Archive for the ‘Calvinism’ Category

Defining "Responsibility" for Leighton Flowers

April 28, 2015

I was listening to Professor Leighton Flowers talk about “responsibility,” (mp3 – around 29 minutes into the debate) and he noticed that he tried to define it as “able to respond,” as in being able to respond positively to God’s commands and exhortations. That definition is just fanciful.

The term “responsible” actually means “answerable” or “accountable” – in other words, it’s about the fact that the person is going to have to answer or respond for what he does. It means that the person will have to face the consequences of his actions. When we say that man is “responsible,” we’re not talking about some hypothetical philosophical ability to do something, but instead we’re talking about the fact that man will have to give an account for all his actions before the Judge of All the Earth on judgment day.

Inability to do what is right is consistent with responsibility for doing what is wrong, because “responsibility” doesn’t imply some very specific kind of hypothetical philosophical ability to have done otherwise, but rather it implies that the person will be punished for his sins – unless the person has a penal substitute in the person of Jesus Christ.

Ultimate Destination Isn’t Only Purpose

August 13, 2014

Some people think that “God created the reprobate just to torture them in Hell for all eternity,” is an accurate picture of one aspect of Calvinism. I’ve heard it used a number of times as an attempt to criticize Calvinism. What’s a good answer when someone asks you if that’s what you believe – or claims that it’s what’s implied by your belief.

1. The Short Answer – the Tulips

One short answer is that it’s like saying you buy your wife flowers, just to throw them in the trash. That’s where they end up, right? But isn’t it absurd to suppose that their whole purpose is summed up by their destination? The real purpose of the tulips is to beautify the house for a short time. Yes, they are going to end up in the trash or compost heap, but that’s not their primary purpose. It’s equally as absurd to suppose that the primary purpose of the reprobate is their destination in the lake of fire. There is more to their lives than that, more to their existence than that, and God uses them in other ways than that.

2. The Longer Answer – Your Ancestors and the Tulip Revisisted

We don’t know all the purposes of God, or all the reasons he has for doing the things he does. Many of your and my ancestors were reprobates, but God used them to give birth to people who gave birth to people who … gave birth to us. Without them, we would not even exist. I don’t think that’s the only purpose God had for them, but it’s a purpose. They played other vital roles too. You are not an island, and neither were your ancestors. You and many of them were protected, served, nurtured, and supported by people who were reprobates. So, the role of reprobates in your own life and very existence is enormous – probably beyond anything you can directly comprehend.

But let’s go back to a tulip. If you look at an individual tulip cell under a microscope, it may be hard to see it’s purpose. Maybe the particular one you see has a particular pigment to it, which helps to provide the beautiful color of the flower – but many of the cells don’t have that pigment. There are a lot of cells in the stalk or the leaves. If you are looking at them under the microscope, you can miss the bigger picture of their role within the tulip plant as a whole. The same can be true of an individual human.

Each human is not the be-all and end-all of the universe of Creation. The individual is like a tile of a much larger mosaic. Unlike a mosaic, though, God has crafted each tile. The tile is not just found and put into place opportunistically, but is specially designed for the purposes it serves in the vast drama of history.

So, the question is wrong because it is both myopic and narcissistic.


The New Living Translation (NLT) and Calvinism

March 11, 2014


The Scriptures teach Calvinism. There should not be any particular surprise in this – it’s the reason Calvinists believe Calvinism. That said, it has been alleged that the New Living Translation (NLT) even more clearly teaches Calvinism (link to allegation). In fact, the allegation at “Traditional”(FN1) Baptist Chronicles is that there is some kind of Calvinistic bias in the dynamic equivalent translation. My friend who provided this researched analysis of the NLT focused on what he viewed as verses that are frequently cited by Calvinists.

With that in mind, I thought I would examine some of the typical verses used by Arminians to support their contra-Calvinist positions.

Analysis of Some Typical Contra-Calvinist Prooftexts

The “big three” verses one hears are the following: Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. A few additional verses that are typically cited are the following: 1 John 2:2, John 3:16, Romans 10:13, 1 Timothy 2:6.

The following is the KJV for those verses, followed by the NLT, with an explanation of the difference and the significance of that difference, if any:

Matthew 23:37 (KJV) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Matthew 23:37 (NLT) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.

Both of the identified added words seem to be for purposes of clarifying the meaning of the verse, and they seem to be correct.  I think the “city” substitution may help slightly, but the traditional non-Calvinist view of this verse seems to be based on confusing “you” and “your children,” which is only slightly less likely in the NLT.

1 Timothy 2:4 (KJV) Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:4 (NLT) who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

This change may make the non-Calvinist misunderstanding of the text slightly easier, but it is almost the same.

2 Peter 3:9 (KJV) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

Here, the change would seem to make the non-Calvinist misunderstanding of the text much easier.  In other words, it is not so clear that the “any” and “all” refer to “us,” but rather it appears that “anyone” and “everyone” has no specific reference.

1 John 2:2 (KJV) And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 (NLT) He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

There is some loss of meaning in this change, since propitiation is a specific aspect of the atonement.  Nevertheless, the change does not seem to significantly affect the way that the verse would be mishandled by non-Calvinists.

John 3:16 (KJV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 (NLT) “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

The “only begotten” vs. “one and only” reflects a modern translation preference that I won’t discuss here.  The change from “whosoever” to “everyone” actually should reduce the non-Calvinist confusion over this verse.

Romans 10:13 (KJV) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Romans 10:13 (NLT) For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Again, the change from “whosoever” to “everyone” actually should reduce the non-Calvinist confusion over this verse.

UPDATE: March 18, 2014: Added the following verses to the analysis of non-Calvinist prooftexts:

Hebrews 2:9 (KJV) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Hebrews 2:9 (NLT) What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.

The different way of attaching the suffering of death phrase is interesting, but does not affect the Calvinism/contra-Calvinism argument.  The added “for us” does seem consistent with the context of Hebrews 2:9, but the “everyone” seems about as liable to non-Calvinist misunderstanding as the “every man.”  In both cases, the Calvinist will need to explain the verse in context.

2 Peter 2:1 (KJV) But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1 (NLT) But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.
The change from “Lord” to “Master” makes it slightly less likely that a reader will arrive at the usual non-Calvinist association of this Lord/Master with Jesus.  Likewise, the change from “damnable” to “destructive” makes it slightly less likely that the reader will arrive at the usual non-Calvinist allegation that this refers to the people going to hell.

What about the Verses in the Allegation?

My friend does seem to have a point that in a number of cases the NLT seems to prefer a dynamic equivalent reading that removes a possible non-Calvinist way of looking at the verse or makes the Calvinistic understanding more natural.  For example, “uncircumcised in ears” (in many translations) is less clear than “deaf to the truth” (NLT at Acts 7:51).  Still, it seems strained to me to suppose that this particular replacement of an idiom with a phrase designed to convey a similar meaning has any roots in preference for Calvinism.

Similarly, my friend criticizes the NLT at Romans 8:29 for “God knew his people in advance” rather than “for whom he did foreknow,” which seems to be a fairly empty criticism.

Likewise, some of the examples seem to have almost nothing to do with Calvinism.  For example, at Acts 1:21-23, the NLT has “we must choose a replacement for Judas,” which my friend seems to think suggests that both the apostles and God chose Matthias, rather than that just God chose Matthias.  It’s hard to see the connection between that and Calvinism.

In other cases, the seeming advantage to a Calvinist reading is almost insignificant: at Romans 9:20 the thing is said to be “created” from clay rather than “molded” or “formed” from clay.

Still, in a few cases the NLT provides some explanation that is unhelpful to typical non-Calvinist views: at Romans 9:11, the text states “This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes,” which does not fit well with the “God chooses a plan” view or the “God chooses nations” view.

Also, a number of the cases identified are places that relate to perseverance of the saints – an aspect of the five points that is shared by many non-Calvinists.  So, for example, it is alleged that the explanatory phrase “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love” in the NLT’s Romans 8:38 is not a fair translation.  However, of course, a “once saved always saved” view would be equally fond of this particular explanatory phrase.

Verses on Other Topics?

After reading through the dozens of verses my friend identified, I wonder – is this method of translating something reserved for issues relating to Calvinism? Or is this just simply a byproduct of the dynamic equivalent methodology.  It seems to be the latter.  For example:

Mark 1:4 (KJV) John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Mark 1:4 (NLT) This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

That’s clearly a lot of extra explanation and it avoids the misunderstanding that people were getting baptized in order to have their sins remitted by the baptism.  Yet, at the same time, that’s more explanation than is in the original Greek.


Philippians 2:12 (KJV) Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 2:12 (NLT) Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.

I won’t even highlight all the differences, but I think you can see that the clarification avoids a misunderstanding of work’s salvation.

I haven’t done an extensive study to confirm, but my suspicion is that the translators have made these kinds of clarifications in numerous places – not just places that Calvinist and non-Calvinists may go when trying to discuss theology with one another.  So, I don’t think that accusations of Calvinist bias (intentional or unintentional) are correct.


I am not a fan of translations that attempt to use dynamic equivalence to a large degree to make the text easy to read.  There are certain aspects of translation that may require equivalence (for example, where different word order has different meaning in different grammars, or where periphrastic constructions are being used, or for similar conjugation issues).  In general, though, a word for word equivalency should be preferred, if the translation is intended to be studied.

If you study or argue from a very dynamic translation, you can run into trouble. Imagine how frustrating it would be if your child was trying to explain the doctrines of grace to his friend and his friend pointed out that “This message shows that God chooses people” was not in the original text.  That would be a legitimate comment  even though the phrase does accurately characterize the meaning of the original.

If you choose a dynamic equivalent translation for your children to read, the NLT may be a useful choice (it doesn’t seem to have a strong non-Calvinist bias).  Indeed, it appears that there is a bona fide attempt to express the meaning of the text and to provide clarification in some harder to understand places.  Nevertheless, you should carefully remind them of the difference between this type of translation and a more literal translation, like the KJV, NKJV, MKJV, NASB, ESV, etc.

Personally, I don’t care for this style of translation.  All translation has a degree of commentary in it, but the more dynamic the translation, the more commentary it has.  Sometimes that commentary may be good and helpful (and I think my friend has identified a number of cases where it is such, although he disagrees).

I won’t be switching from the KJV to the NLT, and I don’t think the translators of the NLT intended the NLT to compete with the KJV.  Rather the NLT is probably an excellent alternative a paraphrase like the Message or the like.


FN1: I think Founders Ministries might respectfully disagree that a non-Calvinistic approach is “traditional” for Baptists.

Keep it Simple: STUPID

November 19, 2013

TULIP is a great acronym for the doctrines of grace. But it’s not very American. Here’s another that may be easier to recall, next time people tell you that election, predestination, or Calvinism is “stupid.” You can respond, yes:

Sovereignty: God is in charge – we are not. All things happen according to his foreordinate counsel – from the death of Christ to the last hair on our heads.
Total depravity: In Adam we fell and our natures became corrupt, so that we do not obey the law of God and are not able to.
Unconditional election: God has chosen some of humanity for himself, based only on himself and his love – not based on us and our merit.
Perseverance of the saints: God will finish the work of salvation that he begins at justification, saving to the uttermost those who approach Him in faith.
Irresistible grace: God’s grace acts directly to convert the heart, change the will, and make a new creature, who then responds. God’s grace does not have to wait for the creature’s will, in order to effect a change.
Definite atonement: Christ’s death was particularly intended to bring about the salvation of the elect: his sheep – those that the Father gave him out of the world.


The Potter’s Precedent

April 7, 2012

In Romans 9, in response to the most frequent objection to Calvinism, Paul provides an answer from a potter analogy:

Romans 9:19-23

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory … .

This theme and argument were not original to the Epistle to the Romans, or even to Paul more generally. In fact, this theme is not merely a New Testament theme. It is firmly rooted in the Old Testament.

The outlines for the theme are found first in Job.

Job 4:17-19

Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: how much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?

Here we see the basic point emphasized. Man is not in a position to judge his maker. It is not necessarily crystal clear that the “houses of clay” refers to the body as opposed to mud huts, but it becomes clear soon:

Job 10:9

Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again?

The reference in Job harkens back to the Creation:

Genesis 2:7

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Man is like pottery in this way – that God made us from the dust of the ground.

Against the backdrop of Job and Genesis (we know Genesis was written by Moses, but we don’t know exactly when Job was written), Isaiah provides similar and further elaborated variations on the theme:

Isaiah 29:15-16

Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?

Here the rebellion of the people against God is answered with the potter’s clay analogy. They are just his clay – are they really going to deny his existence/power or his wisdom?

And it gets stronger:

Isaiah 45:7-12

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

In this passage, God takes ultimate responsibility for everything. He even says “I … create evil,” not that he is morally culpable for it, but that he decrees it. The potsherds can debate each other, but none of them can stand in judgment over God or demand that God account for his actions toward them. It’s as absurd as if a child was to question the authority of his parents to procreate him. God says he is not accountable to man for what he has made.

Moreover, the righteous (like Job) acknowledge their relationship to God as the potter:

Isaiah 64:8

But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

When we see these precedents for Romans 9, the point in Romans 9 becomes clear.  Paul is arguing that the question is impudent.  Man cannot question God’s holding man responsible, even though no one can resist the will of God.  That’s like a pot saying, “why did you make me this way?” to the potter. Paul affirms that God, like a potter, does have a purpose for his different pots.  Moreover, for Paul that is enough to vindicate the potter.

Occasionally, we are told that some other passage is the precedent for Romans 9.  I would refer to these as faux precedent passages. The most popular of these is in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 18:1-13

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing.

The point of the passage in this case is to emphasize God’s mercy in judgment. God is saying that he is free to change the way that Israel is treated, and he offers to do so if they will repent.  There is an aspect of sovereignty here, but this aspect of sovereignty has to do with God’s ability to accept repentance.  Such a point does not fit with the objection about why God finds fault despite having an irresistible will.

We see a similar theme in some of the non-canonical inter-testamental books.

For example, in Sirach we find the following expression, which seems to be drawn from Jeremiah:

Sirach 33:13

As the clay is in the potter’s hand, to fashion it at his pleasure: so man is in the hand of him that made him, to render to them as liketh him best.

There is also an interesting passage in Wisdom.  This passage, on its own, has some nice linguistic similarities to the Romans passage.  However, in context the point being made is totally different, namely about the absurdity of idolatry.  Don’t worship a statue: it could just as easily have been a chamberpot.

Wisdom 15:7

For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.

Still it provides the intuition behind the apostle’s argument: the potter is sovereign over the clay the same way that God is sovereign over mankind.  Just as it would be absurd for a chamberpot to complain about its duties, seeing as it wasn’t consulted regarding what it was going to be, so it is absurd for men to complain that God’s showing mercy on whom He will, and hardening others is somehow unfair.


Cheung and Olson

December 3, 2011

Daniel has posted an interesting response to Roger Olson’s attempted use of material from Vincent Cheung.  On this topic of God being the “author of sin,” the one positive point that Cheung has brought to the table is that he makes (or ought to make) folks like Olson stop and try to explain why it is wrong to call God the “author of sin.”

For example, if by “author of sin,” you mean that God permits sin to happen for some higher reason, then how would that be a wrong view?  Of course, that’s not the objection.  The objection is typically raised against a view that God decrees sin to occur.

But is such a view equivalent to making God the author of sin?  Again, it depends how you define that term.  If you define it to mean that God has moral culpability for the sin, then no – Calvinists don’t believe that, Calvinism doesn’t teach that, and Calvinistic views don’t imply that.

Or is something else meant?  In any event, in these debates we need to force the opponents of Calvinism to explain their objections for the sake of clarity, rather than getting caught up with ambiguous or equivocally understood expressions.


Failure to Understand both Calvinism and One’s Own Doctrine …

November 14, 2011

I saw the following comment from a lay apologist of the Roman communion recently, directed at one of my fellow Calvinists:

If I am going to hell and presdestined to do so, then you don’t have to pray for me or even have any love at all, according to your warped, hideous, grotesque version of Christianity. You can even hate me.

If THIS is what Christianity means, I would rather be an atheist. 

Of course, Thomism (which is supposedly acceptable within Rome’s communion) and even Molinism also teach that certain people are going to hell and predestinated to do so.  That’s not a unique aspect of Calvinism.

Moreover, as in Thomism and Molinism, in Calvinism one is not relieved of one’s obligations to pray for someone or love them simply because of God’s secret decree of reprobation.

The comment quoted above reflects a fundamental failure to understand Calvinism.  It shows that the person does not grasp even the simple concept that, in this life, we do not know who the elect are.  Just because someone is currently a Saul of Tarsus does not mean that they will not one day be a Paul the Apostle (to take an extreme example).

So, the Roman apologist has (a) identified a first set of views that his church deems acceptable, and (b) drawn unfounded conclusions from them.  What should we conclude?  Shall we assume he’s just being silly?  Probably not.  The tone of this comment was harshly serious (the apologist even cursed at my fellow Calvinist in a portion of the comment that I haven’t reproduced).  It could be that he’s just deliberately lying about Calvinism, but what purpose would that serve?  We know what we believe, so we’re not likely to be fooled by his mischaracterization.  All that’s left is that this poor soul doesn’t understand.

We should pray for him, that God would open his eyes.


Reviewing Roger Olson’s "Against Calvinism"

November 4, 2011

Dr. James White reviewed Roger’s Olson’s “Against Calvinism” on the November 3, 2011, Dividing Line.  Meanwhile, independently Paul Manata has prepared a detailed written review.

I think both reviewers would agree with the following from Manata:

In any event, Olson’s book leaves much to be desired. It isn’t anything like a “case” against Calvinism. Rather, it’s more of a constantly repetitious list of unargued for complaints. There is weak theological argumentation, zero exegesis, unfamiliarity with critical issues discussed, and one self-excepting fallacy after another. 

The two reviews make many of the same points, but ultimately the problem is that Olson demonstrates a lack of serious engagement with the subject matter.


Calvinism is Wrong Because Love Must Be Free?

November 2, 2011

I’ve heard an objection to Calvinism along the lines of the title of this post many times.  The argument is that “irresistible grace” is at odds with the nature of God, since God wants us to love Him freely.  Paul Manata has a succinct answer to that kind of argument.

I would like to build a little on my friend Paul’s point.  Often we are told that Calvinism’s teaching on irresistible grace is some equivalent to divine rape.  This analogy is necessarily wrong.  First, rape involves violation of the will of the rape victim.  However, God’s efficacious grace does not violate man’s will, it transforms it.  God’s transforming act of regeneration is not coercion of the will (like a rapist), nor is it a fooling of the will (like a hypnotist).  God actually changes the desires of a person so that they not only no longer hate God, nor imagine they love God, but actually love God.

Second, in addition to the fact that God commands love (which is my friend Paul’s point, and he makes it effectively), God also threatens punishment to those who do not love.  Roger Olson technically may be able to maintain his position that “it must be factually possible for both [parties] to a possible loving relationship to be able to say ‘no’ to the other” (p. 167 per Paul’s post) even in the face of a command.  After all, people in fact do say “no,” to God’s commands that we love God and love our neighbor.  However, if this escape is employed the analogy breaks down.  After all, we would still consider someone a rape victim if they gave consent only after a gun was pointed at their head, even if they technically could have said “yes.”  But the coercive power of the message of Jesus is even stronger than that: “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” (Luke 12:5)

So, on the one hand, irresistible grace is not coercion and on the other hand God does (undeniably) employ coercion.  So, the objection posed by Olson cannot stand both because it misses the mark and because it strikes a point that Olson must accept as true.  Olson (and other non-Calvinists) have to admit that God employs coercion by threatening punishments on those who do not do as they are told.  Yet irresistible grace is a means that God uses that does not itself involve coercion, but transformation.


Why it is Important to Go Back to the Sources, Illustrated.

August 19, 2011

The following is a transcript of about four minutes from an informal radio debate from the Bible Answer Man program (source):

James White: I think it was God’s purpose to preserve the children of Israel alive in Egypt. So it was his purpose to send Joseph and he did so by having him sold into slavery in Egypt.

George Bryson: Well, let me answer that with a question. Let me ask you this question – and this will put in perspective to show the difference. When a child is raped, is God responsible and did He decree that rape?

White: If he didn’t, then that rape is an element of meaningless evil that has no purpose. What I’m trying to point out, by going to Scripture —

Hank Hanegraaff: So what is your answer there? Because I want to understand the answer to that question.

White: I’m trying to go to Scripture to answer it. The reason —

Hanegraaff: But what is the answer to the question he just asked, so that we can understand what the answer to the question is.

White: I mentioned to him, yes, because if not then it’s meaningless and purposeless and though God knew it was going to happen He created it without a purpose. That means God brought the evil into existence, knowing it was going to exist, but for no purpose, no redemption, nothing positive, nothing good. I say —

Hanegraaff: So, he did decree and if he decreed it, then there’s meaning to it.

White: that he – it has meaning, it has purpose, suffering (all suffering) has purpose, everything in this world has purpose. There is no basis for despair. But if we believe that God created knowing all this was going to happen, but with no decree. He just created and there is all this evil out there, and there’s no purpose, then every rape, every situation like that is nothing but purposeless evil and God is responsible for the creation of despair. And that is not what I believe.

Bryson: For years, I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that in order for rape to exist – or – unless God caused it to happen – there can’t be any purpose in it. God can use evil and he does. But to blame God, which is what a decree does, to blame God for the rape of a child is a horrible attack on the very character and love of God.

White: How about to blame God for the destruction of the heart of a father, thinking his son has been killed for many years – the weeping that he underwent. Genesis 50:20 has not been answered yet. And Acts chapter 4 tells us that the early church believed that Pontius Pilate and Herod and the Romans and the Jews in the crucifixion of the sinless son of God ( which I believe we would all agree is the greatest evil that man has ever committed) that that took place on the basis of the sovereign decree of God (Acts 4:27-28). If you could tell me both what you believe Acts 4:27-28 means and —

Bryson: Let me ask you if you think that rape is a sin.

White: I believe that — Can we use a biblical example, Acts 4:27-28?

Bryson: Rape is a biblical issue, is rape a sin?

White: Just as the crucifixion was a sin, yes.

Bryson: Ok. So, does God decree, and therefore is God the cause of, sin?

White: Again, as you well know, having read all of these things, let me just read this into everyone’s hearing, so they can see it. The early church said: “For truly in this city there were gathered against your holy servant Jesus, whom you annointed, both Herod, Pontius Pilate, along with the gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur. And so here is an example where men committed evil and they did so at the predestining purpose of God. God is glorified. His intention is positive and good. The intention of Herod – the intention of the Jews – These were not innocent people and God’s standing behind them with a big gun, pushing them down the road, going “Be evil, be evil.” In fact, how many times did God restrain them!

Hanegraaff: So, they’re making a choice in the process, in your view.

White: They’re not only making a choice.

Hanegraaff: So, they have the ability to choose.

White: Within the realm of their nature, since they are fallen. Remember, God restrains men from committing evil. Let me ask you, do you believe that?

Bryson: Why are men fallen? That is the question.

White: Do you believe that?

Bryson: The question is, why are men fallen?

White: Could I ask – could I finish a point – Do you believe that God can keep someone from sinning?

Bryson: I would like to ask you the question, is God the cause of that sin? That’s the issue. God can do anything.

White: I’ve already pointed out, Genesis 50, that God’s decree is based upon his good intention. Can God keep a person from sinning? Will he violate libertarian free will, to keep a person from sinning, yes or no?

Bryson: That’s not a yes or no question.

The above (presumably – since it seems to be the closest section) got summarized this way by John Rabe (source):

And IMHO, White got his clock cleaned. Granted, the deck was stacked against him, as he had to debate both Bryson and Hanegraaff, who was certainly less than an impartial moderator.

White let Bryson frame the terms of the debate from the git-go, which doomed him. The general thrust of it came across like this:

BRYSON: Calvinists believe that God is an evil potentate who causes sin and tyranically damns people for no good reason and causes babies to be raped.

WHITE: Yes, and here’s why I believe that. Genesis 50 says…


Then, that converted by a lady named Barb into this (source):

A loose paraphrase from the James White and George Bryson debate on Bible Answer Man:

begin paraphrase:

BRYSON: Calvinists believe that God is an evil potentate who causes sin and tyranically damns people for no good reason and causes babies to be raped.

WHITE: Yes, and here’s why I believe that. Genesis 50 says…

end paraphrase

Yikes! With friends like this who needs enemies?

Then, it got quoted in Bryson’s book (The Dark Side of Calvinism, p. 372) this way:

Even more pointed, in comments found on the Internet in a section called “Whilin’ Away the Hours,” the Calvinist John Rabe offers what he calls:

“A loose paraphrase from the James White and George Bryson debate on the Bible Answer Man:

“begin paraphrase:

“BRYSON: Calvinists believe that God is an evil potentate who causes sin and tyrannically damns people for no good reason and causes babies to be raped.

“WHITE: Yes, and here’s why I believe that. Genesis 50 says …

“end paraphrase[.]

“Yikes! With friends like this who needs enemies?”612

Remember what the apostle James says:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

If the Calvinist is right, then James could and perhaps should also have said:

Every good and bad gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights and darkness.

I can understand why the admission of White is so disturbing to Calvinists. In his defense, however, White is only admitting what should be obvious to all Calvinists.

Finally, Micah Coate turned this into (A Cultish Side of Calvinism, p. 283)

In debating George Bryson, leading Calvinist James White admitted to Calvinism’s view of God. The following is a loose paraphrase from this debate:

BRYSON: Calvinists believe that God is an evil potentate who causes sin and tyrannically damns people for no good reason causes babies to be raped.

WHITE: Yes, and here’s why I believe that. Genesis 50 says …

BRYSON: Yikes! With friends like this who needs enemies? 558

I ask you whether you could provide a better of example of why it is important to go back to the original sources to see what a person actually admitted and actually did not admit.


UPDATE: Dr. White has provided to the use of this material here:

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