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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, June 26, 2006

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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 point- MOST 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.

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.

  1. 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 . . .

  1. 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 SBC was predominately by Calvinists (for example, take W.B. Johnson, P.H. Mell, James P. Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., John L. Dagg, B.H. Carroll, John A. Broadus, et al.). Here’s my advice to the closet Arminians who want to call themselves Baptist and Biblicists: If you can prove that you are not an Arminian by stating your doctrinal positions on soteriology, then I can assure you that no one will call you an Arminian. Baptists who are Reformed have no problem being called that dirty “C” word. The semantical play of “I know you are but what am I” is good for ambiguity, but there comes a time where, if you don’t want to be defined by others, you must define yourself and your theological construct/conceptual framework.

  1. 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 GET were 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:

  1. Preliminary Considerations (laying the framework/foundation)
  2. Historical and Theological Contributions
  3. Contemporary Applications
  4. Personal Reflections

Here are my posts up to this point:

****************************** 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.


Blogger Broadstone said...


Thanks for putting all of those quotes together like that. Man, this all really just makes my stomach turn over.

I am not convinced that this so-called debate is going to be of any benefit. Any curious bystander interested in the issues would be put off by the caustic tone.

We have really got to be asking ourselves whether, "They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another" means anything in this debate.

There are dark clouds over this one.

Grace and Peace,

Kelly Bridenstine

6/26/2006 01:40:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


Yes, there are some dark clouds of this one. I really think White and Ascol are reconsidering the profitability or even plausibility of having such a debate.

What frustrates me is that this will add to the disdain of having any debate altogether. Why do we have to be so immature? For instance, over at SBF we have had to lengthly discussions/debates concerning election and alcohol respectively.

In conclusion to the alcohol post, I wrote:

Seriously, it has been my desire that as brothers and sisters in Christ we can attempt to tackle difficult issues with thorough examination, personal introspection, and healthy interaction. Let’s keep this attitude and spirit going! And let’s continue to remember that brothers and sisters in Christ can disagree on various issues and our love for one another does not change. For me, the appreciation I have for you grows all the more knowing that I will not be received a pat answer from second-handers. Thanks again for your participation and edification. I hope and pray that in all this we can be encouraged to press on to know the Lord and His truth.

Another person recently wrote the following:

First off, I want to thank you for maintaining this site. After reading through a few of the topics and threads, it is clear to me that the writers are balanced and well equipped to defend their position without coming across as heavy handed or arrogant. This is how I desire to be in the ministry that God has given me.

And finally, after going back and forth over election, let me share a comment made by "Allan" who disagreed with me:

I will say this, I copied what I wrote here on about 11 other sites (cause I believe what I believe) but also to see the responces. I can honestly say this is the ONLY site that did not chide, berate, condisend, or put down and that is the approximate order. Thank you. . . .Timmy… I want to thank you for your post. It was the ONLY one that spoke kindness, love, and respect for other brothers. (regarding it’s length)
This to me I have found a rarity, and that is what I ment by it being sad. Critique, questioning, and evalutation are not the same as belittling, putting down, and questioning their love and loyalty to OUR Saviour Jesus Christ and I am sure you will agree.

Needless to say, I have been greatly encouraged in recent days about the prospect of having healthy discussion about important issues without resorting to debasing tactics. Regardless of whether the debate takes place, I will post more of my research on omnibenevolence as it needs to be addressed.

6/26/2006 02:13:00 PM

Blogger William E. Turner Jr. said...

I read the most recent correspondence last night at White's blog. I honestly think it is time to shake the dust off of their feet and move on. Debates like this don't help anything. And the level it has reached has only made it worse.

What saddens me the most is that two Turkish brothers redeemed by the blood of the lamb have stooped so low. I appreciated them so much for their work in regard to Islam (given my passion for Muslims & Turkey) but have only grown sadly discouraged listening to the venom spewing from their mouths.

Sometimes it is best to admit "defeat" for the sake of the gospel that we so desire to preserve and proclaim. When the heat has exceeded the light you only have raging fires which consume all involved. After reading most of the correspondence I personally hope White and Ascol put an end to this and move on seeking better avenues to proclaim the truth of the gospel.


6/26/2006 02:54:00 PM

Blogger J. Gray said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/26/2006 03:44:00 PM

Blogger Lynchburger said...

I am a student at Liberty's School of Law. I will be very disappointed if the debate does not occur. Caner and company may or may not realize it, but they are fostering a real hostility among the undergraduates against Calvinist "Infectors." The "monergist brigade" is small and under fire here at Liberty, so we are urgent to see this debate happen. It wouldn't matter to us whether the debate was rigged to favor the brothers Caner. We just want to see people show up and demonstrate to our antagonistic brethren that we are not alone. You can’t imagine the boost to morale that we will get just by having Drs White and Ascol enter boldly into the lion’s den. We are Calvinists after all, and are not worried about God’s ability to safeguard the presentation of His truth under hostile circumstances. Please pray that this event occurs, and please come in droves. God bless you all.

6/26/2006 10:57:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


I too would disappointed if the debate did not take place, but is an undeniable reality that if this doesn't take place, it will have nothing to do with James White or Tom Ascol. Take for instance the upcoming debate with Bishop Spong. No problems or hiccups, but kindness, consideration, and due respect. This from a heretic who denies the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While I am not in a situation where those in the Reformed community is under attack, I have been in a situation in the past where it was extremely difficult to serve God as a Christian who believed in the doctrines of grace. As a matter of fact, that is partly the reason why I am here today.

Brother, you are not alone in LU. Although some have already spoken out in disappointment and even disgust over the actions of their dean, the students at LU do not need to go far to see the unreasonable and uncharitable disposition of their theological and spiritual leader. Ironically, every LU alumni I know is a Calvinist.

Let me encourage you to continue to press on in the faith and earnestly desire that the grace by which we have been saved will be exhibited in our tongues, our words, and our lives as well. God bless you and may He use you to humbly and lovingly embrace those who seek to deride you.

6/27/2006 05:42:00 AM

Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

If we call off the debate, they win. The traditional gentlemens' rule for debates is that those without home-court advantage get to choose the topic.

6/27/2006 10:51:00 AM

Blogger Gavin Brown said...


In one sentence Caner blasts Dr. White for questioning the ambiguity of 'omnibenevolence' and in the next accuses him of re-defining "man-made words" like monergism.

Is omnibenevolence not also extrabiblical?

These Caners will be difficult to debate if all they do is shoot from the hip with these absurd straw men arguments.

6/27/2006 12:05:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Well, according to Norm Geisler, the doctrine of omnibenevolence is a "core and classical" attribute of God.

The only place I can tell that the brothers Caner got their thesis about omnibenevolence is from Dave Hunt and Norm Geisler. There is so much so say about this, but I do not want to get ahead of myself. At this point, I have put together the "Arminian playbook" on omnibenevolence which I predict how they will develop their argument (that is, if they actually decide to talk about it).

As I have stated earlier, their biggest problem will not be arguing for omnibenevolence as much as distancing themselves from every heretical camp which makes omnibenevlence their "core and classical attribute."

6/27/2006 02:08:00 PM

Blogger pregador27 said...

I think it is clear- after reading this weblog (which I am adding to my RSS feeds!!!) and aomin.org- that the Caners are trying to drive White and Ascol to pull out of the debate.

I am becoming more and more disgusted with the "Arminians" in the SBC lately. They accuse "Calvinists" of being a hinderance to missions (i.e.- Frank Page, president of the SBC) when "Calvinists" have been strong missions-supporters. I am a "Calvinist," Southern Baptist and a missionary (though not a Southern Baptist missionary- I work within the Brazilian Baptist Convention through a church in Manaus, Brasil). I find no conflict in being all three.

If the Caners were serious about wanting to clear up what is wrong with Calvinist theology, you would think they would welcome a fair, evenly-balanced debate instead of name calling and arrogant behavior.

9/23/2006 10:13:00 AM


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