Friday, November 14, 2008

James White is Not A Hyper-Calvinist

I am surprised I have to put this in writing. Dr. James White, a leading Calvinist apologist, is not a hyper-calvinist. He is a Calvinist. He is a five point Calvinist. Other Calvinists recognize this.

A few folks who would be classified as "Amyraldians" or "Four-Point Calvinists" because they deny the doctrine of the Limited Atonement have been pestering Dr. White, and insisting (in essence) that the Shibboleth by which one discerns hyper-Calvinism from Calvinism is whether someone is willing to say that "God loves everyone without exception" and that "God desires that everyone be saved."

First of all, those are inaccurate Shibboleths. A more accurate characterization of Hyper-Calvinism (in my opinion) is fatalism, the idea that since God has elected some to everlasting life, there is no duty for evangelists to preach and no duty of the reprobate to believe. The fact that Dr. White is active in evangelism (probably more than most of these Amyraldian critics) is conclusive proof that he is not a hyper-Calvinist.

But let's take a different tack.

One of Dr. White's critics has decided to argue that Phil Johnson (evidently well-respected in Reformed Baptist circles) has called Dr. White a Calvinist, just because the two of them are friends. Let's see whether this is so.

Before this controvery erupted, Phil Johnson provided a "Primer on Hyper-Calvinism." Here's a link to one copy of that document (link). As Mr. Johnson wrote in his primer:

"Hyper-Calvinism, simply stated, is a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility."

Dr. White teaches human responsibility. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-Calvinist.

Identifying three critical characteristics of hyper-calvinism, Johnson writes:
First, it correctly points out that hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of "the will of God," hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God's will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology. (See John Piper, "Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God's Desire for All To Be Saved" in Thomas R. Schreiner, ed., The Grace of God and the Bondage of the Will, 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, 1:107-131.)

But Dr. White acknowledges that there is a real distinction between the decretive will and the preceptive will of God. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-Calvinist.

Again, Johnson writes:
Second, take note of the stress the above definition places on hyper-Calvinists' "denial of the use of the word 'offer' in relation to the preaching of the gospel." This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.

But Dr. White affirms the free offer of the Gospel and does not hold that such an offer is insincere. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist.

Further, Johnson writes:
Third, mark the fact that hyper-Calvinism "encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect." Assurance tends to be elusive for people under the influence of hyper-Calvinist teaching. Therefore, hyper-Calvinism soon degenerates into a cold, lifeless dogma. Hyper-Calvinist churches and denominations tend to become either barren and inert, or militant and elitist (or all of the above).

But Dr. White does not suggest that people ask whether or not they are themselves elect. At any rate, if he does, I've never heard him do so, and none of these critics of Dr. White's can point to him doing so. Therefore, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist.

Additionally, Johnson writes:
Hyper-Calvinism is sometimes defined as the view that God will save the elect apart from any means. Some, but very few, modern hyper-Calvinists hold such an extreme view. Those who do hold this view oppose all forms of evangelism and preaching to the unsaved, because they believe God will save whomever He chooses, apart from human means.

Of course, as noted above, Dr. White does not fall into this category.

Johnson further writes:
Another common but incorrect definition equates hyper-Calvinism with fatalism. Fatalism is a mechanistic determinism, antithetical to the notion of a personal God. While it is true that the most extreme varieties of hyper-Calvinism tend to depersonalize God, it is not accurate to portray all hyper-Calvinists as fatalists.

Likewise, for the reasons identified above, Dr. White doesn't fall into this category either.

Finally, after examining these and other tests for hyper-calvinism, Johnson settles on a five-part test:

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.

As to (1), Dr. White does not deny the universality of the gospel call;
As to (2), Dr. White does not deny that faith is the duty of every sinner;
As to (3), Dr. White does not deny the free and universal offer of salvation;
As to (4), Dr. White affirms that there is such a thing as "common grace;" and
As to (5), I think it would be fair to say that Dr. White would agree that there is a kind of love (corresponding to common grace) that God has even for the reprobate, thought it is distinguishable from the special love God has for the elect.

In short, Dr. White is not a hyper-calvinist according to Phil Johnson's primer on the subject. That, not the friendship between the men, is the reason that Phil Johnson attests to the same truth that I attest to (even if I disagree with the broad tests that Mr. Johnson uses), namely that Dr. White is a Calvinist, not a hyper-calvinist.



Strong Tower said...

James White in his Ephesians 4 rightfully exercised anger, not willing to let the sun go down on his wrath, called Seth McBee a liar, having born false witness, and that against a brother. And, an elder to boot.

It is fair to label both Seth and Tony liars and by extension any of those like Allen, who because of Tony's speading lies parrot the same. It might also be fair to say that Tony is in the employ of Allen. Perhaps not monetarily, but, as an ally against Calvinism. Then again, Allen may just just a hapless dupe. Allen's vitriol and attacks on Calvinism follow the pattern of Tony's misuses of writers both divine and historic. I have called Allen is a Caner clone, and honoring Caner by introducing him at John 3:16 was an indorcement of his perspective and tactics, but it is hard to tell just who is cloning who.

Not only have McBee and Tony missed the import of White's on-air converstation with the caller reference by TB, a typical Tonyism, they have filtered White and many others through the sieve of their presuppositions. Tony, for all his boasting (interesting how Dave Hunt, Allen, et al boast of their vast intellect and books possessed but seem not to know what is in them) continues to misuse greats like Calvin. With this lastest attack, it is all the more apparrent he is a man bitterly grinding his axe. A typical Tony reading of any text goes something like this: 'Dr. White said, "Peanut butter makes a great sandwich." See, Dr. White believes peanuts come from cows.'

White has thrown down the gauntlet of debate. It would be great if it materializes, and best if Byrner face off with White since it is is false scholarship that Allen and the likes are using. Seth is a sock puppet, and as White said, the others like Caner and other pulpiteers of the SBC are cowards. Stomping ynottony would take care of the Caner clone stormtroopers like Allen at the same time.

Glenn Hendrickson said...

yes! thank you! It bugs me when people who should know better slap that label on Calvinists.

Anonymous said...


for some reason, God's in the Know, I have been tumbling over and over this apologetic of yours on behalf of Dr. White.

It occurred to me this morning in prayer why.

I do not want to go deeply into it except to quote why Dr. White is an Evangelical of the first rate and far more evangelistic than the so called Evangelical community which has degraded the purpose of evangelism to something "emergent" and sensitive to the seeker for the sin nature, i.e., the seeker sensitive crowd and for those in error of the Truth of the Church in this current hour.

Here's the verses:

Heb 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
Heb 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.


Rev 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Rev 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,
Rev 22:19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Turretinfan said...

Strong Tower,

You certainly seem to see things in more black and white terms than I do, perhaps it is just because I have only seen things from afar.


Strong Tower said...

James White has resonded, so also Tom Ascol. I would suppose you might characterize my pendulum a little more radical than even White. But, I think that the two together point out what I think is the heart of the anti-Cavlinist contingent and that is to force a show-down and exit the Calvinists founders of the SBC once and for all.

You can see my second response at A Rose, or go to Treasures by following the link.

I conclude this: that the heart of Arminianism is not compatible with Calvinism and it has been that heart that has driven the Arminian insurgence to proselytize until they attained the super majority. Though it is sure that not all Arminians in the SBC share the angst of Allen et al, the traditional beliefs are seated, and will appear to most as an attack on their faith to consider an alternative as an equal competitor. That is what I have experienced in person and on line. As the boys at SBCToday said to me once, "if you don't like the SBC the way it is, get out." Most pewsters just go along, having been dumbed down by the majority and are really to be pittied. Still, as a former fellow member said, "I came into the faith through the 1963..." And this in response to the suggestion that we employ the 1689. The consensus was that they represented two contradictory theologies and they did not want the invasion of foreign doctrine to oust their tradition.

Tom Ascol is somewhat aware, but I do not think he rightly sees the power of the majority as being that which is founded in ignorance. For a witness to that we only need look at the natioal election. What matters to most is not what is truth, nor what is right and good, their lives and that undisturbed, trump all else. This is to say, for most in the SBC, to take sides will only go as deep as their traditions allow. Having been trained at the trough, it is hard to remove the snout even while the butcher and the farmer are haggling over the price per pound. They will squeal only when the food is threatened and will remain unaware of the pending doom not understanding the language being used, even at that. Tom thinks, I think, that among the rank and file that there is an ernestness to work together. But, I think that that denies the reality that he knows- unregenerate membership. The rank and file simply do not understand the spiritual nature of the contest and are ill-fitted to be able to comprehend the disagreements.

The threat for the most part does not come from the Calvinist camp. It is the reactionaries of J316C. But, politics being politics, the base is 90% on the reactionaries' side. It does not take genius to see the outcome of the election. Eighthundred pastor's exited the conference armed with propaganda, as Tom called it, and that number will explode when the seed is planted in home churches and online. Having already characterized Calvisim as a threat to Christianity and the SBC, there remains only the political machinations. We shall wait and see.

As I once remarked, the J316C types that were at BB, had one thing in mind even at that time and that was undermining any effort to even begin demolition and excavation let alone building bridges. They have not ceased in doing so since or before. The nature of heartfelt beliefs is to convince others of them. Proselytism is normal and defense of beliefs should not be relegated to the closet. Surely the Arminian factions never puts thiers away, or they would not be the majority today. What they have gained they are not willing to compromise upon in any fashion. It is naive to believe that they will. But, what they demand is that we act "kindly" and reduce the heat, which, in the past, proved to be deadly to the foundations of the SBC.

Turretinfan said...

Monty Collier,

As a fellow fan of Clark, I appreciate your emphasis on logic.

I also appreciated your syllogism, but I disagreed with either the major or the minor premise. That is to say, I think you and Dr. White would define the "free offer" differently.

I think Dr. White views the "free offer" as being the indiscriminate proclaimation of the gospel of repentance and faith to the lost. I'm guessing you would disagree.

I want to be clear about something else. I don't endorse Phil Johnson's primer. I think his primer would unfairly label practically the whole Protestant Reformed denomination as "hyper," simply because they refuse to use the terms "free offer" and "common grace."

I think Phil is as wrong to do that, as some PRC-types are to automatically assume that if someone uses the expression "free offer" they are buying into all the liberalism in theology that created such a problem in the CRC.


Anonymous said...

I would start my comment by indicating that the term "Hyper-Calvinist" is nothing more than a term of derision. Let's examine Johnson's five part test:

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR

¶ Why do some Calvinists deny that the gospel call applies to all who hear? For some Calvinists it is simply ludicrous to claim that a belief in "limited atonement," and then turn around and claim that the call of the gospel applies to all who hear. The gospel is to be proclaimed to all persons. This is the general call of the Gospel. Many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 20:16), and this choosing (eklektos) happened before the world was created (Eph. 1:4). The gospel call is proclaimed to all who hear, but it only applies to the elect. In Prov. 16:4 we read that "The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil," and 1 Pet. 2:8 indicates that some people have been appointed to stumble. These two verses just cannot be reconciled with the idea that the gospel call applies to all who hear.

2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR

¶ Why do some Calvinists deny that faith is the duty of every sinner? The notion that faith is the "duty" or obligation of every sinner just does not coincide with the fact that faith is a "gift. The elect are "saved through faith," and that faith is "the gift of God." We can tell people that it is their duty to have faith, but that just will not happen unless they receive that gift, and they will not receive that gift unless they are chosen, or of the elect. That's the doctrine of limited atonement right?

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

¶ Why do some Calvinists deny that the gospel makes any merciful "offer" of Christ's salvation to the non-elect? Well, because if God does this, then God is contradicting Himself. The omnipotent God "hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4). God does not "offer" the salvation of Christ to the "goats," because the good shepherd only "giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10).

4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR

¶ Yes, some Calvinists (not Hyper-Calvinists) deny the doctrine of "common grace" for the reasons given above and below.

5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

¶ Why do some Calvinists deny that God has any sort of love for the non-elect? Well, the bible just not teach that the Lord loves every single person. His love is only extended towards His sheep or His elect. God is capable of divine hatred. (Psalm 5:5) - "The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity." (Psalm 11:5) - "The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates." When the "last day" comes, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats, and some people will here the following words: "I NEVER knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:23, emphasis mine). The Greek word for "never" means never. Does God love all of those "that work iniquity" whom He never knew? Feel free to believe that if you want, but it just does not make sense to me.

Please feel free to respond to my comments. I would greatly appreciate it.

May the Lord bless you and your ministry now and always.

Turretinfan said...


You make some good points, but the point of my post was just to focus on the fact that Dr. White actually passes the test proposed.

For the most part, I agree that hyper-Calvinist is a term of disparagement.