Reflections on the Calvinism Debate with James White

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Dr. Brown plays excerpts from his recent debate with his friend and colleague Dr. James White, also discussing key verses as well as talking about our call to model unity in the Lord in the midst of our differences. Dr. Brown will take your calls on the subject today! Listen live here 2-4 pm EST, and call into the show at  (866) 348 7884  with your questions and comments.

 

Hour 1:

Dr. Brown’s Bottom Line: Whether you are a Calvinist, Arminian, or somewhere between, let us agree on this; our God is God and King who rules and reigns and He has commanded us to go and declare the good news!

 

Hour 2:

Dr. Brown’s Bottom Line: I absolutely believe that God rules and reigns as King and I absolutely believe that He has set up the world to give us freedom to choose His grace or refuse it!

 

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Calvinism vs. Arminianism – Part 1

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27 Comments
  1. If we are predestined, why would Romans 10:9&10 require us to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead?

    Deuteronomy 29:29 states that the secret things belong to the Lord our God… There are some things that only God knows and those things are not recorded in the Bible – they belong to the Lord. Certainly God knew before hand and played out our destination before the foundations of the world. Acts 17:26 – God determined the times and the place we would dwell before the foundations of the earth.

    Likewise 2 Peter 3:9 – God does not wish anyone to perish, but that all should come to repentance. Should they repent if they have no free-will and are already predestined?

  2. Re: 2 pet 3:9….they say he’s not willing any of the ELECT perish…as though they were ever in that danger! I hope dr. Brown takes these conversations with mr. White and writes a book about it!

  3. The teaching i heard years ago talks about 4 wills.
    God’s will
    Satans will
    Mans will
    Natural law
    As you talk about satan and demonic spirit infuleunces tomorrow; these points helped me understand the world view that seems most Biblical.
    I am sure you will give us a full exposition on all this. Thanks for your work in the Gospel!

  4. Dr. Brown,

    I have a question which I posed in the past and I believed you may have answered but I could never find the audio portion where this took place. So I will pose it again. Here is the heart of my question. Both you and James White are scholars and both are men of prayer. Through prayer God can enlighten us as to specific applications of Scripture for our personal lives as well as show us connections in Scripture we might not have seen before so as to clarify its meaning and implications. In this way God meets with us in Scripture. But if you and Dr. White come to opposite conclusions on the issues surrounding Calvinism, what does this say about the guiding hand of God when opposite conclusions are reached? Should not men of rich prayer lives who both earnestly seek the Lord to clarify His Word be guided to the same conclusions?

    I will extend this discussion even further to include your Jewish debating partners who seem to sincerely love and be dedicated to the Lord. Yet when they go to prayer and ask to be led into truth (as I assume sincere men of God do) why do they not come to the same conclusions you do about Jesus as Messiah? After all there are stories of Muslims to whom Jesus revealed Himself, so why not to your debating partners?

    To take this yet further, after reading Volume 5 of ANSWERING JEWISH OBJECTIONS ABOUT JESUS, I am astounded at how earnest prayerful Rabbis could have come to such wrong conclusions. Here again, dedicated study combined with dedicated prayer to a wrong turn.

    Having been trained in science, I tend to base most things on the objective. But as I read men like A. W. Tozer there appears to be a rich subjective aspect found only in prayer, an aspect that he believed breaths life back into a church that otherwise has become lifeless doctrine. But the fact that so many can be led so wrong while believing they are communing with God, makes me wonder how much stock I should put into this aspect of the Christian life. I’m finding the role of prayer a bit confusing these days. Norman Geisler has said that prayer is not the way we get our will done in heaven, but the way God gets His will done on earth. But if we cannot hear God clearly then how can this be? Can you help me with this?

  5. S. Johnson,

    Those are some tough questions that I do not have good answers for. Hopefully Dr. Brown does.

    Your post did remind me of a couple of scriptures that the Lord used to quiet my mind concerning the Calvinism/ Amrinianism debate:

    Ps131:1 LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me.
    Ps131:2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

    I think that much of this debate is concerning things we cannot fully understand. These are matters that are “too profound” or “too high” for us. When we venture into these areas we are in danger of misrepresenting God.

    We are prideful and we want to be right so we continue debating things that are too high for us. I am very guilty of this in many areas. God does not answer these prayers because much of our desires are fleshly.

    The other scripture is this one:

    1Cor 4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

    The phrase “that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written” is essential. Too often we end up arguing about things that are beyond what is written. We go beyond the simplicity which is in Christ. All five points go beyond what is written. It is philosophy mixed with scripture…. the very thing that Paul may have been warning the Corinthians’s about.

    A lot of the reason why we our eyes are not opened to truth is that we are not truly open to truth. Being right about the positions we hold is more important to us than truth.

    “The only barrier to finding truth is the presumption that you already have it”

    I know those do not answer your question, but those scriptures have greatly helped me.

    Blessings,
    Peter

  6. Dr. Brown,

    I had a few thoughts about the question you posed about the mother in the debate.

    When I was wrestling with the question of Calvinism, I thought about the apostle Paul’s conversion. God miraculously intervened with Paul. But the important point was that he doesn’t do that with everyone.

    Even if you are an Arminian, you have to admit that Paul got a special intervention that the vast majority of people do not get. In other words, God wasn’t “fair.” He could give everyone a Damascus Road experience, but doesn’t.

    So the lack of fairness that many Arminians object to is just a fact of Scripture.

    I have plenty to say on the topic, but that’s what struck me the most.

    Glad to have an edifying debate.

  7. Thank you Dr.Brown for sticking to the scriptures in the debate with the Calvinist. I find it very interesting that a belief that focuses on the Sovereignty of God would have a mans name as it label. The only question I ask Calvinist is Why does God in Genesis 4 reason with Cain if he was already predestined to go to hell? Why Evangelize? Why does Yeshua in Matthew 23:37 say, Yet you were not willing. Love without Choice is Control and God is Love 1 John 4: 7,8

  8. @Dr. Brown,

    I would have loved to have been in the studio to see your expression when the caller said,

    Caller, “When I do backslid, and we all backslid everyday of our lives…”
    Dr. Brown, “Do we?”

    That is why I’m as thoroughly away from the position that ‘we have nothing to do with our own salvation’ as possible, while still acknowledging that we wouldn’t be able to run the race without the sacrifice and redeeming work of God in us.

    Personally, I hold that when Paul says works, he means works on your own terms without real faith, and that when the believer does do works, Paul doesn’t see that as works, but rather true faith being actualized and demonstrated.

    The only time faith alone is in the NT is when Ya’aqov says faith alone, without works is dead.

  9. I think what the caller meant by backsliding was that everyday we as believers sin. We can even sin in our sleep. Our thoughts betray us (at least me). Getting angry internally with someone, saying something wrong even in thought, etc. many many ways to be comprimised. We do what we can to shield our minds and eyes from things that can make us stumble but it happens. I think that is what the caller meant by backsliding, not losing faith in Christ.

    Also something I think about when dealing with Calvinism vs non-calvinism is the arguement itself. Calvinists believe in Concurrence, that God determines the decisions and outcomes of everything. If that is true then it is God who is argueing with Himself when these debates happen since both debaters words are determined by God. So then you have to ask “why?”. This is a minor way to look at this, but a logical one.

    @Dr. Brown.
    I’m really looking forward to hearing the debate in full once it becomes available. I enjoyed the snippets you played on the air.

  10. @Benjamin Warkentin,

    “I think what the caller meant by backsliding was that everyday we as believers sin.”

    I’ve heard that doctrine taught, and though it’s true for the sinners and the unrighteous, I frankly find it unbiblical for the saints (holy ones) and righteous. Hear the follow verses:

    David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. 1 Kings 15:5

    Both of them (Zekharyah HaCohen and his wife Elisheva) were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Luke 1:6

    Does it sound like David, Zekharyah HaCohen, and Elisheva were in constant perpetual consuming unbreakable persistent sin?

    Imagine that you had to write a letter to anorexic women to encourage them to eat, imagine how you would phrase yourself, now imagine that millions of obese people read that same letter. Can you imagine the effect that letter would have on them?

    That is precisely what I believe is happening with the letters of the Apostle Paul.

    Many times he was writing to those who felt that by keeping the commandments, they didn’t need to accept Jesus because they were so holy, but Paul stressed the point that even the most righteous man needs kippor (atonement), and that without kippor all their works will be useless to save them. Now his message is being read by unrighteous sinners who twist what he said to justify willful high handed sin, because ‘works alone are useful to save,’ but just like the damage that would come by obese people reading a letter addressed to those struggling with anorexia, so too, people are taking Paul’s words about how Torah alone is not enough with the kippor provided for by Yeshua.

  11. The last sentence was supposed to read:

    Just like the damage that would come about by obese people reading a letter addressed to those struggling with anorexia telling them to eat up, so too, people are taking Paul’s words about how ‘Torah alone is not enough without the kippor provided for by Yeshua’ to justify unrepentance.

  12. Blessings, Michael.

    My view, contrary to both the calvinistic interpretation, is that predestination, foreknowledge, and election have to do specifically with the Jews.

    Consider what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:10…
    Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that THEY ALSO may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
    I lean heavily towards “the elect” in 2 Timothy 2:10 as being the Jews only and here’s why.

    Romans 9:1-3….
    “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites…”

    Romans 10:1…
    “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

    Romans 11:13-14….
    “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.”

    Acts 28:20….
    “For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

    Regarding 2 Timothy 2:10 “the elect” is referring to the Jews, which is consistent to both the context and phrase, “they also”. Although Paul is an apostle to the Gentiles, his heart was always for the people of Israel. Paul is not speaking of the elect in terms of “believers in Christ”, but of the Jews, (in fact unconverted Jews) who are referred to as an elect people, or the Chosen People, so that they might also obtain the salvation that the Gentiles were experiencing.

    “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the non-elect, and they will listen! After he said this, the Calvinists left, arguing vigorously among themselves.”

  13. @David Roberts

    I see what you are saying but I dont see ‘blameless’ in the OT and NT as being ‘perfect’. We strive to be perfect but the Law is there to teach us that we are not perfect.

    ***
    Paul in Philippians 3 says this:
    (KJV)
    4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

    5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

    6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
    ***

    The apostle Paul says as concerns the Law, he is blamesless. But that didn’t mean perfect. In 1 Timothy 1 Paul writes:
    ***
    13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

    14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

    15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
    ***

    You could say that Paul sinned while in unbelief and then was made perfect, but I think his testimony in Romans 7 would shed light on the battle:

    ***
    Romans 7
    (KJV)
    14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

    15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

    16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

    17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

    18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

    19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

    20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

    21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

    22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

    23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

    24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

    25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
    ***

  14. Michael,

    By the way, and as expected, I noticed that James White had a field day with this episode on his Dividing Line yesterday.

    God bless

  15. @David Roberts

    Forgot to mention that I am not advocating unrepentance. We must repent to be saved. So we arent talking about license to sin, just acknowledging that we do sin on occassion (just about daily in some way or another) and God is gracious to fogive a repentant heart based on the righteouness of Christ.

  16. I love Dr. Brown and Dr. White. I wish Christians would set aside tradition and engage the scripture concerning these things. Too often Calvinist & Arminians do not research or read books from the other side. This causes strawman arguments that cripple the subject. I read Arminians from Pope, Olson, Watson, Oden and Calvinists from Sproul, White, Calvin etc and make sure I read both sides of the debate from good well respected sources. Each camp has a diversity of opinions regarding certain aspects of the system. Today much of the church is under the sway of pelagianism and isn’t even close to either of the theologies of this debate. Some of the above comments are quite ignorant of the systems of thought and I would ask you put aside your prejudice and start handling the issue with some serious prayer, fasting and dependence upon God for understanding. Both sides espouse a deep reverence for the goodness of God. Just one side favors measuring the goodness of God quantitatively while the other side measures the love of God qualitatively.

  17. @Benjamin Warkentin

    My take on those verses which you quoted where Paul says about himself concerning the Law that he was blameless, yet regarding sinners, he was chief, is that the word for sinners means those who miss the mark/target, as opposed to those who are guilty. It says in the Torah that the revealed things are for us to do, but the hidden things belong to ה׳ our God. My point was that it is possible not to live in constant habitual sin without repentance and be a believer at the same time. Battles yes, surrender never! 🙂

  18. Shmuel,

    Re: 2 pet 3:9….they say he’s not willing any of the ELECT perish…as though they were ever in that danger! I hope dr. Brown takes these conversations with mr. White and writes a book about it!

    Horrid misrepresentation. I have not read a Calvinist yet who interprets that passage in that way.

    The problem with the words “all” and “everyone” is that it is subject to pragmatic free enrichment based upon the context. For example:

    I want all the chairs put in the closet before we leave.

    Now, obviously, the author is not wanting us to go around to all the world, find all the chairs in the whole world, and try to fit all the chairs in the world into that little closet. The force of that utterance would be:

    I want all the chairs [in the room] put in the closet before we leave.

    Take this utterance as well:

    We went into the party. Everyone had on a Halloween costume.

    Does that mean that everyone in the whole world had on a Halloween costume? Obviously not. The force of the utterance is this:

    We went into the party. Everyone [at the party] had on a Halloween costume.

    The point is that words like “all” and “everyone” must be understood in their context. The word “all” can be used with an implied “of x,” since “of x” is not needed in order to get the meaning across.

    In the context of 2 Peter 3, verses 3-7 are addressing the scoffers who will ask where the promise of Christ’s coming is and the pronouns “they” and “their” are used. However, there is an abrupt change in the use of pronouns in verses 8-9 with the use of “your” and “you,” here referring to those to whom Peter was writing. Hence when Peter says:

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    He is patient toward *you,* that is, the churches of God in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, to whom he was writing the letter. That leads to the probable implicature:

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any [of you] to perish but for all [of you] to come to repentance.

    As we saw above, such implicatures are common in human language, especially with the words “all,” “everyone,” and one could also add “any” to that list as well. If this is the case, then Peter would be instructing his readers to remember that, if the Lord had not put off the second coming, then they would not have been brought to repentance. However, God wanted each and every one of them saved, and put off the coming of Christ so that they would be gathered in.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  19. To much study of too few words causes confusion. Meaning – more is read into some passages than can reasonably be supported even with cross references, context, and careful word study (and of course prayer). As I have said before Calvinists and Arminians who are orthodox are basically two people standing back to back slapping at each others head. Really the point has more to do with perspective – God’s and Man’s. From God’s perspective everything is clear and (to some extent or way) fixed (since he knows everything – what He will do and what we will do and circumstances etc…). From Man’s perspective everything is fluid based on our decisions and limited nature(and I would include circumstances and limited knowledge/perspective). Scriptures are sometimes confusing because we want exactness where God is more concerned with trust (faith) and relationship. Often Calvinists and Arminians say the same type of things in differient words and don’t seem to understand or realize they are in agreement on the basic gospel message. This in house fighting does nothing for spreading the gospel nor does it nourish the body of Christ. On major issues, we need to hold to the major tenants of our faith but on side issues we need a charity of heart. The goal is to bring people to saving faith and joining the body of Christ. There are bigger struggles to fight. Debate the issues fine but don’t lose perspective. Satan understands the concept of divide and conquer and Athiests understand the idea of placing doubt into the heart of immature believers and those unfamiliar with the christian faith, history, and worldview (philosophy etc…).

  20. Calvinists say that Christ only atoned for the sins of the elect. This makes sense. If he atoned (paid for) everyone’s sins then why does anyone go to hell? The view of orthodox Christianity has been that the reason a believer doesn’t go to hell is his sins have already been paid for. Anti-Calvinists mostly assert that He paid for everyone’s sins. The question of why anyone goes to hell then is mostly avoided and when it is addressed it doesn’t really get to the logical problem.

    Does this problem prove absolutely that God alone chooses who is saved? Probably not but it is one of the areas anti-Calvinists don’t have a good answer for.

    When a whole bunch of verses are taken into account I think we have to come to some strained interpretations to avoid the predestination conclusion.

    True this may just be too hard for our minds to fully grasp so we can’t be dogmatic about it, but the Calvinists just don’t have as much that they need to get around as the Arminians.

  21. “And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:13–14

    Right there, the will of God is that NONE should perish.

  22. Faith is a work.

    Yeshua answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe (have faith) in him whom he has sent.” John 6:29

  23. Actually Gary it has been answered by non-Calvinists many times. Jesus died for the sins of the world, which, from an honour-shame perspective he built up a reservoir of shame sufficient to cover everyone’s sins.

    Like Joseph’s grain there is now sufficient to cover every sin, but unless you avail yourself of it it does nothing for you.

    Unless you access it by believing on the Lord Jesus, then you have to pay your debt to God yourself, and that is hell.

    I find Calvinists have to engage in the most extreme of biblical contortions to uphold their theology, especially when it comes to things like sin (if not an atom in the universe can most without God willing it, how can he not be the cause of your sin?) and apostasy (God must cause people to believe themselves saved before stripping away their illusion of faith and abandoning them). Sure, Calvin didn’t have a problem with that (Institutes 3:22:11 and 3:24:8) but most Calvinists aren’t sociopaths like he was.

    Arminians have it easy by comparison. The only thing Calvinists have to attack are strawman versions of Arminianism. Arminians can go straight to Calvin and the Bible to discredit Calvinism.

    Before you try quoting Romans 9, try reading Paul’s references. Exodus 9 and 33, Malachi 1, Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 29. When you understand the texts Paul was drawing on, you realize that his statements meant exactly the opposite of what Calvinists with their “assume the writers were white guys like us” school of Bible interpretation think.

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