06.06.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today's soundtrack is Jelly Roll: The Big Sal Story.

This afternoon, I'm reading the second chapter of James White's The Potter's Freedom, "Determinately Knowing."

Dr. White questions Dr. Norman Geisler's argument that we shouldn't answer, much less ask, the question, "Does God's foreknowledge determine what He decrees or does God's decree determine what He foreknows?" (p. 53), while still claiming to hold to a belief in God's sovereignty. How can one believe that God is sovereign, but deny that God's decrees determine everything that has happened and will happen? How can one simultaneously affirm man's absolute freedom and God's absolute sovereignty? Geisler says that God "'determinately foreknew [...] that He would bring [...] the redemption of all who will believe'" (p. 54, quoted from Geisler's 1982 essay, "God, Evil, and Dispensations"). Geisler goes on to say that God will not violate anyone's free will, for to do so would be at "'the cost of their humanity'" (p. 55). In another essay, a part of the publication Predestination & Free Will, Geisler says, "'There is no chronological or logical priority of election and foreknowledge[, as] both[...] are one in God'" (p. 56).

Geisler's assertion that God's attributes have no chronological priority is easily disproven. For though He simultaneously possesses many attributes, the attributes hold a chronological and "logical relationship to each other" (p. 57). For example, White quotes John Feinberg's criticism of Geisler's essay; Feinberg says that Christ's birth, death, and resurrection took place in a "'logical and chronological'" (p. 57) order; White goes on to point out that while God is "fully just and fully merciful" (p. 57), one must first define justice to be able to give or receive mercy. So, says White, Geisler's argument "does not logically entail accepting the idea that there is no logical relationship between God's acts of decreeing, His election, His foreordination, and [H]is knowledge of future events" (p. 57).

White says that Geisler tries to reconcile the God's sovereignty and man's free will by redefining the words "'predetermined' and 'determined'" (p. 53). Geisler says in his essay found in Predestination & Free Will that "'God knowingly determined and determinately knew from all eternity everything that would come to pass, including all free acts" (p. 58). So contrary to the common understanding of the word "determined" as actively making something come to pass (for example, God determined that He would redeem us through Christ's death and resurrection), Geisler differently defines it by adding the prefix "knowingly," making it something passive. Geisler here uses the word "determined" in the alternative definition of the word: finding something out by researching it (The crime scene investigator determined that the light had been red at the time of the car crash). James White gives a great example: he could passively determine that his pool was too cold by putting his toe into it, then he could actively determine that the pool would stay at 76 degrees by installing a new heating system in his pool. So it's the same word, but there are two distinct meanings; Geisler is using the passive definition of the word. White says that according to Geisler's argument, "[t]he grand issue of whether God actively degrees whatsoever comes to pass is, in fact, directly denied" (p. 59), making Geisler's position here "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" (p. 59). Geisler says that "'God sees what we are freely doing. And what he sees, he knows. And what he knows, he determines. So God determinately knows and knowingly determines what we are freely deciding'" (p. 60). So though he tries to convolute the issue by claiming that God's attributes do not allow for a logical chronological ordering of events, and though he tries to redefine words to fit his meanings, and though he wants to find some sort of middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism, he's merely twisted Reformed phrases to fit a nearly Arminian view, one where man's freedoms override God's sovereignty, where God hopes that men come to Him but has no real power over them to choose them as His own, where God's sovereignty comes second to man's free will.

In his book Creating God in the Image of Man?, Geisler says that "'God knew from eternity who would repent. And God's will includes intermediate causes such as human free choice. So God knows what the intermediate causes will choose to do. And God's will is in accord with his unchangeable knowledge. Therefore, God's will never changes, since he wills what he knows will happen'" (p. 62). Once again, Geisler is making a complex statement, full of flowery wordings, to hide a simple position: Man's free will determines man's salvation, and God's will is bound by man's freedom. So "man [is] the determiner and God [is] the 'perfect knower'" (p. 63), not the sovereign Lord. White says that "[a]t its root, this in no way differs from the Arminian viewpoint that God elects on the basis of what he foresees" (p. 63).

All of this was a precursor to examining Geisler's Chosen But Free. White points out that "Dr. Geisler calls himself a 'moderate Calvinist'" (p. 63), but Geisler rejects the basis of any form of Calvinism by rejecting God's sovereignty, though he pretends to hold to it, saying that "'[a]ll things come to pass as He ordained them from all eternity'"(p. 63) - but he gives himself away when he says not that God decrees the actions of man, but rather says that "'[b]y His limitless knowledge God is able to predict the exact course of human history'" (p. 63). White points out the flaw in Geisler's argument here: if God is sovereign, He need not predict anything, for if we must predict something, then that thing is what is in control.

Geisler again redefines words to fit his beliefs, saying that "'[t]here is no irresolvable conflict between an event being predetermined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us'" (p. 64), which is simply absurd. The only way that that statement can be made true is by changing the meaning of "predetermined" to mean "known of beforehand." (Steven's note: defining the word "predetermined" thus, by using the passive definition and adding the prefix "pre," does make sense, since the passive form of "determine" means to learn something or find something out through researching it, and Geisler is saying that God can foresee and thus learn the results of an event before it occurs).

Geisler takes it upon himself to define "moderate Calvinism" (actually Arminianism that pays lip service to God's sovereignty) and "extreme Calvinism (actually the historic Reformed perspective), saying that the former is a belief that "'our actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such'" (p. 66), and calling the latter a belief that "'God operates with such unapproachable sovereignty that His choices are made with total disregard for the choices of mortal men'" (p. 67) and that God will use “His irresistible power and force [people] into His kingdom against their will” (p. 68). White points out that this assertion is inconsistent with Geisler’s previous statement that God’s attributes do not hold a priority; here, Geisler is saying that God’s foreknowledge comes before his predetermination. White also notes that this attack on God’s apparent “irresistible grace on the unwilling” (p. 69) is no more than a straw-man argument, because it completely ignores the Biblical view that man is dead in sin before God gives him life and removes the hardness from his heart.

Geisler differentiates between persuasion and coercion in God’s position in man’s salvation, saying that “‘God uses persuasive means to convince us to choose in the way that He desires, [but we] deny that God ever uses coercive means to do so’” (p. 70), implying that there is no middle ground. White says that “a middle ground exists in Reformed theology, a middle ground that is based not upon the freedom of the creatures, but the freedom of the Creator” (p. 70). As R.C. Sproul says, “‘The grace of God operates on the heart in such a way as to make the formerly unwilling sinner willing. The redeemed person chooses Christ because he wants to choose Christ’” (p. 69).

Dr. White closes the chapter by pointing out the flawed foundation of Geisler’s Chosen But Free: Geisler “operates on the assertion that God’s knowledge and God’s predetermination (taken passively) are identical, and that in reality there is no positive, active, sovereign decree of God that gives form and shape to time and history” (p. 70). He says that “[t]he result is a tremendously confusing presentation that seems to promote both the idea that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely free” (p. 71), but in reality, God has no control over what happens, He merely knows what will happen. White quotes Charles Hodge’s criticism of this kind of argument, who says, “‘If God cannot effectually control the acts of free agents there can be no prophecy, no prayer, no thanksgiving, no promises’” (p. 71). White concludes that Geisler’s “is not a view that could be called moderately Calvinistic, weakly Calvinistic, or even remotely Calvinistic” (p. 71), and scathingly remarks, “[o]ne is not a Potter who has no role in determining the shape, function, and destiny of the pots” (p. 71).