Theological Determinism: Based on God’s Unconditional Eternal Decree. Clarification for James White
I welcome the challenge to clarify for James White my meaning as it was apparently unclear. He said at one point: “. . .Zachariades does not seem to be very good at clarifying his position.” Let me try!
Dr. White transitioned from his talk on Thanksgiving to the question of Free Will as expressed in the LBC Ch. 9. While expositing his position, White notes that some have twisted God’s truth, and thereby implies that I have done so by my use of the following language: “At the end of the day, we live out a script that God has decreed.” In various instances, White says that I “flatten out God’s decree,” that my position does not “ascribe meaning” to the outworking of God’s decree, and that I am a Hyper Calvinist because I deny compatibilism, and that I claim that Arminians are heretics. Maybe, I have been guilty of more clarification than Mr. White gives me credit for as he has deduced so many issues to question from my “convoluted Clarkian understanding.” Thus, one may be baffled at how much Mr. White was able to say about things he did not understand.
I have not said anywhere that the choices that are made in the outworking of God’s decree have no significance. All that I have said is that they are not free. And that freedom is not the criterion for God’s judgment.1 I maintain this because I believe that God’s decree is eternal and unconditional. In contrast, Mr. White has accused me of a view that renders us as puppets, that our choices do not have meaning, and that what Herod, Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and the Romans did, indeed, the entire universe itself, does not matter. Forgive me if I mention that these are the very types of arguments that Arminians have made against Calvinist theology. At one point, White misstated that I said, “people are responsible because of their knowledge of God’s decree.” I did not say this. Maybe it was a mistake!
White appeared to understand some of what I wrote as he said, “It seems man will be judged, not based on the desires of his heart . . . I don’t see how he grounds the judgment of God.” Also from my unclear expressions, White has derived the conclusions that my approach is “simplistic, rationalistic, and sub-biblical.” He asserts that “what it boils down to is that it is simply a script.” This does not include the wisdom of God. Evidently, my position that the eternal decree is a script means that I do not take into account the creation of time and space, and that I somehow make light of the incarnation.2 Your mistake in mixing categories is evident. If you are arguing that Jesus had free will, and that therefore we also have it, you are simply mistaken. Christ did not have a fallen human nature, he had a sinless nature that was susceptible to the results of the fall, such as illness and physical death. To deny that Christ worked according to His Father’s timetable and that he did not merely follow a script, is to imply what precisely? Did Jesus not say, “My time has not yet come?” If that is not a script what is it? Or is it the dislike of the term, “script?” What if I refer to the decree? Christ lived out His time on earth according to the decree of God. If Christ was predetermined to die on the cross, He was not free to decline. Though His choices were real, Jesus’s human life was predestined as everything else that takes place according to God’s decree. I might ask James White the questions he poses to the Arminian in his book, The Potter’s Freedom:
Arminian: Well, we must have a free will to be responsible human beings.
Calvinist: But what do you mean by “responsible”?
A: Responsibility means we make real choices.
C: What do you mean by a “real” choice? Isn’t a choice real if it actually occurs at all?
A: Responsibility means that we act individually as complete human beings, in our own integrity.
C: You seem to assume that free will is a part of our humanness.
A: Well, it is. Free will is part of the image of God, and that’s what makes us human.
C: So [sic] we have free will because we act in our own integrity.
A: Yes, and because we are responsible for our actions.
C: But a moment ago you based responsibility on free will. Now you are basing free will on responsibility.
A: Well, it’s like a chicken-and-egg situation, and it’s not too easy to decide which comes first.
C: But in the case of the chicken we know which came first: God created the first chicken.
A: Well, God created us with free will.
C: But how do you know that? Is it in the Bible?
A: But if we don’t have free will we can’t be held responsible for our actions.
And so forth.…3
The irony here, is that the questions to the Arminian are precisely the ones White must answer in light of his insistence that responsibility is based on creaturely freedom. This is my favorite: “What do you mean by a “real” choice? Isn’t a choice real if it actually occurs at all?”
So, Mr. White, here is my challenge to you and I hope that it is clear as crystal for you: Let us debate the proposition, “Is God’s Decree Conditional?” You may take the affirmative, so you can assert as much as you like about meaningful choices of creaturely will. I will take the negative side. I await your response.
1. It is perhaps ironic that White dismisses my affirmation that the Bible does not ground judgment in freedom. In his book, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal to Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, New Revised Edition (Calvary Press, 2009), White favorably mentions R.K. McGregor Wright’s book, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996). White utilizes this book to challenge Geisler. However, McGregor Wright says in this work, in response to D. A. Carson’s book, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which takes the same position as James White does on freedom and responsibility: “A clue as to why Carson is under the impression that God’s sovereignty cannot be reconciled with human responsibility can be found in the section titled. “The Boundaries of Free Will.” The very first sentence reads, “Responsibility is certainly linked to ‘free will’ in some fashion” (p. 206). But once again, despite the ensuing discussion of various types of inconsistent Calvinism, Carson nowhere shows that his opening assumption is correct. He simply joins the long queue of inconsistent Calvinists who assume that free will “in some fashion” undergirds the reality of responsibility. But in what fashion? I will repeat here Gordon Clark’s challenge to the Arminian . . . . The fact remains however, that . . . there [is] no demonstrable connection between free will and responsibility . . . nowhere in the Bible is responsibility linked with free will; it never uses free will as an explanatory category” (pp. 55-56). McGregor Wright on numerous occasions refers to Clark’s work, and in some instances, utilizes Clark as the definitive answer to major issues as he does on the problem of evil (pp.202-203).
2. Mr. White, you may consult my book: The Omnipresence of Jesus Christ: A Neglected Aspect of Evangelical Christology (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2015) for my account of the incarnation.
3. White, The Potter’s Freedom, 95.