I’ve watched a lot of material by James White, and an argument that he often uses is to label the gospel messages of people who disagree with his Calvinism as “man-centered.” The most recent time I’ve heard of this was against William Lane Craig’s molinism, because in molinism, the focus of God is on the salvation of as many souls as possible, and on Calvinism, the focus of God is on glorifying Himself by choosing to save the people that He does. What would be your response?
My response would be that God chooses to Glorify himself by becoming man, humbling himself as a servant, and giving his life as a ransom for all.
James White is acting like some of disciples foolishly did once in the Gospel:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:51-55,)
Molinism isn’t man centered because if the one reaching to God can only do so because of the grace freely given to him by God then its foundation is on God’s action. It thus bears a certain emphasis on the generosity of God.
James White claims the Catholic Church teaches “works salvation” which he then turns around and calls “man-centered.” Of course, the Church doesn’t teach this, so it’s really a strawman he uses to preach to the choir and confuse lax Catholics and others who don’t know the Catholic faith.
I think it’s more targetted at belief systems which hold that the reason why God sacrificed Himself is out of love for humanity and so that He can save humanity, as opposed to glorifying Himself by deciding to save a specific group of people.
My response would be that Calvinism is utterly Pelagian because Calvinism is a completely works-based (and thus man-centered) Gospel. How can I say this? Here’s why.
In the Protestant/Calvinist world view, Adam was originally supposed to work his way into heaven by his own human abilities. This is works-salvation by definition. Since Adam fell, he obviously failed that task, but with his sin/guilt imputed to us (the unbilblical Protestant way of putting it) it made it impossible for each of us to work our way into heaven. In the Protestant mind, there’s nothing wrong with man working his way into heaven by his own human abilities (in fact they say that’s the only way to heaven), the **only **problem they have is sinful man trying to do that.
The Protestant-Calvinist “solution” to the problem of man needing perfect human obedience is that Jesus came and performed that perfect human obedience for us, and this perfect human obedience was “imputed” to our record. So when God looks at the believer with Christ’s perfect obedience imputed to them, God sees that sinner as if the sinner lived a perfectly obedient life. This is the Calvinist “Gospel,” and it’s heresy for various reasons, especially because strips Our Lord of His Divinity (making His Divinity unnecessary since only human obedience was needed).
Unknown to most Protestants, that view of salvation is textbook Pelagianism, i.e. doing works pleasing to God by our own natural human abilities and receiving a super-natural reward for doing so. The only alternative is the Biblical-Catholic view of man cooperating with God’s grace, which Calvinists try to bash by calling it “synergism”.
In the Biblical-Catholic view, man isn’t saved by working his way to a record of perfect human obedience, but rather man is saved by being in relationship with the Trinity, particularly by receiving the Indwelling of the Trinity in his soul. And because of this, all the believer’s actions are cooperating with grace every step of the way, growing that relationship with God. Jesus being Divine and human was the epitome of this “synergism”. Jesus never did any good works that were purely human acts, every good work was in conjunction with the divine.
And that’s where the Calvinist is trapped. If they say Jesus loved God and neighbor perfectly by human ability alone apart from grace, then they’ve fallen into Arianism-Nestorianism by stripping Jesus of His Divine Personhood and Divine Nature. But if they say Jesus loved God and neighbor perfectly through cooperating with grace, then the Calvinist must admit “synergism” isn’t a bad word after all but is in fact the only orthodox position. And if Adam was to be originally capable of this as well, then Adam also had to have had cooperated with grace from day one.
In summary: The Catholic (Biblical) view of salvation is that man is saved by being in relationship with the Trinity. In the Calvinist (Pelagian) view man is saved by passing an endurance test of purely human achievement. In the Calvinist (Pelagian) view, intimate communion with God is an afterthought. The moment the Calvinist adds Divine Indwelling into their equation, they lose any grounds to criticize synergism.
And the Calvinist view of the Cross is also man-centered, because it reduces God to that of a creature. God is not supremely free, able to forgive man’s sins by fiat, but rather Calvinists say God can only forgive if He punishes (which isn’t forgiveness at all).
In the Calvinist view of the Atonement, God the Father had to punish His Son with the punishment we deserved (i.e. hellfire), which is unbiblical and blasphemy. In that view, God the Father is the High Priest ‘sacrificing’ Jesus…but if the Father is the High Priest, this means someone is above The Father receiving the sacrifice. But in the Catholic-Biblical view, Jesus is the High-Priest, and thus He isn’t punishing Himself, but rather offering up a sweet smelling aroma to the Father.
You can believe that, but if I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I am, then you will be spinning your wheel chasing after a theory instead of dealing with what James White really means.
I was a James White kind of person once, so I know what he thinks and why he thinks it, and it has nothing to do with who glorifies God but who gets to interpret Scripture and make doctrine, whether qualified or not.
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with delving into Calvinism vs. other heretics ideas, but James White isn’t that kind of theologian, indeed he’s no kind of theologian at all. He’s only interested in proving Catholicism wrong by any means rather than proving anyone’s doctrinal theories. Just a heads up for you.