I will pass over White’s introduction where he pleads for a debate with William Lane Craig, promotes himself as (probably!) the most prominent Calvinist debater of modern times, insults British television broadcasting, demonstrates his misunderstanding of the situation regarding secularism in Britain (on the basis that he has read a couple of stories about the British TV show ‘Big Brother’), attempts a dire British accent, suggests that Britain has issues over ‘free speech’ (cough ‘Westboro Baptist Church’ cough), and makes a number of superficial comments on the apparent religious ‘persecution’ (oh please!) of American ‘street preachers’ in Britain and the responsibilities for preachers liaising with local churches before doing mission in their area (as well as a few other matters). All of these could easily turn into an entire post of their own!
I wanted to get to White’s commentary on the debate between Craig and Helm (on the show ‘Unbelievable’ which aired recently – see my review here) but White spends the first hour on this short Craig clip from his ‘Defender’s’ class. I will therefore get to White’s response to that debate at some later stage since I cannot do both today. This is the clip:
So once he’d put the world to rights (or Britain at least), White’s first response to the video is to talk about how one must start with the Bible first and not with philosophy and how one must begin with theology before apologetics. This appears to be a most curious response since Craig did not say anything about this at all. In fact I am quite sure Craig would agree with White on the primacy of the Bible for doctrine and the primacy of theology over apologetics (in the sense that apologetics should not determine our theology). White begins to sound like he is using a Christian version of the genetic fallacy. In other words he appears to be suggesting that how one comes to a doctrinal belief determines whether that belief is true. Now, I want to be fair to White here, but that is how he sounds to me and I cannot think of a different way of reading him on this. Of course, all of us do biblical hermeneutics with philosophical baggage. It’s a question of whether one admits it openly or not. Did White come to reading the Bible in a philosophical vacuum and even if he did does that make his exegesis more likely to be correct by virtue of it?
White then starts using the phrase that Craig is “on Rome’s side” which really sounds like a guilt by association fallacy (Molina = Jesuit = Catholic – yes he really does have to spell it out to his audience). He also appears to oversimplify the theological matters at stake here as if there are only two camps and one must choose a side Reformed or Rome (and his definition of ‘Reformed’ is likely to be far narrower than most). But White is offering a false dichotomy. Is White unaware of Protestant philosophers and theologians who are Molinist on this issue but who are not Catholic? Maybe he’s not unaware of them but rather thinks they are Catholic as a result of being Molinists on the issue of God’s sovereignty. I wonder where White would place Aquinas in his theological landscape. Anyway…
White then criticizes the term “significant human freedom” as meaning ‘autonomous’. Here White appears to be making a request for a clarification of definitions even more problematic than it need be. Since Craig has been clear in his writings that he does not think human beings have free will, in the sense that they can come to God without God’s intervention, then ‘autonomous’ appears to be the wrong term for Craig’s position (since it obviously implies no reliance or need for God to intervene – which even Craig in this short clip has made it clear he does not hold to). White appears to have a problem with any view which sees a human as having any kind of freedom which is “beyond God’s decree” but of course that’s exactly where Craig and White would disagree. Then White says something not very helpful in that he says he wonders if such people (as Craig) believe in any kind of divine decree which is sadly uncharitable (as well as possibly toying with a slippery slope fallacy).
White then claims it’s “minor league stuff” (fear not my American friends – I know what that means!) to be talking about “puppets” on a string (as Craig does at the point) but I wonder if that is true? There are a great many philosophers who have expressed concern at whether theistic determinism and human ‘free will’ can be compatible. And while it’s true to state that (by definition) theistic compatibilists (to be seen as a different group from what the wider philosophical community would call a ‘compatibilist’ by the way) think the two can be reconciled a good many other theistic philosophers don’t.
White then gives the ‘burning castle’ analogy to demonstrate human depravity.
White says we should imagine who king who returns to his castle and the people he has left in charge of the castle are burning it down, destroying it, killing and murdering one another. Then the king’s son goes in to the castle to save a certain amount of people (for the purposes of White’s analogy he should have stated the number to be rescued is very small compared to the overall population in the castle) but in order to save them he will have to give his life to do so. But even at the point where he is trying to save them they are resisting his every effort. White says that such people are resisting God’s grace in this way.
This seems odd to me since, in so far as it goes, this analogy to human depravity does not seem all that different from that found in Arminianism. In fact, some of the writings of the Remonstrants make depravity and rebellion toward God sound even more hostile than this analogy. I therefore do not see how this analogy brings anything distinct to the table regarding the fallen state of human beings (which is the area where Calvinists and Arminians potentially share the greatest amount of agreement). To make the analogy distinct from Arminianism White would have to find an analogy where the people resist because their nature to resist is part of a divine decree but this analogy does not suggest that at all.
Of course, if one were to be unfair and extend the analogy (to include some high Calvinist theology), the king determined (by some form of his ‘decree’ which lessens his moral culpability for doing so) the burning of his castle, he determined the rebellion, he determined the apathy and resistance toward his son (sent in there to rescue a very small number from within the castle whom the king determined prior to leaving his castle in the first place) and he determined to save a tiny minority even though he could have made it so that every single person in the castle was saved in accordance with their own (compatibilist) freedom but it appears that watching the castle burn down with the vast majority of its inhabitants inside it brings greater glory to the king and should lead the chosen few who were rescued to worship the king all the more.
It gets even harder to take White too seriously when he refers to ‘prevenient grace’ as the “scotch tape of synergism”. White claims, as he has done often enough before, that he cannot find the idea in the Bible even though Arminians have been explaining how and where for centuries. At least a Calvinist scholar like Thomas Schreiner interacts with the key passages (such as John 1:9) when he disagrees with the Arminian view.  White appears to want to pretend that there is no debate to be had on this matter.
At the end of White’s analysis of this short video Q&A he complains of any view which makes God look like his desires are constantly frustrated. At this point I would like to ask White if there are any passages in Scripture which indicate God being frustrated. Does God get frustrated in the OT at all? How about in Genesis? Exodus? How many examples, in those two books alone, would convince White that God gets frustrated and that his purposes are frustrated? Or passages which suggest that God’s will gets opposed? And before someone tells me that, it’s at this point, White would bring in his ‘two wills of God’ theology I am already aware of this tactic. Such distinctions between God’s ‘wills’ simply do not explain why it is God gets so frustrated and angered at people in the Bible. It is at this point where the Arminian should be asking White for direct Bible passages which mention God as having either a ‘decretive’ or ‘preceptive’ will. This is where I find most Calvinists point me to scholastic systematic theology instead of to the Bible.
Now since White has taken one hour with an introduction and commenting on the 6 minute Q&A I have run out of time to respond to his comments on the debate between Craig and Helm. I shall do that another time.
I must say that I seriously wonder why White would consider his interactions with non-Calvinists as being done in brotherly love at all. Maybe it’s because he does not really consider them brothers? I know he would think he is standing up for truth in love but the way he mocks, jeers, belittles, and is uncharitable toward those who disagree with him is evidence to the contrary I think. God only knows, but this might be the reason some very academic Arminians prefer not to have any contact with him.
I know White’s target audience is not primarily British or Arminian (let alone British Arminians!) but if he wants us to listen seriously then something needs to change.
I don’t know if James White is aware but Jerry Walls has been quite open to having a debate with him. Is James White aware of this offer? If so, I hope we can get to see it sometime soon.
 See his ‘Does Scripture teach Prevenient Grace in the Weslyan sense?’ in ‘Still Sovereign’ edited by Schreiver and Ware, Ch.9
However – the question here could be misformed as being a biblicist requirement. Perhaps prevenient grace is not found in scripture explicitly but is a necessary doctrine to make sense of God holding humans accountable for their rejection of himself. Of course, many Calvinists would think this to be a huge problem for Arminians but there are a good many things Calvinists believe in to make sense of high Calvinism which owe far more to scholastic philosophy than anything found in Scripture and even after doing all that philosophy they are still left with huge questions regarding God’s moral character.
For more on Prevenient Grace in the Bible please look up:
‘Prevenient Grace: Enough to Convince – A NT theological appraisal’ by Josh Ratliff here.
‘The Reformed view of Regeneration vs. the Wesleyan theology of Prevenient Grace’ here.
‘Prevenient Grace: Why is matters’ by Roger Olson here.
‘Prevenient Grace: A Wesleyan View’ by L.G. Cox in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society here.