April 18, 2008

James White's Denial of God's Universal Saving Will

Update: Since one blogger seems consistently confused, the following in no way suggests that James White denies that God commands all men to repent and believe (thus putting them under an obligation). That's not the point. The point that is clearly made during the call is that, according to White, God does not want/wish/will/or "desire" the salvation of all men. That's what it means to "deny God's universal saving will" as the title of this post plainly and accurately addresses. If James White thought otherwise, then he would be in categorical agreement with John Murray, Tom Ascol, Phil Johnson and John Piper, and he's clearly not in agreement with them on this subject, as the call itself makes plain.I made this same point (among others) to the blogger in the comment section of my first post, but the blogger is either not seeing it, or is just ignoring it.

Just read Turretin himself on this. Then take a look at what John Howe said (2), among other Calvinists on the will of God.

The following exchange took place between James White and Jason from the UK on the Dividing Line broadcast on 4/10/08.

(download clip here)

James White takes a call:

"Let's get to Jason over in the United Kingdom...What's up Jason?"

Jason asks a question:

"Well, yeah, I have a question for you regarding your Reformed theology, and it has to do with the free offer of the gospel. My question is simply this: Does God offer Christ, salvation or mercy to the non-elect, and does he in any sense will their salvation?"

James White responds:

"Well, that sounds very much like what Mr. Gregg was asking, though I think he was a little bit more specific toward the end. And the answer that I gave that I'll repeat now has two aspects. First of all, from the human aspect, the free offer of the gospel goes out to all people because humans do not know the identity of the elect. And since no one will have that knowledge other than God, the only way a human being can possibly answer the question is to say what scripture says; and that is, that any person who repents and believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. But I think the question as it is often--I think somewhat unnecessarily asked, because again it forces us into a similar situation as the last discussion of Adam [the previous call topic]--to ask the question well, if God has not eternally decreed the salvation of John Brown, then can we really say that there is a free offer of the gospel to John Brown? Again, the very phrase "free offer" demands that we discuss the means by which the free offer is made, but I've already said that the means is us, and since we don't know who the elect are, it sort of makes it a little bit like the discussion of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism."

Jason comments:

"But, I mean, there are Calvinist theologians such as John Murray and Phil Johnson, for example, who hold that view. Phil Johnson would even say that it's a hyper-Calvinist tendency to deny that God in some way offers salvation to the non-elect."

James White responds:

"Again, if I just said that it is our job to offer salvation to the non-elect because we don't know who they are, then yes, the salvation is being offered to the non-elect. But when says [Jason: but the offer is being made...] someone in some way, then I need something more of a definition of in what way. Are we going to say for example that Christ gives, intercedes, or gives his life for the non-elect, even though it is not God's purpose to grant to them the freedom from their sins so as to accept this? When we say "some way," I interpret "some way" as the free and open proclamation of the gospel. Hyper-Calvinism requires us to go around and identify the elect. I'm not sure how we are supposed to do that, but we can't do it."

Jason speaks:

"I think the understanding is that, although God has reprobated certain people, there is a desire on his part that they should be saved, even though he has a higher purpose. [Therefore] that doesn't happen. I think one example, one verse, that might indicate that would be Ezekiel 33:11, which says that, "As surely as I live, says the Lord God, I have no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their way and live." And that's the claim for the whole of the nation of Israel, not just the elect within that community."

James White responds:

"Yeah, and that's one of the problems I have with Ezekiel 18 or 33 being read into this particular issue, because I feel like we're being forced to somehow attribute to God some kind (for some reason)...some kind of an attitude or desire that I just never see, not only do I never see expressed, but it would likewise force us to say that God has an unfulfilled desire, but it's not really the same desire as he chooses to fulfill with other people. And we're left not only--you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum, now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it. The Ezekiel texts are talking to people who were saying that there was no reason for them to repent because they're already doomed because of the sins of their forefathers. That's why they repeated the parable of their teeth being set on edge because of the sour grapes that their fathers had eaten, and so on and so forth. And so what I hear Ezekiel as saying is an apologetic response to people who were saying there's no reason to preach to those people, there's no reason for us to even listen to the message of the prophets, because our repentance would never be accepted. Now that's different than Isaiah's commissioning where God specifically commissions him to proclaim a message of judgment, and says he's going to harden the hearts of the individuals who hear it. That's a completely different context. But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill. And then in fact, evidently, causes him to have an unfulfilled desire, unhappiness, pain, or something. I know where this comes from in liberal European theology because I went to Fuller Seminary for crying out loud. And I listened to all the stuff about...in fact we had somebody in [the chat] channel just a couple days ago talking about, "well don't you think that God suffers like we suffer, and he's sad like we're sad?"...and all the rest of this stuff, and I got all that at Fuller. I know where it's coming from from there. But, within the Reformed realm of folks...I understand and have stood against hyper-Calvinism for a long, long time and people who think that we can somehow know who the elect are...but on the other side I want to go...alright. I fully understand how given the means that God uses to draw the elect unto himself, that there is a free offer of the gospel, that I can never look at someone...I do not have the right to reprobate anybody. I can't do that. I have to proclaim to everybody. But, I have a problem then saying in my proclamation of the gospel to others means that I then have to affirm some kind of a partially salvific desire...cause it can only be partially salvific. If it's truly a salvific desire, and it's truly a desire of God, does he not do whatever he pleases in the heavens and the earth?"


"Mmm hmm. So, yeah. Good point."

James White continues:

"So, you know, if it is his desire, then he's going to accomplish it. If it is not his desire...you know...I think that the "ambiguity" at that point (to use the term that so we've been using alot [since the Steve Gregg debate]) is because..."

Jason speaks:

"Would you say though that you've perhaps placed yourself in a minority among Calvinists for taking that stance?"

James White says:

"No, no...I don't think so. I think that you have...I know what John Murray has said...but no. I don't think that that is a minority position at all. I think there are lots of folks in the past who have expressed, I think properly, the fact that Christ is to be presented to all men, and that we do not have the right to reprobate anyone. We do not know the identity of the elect...who did not go so far as to say, and what that means is that there is a partially salvific desire on the part of God. That he has a desire, but for some reason (that has never been explained to me) he chooses not to act upon it, and hence causes himself to be eternally unfulfilled. I don't see that in a large number of Calvinistic writers. There is a range of expression on this, but no, I don't think I am in a minority position. Again, if someone wants to explain to me what a partial salvific desire is, and how it is expressed in scripture, then great, I'll be glad to hear it. But..."

Jason says:

"I think the answer might be though that it's not something we can fully understand, it's just something that seems to be taught in scripture in which we have to believe, I suppose."

James White says:

"Well, I'll be honest with you. The only text that I've heard, other than the implication that you're taking from Ezekiel 33, is 2 Peter 3:9. And I know that there are those who look at 2 Peter 3:9, and they see there that universal salvific will. I think that I am giving a pretty consistent exegetical response to that, to say...well, ok. I have respect for men who have held that view, but I have not at any time seen any of those who take that view respond to what I said about the text. And that is, when you look at the pronouns, who is being referred to here? I've never...And if you look to a writer, and the writer expresses such and such a view, and you find no evidence that that writer had ever even encountered an alternate exegesis that is a sound exegesis, then I don't know that that writer's opinion is as necessarily as weighty as it could be otherwise.

For example, you may know that when John Owen wrote The Death of Death--and there would be alot of people who would have alot of problems with how "severe" John Owen was on certain issues--but, when John Owen wrote The Death of Death, and he tried to deal with the Hebrews 10 text, he clearly had never read Hebrews 10:29 in such a way as to see the one who sanctifies himself as Christ. Now remember, Death of Death was his first major work. Twenty-five years later, when he writes his commentary on Hebrews (now as a mature theologian), he has now exegeted that text, and he presents a completely different discussion now that he's had the time to work with the text. And he sees, Ah, this is something I didn't know back then. It didn't even enter into my thinking. And he then presents the idea that the one who is sanctified in Hebrews 10:29 is in fact Christ. He has set himself apart. So, the point being, could someone look at what he said in Death of Death...what if had never written his Hebrews commentary later on. And what if he had never even given consideration to the other exegesis of the text, which is just as valid as the one that he was operating on. If you've never heard the other interpretation, is your opinion on that text as weighty as people who have and give a response? That's what I am saying when someone looks at 2 Peter 3:9. I go, alright, who among these people have actually in their commentaries responded to what I think about the exegesis--obviously not me myself, but just simply those who would read it in that way. I think there is something important there to look into."

Jason says:

"Ok. Well, that's food for thought."

James White:

"Ok. Thank you very much, Jason. Thanks for calling."

Jason says:

"Ok. Thank you. Bye."

James White:

"Uh, yeah. Well that was uh, that was quite interesting. hahaha And alot of people in the audience are going, "What were you talking about?" We were, you know...I think it's unfortunate that, again, you know, Calvinists tend to be this way, and there's a reason why we are. But sometimes we focus upon some real minutia. And, I don't know how many times I have to say we don't know who the elect are, and therefore we proclaim the gospel to everybody. But there are some who would say, "and if you don't add to that that God has a partially salvific desire [laughter in the background]...you can go ahead and differentiate that he has a truly salvific desire for the elect, but you have to have a partially salvific will...I just go, what does that mean?! If you could tell me what it means, you know...is that common grace? Does that mean that God is kind to the non-elect? Ok. I've said that a million times. But that's not what I'm hearing. You know. And I just go, what does it mean to say that God desires to do something he then does not provide the means to do? What does that mean? And no one's ever been able to tell me. So, once somebody can tell me, then I can jump on the bandwagon I guess, if there is a bandwagon to jump on to. But if you can't tell me what it means, then...what can I say? Can't, can't go there. So, anyway, that's what that particular discussion was all about."

See also My Analysis of the Gregg/White Exchange on God's Saving Will


Here is David Allen's footnote in Whosoever Will with the relevant links:
"104. On December 7 of 2001 on the Theology List, Phil Johnson said the following to a hyper-Calvinist: "The root of your problem is that you apparently imagine a conflict would exist in the will of God if God, who has not ordained some men to salvation, nonetheless desires all men to repent and seek His mercy. That is, in fact, precisely the false dilemma virtually all hyper-Calvinists make for themselves. They cannot reconcile God's preceptive will with His decretive will, so they end up (usually) denying the sincerity of the preceptive will, or else denying that the pleading and calls to salvation apply to all who hear the gospel." http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Theology_list. Also, in a book addressing various issues related to Open Theism, Johnson dealt with the question of whether or not God in any sense “desires” what He does not bring to pass. He says that scripture “often imputes unfulfilled desires to God” and cites several important verses. He then rightly cautions against taking “expressions of desire and longing from the heart of God” in a “simplistically literal sense,” as this would result in compromising God’s sovereignty. Therefore, “the yearning God expresses in these verses must to some degree be anthropopathic.” Johnson says that, nevertheless, we “must also see that these expressions mean something. They reveal an aspect of the divine mind that is utterly impossible to reconcile with the view of those who insist that God’s sovereign decrees are equal to His “desires” in every meaningful sense. Is there no sense in which God ever wishes for or prefers anything other than what actually occurs (including the fall of Adam, the damnation of the wicked, and every evil in between)? My own opinion—and I think Dabney would have agreed—is that those who refuse to see any true expression of God's heart whatsoever in His optative exclamations have embraced the spirit of the hyper-Calvinist error.” (P. Johnson, “God Without Mood Swings,” in Bound Only Once: The Failure of Open Theism, ed. D. Wilson [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001], 118). This article can also be accessed here: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/impassib.htm. Both of Johnson's quotes (in addition to his references on the will of God in his Primer on Hyper-Calvinism) would seem to implicate James White (Alpha & Omega Ministries) as a hyper-Calvinist since White concurs with Reymond's view that God does not desire the salvation of the non-elect in any sense. Both White and Reymond think affirming the contrary imputes irrationality to God, and Reymond explicitly appeals to John Gill's teaching in this respect. See R. L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 692-93. White is not just quibbling over optative expressions, as Johnson seems to think. Both Reymond and White reject the concept that God desires the salvation of all men. Whatever the case may be, it is nevertheless clear that White, a Reformed Baptist, is thoroughly out of sync with Sam Waldron's strong statements about the will of God and John 5:34 as he expounds the "free offer teaching in the 1689 London Baptist Confession. See Waldron's Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1989), 121-22. In contrast to White, and as I noted during the John 3:16 Conference, Tom Ascol agrees with Johnson's orthodox Calvinist view that "God desires all people to be saved" in His revealed will. It is, therefore, troubling to think that Ascol (or anyone in the Southern Baptist Founders movement) would ally himself with White, a non-Southern Baptist Calvinist who rejects the well-meant gospel offer, when planning to debate other Southern Baptists on Calvinism. This was my point at the John 3:16 Conference."
David Allen, "The Atonement: Limited or Universal," in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 95-96.


Tony Byrne said...

Micah Burke, who is a friend of James White and one who contributes to White's blog, has also explicitly denied that God desires the salvation of all men. See his comment here (click). He said:

"The claim that God desires the salvation of each and every person who ever lived is simply false, no matter how many times verses are wrongly pressed into service of that falsehood."

He also seems disinclined to think the gospel is an offer (see here -- click).

Another blogger in the past using the name Byroniac, or just Byron (aka Byron Smith), also denied that God desires the salvation of all men in the revealed will (see here -- click).

I first asked him:
"1) Do you think that God desires to save all men in his revealed will?"

Byron said:
"1) No, because God never promised or expressed desire to save people apart from repentance and faith that I know of."

I then asked:
"2) Do you think that the denial of God's universal saving desire is hyper-Calvinistic?"

Byron responded thusly, and note carefully where he heard the same beliefs:

"2) No, and why would it be? I agree with James White: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere, then if He desires something, how can He possibly be frustrated in that desire? What could frustration in the context of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence possibly mean?"

N.B. Byron's thinking on God's will was identical to Micah Burke's present views, and Byron was being fed his views from the same source that Burke is, i.e. James White. Incidentally, Byron has since abandoned the Christian faith. He is presently an agnostic or an atheist.

Tony Byrne said...

Also, as I pointed out to defenders of White on other blogs (which they altogether ignored), Dr. Robert Gonzales (Dean of Reformed Baptist Theological Seminary) observed White's denial. He wrote (see footnote #8):

"8. Most Calvinists who affirm the “free” and “well-meant” offer of the gospel do so because of their allegiance to Scripture and not from a cowardly desire to please men. For this reason, I was disappointed to read James White’s caricature of such Calvinists like myself (and those referenced above) in a post entitled “Of Squeamish Calvinists and Hyper-Arminians” (March 18, 2009); accessed May 30, 2009 at http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=3197; Internet. Ironically, White is reacting to Calvinists who view his rejection of God’s well-meant offer of the gospel as “hyper-Calvinist,” which he views as a kind of ad hominem argument. But exchanging ad hominem for ad hominem is not normally Dr. White’s debate methodology. For another specimen of ad hominem argumentation, see Sean Gerety’s “The Sincere Insanity of the Well-Meant Offer.” For a defense of the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, I would direct the reader to the following resources: R. Scott Clark, “Janus: the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, ed. David VanDrunen (P&R, 2004), 149-79; Robert Lewis Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (reprint, Banner of Truth, 1967), 1:307f; idem, Systematic Theology (reprint, Banner of Truth, 1985), 555-59; Frame, 534-37; John Murray, The Free Offer of the Gospel (Banner of Truth, 2002); Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth, 1995); Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered; Waldron, Modern Exposition, 121-122. For helpful Internet resources, see Robert Lewis Dabney’s “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy”: Phil Johnson’s A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism; John Piper’s “Are There Two Wills in God: Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to be Saved”; the historical resources on David Ponter’s Calvin and Calvinism and Theology Online, as well as and Tony Byrne’s “Theological Meditations.”

Tony Byrne said...

There is no tertium quid between John Murray’s position on the free offer and those who deny that God desires the salvation of all men. White said after the J316C that he was “thankful Phil [Johnson] can put up with my [White's] slightly “stiffer” form of Calvinism. I would be more on the Reymond side than the Murray side, for example, and I am for a pretty obvious reason, I hope.” Saying you’re “more on the side of” Reymond than Murray is like one pregnant woman saying to a non-pregnant woman that she is “more pregnant” than the other. Either you’re on Reymond’s side (who sided with Gill as over against the early John Gerstner's views) and denying God’s universal saving will, or you’re not. And, if you’re on the Reymond side, you are on the Gill/Hoeksema/Clark side on the will of God.

What Iain Murray said of John Gill is also quite true with respect to James White:

"In accordance with this, Gill claimed that all texts appearing to show a favourable desire on God's part towards all the lost [i.e. the non-elect] do not have any reference to their salvation."

When it comes to biblical passages, this is *exactly* what James White does. For instance, even with respect to John 5:34, Mike Brown (a non-Calvinist) asked White:

“So when he [Jesus] says “I say these things to you that you may be saved” in the 5th chapter [John 5:34], does he mean that or not?”

James White responded (See minute 29:48-30:04):

He means that to those that the Spirit is going to draw to Him. Preaching is always used as the means by which the elect people are brought in to relationship with Jesus Christ.”

See? "He means that to...the elect...", i.e. not to the non-elect. This is what James White does with *every* biblical passage that Calvinists themselves have used to argue for God's desire in the revealed will for the salvation of the non-elect.

In contrast, look at what Sam Waldon (a Reformed Baptist like Robert Gonzales) said about the passage in his exposition of the free offer and the 1689 LBC (click).

Tony Byrne said...

As one reads and listens to the way James White misrepresents his Calvinistic opposition on the will of God (as Dr. Robert Gonzales noted above), one can't help but notice the striking parallels between himself and the later John Gerstner on the point. Gerstner, later in life, sided with the Protestant Reformed Church in their denial of the well-meant offer or their denial that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect. Notice his way of speaking here. If God does desire the salvation of the non-elect in the revealed will, as Murray taught, then:

"God...is not the living, happy God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but an eternally miserable being weeping tears of frustration that He was unable to prevent hell and can never end it thus destroying Himself and heaven in the process."

On more than one occasion, White has misrepresented his "Squeamish Calvinist" opponents, as if they, as Dr. Gonzales noted, are saying:

"We [according to "Squeamish Calvinists"] need to insist that God has freely and inalterably decreed that which completely bums Him out. God has issues. He's conflicted."

There is no difference between Gerstner's later view, Herman Hoeksema's view, Gordon Clark's view and Robert Reymond's view when it comes to the specific issue of denying that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect in the revealed will. They have differences over other theological matters, but not in that area, and White has explicitly sided with Reymond, and thus with Gerstner, Clark and Hoeksema by implication.

Note again the striking parallel with Gerstner above when White said that he:

"...refuse[s] to portray God as having eternally decreed His own unhappiness...I see no evidence that God will be standing upon the parapets of hell weeping for eternity because of His failure to accomplish His will."

Tony Byrne said...

Also, in the same post as linked above, White notes his differences with Phil Johnson (who sides with John Murray on the well-meant offer), and mentions his own agreement with Robert Reymond's perspective:

"I am thankful Phil can put up with my slightly "stiffer" form of Calvinism. I would be more on the Reymond side than the Murray side, for example, and I am for a pretty obvious reason, I hope.

Tony Byrne said...

One avid listener to White's Dividing Line broadcasts and a follower of his teaching, Mark Farnon (aka "Tartanarmy," said (in Nov. 2008):

"Now the other matter concerning God's universal saving will or His desire for all to be saved.

This one is a no brainer for me, and I am totally on the same page as Dr White and Robert Reymond, who Tony is more than willing to also Label as Hyper. Oh the shame!

The idea that God desires, wills the salvation of everyone makes God Schizophrenic, and I have said this many times.

This is the reason Dr White responds as he does, about God having these unfulfilled desires and disappointments etc.

Dr White is spot on, and just because Byrne and others wish to embrace irrationality, does not change the argument at all. Call it paradox if you wish and celebrate that kind of thinking, but I do not wish to go down that slippery slope, and for good reasons."

Note that Mark Farnon, like Micah Burke and Byron Smith above, rejects the concept that God desires the salvation of any who are non-elect, and identifies that same teaching in both White and Reymond.