James White. The Potter’s Freedom. Calvary Press, 2000. 343 pp. [Amazon]
James White’s The Potter’s Freedom, which bears the subtitle “A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free,” is a potent, yet irenic, attack on man-centered soteriology. Written on a non-technical level, TPF systematically responds to the arguments set forth by Geisler against historic Calvinistic theology. TPF has gained wide acceptance by the Reformed camp as a lucid and thorough response to Arminianism, containing the testimony of twenty-seven Reformed evangelicals and two forewords by Phillip R. Johnson and R. C. Sproul, Jr., all of whom highly praise the book. TPF seeks not so much to be a positive presentation of the Reformed faith, but rather a critique of the flawed position set forth in CBF (30).
The central issue in the whole discussion is “biblical exegesis,” which is “the heart and soul of Reformed theology” (30). Through sound exegesis, TPF seeks to lay the theological groundwork of the absolute sovereignty and freedom of God, which is the foundation for the discussion to follow. But while TPF certainly objects on the theological level to CBF, the main area of critique is on the exegetical level. There is a thorough analysis of CBF’s contextual exegesis of the relevant passages of Scripture (or rather its lack thereof).
One of the biggest problems of CBF is its failure to define accurately its position and its opponent’s. CBF claims to be defending a “moderate Calvinism,” while distancing itself from both Arminianism and “extreme Calvinism.” TPF convincingly shows, however, that CBF is in agreement with the heart of Arminian theology, except for the issue of eternal security-and that inconsistently so (105-06). And the system that gets the denigrating label of “extreme Calvinism” is nothing other than the historic Reformed faith of the greater number of well-known preachers and theologians of the past. Sadly, CBF is saturated with misrepresentation of its opponent and non-exegetically based argumentation.
The second chapter begins the systematic critique of the content of CBF, giving special attention to its attempt to find a resolution between God’s decrees and His foreknowledge of human free choices. The former group argues that everything happens ultimately because God determines that it will, while the latter claims that God simply foreknows what man will do-His determination not being the ultimate cause. CBF argues, however, that because God is a unity and all of His “attributes are one with [His] indivisible essence. . . . both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in God” (57). Consequently, “there is no chronological or logical priority of election and foreknowledge” (56). Geisler uses the unique and confusing terminology of “knowingly determining” or “determinately knowing,” neither determination or foreknowledge being based on or prior to the other. There is great confusion in this language, for what CBF means by “determining” something is quite different from the normal understanding of the word. Whereas its normal sense in a theological context communicates the active decreeing and guaranteeing of future events, CBF takes it to mean something quite different. “Determining” in this sense means simply to recognize something as it is (58-59). As a result of this redefinition, God’s determination becomes nothing more than a synonym for His foreknowledge (i.e., prescience) of human choices. At the end of the day, CBF does not differ from the Arminian in these issues and has no right to associate itself with any form or Calvinism, seeing that it rejects virtually all of the key tenets of the system.
As a result of this misuse of terminology, CBF seeks to disguise its Arminianism as “moderate Calvinism,” which is really neither moderate nor Calvinism. TPF effectively uncovers this ploy to appear more balanced and acceptable by the misuse and confusion of language. The heart of CBF finally reveals itself: God gives men freedom, which they exercise in an unhindered manner. What actually takes place in time is ultimately determined by man, God’s “determination” being a mere recognition or foreknowledge of autonomous and free activity. This Arminianism becomes much clearer throughout as CBF affirms that God “wills what he knows will happen,” having known “from eternity who would repent” (62). Here CBF is clearly contradicting its previous assertion that foreknowledge and election are not in a relationship of logical priority, demonstrating full agreement with classical Arminianism (62-63).
The following few chapters get into the specific areas of man’s ability and the freedom of his will (3-4), election (5-9), the atonement (10-11), and irresistible grace (13-14). The lack of exegetical basis for argumentation in CBF becomes quite clear in these chapters where the controversial texts are analyzed. CBF does little more than reject the Reformed interpretation based on philosophical presuppositions without setting forth a positive contextual presentation of what the passages do teach. Man is presented in Scripture as dead in sin, a slave to his lusts, and incapable of doing anything that pleases God. This inability is set forth by way of illustration and explicit statement. CBF, however, responds to difficult texts like Romans 8:6-8, John 6:43-44, and others with virtually no contextual exegesis, arguing simply that the text cannot mean what it says because of preconceived (and unwarranted) theological biases.
While TPF does not hold back at all in its criticism of CBF, it seeks to do so in a very controlled and reasonable manner, not responding with the same kind of treatment with which CBF handles the Reformed faith (i.e., gross misrepresentation and caricaturing). TPF exegetically and logically responds to the contents of the book, not appealing to straw men or emotionally charged argumentation, and for this should be commended. In this regard it sets a good example for charitable theological interaction which can truly be beneficial rather than destructive. TPF has thoroughly and successfully rebutted CBF.