“…that you may know how you ought to behave yourself self in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” — 1 Timothy 3:15
The living Word of God dwells within, and never apart from, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Interpreting Church of God.
What follows is a critique of Calvinist Apologist James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries.
The Foundational Error
Who does Jesus Christ love and by His enabling grace call to reconciliation and salvation (John 6:44)?
1 Tim. 2: 3 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
John 12: He said, 31 “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out;
32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
33 He said this to show by what death he was to die.
So it is clear Jesus the Lord “calls” and “draws” “all” because he died for “all” (1). And he gives us “all” the prevenient grace to ask, to seek, and to knock. He only asks us not to resist, not to shatter this marvelous mysteriously co-operative grace:
Jesus Christ is the “true light that enlightens every man coming into the world.” –Jn.1:9
“20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
21 He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Rev / Apoc ch.3)
Calvinism tragically destroys the reality of man qua man, who is both free and in need of God’s enabling grace due to his wounded nature, suffered in the Fall (Gen. 1-3; Rom.5, etc).
Christ never commanded the impossible, else it would have been crocodile tears He shed over Jerusalem’s refusal to receive Him unto salvation (Luke 19:41-44), and none would have been culpable. Jesus always treated man as both responsible and capable, with the divine assistance, of receiving His saving invitation (Rev. 3:20).
God creates because it is the nature of Love (Jn. 3:16) to do so. But He did not wish to create automatons. Instead He created real human persons whom He could meaningfully love, and who, with the assistance of this enabling grace, could in turn meaningfully love Him too, as the Bride meaningfully loves the Bridegroom.
The Lord however did not deem it necessary to tell us precisely how grace and free will cooperate together(2) “a mystery even to angels,” said the theologians. He only affirmed the sincere reality of each, and that these do so cooperate, and that “Sufficient Grace”—which is prior to any and all responses of persons—enables all to receive more and more grace, and so find God unto salvation, if we persevere(3) in faithful correspondence to His enabling call.
Again, as the Council of Trent and the Fathers teach, God never commands the impossible. Such an idea would make a mockery of the whole Bible, of the entire Trinitarian economy of salvation, would besmirch the very character of God and, God forbid, make Jesus Christ a liar, an actor, when he called, and calls, sinners to repentance and to imitate his Father’s love for all (Jn. 3:16; 1 Cor.13).
But such a Love is no lie.
God’s “secret” Decree is no longer secret, for He has revealed it in the Person of Jesus Christ, in His written Word and Ecclesial Tradition. And God’s decree, contra Luther and Calvin, includes this very real gift of human freedom which enables us to say either Yes or No to his call. There can be no dark decree hidden behind Jesus that is not Jesus, that contradicts Jesus, Who is the very revelation of God in Christ, his teachings and words and intention (Col. 2:9,10; Phil 2:5-10). He stands revealed, the objective salvation of all. “He who has seen me has seen me had seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). All else is mystery.
God’s “Elect” are those whom He foreknew from all eternity would, through enabling grace, use their gift of freedom responsibly all along the way Home, freely receiving “grace upon grace” (Jn.1:16, Matt. 13:12, etc), being sanctified all the way to Final Perseverance. All we are asked to do is to cooperate with this grace The Elect he predestined in the Son.
God foreknew both Judas’ free rejection of, and Peter’s free cooperation with, this gift of enabling grace.
“And from His fullness we have all received and grace for grace”— Jn.1:16
Matt. 13:12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. — John 3:17
James White, like his spiritual father John Calvin before him, is really not comfortable with mystery. White must either obliterate man in his systematics and “exegesis,” or else he must obliterate the antecedent “love” of God for the world which God Himself has revealed to be His primordial motivation in salvation history (John 3:16)
The real New Testament baffles Calvinists. So they arbitrarily choose some texts, clinging to the Westminster Confession for a foundation for all exegesis, and reject all the others, a priori. But this is no real exegesis of biblical texts at all, it is rather eisegesis, the reading into texts of preconceived theological prejudices.
White should care enough to know that God does not command what cannot be performed. Yet today Mr. White serves only Calvin’s interpretive traditions. And then by now there is his (White’s) own reputation to consider, His Calvinist apologetics businesses, podcasts, and “consistency”.
So, tragically, James White depersonalizes the Personal God who made us in His image, substituting for Him a new twist on Fate, inevitabilism, determinism, which makes a mockery of all God’s commands and invitations to all. How sad.
Word of God?
James White is not difficult to understand, nor his strategic method. He defends the “Reformed” positions with amusing eloquence as an attorney would his client. He has an attorney’s mind and approach which will spin any text or position to his client’s advantage.
If you show him he’s got the text wrong he’ll take flight to “context”. When you show him he’s got the context wrong he’ll fly to the original languages. When you show him he’s parsing the original languages arbitrarily he’ll swing to disquisitions on the rules of “proper exegesis” or hermeneutics. When you show him he’s got the hermeneutics wrong he’ll leap to cherry picking and spinning the Church Fathers and history, etc. etc., etc.
When James White says “The Word of God” he really means the Westminster Confession, an interpretive tradition of men. When he “exegetes” the Word of God he is actually doing eisegesis on behalf of that Confession.
Sacred Tradition plays a clarifying and steadying role in the New Covenant. The New Testament tells us what was said and done by Our Lord and the apostles (e.g., the words of the Last Supper) and it is the whole Sacred Tradition of the Church which tells us how the Church always understood those words and deeds, as all the Church Fathers together show at first implicitly and, as needs arose, more explicitly.
Church Tradition has reference to Church dogmas, i.e., it shows what the Church has always believed, having received it by revelation and the apostolic oral tradition before any Scriptures were written. Church Tradition does not pertain to secondary speculative matters wherein Church Fathers may have differed from one another on some issues.
The good news is that, ironically, James White is one of the best evangelists for Catholicism. The more he defensively discusses the Church Fathers the more he sets Protestant seekers on the road to the Church.
In conclusion, the Scriptures apart from Christ’s one true Faith become a snare for those who seek to find justifications for new churches and theologies (2 Cor.11:4, Gal. 1;8, 9 etc). — SH
— Trent Horn on James White’s Disfigurement of the Mass and Church Fathers …
— See also Catholicism, Tradition and Protestantism
— The Mass According to Saint Justin Martyr, 155 A.D.
(**) See also Harmony and Differences on Predestination in Catholic Theology
— The Virgin Mary in The Order of Grace
— The Facts About Martin Luther
— Augustine Had It Right; Calvin Did Not. Catholic Answers.
— Trent Horn and William Albrecht discuss James White on Mary Theotokos, Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium
— May 2022 Report: Top Southern Baptists stonewalled sex abuse victims.
Over 700 alleged victims as of 2019 since 1998
(1) James White and Calvinism in general denies all of this, saying that man totally lost his free will to respond to God’s call due to The Fall, is now totally depraved, and that apart from an irresistible special grace (reserved only for the Elect) is totally incapable of seeking or hearing God’s call. Most of mankind in every age they argue were passed by and thus damned for eternity even before they were born. They assert that Christ did not die for all men but only for His elect, which, along with the rest, is completely contrary to NT teaching (John 12:32; 2 Tim. 2:1-6; 4:10; 1 Jn.2:2; 2 Pet.3:9; Rom.11:32; etc.).”
Ironically here we Catholics must here remind Mr. White that
“Revelation and those things that are immediately deduced from revelation are always to be preferred to theories [like those found in the logic or systematics of the Westminster Confession and Calvin’s Institutes] that are worked out to a large extent by human reasoning. We do not, of course, deny that human reason can find truth, but yet, as the history of philosophy and theology shows, reason can err. All philosophers of all centuries have fallen into at least some errors. The majority have fallen into great errors. Even Aristotle and St. Thomas himself made some mistakes. But revelation itself cannot err; and the more immediately a truth is deduced from revelation, the less the possibility of error.” — ch.18, Fr. William Most, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions.
White’s quoting of Church Fathers is relatively rare and completely arbitrary, taking sentences here and there only when he thinks that such sentences or very selective portions support a particular spin of his and ignoring the rest when these same Fathers utterly undermine his Protestant principles and latecomer doctrines at every turn.
That the Magisterium of the Church from the time of Augustine(**) onwards has allowed a certain circumscribed freedom(**) relative to the doctrine of predestination as long as its teachings on Grace is preserved (e.g., Jesuits v. Dominicans, and so on with many shades in between) shows that the Magisterium will not tread beyond the Scriptural data and the Holy Tradition, unlike Calvinist reductionist theology.
Calvinists are hardpressed to absolve God of responsibility for evil if he positively predestines / foreordains (as opposed to foreknows) “all” things without even attempting in Christ to rescue “all” from that evil.
If, wishing to show my coolness, I do not try to stop a known hit man’s entrance into a known Mafioso club knowing he intends to kill a man inside, I am in no small part responsible for the evil of the man’s death.
(2) Though there had been almost no end to non-binding, very often conflicting speculations about it since the time of Saint Augustine, and reaching a climax towards the end of the sixteenth century when the Church under Popes Clement VIII and then Leo XI and finally Paul V, after many very thorough hearings of both sides (Jesuits and Dominicans), had to tell each theological School to stop calling the other side heretical on the matters and to simply hold to their respective theological opinions as opinions. The controversy then subsided.
Commenting on Studiorum Decem, (On St. Thomas Aquinas), promulgated by Pope Pius XI, June 29, 1923, the famous Thomist Josef Piper shows from the Encyclical itself what our attitude should be in relation to the great Fathers of the Church who might differ from each other in “matters of controversy”.
He quotes Pius,
23. “But inasmuch as St. Thomas has been duly proclaimed patron of all Catholic schools because he marvelously combined both forms of wisdom, the rational and the divinely inspired, because he had recourse to prayer and fasting to solve the most difficult problems, because he used the image of Christ crucified in place of all books, let him be a model also for seminarians, so that they may learn how to pursue their studies to the best advantage and with the greatest profit to themselves…
30 “Let none require from another more than the Church, the mistress and mother of all, requires from each: and in questions, which in Catholic schools are matter of controversy between the most reputable authorities, let none be prevented from adhering to whatever opinion seems to him the more probable.” — Pope Pius XI.
This pertains as much to controversies generated by, say, St. Augustine (on whom Calvinists rely heavily for the interpretation of various Scriptural texts) and Aquinas as any other Father.
Pope James (White)?
White seems at times to amusingly act according to his own caricatures of the papacy: He “confirms” the [Protestant] brethren in doctrine, “feeds” the true sheep, gives them the supposedly definitive interpretation of the Scriptures, lays down the legitimate hermeneutical principles for interpreting the Church Fathers; he excommunicates those Protestants he considers too far afield, warns whom the “truly Reformed” are and whom they should avoid or risk facing peril to their souls … and so on…. Thus the new “pope” in Arizona replaces the pastoral papacy of Church history.
(3) If we do not persevere but persist incorrigibly in grave sins God is under no obligation to spare us and may justly “give [us] up” (Rom.1:24f; Heb.10:26-31 etc.) to our own will unto perdition; and this can happen at any time, according to God’s foreknowledge of incorrigiblity and His righteous will, which is why we must fear opposing God’s grace. Two thieves were crucified next the the Savior. One was saved through repentance and faith, so we should never lose Hope. But only one was saved, so we must never presume.
“all the Church’s children” have received their holy Catholic faith not from merit, but from “the special grace of Christ”:
“If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged. (LG 14)“
St. Thomas Aquinas and a Just and Proper freedom, the very “Life-blood” of Orthodox Catholic Theology
Josef Pieper, the renowned Thomist, in his 1953 study, The Silence of St. Thomas (St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana) reminds theologians and students of St. Thomas that while Pope Pius XI in his 1923 Encyclical, Studiorum Ducem, insisted that the Angelic Doctor is to be esteemed by all Schools of Theology, he also reminded all in what a spiritually healthy theology consists as shown by the Saint, and specifically “warns against a pedantic and unfruitful canonization of St. Thomas, which would be contradictory to his own spirit” (Pieper, Silence of St. Thomas, Note I, 23).
Pieper quotes Pius admonishing all to imitate Thomas’ own charitable methods, allowing schools a just and proper freedom to differ within traditional dogmatic limits which always existed, at least implicitly:
“We desire that lovers of St. Thomas-and all sons of the Church who devote themselves to higher studies should be so-be incited by an honorable rivalry in a just and proper freedom which is the life-blood of studies, but let no spirit of malevolent disparagement prevail among them, for any such, so far from helping truth, serves only to loosen the bonds of charity…
“Let everyone therefore inviolably observe the prescription contained in the Code of Canon Law that “teachers shall deal with the studies of intellectual philosophy and theology and the education of their pupils in such sciences according to the method, doctrine and principles of the Angelic Doctor and religiously adhere thereto”; and may they conform to this rule so faithfully as to be able to describe him in very truth as their master.
“Let none require from another more than the Church, the mistress and mother of all, requires from each: and in questions, which in Catholic schools are matter of controversy between the most reputable authorities, let none be prevented from adhering to whatever opinion seems to him the more probable.” —- Studiorum Ducem, June 29, 1923, #30