Brothers Caner and the Unassailable Doctrine of Omnibenevolence
When I read this last Friday, I simply could not believe the double standard and historical inaccuracies being purported by Ergun Caner. After several long weeks without any response, James White was able to communicate with the moderator as well as Caner concerning the upcoming debate this October. As you may already know, the debate thesis has been the following:
“Resolved: That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity.”Before I interact with some of the comments made by Caner, let me reiterate the folly of such a thesis. First, the brothers Caner are seeking to debate an undefined topic. Is there a definition objectively or universally understood? Now, as you find out in their recent email exchange, they changed their thesis from the aforementioned thesis to simply “the omnibenevolence of God”. So what exactly about the omnibenevolence of God do you want to debate? How vague, obtuse, and nondescript can one get? The Caners agreed to debate Calvinism. If that is the case, then why don’t they put a thesis out there that at least resembles the purpose of the debate rather than omnibenevolence? Below are just a few points about what Ergun Caner recently said and my response to them:
- Ergun said: You stated that the topic has been “demonstrated to be incoherent.” Actually, the moderator, who has won almost twenty national debate championships, has noted the topic was valid. The large number of encouraging e-mails we have received have seen this as coherent. Apparently the only people who imagine the topic as incoherent are those who simply do not want to debate God’s omnibenevolence. So, if you and your people do not want to debate, simply say so. We want to debate the topic. Just because you do not LIKE the topic does not mean it is invalid.
So simply because a champion debater agrees that the topic is good makes it valid? There have been many that have debated God’s omnibenevolence in the past. Do you know who they are? Atheists. One does not have to look far or Google much to find this to be the case. In all the philosophical and theological journals out there, I have found one, yes one article that deals with omnibenevolence. And do you know who wrote it? An Open Theist. Where? In a philosophical journal. There is a huge assumption with the Caners that the doctrine of omnibenevolence is valid—one that I believe will prove such when the evidence is laid out.
- Ergun said: You continue to use man-made terms that you and those of your ilk want to revise (monergism and synergism, hyper Calvinism, etc.). You continue to prove our
evangelicals, including the millions who support Dr. Falwell, do not adhere to a 16th century movement , or 17th century Dortian parameters. We use biblical terms, in the biblical context. point- MOST
Caner argues that monergism and synergism are man-made terms devised by Calvinists. Well, how about the word trinity? Monergism and synergism have substantial historical and theological backing having been addressed by both Arminians and Calvinists throughout church history. However, has omnibenevolence been addressed? Talking about a man-made term! “We use biblical terms in the biblical context.” Give me a break! If that is the case, then why build a
three hour debate on a philosophical, synthesized construct? Why not just discuss the biblical passages such as John 6, Ephesians 1, or Romans 9? As a matter of fact, Dr. Caner has addressed Romans 9 and defends his eisogesis in spite of what the text says. He asserted, “The full biblical context of Esau, and others that you can cite, is clearly in OUR court.” Here is what Romans 9:10-13 says:
“And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”Now consider Caner’s explanation:
“Why did God hate Esau? Because of what Esau did.”
This statement is simply indefensible. Considering the illogical nature of Caner’s defense about Esau, how is one to understand his conviction that his thesis is a biblical term in a biblical context? Having seen how Dr. Caner addresses the Bible, it may be better for him to debate the philosophical construct of omnibenevolence than to deal with exegeting Scripture.
- Ergun said: You e-mailed that Dr. Geisler had NOT adequately answered you, which either illustrates your lack of clarity or blind adherence to your philosophical system of Augustinian predeterminism.
It is said over and over that Calvinism is a man-made system either theologically constructed by Calvin (a la Frank Page) or a philosophical system developed by Augustine. If this charge is to hold weight, then Calvinism must be refuted with Scripture. Isn’t that what this debate is supposed to be about? Debating Calvinism? With Scripture? Here’s a great opportunity for Dr. Caner to prove that his
argument attack is true. But why is resorting back to philosophy? Why avoid Scripture? Hmmm . . .
- Ergun said: James, you claim that we do not understand doctrines? Well, if that is the case, we stand in the stream of the vast majority of evangelicals who will not accept your doctrines of reprobation. In truth, we clearly understand, and we do not buy into it. We refuse to be categorized as Calvinism or Arminianism, Augustinianism or Pelagianism. I am a biblicist and a Baptist.
This must be the new sound-byte for closet Arminians. I am not a Calvinist or Arminian. I am a Biblicist. What is a Biblicist then? One who believes the Bible and develops their doctrines from the Bible? Both Calvinists and Arminians do this. To simply say that one is a Biblicist is to stake a “purist” claim that one is above the “philosophical systems” of Calvinism and Arminianism, that is, to say that not only they don’t need it but are superior to it. Being Baptist is not in the same category of being Arminian or Calvinist, so I really don’t know where he is coming from here. However, one can clearly argue that the founding of the
- Ergun said: Until then, I shall just smile, every time I receive some e-mail. Every single e-mail proves our point. Neo-Calvinists cannot answer our points, so you attack us. Classic ad hominem. If our system of theology has brought disrepute to Christian theology, because we do not believe in neo-Calvinism, then we will gladly stand in that stream. From Norman Geisler and C.S. Lewis all the way back, we have church history, and logical biblical thought on our side.
Dr. Caner argued that “Neo-Calvinists” cannot answer his points, so we attack them. Do you see the hypocrisy here? Neo-Calvinists. Why not just call us “hyper-Calvinists” or “super-duper Calvinists”? Any other title works I guess. The Caners did this very same thing on the notorious thread on Tom Ascol’s blog where dozens of folks answered their questions but not to their liking. Here’s what I said in reply:
I am beginning to think that the reason why the Caners' are saying that "the Founder boys" are not answering their questions is because we are not giving them the answers they are looking for. They are playing the tactic, "You have not YET answered any of our questions" as an equivocation to "You are not giving us the answer we want to hear." They want to control the conversation by intimidation, rhetoric, delay, and bait-n-switch tactics. The only thing they have yet to due is speak the truth - which unfortunately doesn't seem like is going to happen. The only explanation left to be shared is silence.
If one looks at the comments to the Ascol’s post, you will find that the Caners can teach us a lesson or two in ad hominem attacks. For example, consider the following:
Have any of you done ANYTHING accept kill your churches with sermons expounding the Westminster Confession? Probably not. I would guess that, unlike William Carey, most guys who are hyper about Calvinism use it to justify your laziness.
I BEG of you- PLEASE bring another name to the floor of the
SBC. I would be thrilled to watch that person go down in flames, as we enjoy another conservative who has not adopted semi-Presbyterianism. On the positive side, you can always just "punt" and say it was predestined for you to lose.
I do not think of five-pointers as liberals. I will, however, state firmly: Five-point Calvinism is a VIRUS. It saps the evangelism of every church it infects.
The only thing you have in common is what I call the BARNACLE PRINCIPLE- charismatics and calvinists creep into vibrant churches and attach themselves. They do not grow their own movements- they attach themselves to others. Calvinism has NEVER grown a church. You get transfers, and grow numerically sometimes, but it always peters out, because the people you
GETwere the people we wanted to get rid of!
NO. Calvinism (5 point) is a Scholastic Theological system. We will NOT let you bogart the term "Gospel." Especially since the five-point system of Beza (don't blame Calvin) is not "good news." It is only good news to those who happen to be in the club. Do I see as synonymous 5-point Calvinism (supralapsarian) and "Hyper-Calvinism?" OF COURSE I DO.
In the end- we will NOT go away, and neither will you! That is what makes this discussion good. We have hurdles to leap, and so do you- You guys are mules- you make much noise, but cannot reproduce. Like the last ad hominem?No, Dr. Caner, I did not like that ad hominem, but given that you feel like you have the license to say such, then I felt as thought I have the license to post this directly under your statement that all Calvinists do is avoid questions and throw ad hominem attacks. Addressing someone’s statements or critiquing someone’s position is not an attack. Name-calling, lying, slandering for the purpose of insulting or demeaning, this is ad hominem.
“From Norm Geisler and C.S. Lewis and all the way back, we have church history, and logical biblical thought on our side.” I am looking forward to hearing about this. I love church history and try to be a decent student of it. I also love the Bible and try to think logically through it. However, I am not a Calvinist because of history or logic. I am a Calvinist because of the Bible and because of its God-centered focus in salvation and the glory to follow.
Of course, there is much more which could be said about all these points and others which I chose not to address. You have seen the thesis and its basis. You have seen the avoidance of Scripture, the ad hominem attacks, the false labeling, the double standards, the blanket generalizations and assumptions, and uncritical and unfair reference to Calvinism. And all this you have heard from a seminary dean I might add. As Christians who should respect one another and treat each other fairly, why does it have to go to the gutters? Whether you call yourself the intellectual pit bull of evangelical Christianity or not, this is not the way to go about dealing with a debate. We need good, healthy debate in our evangelical world today, and it can be done. But as long as act as middle-schoolers in the cafeteria, people will continue to loathe debates and think less of those who do.
In the meantime, I am going to continue to post my research on omnibenevolence. In case you want to know where I am going with this, here is my four part outline:
- Preliminary Considerations (laying the framework/foundation)
- Historical and Theological Contributions
- Contemporary Applications
- Personal Reflections
****************************** Addressing Omnibenevolence Series: Addressing 'Omnibenevolence' 05.24.06 Denying the 'Core and Classical Attribute' of Omnibenevolence? 05.26.06 Addressing Omnibenevolence Series 05.31.06 Part One: Why the Love of God Is a Difficult Doctrine 06.01.06 Part Two: How the Bible Speaks of the Love of God 06.02.06 Part Three: God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty 06.03.06 Update: I meant to add the PDF link to all the correspondence between the latest round of emails. However, I am glad that I didn't until now. The latest update has an email sent by Tom Ascol to Ergun Caner with Caner's response. I never cease to be amazed. Just read.