Update: James White offered a response to this post here. I offered some initial remarks toward White's response which I may, after a coat of polish, post on the main page in due time.
Since the John 3:16 Conference, there has been an excessive amount of attention to my comments concerning James White on the various Calvinist blogs. Allow me to set the record straight on three fronts: 1) what I said, 2) the context in which I said it, and 3) why I said it.
The following is taken verbatim from the John 3:16 Conference recording:
Ladies and Gentlemen, James White is a hyper-Calvinist. By the definition of Phil Johnson in his A Primer of Hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson of spurgeon.org, who is the right hand man of John MacArthur, Phil Johnson tells you the five things that make for hyper-Calvinism, and James White by his teaching is a hyper-Calvinist. Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don’t need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It’s fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.
By the way, James White is a Baptist, he is not a Southern Baptist. On April 10, during a phone call on the “Dividing Line” web cast, James White scornfully denied there is any sense in which God wills the salvation of all men. That is the total opposite of what Tom Ascol said. By the way, Ascol is right that God wills the salvation of all men. White is the one who’s wrong. The denial of God’s universal saving will is a problem.”
Please note I did not insult James White or attack his character. I never suggested that the basis of my charge regarding White’s hyper-Calvinism was that he does not engage in evangelism or that he does not proclaim the Gospel.
Again, the actual basis of my charge was that White denies that in any sense does God desire the salvation of all by God’s revealed will. White did not answer the actual grounds of my charge in his replies. Rather, he evasively changed the basis of my charge, creating a straw man argument which he then sought to refute.
The Context in Which I Spoke
Here is a section in my paper which I did not use at the John 3:16 Conference due to time constraints. It immediately followed my comments about White and Ascol above:
“My point here is to help you see James White’s connection of his denial of God’s universal saving will to his view of limited atonement. White says, ‘What does it mean to say that God desires to do something he then does not provide the means to do?’” [This is a direct quote from White’s radio broadcast, April 10, 2008; see below.]
“It is clear that he does not think there is a means in Christ’s death to save any of the non-elect. His strictly limited atonement view of God’s provision in the work of Christ on the cross seems to drive him to deny God’s universal saving will, which is one of the tenets of hyper-Calvinism. When I speak of hyper-Calvinism, I am using the definition of Phil Johnson, a highly respected Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinism denies the universal saving will of God, without which there can be no well-meant offer of salvation from God to the non-elect that hear the gospel call. Phil Johnson, in A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism wrote in a 1998 online article:
“I wrote and posted this article because I am concerned about some subtle trends that seem to signal a rising tide of hyper-Calvinism, especially within the ranks of young Calvinists and the newly Reformed. I have seen these trends in numerous Reformed theological forums on the Internet. . . . . History teaches us that hyper-Calvinism is as much a threat to true Calvinism as Arminianism is. Virtually every revival of true Calvinism since the Puritan era has been hijacked, crippled, or ultimately killed by hyper-Calvinist influences. Modern Calvinists would do well to be on guard against the influence of these deadly trends.” [Emphasis mine.]
In his “Primer,” here is what Phil Johnson posted concerning hyper-Calvinism:
A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
3. Denies that the gospel makes any ‘offer’ of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,” OR
5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect. [www.spurgeon.org]
I would encourage the reader to take a look at this Primer for himself. The Primer clearly leaves the reader with the impression, if not out and out states, that a denial of God's universal saving will is a component of hyper-Calvinism. Notice the Primer begins with a very obvious posting of Ezekiel 33:11: "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die."
Johnson, against the hyper-Calvinist tendency to blur the distinction between the secret will and the revealed will of God, appeals to John Piper who affirms the necessity of both within the Calvinistic system (with the latter aspect including a saving desire for all men). Johnson also appeals to the John Murray and Ned Stonehouse book, The Free Offer of the Gospel. These men say that “the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men.”
Finally, notice Johnson’s reference to hyper-Calvinism’s denial that the gospel message “includes any sincere [emphasis mine] proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.” If I was mistaken in reading Johnson’s Primer in the way I have, then I would be happy to drop my appeal to his Primer and simply go with the scholarship and very clear statements of Iain Murray and Curt Daniel instead on this very subject.
I will wait to see what Phil Johnson says about his Primer in this respect. Is he or is he not saying that a "sincere proposal" by God to all necessarily presupposes his willingness to save all, such that a denial of God's desire to save all is the same as denying the well-meant nature of the offer? It appears to me this is exactly what he is saying and I agree with him completely.
My point is this: if this is what Johnson is saying, it is not what White is saying. In fact, White is saying just the opposite. White denies the well-meant or “sincere” nature of God’s offer of the gospel to all men “in general.”
Notice that according to #3 above, by Phil Johnson’s criteria, James White is a hyper-Calvinist, based on what he himself has said. All I said at the conference was James White is a hyper-Calvinist based on the criteria for hyper-Calvinism laid down by White’s fellow Calvinist, Phil Johnson.
James White denies God’s universal saving will; namely, that God wills and desires to save the non-elect. Such a denial of God’s universal saving will also constitutes a denial of the well-meant gospel offer. This is clearly contrary to confessional Calvinistic orthodoxy. James White is a hyper-Calvinist on the issue of the well-meant gospel offer because he denies such an offer.
Prior to the John 3:16 Conference, I had listened to White’s radio broadcast “The Dividing Line” and read the transcripts carefully to make sure I was quoting White accurately. While the transcript is too lengthy to place here, I will list a portion of that exchange in White’s exact words.
I encourage the reader to go to here for the entire manuscript so the reader can see I am not taking White out of context. I have emboldened the crucial sections:
White: “Let's get to Jason over in the United Kingdom...What's up Jason?”
Jason: “Well, yeah, I have a question for you regarding your Reformed theology, and it has to do with the free offer of the gospel. My question is simply this: Does God offer Christ, salvation or mercy to the non-elect, and does he in any sense will their salvation?”
White:…“First of all, from the human aspect, the free offer of the gospel goes out to all people because humans do not know the identity of the elect. And since no one will have that knowledge other than God, the only way a human being can possibly answer the question is to say what scripture says; and that is, that any person who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. But I think the question as it is often--I think somewhat unnecessarily asked, because again it forces us into a similar situation as the last discussion of Adam [the previous call topic]--to ask the question, Well, if God has not eternally decreed the salvation of John Brown, then can we really say that there is a free offer of the gospel to John Brown?…
Jason: “But, I mean, there are Calvinist theologians such as John Murray and Phil Johnson, for example, who hold that view. Phil Johnson would even say that it's a hyper-Calvinist tendency to deny that God in some way offers salvation to the non-elect.”
White: “Again, if I just said that it is our job to offer salvation to the non-elect because we don't know who they are, then yes, the salvation is being offered to the non-elect. But when says [Jason: but the offer is being made...] someone in some way, then I need something more of a definition of in what way. Are we going to say, for example, that Christ gives, intercedes, or gives his life for the non-elect, even though it is not God's purpose to grant to them the freedom from their sins so as to accept this? When we say ‘some way,’ I interpret ‘some way’ as the free and open proclamation of the gospel.
Jason: “I think the understanding is that, although God has reprobated certain people, there is a desire on his part that they should be saved, even though he has a higher purpose. [Therefore] that doesn't happen. I think one example, one verse, that might indicate that would be Ezekiel 33:11, which says that, ‘As surely as I live, says the Lord God, I have no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their way and live.’ And that's the claim for the whole of the nation of Israel, not just the elect within that community.”
White: “Yeah, and that's one of the problems I have with Ezekiel 18 or 33 being read into this particular issue, because I feel like we're being forced to somehow attribute to God some kind (for some reason)...some kind of an attitude or desire that I just never see, not only do I never see expressed, but it would likewise force us to say that God has an unfulfilled desire, but it's not really the same desire as he chooses to fulfill with other people. And we're left not only--you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum--now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it.
.. . But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill. And then in fact, evidently, causes him to have an unfulfilled desire, unhappiness, pain, or something. …I fully understand how given the means that God uses to draw the elect unto himself, that there is a free offer of the gospel, that I can never look at someone. . . I do not have the right to reprobate anybody. I can't do that. I have to proclaim to everybody. But, I have a problem then saying in my proclamation of the gospel to others means that I then have to affirm some kind of a partially salvific desire...cause it can only be partially salvific. If it's truly a salvific desire, and it's truly a desire of God, does he not do whatever he pleases in the heavens and the earth? . . .
And I know that there are those who look at 2 Peter 3:9, and they see there that universal salvific will. I think that I am giving a pretty consistent exegetical response to that, to say...well, ok. I have respect for men who have held that view, but I have not at any time seen any of those who take that view respond to what I said about the text” [James White’s radio broadcast, April 10, 2008].
Notice here how White denies 2 Peter 3:9 teaches God has a universal saving will! White resumes:
. . . And, I don't know how many times I have to say we don't know who the elect are, and therefore we proclaim the gospel to everybody. But there are some who would say, ‘…and if you don't add to that that God has a partially salvific desire . . . you can go ahead and differentiate that he has a truly salvific desire for the elect, but you have to have a partially salvific will’. . . I just go, what does that mean?! If you could tell me what it means, you know...is that common grace? Does that mean that God is kind to the non-elect?
Ok. I've said that a million times. But that's not what I'm hearing. You know. And I just go, what does it mean to say that God desires to do something he then does not provide the means to do? What does that mean? And no one's ever been able to tell me. So, once somebody can tell me, then I can jump on the bandwagon I guess, if there is a bandwagon to jump on to. But if you can't tell me what it means, then...what can I say? Can't, can't go there. So, anyway, that's what that particular discussion was all about.” [Emphasis mine.]
It seems clear to me by these comments that James White is a hyper-Calvinist given the “sincere proposal” criteria stated by Phil Johnson in his Primer. I, therefore dispute that, with regard to Mr. White’s denial of a universal saving will for the salvation of all men, that this is just a matter of semantics.
My main point, which seems to have been lost on so many people, was not to focus on James White and his hyper-Calvinism. My point was to show the unwisdom on the part of Tom Ascol in his willingness to team up with James White to debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Many non-Calvinists within our convention are concerned not only about Calvinism, but about some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies in the convention.
We are consistently told by Calvinists within the convention that there are few if any hyper-Calvinists among us. It does not help the situation when Ascol is willing to team up with one in a debate within a Southern Baptist Convention context. That was my point.
Notice above the comments by Phil Johnson who has observed a growing tendency towards hyper-Calvinism in recent years with the resurgence of Calvinism in the overall evangelical world. If his warning, as a Calvinist, is valid, why would mine not be? Even if it could be shown that White is not a hyper, which still remains to be proven I might add, it would not negate the overall point I am making.
Has anyone noticed how many of the Southern Baptist Calvinist bloggers, including Founders Ministries, link to James White’s website? I say this because I am concerned that hyper-Calvinism is being allowed to slip into the convention because well-meaning Calvinists are not being discerning on this point. They are uncritically endorsing hyper-Calvinist bloggers and therefore their ideas are slowly filtering into the SBC.
For example, Ascol, on the Founders Ministries website, even links to Steve Camp, who also denies God’s universal saving desire, with the additional explicit denials of common grace and general love. Can anyone say that Steve Camp does not meet Phil Johnson’s criteria on hyper-Calvinism?
Here are my relevant comments verbatim taken from the audio of my presentation:
“Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don’t need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It’s fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism” (The John 3:16 Conference recordings).
Therefore, I see no evidence from White, Phil Johnson, or anyone else that disproves my statement concerning James White’s hyper-Calvinism. The grounds for the charge have not yet been addressed by James White. Therefore, with respect to my blogger critics on this issue, I stand by my statement.
I offer my gratitude to Dr. David Allen for taking the time from his crowded schedule to address this provocative but significant issue.
With that, I am...