The Hunt/White Debate, Chap. 10, Affirmed Chapter 7: IRRESISTIBLE GRACE: GOD SAVES WITHOUT FAIL
by James White
The Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace (IG) states that God will overcome all resistance to His will to save someone. Thus it can be claimed that they really don’t teach that grace is "irresistible", even though that is the eventual outcome. But again White simply asserts that God is "free" to do this, completely ignoring Hunts several attempts to get him to answer how God can be "free" if He cannot go against His alleged decree made in eternity past. White thus denies man any part in the choice, likening it to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Yet scripture never draws any such analogy; Calvinism must extract it from all references to the word "dead", even when the context clearly indicates a figurative death.
I refuse to address any more of White’s references to "tradition". Just FYI.
Then White quotes Eph. 2:8-9, but non-Calvinists also believe that the method and offer of salvation is entirely in the hands of God. Yet this grammatical understanding does not make individual faith itself a "gift of God", but rather that God should offer this method of salvation. White is apparently unable to see the distinction. So he errs in thinking that God must give us our faith, and besides, what is the purpose? God could just "give us salvation" without faith, repentance, or anything else. It is this right to be saved by faith that God gives us, not the faith itself.
White also shows poor attention to grammar in quoting Heb. 12:2, which he knows can as easily be rendered "the" faith, and which has a significant effect upon its meaning, and the context does not lend any more weight to his interpretation than to any other. This is hardly a clear and obvious support for having our faith "given" to us by force. White asks why anyone would rejoice over the faith of others if it isn’t forced upon us by God, but why would they rejoice if it is? Isn’t our rejoicing directed at God for his payment and offer of salvation, and in people because of a great choice freely made? I am much happier when my child freely chooses to listen to me than when he only does so out of obligation. Can God reveal Himself to us as "Father" and not appeal to our own experiences in this regard? It would seem at this point that the Calvinist God is more interested in the exercise of His raw power and immutable decree than in love freely returned by his creatures.
Then White brings up one of the more popular proof-texts: Acts 16:14, where Lydia is listening to Paul’s gospel presentation and "the Lord opened her heart to respond". He asks why God would "have to" open her heart, but the scripture says nothing of the sort. Does God not draw everyone? Does this negate their need to choose? Not at all. And like all Calvinists, White ignores the part about her first having heard the gospel. They never explain why God apparently was unable (or not free) to open her heart until she heard the gospel.
White and other Calvinists would also have us believe that God’s foreknowledge of Paul could only have been due to God’s eternal degree to force Himself upon him. Yet God is free, in spite of Calvinism’s teachings otherwise, to know who will respond in faith given the opportunity. That some require more "noise" to get their attention is hardly a proof of IG. And again, these incidences must be taken in isolation to work at all. They respond, as White does, by mocking God’s sovereign right to allow free will in depicting Him as "wringing His hands" should anyone not respond to His invitation. This is unconscionable coming from those who consider themselves in possession of all truth.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to endure more of White’s mockery and mantras, but we must resolutely complete our analysis of this debate, of which we are only now approaching the midpoint.
Hunt leads off with an expose of the self-contradictory nature of the very concept of IG. Grace is an act of kindness, not the exercise of an irresistible force. And as noted already, the fact that man can only resist it for a time does not make it any less irresistible. Then Hunt elaborates on the false analogy of physical death to spiritual, figurative death. The literally dead cannot even do evil; could Lazarus have done evil while dead? The analogy fails when tested against both logic and scripture.
So also with explicit verses like 1 Peter 1:23, 25, which says we are "born again... through the living and enduring word of God... and this is the word that was preached to you". Even more problematic for White is John 20:31b: "... and that believing you may have life in his name". Calvinism must reverse it to say "... and that you may have life in his name and believe". Hunt offers several additional examples where this reversal is necessary in order to agree with Calvinist dogma.
White faces the same problems on the matter of whether faith is a gift. Hunt offers many passages of scripture which speak of our own faith, sometimes in negative terms, but always "our" faith. And if faith is a gift, can it be called a gift if forced upon the receiver? No, it isn’t a gift unless it is both freely offered and freely accepted. So the Calvinist is forced into teaching that man is a mere puppet whose every movement has to be made by God. Hunt also makes an excellent point in observing that Lydia "responded". Can the dead respond? Did God make her alive before He opened her heart? Exactly how many steps are there in this Calvinistic salvation?
In closing, Hunt shows that Calvinism’s God is very limited indeed: in grace, in compassion, in love, and in atonement, making God much more limited than His creatures.
In his invective against Hunt, White eventually gets around to proposing a new factor not seen in the debate thus far (is this a debate on Calvinism or Hunt’s book? White doesn’t seem to remember): that salvation is not the same as regeneration. He defines salvation as only "a subset of [regeneration]", which I guess could be considered a very late response to the question about the atonement. Yet it still doesn’t answer it, since not all the elect of all time were even regenerated at Calvary. White has only complicated his theology by breaking down "salvation unto faith" into atonement, quickening (he hasn’t told us this stage yet), and finally faith. What’s to confuse?
White’s circularity simply astounds me. In reaming Hunt for his quotation of Col. 1:3-4 White imposes his own theory about why people would rejoice over the faith of others upon it, then takes that presumption as rendering Hunt’s point meaningless! And then he proceeds to claim Hunt has ignored his argument about Eph. 2:8-9. It is all I can do to refrain from typing out what I’m thinking right now about White’s qualification to debate, on this or any other topic. Perhaps God is testing my resolve to see this debate through to the end.
Hunt rightly exposes White’s "regeneration" theory for the baseless assertion that it is, creating such untenable entities as the unsaved elect or the quickened lost, however brief the interval might be between steps. And he asks what part the persuasion Paul talks about plays in God’s sovereign plan to irresistibly coerce people into faith. This whole Calvinistic teaching makes God, and those He elects, calloused toward those He allegedly reprobated.
White states that "coming to Christ is the very first effect of regeneration". Where is this in scripture? Where is "coming to Christ" ever called an "effect" of anything? Ironically, the quote from Spurgeon he prefaced this with does not say what he claims; it only says that "coming to Christ is the one essential thing", not the first thing. And only now does White introduce the Calvinist trademark term "quickening". The story he makes up is quite entertaining ("No sooner is the soul quickened than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks out for a refuge, and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to him and reposes in him."), but of course is nowhere found in scripture. In fact, White himself would be hard-pressed to testify to having experienced this sequence. And if it all happens so fast that we aren’t aware of it, then what evidence is there of it happening at all?
While White may feel honored to "write in defense" of Calvinism, I wonder how many of his colleagues share that sentiment. Yet from the quotes of his authorities, including those I’ve read myself in Calvin’s Institutes, perhaps they would assess his work here as adequate; I can only speculate. In keeping with his Calvinist tradition White re-asserts its standard dogmas, but then he appeals to the reader again in an almost suicidal quest for self-implication.