Contend Earnestly: Desire of God: James White and Phil Johnson

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Desire of God: James White and Phil Johnson

So, Turretinfan decided to put this up as an answer to what does it mean that God desires the salvation for the reprobate. He quotes Phil Johnson on this:

"The word desires is problematic, however, because it implies an unfulfilled longing in the Almighty, and that is inconsistent with biblical affirmations of divine sovereignty such as Psalm 115:3 ("Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased"). God doesn't have unfulfilled longings, frustrated wishes, or unsatisfied appetites. He doesn't "desire" anything in the sense we normally employ the term. Yet it is extremely difficult if not impossible to deal faithfully with the biblical passages describing God's demeanor toward the wicked who perish without employing the language of desire. Scripture itself freely uses such expressions (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Lam. 3:33)."

I will say that I found out where this quote came from and this quote comes in the notes of something that R.L. Dabney wrote. In this part Dabney gives an example of how he sees God's desire for the reprobate. He states (the whole article can be found here) :

A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through "rash and unfortunate" treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, "Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy." Dabney observes that Washington's compassion for André was "real and profound". He also had "plenary power to kill or to save alive." Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains, "Washington's volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation.

Further, we find Phil Johnson elsewhere showing what he means by desire on his blog Pyromaniacs. He states in this post (in the comments section):

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm strongly committed to the idea that God in some meaningful sense seeks and "desires" the repentance of every sinner. (Note: I use the d-word advisedly, acknowledging that optative expressions when used of God are always problematic and never quite accurate. But I don't know a better way to say it; and denying it outright would seem to suggest that God's commands and beseechings are not well meant.) Anyway, I believe God expresses a bona fide preference and sincere plea for the salvation of sinners rather than their damnation, and that it's perfectly appropriate to tell any sinner that God loves him or her.
Phil Johnson

Now this is how Phil Johnson clears up his thoughts on God's desire. It seems as though Phil would agree that although this desire is a mystery, as John Murray has said, it is still present and bona fide.

Here is where all this started. I compare the above with what James White said on his radio show The Diving Line and found something that denies God's desire for the reprobate. Here is that quote (full discussion and audio can be found here) :

"Yeah, and that's one of the problems I have with Ezekiel 18 or 33 being read into this particular issue, because I feel like we're being forced to somehow attribute to God some kind (for some reason)...some kind of an attitude or desire that I just never see, not only do I never see expressed, but it would likewise force us to say that God has an unfulfilled desire, but it's not really the same desire as he chooses to fulfill with other people. And we're left not only--you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum, now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it. The Ezekiel texts are talking to people who were saying that there was no reason for them to repent because they're already doomed because of the sins of their forefathers. That's why they repeated the parable of their teeth being set on edge because of the sour grapes that their fathers had eaten, and so on and so forth. And so what I hear Ezekiel as saying is an apologetic response to people who were saying there's no reason to preach to those people, there's no reason for us to even listen to the message of the prophets, because our repentance would never be accepted. Now that's different than Isaiah's commissioning where God specifically commissions him to proclaim a message of judgment, and says he's going to harden the hearts of the individuals who hear it. That's a completely different context. But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill.
James White

This is the conundrum. From my comparison of James White with Phil Johnson and John Murray, and others, James White errs in this thought.

The reason that I labeled this understanding as a hyper Calvinist thought is found when Ian Murray quotes Spurgeon at length of what constitutes a hyper Calvinist. You can find that here.

I still see a difference in James White and Turretinfan vs Phil Johnson, John Murray, R.L. Dabney and Charles Spurgeon.


7 comments:

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

It strikes me as odd that Christians such as White feel compelled to deny God's genuine affection toward the reprobate on the basis of it establishing within him a desire which will never be fulfilled. Why is it that God cannot entertain complex affections? Is it not, in fact, a logical necessity of his plan in creation that, in bringing about the circumstances which he most desires—namely a world of sinners who will not all be saved, so that he may be most glorified—he necessarily instantiates a set of circumstances wherein, by merit simply of (i) his perfect moral character, and (ii) the immediate fact of lost sinners, he contingently and necessarily entertains a simple moral attitude of love toward even the reprobate? It is a contingent attitude, in the sense that it is predicated upon the very circumstances which deny its fulfillment (his plan in creation; the ultimate purpose of his will). Yet it is still a real attitude; and it is a necessarily unfulfilled attitude also, because it is not merely subordinate to, but in fact entirely established upon the basis of his greater intention to glorify his name through the reprobation of those very sinners towards whom he feels this love.

Unless people like White can show that God's moral nature does not entail an immediate attitude of benevolence toward even the most wretched and damned sinners; and unless they can show that it is somehow not logically necessary that he entertains such an attitude precisely because of the circumstances he has instantiated to glorify his name, I just cannot see that they have any justification for claiming that God cannot have unfulfilled desires. It seems to me they are setting up God as having to be a certain way in order to conform to some platonic ideal of their own making, and then pushing and pulling on Scripture to make it fit. And not to sound uncharitable, but that is a kind of idolatry.

Anonymous said...

Actually, White doesn't. That is a myth created by Bryne and his toadies. White is fully compatible with Calvin.

These guys just can't read.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Well, clearly that is an outright falsehood. Either you yourself cannot read, or you're merely trolling for the opposition. Refer to White, cited in this very article:

And we're left not only--you're not only left with the two-wills conundrum, now you've got multiple desires conundrums, which I don't, I just don't see a reason for it [...] But, I just don't, if someone can explain to me where the idea comes from that we have to attribute to God a desire that he then does not fulfill.

Well, I've explained it above—I think quite lucidly. Dabney explained it very eloquently a long time before that, and has been quoted to that effect also. And certainly we aren't the only two Calvinists who have ever done so. So perhaps James could now comment one way or another on those explanations.

Regards,
Bnonn

Anonymous said...

Refer to what White has written and said else where. He directly opposes what you have just said that he said and that is why he called McBee a liar. Well, really he said that McBee was bearing false witness, but hey, as TF said: What do you mean by the words you use?

The quote from Phil J. in a fuller frame: "Greg Welty, whom I greatly respect and who is one of my favorite Baptist historian/theologians, wrote me an e-mail this weekend making some worthy observations about the free offer of the gospel and the scope of God's love. With Greg's permission, I'm going to post some excerpts from his e-mail in the next few days (or perhaps try to coax him to edit it into a guest blogpost). But he makes this significant point: None of the most important historic Reformed confessions say very much one way or the other about the question of God's so-called "desire" (or lack thereof) for the repentance of the reprobate. We know these issues were raised and argued over by the Westminster Assembly (and others who drafted later confessions). Surely that means something: Historic Calvinism has always been broad enough for dicvergent views on some of these questions to coexist.

I agree completely with that point. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm strongly committed to the idea that God in some meaningful sense seeks and "desires" the repentance of every sinner., , (Note: I use the d-word advisedly, acknowledging that optative expressions when used of God are always problematic and never quite accurate. But I don't know a better way to say it; and denying it outright would seem to suggest that God's commands and beseechings are not well meant.) Anyway, I believe God expresses a bona fide preference and sincere plea for the salvation of sinners rather than their damnation, and that it's perfectly appropriate to tell any sinner that God loves him or her. Yet I know some Calvinists would prefer to call this common-grace love of God something other than either "grace" or "love." Neither view, in and of itself, ought to be grounds for automatic anathemas. Both are historic strains of Calvinist belief. Having studied this issue for nearly two decades, I think my view has a stronger pedigree than the other, but both sides ought to understand that this dispute is an ancient one, and none of the major historic Calvinist confessions of faith expressly rules out either position, even though the men who drafted those confessions were fully aware of the disagreement.

That surely ought to count for something, and this is my main point in this whole dispute: It's OK if we disagree on a question like that; but we don't have to accuse one another of fatally compromising the gospel over it. At some point in our careful refinement of gospel truth, we have to stop anathematizing those who disagree with us and we can't keep labeling every different opinion as "deliberate" apostasy, or we will have in fact become true and living examples of the very caricature that some of our critics like to employ as a calumny against us."

In this he is in full agreement with White. To wit, White explains his view of the love of God toward his creation in Ch 10 of Debating Calvinims right after Hunt makes the same stupid claim that McBee and Byrne have made.


Go back and reread White. He is trying to farret out a stricter defintion of the d-word. It is simply a lie to say what you and the Caner clones say. White fully understands the approach of Calvin and of the majority of Calvinists that disagree with their, as White characterizes 4-pointers, stealth Arminians. What White is doint is to get to the issue, did Christ die in some salvific sense for the none elect that God desires to be saved? And, the answer uniformally in Calvinism is no. Despite the fact that there may be Calinists who have been in error concern the extent of the salvific work of propitiation. Certainly Calvin disagrees with Byrne, that is too easy to prove. And, Bryne simply lies repeatedly even when presented with the facts straight up. In the same book by White in Chapter 5 he again makes the clear delineation between the salvific will and the love of God for all men. If you will exchange White's intend with desire you will better see what White is saying.

Phil said: Someone asked me if there's a conflict between me and James White in the subtext of this exchange. Not as far as I can see. I listened to "The Dividing Line" today, and I don't really disagree with anything James said.

(Yes, I even share James's contempt for the pooling of grossly ignorant opinions and the trolling for blog-traffic that often occurs in the comments-thread of this blog. Then again, the same thing, and worse, sometimes occurs in Christian IRC channels. I presume James keeps his IRC channel open anyway for the same reason I keep the comments open here: it's an opportunity to interact with our readers, to discover who is actually listening, and—when the opportunity arises—to correct some of that gross ignorance. Plus, thankfully, we have a lot of commenters who aren't ignorant at all and have some extremely valuable things to add. So we'll keep the comments open until the wackos completely outnumber the sane and sensible people.)

Anyway, on the issues related to the gospel, contemporary corruptions of it, and videos designed to reach surfer-dudes, if it seems like James and I are in stark disagreement, I think it's primarily (if not completely) a difference in emphasis. He is (rightly) concerned about people who run too far with the notion of imploring sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5) and who imagine that this justifies the ridiculous imagery of God on his knees, begging sinners to have a relationship with Him. Remember: I already said I don't like that aspect of the video, either.

And the concern James has raised is certainly justified by this fact: in our culture, for every individual who veers in the direction of hyper-Calvinism, there are probably 10,000 people (and perhaps even ten times that) who go too far in the opposite direction. They seem to want to put God, ultimately, at the mercy of sinners rather than vice versa, and thus they turn a major point of truth on its head.

So I'm happy to acknowledge emphatically that the problem James has focused on is (in numerical terms, anyway) a much bigger problem than the issue that I've focused my concerns on. There should be little question about that.

But let's be clear: I'm still arguing for equilibrium. Don't lose sight of that.

Here's my thinking about this: In the immediate context of my blog-audience, because I'm often defending a Calvinistic soteriology and attacking the contemporary tendency to corrupt and cheapen the gospel, I tend to attract an audience that doesn't precisely reflect the prevailing mood in the world.

And if there's a sinister tendency that seriously needs to be checked among my friends and fellow-Calvinists, it is this tendency to chafe and protest every time someone suggests that God's attitude toward fallen humanity includes any aspect of genuine love, good will, or a well-meant plea for their repentance.

Although hyper-Calvinism may not be the more popular of the two extremes on the continuum of error that we are talking about, I am convinced it is just as full of mischief as its counterpart.

So for the record, I'm not disagreeing with James; I'm just warning against a different—and opposite—danger. My warnings don't nullify his, or vice versa.


So no, McBee and Bryne are simply lying. And you appear to have fallen into the same pattern of only reading proof text selection instead of all the context. White was studying these matters while these guy were still wearing diapers and as Phil makes all too clear, White's position is the majority and the orthodox position. The problem with Bryne is that he hates Calvinism even if he says he doesn't and that is why he has struck an accord with the enemies of the Reformation.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I'm confused. On the one hand you seem to want to say that White affirms the genuine offer of the gospel; or at least that he affirms the genuine love of God for all humanity (though especially for the elect). If that is so then I agree with him, and I'll bow out of this discussion. But on the other hand (unless you're saying Seth just made up the quote above) White does say that it would be a conundrum for God to have multiple desires. So you appear to be trying to clear White of a charge that his own words lay against himself. Now, maybe he was confused when he said that; but it certainly does look as if he's saying that it would be a conundrum for God to desire the salvation of the reprobate in any way (which of course then excludes the free gospel offer).

Moreover, you then say:

What White is doint is to get to the issue, did Christ die in some salvific sense for the none elect that God desires to be saved? And, the answer uniformally in Calvinism is no.

Of course, it's pretty easy to just bandy about these assertions, as it is to assert that people are lying. But the answer in Calvinism is by no means a uniform "no" on this issue. And that's because, among other reasons, the genuine offer is directly related to the extent of the atonement. If you wish to affirm the genuine offer, then you are logically committed to affirming that Christ died salvifically, in some sense, for all people without exception. This is because the genuine offer logically entails that there be an actual reality underwriting it in order for it to be genuine. So either you believe the offer is genuine and Christ died for all people without exception, or you believe that Christ died for the elect exclusively and in no sense for the reprobate, and that God therefore does not offer the gospel genuinely at all. There isn't a middle position which holds together logically. And indeed, the latter position is also arguably logically incoherent under analysis, since it entails that even the command of the gospel to repent and believe has no actual referent. (That is, unless you are willing to say that the command is not actually a command unto salvation, but merely a command to do what is morally right.)

So if God does entertain a simple moral attitude of benevolence toward the reprobate, such that he extends the gospel genuinely and sincerely even to them, then in order for that offer to be genuine and sincere it must refer to an actual reality. So if Christ in no way died for the reprobate (that is, if there is utterly no salvific sense in which his propitiation extends to them), then God can in no way offer his death to the reprobate as a means of salvation—not even, I would argue, as a command.

That, at least, is the issue as I see it. I couldn't give two hoots about all this rubbish politicking and back-and-forth them-and-us kindergarten sand-flinging—get over it.

Turretinfan said...

"The word "desires" is problematic." Those are Phil Johnson's words, but they could be a paraphrase of what Dr. White has repeatedly said.

Why not be content with that answer? Why press for something more? I would love to see a good reason for that, but I don't see one.

-TurretinFan

natamllc said...

Hey Bonn,

I am squarely in this camp here as "anon" wrote with regard to you, whoever "anon" is?:::>

anon: "And you appear to have fallen into the same pattern of only reading proof text selection instead of all the context."

Albeit saying that, I would not be so caustic in essence as "anon" is about Seth, ah, an uncalled for assertion by anon, but, hmmmmm what about Bryne?

Why do I say that?

Consider a couple of views here:

Psa 65:2 O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.

"All" flesh shall come, eh? Is that what this means or, is all about, as this debate seems to point, what does it mean that "God so loved the world"...?

What do you think?

And here:

Act 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
Act 20:30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Act 20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

Now, imagine putting Dr. White on one side of this debate and Phil Johnson on the other, like bread covering the substance, it seems to me these men in earnest are looking at a greater context that looms upon us all in that both seem to have a sense that "both" wolves on the outside and "men" from within are at work and they are rising up from where they see this and addressing it.

I would say, "thank God for these guys" and guys like you too Bonn! You keep me on my toes every time I read anything you publish in the blogs I see you commenting on!


And, to button hole the whole of it, you wrote: "I'm confused."

Exactly!

So, now what?

You further responded this way:

Bonn: "....(unless you're saying Seth just made up the quote above)...."

Hmmmmm, not exactly!

No, I don't believe Seth made up the quote, so why raise that point?

Well,further on, to the next point being made then:

anon:"....White's position is the majority and the orthodox position. The problem with Bryne is that he hates Calvinism even if he says he doesn't and that is why he has struck an accord with the enemies of the Reformation."

When I read that, I went, "exactly", that's it about Bryne!

What does this mean?

What we all concur with is the grand daddy of all "orthodox positions", that is this and I assert, is the really big elephant in the room everyone is bumping into and maybe ignoring, James White, Phil Johnson, you, me, Seth, TF, and on and on and on as you asked it in the first comment you made in here:::>

Bonn: "....Why is it that God cannot entertain complex affections? Is it not, in fact, a logical necessity of his plan in creation that, in bringing about the circumstances which he most desires—namely a world of sinners who will not all be saved, so that he may be most glorified—he necessarily instantiates a set of circumstances wherein, by merit simply of (i) his perfect moral character, and (ii) the immediate fact of lost sinners, he contingently and necessarily entertains a simple moral attitude of love toward even the reprobate?...."


Yes, why is it that God "cannot" have complex affections to include the Devil and reprobate souls?

Well, here's my answer, because "He, "They, "Our Father in Heaven, "Jesus and "the Holy Ghost""""" are "Eternal" beings and all else are not and contrained within time frames created by God!

It's a time issue being addressed by the Eternal. He who has ears to hear, hear!

Let me ask some rhetorical questions.

Will the "reprobate" alive today, run out of time, die and suffer the permanent Wrath of God?

Will James White, Phil Johnson, you, me, Seth, TF and Byrne, as some have, run out of time too?

Will God ever run out of time seeing He created it?

The big question for me is, what was going on before God created this time and before Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?

It seems to me, even Satan has a time problem if Jesus prophesied correctly about His "soon" return and revealed to John on the Island of Patmos the things that must "soon" take place!

Apparently "time", angelic time and human, were not concerns of God's when He gave Jesus what to reveal to us about Himself?

Isn't that unfair of God that we are given a certain amount of time to get it right? Why not just say to His creatures, "ok, you idiots, you missed the point this time even though you keep running into the elephant in the room, time and time and time again?"

It seems to me the short bit of time you and I have left is no time at all when you consider the short bit of time Satan has left keeping you confused, and me, and Dr. White, Seth and on and on and on if any one of us is indeed confused?

One thing I am not convinced of is Satan is clear about the short bit of time he has left, however long that short bit of time is? For me, though, the time is even closer at hand than when I first believed? How much closer do you suppose the devils consider the time is to them? Afterall you read the quib given:::>

Mat 8:28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way.
Mat 8:29 And behold, they cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?"


You also said this Bonn: "....(his plan in creation; the ultimate purpose of his will)...."

Let me paste something and ask you to tell if "this was His plan "in" creation, "or" because of His creation?

Mat 13:24 He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
Mat 13:25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
Mat 13:26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
Mat 13:27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?'
Mat 13:28 He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'
Mat 13:29 But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.
Mat 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"


Remember, if you can get your mind around this, "An Eternal being" is telling this "plan" to folks who were running out of time. Jesus was the only one there who knew His time had come! They all went away disappointed until the time He foretold would come that after His Resurrection He would meet them at the seaside resort on the sea of Galilee:

Mar 14:26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Mar 14:27 And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'
Mar 14:28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."
Mar 14:29 Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not."
Mar 14:30 And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times."
Mar 14:31 But he said emphatically, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.

Further on Bonn, you wrote this: "...but in fact entirely established upon the basis of his greater intention to glorify his name through the reprobation of those very sinners towards whom he feels this love....".

I would say no, not so fast here. We are trying to understand God's "eternal purpose" within a time frame God created for each of us. I don't believe the "reprobate" are from God, but, rather as the parable explanation within the time frame the Eternal elucidated it to those unbelievers, Peter, James and John and the rest, i.e., His elected disciples, you and me, are weeds planted by the devil himself. Why would any one of us affectionated souls require God to be so affectionated to the likes of the devil's soul as in the "weeds" he planted in the farmer's field, the world?

Related Posts with Thumbnails