May 16 2002
James, you and I have agreed on the phone today to put this debate in writing in the form of a book with a publisher agreeable to us both. That will allow the arguments to be studied more carefully by readers than is possible in oral debates. We will both do our best to complete it as quickly as possible (though I have a busy travel and speaking schedule as you do also). The publisher wants to go to press in September. That’s fast, but we’ll both do our best to complete our work as soon as possible. Therefore, I will not take time to refute the many misrepresentations in your “Open Letter” of my book, What Love Is This?- Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. I’ll mention only a few.
You say, “I simply could not believe that the source you used to come up with the identification of Augustine as ‘the first real Roman Catholic’ was none other than Peter Ruckman himself.” The source? Those five words are all that I quote of Ruckman (whom I don’t admire any more than you do) in the entire book, but the readers of your “open letter” would think that I had relied solely upon him – a gross misrepresentation. Nor did I use Ruckman to “come up with the identification of Augustine” as stated. I merely cited him as one of many who so labeled Augustine. In the very same sentence I quote Philip Schaff calling Augustine the “principal theological creator of the Latin-Catholic system....” I quote numerous others to the same effect – W.H.C. Frend calling him “the father of the inquisition” and Frederic W. Farrar saying “his writings became the Bible of the Inquisition.”
I cite the fact that Augustine is one of the “doctors” of the Roman Catholic Church with a feast day dedicated to him by the Church on August 28, the day of his death. I quote from the Pope’s special remembrance of Augustine on the 1600th anniversary of his conversion, praising his influence on the Church and calling him “the common father of our Christian [i.e., Roman Catholic] civilization.” I quote others, from Sir Robert Anderson to Warfield, listing the major teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism that all came from Augustine. And you say that “the source” of my information is Ruckman?! You even bring up Gail Riplinger, whom I don’t mention at all.
Having established Augustine’s position vis-a-vis Roman Catholicism, I quote a number of leading Calvinists (including Spurgeon and Warfield) who declare that Calvinism is Augustinianism, and I provide many of the more than 400 quotes of Augustine contained in Calvin’s Institutes, including the oft-repeated phrase “by the authority of Augustine.” I quote John Calvin himself: “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fulness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.” How could you ignore this heavy Catholic influence upon Calvin and the many resulting errors in Calvinism from that source?
Repeatedly you put words into my mouth, building a straw man easily knocked down, such as the following: “You conclude the section with a paragraph that basically says, ‘Hey, I’ve already refuted this stuff. Don’t sweat this. I know this passage sounds like Calvinism, but trust me, it isn’t.” Those are your words, James, not mine. Is that fair? Why don’t you quote me and let readers come to their own conclusions?
You say that I “miscited” Mt. 23:37 in our newsletter and our radio discussion. But you make no reference to the lengthy discussion of that verse I provide in the book, which surely clarifies my position in a thoroughly biblical manner. You repeatedly charge me with avoiding exegesis when, in fact, my book is filled with exegesis. Of course you argue that, because I don’t know the original languages, I’m incompetent to exegete the Bible (though I was studying it on my knees long before you were born). What a pity that Wycliffe Bible translators waste their time translating the Bible into native languages, when instead they ought to teach the tribe to speak Hebrew and Greek! You go so far as to imply that “seminary education, training in Greek and Hebrew, study of theology, etc. [are] necessary to the task of engaging such topics as soteriology, etc.”
If that is not elitism, what is it? And it is all the more disturbing that you say this about soteriology, placing an understanding of salvation beyond the reach of anyone but scholars. I quote numerous Calvinists who boast that Calvinism is the gospel and is Christianity, leaving the clear impression that non-Calvinists have not grasped and surely don’t preach the gospel and are thus not Christians.
In spite of my many decades of studying, teaching, preaching and writing from Scripture, you insist I’m not competent to deal with Calvinism. Then it could hardly be biblical, inasmuch as a common man (Deut 8:3; Ps:1:1-2), a young man (Ps:119:9) and even a child (2 Tim:3:15) taught at home by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim:1:5) can understand the Bible and the way of salvation. But this proud boast of Calvinism being understandable only to the specially trained mind is common among Calvinists. This system of theology is seemingly so complex and so esoteric that only after many years of study can one comprehend it. One can only conclude that the multitudes of ordinary Calvinists do not properly grasp Calvinism, because like me they lack the expertise in the original languages and the years of academic study which you say is essential. They must have simply taken the word of you Greek scholars. I wonder how the Bereans checked Paul out against the Bible without the seminary education you say is so necessary.
Your continual misrepresentation of my book in your “open letter” is disturbing but I can’t take time to deal in detail with that now. More disturbing are the repeated false accusations you make, accusing me of ad hominem attacks upon you and Calvin and Calvinism, but without providing one example – not one – a grossly unfair and ad hominem tactic in itself, which you employ throughout. Let me give you a few quotes to show the intensity of your ad hominem attack.
In the space of one page you accuse me of all of the following: of appealing to those “who are susceptible to emotionalism,” of “an obvious attempt to poison the well,” of “wild rhetoric” and “simple misrepresentation,” even of “anti-Calvin rhetoric...nigh unto ‘screeching’...on the same level as Jimmy Swaggart...lacking in the first element of fairness (let alone charity)...so overboard, so without the first bit of honesty in its use of sources...tirade against Calvin...not pursuing the truth...without any fair consideration of the facts...reprehensible on any level...dishonest methodologies... unrestrained slander of John Calvin...blasting away at Calvin...etc.”
James, do you consider it fair to engage in such a torrent of libelous accusations which are damaging to my character and reputation as a writer and Christian and to do so without providing even one example?! These irresponsible accusations betray your prejudicial unwillingness to give a fair hearing to those who disagree with Calvinism. And you complain of “the tone” of my book! Under the heading, “The Tone of the Work,” you protest against my alleged “level of rhetoric [and] constant ad hominem argumentation...”! I challenge you to find anything in my book that justifies such a charge, much less even approaches the language you use which I have quoted above.
In your one example, you say, “This kind of rhetoric is simply reprehensible. You should apologize to every person who has plunked down the money to buy this book for this kind of statement.” And what reprehensible “statement” was that? Here is your indictment: “...if you were the careful reader you claim to be, you would know that my presentation of John:6:44 is based upon the exegesis of the Greek text, not quotes from John Calvin.”
Read it again, James. I did not say that you “based” your presentation of John:6:44 upon “quotes from John Calvin.” I said, “To support his assertions, White quotes Calvin, to whom he refers with great admiration.” Why do you accuse me of saying that you based your assertions upon Calvin? Is there not a huge difference between supported and based? There is no question that you supported your assertions with a quote from Calvin. And for that true statement I ought to “apologize to every person who has plunked down the money to buy this book...”?!
If you weren’t supporting your interpretation of John:6:44, to what purpose is the lengthy quote of Calvin on p. 161 preceded by this statement, “Here are his [Calvin’s] comments on John:6:44"? And what admiration did you express for Calvin in presenting this quote? Here it is: “John Calvin is admitted, even by his foes, to have been a tremendous exegete of Scripture. Fair and insightful, Calvin’s commentaries continue to this day to have great usefulness and benefit to the student of Scripture.” I won’t recite again Calvin’s many exegetical errors and false doctrine to which I refer in my book. I only wonder why you fail to warn your readers of these pitfalls in Calvin’s writings?
Your most devastating charge – and I’m sure the one that has impressed the readers of your “Open Letter” the most – is my alleged “grossly errant assertion concerning Spurgeon,” an “error” which you say “is the norm” of my work. Here is my statement to which you refer with such outrage: “Spurgeon himself...rejected Limited Atonement...in unequivocal language: ‘I know there are some who think it necessary to their system of theology to limit the merit of the blood of Jesus: if my theological system needed such limitation, I would cast it to the winds...bound and measure are terms inapplicable to the divine sacrifice.’” Clearly, the “some” to whom Spurgeon refers are some Calvinists. The doctrine of “Limited Atonement” does indeed set “bound and measure,” which Spurgeon declared was “inapplicable to the divine sacrifice.”
You then quote Spurgeon where he teaches that this boundless atonement has been limited by God’s choice and accuse me of being dishonest in stating that he rejected limited atonement. In fact, the error is not mine but something which is endemic to Calvinism: contradictory statements. In the quote I give, Spurgeon clearly rejects the thought of any “limit” to “the merit of the blood of Jesus.” But in the same breath he also just as clearly denies that the unlimited merit of Christ’s blood is available to all mankind. I am as much justified in quoting him on the one side as you are on the other – though you will deny any contradiction, while I insist upon it by the very nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Perhaps Limited Atonement and what it means is a good topic for our book. Spurgeon’s argument that Christ (the lamb slain from the foundation of the world - Rev:13:8) could not have died for those already in hell is simply wrong, and something we can discuss in our book as well if need be.
Such contradictions are innate to Calvinism because it is not a coherent system of theology based upon Scripture but arises from human theories which men have forced upon certain biblical texts. In Sermon 442 Spurgeon both affirms and denies free will – another clear contradiction. Piper, in his attempt to make Calvinism say that God loves those whom He has predestined to eternal damnation (a proposition which Clark insisted was clearly contradictory, bringing a division within the Calvinist camp), is driven to pursue convoluted arguments to support the delusion that God has “two wills” which are contrary to one another. Such contradictions are “the norm” in Calvinism – and to explain them away it does indeed take much expertise.
Exegesis is a key concept which you insist must hinge upon learned analysis of the original languages – an analysis that the average person who grew up with either Hebrew or Greek as his native tongue could not engage in without a seminary education. This puts the Bible beyond the reach of the ordinary person and leaves most people at the mercy of supposed “experts.” But as anyone knows, a few years of Greek and Hebrew in seminary do not make one an expert in either language. Presumably the Bible translators had more than a seminary acquaintance with the languages, though they still make mistakes.
You fault my use of what you call “the kind of ‘Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance’ interpretation’” that the average Christian would use. Isn’t that elitism again? The implication seems to be that “scholars” are more adept at giving the “true meaning” than were the translators of the Bible. Apparently, without special training readers of the Bible are left to wallow in ignorance and error. If the gospel is that complicated, then very few could comprehend it and ever be saved, and the study of Scripture would have to be reserved for an elite evangelical leadership (similar to the Roman Catholic magisterium) upon whose interpretation the rest of us would have to rely.
Of course, whether the sinner understands the gospel or not hardly matters with Irresistible Grace in operation. Furthermore, according to Calvinism’s most bizarre and clearly unbiblical doctrine, without believing the gospel the sinner is sovereignly regenerated and given spiritual life and only then given the faith to believe. The fact that the new birth and salvation follow faith as a result thereof is so clearly and so often stated in Scripture that a child couldn’t miss it – yet the Calvinist must cling to this reverse order to make TULIP work.
One of your major points in discrediting my simple understanding of “whosoever” in John:3:16 is that if people could, by their free choice, believe in or reject Christ, it would follow that “some people are better than others.” That argument is so clearly false (believing a promise has nothing to do with whether one is good or bad) that I won’t waste time refuting it. You go to great lengths to explain John:3:16 as no child could ever understand it. What a tragedy that millions of children are taught by godly mothers and fathers and earnest Sunday-school teachers what you call the “traditional” misunderstanding of John:3:16. By your standard, not until they become “scholars” expert in Greek (or take some Calvinist’s word for it) will they recognize that Christ didn’t die for the whole world, but that salvation is offered only to an exclusive elect to which, by overwhelming odds, they most likely do not belong, being part of the vast multitude of the damned on the “broad road to destruction.” Eternal doom awaits them simply because the God who “is love,” from eternity past before they were born was “pleased” to predestine them to everlasting suffering with no hope of escape even though the merit of Christ’s shed blood is infinite.
You fault me for referring to Calvinism’s elect as a “select few” and cite Spurgeon and others to the effect that millions will be in heaven. Indeed, there will be a company that “no man can number.” You must know, however, that “few” is a comparative term, and the redeemed indeed are few in relation to the far greater number who, according to Calvinism, have been predestined to eternal doom. Perhaps you would like to take up your complaint with our Lord who Himself declared that few indeed would enter the “strait gate” and be saved.
As a critic of Roman Catholicism, would you not agree that the vast majority of the world’s one billion Catholics are not saved, that the vast majority of the 1.2 billion Muslims, the vast majority of the 400 million Eastern Orthodox, the hundreds of millions of Buddhists, communists, Shintoists, etc., etc., are not saved – a condition to which they were predestined by God who simply didn’t want them in heaven? Indeed, all of your erudition and careful exegesis using the original languages and grammatical rules is calculated to prove one thing: that God who “is love” does not love everyone, does not want everyone in heaven, has predestined to eternal suffering the unsaved who clearly number in the billions – and even takes pleasure in damning them. I do not believe that is the God of the Bible – and that is the major difference between our two positions.
In the book, we will have the opportunity to lay out our opposing views clearly and concisely from the scriptures so that readers can weigh them carefully. I look forward to that joint effort praying that the Lord will give us both clarity of expression, and hope that in the meantime, as the publisher desires, we can restrain ourselves from further exchanges which would only take time and delay the book’s publication.
We have agreed today that The Berean Call will carry your “Open Letter to Dave Hunt ” and that you in turn will carry “Dave Hunt’s Response to James White.” I am content to let my much shorter response be sufficient and to reserve further discussion for the book, which I hope and pray will be a blessing to the body of Christ, driving all of us to a more careful and prayerful study of God’s Holy Word.