Fallacies of Style: White vs. Wilson Part 3

The following is from Manor Rabbit over at Fallacies of Style. The original article titled “White vs. Wilson (Part 3)”. The article is re-blogged in its entirety.

After sitting through several hours of Dr. James White responding to Dr. Ken Wilson’s thesis and exposing some of White’s obvious errors in Part 1 and Part 2, it became apparent (to me) that White is either unwilling or unable to mount anything like a clear, coherent critique of Wilson – much less a refutation. It also seemed (again, to me) that White himself was generally aware of this and, after several hours of podcast blustering, he’d have the good sense to move on to any of a hundred different topics about which he has something helpful and constructive to say.

Instead, White has gone full Social Justice Warrior and decided to double down. In this podcast from April 13, White claims to have discovered a clear and obvious example of Christian monergism in the 2nd century! Leighton Flowers has already pointed out that numerous scholars – even of the Reformed persuasion – have come to the opposite conclusion, so it appears that one of two things must be true: Either (1) James White has made an incredible, groundbreaking discovery all on his own (yet White himself can’t understand how those dummies at Oxford were just, like, too dumb or lazy to notice it when they were reading Ken Wilson’s thesis a few years ago); or (2) James White has actually sunk to the level of making wild, baseless claims and duplicitous arguments rather than gracefully back down and admit what a host of Reformed scholars have already conceded.

Before I go on to substantiate (2), I encourage everyone to read The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus for yourself; it’s not very long and it’s not hard to understand. No honest reader will find monergism there unless he’s willing to torture the text to fit certain preconceived notions. (I get that White thinks of his preconceived notions as “very biblical categories” though I have yet to find the passage in my Bible that lays these out with the kind of Aristotelian clarity that White seems to take for granted.)

In this blog post, White proposes examining “key phrases that would rightly lead Dr. Wilson to consider this section as teaching the sovereignty of God, the inability of man, etc. (i.e., concepts consistent with Reformed theology, which he boldly proclaims in his teachings, based upon his research, did not exist in Christianity until Augustine).”:

First we have the assertion that God “ordained the season” or, better, the time, specifically, of the sending of the Son as a ransom for sin (the emphasis upon substitutionary atonement in this epistle is simply wonderful). God ordains times? God ordained the specific time of Jesus’ coming? In light of the fact that every interaction Jesus had with anyone during His ministry involved literally millions of “free will” choices, it is truly hard to understand how anyone can think that God ordains only specific actions in time, but does not decree the fabric of time itself. How could Acts 4:27-28 be true, for example, if the existence of Herod or Pontius Pilate was a fortuitous happenstance? No, if major events in history are to be “ordained” by God, the contexts that lead up to those events must likewise be a part of His perfect plan, including the actions of His creatures.

Notice that White has not done any exegesis of the epistle here; all we have is the cherry-picked phrase “ordained the season”, followed by White’s philosophizing about how major events couldn’t possibly be ordained by God unless we accept the Calvinists’ deterministic version of God’s sovereignty. Read all of chapter 9 (it’s only a single paragraph) in the epistle yourself to see just how much White has tortured the text to try and make it appear as though the author were preaching Calvinistic sovereignty. The “assertion” is no such thing; the phrase is used in passing to make a point that is completely unrelated to any question of God’s sovereignty. Instead, the focus of that passage is “how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred.”

White, who often complains that his opponents have done poor or no exegesis, knows quite well that anyone can take a three word phrase like “ordained the season” out of context and then construct an argument about what he thinks it means. And he also knows that this is the very opposite of honestly approaching a text for the purpose of genuinely understanding the author.

Next, White tries to establish total inability:

[N]otice the phrase, “having demonstrated in past times the inability of our nature to obtain life.” Here is depravity, inability, in the very words of the epistle. This is not libertarianism. This is not “we simply choose not to grasp hold of the life so graciously offered.” No, this is ἀδύνατον, inability, in the very words of the text, and attached to our “nature” (φύσεως).

White is claiming that “inability” attaches to “our nature” without qualification, which if true would indeed strongly imply Calvinistic total inability. But the text does not speak of the inability of our nature simpliciter, but rather of the inability of our nature to obtain life (i.e., to obtain salvation). No Christian – Roman Catholic, Arminian, Orthodox, you name it – denies this claim; it is simply that salvation is by grace, not works.

Here’s why I am forced to conclude, sadly, that White is not merely mistaken but has engaged in downright duplicity: Dr. White is quite rightly regarded as an expert in Biblical Greek, and as such he clearly has sufficient skill as a grammarian to recognize an infinitive phrase when he reads one. So yes, White is correct that ‘inability’ is attached to ‘our nature’, but he completely ignores the infinitive phrase ‘to obtain life’ that modifies ‘inability of our nature’. He is trying to convince his readers that the epistle is describing total inability of our nature full stop rather than the inability (of man as he naturally is) to obtain life. White is obviously a smart guy; he knows better.

It gets even worse for White’s argument, because for some bizarre reason he thinks this rules out libertarianism. In other words, White is asserting that “inability of our nature to obtain life” is the opposite or negation of “able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances” (which is a decent, basic definition of libertarian free will).

But obviously that does not follow. Put another way, my being able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances does not imply that I am able by my own nature to obtain salvation, any more than it implies I am able to flap my arms and fly around the room. Libertarian free will is not in itself at odds with the total and absolute necessity of grace to achieve our salvation.

Finally, let’s all take a step back and try to remember how the whole dispute got started: Wilson’s Oxford thesis claims that Augustine’s proto-Calvinist teachings were supported by an interpretation of key Scriptures that was previously unknown in Christian writings, but nonetheless did exist in Gnostic and Manichean authors which Augustine himself likely read when he himself was a Manichean; therefore, those aspects of Calvinism which appeal to Augustinian interpretations of Scripture are, perhaps unwittingly but as a matter of fact, built upon an interpretation that originated outside the Apostolic traditions.

That White has resorted to abusing an anonymous epistle in order to “refute” Wilson is telling, very telling indeed.

11 thoughts on “Fallacies of Style: White vs. Wilson Part 3

  1. Notice Mr. White’s selective use of euphemistic “smoke-screen” terms deployed so as to obfuscate the underlying implications of robotic human functionality.

    -quote
    In light of the fact that every interaction Jesus had with anyone during His ministry involved literally millions of “free will” choices

    In Calvinism free will choices are defined as choices predetermined *FOR* the creature by an external mind.
    They are brought to pass by infallibly decreed impulses which occur before the human brain is aware of them.

    -quote
    it is truly hard to understand how anyone can think that God ordains only specific actions in time, but does not decree the fabric of time itself.

    Here fabric of time is designed to present a softer picture of nano-second by nano-second predestined human functionality.
    Where every neurological impulse within the human brain is brought about irresistibly by an infallible decree.

    -quote
    No, if major events in history are to be ordained by God,

    Here the term ordained is strategically used to present softer picture – behind which an external mind unrelentingly
    permits only perceptions, impulses and choices he alone determines.

    -quote
    the contexts that lead up to those events must likewise be a part of His perfect plan, including the actions of His creatures.

    Here actions of his creatures is designed to obfuscate the appearance of robotic human functionality.
    *AS-IF* Calvin’s god “merely” permits a human to be the determiner or controller of any neurological impulse, perception, choice or action.

  2. It is truly hard to understand how anyone can think that God ordains only specific actions in time, but does not decree the fabric of time itself.

    Why is this “truly hard to understand”? Indeed, it seems exceptionally easy to comprehend that God could ordain a universe with constraints that allow free will to operate, while ordaining specific actions that will punctuate time when and how He decides.

    I would love to hand White a gift-wrapped shovel, encouraging him to dig the hole further. I don’t think he understands The Rule of Holes. Or perhaps he does, but thinks that his hole is different. Sure, Dr. White. Sure it is.

    1. The law of holes!
      Yes – poor mr White – just keeps digging.
      Or perhaps he’s dug himself into a ditch – in which he can’t do anything but walk in circles – repeating the same old broken record arguments.

      Perhaps Mr. White intuitively understands – his online followers are so mentally conditioned – that constant repeating of talking-points – is all that is normally needed.

  3. P.S. Love the cartoon. But Calvinists are very adept at navigating such impossibilities. Remember, they aren’t constrained by the dictionary, logical fallacies, scriptural brick walls, lack of historical evidence, etc. I’m sure the cat will find a way to land on its feet. Or perhaps he’ll crash and burn and insist he stuck the landing, to the adoring cheers of his followers.

  4. I think David can be credited with first articulating the law of holes. See Ps 7:15

    Solomon expanded on it in Pr 26:27.

    I had a friend many years ago that referred to the passage in Proverbs as “The Roadrunner verse” because it conjures up images of Wile E. Coyote.

    God has a fantastic sense of humor.

  5. That White has resorted to abusing an anonymous epistle in order to “refute” Wilson is telling, very telling indeed.

    br.d
    Dr. Flowers will possibly have Dr. Wilson back again to review these latest straw-grasping attempts.
    And as Dr. Wilson easily did before – It won’t take him long to blow this latest erroneous smoke-screens away

    Thank you Eric for keeping us on on this!

  6. Thanks Eric…I always appreciate your articles,
    Eric writes: “James White has actually sunk to the level of making wild, baseless claims and duplicitous arguments rather than gracefully back down and admit what a host of Reformed scholars have already conceded.”

    That is a common thread of most Reformed folks take those Reformed folks that have made this site their home. Is that not what they do? But it is ok for them because if it happens or they do it that is 100% proof that it was God’s Sovereign will for them to do so. If it happened, then it was God’s Sovereign Decree. For a reformed person “The BEST proof that anything was God’s will and decreed by Him is if it happened.” The fact that it happened proves that it was God’s decreed will. Wow you can never go wrong that way, everything you ever did is God’s will for your life. Eat, Drink and be Merry for if you pull it off that is proof that God Decreed it for you.

    In that vein, History is the 100% proof of what God wanted all along. If it happened Bingo it was God. Yes HE may have used secondary means to accomplish His Eternal decree of sin, rapes, murders and lies but it all came from the ONE mind of God and His decrees. (Don’t you just love a god like that, and want to be conformed into His image?)

    God’s Decrees are NOT mere declarations of God’s Foreknowledge or Foreseeing future events BUT His decrees are CAUSATIVE. They are ALWAYS decrees of God’s Desires Most and what God WILL bring to pass. In Reformed Theology God Decrees ALL sins and evil. He then Accomplishes His own Decrees through Meticulous Divine Determinism of ALL agents. His secondary means.
    No wonder Gnosticism is so closely associated with Calvinism. They come from the same mind the one who entered the Garden of Eden in Gen. 3.

    1. Hey Grace, glad you enjoyed the article. But I can’t take credit for this one, I am just re-blogging Manor Rabbit’s article.

  7. One aspect of an unfalsifiable belief system is how readily it can function as a cosmetic mask, which enriches the persona of its adherent. Gnosticism has been consistently noted as having this quality.

    Writer Philip J. Lee, in his book; Against the Protestant Gnostics has a chapter devoted to the phenomena of Gnostic elitism where he observes how Gnosticism appeared as a “private” form of Christianity, which he writes: “of necessity correlates to religious elitism”.

    When the self effectively becomes a member of the “elect” or “select” group, set apart from those who are “common” or somehow “unworthy”, it quite naturally evolves a persona that subconsciously distinguishes itself and its adherents as superior in some way.

    Philip writes: “There is little doubt that Calvin, among other reformers, was strongly inclined towards Augustinian elitism in his suspicion that the great majority of humanity would [be specifically designed to] suffer damnation”. Calvin did warn against spiritual pride, Philip relates. However, such warnings against, and denials of elitism, may only prove to serve as a religious mask, behind which the elitist persona can hide itself from the stigma of spiritual pride.

    Philip writes: “With such a determined view of the fate of the damned, it is difficult to see how followers of Calvin could be other than elitist. New England Calvinists, almost from the beginning, saw themselves a spiritual aristocracy.”

    Philip writes: “The glimpse of the ‘Pleroma’, (divine morally-dualistic powers) so important to the ancient Gnostics, was also the decisive factor in New England Calvinism.”

    1. Thanks BR.D for those quotes from Philip.
      That is exactly what I have encountered those quotes are a very good example of the horrors that are derived from that sense of Elitism.

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