The Great Calvinistic Conspiracy – The Berean Call’s T.A. McMahon Comes Out Swinging

As listeners to The Dividing Line know, a book is being written that embodies a written exchange between myself and Dave Hunt on the subject of Reformed theology or “Calvinism.” This book grew out of the publication of Mr. Hunt’s What Love is This? Shortly after the book came out I wrote an open letter exposing some of the many, many problems with the book (click here for this letter). This led rather quickly to the book project that is now a little over half completed (a title for the book has not yet been decided).

Over the months since the book came out I have noted a series of letters published in The Berean Call regarding the issue. I have spoken to a number of folks as I have traveled who have written to Mr. Hunt and asked to have their names removed from his mailing list. Their reasons were all the same: What Love is This is a poorly researched, badly argued, often shrill attack upon a straw-man caricature of Reformed theology. Some knew that Dave had been warned, repeatedly, by numerous persons, that he was in error in regard to his understanding of Reformed theology and that he just was not “listening” to what was being said to him. As a result, many are simply disgusted that he would rail in print at a system about which he knows little while claiming to know more about it than most who confess it.

Just recently I logged onto thebereancall.org to check Dave’s traveling schedule. I was hoping to get him to appear with me on a major radio station to discuss our upcoming book and the issues in general. As I scanned the main page I discovered that, as it had been pretty much since April of 2002, the main topic was the reaction to What Love is This? But this time the accusations were getting quite serious. Since I have been one of the most vocal opponents of What Love is This? I wish to take a few moments to respond to the article by T.A. McMahon.

Storm of Controversy

It seems the folks at The Berean Call did not realize how many of their readers were Reformed in their theology prior to launching their attack upon Calvinism in May of 2000. Note the words of McMahon:

In all of our years of addressing critical issues impacting the body of Christ (from The Seduction of Christianity to dealing with the cults to decrying evangelical compromise with the Church of Rome to explaining true Islam), nothing has come close to the number and severity of mean-spirited responses we’ve received regarding our perspective on Calvinism.

 

The first thing I would note is that I find What Love is This? a very “mean-spirited” book. Now, what do I mean by that? I find something “mean-spirited” if it shows no concern for truth or fairness in its representation of the views of others. Evidently, that is not how The Berean Call interprets mean-spiritedness. In fact, it is just this issue of how to define “mean-spirited” that prompts my writing of this response. Note McMahon’s words:

In many of the letters, Dave has been characterized as a liar, a deceiver, a destroyer of the faith, and worse. We’ve been told that he is woefully ignorant and therefore incapable of understanding and presenting true Calvinism. Again, the level of hostility transcends any responses to any controversial subject we’ve ever addressed in the past. That’s hard to fathom from those who profess to have the gospel and the Spirit of Christ.

Now, read this citation carefully again. You will note that for McMahon, identifying Dave Hunt’s ignorance of the issues he has chosen to engage is on the exact same level of mean-spiritedness as calling Hunt a liar, deceiver, or destroyer of the faith. Of course, this is irrational. Every one of us is ignorant of many things. Saying I am ignorant of complex mathematical mechanisms for engaging in the study of physical chemistry is not the same as calling me a liar or a deceiver. That should be obvious to anyone. And the problem with the entire response of The Berean Call is that they are interpreting the refutation of Hunt’s work with “mean-spiritedness.” Ironically, that is the spirit of the age. While Hunt does not spare anyone from his own criticisms, now “the shoe is on the other foot” so to speak, and evidently he does not like it.

Let me be frank with everyone. While I find Dave Hunt a personable man, and believe he speaks the truth on many issues, I have always found his research methodologies questionable at best, and his conclusions are often tenuous, at least to anyone who wishes to think critically and carefully. Many enjoy listening to his rambling presentations, where he starts on one subject, and ends ten subjects down the road (he has considered this a criticism: it is a factual observation that any person who has ever heard him speak at a conference knows is completely accurate). But in the process he will often make statements that are highly questionable that would never stand up in a debate. In his various books Dave has shown a consistent ability to “see” in a source only what he chooses to see: even when the context militates against his own conclusions, he just doesn’t “see” that portion of the information. This results in very skewed writing, no matter what the subject being addressed.

Further, Dave is not a scholar. In fact, he is proud of his lack of training in biblical languages, historical backgrounds, etc. (and the requisite training in the use of source materials in a proper and fair way that goes along with those studies). His tradition eschews that kind of study as being “elitist,” and surely that attitude resonates with many in evangelicalism today where, due to post-modern influences, everyone’s opinion is considered equal to everyone else’s. While no one would think for a moment that Joe Schuller, recent high school graduate and second-string burger flipper at Roy’s burger shop, is in any position to offer meaningful opinions on the proper methodology of improving the operation of a thermonuclear reactor (i.e., his opinions are NOT equal to those of a professional who has worked in the field for decades), when it comes to “religion,” everyone’s opinions are equal. This idea comes from two sources: post-modernism, which denies there is any absolute truth in religion anyway, and from a wrong-headed misinterpretation of the priesthood of the believer. Joe Schuller’s opinions on the proper hermeneutic approach to the book of Hebrews in light of the impact of Septuagintal syntactical and lexicographical backgrounds are not equal to those of a biblical scholar who has studied the topic. Hopefully that is understandable to all.

Dave Hunt admitted in our radio encounter in the summer of 2000 that he had never read any of the Reformers. That alone would be sufficient basis to preclude him from writing a book on the subject. But to put out such a book in a matter of months after making that admission is simply irresponsible. And I say this with a clear conscience, for I told Mr. Hunt this long before his book saw the light of day. I, and many others, tried to reason with Dave. We tried to explain where he was missing the entire point of the topic. We tried to warn him he would be exposing himself to very damaging refutation if he pressed on with this new crusade of his. He refused our counsel. Barely three months after our radio discussion I wrote the following (October 23, 2000):

I would very much like to review the book of which you speak. However, I feel it is my responsibility to be very open in telling you honestly that I do not believe you should publish on this topic. The reason is simple. Given the character of the article in your newsletter, and your direct admission that you have not read any of the key works on this subject, either those produced at the Reformation, since then, or even before then (Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings, for example), you are truly in no position to speak to the topic. It is simply not possible to give a meaningful rebuttal of a position that you do not understand. It would be like my seeking to write a book on advanced calculus: while I might, with sufficient study, be able to do so, I could not even begin to do so given my current level of study of the subject. I’ve never even cracked the binding of an advanced calculus text, let alone delved into the subject to any depth.

On the radio program we did together a few months ago I started out by asking you how you explained your siding with Rome on the key soteriological battle of the Reformation, that being the conflict between Roman synergism and Reformed monergism. You began by admitting your ignorance of the Reformers and their writings. Might I suggest that there is no reason to critique a position without reading the original documents in which the position is espoused? Surely you cannot believe that the likes of Calvin, Beza, the crafters of the Westminster and London Confessions, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, William Cunningham, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, John Murray, and modern writers such as R.C. Sproul or John Gerstner, have never heard your objections before, can you? And since volumes exist responding to those very issues, how can you reiterate them without doing the requisite work that would give you the necessary standing to do so?

Further, please be aware that the strength of the Reformed position is exegesis. It is not by accident that the Puritans, for example, thorough-going Calvinists that they were, emphasized so strongly a knowledge of the original languages of the Bible. Their ministers were required to be thoroughly capable of “rightly handling the Word of truth.” It is the exegesis of the text of Scripture that gives rise to the Reformed faith. Arminianism, on the other hand, is a philosophical position that arises from certain alleged philosophical necessities. It does not come from the exegesis of the text.

This came out clearly in our discussion. When faced with passages such as John 6:37-39, you immediately left the text and went elsewhere. Arminianism has no meaningful counter-exegesis to offer to John 6, or Romans 8, or Ephesians 1.

So I would strongly encourage you, Dave, to refrain from attempting to address a topic that you have already admitted is not an area of your study. I wrote God’s Sovereign Grace and Drawn by the Father in 1990. I wrote The Potter’s Freedom in 1998/99. I have dealt with this subject, and your objections to it, for many years now. At the very least I have taken the time to study the issue sufficiently well to be able to address it fairly. I do not believe your recent article, nor our discussion on the radio, show that you have yet done the work necessary for the writing of a book on the subject.

Needless to say, I did not see the manuscript that had been offered. But I produce this now so that any person of honesty will know that I did, in a Christian manner, warn Dave Hunt that he was going to damage his own reputation and that of his ministry if he did not heed the warnings I, and others, were giving him. He did not listen, published the book, and must now live with the consequences, for his book contains far too many falsehoods to be ignored. The matter now is one of God’s truth and the service of Christ’s Church.

Suppression? Or Rejection of Bad Writing and Research?

McMahon continues:

Another grave concern is a concerted effort to suppress the distribution of What Love Is This? Over the years, we’ve experienced resistance by Christian bookstores to offer some of Dave’s titles. However, Loyal Publishing has reported that entire chains have not only refused to carry What Love Is This?, but some chains have consequently refused to carry any of Loyal’s books, even those which they previously offered. The folks at Loyal are a small yet godly (and gutsy) group. Therefore, it grieves us deeply that they are suffering financial setbacks for their commitment to our Lord through what Dave has written.

 

I cannot comment on whether entire chains of bookstores have, in fact, dropped Loyal’s line, nor whether this is because of Hunt’s attack on Calvinism. Personally, I doubt it. Many bookstores will not carry my books either, and mainly because the big bookstore chains are ecumenically minded and I am not. Many bookstores are now carrying Roman Catholic books, scapulars, rosaries, etc., courting the Catholic “market.” My books do not make them enough money to warrant the danger of “offending” a portion of their “market.” Indeed, just recently I heard a radio advertisement for a local “Christian bookstore” where, if you would say to the cashier “I clap for Jesus,” you’d get 10% off your purchase. Someone who will stand in a line and look at a cashier and say “I clap for Jesus” is not going to be picking up a copy of The God Who Justifies or The Potter’s Freedom anyway. I suspect the same is true here with reference to Dave’s book.

Be that as it may, what is truly amazing about this section of McMahon’s comments is the implicit idea, stated openly later, that there is some “Calvinist conspiracy” to suppress this book. Such an assertion is, at best, humorous. Criticism of poor research and argumentation is not suppression. Is it just barely possible that it has become known that this book is simply bad? Might that be part of the reason? Of course, that would be relevant to only a small number of bookstores, in light of the fact that most of the best-sellers are, likewise, theologically bad. A store that hawks The Prayer of Jabez (and the six dozen related trinkets) for a buck could really care less whether Dave Hunt did his homework or not. So I imagine the real reason lies elsewhere.

If Loyal had sent this manuscript to a group of scholars and had simply asked, “Is this work solid?” even the most Arminian of them would have informed the publisher that it was not. I am certain (though I have not discussed it with him) that John Sanders, a self-described Arminian scholar, would have pointed out many of the very same factual or logical errors I have. Did Loyal do this? I have no idea. What I do know is that I and others can document that we tried to help Dave Hunt by first pointing him to solid materials and then, failing that, tried to warn him against publishing on a topic beyond his field of study. If Hunt did not share this with his publisher, that is between the two of them. The folks at Loyal will be forced to confess that I have been very up-front with them from the start regarding our own project with them (the debate book follow-up between myself and Dave Hunt). I informed them from the start that I still do not believe Dave capable of engaging in serious exegetical work on this topic. I said they may well be criticized for putting Dave in the position of having to respond to my exegetical presentations. I have again sought to act in the utmost of integrity. Thus far, the folks from Loyal have been fair in dealing with me despite the fact that I am obviously one of the most vocal critics of Hunt’s book.

There is surely no reason at all to not carry other Loyal books just because one discovers that Hunt’s book is as bad as it is. That attitude would be far too simplistic to commend itself. But, of course, publishing houses realize that when you publish a really “bad” book, it can mark you for quite some time, whether that is fair to your other projects or not.

McMahon continued:

TBC has also been hit by a decline in donations, which we are trying to offset by cutbacks in some of our outreach programs, particularly radio.

Again, as one who tried to warn Mr. Hunt, I can only say that this is what happens when you engage in a crusade without doing your homework. Perhaps Dave did not realize that Reformed folks would make up a large percentage of those interested in apologetics. I cannot understand how he would be unaware of this fact, but it seems he was. In any case, it should be remembered that the content of What Love is This? is not only bad on the level of argumentation and research, it is bad on the level of rhetoric and harshness. Dave has never been content to simply say, “X is wrong.” It is his way to say “X is wrong, silly, and dumb; and if you believe X, you are not only losing your mind, you are on a bobsled to hell as well.” Recognition of this element of Hunt’s writing, and how people will respond to it, is missing from McMahon’s thinking. It is as if Hunt produced this innocuous work that basically just tried to offer a different way of looking at things and the Calvinists have gone nuts. Such is simply not the case. What Love is This? presents no positive case for its own assumed position (which is derived from Hunt’s tradition). From front to back it is a non-stop exercise in rhetorical negativity that often approaches the level of “shrill.” And someone is surprised that those it (falsely) skewers might withdraw their support of TBC?

Search the Scriptures?

Certainly not all Calvinists would condone the treatment we’ve been receiving and a few have written us to that effect. Yet we are astonished at the animosity prevalent in the majority of their responses. Moreover, since Calvinists account for a small percentage of evangelicals, it’s troubling to see how much power and influence they have in the evangelical community, especially when opposing something which is critical of their theology. Why can’t such important issues be brought before the church and every believer be encouraged to search the Scriptures to see which teachings are true to God’s Word?

I’m not sure about anyone else, but it sounds like that paragraph is asserting that these unnamed, animosity-filled Calvinists are using their “power and influence” to suppress Dave’s book because they do not want these issues examined “before the church.” If that is, in fact, what is being asserted, I must point out that such is simply ridiculous. Indeed, the common element of the letters that have been published in The Berean Call has been “You are attacking a straw man” not “We need to keep your insightful arguments away from people!”

We have invited Dave Hunt to debate this topic in public before video cameras a number of times. Mr. Hunt has always said he would do so, but so far, we have failed to establish a date. Obviously, from our perspective, it would be very wise to schedule a debate for the time period immediately after the completion of our current book project. A video tape/book combination would be the perfect fulfillment of the final quoted sentence, for it would be the best way to bring “before the church and every believer” these issues so that they would be encouraged to “search the Scriptures to see which teachings are true to God’s Word.” Since some believers prefer to read, they would gravitate toward the book; since others find the give and take of debate more useful in determining who is speaking the truth, they would look toward the video tape of the debate. In either case, we have invited Dave to do a Friday night/Saturday debate comprising sections that would allow us to focus upon each of the central issues. We continue to stand ready to engage in this debate as soon as this book project is completed which could be in a relatively short period of time. More than one church has expressed interest in holding such a debate, so finding a forum would not be difficult to do.

Further, if Dave would prefer to be joined by others, such as Mr. McMahon, or others, that would be fine. I prefer to debate alone, but would not mind debating two or three or more on the other side. As long as the time frames are equal and there is plenty of direct, open, meaningful cross-examination, I’m sure a framework could be worked out.

Conclusion

The comments made in McMahon’s article leave the impression that unChristlike “Calvinists” are on the rampage, seeking to destroy TBC and suppress What Love Is This? Unfortunately, Dave Hunt’s response to my own open letter proves that what they mean by “mean-spiritedness” is in reality nothing more than the factual exposure of the errors that fill Hunt’s work. Remember, after reading my lengthy open letter, which is filled with citation after citation, Dave Hunt actually asserted that I had not provided any examples to back up my allegations! This kind of response has puzzled many a person who has read both sides, and lead many to conclude that Mr. Hunt is simply not willing to deal with the facts. But in any case, it is not mean-spirited to say “Dave Hunt’s book is really bad, and here is why….” Only if we care little for truth would we even think in such a fashion.

I would imagine TBC can produce some less-than-kind letters from people who call themselves “Calvinists.” Believe me, Alpha and Omega Ministries can produce quite a pile of nasty e-mails from Dave Hunt’s fans. Shortly after I first critiqued Hunt’s work one such man landed on top of me with all fours, and even posted nasty reviews at amazon.com just for the fun of it. There is no shortage to folks who are not overly nice on a personal level. Any Calvinist who has gone beyond the correction of factual and logical errors and engaged in vituperative insults should be rebuked. But in the very same way, painting the vast majority of Reformed believers the way Dave Hunt does in What Love is This? and as T.A. McMahon does in this main page article is just as wrong.

Let’s lay aside such issues and get back to what is truly important to the church: does the Bible teach monergism or synergism? It is a vital issue. It impacts our view of God, the gospel, ourselves, the church, and the means and purposes of evangelism. That is why we take such a strong stand on the topic. It is not mean-spirited to speak the truth: it is mean-spirited to God to consider His truth less important than the “feelings” of those who have a strong attachment to their traditions and might be “offended” by the exposure of their errors.

James White