Dr. James White has some interesting articles and essays located on his Alpha & Omega Ministries website. One of the more interesting is a copy of an email exchange which took place between himself and a man by the name of Marc Carpenter. Knowing about Carpenter already I read the exchange through several times. There is no doubt as to Carpenter’s abrasiveness, the man wouldn’t know tact if tact strolled up to him and then shook his hand. However, be that as it may, I saw nothing wrong with Carpenter’s argument in this particular instance. Sure, he enveloped it in plenty of rancor, but putting this aside he did have some pretty solid things to say.
What I found more interesting was Dr. White’s response. I have listened to his radio show, the Dividing Line. I have benefited from it occasion, like, for instance, when he is debating a Mormon or a KJV Onlyist. I have also read several of his books including, “The King James Controversy”, “The Forgotten Trinity” and “Debating Calvinism”. I can recommend the two former. I cannot say the same for the latter. And yes, I do hold to the doctrines of grace.
As for Carpenter, like I already mentioned, I knew something about him going in, as well. Like, for example, that he often judges people’s gospel by secondary issues, ranging everywhere from one’s view of eternal judgment to one’s view of water baptism. Judging also from some of the material he has written I can also safely say he leaves very little room for the gospel to offend once he has himself finished offending. Far be it from me then to take up a defense for him. I have no intention of doing so. Rather, I wish to bring attention to Dr. White’s defense, or to be more precise, his poor defense. To be blunt, I believe Dr. White is guilty of having constructed a straw man in his response to Carpenter.
The full email exchange is located on Dr. White’s Alpha & Omega Ministries website. I advise the reader to examine it before considering anything else I have to say here. Here is the link: http://vintage.aomin.org/HyperCalv.html
Carpenter begins the email exchange in his usual, provocative way; that is, with immediate escalation. Dr. White responds briefly by identifying Marc’s rant as rhetoric that reminds him of how God’s truth can be professed without love and without balance. This reminds me of the homosexual who complains about the Bible’s zero-tolerance stance on the practice of homosexuality. Every time the Christian tries to proclaim the gospel of God’s righteousness to the homosexual he gets a face full of “you’re not loving enough” for his trouble. Though I agree Marc needs to chill out, Dr. White’s answer does not bode well for him.
Nevertheless, Dr. White concludes his brief introduction with a comparison. He says that most of the folks he knows in Reformed churches once stood and sang hymns without a full knowledge of the doctrines of grace. I find two problems with this remarkably bad argument. First, so what? And second, what does full knowledge have anything to do with what Marc just said?
Carpenter said nothing about full knowledge, either in reference to the gospel or the doctrines of grace, nor did he appeal to full knowledge. What he said was the devil works to keep people believing salvation is conditioned on them. What does full knowledge have anything to do with this? Does Dr. White believe a person must have a full and robust knowledge of everything pertaining to God before a person can understand the simple message of an accomplished redemption? If so, then isn’t he the one who is preaching full knowledge?
How difficult is it to explain the message of an accomplished redemption to someone? Sure, you will have to explain election, but it is not as though you will need to spend years working out with them a full, systematized examination of this doctrine. You need only explain that for an accomplished redemption to be true, then Christ must have died for a specific people whom He had chosen for salvation from before the foundation of the world. How difficult is that? It isn’t.
More about this later.
In the meantime, Carpenter answers Dr. White’s brief response. This time, in return, Dr. White prepares a much fuller answer. Unfortunately, what he prepares is just a bigger, taller straw man.
Dr. White writes:
“Let’s consider well what is being said here. If you do not make perfection of understanding an addition to the gospel, you are speaking peace to an Arminian. I have no idea how recognizing the simple truth that one does not have to have perfection of understanding to have eternal life is to be confused with speaking peace to a belief that, from looking at the list, most everyone reading this exchange would admit is in significant error on many points.”
Once again, what does perfect understanding have anything to do with what Marc said? Carpenter made no mention of people needing a perfect understanding. He did not even say that one’s understanding of an accomplished redemption must be perfect, but rather only that they must have an understanding of it. Carpenter says understanding and Dr. White responds with, Aha! Perfect understanding! Dr. White, you have to know this is a straw man.
Dr. White continues:
“I do no speak peace to Arminianism. Anyone who knows me knows this. I would not have dedicated the past nine radio programs we produce through our ministry to a refutation of Norman Geisler’s new anti-Reformed book _Chosen But Free_ if I was speaking peace to Arminianism. Recognizing that one can have traditions in their thinking that are not biblical and still be a Christian is not the same as speaking peace to falsehood. My goodness, do we not all have such traditions? If perfection is the standard to be saved, who of us actually is? Are hyper-Calvinists claiming to have no traditions, to have a perfection of understanding in all matters? I fear those who make such claims.”
Here, as I hope the reader will see, Dr. White moves from accusing Marc of advocating for a perfect understanding to accusing him of advocating for perfect thinking. This is no better an argument. Again, where in Carpenter’s email is there any mention or appeal to perfect thinking? Carpenter said nothing about not having traditions. What he said was salvation is conditioned solely upon redemption accomplished in Christ Jesus, and that the devil’s work is to steer people away from this good news. Dr. White responds by pointing out that people can still have unbiblical traditions. So? What does this have to do with anything Marc said?
Certainly people do have unbiblical traditions, and it takes time for the converted to weed these out. But what does this have to do with the message of an accomplished redemption? Is Dr. White identifying the message of an incomplete redemption as a tradition people can hold to and yet still be saved? If so then I must ask, what does he think the gospel is? And why not include the doctrine of the Trinity and Christ’s deity among his list of traditions while he is at it? After all, if one’s denial of accomplished atonement can be a tradition, then why can’t a denial of the Trinity or Christ’s deity also be a tradition no less benign than any other?
Dr. White continues by informing his readers that coming to an understanding of the doctrines of grace is a process. I would have found this information useful had Carpenter actually said something about the doctrines of grace or the process of coming to understand them. Alas, he did not. Here yet again, Dr. White may as well have spent his time informing his readers about the drying properties of latex house paint, because latex house paint and the time it takes to dry has about as much to do with what Carpenter said as Dr. White’s response to it.
But now that Dr. White has dragged his readers here, I will point out the obvious. So what if learning the doctrines of grace is a process? This does not change anything about what Marc said. All the instantaneous conversions we read about in the New Testament occurred with people who were well steeped in the knowledge that God had chosen a particular people and that God preserves them. But so what? What does this have to do with anything Marc said?
Dr. White goes on to inform us that from his point of view it would seem as though Carpenter wants him to believe God births no children, but rather only mature adults in the sense that unless a person has a full-orbed, perfect understanding of the relationship of all parts of the gospel to each other, then they do not know Christ. More straw and house paint, I see.
Again, this fails to address anything Carpenter said. More than this, it is a blatant misrepresentation of what Marc did say. Marc said nothing about a necessity of having a full-orbed, perfect understanding of anything. He merely said knowledge. One must have knowledge of accomplished atonement. White turns knowledge into full-orbed, perfect understanding. Why?
I judge from having heard Dr. White explain elsewhere that he reads full-orbed, perfect understanding into the word knowledge, because he does not believe the message of an accomplished redemption is really the heart of the gospel. Let me say that again and more plainly this time. Dr. James White does NOT believe the message of accomplished redemption is at the heart of the gospel. Just what then does Dr. White tell people when he thinks he is telling them the gospel?
Dr. White continues:
“Seemingly we are likewise being told that the Arminian is ignorant of the righteousness of God and trusting in salvation conditioned upon themselves. I suppose a hard-core, convinced Arminian might well believe those things, and I for one would believe that such a faith is not likely genuine. But I’ve met very FEW such people. The vast majority of those I meet who have difficulty with the doctrines of grace do so out of ignorance, not malice or rebellion. And what do we do with them? The previous message likened a couple singing hymns in an “Arminian church” to two homosexuals in a bar. Such a concept makes no place for the simple truth of IGNORANCE. How many do you we all know who are simply untaught and unaware, blanketed by layers of evangelical tradition? Are we seriously to call such a person a God-hater? Because they were converted to Christ within an imperfect fellowship (gracious, who is converted to Christ within a perfect one?), are we to make our OWN understanding and practices an ADDITION to the gospel so that they remain in their sins, and are, in fact, God-haters?”
I must confess this one left me baffled. Dr. White refutes himself. He tells me on one hand he has met few Arminians who are ignorant of the righteousness of God and who trust in a salvation that is conditioned upon themselves. When he says few, I take this to mean not a lot. Yet he turns right around in the same paragraph to ask, “How many do you all know who are simply untaught and unaware, blanketed by layers of evangelical tradition?” Well, sir, according to you, that would be most, because you say you have met few – meaning not a lot – who are ignorant of the righteousness of God. But then thus would mean most Arminians are not simply untaught and unaware, blanketed by layers of evangelical tradition, because according to you, there are few who are ignorant of God’s righteousness. So if they are not ignorant of God’s righteousness, and are therefore not untaught and unaware, then this means you are trying to deceive them, because you are telling them they are blanketed by layers of evangelical tradition.
Dr. White’s logic-defying argument:
a. few Arminians are ignorant of God’s righteousness (most Arminians have knowledge of God’s righteousness)
b. few Arminians trust in a salvation conditioned on themselves (most Arminians trust in a salvation conditioned on Christ)
c. how many Arminians then are simply untaught and unaware?
d. not many, because few Arminians are ignorant of God’s righteousness
e. Then why is James White telling them they are untaught and unaware?
f. James White must therefore be trying to deceive Arminians
It would appear as though Dr. White believes being untaught and unaware is a perfectly good excuse for disobeying God’s command to believe the gospel. It does not strike him that being untaught and unaware is one way in which God keeps people in spiritual darkness. The cause of their ignorance is irrelevant. The fact is they are ignorant and this is the point. Their sincerity will not save them. The “Lord, Lord” people of Matthew 7:21-23 are sincere people. They were even submitted to Christ’s Lordship! But they were ignorant. They did exactly as Carpenter has warned them they do. They trusted in themselves for salvation. They looked to a Christ who had died in order to place the possibility of redemption in their own hands.
Sincerity is not the righteousness by which God justifies, Dr. White. Your sincerity will not save you at the last day. It did not save you when you were a child, and it has not saved any of those unrighteous people whom you call brother. You may not be ready to kick them out of heaven, Dr. White, but rest assure you won’t need to. They were never there to begin with.
The Scriptures define the gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness (Rom 1:16-17). The Scriptures also define this revelation as being by faith in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood for the redemption of His people whom He justifies by His grace as a gift in order to show His righteousness apart from the Law. (Rom 3:21-26). This is the revelation that is unto salvation.
Can a man have a dim understanding of this revelation and yet still be saved? Of course, he can! He may understand this gospel on the most basic and simple of terms. He may believe the message of the gospel is the news of how Christ redeemed His people by satisfying God’s wrath for their sins by dying on a cross for them. But what he will not do is confuse this news with the notion that Christ died to make redemption possible.
Simple enough message, isn’t it. Except that most people hate this message, because when you explain election to them, they immediately recognize that they have just been stripped them of any opportunity to earn their own redemption. They are unwilling to repent of looking to themselves for salvation.
But I don’t think any of this matters to Dr. White and it appears he is not willing to say what does matter.