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A Most Disappointing Response: Dr. Norman Geisler's "Reply" to The Potter's Freedom Raises Serious Issues, But Not the Ones You Would Expect

 


James White

I had not heard even a whisper about the inclusion of an appendix (now the 13th appendix in the book) in a new edition of Dr. Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free.  Thankfully, a kind brother in Indianapolis e-mailed me and informed me of the appendix, assuming, however, that I had already seen it.  I had not.  I immediately requested, and received, a copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.

            Things had been pretty quiet on the “Potter’s Freedom Front” over the past number of months.  Attention had moved to Dave Hunt’s new attack upon Reformed theology.  So I was intrigued as I waited for my copy to arrive.  My correspondent had only indicated that the response did not contain the one thing that would, in fact, be necessary to such a reply: exegesis.  But I had to wait a few days to find out for myself.

            When the book arrived I immediately noted that the appendix, twelve pages in length, made scant, even rare, reference to Scripture at all.  A few references are noted in passing, but there is not even the first attempt at the inclusion of meaningful exegesis.  This was the first in a long line of disappointments.

            The next thing I noted was the glaring presence of ad hominem argumentation, even in the midst of accusing me of using it in The Potter’s Freedom (hereafter TPF).  While the review begins and ends with kind personal words about me, the body is anything but kind nor respectful.  At one point, before introducing an entire list of alleged errors (none of which, upon examination, are found to be in error at all), the text begins, “PF offers virtually unlimited opportunities for beginning theology students to identify logical fallacies.”  Later we are told, “the author takes great pride in his exegetical skills” even though we are not given any references or basis upon which this assertion is made.  Further examples follow in the review. The appendix says TPF engages in name-calling, ad hominem argumentation, and poisoning the well, which, if true, would be serious charges. 

            But it did not take long for the next phase of the frustration of this response to set in: the incredible number of simple page citation errors.  As I sat down with the appendix, the original printing of Chosen But Free (hereafter CBF), and TPF, I very quickly began to realize that someone had not done their homework.  Over and over again page citations are given to TPF that are nowhere to be found, making responding to the allegations just a bit difficult.  Given the effort that went into accurately citing CBF, it was disappointing to read, for example, that I engaged in ad hominem argumentation against Dr. Geisler by saying his exegesis is not “meaningful” (how that is ad hominem is hard to understand) on page 20 of TPF.  However, there is nothing on pages 19, 20, or 21 that is relevant to such a statement, especially since the word appears in quotes in the appendix. There is no discussion of Geisler’s exegesis in this section, and the closest one can come is the use of the word “meaningful” on page 21 in the sentence, “There is simply no attempt to interact on a meaningful level with the many Reformed works that provide in-depth, serious biblical exegesis and argumentation in defense of the Reformed position.”  That statement is proven true throughout the rest of TPF, and surely is not an example of ad-hominem.  The same kind of error is found in a number of the attempted citations.

            One allegation of an error on the part of TPF that is almost humorous, and shows that the author(s) of the review seemed to be a bit desperate to find errors in my work, is found in the assertion that I mis-cited CBF.  Here is the text:

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].)

The appendix is correct that “world” should be “word” on 261 and 262: the electronic version of Calvin I utilized does indeed contain a scan error at that point.  However, the second allegation is most interesting, if for no other reason than to give insight into how things like this happen in publication work.  The quotation of Dr. Geisler as it appears in TPF is perfectly accurate.  The first publication of CBF contained his error at this point.  I caught the error, and even contacted the editorial staff at BHP to see if they could offer an explanation for the statement.  They could not.  Seemingly unbeknownst to the author(s) of the appendix, anyway, CBF went through a second printing, and corrections were made at that time.  Since I had raised the issue, it was “fixed.”  When the author(s), then, began looking for things to pick on in the text of TPF he unwittingly used the second printing, not the first (which is what TPF was based on).  As a result, I am accused of mis-citing Geisler, when in fact, I cited him correctly, caught his error, pointed it out, and hence was helpful in correcting his own work!  Yet, despite this, it is included in a rebuttal of my work.  Such is surely ironic, if not a bit humorous.

            But the page number errors were almost insignificant next to the most amazing aspect of this attempted review.  The reader may have noted that to this point I have referred to “the appendix,” “the review,” and “the author(s),” not to Dr. Geisler.  The reason is simple: I find it next to impossible to believe that Dr. Geisler actually wrote the entirety of this review.  Why?  Because this review not only ignores the vast majority of the book it is allegedly responding to, but much more, the author(s) of this review either lacks the capacity, or the integrity, to deal with the material before him or her in an honest, contextual fashion. The interaction offered is so flawed on a consistent basis that one is left, at times, completely speechless that anyone with a high school education, let alone multiple doctorates, could ever produce such material.  So consistently does the review miss the basics of the English language that I have concluded that it simply could not come from Dr. Geisler’s pen.  Surely, he is accountable for it, as it appears under his name, but I truly believe he entrusted the task to someone else, perhaps an undergraduate student or students (a class project, perhaps?), as this is the only possible explanation for the kind of egregiously silly errors one finds in this response.

            Strong words require factual backing.  Here is the classic example of how this review completely ignores context and loses all contact with reality in its desperate attempt to give the appearance of a response to TPF.

            On page 29 of TPF I was just getting started in explaining the need for a response to Dr. Geisler’s attack upon Reformed theology.  In explaining various aspects of the issues raised by Dr. Geisler, I wrote the following paragraph:

There is great confidence in trusting in God’s sovereignty, especially when it comes to the fact that even Christians are willing to place their own supposed freedom and autonomy over the true freedom and autonomy of God.  I have seen many precious souls struggle through these foundational issues and emerge changed, strengthened, with a new and lasting appreciation of the holiness and love of God along with a passion for His grace that cannot be erased.  While I am grieved at the confusion that books like CBF cause, I am confident that the Word is so clear, so plain, and so compelling, that the mere presentation of its truths is sufficient for the child of God.  And it is to that we now turn.

I honestly do not believe this is a difficult paragraph to understand.  The context and meaning are easily discerned.  I am not here discussing Dr. Geisler’s exegesis.  In fact, he is not mentioned in the paragraph.  CBF is mentioned only in passing as a source of confusion.  But the point of the paragraph is simple: God’s truth remains God’s truth, and when Christians honestly seek to know God’s truth from the pages of His Word, they will find it.  It may involve struggle, as they work through traditions and misunderstandings, but the Word is sufficient for the task.

            Evidently, however, the paragraph caused no end of difficulty for the author or authors of the newly published “response” in CBF.  Twice a single phrase from this page is cited in the response.  That phrase is “mere presentation,” found in the second to last line of the paragraph, “I am confident that the Word is so clear, so plain, and so compelling, that the mere presentation of its truths is sufficient for the child of God.”  The first time “mere presentation” appears is on page 255 under the subtitle, “Ad Hominem.”  We read,

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” (29), or not based on “definitive” works (254).

None of the citations are even semi-accurate examples of ad hominem, and each is a fascinating example of how to avoid the obvious, but note especially the inclusion of the phrase “mere presentation” and the reference, (29).  Here we are told that if a person were to look on page 29 of TPF they would find a seemingly prideful dismissal of Dr. Geisler’s exegetical conclusions as a “mere presentation.” And yet, the reader is invited to once again read the above cited paragraph and attempt to figure out how anyone could possibly make any logical connection between what actually appears on page 29 of TPF and what this review alleges is on that page.  There is simply no way to so completely and utterly misread such a passage.  It is bad enough that one such blunder would appear in the text of the review, but the error is only compounded by the fact that the same review repeats the same error but this time it contradicts itself and gives a completely different context!  This is why this might well have been a “class project,” as this kind of incredible inconsistency would be explainable on that basis.  Note what is said on page 258:

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 (251).

Note that this time the phrase “mere presentation” is placed not in the alleged context of ad hominem argument against the exegesis of Dr. Geisler, but in a completely different arena!  One is simply left without words to describe the utter lack of coherent thought that lies behind such a reply.  [And I note in passing that this review, which is defending an allegedly “comprehensive” work against Calvinism that somehow did not include any meaningful exegesis of John 6:37-44, ignores the fact that I referred my readers to Gary Long’s fine, and very full, discussion of 2 Peter 2:1.]

            A singular example, you say?  Hardly.  The reader who actually sits down, as I have, and looks each reference up will be left in shock by the end of the second page of this review.  Here is another example that displays the same complete lack of comprehension of the basics of language and discourse.

            To grasp just how completely this review misses the mark, it is necessary to provide a fairly large section from chapter two of TPF.  In this chapter I carefully and methodically traced Dr. Geisler’s view on “predeterminately knowing/knowingly predetermining” back through his earlier writings.  I interacted with these sources, attempting to explain Geisler’s view as accurately as possible.  Note the following:

Right here we run directly into the most problematic element of Geisler’s paradigm: “there is no chronological or logical priority of election and foreknowledge.”  That means that in his system one cannot ask the question that has been asked by generations of theologians before him: it has always been recognized that God either bases His election and decrees on what he foresees in the free actions of creatures, or, His decree and election determines what takes place in time.  In the first scenario, the creatures are by default the sovereigns of the universe, since their wills and actions are ultimate; God becomes a mere servant of the creature, reacting rather than reigning.  In the second, God is absolutely free and man, the creature, acts in accordance with his created nature.  But Geisler (it seems) attempts to chart a different course, in essence saying that one cannot ask which one gives rise, logically, to the other.

            Geisler bases this assertion on the statement that “all of God’s attributes are one with his indivisible essence.  Hence, both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in God.”  It is somewhat startling that generations of Christian theologians could have missed such a simple truth and as a result have needlessly argued over this issue for generations.  But does the simplicity of the Being of God necessitate that there really is no logical relationship between foreknowledge and predetermination?

            It is at this very point that Geisler’s thesis is subject to devastating criticism.  John Feinberg was quite right to respond:

But, granting God such knowledge does not mean that he does not know the logical sequence and relations among the items that he knows.  Moreover, granting that God foreordains all things simultaneously does not mean that there is no logical order in what he foreordains.  For example, God always knew that Christ would be born and would also die.  But he also understood that logically (as well as chronologically) one of those events had to precede the other.  That does not mean that God knew one of those events before he knew the other.  It only means that in knowing both simultaneously, he knows the logical and chronological relation between the two events.

Indeed, one can point to the fact that God is fully just and fully merciful.  Yet, even these two aspects of God’s character bear a logical relationship to the other: one cannot define mercy without logical reference to justice.  Hence, the mere assertion that God’s Being is simple and one does not logically entail accepting the idea that there is no logical relationship between God’s act of decreeing, His election, His foreordination, and his knowledge of future events.  We must agree with Feinberg when he summarizes the question Geisler (and everyone else) must answer: “does God foreknow because he foreordains or does he foreordain because he foreknows?”  The fact is we will see that Dr. Geisler does take a de facto position on this topic.

            Geisler continues:

            More properly, we should speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts....In other words, all aspects of the eternal purpose of God are equally timeless.  For if God is an eternal and simple Being then his thoughts must be coordinate and unified.

            Whatever he forechooses cannot be based on what he foreknows.  Nor can what he foreknows be based on what he forechose.  Both must be simultaneous and coordinate acts of God.  Thus God knowingly determined and determinately knew from all eternity everything that would come to pass, including all free acts.  Hence, they are truly free actions, and God determined they would be such.  God then is totally sovereign in the sense of actually determining what occurs, and yet humans are completely free and responsible for what they choose.

It is very difficult to understand these words, given that they are based upon the assertion that there is no logical priority of foreordination to foreknowledge, for they are “one.”  But given that in point of fact there is no reason to accept this assertion, we are still left with the classical conundrum of how God can be sovereign over all things on one hand, and man “completely free” on the other.  Using phrases like “determinately knowing” or “knowingly determining” does not in reality solve the problem, it only confuses it.

            At this point it is good to note that there is a real danger in misunderstanding the use of the term “predetermined” or just “determined.”  Most people upon reading this term think of a positive, volitional action on the part of God: i.e., in the sense of decreeing that something is going happen, such as the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:28) which took place, we are told, as God’s power and will had decided beforehand.  Most people understand these terms to speak to something active on the part of God.  But we will see this is not Geisler’s meaning.  When he speaks of “knowingly determining,” the active element is gone.  “Determined” here refers to the passive recognition of the actions of free men, not the sovereign decree that the action would take place through the instrumentality of creatures.  In other words, what Geisler means is that God “determines” what will take place through His perfect knowledge.  It would be like my saying that “I determined the water in the pool was very cold by putting my toe in the water.”  “Determined” here is passive: I did not make the water hot or cold, I just passively took in knowledge that it was, in fact, cold.  We could contrast this with my saying, “I installed a heating system in my pool, and determined the temperature would stay at 76 degrees.”  Here, “determined” is active because I am actually making the water a particular temperature.  When Geisler speaks of God “determining” things he is saying that since God has perfect, complete, and instantaneous knowledge of all events, past, present, and future, then He determines those actions--but this is solely in the passive sense.  The grand issue of whether God actively decrees whatsoever comes to pass is, in fact, directly denied.  In this sense, Geisler’s position, despite all the theological terminology and discussion of sovereignty, is very much the same as the Arminian who says that God merely looks into the future and elects on the basis of what He sees.  While Geisler repeats his assertion that one cannot logically determine the relationship between foreknowledge and predetermination, his constant emphasis upon the absolute freedom of the creature betrays the reality of his system.  (TPF, pp. 56-59).

The reader will note that the discussion of Geisler’s position is full and as clear as his own confusing and non-standard use of terminology will allow.  This response ignores the entirety of this chapter’s argumentation, choosing instead to isolate phrases from it rather than deal with its actual content.  But, the author(s) did choose to take a particularly cheap and amazingly shallow shot at me based upon this section anyway. The appendix provides a long list of alleged misrepresentations (none of which prove to be accurate upon examination), followed by the complaint that the author counts no less than forty examples of misrepresentation of his position.  Then we encounter these amazing words:

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 PF.

One is again left airing one’s tonsils at such writing.  One can find the relevant text immediately above, specifically the beginning of the paragraph that reads, “It is very difficult to understand these words, given that they are based upon the assertion that there is no logical priority of foreordination to foreknowledge, for they are ‘one.’”  But as anyone can see, this was not an admission that I found it difficult to understand the view, nor that I failed to comprehend it!  How can the author(s) of this response possibly read that paragraph in the midst of the entirety of the context which provides full and accurate discussion of Geisler’s position and make such an absurd claim as this, and then have the temerity to follow it up with language such as “overly zealous, pedantic, and at times arrogant”? 

            By this time the reader is surely beginning to understand why I see a group project or a misguided undergraduate student behind this response.  I said on our webcast shortly after reading this review that on the simple level of utter misrepresentation of the text being reviewed, this work rivals anything produced by Gail Riplinger!  Not even the Watchtower has had the courage to put this kind of material in print.  And while Dr. Geisler remains responsible for it (it appears under his name), surely it is not possible that any person with graduate training could possibly miss the basic meaning of language with such consistency.

            Still unconvinced?  Maybe these are just two anomalies, albeit glaring and egregious ones?  Well, let’s try one more just to make sure the point is firmly established.

One of the issues that I raised in TPF had to do with the way CBF dealt with truly scholarly Reformed material, such as the writings of John Owen or John Piper.  I documented how CBF used highly unscholarly techniques to attack Piper’s work and allege error when in fact nothing of the substance of Piper’s work was even quoted, let alone refuted (a technique taken to the extreme in this response).  I likewise noted the amazing accusation of “adding to the Bible” on the part of CBF against John Owen.  As this runs in very close parallel with the treatment of my own work, and as it again demonstrates that the original context of any work under review by CBF and its author(s) is utterly irrelevant, I reproduce the discussion here from TPF and then provide the comments from the new response.

Most frustrating to the Reformed believer who has provided a reasoned and Scripturally-based defense of their beliefs is the utter lack of serious interaction on the part of CBF with such works.  There is simply no attempt to interact on a meaningful level with the many Reformed works that provide in-depth, serious biblical exegesis and argumentation in defense of the Reformed position.  While some works, such as Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ and Piper’s The Justification of God, are mentioned, and even cited, the responses are so surface-level that they amount to nothing more than a dismissal, not a rebuttal.  And even here, the Reformed material is handled in such a cavalier manner as to make even the effort of citing it worthless.  This is clearly seen in the way in which CBF will quote as little as a single sentence, and on the basis of this, accuse Reformed writers of “changing” Scripture.  For example, Dr. Geisler “quotes” from John Owen and writes:

Arguably, the best defense of extreme Calvinism on limited atonement comes from John Owen.  His response to this passage is a shocking retranslation to: “God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave His Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved”! This needs no response, simply a sober reminder that God repeatedly exhorts us not to add to or subtract from His words (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19).

This citation is from page 214 of Owen’s work.  Was this great Christian scholar suggesting that we should “retranslate” John 3:16?  Is this a fair representation of Owen’s position?  Not in the slightest.  This citation comes toward the end of a lengthy discussion of the passage (a discussion, I note, that is significantly longer and in more depth than any discussion of any passage in all of CBF).  There is no attempt whatsoever on the part of CBF to address the actual argument and the reasoning set forth.  Here, in context, is what Owen said:

First, If this word whosoever be distributive, then it is restrictive of the love of God to some, and not to others,--to one part of the distribution, and not the other.  And if it do not restrain the love of God, intending the salvation of some, then it is not distributive of the fore-mentioned object of it; and if it do restrain it, then all are not intended in the love which moved God to give his Son.  Secondly, I deny that the word here is distributive of the object of God’s love, but only declarative of his end and aim in giving Christ in the pursuit of that love,--to wit, that all believers might be saved. So that the sense is, “God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved.” And this is all that is by any (besides a few worthless cavils) objected from this place to disprove our interpretation....

As anyone reading the passage in context can see, to charge Owen with alteration of the Word of God is quite simply ridiculous.  He not only specifically says, “the sense is...” (a phrase that would have to be cited on the basis of mere honesty if CBF is serious in accusing Owen of “adding” to the Word of God), but it is painfully obvious that Owen is interpreting the passage in the light of the preceding ten pages of argumentation he had provided.  One cannot avoid noting that aside from this allegedly “sober reminder” offered by Geisler, there is not a single word of meaningful argumentation or refutation provided.  (TPF, pp. 21-23).

Now surely the above would, if it were in error, demand a response from Dr. Geisler.  Surely the documentation of such handling of meaningful material in such an unscholarly fashion would require a response, and rebuttal, if the accusation were unsound.  But no rebuttal or correction is offered.  Indeed, the documentation of this, and so many other errors, is passed over in utter silence.  But, as with the above cases, this new response does not blush to take a phrase from this section, documenting a clear error in the original book, rip it from its context, and turn it around into an accusation of error on my part.  Note this incredible assertion:

Name calling 

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)...“quite simply ridiculous” (23)....

The reader will note that the phrase that is here turned into an example of “name calling” (!) came from the above section wherein I am documenting the utter disregard for the original context and the partial citation (CBF cuts off the beginning phrase “the sense is”) of Owen’s words.  Such writing is “quite simply ridiculous.”  That is not name calling, that is factual reporting of an error the author(s) of this response ignore.  The line makes perfect sense in its context, is perfectly accurate, and must be responded to by Dr. Geisler.  But this response fails at every point it possibly could in providing a meaningful answer.

            At the conclusion of this article is a link to the notes I typed up for our webcast.  I managed to make it through only the first five or so pages before I realized this was going to take way too long due to the incredible nature of the published review.  Those who need to have the point proven to them dozens of times before realizing the truth can take these notes, just as I wrote them, look up the references, and sit in stunned silence as I did as I was writing them.  There is no reason to prolong the documentation of the nature of this reply at this time.

Nameless Folks and Misdirection

            One of the saddest examples of the methodology of this review is found near the end of the appendix, on page 262.  It seems the author(s) of this review felt it would be best to include their worst examples of mis-citation, mis-reading, and simple error in the midst of personal attacks.  So we have an entire subsection titled “Pride and Exclusivism,” which begins,

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.

One has to wonder who these nameless, faceless people are who join with the author(s) in “detecting” this pride?  I “detected” lots of feelings I could have mentioned in regard to Dr. Geisler’s book, but you do not present such things unless you can back up what you are saying.  But the great irony is that in the midst of accusing me of being prideful, the author(s) of this review purposefully misrepresent me and give clear evidence of their desire to do so.  How so?  Note the second to last quoted line above which reads:

The author of PF immodestly announces, “I will be demonstrating” that Geisler’s view “is in error” (30).

When I first read this, I only noted that it is hardly immodest to say that someone’s view is in error, unless, of course, that person does not believe you intelligent enough, or old enough, or trained enough, to even critique their position.  But as I was finishing up my notes on the response I looked up the actual context of the citation, and again groaned in unbelief at what I found.  Here is the context from TPF:

The Reformed tradition is rich in honest dialogue and debate.  Those who love truth will not be offended by honest, direct refutation and interaction.  The “politically correct” culture we live in should not be allowed to silence meaningful theological debate.  Dr. Geisler himself has written:

Third, what about those who insist that drawing lines will divide Christians?  In response it must be lovingly but firmly maintained that it is better to be divided by truth than to be united by error.   There is an unhealthy tendency in evangelical Christianity to hide under the banner of Christian charity while sacrificing doctrinal purity.

In the spirit of these words I offer a rebuttal of Dr. Geisler’s work.  This is not meant to be a presentation of the Reformed view so ably accomplished by others: my positive presentation will be limited to establishing facts that are not in evidence from a reading of CBF.  Instead, I will be demonstrating that the biblical argumentation provided by Norman Geisler is in error.  It is my hope that the reader will be edified by the consistent focus upon biblical exegesis, for this is, truly, the heart and soul of Reformed theology.

As I compared the citation to the original I could not help but be amazed at the use of the quotation marks in CBF.  Here we cannot blame eyesight. We cannot blame a simple misreading of the text.  This is purposeful, and planned.  I said I would demonstrate that the biblical argumentation provided by Norman Geisler is in error.  I did that.  Twenty eight scholars and pastors whose names are found on TPF, and hundreds of others who have contacted me since then, agree that I did just that.  The fact that Dr. Geisler does not even attempt a response on an exegetical level gives eloquent testimony that I did exactly what I promised to do.  But that is not what is quoted in the new appendix to CBF.  No, through the purposeful and fascinating use of quotation marks the actual substance of my statement, focused upon biblical argumentation is deleted, and Geisler’s entire view, his entire theology, is placed in its stead.  This, then, becomes the basis for the accusation of pride and arrogance on my part.  How could a young, over-zealous, arrogant, prideful, at times pedantic apologist like James White dare to say he will prove Dr. Norman Geisler’s entire viewpoint in error?  How brash!  But, of course, the original citation could not be used without deleting its substance.  How strange would it look to accuse me of being prideful simply for saying (and proving!) someone else’s biblical argumentation is in error?  Can the biblical argumentation provided by two sides who contradict one another both be correct?  Of course not.  Hence, it follows of necessity, that the quotation, to be useful to the appendix, had to be “spun” and changed.  And so it was.  Such is simply disgraceful.

Where’s the Exegesis?

            The vast majority of this response should never have seen the light of day. Given the character of TPF as an exegetical reply to CBF, the logical response would involve exegetical rebuttal and argument.  But, of course, this is exactly what is avoided by this reply.  No exegesis of any disputed passage is offered.  No exegesis of the many passages the original book simply forgot were relevant is provided. 

            One brief section, subtitled “Improper Exegesis,” at least raises the issue of the interpretation of the text. But it is tremendously surface-level, and simply says:

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.

TPF contains literally hundreds of pages of positive exegetical presentation, and this is the extent of the response offered to it?  TPF documented dozens of examples of eisegesis on the part of Dr. Geisler.  This is all the response that can be given?  And even in offering these few sentences, the appendix stumbles over itself in making clear errors yet once again.  Note the first allegation: without responding to a single argument or point of exegesis, this response simply asserts that I must be wrong in my understanding of the term “all.”  But since I provided contextual and linguistic arguments that are completely ignored, how can this be called a meaningful or scholarly response?  Then the author(s) utterly misread the text yet again with the assertion regarding John 1:12.  Compare this misrepresentation with the actual text from TPF:

            But the objection does raise an interesting issue: does the text itself indicate a relationship between believing and the new birth?  There are certainly some points that Dr. Geisler would have to consider to make his assertions carry weight:

            1)  John, as is his custom, refers to Christians as “the believing ones” (toi'" pisteuvousin).  English translations normally miss this important element of John’s gospel (the contrast between true, saving faith, which is almost always expressed through the use of the present tense indicating an on-going, living faith, versus false faith which is almost always placed in the aorist tense, making no statement about its consistency or vitality).  It is literally, “even to those who are believing in His name” or “the believing ones (who believe) in His name.”  The term “believing” is a present participle. 

            2)  The verb “born” (ejgennhvqhsan) is in the aorist passive form.  In its context it is plainly said to be an act of God.  All human agency is denied. 

            3)  It follows, then, that verse 13 is a description of “the believing ones” of verse 12.  Nothing is said in the text that the new birth is “received” by an “act of free will.”  In fact, the exact opposite is stated clearly, “the ones born not of the will of man....”  It is an amazing example of how preconceived notions can be read into a text that CBF can say the text makes the new birth dependent upon an act of “free will” when the text says the opposite (184-185).

Immediately the reader again sees the simple mistake of the author(s).  Nowhere does TPF say the word “received” is not in the text.  This is yet another inexplicably glaring error of reading.  In either case, the actual text of TPF says, “Nothing is said in the text that the new birth is ‘received’ by an ‘act of free will.’” This is completely true.  The text speaks of receiving Christ, not the new birth.  By ignoring the exegesis offered, the response again paints a picture with no reality, and proves itself incapable of meaningful argumentation.

            The last two examples of errors in exegesis make no more sense than the preceding ones.  The entirety of chapter nine of TPF, 24 pages of exegetical presentation and interaction with Geisler’s piece-meal interpretation of Romans 9 in CBF, is dismissed with a wave of the hand.  And its brief, unexplained mention of “saved” to “saved himself” again causes any person who has a concern for context to shake the head in utter disbelief, as the original text bears out.  The citation begins with a quote from CBF:

Whatever else may be said, God’s sovereignty over the human will includes His initiating, pursuing, persuading, and saving grace without which no one would ever will to be saved.  For “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:11).

Again the words are specific: God initiates, God pursues, God persuades, God gives saving grace, but, despite it all, the final decision is man’s, “without which no one would ever will to be saved.  God wills to save man, but unless man wills to save himself, he will not be saved.  This is thorough-going Arminianism.

There is, of course, no “distortion” of any terms at all in the text.  In fact, the comments flow directly from the consideration of Dr. Geisler’s own words.  How is this an error of exegesis?  No one knows. 

            Surely no one can seriously call this a rebuttal of the exegesis offered in TPF, and such must be quite the disappointment for the legions of Arminians who prefer to call themselves “moderate Calvinists” who were chomping at the bit for some kind of rebuttal of TPF.  While some of the most die-hard may find something of comfort in this response, those actually looking for scholarly rebuttal will be sorely disappointed.

Drop Back Ten and Punt

            Those who need point-by-point response can do so by clicking here.  There surely is no reason to drag this particularly painful experience out much farther.  All who have benefited from the work of Norman Geisler in the past cannot help but feel a true sense of embarrassment at the publication of this response.  I am actually thankful that I am the object of this review, for if it had been offered in response to enemies of the faith, they would have known no bounds to their joyous documentation of its every error, and would have used this as an argument against everything good that Dr. Geisler has written.

            At the end of his review Dr. Geisler says he prays that that I will channel my “considerable talent and zeal toward the more pressing need of defending Christianity against those who deny the fundamentals of the faith, not those who affirm them.”  While this may sound like a noble sentiment, I have to wonder: why did he write Chosen But Free?  Why did he choose to identify the faith of Reformed Baptist Churches, conservative Presbyterian Churches, and many others, as irrational and unbiblical?  Are we to understand that he has the right to do this, but those of us at the pointed end of his sword must ignore his highly errant and flawed attacks upon our faith?  I honestly do not understand the basis of such a statement.

            One thing is beyond all doubt: this response proves, even more clearly than did the text of TPF, that Dr. Geisler has no response to Reformed scholarship. 

            In closing, I would like to ask Dr. Geisler to consider well the nature of this appendix.  As I have said, I do not believe he wrote it.  I believe someone else, perhaps even a group, cooperated in piecing together disparate and inconsistent comments on the text of the book.  But whatever its provenance, it exists today as part of the 2nd edition of Chosen But Free, and the front of the book says “Norman Geisler.”  That places the above documented errors (a word that seems extremely weak to cover the kind of misrepresentations we have seen) squarely in his realm of responsibility.  And hence I will say with all seriousness, “Dr. Geisler, do the right thing: pull this appendix, print a retraction, and simply do what is right.”  You do not attack any fellow believer with such terms as arrogant, over-zealous, pedantic, and prideful while utilizing this kind of utterly inane misrepresentation and argumentation as a shield.  It is simply scholarly negligence. Unless Dr. Geisler can explain how this kind of material has some relevance to the actual topic at hand, it should be pulled from circulation with apologies to all concerned, but especially to his own readers.  There simply is no other course to follow.


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