Free Willy: Amazing grace and the grammar of Bible interpretation. Inspired by James White and Michael Brown


In the last 16 minutes of his Dividing Line podcast of 26 November, 2014, James White comments on Michael Brown’s anti-Calvinism. White plays excerpts of Brown and comments.

Brown – Who “would ever dream that we could take credit for our salvation in any way? The thought boggles my mind.”

White – The fundamental issue is if God has sought to save every single person equally. And if he has not, and you are one of the pan-benevolent advocates where you believe that God does not have an electing love, he does not have a redemptive love, that there are  no differentiations in God’s love, that he has no special love for Israel that he hasn’t had for Egypt…If you believe that God has tried to save every person equally, then why is one person saved and another isn’t? That was what Brian [a caller on Michael Brown’s podcast] was trying to say to Michael. If God tried to save my neighbour equal to myself, I’m saved and he’s not, what are the only possible grounds to look to as to why I differ from that person. It’s me. It’s not the grace of God, it’s not the choice of God. It’s me, me, me. I was the one who was either more sensitive, in some ways spiritually better than someone who doesn”t get saved. If there have been equal attempts, you have to start answering questions of election, you have to deal with the reality that God gave advantages to his people, for example, that he did not give to the Babylonians, the Amorites and the Egyptians. So God made a choice to act in that fashion. So what is the basis of that choice and what’s the purpose of that choice does the Bible say? 

Brown – I never thought it [that he had anything to do with his salvation] as non-Calvinist, I never thought it as Calvinist [Brown was once a Calvinist]. Salvation is from the Lord. It’s all his grace. I sang amazing grace, exactly the same. I’m amazed at his goodness and kindness that he could pour out his grace on a wretched human race with all the sin and evil deeds we committed. Jesus died for us and calls us to himself. How extraordinary. How mind boggling!

White – What do you mean by that Michael? From my perspective, if you believe in prevenient grace – you’ve used the term on other occasions – is that the grace we sing about? Is that the grace Newton [John Newton, author of “Amazing grace”) was writing about? No, no. When I sing about the grace of God, I sing about the grace of God that Titus 2 describes, that grace that brings salvation. It’s not a grace that tries to bring salvation; it does. From my perspective, I’ll make it clear, there’re only two consistent views here: Universalist and the Calvinist. The one in the middle doesn’t work. The grace that saves in Titus chapter 2, that “has appeared to all men,” that either means Jews and Gentiles – that’s what it means – or everybody, which does not make a lick of sense because there were lots of people in that day that it had not appeared to. The point is grace saves, and that’s why all of this is to the praise of his glorious grace. How please can someone explain to me…someone has actually written a book on prevenient grace…Where in the Bible is this prevenient grace? It’s purpose is not actually to save but to make saveable. Or tries to save but fails to save, or what? I don’t know. I cannot get consistent definitions out of folks on it. But when I see “to the praise of his glorious grace,” in Ephesians chapter 1, I can’t see how that applies to prevenient grace. Are you really going to go to the point of saying “praise God for that prevenient grace that tried to save them Amorites but saved nobody,” while the wrath of God was [poured out] in the destruction of the Amorites via the Israelite army? What is that?

How do you praise God for a grace that accomplishes nothing? I don’t know, but it is something that has to be discussed. 

Brown – The fact is the reason I ultimately abandoned Calvinism was out of my reverence for a holy God before whom I bow, out of my hatred and rejection of the man-centred Gospel of the 21st century American church…because I was convinced that the testimony of scripture read honestly without preconception from beginning to end was against Calvinism. So what I want to do is just give you an overview of that.

In his next podcast, White says he will return to Brown.

Two dialogues between the Arminian, John, and the Calvinist, Paul. “Grammar” in the dialogue refers to the etymological Greek meaning “any writing,” in our context, the scriptures. So “grammatical” in “grammatical-historical” meaning refers to the linguistic context of a text. And as we all know, the three rules of interpretation are context, context, context.

Dialogue 1 – Subject matter John 1:13

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (NIV).

Young’s Literal translation: “who not of blood nor of a will of flesh, nor of a will of man (Greek aner) but — of God were begotten.” New American Standard Bible (NASB): “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. NIV : “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Characters: John (as in Wesley); Paul (as in Tarsus)

Paul – What does “not of blood” mean?

John – It means not of human descent.

Paul – Glad you’re following the grammar.

John – Grrrrr.

Paul – ammar. What does “not of the will of the flesh” mean?

John – It means “not of a man’s/husband’s decision.”

Paul – Good.

John – Grrrrrrrr.

Paul – What does “not of the will of man” mean?

John – Also, not of a husband’s decision.

Paul – So, both the “will of the husband’s flesh” and the “will/decision of man,” – could I also add “of blood, refers to the husband’s willy? How do you get that from the grammar.

John – Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

In sum, for John, and Arminians in general, “human decision, in other words, the “will of man,” cannot refer to the mind/spirit of believers but to their very fleshy fathers; for (Paul loves this connecting word) “human decision” and the “will of man” must, for Arminians, refer to the sexual desire of the believer’s Pappy. Which leaves the inviolable sacred will of the believer intact and free to choose to be born again. (See “Of being born again and a husband’s one track mind”).

Dialogue 2

Bible text – John 6: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40; 44).

Paul – Does a person come because he is given (by the Father), or is the person given because the Father peeked down the corridors of time and foresaw that the person had decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back?

John – Because he decided?

Paul – But don’t you get the logical and causal progression: Given – Come (– Eternal life). It’s clear in the …

John – Grrrrrrammar, I know!

End of dialogues

If we are saved by grace alone (and we are) how can anyone be saved if they believe salvation is a cooperation between man and God.” John Hendryx explains:

If they are consistent, since they do not believe grace is effectual, Arminians must ascribe their repenting and believing to their own wisdom, humility, sound judgment and good sense. However, I tend on the side of being generous if Arminians affirm that they justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ’s mercy alone, which most Arminians do. So we do not exactly hold the view that Arminians are lost. Much bad theology turns out merely to be inconsistent theology and it is possible to be saved in spite of bad theology, but only if you are inconsistent, and you don’t really believe what you think or say you believe. I find, in my many encounters with Arminians, that this is usually the case. Thankfully I think a good number Arminians are inconsistent, and they don’t really believe what they say. For example, they pray for God to bring friends and neighbors to salvation – why? God has no power (or right) to do that, according to Arminianism. But some Arminians (I would argue, the ones that are saved) know in their heart that salvation IS all the work of God and IS all by grace. So they pray for God to save sinners! Their true theology comes out in their prayers, even if they don’t want to admit it. I feel that, over time and with patience, these people would become reformed in theology if they had good teaching and instruction. (John Hendryx). See Arminians who confuse and refuse: free will in coming to Christ).

In the last part of James White’s podcast above, Michael Brown says:

And I’ll be clear, and it’s no disrespect towards those who differ with me. I realise we all come the same way, the way of the cross, I recognise that on that day that all glory and honor with go to the Lord. I recognise that not any of us can take any credit whatsoever for our salvation.”

James White comments on Brown’s statement:

Now this is why hyper-Calvinists need to be very careful about the judgments they pass on people. I’m going to disagree with almost everything Michael is going to say in his presentation, but I believe he means what he means when he says this,  and therefore I find him inconsistent. But if you believe that, I accept that you believe that, and a hyperCalvinist, who is a rationalist, as is the hyperArminian [I wonder what the connection is between rationalism and hyper anything], says he [Brown] cannot say that [the person saved makes the possible saviour into an effectual saviour] and believe what he says afterwards [namely, God gets all the glory for salvation]. On yes he can, continues White. And we are going to find out some day that we all do stuff like that. And that is why we (Brown and White) can join together on homosexuality and the trinity, and things like that, even though we have debated how many times on this [Calvinism].”

White stresses that he is referring to the inconsistent Arminian, who, like all inconsistent people, “do stuff like that.” “Blesséd inconsistency, curséd consistency, Jesus is mine.”

If you believe that, you, an unregenerate person, can/has come to Christ (ultimately) on your own steam (you get to make the final decision), you must also say that Christ is begging people to come to him but in most cases fails. But how can God fail when it is clear that “I will do all my pleasure.”

Isaiah 46:9-10
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Do you really believe that God gets a kick out of failure? Yep, that’s what you must think BUT  will not to.

I have found it very difficult to attend an Arminian church, Bible study – or even pray together, unless it is the Lord’s prayer. The reason is that everything Christian should flow from the sovereignty and absolute freedom of God. Sovereignty is not something God has, it is who he is, and, as we read in Isaiah above, he’s not going to give any of it to anyone. He is sovereign in all things, not least, salvation. Salvation is of the Lord. Grammatically speaking, all salvation.