Opinions on faith and life

Series: The Hunt/White Debate, Part One

2009-06-28

I don’t remember precisely how many years ago it was when I first came across the the theological system known as Calvinism. But I was introduced to it by an online friend, who provided recommended links and book titles. I read through those and took notes over a period of about six months, and of course everything seemed so very airtight and logical. But in the spirit of Prov. 18:17 I knew I must give equal effort to examining the arguments in opposition to this system. So I did, and again I took notes.

At the end of it I compared the arguments and scoured the scriptures once again, concluding that Calvinism as defined by its proponents today is a reprehensible smear against the very nature of God, and an oft-mentioned reason for rejection of the gospel. If, as Calvinists frequently claim, all opposition to it is based upon failure to understand what it teaches, then we can only explain how so many and varied groups of people have thus failed by concluding that Calvinists have done the poorest job of clarifying their teachings.

Several years ago there was a debate on Calvinism between Dave Hunt and James White, with White arguing for the affirmative (supporting Calvinism). You can read the PDF of the debate at Scribd. Since White is a respected representative of Calvinism and Hunt of non-Calvinism, such a debate serves as a valuable microcosm of the larger debate which has raged since Calvin. I reproduce below only the outline of the debate, adding my comments beneath each point. So please read through the debate first. And be sure not to skim over the parts by the opposing viewpoint to your own, only reading your side’s assessment of their words. I made a similar mistake taking the word of my Calvinist friend’s assessment, who naturally concluded that of course Hunt was obviously the bad guy with an un-Christlike attitude. Having later read it for myself, of course I have the opposite opinion.

(This series is also available in online book form at my book reader.)

 


 

CALVINISM AFFIRMED, by James White

White begins with unsubstantiated claims: that Hunt misquoted Matthew 23:37, and that his objections to Calvinism were based upon common misconceptions. This is what every Calvinist I’ve ever met has claimed. Yet as I said, one must wonder why pretty much everyone who isn’t a Calvinist doesn’t know what their actual beliefs are, if this claim is true.

White then likens Hunt’s argument to those of Roman Catholicism, in an obvious attempt to assign guilt by association. Yet Calvin himself praised and got the bulk of his theology from Augustine, who is cited by both the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) and Calvin as their father. The irony of White’s tactic here seems to have escaped him. Then White tries to put himself in a position to judge Hunt’s qualification to go out and study Calvinism and then write a book, as if no one could possibly grasp Calvinism without years and years of study. But this too exposes the inherent complexity and high philosophy of the Calvinist theological system. If one must have practically a university degree in order to understand it (or be allowed to write a book about it), one suspects that Calvinists doth protest too loudly about being misunderstood.

In lambasting Hunt’s book, What Love Is This?, White uses much subjective and vague terminilogy: the tenor was harsh... attacks upon historic figures were unfair and unkind, revealing a bias... misuse of sources... misconceptions... tradition over sound exegesis.... I am sure White would not accept such cheap accusations in return. But his condescending attitude toward Hunt as some ignorant rube who needs to be properly educated is quite conceited and brash. Again, White would not endure such insults in return.

White boldy proclaims that Dave Hunt does not understand the Reformed faith, going on to hurl further invectives against his book. He basically calls Hunt a liar when discussing traditions, then claims as all Calvinists do that only Calvinism is real Christianity, and that Calvinism is the only possible conclusion one can come to from reading scripture consistently, honestly, and thoroughly. It is one thing to declare all who disagree with us mistaken or deluded, but quite another to call them heretics. (Note: White didn’t use the H word, but described it thoroughly.) In light of all that, White’s challenge to the reader about holding both sides to the same standards is quite bold.

Under The Bible vs. Personalities White ignores the fact of the RCC claiming Augustine as their theological founder, and accuses Hunt of believing that if a teacher of the past held to doctrines he disagrees with, everything that person believed was wrong. How anyone could make such a claim and expect it not to be challeneged is beyond me. But he continues to do the very thing he accuses Hunt of doing: assigning guilt by association. Is it not White who declares that everything the RCC teaches must be wrong? And then he tries to claim that Hunt errs in using the term Calvinism! But non-calvinists use the term for the same reason Calvinists do: it’s a handy label. And Calvinists go on to assign the label Arminian to all who are non-Calvinists, regardless of whether or not they follow the teachings of Arminius. Yes, let’s use the same standards for both sides.

Under God’s Character, God’s Love White accuses Hunt of bowing to culture by exchanging sound biblical teaching (which he already claimed must be Calvinism) for sentimental traditions. Next White claims, in accordance with standard Calvinist thinking, that the free will of man to accept or reject salvation must necessarily mean that God is not free to elect and regenerate. But this is hardly an established or uncontested presumption; non-Calvinists argue that God has the sovereign right to allow man this freedom. White also argues that God cannot love all people while also being just to them and therefore punishing those who reject Him. This shows his fundamental misunderstanding of how God can be both loving and holy. He goes on to conclude that this makes God less than the creature, man.

White recognizes that we all experience varying types of love, but ignores the scriptures saying that God loved the world and that we must love our neighbor as ourself. So it is in fact White who fails to distinguish all the types of love, omitting love for mankind, the love of people just because they are made in the image of God. He does not seem to comprehend that God can rightly judge those He loves. This is very basic Christianity, not some modern sentimental invention.

White again displays great boldness in advising us to point out the results of Mr. Hunt’s assertions, as if he has made none of his own. Contrary to his assertion that man must have the final say in the matter, God’s allowance for us to freely choose is God’s final say in the matter. White would deny God this sovereign right. And his extrapolations of this belief lead him to some absurd conclusions, showing not Hunt but himself to be the one not following scripture. Yet he continues to claim victory before his opponent has even begun to write, claiming Hunt has no answers and resorting to mockery to emphasize it.

White prefaces his Conclusion with the staple Calvinist belief that God would be both just and holy in sending every human being that ever lived to eternal hell, just because through no fault of their own they were born in sin and unable to choose anything but to reject the gospel. Those whom God elects are supposed to rejoice in their good fortune and glory in the love of God for only them. Were this being done by any human we would easily recognize the inherent evil and injustice in such a scenario, but somehow Calvinism must chalk up to mystery how God’s love and justice can be higher than ours while doing that which is lower than anything but the most vile scum of humanity has ever done. To use White’s own terminology, it is this reprehensible maligning of the character of God which is scandalously false and Calvinism’s fatal flaw.

In the Conclusion White again boldly invites the reader to examine tradition, admitting that it can be uncomfortable to do so. I can only hope that White’s prayer is one he will offer in sincerity concerning his own beliefs.

Part Two

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