Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views. By Dave Hunt and James White. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004. 427 pp. Paper. $17.99.
There has been a spate of “debate” books in recent years that present the viewpoints of different authors on key issues. The original book of this nature was probably The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (InterVarsity Press, 1977). In this work, four writers (George Ladd, Herman Hoyt, Loraine Boettner, and Anthony Hoekema) presented their viewpoint on the millennium (historic premillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism), followed by responses from each of the other authors. Zondervan followed this with The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? (Zondervan, 1984), in which Paul Feinberg, Gleason Archer, and Douglas Moo debated the rapture. Other topics soon followed, including Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (InterVarsity Press, 1986). Zondervan now has a whole series of “debate” books in their “Counterpoint Series.” One of the most valuable “debate” books is The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? by Kenneth Gentry and Thomas Ice (Kregel, 1999). The back cover says that the book is “presented in a friendly debate format.” Such is not the case, however, in the newest book of this nature.
Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views, by Dave Hunt and James White, is a lively, often heated (“Hunt remains doggedly impervious to instruction” [p. 141]), sometimes brutal (“White’s reference to God’s foreknowledge…borders on blasphemy” [p. 153]) exchange between two men who have each written books on the subject of Calvinism. White’s pro-Calvinism book, The Potter’s Freedom (Calvary Press, 2000), although written as a rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s anti-Calvinism book Chosen but Free, is nevertheless a full-fledged declaration of what he believes to be the truth of Calvinism. Hunt’s anti-Calvinism book, What Love is This? (Loyal Publishing, 2002), was written later, but is not an answer to White’s book, although he does quote him in many chapters.
Debating Calvinism is just that—the book reads like the text of an actual debate. The fourteen chapters of the book are bracketed by introductory and final affirmations of Calvinism by White and denials by Hunt. In between are seven chapters by White affirming Calvinism and seven chapters by Hunt denying Calvinism. The format is unusual in that each of White’s seven affirmations and Hunt’s seven denials is followed by the opponent’s “response,” then a “defense” by the writer who began the chapter, and then by the “final remarks” of each party. Thus, each chapter has five sections, with the initial writer having three opportunities to present his views and the respondent having two. The initial affirmation or denial ranges from nine to twelve pages. The “response” is always a little shorter at six through eight pages. However, the “defense” and “final remarks” are always uniform—four pages for the “defense” and two pages for each of the “final remarks.”
At 427 pages, Debating Calvinism is large enough for each author to fully present his views. Most sections of the book contain endnotes, which are appropriate since the book is not the actual text of a debate.
White’s affirmations and responses are more organized than Hunt’s, and contain section headings. Considering its size, the book is a quick read. The authors both quote an abundance of Scripture—White from the NASB and Hunt from the KJV—but the book should be read with a Bible in hand for those passages that are merely cited.
White’s seven affirmations of Calvinism are predictable: four of them are part of the Five Points of Calvinism, even if only two have their official TULIP names: “Man’s Inability,” “Unconditional Election,” “Particular Redemption,” and “Irresistible Grace.” The other chapters are on “God’s Eternal Decree” (where he discusses the concept of the sovereignty of God and hardly mentions God’s decree), “Jesus Teaches the Doctrines of Grace” (where he uses John 6 to make Jesus teach the three essential pillars of Calvinism: Unconditional Election [p. 118], Total Depravity [p. 121], and Irresistible Grace [p. 122]), and “The Golden Chain of Redemption” (where he makes Rom 8:29-30 teach the bogus Reformed notion of an ordo salutis which contradicts other related Scriptures and omits regeneration and sanctification). Surprisingly, White does not have the fifth point of Calvinism, “Perseverance of the Saints,” as one of his affirmations of Calvinism, and rarely mentions the teaching.
In White’s chapters can be found all the standard Calvinistic arguments that have been used for over four hundred years, all presented with the same tactics that Calvinists customarily use.
White accuses his opponent of holding misconceptions about Calvinism (p. 11), not understanding the Reformed Faith (p. 14), using straw-men caricatures (p. 14) and misrepresentations (p. 331), appealing to the emotions (p. 251), and practicing eisegesis (p. 164). He continually refers to Calvinism as the “Doctrines of Grace” (pp. 14, 117, 239, 418), implying that only Calvinists believe in salvation by grace. He distances himself from Calvin when it gets too embarrassing (p. 239). He downplays the connection between Calvinism and Augustine (p. 243). He implies that rejecting Calvinism means stealing glory from God (p. 115). Like Calvinists are famous for, he uses theological jargon like “monergism” and “synergism” (pp. 63, 64, 207), and a new term, “compatibilism,” which he defines as “the biblical relationship of God’s sovereign decree to the creaturely will of man” (p. 43). White even chides Hunt for not being familiar with the term (pp. 56, 331). He appeals to creeds instead of Scripture. His favorite is the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. The first and last quotations he uses in the first chapter are from this confession (pp. 35, 43), not Scripture. He also appeals to men instead of Scripture. White introduces the testimony of Charles Hodge (p. 90), Jonathan Edwards (p. 115), and R. C. Sproul (p. 40) to support his positions. His favorite is Charles Spurgeon. Sometimes he uses extended quotes from Spurgeon to fill entire pages (pp. 172, 196). He even closes his “final affirmation” with a long quote by Spurgeon (pp. 420-21).
White is equally at home using the historical argument (“Christian theologians down through the centuries have believed” [p. 109]) and the guilt by association argument (“a belief he holds in common with Roman Catholicism, historical Arminianism, Mormonism, and all other forms of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism” [p. 347]). When it comes to scriptural arguments to support his position, White misapplies passages on Israel to NT salvation (pp. 69, 176), makes being “drawn” or “chosen” or “given” a reference to election to salvation (pp. 70, 92, 118), makes faith a work (p. 97), and makes the world the elect (p. 376). And these are just the misapplications and misinterpretations pointed out by Dave Hunt (pp. 79, 80, 101, 106, 130, 182, 385).
Hunt’s seven denials of Calvinism are “Calvin and Augustine,” “God’s Love and Character,” “Regeneration Before Faith and Salvation?,” “Turning the Bible into a Charade,” “God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Will,” “Salvation Offered to All,” and “Biblical Assurance of Salvation.”
In his first denial he surveys the often heretical teachings of Calvin and Augustine. White thinks this is “irrelevant” (p. 16), but Hunt points out that White himself calls Calvinism “Calvin’s doctrine” (p. 229) and Warfield stated that “the system of doctrine taught by Calvin is just the Augustinianism common to the whole body of the Reformers” (p. 229). Hunt’s second denial concerns the underlying theme of his book What Love is This? He considers God’s love and character to be the central issue. Hunt’s third denial shows that Calvinism, by its reversal of faith and regeneration, is another gospel. Hunt’s fourth denial, which White claims is “marked by shrill rhetoric” (p. 319), points out that the Bible is a charade if Christ commanded the gospel to be preached to every creature, yet man is dead in sin to the extent that he can’t believe it and God has already determined who is going to be saved and who is going to be lost. In his fifth denial, Hunt presents the biblical case for the free will of man. White confounds the issue by his constant reference to free will as “libertarian free will” (pp. 89, 218, 347, 413). Not only does it lead the reader to think of political philosophy instead of theology, it makes it seem like Hunt is espousing something different than biblical free will. Hunt’s sixth denial concerns the legitimate offer of salvation to all mankind—not just the “elect.” In his last denial, Hunt presents a contrast between the biblical and Calvinistic teachings on the assurance of salvation. He shows from Calvinistic authorities that Calvinists ultimately ground assurance of salvation in perseverance through good works. Hunt actually quotes more Calvinists than White, but obviously for a different reason.
Mention has already been made of the clarity of White’s presentations. He comes across as more scholarly, more logical, and more organized than Hunt. Hunt does seem to misunderstand what White is saying on some points. However, Hunt has a knack for getting down to the real issue and stating it in simple terms. Some of Hunt’s observations are quite profound. On the sovereignty of God, Hunt comments: “White begins his treatise with a ringing tribute to God’s sovereignty. The Calvinist knows little else” (p. 47). On the inability of the sinner, Hunt concludes: “The conclusion to which White’s argument leads is that all who are not among the elect given by the Father to the Son are unable to come to Him, unable to believe on Him, unable to be saved. The only thing anyone can do is to hope that he is among the elect and that a bolt from the blue causes him to believe” (p. 132). On Limited Atonement, Hunt points out that “if Christ’s death automatically saved, the elect were never lost and didn’t need to believe the gospel” (p. 194). Because Christ became sin (2 Cor 5:21), he also explains how “there is no way that Christ could pay the penalty for only a select group of sinners” (p. 194). On the teaching that the “elect” must be given faith to believe the gospel, Hunt remarks that “even if faith were a gift, a gift must be received and used” (p. 212). In reply to the teaching that regeneration precedes faith, Hunt perceptively inquires: “Why would a regenerated child of God need to be saved?” (p. 127). On the same subject, Hunt asks and answers an important question: “Why do Calvinists, in spite of so many Scriptures to the contrary, insist that God must sovereignly regenerate sinners before they know and believe the gospel? The answer is simple: If this were not the case, three of TULIP’s five points would collapse: total depravity, unconditional election, and irresistible grace. The totally depraved are unable to believe and therefore must be regenerated without faith. Nor would unconditional election or irresistible grace be necessary if the unregenerate could believe the gospel” (p. 284).
Debating Calvinism contains a lot of repetition. Considering the format, both writers quote too many other authors, especially Charles Spurgeon. Likewise, White refers too often to Greek and Greek grammar for a book of this nature. White is also very condescending in his approach. Hunt makes much of the errors of Calvin and Augustine, but since White is a Reformed Baptist, and would agree with Hunt in many of his criticisms, much of the time he spent on that endeavor could have been put to better use. Both writers are sometimes guilty in their “response,” “defense,” and “final remarks” of straying from the subject of the initial affirmation or denial. In fact, the “final remarks” really don’t add much to the substance of each chapter and could be eliminated altogether or their contents combined with the “response” and “defense.”
The book’s preface is too brief to be of any value. A historical introduction to the Calvinist controversy would have been better. There are no indexes, but the magnitude of Scripture references demands that there be at least a Scripture index. When quoting Calvin, both writers use the older English translation of Calvin’s Institutes by Henry Beveridge instead of the newer one by Ford Lewis Battles (Westminster Press, 1960). Hunt does the same in his book on Calvinism, but White uses the translation by Battles in his. Although a bibliography would not normally be required in a book with this format, because both authors quote from many others, it would be helpful. At the very least a “recommended reading list” would be appropriate.
Although I noted only two errors in the text—both related to quotation marks—the endnotes are rife with errors and inconsistencies. Many of the publishers names are truncated. The subtitle of White’s earlier work on Calvinism is not even given in full. No edition is stated on most books that have come out in different editions. There are numerous other omissions and incorrect dates. Tyndale House Publishers is not located in Chicago (pp. 133, 237, 250, 264, etc.). The dates given for the NASB are incomplete, although they are properly listed on the title page in White’s book on Calvinism. Even the title page has factual error on it. It states that the book has a bibliography and index when it has neither.
This is not a book with detailed exegetical discussions—from either author. But unlike the other aforementioned “debate” books, it does in fact read like a real debate. However, there is no “winner.” Neither writer is at his best. For a complete picture of the position of each man the reader would do better to consult their respective books on Calvinism. Debating Calvinism is an interesting change from the usual books on Calvinism (pro or con) centered around the Five Points of Calvinism. It does in fact make you feel as if you just sat through an actual debate on Calvinism between Hunt and White. Although it could serve as a brief introduction to the Calvinist controversy, the tone of the book might be too harsh for some. For those already versed in the controversy, the book contains much heat, but little light.
Laurence M. Vance