The Hunt/White Debate
Affirmed Chapter 2: MAN'S INABILITY
by James White
In his effort to establish Total Inability (TI), White begins by asserting that the opposing view is only held on the basis of "tradition" since it is "so contrary to the inclinations of man". He defines "synergism" as any theory that allows man the slightest part in determining the choice of whether to accept or reject salvation, as opposed to "monergism" which puts all the choosing in God’s hands. He boldly proclaims that the latter is what "the Bible proclaims". Yet he mischaracterizes the free will choice of man as constituting man "aiding" God in salvation, as if God needs our help. But it is not a case of need at all; rather, a case of God’s sovereignly allowing man freedom of choice.
Citing the 1689 London Confession as "the Bible’s teaching", White then quotes Rom. 3:10-18 as the scriptural backing for the Confession’s assertions of TI. Yet even the poetic passages quoted there by Paul speak of people "turning aside", and the context is concerning Jews and Gentiles, against the assumption of the Jews that God would not hold them accountable for their sin simply because they were Jews. Chapter 1 of that same letter speaks of people who "suppress the truth", that they "knew" things about God because He showed them these things, that their hearts "became darkened", etc. All of this points to the fact that these people chose to turn away from God, and only then "God gave them over". White admits that man is a "moral agent",1 but asserts that such agents, in denial of the definition of the words, are all "rebels"; that is, without exception they all choose sin.
White asserts that all of this proves TI. But he resorts to lifting absurdities such as those listed in Jer. 13:23 out of its context of judgement against the nation of Israel and applying them to individuals of all nations and for all time. And without offering any scriptural support, White asserts that all the descendants of Adam "share his corrupted nature". No one denies that we share mortal flesh, but the concept of mortal nature is completely absent from scripture. The cited passage of Rom. 8:5-8 repeats the word "flesh", not "nature", so it does not help White’s case at all. That he can even boldly proclaim that the lost "will never repent" is truly astounding.
Then White asserts that "the mind set on the flesh... does not subject itself to the law of God... but at the same time it is not able to do so!", but that this "does not take away [the fleshly mind’s] guilt". This is nonsensical; inability necessarily precludes responsibility. Those who are unable to do anything but sin cannot be held responsible for sinning, any more than the blind person could be held responsible for not seeing. So we can say with confidence that since we are accountable, we are therefore able.
White asserts that Eph. 2:1-2 states we are "dead in sin", but a study of the Greek grammar gives a rendering that is compatible with other passages of scripture: "You are all dead to your sins, in which you once lived..." (ref. Rom. 6:11, similar for Col. 2:13). Being "dead to" something means to have a broken relationship with it, while being "dead in" something is a phrase foreign to first century Greek. Regardless, White claims that there is such a thing as literal "spiritual death" even though it is a metaphor, or else he would be promoting annihilationism. Then he takes 1 Cor. 2:14 out of its context of carnal believers to mean unbelievers are utterly incapable of comprehending salvation.
White then quotes Jesus’ statement in John 6:43-44 about no one being able to come to Him unless the Father draws them, but he does not say who the Father draws. He also does not cite John 12:32 where Jesus says, "I will draw all men to myself". No non-Calvinist denies that we would be ignorant of God without His revelation, but we disagree that He does not draw everyone. Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet illustrates this fact, in that all were invited but only a few accepted the invitation. White denies this "general drawing" simply by saying it isn’t so.
In his zeal to deny man any free will to choose the gospel, White uses the teachings about slavery to sin to claim TI. But no one denies our need to be "set free", which required Jesus to die, but only that we are unable to choose to place our faith in Jesus. He is confusing the need for Jesus to ransom the human race with individual choice about accepting His sacrifice on their behalf. And citing another instance of hardened hearts (the Pharisees) does not change the fact that nothing is said about how they got that way.
White concludes this section by repeating his claim that man having the freedom to choose or reject the gospel means "the fallen creature has the ability to control God’s free and sovereign work of salvation". He claims that the Calvinistic view is derived from scripture while the non-Calvinist view is rooted in "the philosophies and traditions of man"— an amazing statement given the Calvinist love of philosophy and citing confessions.
Response, by Dave Hunt
Hunt begins by pointing out that non-Calvinism does not deny the sufficiency of God, but that this does not preclude man’s responsibility. He observes as I have that White has been only giving scripture references that can be used to support TI while ignoring those that cannot. And he rightly notes that not a single scripture expressly states TI, so Calvinism must rely completely upon inference. But ability is not even the real issue, because scripture only speaks plainly about believing and accepting. And if, as White asserts, God causes and controls everything, then why does scripture contain so many references to God losing patience with people or having regrets?
In placing faith in God, man certainly does not "aid" Him in any way. But rather than presenting scripture to support these claims, White has only offered "confessions". And Hunt cites Eph. 2:10 to support the belief that works do not precede salvation but follow it, as well as Rom. 4:5 which clearly states that "to the one who does not work but believes... his faith is considered to be righteousness". The statement "does not work but believes" is an explicit refutation of the claim that faith is a kind of work. Hunt then quotes many scriptures that tell us to do exactly what Calvinism says we cannot: seek the Lord, cry out to Him, come to Him, believe in Him. If, as Calvinism asserts, we are unable to do these things, then God is openly mocking His creatures and giving them false hope.
Regarding White’s citation of Jer. 13:23, Hunt adds to the issue of context that even our own experiences with those who have been able to give up various sinful habits denies his interpretation. If these sins had been aspects of "nature" as White claimed, this would be impossible. Similar for the citation of Rom. 8:6-8. And he wonders why White does not explain how the lost can have the ability to deliberately choose to disbelieve but not to believe. Why would Jesus have told people to "strive to enter" (Luke 13:24) if they are unable to strive? And how exactly does freely accepting God’s love amount to "controlling" God? Does the receiver control the giver?
Defense, by James White
White begins by describing his presentation so far as consisting of "overwhelming and consistent testimony of Scripture". He accuses Hunt of "ignoring the exegesis I offered" and dismissing others and ignoring context. He then claims Hunt turned "is not able" into "is not willing" (John 6:44 and 8:34), but examining Hunts actual words shows that he said no such thing; he was making the point that "can" in those contexts means permission, not ability. But I think a better explanation is along the lines of the ancient custom of a king having to raise his scepter to allow someone to approach him. A person had the right to come before the king, but if the king was not willing to listen to them they would be killed. So what Jesus is saying is that people can come to the Father, but the Father must give permission to live. Yet it cannot be overemphasized that it is Jesus who makes us acceptable in the Father’s sight. And since Jesus said He would draw "all men" to Himself (a scripture White has ignored), it means He will not fail to make anyone who is willing acceptable to the Father.
White makes a big deal out of Hunt’s misuse of Greek grammar concerning permission vs. ability, yet Calvinism does a significant amount of that itself (e.g. John 3:16). But the larger issue of course is that of interpretation, and White’s continual repetition that Hunt relies on "tradition". Surely the reader has taken note of his repetitiveness by now. To add that Hunt is "adamantly refusing to allow Scripture to define the order of salvation and the nature of saving faith" is wild speculation since Hunt made no such statements. White seems to be having difficulty focusing on the point he is making about grammar. His mocking statement about placing one’s interpretation over scripture in order to fit it into a preconceived theology is another case of irony in light of his own practice of the same, as we will see in the next chapter.
In quoting Luke 13:23 White hopes to convince the reader that when Jesus said that only a few would be able to enter through the narrow gate, it means only a few would be given that ability by God. But he imposes his interpretation on it, because it can just as easily mean that only those who freely placed faith in Jesus will have that ability. In other words, White does not address how that ability is received, but only presumes his own view. This is exactly what he accuses Hunt of doing.
Final Remarks, by Dave Hunt
Hunt begins by noting that White’s "overwhelming" evidence consists only of a few select verses, none of which clearly states what he claims they do; the meanings must be inferred. He also points out that the issue, as I have noted as well, is not about the requirement of ability but the source of that ability. And White has ignored many verses himself, especially Jesus’ command to "strive".
Final Remarks, by James White
White’s response is yet another round of "Hunt relies on tradition", with added disparaging remarks about "libertarian free will". He introduces, in a conclusion no less (which he warned the reader about at the beginning), new terminology: "general" and "specific" callings of God. Hunt has never denied the general calling, so now White adds to the definition of "calling". Declaring himself the victor in exegesis, White proceeds to intimate that Hunt simply misunderstands a lot of verses. Note that the charge is not mere disagreement, but a declaration of misunderstanding. Then he makes much ado about Hunt’s "eisegesis" while ignoring his own, as if he has not done any personal interpretation at all. Either both sides can interpret or neither can. Yes, we must apply the same standards to both sides.
- 1 Moral agent, a being who is capable of acting with reference to right and wrong. [Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)]