An Examination of James White

, posted by Kevin Jackson

In the book The Potters Freedom, Calvinist James White sets forth a parable called “The King and the Castle.” The purpose of the parable is to explain why (in White’s view) the concept of “Limited Atonement” does not impugn the character of God. White contrasts his story with one written by non-Calvinist Norm Geisler. A summary of Geisler’s parable can be found here: The Farmer, the Boys, and the Pond.

Here is a paraphrase of “The King and the Castle”:

The greatest king of all time leaves his castle to do good things. When the king returns, he finds that his subjects have been robbing, murdering and raping his friends. In addition, they have intentionally set fire to his castle, and if they do not quickly escape, they will all perish in the flames.

The rebels have no justification for their behavior. The king has always been good to his subjects. He has provided for them, and they have feasted at his table.

Despite the king’s graciousness, the rebels have sinned personally against the king, and have done it repeatedly. They have a long track record of rebellion despite the king’s mercy.

Even though the fire in the castle is raging and the death of the rebels is certain, they continue to destroy everything that reminds them of the king and his authority. They are gleeful with their wickedness. They enjoy being disobedient and hateful. They even encourage others to join the rebellion.

If the king attempts to save the rebels from the fire, they would certainly mock him. They would refuse to come out, they would curse the king, they would throw debris in his face, and they would run back into the smoke and flames. Given the opportunity, they would attempt to drag the king into the flames and kill him too.

By all rights, the king should have the castle surrounded and make sure that everyone inside dies. The king instead shows love beyond all imagination by sending his only son into the fire to pull some of the rebels out of the flames. The son dies in the fire after saving the rebels that he wanted to save.

Given the atrocious behavior of the rebels and their hatred, the king is completely justified in saving only some of the rebels. He saves them by his free grace, and he has the right to choose whom he wants to save, and he has the right to allow others to justly die in the flames. In reality they all deserve to die.(1)

White’s parable is reasonable if the rebels have genuine free will. In fact it somewhat models the parable of the “Vineyard Tenants” given by Jesus in Matthew 21:33-45. However, the parable becomes silly when interpreted through the lens of exhaustive determinism, where all actions are preordained. The parable only makes sense if the rebels could do something other than what they do.

But in White’s view, the rebels cannot do other than what they do. He leaves this “little detail” out of the parable. In reality, the rebels are burning down the castle because the king desires it. The king has decreed that the rebels burn down his castle, and he has caused them to do it. He has decreed that they mock him. He has decreed that they kill his son. The king’s actual complaint should be against his double-minded decrees.

White believes that everything we do is necessary and has been decreed by God. He writes:

…God has wisely and perfectly decreed whatever comes to pass in the universe. Nothing is outside his control, nothing is without purpose…This extends…to every aspect of human history, personal relationships, and most importantly, to the life of every man, woman, and child. (2)

White goes on to say that God ordains the “actions of men, even their choices.” Given such a view, White’s parable is absurd. If White’s parable is to be consistent with his theology, the castle rebellion occurs by necessity and design of the king. Yet White makes it sound as if the rebels have a choice in the matter (the Arminian view!). White’s parable is inconsistent at this point. His theology necessitates that the rebellion occurs only because of the king’s good pleasure. The king has ordained the choices of the rebels. The rebels are puppets following the king’s script. They cannot do other than what they do. They rape, murder, and burn at the king’s command.

The real problem with White’s parable is that his descriptions of the king are not reconciled with his deterministic assumptions about God. White says the king is the greatest of all times. But a great king doesn’t ordain for his subjects to burn down his own castle. White says the king only does good things. But a good king doesn’t blame his subjects for doing what he has coercively caused them to do. White says the king is loving beyond all description. But a loving king does what’s best for his subjects, particularly when he knows they are doing precisely what he intended for them to do.

White’s parable inadvertently shows the absurdity of Calvinism. A righteous king would never decree that his subjects rebel, and then punish them for doing what he caused them to do. Such a king is not righteous or loving; he is not the greatest of all times, and he isn’t good. Such a king would be sadistic and capricious.

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(1) The parable can be found on pages 306-312 of The Potter’s Freedom. There is also a you-tube video here where White describes his parable and criticizes Dr. Geisler’s view.

(2) The Potter’s Freedom, p 45.