Listen to what two Ph.D.s in Theology thought about Dr. White’s accusations regarding proper exegesis HERE
Also, my commentary is now available if you want to better understand a non-Calvinistic perspective: CLICK HERE
Below are my initial reflections on my debate with Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries over Romans 9:
Dr. White, and those who organized this debate, were all cordial and loving people that I enjoyed getting to meet in person. (Thanks to RedGrace Media–these are the people who contacted me, on Dr. White’s behalf, to request the debate–and all the people from The Oaks Baptist, led by Dr. Heath Marion…kudos all around!)
We had full house, over 300 in attendance. I am amazed at how far people traveled to attend this debate. I spoke to one who drove in from Arkansas and a couple of guys who flew in from Barbados. Wow. The crowd was likely 85% males and most of them Calvinistic (judging by the length of the beards and faint aroma of scotch…kiddin’… kind of). Everyone, from both sides, were gracious, encouraging and loving towards me. Thank you all who came out!
After the debate, I had one young Calvinist tell me, “This is my first theological debate to attend live.” I said, “Me too.” He seemed surprised and went on to tell me that he would have never known it was my first debate, which made me feel better, because I was pretty nervous. I had horrible cottonmouth in my opener…yuck
- The first main issue Dr. White seemed to have with my presentation is my use of the phrase, “noble cause” or “noble purpose.” He asked where that was even mentioned in Romans 9 and seemed surprised when I referenced verse 21:
“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? (I guess he wasn’t familiar with this translation so he didn’t link the concept? To me the question just revealed how much Dr. White still hasn’t fully grasped our perspective.)
I wish I would have also referenced verses 4 and 5 because Paul lists out the noble purposes for which Israel was set apart (which Paul also speaks of in Romans 3:2). Since Dr. White also acknowledge these things, I’m not sure why he made a case about mere phraseology.
Instead of addressing my argument he used a tactic that he is very good at: marginalization. This is where you attempt to belittle a view or presentation as being far-fetched and unique only to the one presenting it so as to “marginalize” them and make them appear all alone and strange. Kool-Aid drinkers fall for these tactics, so don’t be a Kool-Aid drinker…think critically for yourselves. Many scholars from my perspective use different phraseology, just as those in the Calvinistic camp, so don’t be fooled by this debate ploy. Deal with the content and meaning of the phrases and don’t get caught up on semantical arguments like White did in our debate.
- I have to admit I’m also disappointed in Dr. White’s continued accusation that I did not provide an exegesis of the text, but I expected it and even predicted it. Regardless of what Dr. White may ASSUME, “exegesis” is NOT defined as “starting with the first verse and going line by line making comments with which everyone is expected to blindly agree.” It should also be noted, that despite how things are now being spun, the agreement was never to provide a full exegesis of an entire chapter in 20 minutes (that would be a weak exegesis indeed). I have posted the pictures of my original text agreements with Dr. White and you will see that I clearly spell out my intentions in defending my interpretation of Romans 9, so there is no reason for Dr. White to now act surprised and perplexed as to my use of scripture outside of Romans 9 to help support my interpretation of Romans 9.
Exegesis is defined as, “exposition or explanation. Biblical exegesis involves the examination of a particular text of scripture in order to properly interpret it. Exegesis is a part of the process of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation.”
Watch THIS DEBATE between Dr. White and an Unitarian and notice his hypocrisy.
In THIS LINK (known to be supported by Calvinistic believers) there are several principles of biblical exegesis listed. So, let’s use this “unbiased” source to consider and evaluate the FACTS and then you decide which party actually engaged in the most thorough biblical exegesis (which can and should be objectively judged separate from your own interpretive bias):
“Grammatical Principle: Usually, the exegete starts his examination of a passage by defining the words in it. Definitions are basic to understanding the passage as a whole.”
FACT: I provided definitions and requested for my opponent to provide his definitions prior to the debate, which went virtually unanswered by Dr. White in that he provided no definitions at my request.
(Keep in mind my Calvinistic friends, this is not about if you agree with my definitions or my interpretations…its about who followed the key principles of exegetical hermeneutics in relation to this debate.)
FACT: Prior to the debate I provided a line by line outline and podcast commentary of my interpretation of the entire chapter and context of this passage…and posted it on all the debate pages encouraging all attendees to be familiar with the content.
“The Historical Principle. As time passes, culture changes, points of view change, language changes. We must guard against interpreting scripture according to how our culture views things; we must always place scripture in its historical context. The diligent Bible student will consider the geography, the customs, the current events, and even the politics of the time when a passage was written. An understanding of ancient Jewish culture can greatly aid an understanding of scripture. To do his research, the exegete will use Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and books on history.”
FACT: I am the only one who presented evidence from other 1st century sources that supported my interpretation of the text. (Quotes from Clements of Rome, which were never refuted. It was only insinuated that because Clement used the word “elect” that he must be “Calvinistic”… question begging)
FACT: I am the only one who addressed our Western cultures tendency to over simplify doctrine to one basic common meaning when more nuance is needed to understand the various choices of God in redemptive History. I provided both scriptural and extra-biblical evidence to support this contention.
FACT: I spent a lot of time focusing on the biblical doctrine of “judicial hardening” as it relates to “understanding ancient Jewish culture” and how that would affect the natural abilities of mankind in light of their rejection of their own Messiah (vs. 6). My argument was ignored while my method was questioned. Why? Because I didn’t start in verse 1 and go line by line saying things that fit the tradition of Calvinism’s interpretation. (more to come on this point later)
“The Synthesis Principle. The best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself. We must examine a passage in relation to its immediate context (the verses surrounding it), its wider context (the book it’s found in), and its complete context (the Bible as a whole). The Bible does not contradict itself. Any theological statement in one verse can and should be harmonized with theological statements in other parts of scripture. Good Bible interpretation relates any one passage to the total content of scripture.”
FACT: I used more scripture to interpret the meaning of Chapter 9 than my opponent.
FACT: When I referenced other related text Dr. White rebutted me for doing so saying that he does not have to “run to other texts” to support his perspective. For example, he repeatedly rebuked me for referencing Romans 11, a passage clearly related in this immediate context. Instead of explaining how those outside passages do relate and fit within his interpretation, he merely rebuked me for referencing them while pretending his interpretation needs no external hermeneutical backing…as if Romans 9 is an island.
(Ignoring the fact that in this debate Dr. White spent much time in Romans 8, and also referenced Roman 11 and Ephesians 1 to support his interpretation; should we now hold all Calvinist to this standard when they are exegeting a text that is difficult for their perspective? This is a double standard. Imagine Calvinists attempting to prove their views of sovereignty using only Exodus 32, for example.)
- White insisted that he covered the entire chapter exegetically while I only hit on a couple verses.
FACT: I happened to have my manuscript so this one is easy to refute. All the verses listed were also on my PowerPoint presentation so they would have been difficult to miss. Below are all direct quotes from my opening presentation that deal directly with the text in Romans 9, as can be verified in the video upon release (this is not the complete manuscript, but only the parts where I quote or reference texts in Romans 9, the rest of my presentation is commentary and illustrations about these texts):
- Throughout this entire letter Paul has contrasted the salvation of those who pursue righteousness by work through law versus; Those who pursue righteousness by grace through faith. Which is in general a contrast between the Jew and Gentile. This is why Paul summarizes this chapter in verses 30-32 by contrasting the Gentiles who are attaining righteousness versus the Israelites who are not?
- AND WHY isn’t Israel attaining righteousness? Is it because God didn’t really love them or desire for their salvation? No, Paul tells us plainly why Israel wasn’t attaining righteousness in verse 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. Paul also quotes from Hosea (in Romans 9:25-26) and in that context Hosea states it even more explicitly: “…even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” (Hosea 3:1). So, their unbelief is clearly not because God doesn’t love them or want His elect nation to be saved…(Notice I started with Paul’s own summary of the chapter to show that this was about faith vs. work not monergism vs synergism, but then I go to the beginning and begin to walk through each verse…)
- God clearly desired all Israelites, including the hardened ones, to be saved: In Romans 9:1-3, Paul, under the inspiration of the HOLY SPIRIT expresses self-sacrificial love for the hardened unbelieving Jews, which sounds like Jesus. One who was willing to sacrificially give himself up for His enemies.
- This is the nation, according to Romans 9:4-5, that has been entrusted with the very WORD of God…the Messiah and His message are ordained to come through Israel. They are CHOSEN, ELECTED for that noble purpose. So, why did Israel reject their own Messiah and even stand in opposition to His Word?
- So let’s unpack this. This lump of clay represents the lump of clay Paul speaks of in Romans 9:20-23…According to the Calvinist this lump of clay represents all of humanity… in our perspective the clay represents hardened Israelites at this time, not all of humanity…we believe Israel, over the years, has BECOME calloused by their own choosing despite God’s enduring them with great patience…and only NOW is God judicially hardening or giving them over to their rebellion to accomplish redemption through them. (summary of the whole argument surrounding the clay/potter and the objector)
- So, God has given Israel over to their calloused hearts and blinded them in their rebellion so they cannot recognize their own Messiah…so doesn’t that prove God’s words has failed? (vs. 6a) – (We both agreed this was the KEY point in understanding the point of Paul, so it makes sense for us to spend more time on this point of our contention for the purpose of a debate. It is unfortunate that Dr. White didn’t engage that point at any depth given he agreed that this was the KEY to this chapter. Instead, White felt I should have given equal time to every verse, I guess?)
- Not every descendant of Israel is chosen to do what God elected Israel to do, or as Paul put it, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”(vs. 6b)…Not every Israelite was chosen to fulfill the promise that God originally made to Abraham…to bless all the families of the earth…The false perception of the Jews in that day was: They assumed they were: 1. BORN AUTHORITIES … it is my right to carry the WORD and 2. BORN CHILDREN OF GOD: Being a descendant of Abraham gives me the right to called a child of God that is guaranteed salvation!
- And Paul’s response to that way of thinking is to say, “Not every Israelite is chosen to carry out the purpose for which God elected Israel and…VERSE 7: “…nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”
- But it goes further than that… At this time in history, God hasn’t hardened every Israelite, He has reserved for himself a remnant! A remnant to do what? To FULFILL HIS PROMISE by bringing the word! (Romans 9:27-28)
- …which is exactly why Paul goes on to give a history lesson using Ismael in contrast with Isaac and Esau in contrast with Jacob (7b – 13) Here is the POINT: A distinction MUST be made between those chosen BY GOD to bring the WORD and those chosen to be saved as a result of BELIEVING that WORD. (I go on to give commentary on the selection of one brother over another and what that is referencing in OT texts)
- So, what does Paul mean in verse 13, when he quotes from Malachi: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” …So, what is Paul’s point? Being the seed of Isaac does not ensure your salvation, especially if you stand in opposition to the word of God, as did your own brothers the Edomites. (I give more commentary on this because it’s a major proof text for Calvinists)
- Verse 14 asks the question… Is God just to condemn a direct descendant of Isaac to hell? Ask the Edomites, who stood in opposition to the God fulfilling the Word of Promise.
- Paul goes on to quote from God’ s exchange with Moses in Exodus 32-33: 15 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (I give commentary related to the OT text)
- 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. What is IT referring to in verse 16? Same thing He introduced in verse 6, God’s Word! (more commentary)
- Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in verses 17-18 to make this point. Just as God hardened Pharaoh in his rebellion to accomplish the first Passover, so too He hardened Israel in their rebellion to accomplish the Real Passover.
- NOW…what would one of these calloused Jews say in response to this? Paul tells us in Romans 3:5 “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?” Which is the same question Paul raises again in Romans 9:19: “Why does He still find fault?” PAUL’S OBJECTOR represents an Israelite who has GROWN CALLOUSED and is being JUDICIALLY HARDENED in that condition. He DOES NOT represent someone born decreed by God to be totally unable to willingly respond to God’s own appeals to be reconciled. (This is a key point that Dr. White never rebutted)
As I recall, Dr. White did not go past verse 27. However, I touched on every verse except 29 and 33, spending the bulk of my time on the KEY verses that hit most directly on our point of contention in this chapter (after all, it is a debate and there is little reason for me to address the parts where we agree given the time restraints). Plus, I didn’t take time to read aloud every verse given that they were provided on the screen and I figured the audience at this type of debate would have been familiar with the basics.
Dr. White and my Calvinistic brethren, just because you do not agree with the exegetical commentary doesn’t mean it was not given. My wife did say I was talking too fast, so maybe it didn’t soak in for some who have on different lenses, but the facts do not lie.
To the Dr. White fans, I love you, but don’t just blindly believe everything he says is true. Think for yourselves and objectively evaluate the FACTS as listed above. (this is meant for those echoing his talking points on social media)
- He made the claim that I did not exegete the text, but clearly that is not true. NO, I did not provide a full scholarly exegesis of the entire chapter, but neither did Dr. White. That is provided by both of us in other sources….sources I made readily available and encouraged all in attendance to be familiar with PRIOR to attending. We each gave a brief 20 minute commentary explaining how we interpret Paul’s intention in Romans 9, period.
- So, instead of spending most of the night complaining about what I didn’t say or the method in which I said it, why not spend your time addressing the arguments that were presented? Here, I will list the 5 major points of our contention as I see them:
1. Paul is addressing the false presumption that Israelites rebellion against the word means that His Word has failed (vs. 6): Paul does this by (1) proving that their rebellion is actually a means God has sovereignly orchestrated to fulfill his Word…(i.e. by judicially hardening Israel to bring redemption and even the potential salvation of those being judicially hardened) and (2) it is not unjust of God to do so. Israelites are not owed the right to be God’s authoritative mouthpiece, nor are they owed salvation. Paul proves this with several history lessons, which I unpacked. This argument was ignored and it is the crux of our disagreement…a point that Calvinists have a very hard time even recognizing, much less rebutting, given the lenses through which they view this text.
(My contention: if and when a Calvinist sees this point clearly enough to be qualified to rebut it, they actually start to see its merit and question whether the “dreadfulness” of their system’s claims are worth holding on to given that another credible interpretation exists. At least, that was my experience. Prove me wrong by actually rebutting my argument instead of pretending my commentary didn’t meet some arbitrary exegesis standard that no one can apparently reach unless they blindly agree with you.)
2. The Calvinist is unable to draw a distinction with a difference between the inabilities of the natural man to respond to God versus that of a judicially hardened man. Listen to Dr. White’s answers carefully and you tell me if you find a difference in the abilities of the natural man and the judicially hardened man. Also notice that in all our discussions Dr. White has not engaged with Acts 28:27-28, an actual didactic text which explicitly spells out man’s ability to respond to God prior to “becoming calloused.” The strongest argument is not typically the one your opponent addresses but the one he continually ignores.
3. The clay in Romans 9 represented the judicially hardened Israelites, not all of humanity from birth: The only rebuttal offered was a reference to verse 24 where Paul includes in the Gentiles AFTER completing the discourse on why God’s word hasn’t failed in relation to Israel. I answered this by pointing out that all nations benefitted from the redemptive work brought to pass by God’s hardening and mercy-ing of Israel, which was not rebutted in the debate. (My line by line commentary expounds on this further for those who are interested)
(My contention: I suspect this point wasn’t understood by most who haven’t grappled with the text from my perspective, so it is perceived as being “unrelated.” We tend to disassociate from things that we don’t fully comprehend because it takes work to understand them. It’s easier to dismiss something as being “unrelated” than it is to do the work in order to understand why many very intelligent biblical scholars do think it is related. You don’t have to agree with those scholars, but be objective enough to at least vet their views for what they are before you blindly dismiss them as not being related to the given text.)
4. Paul and Moses express self-sacrificial love for ALL their enemies, where as, according to 5 point Calvinists, Jesus only willingly sacrificed Himself for SOME of His enemies, making these mere men more self-sacrificial than Christ: White answered this by talking about how we don’t know who the elect are, but that doesn’t even address this argument. The fact is that in Calvinism Jesus was only willing to sacrifice himself for a select few, whereas Paul and Moses where willing to sacrifice themselves for all. 5-pointers cannot deal with this rationally IMO and this is why Amyraldism is on the rise within their camp.
5. Is it a secret as to whom God chooses to save and those He chooses not to save? No, Paul tells us plainly why Israel wasn’t attaining righteousness in verse 32, “Why? “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” And why did God choose to save Gentiles? Again, Paul tells us plainly,“That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith.” White never addressed these verses yet it’s the apostle’s own inspired self commentary of his intentions in this chapter.
I do have some self-critiques based on the little time of reflection and listening to my very poor quality voice recording off my phone:
- I am a preacher and I can’t help but speak passionately. I think my style may have been too “preachy” for some in the audience. I wish I were more of a teacher/preacher as that would have better fit the format of a debate, I think. But, then again, others seemed to really like that style, so to each his own. Why this matters? Because I think some from the Calvinistic perspective see this as pure emotionalism and thus miss the content. As an unrelated example, we have an African American preacher who regularly speaks at our camps and his style is very theatrical and entertaining. He will break out in song in the middle of his sermon and is constantly moving (I personally love it). I had several of my “theology police” types on staff write negative evaluations about his preaching not being very deep in content, so I made the extra effort to go back and listen to all the audio to his messages. He had some of the deepest, verse-by-verse, exegetical content of any of our speakers. I think they were distracted by his delivery and thus failed to focus in on his content. While I’m not attempting to equate myself with the abilities of this speaker, I do think my style could have similarly been a distraction to some. I can only beg the audience to listen to the audio (when it comes out) and don’t be overly distracted by my passion, really try to understand the content.
- I have learned that after a debate there are always things you wish you would have had the opportunity to say, but the structure did not allow it, or things you wish you said differently. For instance:
I made a comment about how we should humble ourselves like a child and Dr. White rebutted by sarcastically stating, “I think I just heard Prof. Flowers say that a child is humble?” The audience laughed and he concluded, “We can just let that comment stand on its own merit.” (or something to that effect). Sorry, but Dr. White was joking about Jesus’ statement, not mine:
“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:4
I was asked about the calling referenced in Romans 8 and then again in Romans 9. Though I attempted to clearly illustrate that there is more than one type of “calling” and God makes several “choices” in order to bring about His redemptive plan, I feel this point did not get fully developed in relation to Romans 8, since it wasn’t the chapter I focused upon. I referred to the illustration in Matt. 22 to help the audience clearly distinguish the different choices of God, but because it was a reference to outside text it gave Dr. White the ability to say that I am avoiding Romans 8 and 9.
In reality, if I were attempting to avoid anything I wouldn’t have debated him on this chapter and I wouldn’t be publishing a commentary. My goal was to use Christ’s parable to help people understand the context and thus what I believe is the apostle’s intention in those chapters. The assumption Calvinists make is that God’s calling to salvation is effectual in the same manner God’s calling of his messengers is effectual (or at least “persuasive”).
I also wish I had more time to CX Dr. White’s view on the reason for Christ’s parables and judicial hardening in general. You be the judge, but his answers on these points seemed to be nonsensical. Same with equal ultimacy…and the issue of God “restraining evil.” White never explained what is left to restrain if God has determined whatsoever comes to pass. Is He restraining his own determinations? Maybe someone can interpret on my level? (9th to 10th grade)
I made the assertion that Calvinism gives mankind a perfect excuse and that it removes man’s true “responsibility” (which I did define as “the ability to respond” to God’s own appeals since the Fall), and White dismissed it as a red herring and told me it should be dropped, yet he offered no reason for us to believe men do have the ability to respond in any meaningful way to the appeals of God…yet God inexplicably holds us responsible (justly punishable) with eternal torment for his own glory (the mystery of Calvinism). I understand why Dr. White would like us to just drop that one, but it is not going to happen. It’s the biggest of all the blights on Calvinistic dogma.
Lastly, Dr. White made a special point to continually bring up the idea that a “former Calvinist,” like myself, should already know all the answers that I was posing. I had to remind him that many Calvinists today claim to be former “Arminians” who still have the nerve to pose questions of us. Should we make it a new rule that if you already know the answer that your opponent will give to a particular question then it cannot be asked? If so, why does White even bother to debate at all? I cannot imagine that he is not well informed enough as to not already know how many of his opponents will answer any given argument, yet he still poses the question and makes an argument. Again, just a double standard and a distraction.
I’m sure I’ll think of other things after the video comes out, but that is more than enough for now. Thanks again for all those who made this possible and to Dr. White for being the iron that has served to sharpen me over the last several months.