Monday, February 18, 2013
James White vs Mike Brown on Predestination: What I Learned
The ContestI was finally able to make it to a James White debate. I have followed Dr. White’s ministry for many years now. His ministry has been a tremendous blessing to me. Dr. White is one of the few smart guys out there who has not succumb to intellectual idolatry. He is a proficient and punctilious communicator. I enjoy Dr. White’s “matter-of-fact” style as much as I enjoy his arguments, almost. Besides his passionate expression for truth, it is one of his most endearing qualities. I admit I had some knowledge of his counterpart, Michael Brown, but apparently, not enough. For instance, I had no idea that this Mike Brown was the same Mike Brown who was the apologist for the “laughing revival,” aka “the Toronto blessing.” The Toronto Blessing was an aberrant heretical movement of radical charismatics caught up in an emotional frenzy that served to embarrass our Lord Jesus Christ and bring an affliction of reproach on the Church that few other spiritual plagues have. I will come back to this issue later, because, in my mind, it is the most significant point of the debate.
The ContentHow did the debate go? It was a debate between a Charismatic, closet Arminian and one of the most skilled elocutionists of reformed theology in contemporary times. From my perspective, Michael Brown committed several fallacies (ad Misericordiam, The Red Herring, The Straw Man, etc.) throughout the debate. He quoted a lot of Scripture and I do mean a lot. I had my iPad Logos with me and there was still simply no way to keep up. In fact, his use of Scripture was highly inappropriate, given that he was in a debate, rather than preaching a Sunday morning sermon, which is actually what his presentation sounded like. Michael Brown began with the Americanized God, the soft gentle loving Father and then used one emotive example after another to make his case. And because he had several students from his “ministry of fire” school present, this approach resonated with many in the crowd. The gist of Brown’s argument was the same old “God’s predestination is essentially based on his foreknowledge” argument. Still, Brown refused to admit even the most reasonable truths. For example, Brown admitted that God knows everyone who will be saved. But when asked if the number was fixed, he said it was not. After I wiped up the liquid that squirted from me head due to the near explosion of my brain, I continued to listen intently to make sure I heard him right. I thought for certain I would end up in Rational Regional Emergency Room due to an over exposure of informal fallacies.
Brown, as so many non-reformed theologians do, made the “rape” argument that is so common in discussions on predestination. Are bad things ordained by God? For example, Brown asserted that God does not predetermine the rape of a woman. His God would never do such a thing. God does not ordain evil. However, one does not have to search Scripture long at all before they realize that Brown’s argument falls flat. When we are asked if God causes calamity, how should we answer?
Isa. 45:6 says God is the one who causes well-being and creates calamity! Isa. 14:24, 27 tells us that God does what He has planned to do. Eph. 1:11 says that God is working everything according to the good pleasure of His own plan. Romans 8:28 says that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him. What Isaiah is telling us is that God has planned everything that will happen and no one can stop God’s plan from actualization. Everything that happens was planned and God planned everything that happens. This would include every good thing and every evil thing. While God’s role in those things is not the same, nevertheless, ultimately God is bringing everything to past that comes to past.
The idea that Brown implied, perhaps unwittingly, is that humans are innocent. We do not deserve it when tragedy strikes. We are unfortunate, innocent victims who deserve good things to happen to us. God only wants good things to happen to us. That is the kind of God we serve. As Brown said, this is how God put it together. I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means. Let me be clear: human beings do not deserve a single solitary good thing from the hand of God. Moreover, whatever evil befalls us in this life, whatever tragedy we experience, because of our wicked heart and our rebellion against God, we deserve it. Brown reveals a faulty understanding of God, holiness, man and sin as is usually the case with Arminian proponents. His theology exalts man as opposed to God. It is staunchly Arminian. Moreover, Brown denies the doctrine of eternal security. This has always been regarded as heretical. But for some reason, Brown gets a pass. Why? That is a good question.
Brown posed the question of little babies being predestined to hell implying that reformed theology gives them not even the slightest chance to repent. First of all, not only is Brown committing the ad misericordiam fallacy (appeal to pity), he is also using the straw man argument. Brown knows he is pulling on the heartstrings of the audience with his implication. Second, he should know better than to infer this is what predestination teaches. First and foremost, God does not see the baby as a baby, as we do. God can see the entire sum of that child’s life from beginning to end. Second, that child is born straight away with a sinful nature. Suppose the child we are talking about is the one born on April 20, 1889 at Solzburger Vorstadt, Austria-Hungary. Looking at this child as a child, humans see an innocent little baby deserving nothing but love and care and kindness. What we cannot see is the lad whose name is Adolf Hitler, one of the most vicious human beings to ever dwell among humans. Before He was born, God knew every evil act that Adolf would commit throughout the entirety of his life. Brown’s argues that God would never predetermine such a thing because this would impugn his nature. My response is that Brown’s God is no better. In fact, he could be worse. After all, Brown’s God could have stopped Hitler. He is powerful enough and smart enough to stop any human from committing any evil. But He did not. God could have stopped the young woman from being raped and murdered, but He did not. Was it because God could not, or because God would not? In the former case, God is not all-powerful after all. In the latter case, He is capricious. Sometimes He steps in; sometimes He does not. In this situation, purposeless evil exists. This means there are some things that God did not plan and they happen despite the fact that God didn’t plan them. Such a concept is totally foreign to Scripture.
Brown also believes that all men are now enabled to repent. However, if the gospel is required for repentance, in what sense does Brown mean that men can repent. Paul writes to Timothy about men, in general, who fit a certain description, specifically, those who oppose the truth, and he tells Timothy how to deal with such men informing Him that God may grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). In other words, repentance is a gift of God granted only to those who subsequently exercise it to repent. The gift of repentance has not been granted to all men; otherwise, all men would have repented. Brown’s argument here made no sense to me.
The ConsequencesSo what good can come from it? What did it accomplish? God only knows the answer to this question. Does this mean that we should not debate these subjects? I don’t think it means that at all. However, I am cautious about the idea of continuous debate with people who have refused to repent of heretical views. I am not necessarily implying that Brown holds heretical views. He may or he may not. I may or I may not think so. I am merely posing a question. How many times are we going to debate for example, men like Bart Erhman, before we decide that it is time to stop casting our pearl before the swine? Is it proper to continually engage the same people over and over and over on the same subject time and time again? I don’t know that I can answer that question at this point. However, it is a question that I am evaluating at the present time. I think Christians must evaluate every practice in order to ensure we are faithfully living out the ethics of Jesus Christ as expressed and revealed in Scripture. Christ is the very expression of God, and if we love God, we will seek to live in the world as He lived in the world.
Mike Brown is a staunch Charismatic that served as the main apologist for the Brownsville revival, which involved the very same bizarre behaviors witnessed in the laughing revival and the Toronto blessing. I read a report that Brown asserted (several years ago) that resurrections were taking place as a result of this revival around the world. He believes in speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, etc., just like any other charismatic does. While he may not deny the Trinity, he is not far from T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen, or the likes of Benny Hinn. Yes, it might be true that he has done some good work on homosexuality. There are secular men who have done good work in this area as well. There are Roman Catholics who have done all kinds of good work on moral issues all over the world. This is not a good reason to embrace a man who holds to a view of God and a hermeneutic that very often leads to very serious error. In my opinion, it does not help our cause to bring men like Mike Brown into the circle of conservative reformed circles all the while dismissing his serious error. Not every doctrine is an essential doctrine I know. But if you can believe in extra-biblical revelation and if you can stand up and give a word from God, as if you are a prophet of God, and you can think that is genuinely God speaking, to me, that is a bit more than just a little disturbing. If Dr. White is going to debate men like Mike Brown, I would prefer that it would have more to do with their more serious error than on the subject of predestination. This is not to downplay the significance of predestination. Rather, I think it is important we recognize that any theology that allows for extra-biblical revelation and a radically subjective hermeneutic (the kinds we see in Pentecostal theology) is a system that requires serious distinction, not open armed acceptance. It could be that Mike Brown as repented of his support for the Brownsville revival and I just could not find the record. However, his current involvement with the Charismatic sect would argue against it.
I learned that people came with a made up mind mostly. I know that I did. I was there to hear Dr. James White. I would have preferred a lecture or a sermon on any subject to a debate. Perhaps someone will strike out on a search for truth as a result of this discussion. I know that is possible. It took me years to leave Pentecostal theology behind and then Arminian theology, and then, traditional apologetics. James White said some things that helped move me more firmly in the area of apologetics. John MacArthur has been the single greatest influence in shaping my theology and beliefs. However, I didn’t just run out and change my thinking overnight. It took years. In fact, the transformation continues to this present day. I wonder what God is doing in me today and how I will see things two, three, four years from now. I cannot say exactly, but I can say that I know He who has begun a good work in me is able to keep me and complete it unto that day!
The problem of evil (POE) is probably the most serious challenge to the rationality of Christian theism. At its core, th...
The state of affairs in which we find ourselves as Christians is one of perpetual opposition. I have found that it is always healthier if...
The Contest I was finally able to make it to a James White debate. I have followed Dr. White’s ministry for many years now. His mini...