If you’re British and Arminian… DUCK!!

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.

301_0141-burning_castle.jpg

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. [1] 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.

 

[1] 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.

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
This entry was posted in Arminian Theology, Calvinism, Molinism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to If you’re British and Arminian… DUCK!!

  1. kangaroodort says:

    I think you have White figured pretty well. I have two of his books and this is how he debates. Most of his debating technique is about the “set up” and over the top rhetoric that demonizes the other side and paints him the victor before he even begins to debate the actual issues. His castle analogy is actually a response to Geisler using a similar analogy to convey his “Moderate Calvinist” view in his book, “Chosen, But Free”. White countered that Geisler’s analogy didn’t accurately portray things as the Bible (meaning the Calvinist interpretation of the Bible) does with regards to depravity, etc. (even though Geisler holds to total depravity). But as you point out, White’s counter-analogy doesn’t go far enough either. White highlights the points that he finds favorable for his argument and ignores the points (like the determinism behind it all) that would make his view look bad and render the analogy useless for his purposes.

    Personally, I do not know of any 5 point Arminians that have debated White except for Michael Brown, and Brown did a very good job (though it could have been better). Other than that, he has debated non-5 point Calvinists (like Geisler-not formally, and Dave Hunt, in a book format). Geisler is not an Arminian (despite White’s constantly saying that, despite Geisler’s claims, he is really just an Arminian), and Hunt isn’t a 5 point Arminian, though he might be considered an Arminian loosely (his views on total depravity are questionable). However, Hunt is not a scholar. I think White has also debated Steve Gregg (not a 5 point Arminian) and another 4 point Arminian/non-Calvinist (whose name escapes me at the moment).

    All that to say that while White debates a lot, he hasn’t ever really grappled with a 5 point Arminian who knows his stuff (with the exception of Michael Brown). Part of that has to do with the fact that there are simply not a lot of solid Arminians out there to debate (sadly), or who are really interested in formal debates. But what about Craig? Craig is a great debater, but Arminianism and Calvinism is not his specialty. This is clear from his debate with Helm. He could have crushed Helm in a number of ways, but didn’t because he just doesn’t seem to be familiar enough with this particular debate and all the subtleties and nuances that go along with it. White see this and that is why (in my opinion) he now wants to debate Craig on the issue (and for a long time, Craig refused to formally debate Christians).

    Anyway, I agree with you on White’s debate tactics. He frequently uses logical fallacies while criticizing the other side for using logical fallacies. It’s like he just can’t see it when he does it. Here are a few posts I have written interacting some with White:

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/those-in-glass-ivory-towers-shouldnt-throw-stones/

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2007/09/28/calvinism-and-free-will-an-exegetical-vindication-of-matthew-2337/

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2007/08/30/examining-a-rather-strange-proof-text-for-irresistible-regeneration/

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/04/03/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-7-who-is-sanctified-in-hebrews-1029/

    God Bless,
    Ben

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Ben. What I find odd is that Calvinists have to turn to analogies as often as they do to make their points? Arguments from analogy tend to be generally regarded as weaker because of their nature anyway so it almost seems, to me, like they are conceding that what they say actually doesn’t make much sense. I have never seen an analogy made by a Calvinist yet which really does justice to either their philosophical view of compatibilism or that God decrees all human actions. Their analogies tend to make it look like the ultimate responsibility for people’s destruction is ultimately themselves – but that’s exactly what White disagrees with.

      It was a long time ago but I remember thinking that Brown did well in that debate. I need to go back and watch it again and make notes this time. Craig is certainly not the only Molinist philosopher out there – there are loads of them and I don’t see White calling them out. I think he’s wise not to from what I hear from him.

      Thanks for commenting.
      All the best.

      • kangaroodort says:

        To be clear, I personally hold to a simple foreknowledge view while also holding to middle knowledge. However, holding to middle knowledge isn’t the same thing as holding to Molinism. I think a case can be well made that full blown Molinism as Craig advocates can be construed as determinism. If I were White, this is how I would attack Craig or any Molinist.

  2. Ben Thompson says:

    Any debate between Craig and White on Calvinism vs Molinism would quickly devolve into “this is an in house debate” vs “WLC is a heretic!” shouting match.

  3. kangaroodort says:

    Michael,

    I don’t have time right now to try to explain how Molinism can imply determinism and I am not sure I would do a very good job of it anyway. For now, I would just direct you to a discussion on the subject at SEA where a SEA member posted a conversation between him and someone else that gets to the heart of the issue.

    God Bless,
    Ben

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Ben, Yeh I’ve seen that discussion I think. I don’t accept that this is determinism (if determinism is defined correctly of course) since agents are not causally determined to make their decisions by God on Molinism. Thanks, Mike

  4. kangaroodort says:

    Well, it has more to do with the implications rather than the claims of Molinism. The problem comes in the creation of a certain world as opposed to other possible worlds (and possible people) based on what those people would supposedly do in a range of circumstances, circumstances which God conditions to get the desired providential results. It does seem that form of determinism would have to be built in for that to work, especially since these possible worlds and possible people are just concepts in the mind of God prior to their being created or not created. But as I said, that conversation at SEA has recently developed to explain this problem far better than I can.

    And just to be clear, it is not middle knowledge of actual people that is the problem, it is the instantiation of one possible world instead of numerous others based on what these “people” who are just concepts in the mind of God prior to his decision to create them would or would not do. So I personally hold to middle knowledge of actual created beings, but not to full Molinism which posits that God selected one of many possible worlds and then created that specific world whose characteristics and the choices of its people were simply ideas in God’s mind prior to his creating them (rather than those in other “possible” worlds, also just concepts in the mind of God). Hopefully that made some sense.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Yes that makes sense. Well this is probably where you and I would have quite a large degree of agreement I suspect Ben. I don’t see any need whatsoever to start hypothesizing about multiple possible worlds. My thinking here is far more simplistic. I’m with you in thinking there is no contradiction in God foreknowing a freely chosen action while it remaining truly free. That, it appears to me, the Bible requires from what it teaches about what God knows and how we are responsible. I just don’t see any need for all the rest of it. Although I would still see no violation in people’s freedoms if God did choose one possible world over another. So I think I’m with you on this matter. Hope that clarifies?

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