UPDATE: James White included a "critique" of this present piece on his Friday DL internet broadcast. Here's the link to it. Little is worth mentioning. He did calm down his personal swipes toward me a bit, something I've noted before when it's pointed out that his obnoxious, ridiculing laughter and personal barbs remain a glaring weakness in his "reviews." In addition, White predictably insisted that I didn't understand his criticisms I catalogued below, adding that the reason I didn't understand his criticisms is, can you guess? Yep! Because I do not understand Calvinism! Of course, for James White, Malcolm Yarnell doesn't understand Calvinism; David Allen doesn't understand Calvinism; nor does Ronnie Rogers understand Calvinism. In fact of the latter, even though Rogers was for years a self-identified Calvinist, James White belligerently declares unequivocally Rogers has never been a Calvinist no matter what Rogers says to the contrary! Why? Well because White says so, that's why. And, that's that!. Perhaps in addition, because Rogers obviously doesn't understand Calvinism.
Note: in the DL program, White compared me to George Bryson, one whom he presumably insists understands Calvinism no better than I do.
On the other hand, popular Reformed icon Doug Wilson has quite another view of George Bryson's grasp of Calvinism, something James White over and over and over denies and similarly ridicules. Of Bryson's The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting, Wilson writes:
George Bryson is a very unusual non-Calvinist. He is able to describe the doctrinal position of Calvinism without putting any extra eggs in the pudding. His descriptions are fair and accurate, and he clearly knows his subject. The first portion of the book, the place where he does all this, is very good. The second, where he turns to refutation, falls in another category. The name of this book is The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting (//link)
Please understand: while it's obvious Wilson did not find convincing Bryson's criticisms of Calvinism in the second part of the book, nonetheless, contra James White, Wilson clearly indicated that Bryson knew what he was talking about when he described T.U.L.I.P. Calvinism.
White's evaluation of Bryson's understanding of Calvinism stands strikingly different. He indicates in the link above that Bryson seems totally confused about Calvinism; in fact, Bryson remains "unteachable," a very similar description White overlayed upon me. One need only peruse White's website to find ample but familiar words toward George Bryson as White employed toward my little book. To illustrate, James White accused Bryson of:
- creating "caricatures" to "frighten" people away from Calvinism;
- refusing to "debate the key biblical texts against me (at least not with cross-examination!), and so he knows he can only snipe from afar, never engaging me directly (despite his bravado in claiming he will)" (ever heard that line before?);
- Bryson is a man who "engages in this kind of straw-man, shallow argumentation because they truly do not have any answers to the big questions of the gospel? And once that question is examined, well...the results I see over and over again";
- "The five points are biblical truths that George Bryson cannot refute, and continues, to this day, to hide from debating openly" (//link)
- "I see nothing new in the same tired, warn [sic] out, eisgetical human traditions of Arminianism that are regularly pawned on folks by the Dave Hunts and George Brysons of the world" (//link)
- "We started out tracing the genesis of the incredibly absurd misrepresentation promoted by George Bryson and Micah Coate in their books against Calvinism" (//link)
- "Because, when you are a hyper anti-Calvinist, like Hunt, Coate, Bryson, etc., you are not bound by conventional categories of fairness, honesty, or balance. You must frighten everyone away from Calvinism! You cannot trust them to think through the issues for themselves! In fact, you do not want them thinking about it at all! You must stop the thought process right now and replace it with pure emotional recoil at some horrid representation of Calvin or Calvinism. So away with honesty, away with balance, away with anything even remotely fair or accurate" (//link)
When it comes down to it, it's not too much to suggest that when one hears one "review" James White offers toward non-Calvinist writings on the "doctrines of grace," one has pretty much heard them all--caricature; misrepresentation; dishonest; cannot/will not understand; unteachable; etc. etc. etc. James White begins to become boring, frankly.
With applicable interest, consider the words of Francis Hodgson written in 1854 about how Reformed men perpetually whined and howled about how no one understood Calvinism but Reformed men. Hodgson said "The advocates of this doctrine complain loudly that they are misunderstood and misrepresented." He then started a selection of quotes from a Who's Who in 19th century Presbyterian theology. To name some:
- The Rev. Samuel Miller, D. D., late of Princeton College, N. J., in a tract on Presbyterian Doctrine ... complains thus: “It may be safely said that no theological system was ever more grossly misrepresented, or more foully and unjustly vilified than this”
- The Rev. Dr. Beecher says, in his work on Skepticism: “I have never heard a correct statement of the Calvinistic system from an opponent;”
- The Rev. Dr. Musgrave...charges the opponents of Calvinism in general... with not only violently contesting, but also with shockingly caricaturing, and shamefully misrepresenting and vilifying Calvinism — with “systematic and wide-spread defamation”—with “wholesale traduction of moral character..."
- The Rev. L. A. Lowry..."“It is painful to witness the ignorance and stupidity of men—their malignity and opposition to the truth—who have learned to misrepresent and abuse Calvinism with such bitterness of feeling, till, like a rattlesnake in dog-days, they have become blinded by the poison of their own minds” (//link, italics original)
Thus, to hear James White whine and drool on and on about how nobody presumably understands Calvinism but Calvinists themselves is nothing more than what many Reformed critics have done for years. What remains different is, James White appears to suggest that not even Reformed credentials makes a passing grade in detecting faulty Calvinism. Curiously, Wilson has just as many accredited degrees as James White. Why, therefore, White seems to imply he's more qualified than Wilson to evaluate whether Calvinism has been misrepresented is not easily discerned.
Even so, if Yarnell, Allen, Hunt, Bryson, Geisler, Olson, and innumerable others now and in the past cannot get Calvinism right--others I confess without the least hesitation who belong in an intellectual category I most certainly do not deserve-- then it surely follows there is little use of me trying to understand Calvinism, at least to James White's satisfaction.
And again, don't forget that, according to James White's estimation, even at least one fairly popular Reformed theologian (Doug Wilson) apparently is implicated for not recognizing faulty, caricatured Calvinism. Contra White, Wilson explicitly stated that George Bryson's "descriptions [of Calvinism] are fair and accurate, and he clearly knows his subject." So, a Reformed theologian apparently seems theologically deficient in identifying what James White refers to as the same tired, worn-out, "eisgetical human traditions of Arminianism" that are "regularly pawned on folks" by the George Brysons of the world. Were one to ask me, I'd say that was a fairly provocative implication no matter how one slices it.
Hence, I'm really uninterested in spending any more time keeping up with what James White says about my booklet, What is Calvinism? If someone has a legitimate question, I'll be glad to address the question to the best of my ability, however.
I’ve had many encourage me to just drop James White’s “review” of my recent booklet on understanding Calvinism, What is Calvinism? everything you need to know and then some (hereafter, What is Calvinism?). I must confess I almost did. Yet when someone appears to only know how to hack another’s work,1 and that person is a well-known bully within the cyber-sphere, it seems to me only right to offer at least a brief rejoinder to James White’s literary pillaging of my little booklet.
So, with that in mind, I want to deal with some of the coruscating criticisms White makes of my booklet. Before I do, allow me mention one gleaming fault about the “review” most any listener can surely discern. There’s undeniably a personal element going on in this “review” that’s not so evident in some of White’s other reviews. In other words, White’s disdain for me personally cannot be missed. At one point, White says, “I don’t think Peter is really interested in understanding” and at another, “I don’t think that Peter Lumpkins can actually be taught on this issue” (the entire section of the DL broadcast dealing with me and/or my booklet is found below). Question: what serious scholar personally impugns the author of the work he’s criticizing? Few do; but if they do, the scholarly community usually holds them accountable. But, of course, no one holds James White accountable, least of all the community of followers he attracts. James White says virtually anything he desires about anybody he desires without the least kickback from his community.
With that personal element out of the way, here are a few of Whites’ more coruscating criticisms:
First, White says of my booklet, there’s “obviously a massive amount of hubris in the title.” Why? Well, he doesn’t say. He just makes the observation. My response is, I’m not fully clear what White means by “a massive amount of hubris,” but I surely didn’t take it that way, nor do I think most readers will read it that way. Everything one needs to know about Calvinism in the neo-Calvinistic movement may be summed up in T.U.L.I.P. soteriology, especially as it relates to what’s going on in the Southern Baptist Convention. And, T.U.L.I.P. Calvinism is very easy to understand despite White’s continual crusade that it apparently takes someone like him to tell us all what Calvinism really means.
Second, White criticizes my statement that fallen human beings possess no capability whatsoever of hearing God:
“Since sinful human beings are dead in trespasses and sin, possessing no capability whatsoever of hearing God, understanding the Gospel, or turning from sin and believing on Christ short of a) an actual spiritual resurrection from the dead (i.e. being born again); and, b) God bestowing upon His chosen ones the gift of faith so they can believe…” (p.9, What is Calvinism?)
Believe it or not, White takes issue with the above statement, declaring I do not know what Calvinism amounts to. It’s really hard to take White seriously when he makes unguarded statements like this. So, what's wrong with this statement, according to White? He begins with these incredible words:
“by the way, never said that…Obviously there’s different kinds of hearing in Scripture. Jesus Himself says “why do you not hear My words?” Cause you’re not able to. But they heard Him.”
First, whatever White means by “never said that” I haven’t a clue. Who never said that? Is White confused thinking I was speaking about him? More significantly, White makes the vacuous observation that there obviously are “many kinds of hearing in Scripture.” Well, I wonder what kind of “hearing” White thinks I’m referencing in a passage in which I speak of “hearing” God, “understanding,” the Gospel, or “believing” on Christ? To suggest there’s “obviously more kinds of hearing in Scripture” is supposed to be a critical observation toward my view? Sweet heavens! And, I’m actually taking time to answer such elementary objections like this.
White goes on to question my statement further by objecting to my implication that sinful human beings not only cannot hear God salvifically, but cannot “understand the Gospel” White replies: “understand the gospel? There are many unregenerate people who understand the gospel.”
Once again, it seems like White desperately attempts to make an objection where no objection really exists. Consider this: to Dave Hunt, White had this to say in reference to hearing and understanding the gospel apart from being born again:
“And in John 8:43 we have ‘are not able to hear’ and those who cannot hear the words of Christ will not, of course, cling to Him in faith. They cannot understand, let alone believe. Can Hunt's tradition survive this biblical examination?” (p. 84, italics added, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views).
Question: why couldn’t White’s criticism of my words above not apply to his own words to Dave Hunt? Note especially White explicitly affirming unregenerate people cannot understand, let alone believe. But White wants to make my words about the incapability of “understanding” the unregenerate possess into some type of misunderstanding about Calvinism.
I further have this to say (p.9, What is Calvinism?):
“To the contrary, the person will have faith only because God chose him or her in eternity to have faith. No one else can have faith. Just the elect are capable of exercising saving faith”
Even though I clearly stated what I meant by faith—“saving faith”—nonetheless, White objects: “Of course people can have faith; they just cannot have saving faith.”
These are the types of toothless barbs White continues to pitch throughout his “review.” If all I could do is make ridiculous criticisms like these, I have to be honest: I’d be embarrassed to make it public.
Again, in the brief booklet on Calvinism I wrote:
“As we mentioned earlier, even if God were to grant the gift of faith to all people, faith would do the people no good since only the ones whom He spiritually resurrects are capable of using the gift” (p.10).
“A misunderstanding, of course, of the fact that saving faith is the function of the regenerated heart. So, Peter doesn’t understand the unity and consistency of the Reformed understanding of the work that we are created in His image; that we are a new man and the new man naturally clings to Christ because his slavery to sin has been broken.”
Excuse me, but what is the difference in suggesting that saving faith is only operative in a spiritually resurrected person on the one hand and saving faith is functional only in a regenerated heart on the other? White unfortunately fails to inform us. Even so, he once again passes off as legitimate criticism an almost identical assertion to one I made which he presumably proposes to correct my “misunderstanding, of course.”
White also corrects an inference I drew from a quote from Dr. Andrew Davis I offered pertaining to Unconditional Election. Below is the appropriate portions of the paragraph from What is Calvinism?:
Biblical passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9–11 are keystone texts Calvinists employ in arguing their case for Unconditional Election. Romans 9:11–13 reads, “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” One Baptist Calvinist put it this way, “Just as election for salvation was not based on anything God foresaw in the elect, so also reprobation was not based on anything bad God foresaw in the reprobate ... Jacob’s good works did not get him elected, neither did Esau’s bad works get him rejected” (Barrett and Nettles). Apparently, God damns people to hell not based upon their actual sinfulness but solely upon His antecedent choice. In other words, while Esau was still in the womb, he was as destined to go to hell as if he were already there” (p.10).
After reading Davis’ quote from Barrett and Nettles, White retorts:
“False, of course. Complete misunderstanding of what Barrett and Nettles says…How could someone come up with such an horrific misunderstanding of what it is we’re saying?”
Well, I’ll allow the reader to be the judge. Davis clearly says throughout his chapter on Unconditional Election that both election and reprobation are decided not on human works but specifically on God’s choice alone. Davis writes
“God is set against anything in the twins, good or bad, as the root cause of election. This is His “purpose according to election”: to leave the human side entirely out of the equation when it comes to election… . Paul is not just addressing God’s eternal purpose in electing Jacob, but His eternal purpose in rejecting Esau… . Romans 9 lays down a two-fold track of unconditional election and reprobation that run side by side. The two cannot be separated… . (pp.52-54, Whomever He Wills).
The words above lead up to Davis’ conclusion I quoted in my booklet that “Just as election for salvation was not based on anything God foresaw in the elect, so also reprobation was not based on anything bad God foresaw in the reprobate ... Jacob’s good works did not get him elected, neither did Esau’s bad works get him rejected” (p.55). For Davis, it seems undeniably clear that Esau was rejected in eternity past and damned to hell not based on sin he would commit— “neither did Esau’s bad works get him rejected”--but based solely on God’s choice alone, something White asserts I concluded was “false” and stood as an “horrific misunderstanding.” As I said, I’m perfectly willing to allow the reader to be the judge as to whether I inferred wrongly based upon Davis’ actual words.
White also says of my statement about concluding that “Limited Atonement remains the least attractive point of the five points” (p.12) “I firmly disagree” going on to declare in the clearest terms that people who don’t see the relationship of Limited Atonement to the other five points of Calvinism “simply doesn’t understand what we’re talking about.” Well, at least White doesn’t just implicate me with ignorance at that point. He implicates Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Bruce Ware, Millard Erickson, John Broadus, Robert Culver, and any number of other respected Calvinistic evangelicals in the past and present who, according to White, “simply doesn’t understand what we’re talking about.” But, of course this is the same James White who insisted he’d never met a "four-point Calvinist” who, after he’d thoroughly cross-examined them, they were discovered to be but “one-point Calvinists” in disguise!
White also denies I got Irresistible Grace correct. He states my description is “not even close” and substitutes the following contra what I said in my little booklet:
“Irresistible Grace is simply the wonderful truth that when God, in eternity past, chose to save one of His elect people, at that time in that person’s life, there is nothing that can stop Him from accomplishing His intention to bringing them to spiritual life. That’s what Irresistible Grace is. Peter Lumpkins does not understand that. But I don’t think Peter Lumpkins can actually be taught on this issue. At least by me…”
In the section on Irresistible Grace, I quoted three popular Calvinist works pertaining to the subject:Duane Spencer, Steele, Thomas and Quinn, and James White himself. All three quotes emphasized God’s omnipotent power primarily operative in Irresistible Grace. I then concluded:
“So while Calvinists deny Irresistible Grace brings people kicking and screaming into heaven, they do hold that when God’s saving grace comes to sinners, nothing can thwart His saving grace from working exactly as He determined upon the ones He chose to bring to salvation. God’s omnipotent power accomplishes His will in the heart just as He accomplished it in creation “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Just as Lazarus gave no permission to Jesus to raise him from the physical grave, so the elect give no permission to God to raise them from the spiritual grave” (p.13).
Even so, James White manages to judge my description of Irresistible Grace as “not even close.” White obviously forces his criticism toward my language as most readers will note. Why he does so is another question altogether.
I’ll mention but a couple more criticisms James White mentions in his “review” of my little booklet on Calvinism. There’s plenty more White skews. But it’s just not worth my time to keep pointing out the obvious hack White offered toward my booklet. In fact, White's "review" of my booklet only inspires me to do even more in attempting to be fair with a person’s work that I might be reviewing. The truth is, I've never more experienced what appears to be a deliberate hatchet job on literary works (including sermons preached) than I've experienced reading James White's "reviews" of Southern Baptist works. It comes across as if White does everything in his rhetorical power to make sure nothing positive is spoken about their writings--at least the non-Calvinist Southern Baptists he "reviews."
Moving along, on pages 14-15, I mentioned White’s verbal book review he made of Ronnie Rogers’ book only a few months back. I properly cited it though White says it’s not cited and doesn’t have a clue to what I refer. He even guesses I might be referring to the fact that he “wouldn’t debate that loony, wacky guy back in St. Louis.” Well, I have the citation properly noted both on the page and in the “Author’s Sources” section. But rather than take the time to check, White assumes his “guess” is correct. He denies what I wrote and even suggests I lied.
And, yes, James White stated unequivocally that “The only reason you could ever believe the last point (perseverance of the saints) is because you actually believe the preceding four [i.e. four points of Calvinism]” (//link, 5:40). But White's own words do not phase him. Even though James White said it clearly and boldly, he nonetheless dubs me with authoring a “lie” in my booklet. No, James, I didn’t lie. And, if your own community is not going to hold you accountable for the fallacious assertions you make about Southern Baptists, then we will be forced to do so. The reader can check it out for himself or herself (link above to his ridiculous assertion that perseverance could not be held if the first four points of Calvinism were not held).
Finally, while I could go on, I’ll mention a final quote by James White wherein he appears fairly incapable of quoting what I wrote correctly. After several pages of explanatory comments leading up to this conclusion on our moral ruin (explanatory notes White barely addresses), I wrote:
“Finally, even if we grant Calvinism’s understanding of “dead,” Paul doesn’t say all people are born dead in trespasses and sin which is precisely what Calvinists mean when they suggest men and women are dead in sin and therefore need to be resurrected before faith. Instead the Apostle Paul only indicates that those Christ made alive were formerly dead in trespasses and sin” (p.22).
Upon this, White says, “Well I guess, in other words, Peter Lumpkins is a semi-pelagian too…because he’s saying we weren’t born dead in trespasses and sins. Once…once we sin, then we die.”
Well, no that’s not what I said at all. Instead I said the Apostle Paul doesn’t say all people are born dead in trespasses and sin. I’m saying Paul didn’t say that; Calvinists nonetheless conclude Paul says we’re all born dead in trespasses and sin when the verse to which they appeal does not say this. And I noted that no English translation of Ephesians 2:1 I checked says or implies we’re born dead in trespasses and sins. That’s what I wrote. But James White can’t quite get it right.
My hope is, people will get my booklet and make up their own minds as to whether I understand Calvinism or not. James White's hack job is hardly credible criticism.
1I spent a great deal of time showing how White hacked Adam Harwood’s view as recorded by Baptist Press. Reputable scholars usually examine the work itself from the author they intend to criticize; White, however, depended upon a news article summary to identify Harwood with the notorious heretic, Pelagius. Would anyone argue fairness in that slight of hand move by James White? Furthermore, White clumped all the John 3:16 Conference platform speakers he criticized into the same category as open theist, Gregory Boyd, surely a well-known debate trick and every bit as much unfair as identifying Harwood with Pelagius. White attempted to rationalize his sucker-punch tactic by insisting it was a summary statement at the end of his program. However, everyone who listened to the broadcast knows James White made the statement clumping Harwood, Caner, Hankins, and Boyd together before not after he criticized the platform as he led people to believe (to be precise, White made the statement immediately after Harwood but before Caner, Hankins, Boyd, and his “review” of my booklet. For a provocative illustration I offered to show how ridiculous White was in clumping four Southern Baptists into the same category as open theist, Greg Boyd, I posted a mock critique of James White and Fred Phelps in the same piece, a post which infuriated James White. Perhaps White now sees the unfairness in his own display of cheap, dishonorable criticism.