Opinions on faith and life

Series: The Hunt/White Debate, Part Five

2009-07-02

CHAPTER THREE: UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION by James White

One necessary implication of TI is that God must therefore elect some people without condition, that is, without regard for anything in the person. He declares the standard Calvinist claim of the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will wherein God predestinated these chosen ones to life. But he offers no scripture to support this claim; it is simply asserted to be true. Calvinism interprets Eph. 1:5 to mean predestined to be saved in spite of the grammatical evidence that it is our conforming to the likeness of Jesus that is the object of predestined. Then he attributes the non-Calvinist objection to his interpretation as being based upon popularity and pride in man.

The section on Ephesians 1 is an elaborate effort to simply presume his interpretation to be what scripture plainly states. He does nothing to support the initial presumption upon which the entire argument rests, nor to deal with the grammatical basis for the non-Calvinist view. So he then offers anecdotal evidence from Paul’s ministry, specifically the incident where the Holy Spirit comes upon Gentile believers. But the context is about convincing Peter and all the Jews that God had now extended His grace beyond them to the whole world, not that God had forced His will upon greater numbers of people. This was a lesson for the Jews, not a doctrinal statement about Unconditional Election (UE). He wishes to take the surface meaning (more commonly called the plain reading) in this case, yet verses like John 3:16 are never read with this method. White does not attempt to explain why and when this method is to be applied.

No amount of study of the grammar helps White’s interpretation here; it is a diversionary tactic that hopes to capitalize on the earlier accusation about mishandling Greek grammar. But the problem for White is one of context. And White’s introduction of the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses defies not only his statements about the rules of debate but also the fact that Hunt has not said a thing about this passage. White is presuming his opponent’s interpretations.

White cites John 1:12-13 as one of the other biblical witnesses to the truth of UE, but he ignores the very first words: As many as received Him. This is actually a good verse for his opponent! He tries valiantly to reverse the surface meaning but does not succeed. Neither does Mt. 11:27 help his cause since it speaks of all things, not all people, and he forgets again that Jesus wills to reveal Himself to all. Rom. 9:16, 18 is in the context of nations, not individual salvation, White’s mocking denial notwithstanding. I am beginning to understand why he has not explained how this plain meaning method works.

White ends the section by repeating his assertion that to accept man’s free will must require the rejection of God’s sovereignty, not attempting to justify it though his entire theology rests upon it. He mocks the non-Calvinist view as decisionalism and declares the scriptures to be devoid of such a concept, in spite of many scriptures telling us to choose— which Calvinism dismisses with the claim, God frequently commands man to do what is impossible for him to do.

Response, by Dave Hunt

Hunt notes White’s own reliance upon tradition, but adds that this alleged freedom of God is really not very free if it is limited to saving only a few select people. He also points out that there is not one scripture explicitly declaring God’s love and grace to be limited, while there are many that declare the opposite. Then he turns to Eph. 1:13 which gives the order of salvation that White denies and mocks: in whom you also trusted, after you heard... the gospel... after you believed you were sealed.... And he points out a flaw in White’s hermeneutical method: if the ’us’ in Eph. 1:3 means only the elect, then the ’me’ in Gal. 2:20 means that Jesus only loved Paul.

Then Hunt examines Acts 13:48 and notes that the word there is ordained, not predestinated. Would Calvinists claim that everyone who is ordained as a pastor was predestinated from eternity past to be one? Most likely, but this only lends support to the oft-denied charge of fatalism, where God must direct every single thing every person will ever do. Next Hunt examines John 1:12-13 and asks how White can use it to claim that people receive Christ because they are born of God. So it is not Hunt who reverses the order of salvation, but White. In John 5:40 etc., note that if Calvinism were true it would read in the opposite order: You will not have life, that you might come to me.

In his discussion of nations versus individuals, Hunt gives several references with context which show White’s interpretation to be impossible. And is it surprising that White would admit that before the first active assertion of God’s hardening... Pharaoh hardened his own heart, since this serves as proof against his assertion of God’s sovereignty. Finally, as I’ve also noted, Hunt denies White’s assertion that faith is a work.

Defense, by James White

White begins with charging Hunt with ignoring his exegesis of Eph. 1. Hunt did not dismiss White’s claims, but White refuses to acknowledge this and then accuses Hunt of not debating at all! And as before, White had expected Hunt to turn the debate from what Calvinism teaches to what non-Calvinism teaches, so again he scolds Hunt for not doing so. Appealing to Christian theologians down through the centuries (but only the ones who support Calvinism) is an appeal to tradition, not scripture or exegesis. Neither does declaring his view beyond refutation make it such.

Then White complains about Hunt allegedly not doing more to present his own views, again forgetting the topic and scope of the debate. He offers 2 Thes. 2:13 as proof of election, yet still ignores the grammatical object of that which is chosen. It is not merely salvation but the whole phrase, salvation through sanctification. That is, God has chosen the method of salvation, not which individuals would have it. Per my own examination of the Greek it does not contain the phrase from the beginning but firstfruits, nor the word chosen but prefers (aorist, which can be present tense), rendering it ... because God favors you as the ’firstfruit’ to come into salvation.... One would have expected White to pay more attention to the Greek here, if it is truly scripture which he values above interpretation, even when it removes a proof-text from his arsenal.

In justifying his ignoring of Romans 9, White wishes to claim the right to only cite verses that support his interpretation. Yet since the debate is on Calvinism, Hunt has every right to demand an explanation of those verses which run contrary to the view. Yet White claims that the verses Hunt asked about are irrelevant to UE. Then he adds yet another complaint about what Hunt allegedly ignored, in a vain effort to change the scope of the debate. And White wishes to substitute his own Calvinist-punctuated rendering of Eph. 1:13 to change the order of salvation, but his rendering doesn’t make grammatical sense in either English or Greek.

Final Remarks, by Dave Hunt

Hunt begins with a refutation of White’s charges of failing to debate the issues. Then he reminds White of his own failure to explain how God can be free if He cannot save all, and how God can be sovereign if He cannot grant man free will. He also argues that love from someone who had no other choice is not love at all, such that only the free person can truly love God. Hunt agrees that White fails in his attempt to reverse the order of salvation in Eph. 1:13.

Final Remarks, by James White

White begins his final remarks by again asserting the freedom of God without answering Hunt’s question, while continuing to badger Hunt for not enlarging the scope of the debate. Once again White cites tradition against Hunt, seemingly forgetting his own warning about repetition completely. And to declare that the non-Calvinist wishes to claim the glory for his salvation reveals failure on White’s part to understand the scriptural divide between faith and works. This section is filled entirely with attacks on the person of his opponent and not any of his arguments.

Part Four ~ Part Six

2 Comments

Greg Anderson

Here in Southern Calif. there is a Christian radio station that is unabashedly Calvinist.

I have heard that there is a dramatic resurgence of Calvinism going on in American evangelicalism today, in fact there was a major news magazine just recently who made the claim, that Calvinism is growing by leaps and bounds.

It would be interesting to know just what the facts are in this claim, real gains or just inflated "body count" as in Vietnam to show that we were "winning hearts and minds".

Paula Fether

When we know that Calvinists always claim that "all the great theologians were Calvinists", we’re not surprised that they would claim pretty much anything that makes them look better. Facts to the contrary have never been an obstacle for them, but of course everybody else would be interested.