The Potter's Freedom: Grace, Love, Sovereignty

Chapter thirteen of James White's The Potter's Freedom (Calvary Press Publishing, 2000) is titled "Irresistible Grace," in which White beats the dead horse of the theory of the new birth preceding one's faith in Christ, a theory we believe is entirely contradicted by explicit passages found in the Christian scriptures; yet he supports the theory with his deterministic views of God's sovereignty. White frames the Arminian complaint against the false theory that regeneration precedes faith thusly: "The act of sovereignly freeing the [unconditionally] elect [White often neglects to qualify his use of the word "elect"] from the shackles of sin, raising them to spiritual life, giving them a new nature, and suppressing the madness of rebellion in their heart (for which the [unconditionally] elect express eternal gratitude) is likened [by Arminians and non-Calvinists] to forceful suppression. ..." (300) What White lacks in capable exegesis he makes up for in rhetoric.

Let us, in turn, frame the situation thusly: "The free act of our sovereign God in freeing the will from its bondage to enable a person to freely choose to receive His grace and offer of salvation is likened by the Calvinist to a man saving himself, robbing God of His glory, and rendering God no more powerful than a mere mortal." While debates are often won through the avenue of rhetoric, the Arminian does not need to stoop to White's level, given that Arminians are much more concerned with what Scripture teaches than of maintaining a conclusion based on a faulty or shaky presupposition, such as that the new birth must precede faith because of the truth of total depravity and total inability, the former of which warrants absolutely no credibility from Scripture.

White writes, "For God to be truly loving He must in essence become one of the pots." (300) In other words, from the alleged Arminian position, if God is to be considered by us as "truly loving" then He must weaken Himself and grant us our free-will wishes. Nonsense. But, nonetheless, typical for James White.

In a bit of irony, however, White continues: "We would ask the proponent of this [theology] if the following passages make God 1) a Sovereign free to do with His creation as He will, or 2) a cosmic B.F. Skinner":

  • "He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants. (Psalm 105:25)
  • "For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:20)
  • "Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage. (Isaiah 63:17)
  • "I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. (Jeremiah 32:40) (300-01)

There is, really, no polite way of conveying the truth of the matter here: White and Calvinists abuse Scripture like few others I have encountered, aside from Jehovah's Witnesses. Calvinists take certain passages of Scripture out of their contexts and apply them in whatever manner suits their particular philosophical-theological interests. A supreme example is stated here by White himself.

He takes three judgment passages (Ps. 105:25; Josh. 11:20; Isa. 63:17), in which God acted in a certain manner with His erring people in judgment, and presumes that this is how God acts in every, single situation imaginable. What is worse is that, this negligent manner of interpreting Scripture is not merely White's problem, but it is the problem of Calvinists in toto! In other words, all Calvinists interpret and abuse Scripture in this manner. Even the Jeremiah passage White quoted is, contextually, a referent to the Jewish people, and not to all people, nor to God's alleged unconditionally elect. How such methods pass for scholarship is, truly, beyond my ability to comprehend.

Moreover, this deplorable interpretive method only promotes blatant contradictions within the text of Scripture itself. The Calvinist would have us believe that God governs and has decreed every minutiae of our lives, including what we think, speak, and do.1 If I were to influence someone to commit an evil act, would I not, then, be considered evil? How, then, can the Calvinist properly evade charging God as not merely the Author of sin and evil, but evil Himself? If God influences people to commit sin and evil, as Grudem, White and Calvinists insist, then God is also evil. We cannot suggest that God influences sin and evil and at the same time call Him good, holy, and just. Calvinists attempt to do just this, but it is illogical, and unbiblical. Does God influence sin and evil?

God Himself admits the contrary, casting the blame for sin and evil upon the wicked hearts of fallen people, and certainly not upon His alleged decree: "And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?" (Isa. 5:3, 4 NRSV, emphases added) Calvinists cannot sufficiently exegete such passages -- such passages could be no more contradictory to Calvinism than any Arminian argument.

When God asked Israel why they strayed so far from Him (Jer. 2:5, 6, 7, 8, 9), He was not assuming that they departed from fellowship with Him because He Himself had decreed it. God Himself complained about Israel's abandonment of Him, yet blamed it not on His decree but on their own stubbornness (Jer. 2:13, 14, 15, 16, 17). A question needs to be asked: What exactly is rebellion? For if the Israelites were rebelling against the LORD, then that means that they were rebelling against a command which God had ordered to be kept. If God is sovereign, in the manner in which Calvinists define sovereignty, then no one ever disobeys God's foreordained plan, which by necessity must include rebellion.

By their own rebellion, the Jewish people were actually, freely, obeying God's strict, foreordained decree. Yet we find God Himself admitting that human beings have the ability to reject His sovereign authority, thus contradicting Calvinism. The LORD said, "Indeed, long ago you threw off my authority and refused to be subject to me. You said, 'I will not serve you.' Instead, you gave yourself to other gods on every high hill and under every green tree." (Jer. 2:20 NET; cf. Jer. 2:29) But how could the Israelites reject God's sovereign authority? How could they refuse to be subject to Him, since He has strictly foreordained all that comes to pass? God, allegedly, foreordained their rebellion, which they, allegedly, freely committed, and then God punished them for it. This is Calvinism.

But even God's punishment for their sins did not result in their repentance: "In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction." (Jer. 2:30 NIV) Respond to correction? But Calvinism teaches that God sovereignly grants repentance to whomever He pleases; people do what He has decreed they do, not freely respond. How could God complain about their lack of response to repentance when He did not grant them repentance (nor foreordain their repentance)? What we discover is this: God made Himself vulnerable to Israel: "Indeed they have followed sinful ways; they have forgotten to be true to the LORD their God. Come back to me, you wayward people, I want to cure your waywardness." (Jer. 3:21-22 NET, emphasis added) Was God genuinely granting them repentance? Yes, the LORD has this to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:
Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives. Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done. (Jer. 4:3-4 NET, emphases added)
Calvinism, simply put, cannot reconcile God's own words with their own beliefs! Is God sovereign? Yes, God is utterly and absolutely sovereign. Has He foreordained what every person should do by a mere decree? No, absolutely not. If so, then as the Hebrew scriptures prove, God would certainly be schizophrenic -- foreordaining that a person rebel against Him and then complaining about and punishing the person for obeying His foreordained decree to be disobedient to Him. Such a concept is beneath God.

God was by no means finished in His complaining: "Oh people of Jerusalem, purify your hearts from evil so that you may yet be delivered. How long will you continue to harbor up wicked schemes within you?" (Jer. 4:14 NET) Calvinism must answer: "As long as the decree of God has already foreordained." Why did God punish Israel? "So then, Jeremiah, when your people ask, 'Why has the LORD our God done all this to us?' tell them, 'It is because you rejected me and served foreign gods in your own land.'" (Jer. 5:19) Were they not just fulfilling that which God had foreordained? "But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned aside and gone their own way." (Jer. 5:23) Gone their own way? So, they did not go the LORD's way, but their own way? Does that, then, mean that there were two ways: the LORD's way of obedience and righteousness, and their own way of disobedience and unrighteousness?

He further states: "'There is no limit to the evil things they do. They do not plead the cause of the fatherless in such a way as to win it. They do not defend the rights of the poor. I will certainly punish them for doing such things!' says the LORD." (Jer. 5:28-29) "The LORD said to his people: 'You are standing at the crossroads. So consider your path. Ask where the old, reliable paths are. Ask where the path is that leads to blessing and follow it. If you do, you will find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not follow it!'" (Jer. 6:16, emphases added) Even compatibilistic Calvinism would have us believe that God foreordained by decree that the Israelites "freely" rebel against Him (yet they could not have chosen any other path but rebellion, hence they were not free to do otherwise), while the LORD stood by and commanded them to choose the righteous path. This is nonsense.



None of these truths will matter to James White and other Calvinists. No amount of Scripture presented will deter the deterministic Calvinist from promoting his or her false notions of God's sovereignty, humanity's responsibility before a holy God, that God does not control people, but even remains vulnerable to a degree. If Scripture cannot correct the Calvinist, I see very little hope of the Arminian doing so.

For an apt example, White comments: "We need to realize that God is the Potter, we the pots. Much of the presentation [offered by non-Calvinists and Arminians] places God on the level of man in regards to His relationship to us." (301) He can, because of his hermeneutic -- and the same could be said of non-Calvinists and Arminians -- see God in no other manner than as an all-determining Sovereign despot, decreeing and bringing about sin and the most heinous forms of evil imaginable, and remain holy and just. I have to wonder how Calvinists like James White sleep in comfort at night with this kind of God.

Let me, for example, demonstrate Calvin's view of God. According to John Calvin, God's grace is also "communicated" to some "whom He only enlightens for a season, and afterwards [God] forsakes [them] on account of their ingratitude, and strikes with greater blindness." Their ingratitude? From where originates such ingratitude? Was not their ingratitude also decreed by the Calvinistic sovereign God? He continues: "Perseverance is the gift of God, which he does not promiscuously lavish on all, but imparts to whom he pleases." Though this may appear a shocking statement to some, it is commensurate with a Calvinistic view of God's all-determining decree and actions. Remember, the Calvinist God can do whatever He pleases and still be considered holy, just, and loving -- that is, as long as they are permitted to redefine the concept of love.

But there is more. Calvin continues: "If it is asked how the difference arises -- why some steadily persevere, and others prove deficient in steadfastness, we can give no other reason than that the Lord, by his mighty power, strengthens and sustains the former, so that they perish not, while he does not furnish the same assistance to the latter, but leaves them to be monuments of instability."2 What a tragic and deplorable view of God. This, God forbid, could happen to James White if God should so decree it. What assurance has White, Grudem or any other Calvinist that God will not, in the very next minute, strike such "instruments of His wrath" with spiritual blindness, thus causing their fall from His grace? They cannot know the secret will of God. They can have absolutely no assurance whatsoever that, in the very next minute, they experience an anxious hatred of God and all things spiritual. How does a Calvinist rest in any semblance of assurance?

Calvin is also convinced that people "do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction. ..." (link) (emphases added) He concludes: "Thus we must hold, that while by means of the wicked God performs what he had secretly decreed, they are not excusable as if they were obeying his precept, which of set purpose they violate according to their lust." (link) If we hold to Calvin's words, as well as to the words of White and Grudem, and other consistent Calvinists, then we are forced, absolutely so, to conclude that my sin and your sin are from the Lord, from God's secret instigation and secret decree.

In Calvin's own theology, as well as all consistent Calvinists, God uses and governs my counsels (thought processes) and affections (greed, lust, hatred, etc.); and, therefore, I, in executing what God secretly instigates and decrees, am then judged, even though I obey God's secret decree. I wonder how those against whom I sin would feel if they were to hear me say, "I'm sorry, but, in my sin against you, I am merely obeying and carrying out God's secret instigation and decree against you." God forbid.

White complains: "Arminians teach that God sends his grace to 'persuade' men to believe, but they deny that God can actually raise a man to spiritual life without his assistance and agreement." (301) That is a lie, and White knows that is a lie. Arminians believe that God is capable of raising someone to spiritual life without one's assistance and agreement. We merely believe that God does no such act. We even believe that He is capable of behaving temperamentally as the Calvinist (erroneously) suggests. We just deny that God actually behaves in such manners. What White has brilliantly displayed in this critique of Geisler's Chosen But Free is that he is inept at accurately representing Arminian theology.

White repeats the same offered "exegesis" of Calvinistic proof-texts in this chapter, which have already been addressed, exposed as serious theological, philosophical, logical, and hermeneutical error, and refuted (John 3:3, 6, 7; Acts 5:31; 16:14 1 Cor. 12:8, 9; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1). There is no sense in rehashing all of that here. In closing I want to address some rather blatant errors of White's regarding his alleged all-loving God.

White wants to present his God as loving. However, we find accepting this notion extremely difficult. The Calvinist God is only loving, or omnibenevolent, to all (omni) His unconditionally elect. Where is the Calvinistic God's omnibenevolence toward the rest of the sinners throughout the whole world and time immemorial? When we read that God loves "the world" (John 3:16), considering we are not granted license by our lexicons to suggest that "the world" refers to "the world of the unconditionally elect," what kind of love consigns the greater part of humanity to hell based on nothing more substantial than a mere decree? What kind of love sees a desperate person in need and sits by idly doing nothing? What kind of love decrees and brings about that someone sin and then judges that one for sinning? The Calvinist distorts the biblical portrait of God as seen most clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ His Son.

Against Arminianism, White asks, "Why create, and set His love upon, creatures that He knows, infallibly, will destroy themselves in rebellion and will thwart His every effort to save them?" (304) Read this carefully: White thinks that God decreeing people to hell from eternity past is a better and more biblical option than to suggest that the reason people spend eternity separated from God is due to their own fault, their own stubborn refusal to receive, by God's own enabling grace, the salvation procured by Christ and offered by God through the Holy Spirit in the gospel. That does not even make logical sense, to say nothing of philosophical or biblical sense.

White thinks he sees in Scripture a God who decrees every detailed and meticulous minutiae of our lives -- including rape, child molestation, incest, a whole host of various sexual sins, abortion on demand, murder, greed, oppression, slavery, theft -- as well as whom He will and whom He will not save; and this, he believes, is a God of love -- a just and holy God. He argues that, in the Arminian system, God is not really loving toward those who willingly reject Christ, because He will not monergistically save them; even though, according to our theology, God's enabling grace is a sufficient means for their freely receiving Christ by faith. Again, he misunderstands and misrepresents our theology.

God's objective in salvation is not to monergistically save one person and not another, which is White's presupposition, not ours. God's intention is to free the will from its bondage to sin by the Spirit of God in order to enable the person to freely choose to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Those who reject God's grace do so freely, and not because He decreed not to save them, which is any other reality under heaven and on earth than loving.

I agree with Norman Geisler's complaints regarding the Calvinistic God: this God is not the loving God portrayed in the life of Jesus Christ, who is "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being." (Heb. 1:3 NRSV) This God weeps over sinners (Luke 13:34). This God does not delight in the death of the wicked but, rather, longs for their salvation (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; John 3:16, 17; 1 Tim. 2:4). Whatever one can admit regarding the Calvinistic God, all-loving is not necessarily among the first chosen.

White complains about the non-Calvinist and Arminian notion of God's love: "If He loves one, He must love all, equally, in the same fashion." (305) Thus God loves the unregenerate sinner, and He also loves His redeemed children. Does He love them in the same manner, to the same degree? We ask White and other Calvinists: Is God not free to love? Is He not free to save? If He chose to love and to save all, would you rebuke Him?

Calvinists sorely misunderstand the character of God as love (1 John 4:8). Nowhere are we taught that God is wrath -- wrath does not define God's character. However, love does define God. Fritz Guy aptly responds:
To the person who takes seriously Jesus' claim "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9) it is obvious that divine power is expressed not by decreeing and controlling (in the fashion of an ancient despot or a feudal lord), but by self-giving and enabling. A great but seldom-recognized irony here is that [Calvinists] who have, in principle, a "high christology" have nevertheless failed to let it guide their understanding of God.3
Guy also notes: "In the reality of God, love is more fundamental than, and prior to, justice or power [or even glory]."4 This truth is entirely counter-intuitive to the Calvinist's all-controlling Sovereign Ruler of the universe.

Instead of parsing the love of God, attempting to detect the exact nature and complexities of His loving nature -- how He can love sinners and love His redeemed children -- none of which Scripture clearly explicates, Arminians choose to believe Scripture and the witness of Jesus Christ by way of example. He calls us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Is God above such a command? Can God not love His enemies? "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son ..." (Rom. 5:10).

According to Calvinists, God is not free to love or to save whomsoever He wants, not when that includes, potentially, at least, in scope, every human being created in the image of God. We allow God to be God, to love and to save whomsoever He chooses; and, from the numerous biblical witnesses we have engaged in this review of White's book, God loves all sinners (John 3:16), desires the salvation of all sinners (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4), and in enabling fashion draws all sinners who hear the gospel of Christ unto Himself (John 6:44, 45; 12:32), by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8, 9, 10, 11).

__________

1 God, according to Calvinist Wayne Grudem, "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." (emphases added) See Wayne A. Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 146-47. How, exactly, does God influence our desires and decisions, bring our evil deeds about, and still consider the evil deeds our willing actions, of us moral creatures, and not also be considered evil Himself for such evil influences? Moreover, why does God influence and bring about evil? What does such convey about His character and nature? What are we to think of such a (Calvinistic) God?

2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 2.4.199.

3 Fritz Guy, "The Universality of God's Love," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, Inc., 1995), 33-34.

4 Ibid., 35.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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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.