Justin Brierley, host of the program Unbelievable, featured a conversation between Dr. James White and pastor Austin Fischer. Austin Fischer has written a new book, entitled Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed, advocating for an Arminian theological worldview. The book is short, accessible, clear, and lays out some excellent points about the fundamental problems with Calvinism. The program could be described as a very informal debate between James White and Austin Fischer.
As an Arminian, I can recommend listening to the conversation. Fortunately, Austin Fischer does a good job at pointing out a few of the profound problems in Calvinism. Here is the link to the program: http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2014/03/06/young-restless-no-longer-reformed/.
I trust the listener’s ability to make up his or her mind about the content of the interview. Notwithstanding, I would like to point out just 5 things within Dr. White’s responses that troubled me. There was a lot I disagreed with but these 5 stuck out to me. These criticisms are not unique to Dr. White; the shoe seems to fit the feet of many (most?) Calvinists who are actively anti-Arminian. Consequently, while I try to be specific about Dr. White’s comments in the interview, I will also try to word myself in ways that address the larger relevant issues.
#1 – Long Enough vs. Well Enough
As early as 12 minutes into the interview, and several times throughout, Dr. White subtly introduces the idea that Austin Fischer doesn’t really know what it’s like to be “Reformed” (or at least what it is like to minister as a Reformed person). This becomes more explicit at 39:30-40:00. In a recent blog post Kevin DeYoung also mentions Austin Fischer’s relatively short stay in Calvinism, as if this is somehow relevant. It’s not.
I have never been a Calvinist and yet I know its errors well. The issue here is not whether Fischer was a Calvinist long enough, but whether he understands Calvinism well enough. As someone who read his book, I won’t hesitate to say he certainly does.
Besides, Calvinists frequently flaunt the familiar fib that “we are all born Arminians” (How they can affirm Total Depravity at the same time is another one of their mysteries, I guess). I believe the conversation would be quite short if one easily turned the tables on a Calvinist and enquired as to how long he or she was thoroughly familiar with – and faithful to! – Arminian doctrines before he or she declared it to be “sub-biblical” (as White does at around 22:00).
Timing the miles Fischer ran in the Calvinistic race is so irrelevant that I feel tired even mentioning it. I wish Calvinists did too.
#2 – Guilt By Association
About 11 minutes into the conversation, White begins to hint that Austin’s arguments are old arguments ripped off of Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563), to which the host of the program adds a quotation from Ecclesiastes 1:9. To be fair, White does say that it is appropriate for every generation to work through these questions (So why is he so “amazed” that this apparently happens now?). However, I notice a pattern in White’s methodology, namely, an incessant use of the fallacy of guilt by association.
More than once White mentions that Greg Boyd endorsed Austin’s book (20:00). Of course, it is obviously not stated as a compliment since White must remind listeners that Greg Boyd is an Open Theist. Moreover, White continually asserts his usual claim that “the only consistent Arminian is an Open Theist”.
I wonder how White would respond if Fischer constantly asserted that the only consistent Calvinist is a Hyper-Calvinist since evangelism is utterly superfluous in a world where God has foreordained absolutely EVERYTHING, including those who will be saved and those who didn’t make the cut. By lumping Arminians with different groups of people who are often perceived as unorthodox by the larger evangelical community, White successfully poisons the well, which says more about White’s methods of argumentation than it does about Arminianism.
Forget endorsing a book, Dr. Roger Olson wrote the Forward of Dr. Michael Horton’s book For Calvinism! Must we now draw conclusions about Dr. Horton’s theology based on the fact that Dr. Olson participated in it in some way?
#3 – Misconstruing the Opponent’s Argument
Several times Dr. White reworded Fischer’s points to build a convenient straw man to light ablaze. The straw men did burn but Fischer’s arguments were far away enough to observe the spectacle with some binoculars. This is clearly what happens around 23:50 when White restates Fischer’s point as “God learning” about future events. But Fischer never put it that way, neither in his book nor in the interview.
Certainly, Fischer doesn’t shy away from using the word “learned” to describe the logical (not temporal!) sequence of how God knows the future. However, after one realizes what the statement “God learned” means to Fischer, there is no justifiable reason to insist that Fischer makes God anything less than omniscient. None.
To be sure, the terminology that best describes God’s omniscience is tricky. However, no serious Arminian makes God out to be dependent on His creation, nervously casting lots and later taking a course with some professor to discover if things happened the way He hoped they would. We believe in God’s sovereignty just as much as any Christian does.
Around 43:36, White (unsuccessfully) uses Fischer’s statement “We see different things about Jesus” to imply that Fischer might not have a high view of scripture. Not only is that a distortion of what Fischer was saying – i.e., the Calvinist is willing to attribute behaviors to Christ, such as not wanting to save everyone, that the Arminian finds infinitely unworthy of Him – but it reveals a reoccurring problem in Calvinist thinking, namely, if you disagree with their distortion of God, you disagree with scripture itself. Why doesn’t Dr. White just go ahead and say that his interpretation of scripture is infallible?
Arminians and Calvinists indeed see different things about Jesus. Mr. Fischer put it rather mildly and politely. I would say they see Jesus in a disturbingly different way.
#4 – Those Waters Sure Are Muddied!
Fischer makes some great points that Dr. White never answers. Instead, he simply restates the Calvinist’s bizarre exaltation of one attribute (i.e., Sovereignty) at the mutilation of another (i.e., Love). Anyone familiar with Fischer’s book knows that this is one of the main issues he has with Calvinism. In the program, he challenges White (and any Calvinist) to offer an analogy that shows how the God of Calvinism is recognizably good and loving. White fails to provide one.
At around 43:11, White, of course, exclaims that Jesus is the analogy Fischer is asking for. The incarnation should do the trick. There it is! Case closed! Right? Wrong. The doctrine of the incarnation is not unique to Calvinism; Arminians believe in it as well (as shocking as that may be to Calvinists). What Fischer is asking is for any analogy that makes God loving and good in light of Calvinism. The incarnation is not an example White can use unless he is able to clearly point out the doctrine of reprobation therein. White goes on and on about God demonstrating His self-giving at the incarnation but never once addresses the main problem Fischer brings up, namely, how is God loving to the reprobate.
Fischer is smart enough to detect this and tells White that he is inadvertently proving his point – Calvinism ultimately portrays a God who is willing to do morally ambiguous things for the sake of His glory. How reprobation is glorious is another enigma left unanswered. Oh, sure, the Calvinist will predictably say that the reprobate deserve hell for rejecting God. However, as Fischer states at around 47:27, they reject God because God ordained that they do so. White has no answer to this other than a convoluted assertion about another topic.
#5- Arminians Read the Bible Too
The conversation doesn’t address too many passages in the Bible. I don’t think this is a huge problem because Calvinism can be addressed as logically inconsistent before one even opens the Bible, which would eliminate it as a viable interpretation of who God is. However, White does use a few verses that the typical Calvinist throws around. I want to address just one because I find it to be the most annoying interpretation I see Calvinists offer.
James White mentions John 17:9, where Jesus says, “I do not pray for the world”. I have heard way too many Calvinists make much of the wording in this verse and roll my eyes to hear it on the lips of Dr. White again. Is it that difficult to read the rest of the chapter?
It is true that in verse 9 Jesus says He does not pray for the world. However, are we to conclude from this that Jesus never prayed for the world? Has John hidden in this verse another one of those nuggets that point to the sweet doctrine of reprobation? Could it be that this is another one of those verses that make us lift our hands and sing with joy about how God doesn’t love the whole world? Hardly!
The context of this part of Jesus’ prayer is clear. From verse 9 to 19 He is indeed not praying for the world, but for the disciples that were with Him (as verse 12 makes clear). However, from verse 20 and on He says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word…that the world may believe that You sent Me”. Obviously, Jesus did have the world in mind! That He prayed for His immediate 12 disciples, and not for anyone else, from verse 9 to 19 doesn’t mean that He never prayed for anyone else. His prayer doesn’t end in verse 19.
How is this difficult to understand? Jesus said, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47).
Enjoy the discussion between Dr. White and Pastor Fischer. Ultimately, Calvinists will feel that Dr. White “destroyed” any of Fischer’s arguments. Of course, they can’t do so without using some of the fallacies I mentioned above (or using other ones).
Calvinists insist that one cannot see the truth of TULIP unless the Holy Spirit works a sovereign miracle in man’s heart and mind. I totally agree. For a Christian to abandon scripture, logic, reason, and embrace TULIP would indeed require a miracle.
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