Below I have produced the
notes I used in doing the Dividing Line Webcasts responding to
Dr. Geisler's added appendix on The Potter's Freedom
(these programs aired
8/25/01. See www.straitgate.com/aom).
This is not my "published" reply to Dr.
Geisler. That is found at
These are simply the rough notes I used. I expanded on
some points in my written response, while other points are
only mentioned here. I provide this for those few who
wish to sit down with the appendix and a copy of The
Potter's Freedom and see how utterly consistent this
appendix is in completely misrepresenting the document it is
review demonstrates clearly the difference between Dr. Geisler
and myself: his is a philosophical approach that subsumes
exegesis beneath a priori philosophical considerations, mine
is the approach of exegesis that says that man’s
philosophies must be derived from God’s revelation in
is no exegesis offered in this response.
the review is grossly flawed.
Page reference after page reference to TPF is simply in
identifying me as over-zealous and arrogant, the article
claims I engage in ad hominem and name calling, and yet every
single reference given is either in error or is not by any
rational definition supportive of the assertion.
All in all, it is a tremendously poor response that
will not move the dialogue forward in any fashion.
A Response to
The Potter’s Freedom
Since Chosen But Free has
been honored by an extensive analysis from a strong
Calvinist’s perspective, and since many have inquired as to
my reaction, a brief response is in order. First of all, let
me express my appreciation for James White and his admirable
work for Christ and His kingdom. It has been my honor to write
an introduction for one of his books and to commend others
over the years. He is a good brother in Christ with whom I
have worked side by side in defending the gospel. James is a
committed and conservative young scholar who zealously defends
the great essentials of the Christian faith.
In spite of the fact that The
Potter’s Freedom (hereafter PF) is a sharp
critique of my moderate Calvinism, strangely enough, I found
myself agreeing with much of what it says. The reason for this
will become apparent as I respond briefly to its contents.
PF raised many
valid issues that occasioned minor revisions reflected in
this edition of Chosen But Free (hereafter CBF). These
refinements have helped me to sharpen my position and
present it more clearly. For this I am grateful to Mr. White.
In addition, I appreciate
his skill revealed in pointing out errata in the first
edition; these now have been corrected.
was not my intention to “point out errata.”
However, when responding in-depth to someone, errors
will be more clearly seen than in other contexts.
For example, PF correctly
notes that God’s electing “in spite of” His
foreknowledge could better be rendered “independent of” (PF,
67) and that “so dead” (PF, 104) is redundant.
(Parenthetically, there are similar errors in PF. For
instance, “world” should be “word” on 261 and 262, and
PF misquotes my statement about “unlimited” atonement [CBF,
199], calling it “limited” atonement [PF, 248].)
reality, the quotation is exactly correct.
In fact, I’m the one that pointed out the error to
BHP, who made the correction in the second printing.
PF also raises
additional issues that, although they have been adequately
addressed by others, we did not have occasion to discuss in
our first edition. These too have been briefly included in the
above text. Also a response to Roger Nicole’s arguments that
Calvin held to limited atonement have been included.
does not change the fact that the definition of “extreme
Calvinist,” based solely upon the assertion that Calvin was
absolutely and without question one who held to universal
atonement, remains untenable.
No effort is made to rehabilitate this point.
My main response to PF centers
around an improper understanding of the moderate Calvinistic
view I express in CBF. Seldom have I read a review that
so thoroughly misunderstands the object of its criticism. To
begin, it misrepresents my view by claiming it has only two
Calvinistic elements (PF, 20), when, in fact, I agree
with all but one of PFs definitions of its six points
of Calvinism - irresistible grace on the unwilling (PF, 39-40).
In spite of clear
statements to the contrary, PF claims I embrace the
Molinist view that God is passive in His knowledge of man’s
free choices (cf. CBF, 50-51, 53-54). This mistake
is repeated over and over again in PF (cf. 55, 61-65,
69, 133, 173).
As I read the critique in PF,
much of which I was in full agreement with, I could not
help but wonder what book it was criticizing. It appeared to
me, as to many others who read it, that PF would often
simply reduce my view to an Arminian position and then use
material readily at hand to critique that viewpoint.
Indeed, PF sometimes
attributes a view to me that I explicitly repudiate. For
example, PF claims I affirm that God’s election is
“based on man’s free will (PF, 55, 64). Amazingly, PF
soon after offers a quote from CBF that clearly
refutes this criticism (PF, 66).
Sometimes my view is so
distorted by stereotype that it seems almost impossible to
believe that PF had my book in mind. For example, PF claims
that I believe God is passive in His knowledge of our free
choices but that “God is enslaved to our free choices” (PF,
67). This in spite of PF even quoting the passage
where I say, “God is totally sovereign in the sense of
actually determining what occurs” (PF, 66).
Likewise, PF claims
I hold election to be conditional (PF, 72) and that it
“depends on the will of man” (PF, 87), when I
repeatedly affirm that I believe election is unconditional
for God (CBF, 119f.).
Space only permits brief
mention of other PF misrepresentations, namely, that I
hold: that fallen man can will to please God (96);
that being “dead” in
sin means only separation from God (101)
that the unsaved can come
up with righteous desires (102);
that faith is the moving
cause of our election (131);
that God doesn’t elect
that man’s will is
supreme over God’s (181, 203);
that God didn’t ordain
people but only a plan (196);
that God “merely” predicted
the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart but was not active in doing
that the clay can force
the potter’s hand (225);
that the atonement of
Christ is only theoretical (226).
I counted no less than
forty times my view was misrepresented.
Interestingly, in one
place PF even admits finding it difficult to understand
my view (58). One might ask how something can be properly
evaluated which is not properly understood. Nonetheless,
this failure to comprehend my position does not impede in the
least the overly zealous, pedantic, and at times somewhat
arrogant critique of it in PP.
PF offers virtually
unlimited opportunities for beginning
theology students to identify logical fallacies. The
following is an incomplete list: (1) Straw Man (94); (2)
Diverting the Issue (94); (3) False Analogy (284); (4) Taking
a text out of context (29, 105); (5) Avoiding the issue (89);
(6) Guilt by association (92); (7) Caricature of a view (140,
142, 145); (8) Non sequitur (136, 141); (9) Assuming an answer
isn’t right because it’s short (27, 181); (10)
Overstatement (28); (11) Assuming the unexplained isn’t
explainable (106); (12) False disjunctive; (13) Theologism;
(14) Ad Hominem; (15) Name Calling; and (16) Criticizing a
parable for not making other points than it was intended to
Etienne Gilson, in his
classic work The Unity of Philosophy and Experience, identifies
an error at the heart of PFs extreme Calvinism: “theologism.”
Briefly, this is the fallacy of assuming that the view that
seems to give the most glory to God is true. Extreme
Calvinists resort time and again to this position (PF, 39,
Interestingly, this fits
with their associated view of voluntarism (see under
“Sidestepping the Big Issues,” page 260), which also has
parentage in William Ockham. After all, deists have argued
that it gives more glory to God to believe that He created a
world in which He never intervenes in the same way that it
brings more glory to a mechanic to make a perfect machine that
never needs repair.
other extreme Calvinists argue that the less credit given to
man, the more glory given to God.
And, God will get the most
glory if creatures have absolutely nothing to do with their
salvation, not even exercising their free choice to receive
However, this does not
follow, since truth is not determined by what appears to
glorify God but by what actually fits with the facts.
As has been demonstrated
in CBF the evidence of Scripture and good reason fit
better with a form of moderate Calvinism.
This fallacy literally
means a response “to the man” (rather than to the
argument). Throughout PF, the author takes great pride
in his exegetical skills,
while any exegesis of the
text contrary to his is labeled not “consistent” (19),
not “meaningful” (20),
not “in depth” (136),
a “mere presentation”
or not based on
“definitive” works (254).
Another favorite technique
of PF is the fallacy of name calling. Consider only the
following out of numerous examples. My reasoning and
conclusion are labeled “a non-response” (217),
“shallow at best”
(253), “simplistic arguments” (253),
a “source of great
(168), “the most amazing statement” (167), and even a
“most torturous line of reasoning” (169).
Poisoning the Well
The effect of all this
name calling entails another fallacy called “poisoning the
well.” These statements work toward polluting the reader’s
mind against a view rather than reasonably considering its
merits. It is a debating technique geared to winning
arguments, not to discovering truth.
name-calling device is what its author believes is the
theologically toxic word “Arminian.” Despite the fact that
I clearly and emphatically disavow being Arminian, claiming to
be a “moderate Calvinist” who holds a less extreme
version of all five points of Calvinism’s TULIP (see chapter
7), PF persists in using this sinister term to describe
my view. This is done even though on PFs own definition
(39— 40), I could subscribe to five of its six points of
Calvinism (TULIP plus “the freedom of God”). Outside of
PFs definition of irresistible grace on the unwilling, I
hold a Calvinistic view very close to the way PF defines
these points, though not always the way it spells them out.
This leads to comments on another fallacy.
By reducing my view to the
dreaded Arminian position and then castigating it, PF is
largely a straw man attack. Repeatedly, I found myself
agreeing with PFs critiques and wondering whose view it
was scorching. I had the distinct impression that since my
moderate Calvinism did not provide enough fuel for its
extreme Calvinistic fire, the author brought his own woodpile
on which to chop. Unfortunately, the weary reader may go away
thinking PF has succeeded in demolishing a view it has not
One of PFs most
prevalent fallacies is a false disjunctive, used repeatedly
(53, 63, 65, 72, 76, 108—109, 268). It wrongly assumes a reasoning
process that goes something like this: Either Geisler’s view
is Calvinistic or it is Arminian. It is not Calvinistic as PF
understands the term. Therefore, it is Arminian.
This, of course, overlooks
that there is at least one other view between what PF insists
is “Calvinism” and what is Arminianism, namely, moderate
Calvinism. This view is clearly spelled out for any-one
desiring to understand it in several chapters and appendices
in CBF which need only be read with an open mind to
verify. In fact, there is very little, if anything, unique
about my basic position. It has been held by most of the great
fathers of the church (see appendix 1), by the early St.
Augustine (see appendix 3), by St. Thomas Aquinas, by other
Calvinists like William Shedd, James Oliver Buswell, Stephen
Charnock and Emery H. Bancroft, by Dispensational Calvinists
like Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Fred
Howe, and Robert Lightner, and others. For PF to pretend this
moderate Calvinistic view does not exist is not logically
valid, historically accurate, or intellectually fair.
Another important example
of the false disjunctive is at the heart of the PF argument.
The author asks: “Does God’s foreknowledge determine
what he decrees or does God’s decree determine what He
foreknows?” (50). PF seems oblivious to another alternative.
The whole of CBF offers one, namely, that they are
coordinate acts in the simple and eternal Being of God. Thus,
neither determines the other. Rather, God knowingly determined
and determinately knew and willed from all eternity everything
that would come to pass.
The non sequitur fallacy
occurs when the conclusion drawn does not follow logically
from the premises given. A classic example of this occurs when
PF attempts to argue for limited atonement from Christ’s
intercession in heaven only for the elect (Heb. 7:25). PF
affirms that (1) Christ prays only for those for whom he died;
(2) Christ prays only for those who are elect. (3) Hence,
Christ died only for the elect (241).
However, this is an
elementary error known as an undistributed middle term. In
short, even if there are not more for whom He prays than
those for whom He died, nevertheless, there may be more for
whom He died than those for whom He prays.
To make those for whom He
died and the elect one and the same group involves a fallacy
of illicit conversion of terms. It is like saying that if all
horses have four legs, then all four-legged things are horses.
Although (1) All Christ
died for are in the only group for whom He presently
intercedes in heaven, and (2) All the elect are in the only
group for whom He presently intercedes, it does not follow
that (3) All He died for are the elect.
There are also numerous
internal inconsistencies that beset PF. Space permits comments
on only a few. First, on the one hand PF warns against
the use of human illustrations (mine). On the other hand, PF
approves of the use of human illustrations (its own) (cf.
Second, PF affirms that
God is free not to act according to His moral attribute of
mercy to save all men, yet He is not free not to act
according to His moral attribute of justice to condemn all
PF chides CBF for
citing secondary sources, while it cites a secondary source
of its own (Piper) on the same passage (24).
It contends that a “mere
presentation” of my view is not sufficient (29), yet it
sometimes does the same for its view and at times even no
presentation at all, such as an explanation of one of the
most difficult verses for extreme Calvinists, 2 Peter 2:1
Ironically, PF rejects
my position on predestination (that election is according
to, but not based on, foreknowledge), yet it
appears to affirm a very similar view (49).
PF claims that my view is
“unique” (51), but at the same time classes it as Arminian
(200), which is not unique.
It holds that man is not
forced to do evil, yet he is controlled by his nature and must
do evil (84, 87—88).
Persons “dead” in sin
are not free to reach out to accept the gospel (104), yet they
are free to reject the gospel (101).
Furthermore, according to
PF the unsaved can understand the gospel, yet the words are
empty (110). (How one can understand empty words is not
“Everyone” means all
in Romans 5:9— 10; 8:7—8 (113), yet elsewhere when
speaking of unlimited atonement it means only some (231f.).
On the one hand, PF uses
“source” as cause (210) when defending extreme Calvinism,
while on the other hand PF does not allow it to mean cause
when I use it against extreme Calvinism (186).
Here is but a selection
from PF: It claims that I could not agree with Calvin that
election is from God’s free choice (131), when, in fact, I
that praying for all men
necessitates that we go through each name in the phone book
that what CBF supposedly
“clearly says” is the opposite of what it actually says
(173); that I believe the final factor in election is our
free choice (173), while I believe it is God’s choice;
that clear statements are
that Arminianism holds
what it does not hold (269);
that I am an Arminian
(123) when I state and demonstrate that I am not;
that I believe salvation
“depends on will of man” (87), when I hold that it depends
on God’s grace alone, which is merely received by man’s
that in a synergistic view
grace must be dependent on free will (91), when I disavow this
that I simply presuppose
free will (93), when, in fact, I give both biblical and
rational arguments for it (chapter 2; appendix 4);
that I deny God’s
,active decree (59—60); that I hold God’s sovereignty is
limited to giving the gift of freedom (60), when I affirm it
that I “completely
ignore” the arguments of Calvin, Hodge, and Turretinus
against free will (93—94), when, in fact, I treat them extensively
(chapter 2; appendices 1, 3, 4, 9);
that my view of free will
is that man is autonomous (98), when I have a whole chapter
affirming God’s sovereignty over everything, including
man’s free choices (chapter 1);
that I do not believe in
the infallible work of the Holy Spirit (118), when I even
affirm it is irresistible on the willing.
Revealing Admissions by
One of the most
illuminating claims in PF is that God does not love all men
in a salvific (saving) sense (302—303).
This is a denial of the
core and classical attribute of God’s omnibenevolence.
Nor does PF comprehend
that it is a category mistake to fail to understand that God
having power He does not use is not the same as having love He
does not show.
For love, like justice, is
a moral attribute of God that demands action on its object,
whereas power as a nonmoral attribute does not. God can no
more fail to act lovingly than He can fail to act justly.
PF also admits holding
that there is no free will in any creature (35), claiming that
God is the only truly free being in the universe (68).
Since free will is part of
the image of God, this amounts to a denial that fallen man is
in His image (which is clearly contrary to Scripture; e.g.,
Gen. 9:6; James 3:9).
It also robs humans of one
of the essential characteristics of their humanness—their
ability to make free moral choices.
PF further reduces
humanness to “pots” of clay, taking an obvious allegory
literally and claiming that God has absolute authority over
the people He makes apart from any truly free choice on their
part (36— 41, 61).
This is reminiscent of the
Muslim poet Omar Khayyam who likened humans to pawns on a
chessboard. Indeed, PF rejects human free will without even
attempting to give a real definition of it or defense of its
PF also admits that God
does not do all He can to save all (99).
Thus, it cannot escape the
conclusion that God is not even as good as a finite fallible
human father who would do everything he could to save all his
Further, PF is seemingly
unashamed to acknowledge that God commands what is
impossible (108), being apparently oblivious to the irrationality
this attributes to God.
Again, if any earthly
father commanded his offspring to do what was literally
impossible and then punished them temporally (to say nothing
of eternally) for not doing so, PF would surely condemn him.
Yet it does not blush. to say God does this very thing.
PF admits there is a
distinction between the potential and actual salvation of the
elect before the world and their actual salvation in
the world (268—269). Yet it denies this same distinction
to moderate Calvinists, who believe all men are potentially
saved by the Cross, while only the elect are actually saved by
Sidestepping the Big
PF attempts in vain to
avoid the logic that the extreme Calvinist must hold: that all
good, free acts are caused by Another and, hence, we can have
no responsibility for them.
Nowhere does it really
grapple with this crucial premise of extreme Calvinism.
Another big issue
completely ignored by PF is the charge of voluntarism
against extreme Calvinism (CBF’, 35—36, 40, 42,
In the final analysis, for
PF something is good only because God wills it; God does not
will it because it is good (in accordance with an unchangeably
Not one of the many
biblical and philosophical arguments listed against
voluntarism in an extensive appendix (CBF, no. 4) is
This is one of the central
premises of extreme Calvinism, and there is not a word of
defense for it in PF.
Likewise, PF brushes aside
the fact that the extreme Calvinist view is an historic
anomaly, having the support of the late Augustine as the only
significant voice before the Reformation.
This it calls a
“mature” view when it does not grow out of any significant
position in church history before it but is based on an
overreaction against a schismatic group (the Donatists) forced
to believe in the doctrine of the Catholic Church against
their choice (see CBF, appendix 3).
While trumpeting its
exegetical skills, PF nowhere engages some of the big
exegetical issues. As mentioned, a crucial text in defense of
unlimited atonement (2 Pet. 2:1) is not addressed at all.
Other texts clearly
refuting PFs limited atonement view are handled with
the kind of eisegesis in which “all men” is magically
transformed into “some men.”
Nowhere does it address my
challenge to produce even one text where the word “all” is
used generically of human beings in a limited sense. Nowhere
does it provide a single text that says in so many words that
Christ died only for the elect.
Likewise, PF sidesteps the
force of all the many passages that depict fallenness in terms
of sickness, blindness, and pollution (as opposed to its
mistaken understanding of “dead” as the destruction of
ability to respond positively to God).
Further, it affirms,
contrary to Scripture and the nature of God, that an
all-loving God loves only some and forces them contrary to
their will to accept Him, while consigning the rest to eternal
and conscious punishment.
Redefining Terms That
Another technique employed
by PF to further its position is to redefine terms that
cover the harsh reality of a biblically, morally, and
rationally indefensible view.
Irresistible grace on the
unwilling is labeled a “middle ground” between persuasion
and coercion (69—70).
This is a theological
euphemism par excellence.
How can an act of God that
is absolutely contrary to the desires and will of a totally depraved
human being who is dead in sin be anything less than coercive?
Moving the coercive’ act
of God to the point of regeneration does not make it any less
violent, for the totally dead person being regenerated is both
unaware and unwilling of the operation of God upon him that is
totally against his will and desires.
A similar problem emerges
when PF employs a kind of theological doublespeak to forward
For example, it affirms
that fallen humans can will, but yet they have no will
that grace is
irresistible, but yet it is not coercive (161);
that depraved humans are
dead but are alive enough to hear and reject the gospel (101);
that God does not force
anyone, but He regenerates them contrary to their will (200).
Pride and Exclusivism
I am not alone in
detecting a proud and exclusivistic undertone in PF.
For example, it calls its
view “the Reformed” view (38, emphasis added),
while summarily dismissing other Reformed theologians CBF cites
who do not agree with major points in its presentation (e.g.,
William Shedd and R. T. Kendall).
The author of PF
immodestly announces, “I will be demonstrating” that
Geisler’s view “is in error” (30).
Better to set forth
one’s case and let the reader decide that.
It speaks of “such
obvious errors” (103)
of those who oppose it and
of the “only way” to interpret irresistible grace (137),
when it is known that there are other ways.
It claims my position is
“utterly without substantiation” (262) and that its own
conclusion is true “without question.”
PF even goes so far as to
leave the realm of exegetical refutation and to pass an
implied moral judgment on those who disagree with its
interpretation, saying they express “unwillingness to accept
what the text itself teaches” (165). Good and godly scholars
on every side of this issue have long disagreed over how to
interpret these and other texts. In response, one might
suggest that a bit more intellectual openness, scholarly
reserve, and spiritual humility would be appropriate.
As readers of PF can
detect for themselves, the author is convinced of his
exegetical skills and chides CBF for its alleged
‘lack thereof. Yet PF repeatedly reads “some men” into
passages that clearly and emphatically say “all men”
(140, 142). It insists against the context that 2 Peter 3:9
(where God desires that all men be saved) is not speaking
about salvation (146—147).
It claims that John
1:12—13 does not say “received” when the very word is
used by John in this text (185).
It overlooks the context
that speaks of unrepentant people (Rom. 9:22), claiming Romans
9 affirms that the “only difference” between vessels of
wrath and vessels of mercy is God’s action. It distorts the
word "saves" to “saves himself’ (64), and so on.
PF furthers its agenda by
confusing cause and effect in God’s decrees (57). It shows
no understanding of the difference between a primary cause
(God) and a secondary cause (free choice) (68), which even the
Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith recognizes.
(57). It views our faith in God as a work (179) in order to
eliminate any action of man as legitimate in receiving his own