MUST-HEAR: Michael Brown debates James White on Foreknowledge vs Calvinism

This is the second of a two-debate series. The first debate is here.

The MP3 file is here.


Format: (from James White’s blog)

For those interested, we will be covering three texts of Scripture on Thursday: John 6, Romans 8/9, and Ephesians 1. Each will have 8 minutes to provide their exegesis of the text; then we will have four minutes of cross-ex each, then three minute conclusions before moving on to the next text. I know, not a lot of time, but that still covers 90 full minutes (we will not be taking any breaks at all).

The following Thursday we will repeat the process, but this time covering Michael’s chosen texts, Luke 13:34-35 (Deuteronomy 5:28-29) Ezekiel 18:21-32 (Jeremiah 3:19-20; Ezekiel 22:30-31) I John 2:1-2 (2 Pet 2:1).

Michael Brown basically represents my view on these issues. This is another great debate – but more technical than the first. Congratulations to Dr. White and Dr. Brown for this entertaining and collegial series of debates. Both speakers were very civil again, but not boring. We need more debates like this to make Christianity seem interesting to men. Men like to learn theology (and everything else) by see truth emerge from a struggle. We’re competitive.

The verses up for debate this time

Luke 13:34-35:

34“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Deuteronomy 5:28-29:

28 The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good.

29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

Ezekiel 18:21-32:

21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.

22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.

23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

24 “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

26 If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die.

27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.

28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.

29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?

32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Jeremiah 3:19-20:

19 “I myself said, ” ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.

20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD.

Ezekiel 22:30-31:

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

I John 2:1-2:

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

2 Pet 2:1:

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

My thoughts

This may be a bit repetitive – I’m a software engineer! Not a theologian!

In the first section, Brown makes the case that the Father (in the Old Testament) and Jesus (in the New Testament) have fervent desires for people to repent and be reconciled. But God chooses to allow people to freely choose to resist him. I believe that God could coerce the will (but then it’s no longer free). But he chooses not to. Free will is needed in order to have a love relationship with us. Calvinism doesn’t allow for people to resist God’s desire that specific people be saved, so on the Calvinist view, humans cannot love God since their will is coerced by God.

One commenter recently asked me whether non-Calvinists think that God rolls the dice and hopes to save as many as possible. The answer is NO. On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge view, when God chooses which universe from the vast range possible universes he will create, the fate of each person is sealed for Heaven or Hell – but not by determinism! God chooses the time and place in which we will all live, and he knows whether we each will freely respond to his drawing us to him or not, because of where he places us.

Those who can respond to God in some possible time and place will be placed in a time and place in the universe where God will draw them to him in a non-coercive way (preaching, Bible, apologetics, natural revelation, etc.) so they can freely respond to this undeserved grace, be saved. And God  CHOSE the universe where that would happen WITHOUT FAIL, but without violating the free will of people – because he foresaw their choices in ALL circumstances, and CHOSE the circumstances to elicit that free choice to respond.

At the instant of the Big Bang, the group known as the “elect” is set. God locks into reality the exact amount of grace that each individual in the elect needs in order to freely respond to God’s saving grace. No guesswork, no rolling of the dice. God is sovereign over everything that happens from that moment on. He foreknows what each person will freely choose in every decision, and he is sovereign over how all those decisions will play out. At every moment of time God says “I am happy with this”. And in the end, his aims are achieved – without violating anyone’s free will.

Another one of my concerns with Calvinism is that it seems to make life meaningless. Let me explain. There are two kinds of decisions. First, you can make a decision that 1) affects where you end up when you die, or you can make a decision that 2) doesn’t affect where you end up when you die. On Calvinism, God makes all 1) decisions for you. Nothing you do can affect where you end up when you die. On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge, you make the 1) decisions – but you make them in response to God’s unilateral saving grace being extended to you.

On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge view, you do NOT choose God, because NO ONE desires God. But you choose to respond to God’s grace when he takes the initiative to reach down into your sinful, rebellious life and reveal himself to you. He rescues you, and he knew that he would rescue you from eternity. He knew you from all eternity. All you do is hold the life jacket he throws you. Which is nothing. But if you don’t hold it, you’re to blame, not God. In fact, because he knows what you’ll do, he probably won’t even throw you one unless he knows you’ll take it.

My specific views are spelled out more here: What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

And don’t forget that I blogged about the very first White-Brown debate (before the two-part series). I highly, highly recommend this introductory debate.

5 thoughts on “MUST-HEAR: Michael Brown debates James White on Foreknowledge vs Calvinism”

  1. You should call into his show! It be interesting to hear how he would respond to your position and how you would respond to his reposne. I do know he dsagrees with WLC on middle knowledge and you seem to be taking a position akin to WLC’s.


  2. If anything, last year he (White) spent a lot of time dealing with William lane Craig and to be honest, a lot of what he (Craig) said was just very surprising. However, I think White gave a very strong challenge to Middle Knowledge. It comes down to whether a biblical, not philosophical, case can be made for Middle Knowldge. White, I think, showed that it can’t.


  3. Frank. I was just thinking, White seems to use logic which is very much part of philosophy to prove his point. Now If he says Philosophy is not necessary to prove theology then his position in self-contradictory. To do good Theology you need good Philosophy.

    Correct me If I am wrong.

    I think Dr. Craig has got a balance of both. Theology under girded by Philosophy. Philosophy is the hand maiden of Theology.


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