The Potter's Freedom: Determinately Knowing

Chapter two of James White's The Potter's Freedom (Calvary Press Publishing, 2000) is titled "Determinately Knowing," which is reference to God's knowledge -- in particular, how God knows what He knows. Within the last two decades, the subject of God's knowledge has become more prominent, especially with the rise of Open Theism (Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Richard Rice, Greg Boyd, John Polkinghorne, Thomas Jay Oord, William Hasker, Jürgen Moltmann, David Basinger, Richard Swinburne) and Molinism, or Middle Knowledge (William Lane Craig, Kenneth D. Keathley, Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, Terrance Tiessen). 

Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants adhered to the classically Reformed position of God's knowledge: "God knows all things," states Arminius, "neither by intelligible ... representations, nor by similitude, but by His own and sole essence; with the exception of evil things, which He knows indirectly by the good things opposed to them, as privation is known ... by means of the habit."1 God also knows "all possible things [cf. 1 Sam. 23:10, 11, 12, 13] in the perfection of their own essence, and therefore all things impossible."2 Arminius' colleagues, the Remonstrants, agree:
He is omniscient, and certainly of infallible knowledge, because He not only intimately knows absolutely everything which has being, just as they are individually in themselves, whether good or evil, past, present, future, likewise possible and hypothetical, indeed even the most intimate thoughts of the heart, the most secret words, the most hidden deeds (under which also we will include matters of omission), but also because He keeps them most present in memory, and sees whatever is done by us, correctly or otherwise, as if set before His eyes, so that this knowledge cannot be erased either by ignorance or oblivion, nor fraud or tickery, nor any deceit or deception. Finally, He most wisely knows how to order, dispose, direct and manage all things, and so perpetually.
God's exhaustive omniscience has been a key theological tenet of Arminian theology since the time of Arminius and the Remonstrants. Those "Arminian-types" who deviate from this explicit dogma may consider themselves Arminians soteriologically, but with regard to theology -- where God and His attributes are concerned, such as omniscience, for example -- they have distanced themselves from Arminianism proper. That Arminius or the Remonstrants followed the heretic Socinus in this regard is an overt lie. 

The question James White is addressing in chapter two, in his critique of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free, is, "Does God's foreknowledge determine what He decrees or does God's decree determine what He foreknows." (53) (emphases added) Geisler believes the question should not be asked, even though he actually takes a position (the former). White will argue for the opposing position (the latter), and I will engage his answer and point out the Calvinistic error in this regard. 

Arminius argues that God's infallible knowledge "depends on the infinity of the essence of God, and not on His unchangeable will."3 In other words, God knows exhaustively what He knows due to His own nature as God, and not because He first decreed what should happen. God's exhaustive knowledge is dependent upon His own essence; and this knowledge, no matter how "certain soever the acts of God's understanding may itself be," in no sense whatsoever imposes "any necessity on things, but it rather establishes contingency in them."4 In other words, God's foreknowledge does not itself actually cause any event to take place, even those events He is certain will take place. His knowledge is not a causal agent, whether primary, secondary or tertiary.

The Calvinist would have us believe that God's knowledge is solely based on what He has decreed to take place in history -- and that He can only know that which He has decreed to take place in history. Scripture teaches otherwise. We do not mean that we believe Scripture teaches otherwise. We mean that Scripture actually demonstrates that God has knowledge of events that never come to fruition -- a truth which utterly undermines the Calvinistic notion that God only knows that which He has decreed to take place.

There is a familiar passage in 1 Samuel that is often used to demonstrate that God has knowledge of an event that never takes place, thus undermining and contradicting the Calvinistic notion that God only knows the future because it is already predetermined.
David said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. And now, will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant." The LORD said, "He will come down." Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" The LORD said, "They will surrender you." Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, set out and left Keilah; they wandered wherever they could go. (1 Samuel 23:10, 11, 12, 13 NRSV) 
God foreknew that, if Saul's men found David in Keilah, they would capture him, even though Saul's men never found David in Keilah, given that David and his men fled the town. So, if God only knows that which He has decreed to take place, how could God know that Saul's men would capture David in Keilah, since David fled from Keilah? This passage reminds us of what Arminius stated, quoted above: God also knows "all possible things in the perfection of their own essence, and therefore all things impossible."

White takes aim at Geisler's view of foreknowledge in connection with election or predestination (56-57), but that subject will be addressed in chapter five, and in the fifth post here. White also (rightly) takes Geisler to task for his confused terminology, such as "knowing determinately," as well as Geisler's use of "the absolute freedom of the creature" (58-59). No one is absolutely free to any action whatsoever, not even God, given that His own essence grants Him a boundary from sinning. But then White challenges Geisler on the notion of God knowing "the free choices of humans that take place within time." (60) While Geisler puts the cart before horse in his philosophical meandering, White makes his own error by perpetuating the false notion that God can only know that which He has decreed to take place in time. Let us examine White's worldview in a practical sense. 

If God can only know that which He has decreed -- a false notion already exposed by Scripture itself -- then what does this confess about God's character? A lawsuit was made charging Calvinist C.J. Mahaney, and Sovereign Grace Ministry leaders, with covering up sex abuse in some Sovereign Grace churches. (link) Let us focus solely on the sex abuse itself, or all sex abuses in general. God, according to Calvinism, did not merely foreknow about sex abuses. He decreed sex abuses. God, according to Calvinism, not only decreed the event of sex abuse, but also decreed the choices of sex abusers to sexually abuse children (45), as well as the intentions of the sex abusers to sexually abuse children (48).

Though White would inconsistently recoil at this thought, his Calvinism forces him to concede this basic, logical truth. He emphatically insists that God can only know that which He has decreed (53, 64, 65, 67, 70, 71); and he has claimed in no uncertain terms that God has sovereignly decreed the choices of all people (45), including even the intentions of their hearts (48). If true, then God has decreed not only sex abuse events, but also the choices of sex abusers to sexually abuse children, as well as the intentions of sex abusers' hearts in sexually abusing children (48).

Incidentally, I found ironic the Foreword to White's The Potter's Freedom being written by supralapsarian heretic R.C. Sproul, Jr., who explicitly confesses, along with Calvinist theologian Vincent Cheung, that God actually is the author of sin and evil. (link) While this is a refreshing consistent confession, and concession, their admission that God is the author of sin and evil is unChristian at best. One wonders, then, whether White's views of God's sovereignty are much closer to Cheung and Sproul, Jr. than a softer Calvinistic view, such as is found among compatibilists.

Moreover, are not White's views (as well as Wayne Grudem's views, noted below), more consistent with Sproul, Jr.'s and Cheung's supralapsarianism rather than compatibilistic infralapsarian notions of God's sovereignty and decrees? We think so, even if White and Grudem lack the backbone in confessing that God actually is the author of sin and evil. 

James White is no rogue Calvinist perpetuating these errors. He closes the chapter, stating, "One is not a Potter who has no role in determining the shape, function, and destiny of the pots." (71) (emphasis added) Calvinist Baptist Wayne Grudem agrees, insisting that God "influences the desires and decisions of people ... But we must remember that in all these passages it is very clear that Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil, but rather as bringing about evil deeds through the willing actions of moral creatures."5 Both men are merely following John Calvin's deplorable errors.6 Here is Calvinism's clear-cut inconsistency, which borders on insanity, or at least a speaking from both sides of one's mouth. 

The question begging to be asked is, How does a "free" agent "freely" do that which God has foreordained or decreed for him or her to do? How can God be guaranteed that a "free" agent will "freely" decide to do that which He has foreordained or decreed, unless God eliminates all other choices, thereby guaranteeing the outcome which He decreed? -- and if God eliminated all other choices, in order for the so-called "free" agent to "freely" do that which He decreed for them to do, then the agent was not "free" to choose the contrary whatsoever. Hence genuine "freedom" is a farce in Calvinism.

But the matter is actually worse than this. God, then, is revealed as the worst sinner in the known universe; and this is what Calvinism effects with regard to God's character. If God influences the desires and decisions of people (Grudem), decreeing their choices and intentions (White), then God actually is a moral monster, for He has influenced and decreed the most vile and heinous actions known among mortals and demons.

For example, thirty-three-year-old sex offender Chevez Johnson raped a two year old girl and was convicted for his crime. (link) According to consistent Calvinists and Calvinism, God influenced Chevez's desire, intention, and decision to rape the two-year-old girl. This is heresy, plain and simple. As Dr. Bruce A. Little explains: "At the end of the day, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that God is morally responsible, although arguments are offered to deny this conclusion."7 Calvinism no more accurately represents the God of Christ than does the devil, who inspires such evil, resemble the unblemished holy character of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

We believe a proper understanding of God and evil is the Arminian (and hence biblical) doctrine of God's sovereignty over His creation. While He permits evil people to behave in evil manners, evil people behave in evil manners out of their own evil hearts (Matt. 15:19; John 2:24, 25), not because God has decreed evil people to behave in an evil manner. Moreover, God foreknows evil out of His own essence, and not because He decreed sin and evil to take place. Given the truth of total depravity, as well as the presence and activity of demons, God is not required to decree evil in order for evil to be manifest. Should God merely remove His gracious presence, evil would consume us.

Though God is capable of intervening in the evil acts of sinful mortals, He has granted us a measure of freedom to do the evil that He so very much despises; and He will hold each person accountable for the evil that he or she commits. But the notion of God decreeing evil, influencing the desires and decisions and choices and intentions of people, in order for the evil that He has decreed to be manifested -- even for the glory of His name, as Calvinists like John Piper posit8 -- is unChristian, anti-Christian, and unbiblical at best.

1 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XVII On the Understanding of God," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:341.

2 Ibid. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Ibid., 2:342. 

5 Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146-47. 

6 Calvin writes: "That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture." (emphases added) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 1.18.1.

7 Bruce A. Little, "Evil and God's Sovereignty," in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, eds. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 293.

8 Ibid., 283. Dr. Little wonders, as do we Arminians, why Piper's (and John Calvin's and James White's and Wayne Grudem's and the Calvinist's) God has to decree so much destruction, sin, and evil in order to be glorified.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.