The Hunt/White Debate
Denied Chapter 8: CALVIN AND AUGUSTINE: TWO JONAHS WHO SINK THE SHIP
by Dave Hunt
Hunt opens his Denial by recounting the historical facts concerning the founders of Calvinistic theology: John Calvin and Augustine. That such attention should be paid to the founders of a theological system should come as no surprise, since the majority of scriptural warnings and requirements concerning Christian leaders have to do with character, not doctrine. This is of course not a dismissal of doctrine, for the best and holiest behavior is no substitute for truth. Yet we cannot ignore the emphasis upon character required for all who would influence the community of believers, and the "most excellent way" so poetically conveyed by Paul in 1 Cor. 13.
After a lengthy report on the influences, behavior, and teachings of both founders, Hunt touches on the common disclaimer, "a product of his time". Yet as Hunt points out, scripture makes no such allowance, even for the non-leader among believers. Paul could easily have continued on as "a product of his time" but lived and taught the opposite. His transformation was radical and consistent; he never returned to his former life in the slightest. Should we have absolved Paul of responsibility for his actions had he, in accordance with the age, crucified heretics? Should we have accepted his writings as scripture regardless of whether he had showed murderous hatred toward his critics, who were many and who hounded him from place to place his entire life after conversion? Would not Paul’s writings about love have been hollow without a life that showed the fruit of the Spirit he himself espoused?
Clearly, a man like Calvin, who lifted his theology and violent religious practices from the "father" of Roman Catholicism, should never have been revered by true believers, who were often his victims, their crimes being only to disagree with him. Though he wrote in his Institutes against inventing God in our image, it doesn’t take psychic powers to see that this is exactly what Calvin did, for his view of God mapped his own view of how religion should be implemented. He was trained as a Catholic and a lawyer, which shows in his portrayal of God.
Response, by James White
White, as has been his custom, responds with a lecture on how to debate. Then, incredibly, he charges not Calvinism but non-Calvinism with standing "shoulder to shoulder with Rome"! He misses Hunt’s whole reason for what he wrote about Calvin the man, presumably because he didn’t want Hunt to bring it into the debate that bears his founder’s name. Again, I stand amazed.
In his attempt to make Calvin a Christian, White ignores what Hunt had written about the "product of his time" excuse to make it anyway. He accuses Hunt of a one-sided history, though he concedes that Hunt did make a statement about some of the good things Calvin did, but brushes it aside as "unbalanced"— as if that short list of good behavior should equally balance "the thrust of his writing" and life. One cannot balance 50 bad things with 3 good things. I rather suspect that what White is demanding is not accuracy but whitewashing.
Despite White’s protests to the contrary, Hunt’s point about scriptural requirements for believers, especially leaders, is central to this debate. Calvinism does "stand or fall upon the personal standing of Calvin himself". Did not Paul describe a person with "all knowledge" as only a clanging cymbal if devoid of love? And while White makes a concerted effort to squeeze a confession of faith out of Calvin’s writings, he can only find what he has been finding in his alleged exegesis of scripture: inference. Not even his expanded quote of Calvin clarifies the issue, but White latches onto the word "godliness" as somehow the mark of a Christian. Would he accept such a "confession" from anyone else? Is his theology alone supposed to be all that is required to prove his election?
Amazingly, White reacts to Hunt’s treatment of Augustine by citing Warfield’s statement, "the Reformation... was just the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church"! So apparently Calvinism can divest itself of RCC influence simply by inventing a sort of split personality for Augustine. With the NT writer James we must ask, "Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?" (James 3:11) But we observe that White is only following in Calvin’s footsteps to choose the parts of Calvin he likes while ignoring the parts he doesn’t. One must wonder why it is, then, that White is so eager to pounce upon beliefs of Hunt’s that he deems cultic. Why couldn’t Hunt only take what he likes from, say, L. Ron Hubbard or even the Pope? Isn’t that what Calvinism is doing regarding Augustine?
White finally admits the contradictions in Augustine’s theology but attributes this to timing and experiences. Yet I know of no record of Augustine having given up the former beliefs when adopting the later ones. That is, he continued to hold to both at the same time. Whether the "reformers" rejected Augustine’s earlier teachings is beside the point; the fact remains that Augustine himself never repudiated his RCC theologies. That the RCC was rooted in his teachings in spite of his having died before it formed (according to White) pulls the rug out from under White’s appeal to timing. He can claim that the RCC only took up the "dark side" of those teachings, but only Calvinists believe his "doctrines of grace" are the "good side".
If, after admitting Augustine’s aberrant teachings, White can still fault Hunt for "painting him as a heretical, false teacher", then does this mean White would not so describe him, even considering his "dark side"? Is Hunt supposed to keep from telling the whole true about someone just because White likes some of their teachings? Even scripture never shrinks back from airing out the dirty laundry of its heroes, such as King David. Why does White wish to hide such things about Augustine or Calvin? And why does he try to deny his own fellow Calvinists’ statements confirming Augustine as the founder of both theologies, especially since he himself had just admitted as much?
At the end White actually claims that he has "presented a positive, exegetically based position", even though not one scripture was cited and there was certainly nothing positive about his treatment of Hunt.
Defense, by Dave Hunt
I really don’t have anything to add here, since it turns out that Hunt and I have made the same observations about White’s response.
Final Remarks, by James White
White accuses Hunt of engaging in "poisoning the well", even though there is ample evidence that it is Calvin and Augustine who poisoned it. But when the scriptures require Christian teachers to be of exemplary character, exposure of sinful ones is only following its precepts (1 Tim. 5:20). Hunt is not appealing to anyone’s emotion but to the Bible. And has White not been trying throughout this debate to paint his opponent in the worst possible light, appealing to the reader to side with him against Hunt and continually accusing him of all kinds of incompetence and malice? Why is only White allowed to engage in this?
Final Remarks, by Dave Hunt
Hunt simply states that White has not refuted any of his facts but only tried to impugn his character for presenting them at all. He also uses the same tactic as White in saying "no one is wrong about everything", which I’m sure he wrote tongue-in-cheek. If White can glean only some of Augustine’s teachings, then he cannot deny Hunt the right to glean some of them too.