongst the Calvary Chapels---when you direct folks to the Bible, you are directing them to the very heart and soul of Reformed theology, the living text itself. So you have to try to overlay it with as much human tradition as you can lest they see with clarity the power and freedom of God that shines from every page! That seems to have been the purpose in this conference in Georgia as well. Give the pastors some kind of argumentation to use---not a full response, not a meaningful exegetical position to espouse, but just enough of a response to deflect interest.
Well, much to do in preparation for this time of ministry, so I shall leave it there. Continue to pray for the upcoming debates here in London!
A Quick Refutation of Dr. Allen from London
11/07/2008 - James White
Isn't it ironic? I am in London, England, preparing to do public debates with Islamic apologists, seeking to present and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Lordship, and the Arminians are all gathered at Johnny Hunt's church to try to convince folks not to listen to the Calvinists. Don't you find something just a bit ironic in that? I'm out on the front lines pressing the claims of Christ and calling Muslims to bow to His lordship while those who will falsely accuse me of being a "hyper-Calvinist" are safely ensconced in the friendly environs of Georgia, sniping at Reformed folks---who, of course, were not invited to participate, debate, or discuss.
I noted in a report of today's presentation by Dr. David Allen (provided here) these words:
James White is a hyper-Calvinist by the definition of Phil Johnson. Oct. 10 on the Dividing Line White denied God wills the salvation of all men which is against Tom Ascol.
Let it be known that I believe God uses the proclamation of the Gospel as the means by which He draws His own unto Himself; be it known that I believe we are commanded to evangelize, and any Arminian Southern Baptist who has not been in Salt Lake City at the General Conference or outside the District Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses or outside the national convention of the American Atheists or who will not be calling men to faith in Jesus Christ after defending His deity here in London next week need not attempt to argue this point with me. If you believe you have to affirm that God is disappointed in Christ, disappointed in His attempts to do something He tries to accomplish but can't, to avoid being called a "hyper-Calvinist," then let's stop playing games about the meaning of words. If you can evangelize, call men to Christ, believe in common grace, etc., and still end up smeared by the "hyper" name, then clearly the debate has devolved down to a level beneath what is proper for believers.
I did notice with some sadness that, as usual, the main thrust of the presentation was not biblical at all. And this will always remain the difference between the Reformed and those who cling to man's sovereignty. One side will be able to open the Word, the other will always have to gloss over surface-level discussions. Such is the nature of the situation.
So once again I contrast the difference between how Reformed folks address these issues (seeking debate and dialogue, providing in-depth exegesis, taking our beliefs to the marketplace, proclaiming Christ on the front lines) and how it is approached by others (monologue, never dialogue, shallow, surface-level interpretation).