Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is James White a Hyper-Calvinist? - Part 2

In my first article in this series, entitled "Is James White a Hyper-Calvinist?" I gave an overview of White's problem and the Biblical reason for entering into the difficulties James White alleges. Those problems are (probably among others he would name if pressed)

  • The Two-Wills "conundrum"
  • The "partial desire" and sovereignty problem
  • "God wills the salvation of all men" is a meaningless statement.

I propose to answer these problems, insofar as I have been able to find an answer in the reformed literature. Admittedly, my answers will not be satisfactory to many, but I hope they may help some whose minds are not biased one way or the other and provide encouragement to those who are inclined to reject hyper-Calvinism.

I'm going to tackle these problems one at a time. This post will deal with the "two-wills conundrum," and the rest will have to wait for another day -- hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Why enter into this question?

As I said in my previous blog post, I am not so concerned with whether White is or is not a hyper-Calvinist (though I think this is a legitimate concern), but whether good Bible interpretation is being upheld and the doctrines of the Christian faith adhered to.

The reason for entering into this debate is that White has denied, and leads others to deny, that God has any meaningful will for the salvation of the reprobate. The scripture plainly teaches the opposite of what White has claimed, and that is the bottom line for entering into the discussion. It is also the bottom line for tackling the admittedly difficult problems that accompany the Biblical concepts.

The "two-wills conundrum"

White has alleged that viewing certain passages of the Bible as teaching that God wills the salvation of those who are destined never to believe, forces us into an awkward position. Here's White again:

Yeah, and that's one of the problems I have with Ezekiel 18 or 33 being read into this particular issue, because I feel like we're being forced to somehow attribute to God some kind (for some reason)...some kind of an attitude or desire that I just never see, not only do I never see expressed, but it would likewise force us to say that God has an unfulfilled desire, but it's not really the same desire as he chooses to fulfill with other people. And we're left not only--you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum, now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it.

~James White, from transcript of Dividing Line radio program at Theological Meditations.

According to White, attributing beneficent motives and desires to God in respect of the offer of salvation to the non-elect involves us in conundrums. God would have to have two wills: a will that decrees the damnation of some men, and a desire that those very men not be damned.

First, I would note that this is the very objection that most Arminians would raise against Calvinism! Election cannot be true, they would say, because it would involve God in willing the damnation of some men whom he has expressly said he loves. The Arminian objection and White's objection are one, the respective parties simply solve the problem in a different way. Both sides agree that the doctrines of election and universal love cannot both be true. One side rejects God's love for all men and the other side rejects the sovereign purpose of God in election.

Both are equally unbiblical, and both rest on the same philosophical objection.

Calvin's answer

Calvin, in answering an imagined objection against the doctrine of election based on Matthew 23:37 ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem..."), answers by maintaining both God's love for all men and the sovereign election of God, while flatly denying that God has two wills in the matter.

But this will of God, of which we speak, must be defined. For it is well known what exertions the Lord made to retain that people, and how perversely from the highest to the lowest they followed their own wayward desires, and refused to be gathered together. But it does not follow that by the wickedness of men the counsel of God was frustrated. They object that nothing is less accordant with the nature of God than that he should have a double will. This I concede, provided they are sound interpreters. But why do they not attend to the many passages in which God clothes himself with human affections, and descends beneath his proper majesty? He says, "I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people," (Isa. 65:1), exerting himself early and late to bring them back. Were they to apply these qualities without regarding the figure, many unnecessary disputes would arise which are quashed by the simple solution, that what is human is here transferred to God. Indeed, the solution which we have given elsewhere (see Book 1, c. 18, sec. 3; and Book 3, c. 20, sec. 43) is amply sufficient: viz. that though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold, yet he does not in himself will opposites, but, according to his manifold wisdom (so Paul styles it, Eph. 3:10), transcends our senses, until such time as it shall be given us to know how he mysteriously wills what now seems to be adverse to his will.

~Calvin, Institutes 3.24.17, emphasis added.

Calvin calls us back from idle speculation and would have us simply accept the truths plainly taught in the scripture, holding our philosophical objections in abeyance until we are given to know more fully the mysteries of God's will.

The answer of R.L. Dabney

Dabney goes slightly further than Calvin. He attempts to explain the complexity of the Divine psychology in this matter, and raises and answers a possible objection of an opponent. The objection is this: if God is all-powerful, then he must be capable of fulfilling his wishes, and no propension would go unfulfilled. Since God is all-powerful, if he really has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, he could have no inclination to be merciful to sinners who ultimately receive no mercy. Here are Dabney's words in answer:

Now, it is obvious that this reply proceeds on the following assumption: that if the obstacle of physical inability be removed in God, by his consciousness of omnipotence, there cannot be any other rational ground, in the view of God's omniscience, that may properly counterpoise or hold back the propension of mercy. But the statement of this is its sufficient exposure. It must always be exceedingly probable that an all-wise mind may see, among the multifarious concerns of his vast kingdom, good reasons for his action, of which we cannot have the least conception.

* * *

When we have admitted this, we have virtually admitted that God may see, in his own omniscience, a rational ground other than inability for restraining his actual propension of pity towards a given sinner. The first objection, then, however plausible in appearance, is found to be empty. And it is especially to be noted, that while it professes a zeal for God's infinitude, it really disparages it. Our position is, after all, the modest and reverential one.

~R. L. Dabney, God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, As Related to His Power, Wisdom, and Sincerity, quoted at Spurgeon.org.

Thus Dabney, too, would call us from idle speculation and call us immodest for raising the objection.

The attempt to reconcile God's sovereignty with universal love is, indeed, a difficult one. But we should not allow the difficulty to push us into unbelief. It is my contention that the Arminians and the hyper-Calvinists both (and White ... whether he be classified as a hyper-Calvinist or no) have allowed the difficulty to push them into doubting the plain witness of the Bible.


atruefaith.com said...

Theologically, I can't say that White is a hyper-calvinist. However, from an observational standpoint I have my suspicions. Here's to sincerely hoping that James prove my suspicions wrong.


Steve said...

Hey Brad ... thanks for commenting. I wish White would clarify the matter for us, but he seems intent on insisting that he is not a hyper-Calvinist while giving us no clear statements that would confirm his innocent status.

P.S. Are you "my" Bradford? If so ... you owe me twenty bucks!