Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

MUST-HEAR: James White debates Michael Brown on Calvinism vs Foreknowledge

This is the first of a two-debate series. (Part two is here)

The MP3 file is here.

Participants:

Format: (from James White’s blog)

For those interested, we will be covering three texts of Scripture on Thursday: John 6, Romans 8/9, and Ephesians 1. Each will have 8 minutes to provide their exegesis of the text; then we will have four minutes of cross-ex each, then three minute conclusions before moving on to the next text. I know, not a lot of time, but that still covers 90 full minutes (we will not be taking any breaks at all).

The following Thursday we will repeat the process, but this time covering Michael’s chosen texts, Luke 13:34-35 (Deuteronomy 5:28-29) Ezekiel 18:21-32 (Jeremiah 3:19-20; Ezekiel 22:30-31) I John 2:1-2 (2 Pet 2:1).

Michael Brown basically represents my view on these issues. This is a perfect debate – it’s 100% time well spent.

I blogged about their previous debate here. I highly, highly recommend this debate.

My thoughts

My own reservation about Calvinism is that it requires that God create people who go to Hell. They go to Hell only because God chooses not to draw them to him. So there are people pre-destined to Hell for eternity who are not responsible since it’s God’s choice where they are saved or not. Basically Calvinism has God creating some creatures, say, sheep, who have a predisposition to wander into lakes. These sheep then wander into a lake. He then picks some of them out who are no different than the others, and lets the rest drown. Then God turns to the ones he saved and says “aren’t I great for having saved you and not them?”, when he could have saved all of them. That’s not love.

I think a much better view, a more Biblical view, is that although all the sheep are initially rebelling against God, he still foreknows which will respond to his rescuing efforts. The sheep all want to try swimming to safety by themselves – none of them wants God’s help. So they are all doomed to death, unless God acts to save them. God can see which sheep will respond to his rescuing activities, so he reaches out to those sheep and they respond and they are saved. The rest die swimming away from him. That’s love. Love respects the free will of the beloved to resist, even if it means letting them choose their own destruction. And this view is different from Calvinism, because in this view God is all-loving and all-merciful. He is not willing that any sheep should perish, but that all the sheep would be saved. If all are not saved, then it is not God’s fault. He allows the sheep to choose to resist him.

I totally agree with Romans 9, where it says that God creates some people for destruction, and that those people cannot resist God’s will that they be created for destruction. But on my view, those people are people who would resist him in any time, in any place, even if he tried to save them. They cannot demand to be saved even though they resist God. They cannot say to their maker that they should not be created only to be damned, either, because being damned is their own fault. They don’t have a right to demand that they be saved because they would freely choose not to respond to God in any set of circumstances that God might try to place them in in order to save them. So God is permitted to create vessels of wrath for his own glory – but it’s their fault, not God’s.

I agree with Brown that vessels of wrath are free to repent and become part of the elect if they choose to respond to God’s drawing them towards him. Where does it say in the text that the vessels cannot change their destination by repentance? It doesn’t. People choose to respond to God or not, and that determines what kind of vessel they are going to be. God knows in advance what kind they are going to be and creates the vessels of wrath anyway.

My specific views are spelled out more here: What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

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23 Responses

  1. Wes Widner says:

    I only wish I had the patience that Michael Brown displays in debating James White.

    I love the question Brown asked White in their previous encounter regarding the wholly negative and hateful attitude that Calvinism seems to foster in people.

    Thanks for the post!

    • I actually had notes written up for this summarizing each segment but I deleted it and just wrote my own comments to encourage Calvinists to listen to it without letting them know who won first. It’s another blowout – I do not think White even understands what Foreknowledge and middle knowledge are. He seems to be so blinded by Calvinism that it affects his ability to read the plain meaning of the text and to just accept it.

    • Anna Rolen says:

      I have all too often observed a smugness in those espousing Calvinist views, even in those whom I consider very strong Christians. I am thankful for Dr Brown as well as Dr Geisler on this topic.

  2. feilong80 says:

    I have to say, this is one theological debate I’ve never really “read up” on, although I have always felt as you do, Knight. And one thing I already know, is to that for so many of my friends who are either atheist, agnostic, or lapsed Christians, the idea of no free will instantly turns them off.

  3. L P Cruz says:

    Obviously if God foreknows people, then he also knows beforehand if they will come to faith. I think this should be conceded by Calvinist. If God knows all things he knows this as well. The question is if God predestines people because of this. I think it is over stating the case if one answers “yes”.

    Then there is the zero sum thinking, that God’s drawing cannot be resisted, and if it can be resisted then that means God is impotent. Are these the only optional explanations and conclusions? This is tertium non datur.

    Similarly folk think that you either become a Calvinist or an Arminian, another tertium no datur. As a Lutheran I believe Lutheran view is the third view, which lets the mystery play itself out but focus people on what they mean by the means of grace where – faith is generated and given.

    LPC

  4. Alisha says:

    Hey, Wintery, great post! Thanks for sharing. I agree with you. I wholeheartedly believe in foreknowledge, and nice to have resources to back this up. In another post you posted articles from CARM, which has great material… BUT, their forums can be so harsh! There are a few hyper-Calvinists on there that attacked me so harshly I’ve made the decision to stay away for awhile!

    As an aside, I sometimes enjoy liturgical services. I don’t think I’d want to be permanently “high church”, but it’s nice for a visit.

  5. jm says:

    Quote from above, “My own reservation about Calvinism is that it requires that God create people who go to Hell. They go to Hell only because God chooses not to draw them to him. So there are people pre-destined to Hell for eternity who are not responsible since its God’s choice where they are saved or not.”

    Well, unless you believe God doesn’t know the future you would have to agree, that God created a mass of mankind that would never hear or respond to the Gospel. They were made with God knowing they would not be saved.

    • Are you familiar with Molinism? I.e. – the theory of middle knowledge? God knows prior to the creation of the world what every person will do in any set of circumstances. As Acts 17:27 seems to argue, God puts people in the time and place where they receive the grace they need in order to freely respond. Some people will not freely respond to the gospel no matter where they are placed. And that’s how I understand those that God creates who never hear the gospel. They would resist his grace and drawing in any situation, so they do not need to hear the gospel – they would not respond anyway. Only God has infallible knowledge of the future to know what any person would do in every possible situation.

  6. jm says:

    Yes, I am familiar with the Roman Catholic response to Calvinism but even if Molinism is true then God took the chance, made a bet and lost many, many souls.

    • Consider it possible that you may be mistaken. First of all, this view is widely held in Protestant circles, by scholars like William Lane Craig. Secondly, there is no betting involved. Read Acts 17:27. God actualizes a universe in which he chooses the circumstances in which all of the free decisions will take place. In other words, he allows the creatures to choose IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES that he places them. Therefore, he foreknows all of history with complete accuracy, and the universe he chooses to create out of all possible worlds is exactly the one where is aims are met 100%. Complete sovereignty.

      Take a second look! It’s not that far from Calvinism. It has all of the sovereignty, all of the grace, and man is responsible for his own damnation. Don’t reply right away. Just take a look at a paper on middle knowledge before you reply. Just try it!

      FYI, I am not Catholic! And this entirely due to R.C. Sproul (“Faith Alone”) and James White’s debates with Matatics, Pacwa, et. al. The thing that really did it though was Dr. White’s four debates on the Marian doctrines and his book “Mary: Another Redeemer?”.

  7. L P. Cruz says:

    But you won’t catch me in a Lutheran church! I don’t like liturgy!

    No worries, but the main doctrine of the Lutheran church is JBFA and in this is acted out and played out in their liturgy.

    re: foreknowing.

    Whether one is a Calvinist or not, by the definition of foreknowledge, it should be conceded that if God foreknows and by definition he does, then this includes foreknowing all things about an individual, even the individual’s responses to the Gospel.

    Well, unless you believe God doesn’t know the future you would have to agree, that God created a mass of mankind that would never hear or respond to the Gospel. They were made with God knowing they would not be saved.

    Well, it all depends on how far one goes with this thought. God knew Adam would disobeyed but he created Adam and Eve anyway. I for one am happy to plead ignorance, I do not know why, yet God could not be blamed for evil such as the damnation of the lost.

    If you come from a paradigm that God does not use tools or means to provide or give faith so that a person may be declared righteous, then you can blame God for the cause of damnation. But if he does, then the loss and damnation of the unsaved is not due to him.

    LPC

  8. Chris says:

    “Are you familiar with Molinism? I.e. – the theory of middle knowledge? God knows prior to the creation of the world what every person will do in any set of circumstances.”

    The God of the bible knows all things eternally. He knows exactly the way all things that have taken place and will take place in His creation with His plan part and parcel in it. An omniscient God would not know otherwise. Therefore when God actuated the fabric of time there would not have been any other “set of circustances” that God would of had to know because He knew prior to creation the very circumstances that unfold.

    In other words there are no other set of circumstances that would take place other than the ones that God eteranlly knows will take place.

    The question I have for you being a molinist is:

    Does God know which circumstances that will take place prior to the creation of the world?

    I’m talking about the actually ones(not possible ones) that will unfold in the fabric of time.

    • Paradox says:

      Logical Moments are important to consider here, I think.

      God, from eternity, knew all possible sets of circumstances. Call this Logical Moment One Alpha.
      God also knew what counterfactuals of creaturely freedom were true (e.g. “Under the set of circumstances C, Peter would freely deny Christ thrice. But under the set of circumstances C*, Peter would freely deny Christ once, then admit to his dishonesty.”) This is Logical Moment One Beta.
      God, from eternity, knew what world He wanted to create. Call this the Logical Moment Two.
      In what we will call Logical Moment Three, God knows exactly what will happen in this world.

      None of these moments precedes the others in a temporal sense, as they have been true for all eternity.
      Rather, the logical moments “after” One Alpha and One Beta only obtain because both these moments obtain.

  9. Jeff says:

    Winter, you seem to contradict your own argument when you say:
    “I totally agree with Romans 9, where it says that God creates some people for destruction, and that those people cannot resist God’s will that they be created for destruction. But on my view, those people are people who would resist him in any time, in any place, even if he tried to save them. They cannot demand to be saved even though they resist God. They cannot say to their maker that they should not be created only to be damned, either, because being damned is their own fault. They don’t have a right to demand that they be saved because they would freely choose not to respond to God in any set of circumstances that God might try to place them in in order to save them. So God is permitted to create vessels of wrath for his own glory – but it’s their fault, not God’s.”

    This, it seems, summarizes a correct understanding of Calvinism, period.

    • Sorry, I have been thinking about this too.

      On Calvinism, the people created for destruction could be saved by God against their wills, because they believe God DOES save against people’s wills. So I don’t think it is ok to create these people and then not save them – since it is GOD’s fault that they are not saved on this view.

      On my view, the people created for destruction could NOT be saved by God, because they would resist him in any set of circumstances. I think it is OK to create these people since it is THEIR fault that they are not saved, on my view.

      • Red says:

        What if the whole world would resist him in any set of circumstances, would God be just if he condemned all of us?

        And if he could rightfully condemn us all because we resist him, why would we cease to be guilty of resisting him just because he decides to some?

        If the President decides to pardon a criminal but not all of them dose that make the rest unpunishable? Are they now innocent because the President did not pardon them but pardoned the one?

  10. John says:

    I like Molinism’s idea but as good as it is I dont think anyone has the answer to this. In fact I think we’re just a bunch faithless fools for spending our lives trying to figure it out.

    Faith is trusting that God is perfect and Good and that whatever he did is correct. I hate the idea of calvinism but these people who make proclamations that it would make God a monster should just shut up. We dont get to tell God what he is and what his precise plan is.

    NONE of the apostles, including Paul, knew the answer to what we are discussing. If they did it would spelled out in plain language for all to read. In fact, Paul in Romans sounds a bit confused on certain points and this seems to be something God allowed. Why? Because its not meant to be clear so we can demonstrate faith(the same reason why God hides and allows doubt instead of going on CNN)

  11. Roland says:

    Not to sound rude but by judging by many of the comments posted, there obviously is a serious lack of understanding of the Calvinist view of election. I recommend R.C.Sproul’s book “Chosen By God.” But to briefly address a few misunderstandings:
    1. Man is by nature in rebellion against God and the bible says he (man) is to blame for his own rebellion.
    2. God is under no obligation to offer grace/mercy to anyone and would be just if he sent all to hell.
    3. God chooses some to be saved/receive mercy and grace by his own will. All others receive his justice(wrath/hell); nobody receives injustice.
    4. Many non-Calvinists say something like “How could God hold us accountable for something we have no control over?” Inadvertently quoting Romans 9:19 “One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” And how does Paul answer? “Who are you to talk back to God?”
    5. This is not a matter of God’s foreknowledge, it’s a matter of God’s will to show mercy to whom he will (Romans 9:15, James 1:18). If God looked down the corridor of time to see who would believe the answer is nobody! Romans 3:11
    Without God choosing to impart spiritual life into a dead sinner, he is no more capable of believing than a drowned man is capable of coming back to life without another person willing administering CPR. Jesus did not ask Lazerus if we wanted to come back to life. God did not ask the moon and stars if they wanted to come forth. Salvation is likened unto both of these, God calls things that are not as though they were and they come into being. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Cor 4:6, WE are God’s “new creation” called forth and given life through nothing we did or will ever do!
    “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. ” Romans 9:16

    • Paradox says:

      Firstly, who does God will to show mercy on? God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Why does God show grace only to some then? Sending people to Hell who could have gone to Heaven if He willed is not a show of glory. A show of justice, but not a show of mercy.
      Secondly, it is not responsible to blame somebody for something they had no power over. This is the reason why non-Calvinists tend to ask a question like this. To quote Paul’s rhetorical question may be a valid response, but I highly doubt the content: “God is sovereign.” True. “God created you to be a certain way.” I think that’s true (but if Traducianism is true, rather than Creatianism, this may need to be rephrased). “God made you do the bad things you have done, but if he wants to hold you responsible, you can’t question him.” That does not seem like valid content to interpret Paul’s words. We might conclude rather, “A person rejects God’s grace because it is part of who they are.” And derive from this, “Hence, man is still responsible for his own actions, and God didn’t “make” them do it.”
      Thirdly, is whether God’s showing mercy is conditional. Does God show mercy on those who accept His grace (Irresistible Grace is false)? Or does God show grace, which people can’t reject, and then give them mercy? I agree, as does William Lane Craig, and presumably Alvin Platinga, that men cannot chose God on their own.

      My conclusion is that God gives every human being sufficient grace to be saved, but that they can reject this grace, and condemn themselves to the judgement we all deserve.
      Without God choosing to impart grace to a dying sinner, they cannot receive spiritual life.
      It does depend on God’s mercy; but men reject grace.

  12. Nancy says:

    God’s mercy was to send His son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Our desire or effort did not do this. His will IS to draw all men to himself. Upon hearing the word of God which is truth we choose to accept or reject God’s will that no one should perish. I believe once we receive the free gift of salvation the above reigns true. God’s word is the spark. The word formed this world why can it not spark some assemblence of enough life in a person to begin the process of salvation. The problem with calvinism is that it distorts all the verses on the contrary to their beliefs. I hold on to the fact that what God says plainly is true and the verses that are more difficult I reach out and seek God’s wisdom and it always leads me to a more reasonable peace. As a believer the holy spirit leads us into all truth. In my opinion, from what I have experienced with Calvist is that they are very angry people who don’t trust their decisions much. In their pasts they have made some really bad choices and it is easier to believe that they are not responsible. That is just an observation. All I know is that Love conquers all. I am so grateful for that.

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