A little more than a decade ago James White, a Calvinist apologist, and I debated the issues of faith and assurance in Oklahoma City. Today I received word from Shawn that White had criticized me and GES for our view on assurance (which came from a 5-minute video Shawn and I did which someone sent to White) in an hour-long broadcast. I watched the video of that today. Evidently this was from August of 2015.
Several major points arose in his broadcast:
- GES and I are wrong when we argue that a person is born again “as long as you make a statement of faith that Jesus died and rose again” (7:45).
- James 2 destroys our position (9:00ff.).
- Our position is “man-centered” and is accurately described as “anti-Lordship and cheap grace” (22:30).
- Assurance is found in “looking away from self and looking to the one who is able to save and who loses none given to Him by the Father” (35:00).
- Assurance is found in looking at ourselves and seeing if we love God, love one another, and keep His commandments (29:07; 37:40 ff; 44:00ff; 46:30-47:45). As we see God work in our experience, “it [my changed life] increases the character, nature, and depth of my assurance of His ability to keep me” (49:28).
- There are two extremes to avoid: saying you can’t be sure and saying you can be sure once and for all (“I’ve got my ticket punched”) (54:00). The correct position is “in obedience I look at myself and realize there are apostates in Scripture…plenty of false professors” (54:22).
Did you notice how White misunderstands and misrepresents our position and how he contradicts himself?
We definitely do not say that all who make a profession of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection are born again. First, the issue is faith, not professions of faith. Second, the object of saving faith is Jesus and His promise of everlasting life, not simply His substitutionary death and resurrection.
We find “anti-Lordship” and “cheap grace” to be offensive titles. They have no basis in fact. These are simply pejorative expressions like anti-choice and anti-women in the Pro-Life debate.
Our position is not man-centered. We point people to the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise of life. Throughout this video White suggests that we must deny ourselves, follow Christ, love God, love one another, and obey God’s commands in order to show we have true saving faith. It seems that it is his view which could rightly be called man-centered.
He finds the Free Grace explanation of James 2 to be eisegesis, that is, reading into the text. He suggested that anyone passing Exegesis 101 knows that James 2 teaches that in order to be have everlasting life one must not only profess faith but must also persevere in a lifetime of good works. I confidently invite you to read Zane Hodges’s commentary The Epistle of James: Proven Character Through Testing, as well as other Free Grace authors writing on James, to see whose interpretation makes the most sense of that epistle (see here).
How can assurance both be by “looking away from self” and “looking at myself”? Which one is it? How can White say both things and not catch himself?
The Calvinist position of White seems to fit in the first extreme he wishes to avoid, the view that says you can’t be sure. Not once in 58.5 minutes did White say he was sure he would spend eternity with the Lord. He never cited a single Calvinist who indicated he was sure. The best he could do was cite the case of a fellow elder in his church who on the day he died, in answer to the question, “Who is your only hope in life and death?” replied “He is my only hope.” Saying that Jesus is one’s only hope is not at all the same as saying that you are sure you will spend eternity with the Lord.
At one point in the video White discusses a mother whose son died in a car accident. She wanted White to perform the funeral and to say that the son is now with the Lord (26:33ff). He says on the video, “There was not a shred of evidence that this young man knew Christ. He had no interest in holiness…following Christ…self-denial, etc.” White’s issue was not that this young man never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. His problem was that the young man lacked clear evidence of a changed life.
My thanks to James White for putting the 5-minute video that Shawn and I prepared within his presentation and for bringing this important issue to the attention of those who follow his ministry.