James White's problem recapped
In the first two articles of this series, (see Is James White a Hyper-Calvinist and Is James White a Hyper-Calvinist, Part 2) I set out Dr. White's problem with the idea that God desires the salvation of all men. The Bible clearly presents God as willing the salvation of all, Calvin clearly taught it, and it has been held as important truth throughout the history of reformed theology.
In recent decades, a strict strand of Calvinism has become prominent in some Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist circles, which some of us see as dangerously close to (if not firmly ensconced in) the philosophy of hyper-Calvinism. But whether White is "technically" a hyper-Calvinist or not, he clearly denies that the gospel is a proclamation of God's love for all men.
God's "partially salvific desire"
One of the problems (see part 2) White has with the reformed doctrine of God's love for all men is that if we accept the notion, we would be required to see God as having a "partially salvific" intention. Here's White:
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.
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But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill.
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But, I have a problem then saying in my proclamation of the gospel to others means that I then have to affirm some kind of a partially salvific desire...cause it can only be partially salvific. If it's truly a salvific desire, and it's truly a desire of God, does he not do whatever he pleases in the heavens and the earth?"
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~James White, from transcript of Dividing Line radio program cited at Theological Meditations.
More recently, White has characterized the debate this way:
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.
~James White from AOMin.org.
White, ever the master of debate hyperbole, tries to paint his opponents into a corner. But it's a false dilemma. I doubt (I don't know, because I haven't listened to the recordings of the John 3:16 conference) that Dr. Allen said that God is "eternally bummed" (or the equivalent). And I know for a fact that this is not the position of Ponter or Byrne. Of course, these nice distinctions tend to get trampled whenever grotesque exaggeration is the preferred tool for debate. White apparently believes that any desire for the salvation of the non-elect on the part of God will necessarily involve God in eternal-bummed-out-ness. White has also said that he refuses "to portray God as having eternally decreed His own unhappiness...."
White, apparently, refuses to portray God in the way that scripture presents Him, or as Calvin presents Him. There are many places in Calvin's works where Calvin portrays God as desiring the salvation of all men. For example:
[F]or with respect to the law and the whole teaching of the prophets, God announces his wish that all should be saved. And surely we consider the tendency of the heavenly teaching, we shall find that all are promiscuously called to salvation. * * * Therefore God delighteth not in the death of him who dieth, if he repent at his teaching. But if we wish to penetrate to his incomprehensible counsel, this will be another objection: Oh! but in this way God is chargeable with duplicity; — but I have denied this, though he takes up a twofold character, because this was necessary for our comprehension. Meanwhile Ezekiel announces this very truly as far as doctrine is concerned, that God wills not the death of him that perishes: for the explanation follows directly afterwards, be you converted and live. Why does not God delight in the death of him who perishes? Because he invites all to repentance and rejects no one. Since this is so, it follows that he is not delighted by the death of him who perishes: hence there is nothing in this passage doubtful or thorny, and we should also hold that we are led aside by speculations too deep for us. For God does not wish us to inquire into his secret counsels: His secrets are with himself, says Moses, (Deuteronomy 29:29,) but this book for ourselves and our children. Moses there distinguishes between the hidden counsel of God, (which if we desire to investigate too curiously we shall tread on a profound abyss,)and the teaching delivered to us. Hence let us leave to God his own secrets, and exercise ourselves as far as we can in the law, in which God’s will is made plain to us and to our children.
~Calvin, Comm. Ezekiel 18:32
Does God desire obedience?
Surely the Bible says that God desires obedience.
22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
~1Samuel 15:22, KJV
This verse is referred to in Hosea 6:6 and by Jesus on a couple of occasions.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
~Matthew 9:13, KJV
So clearly God desires obedience. But is this a "partial" desire as White has alleged? If we accept White's reasoning, this desire for obedience can not be a "true" desire, because (in the words of White), "If it's ... truly a desire of God, does he not do whatever he pleases in the heavens and the earth?"
White engages in idle speculation to the detriment of true knowledge of God. If we are to know God, we must know Him as He has revealed himself. Having revealed Himself as desiring obedience to His commands, we must refrain from engaging in philosophical argumentation to cause us to deny the very thing God affirms about Himself. White's statement about a "partial salvific desire" amounts to nothing more than this kind of unbelief, whether it be hyper-Calvinism or not. It certainly goes "beyond Calvin" -- into a profound abyss.