The Hunt/White Debate, Chap. 4, Affirmed Chapter 1: GOD'S ETERNAL DECREE
by James White
White begins with a citation from the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. But that quote says nothing a non-Calvinist would deny or object to. White implies, though, that those who deny Calvinism’s definition of God’s sovereignty are "in rebellion against Him" and "seek to ’edit’ Him down to a more ’manageable’ and ’manlike’ deity." The Calvinist views this sovereignty as apparently unrelated to God’s character, such that God must not allow man the slightest say in any decision of consequence. It so limits man’s free will as to make it a mere case of choosing which evil thing to do. To disagree with this definition is, according to Calvinism, a desire to treat God as some sort of president in a democracy. This illustrates the Calvinist penchant for absolute black-and-white thinking; if it is not this, it must be that, and there cannot be any other choices.
By continually depicting God’s right to allow human free will as man bossing God around, White carries on the Calvinist tradition of that which he claims only non-Calvinists do: mischaracterize the opposing view. Again, that God has the sovereign right to allow His creatures freedom to choose or reject the free gift of salvation in Christ is hardly a matter of God being placed beneath those creatures. If I allow my dog to choose which treat he prefers, am I placing my dog in authority over me? This is exactly what Calvinism thinks of human free will. In no way does this impinge upon the honor or glory of God.
Under The Counsel Of His Will and following, White continues to burn the straw man of Calvinism’s own declaration of the non-Calvinist view of free will as being antithetical to God’s sovereignty. He ignores the distinction between man controlling God and God allowing man to choose. Picking various incidents from the Old Testament (OT) which show God’s power and plan, yet ignoring the many others which show God giving people choices, White hopes to convince the reader that this is the whole picture. But acknowledging that God will at times override the usual arena of man’s free will is hardly an argument for denying it at all times. In his rhetorical questions White again mischaracterizes the limited free will that non-Calvinists actually believe in as something completely unrestrained.
After all that straw-man burning, White cries ’misrepresentation’ again against those who are allegedly "opponents of God’s sovereignty". But it is not God’s sovereignty we deny, only the Calvinist definition of it. Then we see that all this was for the purpose of building up a case in favor of absolving God from being the author of sin even thought nothing can happen without His divine decree. He quotes the 1689 Confession which does no more than assert this to be true, as if one can win an argument simply by declaring their view to be so. In defining ’compatibilism’ White carefully adds that this belief holds "when viewed properly". And who decides what is proper? This is exactly like the StarWars statement from Obi Wan that claims truth depends on one’s point of view. The account of Joseph and his brothers is cited in support, but this has no bearing on answering the question of whether God decreed the evil Joseph’s brothers intended in the first place.
The argument continues with the passage in Acts 4:27-28 concerning God’s plan to use the evil men of Jesus’ day to bring about the prophesied crucifixion. Again, this example of God’s intervention in human history is not an argument against all free will, especially of individual responsibility. As with Pharaoh of old, God will sometimes use the evil people have already chosen and bend it farther for His purposes. But such exceptions never prove rules; they only disprove them. Again, we are only being presented with half the evidence.
White concludes this section with a repeat of the false dilemma between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. It is most certainly not true that "God does not sovereignly reign over His creation" unless He always and without exception forces all people to act. If God chose to allow free will, who are Calvinists to deny Him this right?
Hunt begins as I did with an analysis of the Calvinist distortion of the concept of God’s sovereignty. He rightly asks, "But where is God’s love?" This is what non-Calvinists mean when we say they distort sovereignty, for it makes that sovereignty independent from all else that is true about God, as if sovereignty exists in a moral vacuum. Hunt adds an important point to the fact that Calvinism does indeed make God the ultimate author of sin: "The Baptist Confession exults that God’s ’sight penetrates to the heart of all things.’ Penetrates to the heart of what He Himself causes? What is the point?"
Continuing to expose the contradictions inherent in this disproportionate sovereignty, Hunt wonders how the Calvinist God could love those He predestined to eternal suffering. I would add that the non-Calvinist believes people are not sent to hell by God but by their own choice. If God is eternal and the source of all that is good, then the only kind of place He could make for people who do not wish to be with Him for eternity is an eternal place where there is nothing of God, which means nothing good. How could it be otherwise? In contrast, Calvin’s God does not love those whose eternal suffering He decreed from eternity past.
Then Hunt makes a point I’ve often made as well: without free will, man’s "love" of God would be a sham. Another one is the fact that if God either prevents a sin or turns it for ultimate good, this still does not explain what or who caused the sin in the first place. And he rightly points out that God receives no glory in forcing the wills of those whose will is already forced. Why else would God need to point out those exceptions to free will? The exposure of White’s slip of the pen ("God has a purpose in what He allows") is excellent as well: can God ’allow’ what He has ordained? This is a legitimate situation where only one thing can be true: either God decrees or He allows.
White begins this section with charges of ad hominem argumentation, a curious move for someone who prefaced the debate by declaring his opponent unfit to participate. He accuses Hunt of being off-topic and repeats the charge of misrepresentation— after cautioning the reader to watch for such repetitions. And he re-asserts the standard Calvinist claim that those who wind up in hell have "freely" chosen to do so, without addressing the inherent fallacy of declaring the existence of "choice" in the absence of alternatives to choose from. It is no defense at all to claim that by not choosing to save them, God has not reprobated them.
Then White appeals to the reader to simply declare Hunt’s responses to his cited scriptures as proof that Hunt did not understand the concept of compatibilism. He charges Hunt with ignoring God’s "good intentions" in allowing Joseph to be sold into slavery, even though these same readers can easily see where Hunt addressed them. He also charges Hunt with going "beyond the text" in saying scripture is silent about whether God caused the evil in people’s hearts, even though Hunt was only responding to the Calvinist claim that this must be the case. It appears that whenever Hunt follows White’s statements to their logical conclusions, White calls it "going beyond the text" and "a nonresponse" [sic]. To demand to know where "foreknew" is seen in the text is no different than the demand to know where "fore-ordained" is seen in the text.
If the purpose of this debate is about Calvinism, why does White complain that Hunt "did not choose to present a positive defense of his own beliefs"? Had he done so, White would surely have repeated the charge of Hunt being off topic. In showing what things cannot be derived from the text, Hunt is only practicing both accepted exegesis and staying on topic. And White’s string of sarcastic questions shows once again his own misunderstandings of his opponent’s arguments. To call those arguments "objections to the sovereignty of God" shows White’s own ignoring of his opponent’s points. Even in his footnote at the end of the section, White adds more ad hominem in mocking Hunt by assuring the reader that "no reply will be forthcoming from" Hunt on the issue of types of love.
Hunt points out that White claimed "God could... restrain all evil", which is quite incompatible with claims of God’s love. In spite of God’s statement in 1 Tim. 2:4 that He "desires all men to be saved", Calvinism teaches that this is not true at all. And since God does not desire to condemn anyone, then the fact that anyone is indeed condemned actually means Calvinism denies God’s sovereignty. Hunt also calls White out on the sophistry of calling it "choice" to be unable to keep from choosing to reject God. Lastly, he shows quotes that refute White’s charge of "’vague allegation of a connection’ between Augustine and Catholicism", and reminds White of scriptural requirements for judging people by their works.
White shows confusion here about Hunt’s argument concerning why God doesn’t restrain all evil, even though it was White’s own statement Hunt was quoting. Hunt was asking White this question, not trying to give his own view. Again White shows his own inability to remember the topic at hand. Then he simply quotes someone else (Spurgeon), as if Hunt is supposed to either debate him too or lie down in the face of an alleged authority whose statement ends all debate.