White’s Gnostic anthropology

I’d like to share just one thought that came to be lately when I was reading Irenaeus’ Against Heresies and James White’s writings to the followers of Harold Camping. I noticed a striking similarity in the way Irenaeus presents Gnostic anthropology and the way White deals with his audience.

As a Calvinist, White believes some people are elected and regenerated by God and will thus persevere in grace until the end and be saved. Those who are not part of God’s elect have no chance of salvation. But there is a third group: those that are part of the elect but aren’t regenerate yet.

White has different things to say to each group. The true Christians simply need to repent and return to a Bible-believing church (after realizing Camping’s error). The wicked non-elect will never convert and are not worthy of too much of White’s attention. But the sincere unregenerate seekers White will spend much time with, hoping to be instrumental in God’s plan of saving them.

Irenaeus’ opponents shared a somewhat similar view. According to them, some were by nature spiritual and could never lose their salvation. Others were carnal and had no chance of salvation. A third and final group was animal or psychic and could be saved by faith and good works.

The Gnostics’ main concern were the psychics, i.e., the regular believers in the Church. They believed they were called to be instrumental in bringing this lower class to salvation. Irenaeus was decidedly opposed to this anthropology and defended the free will of man, though not forgetting about God’s grace.

Irenaeus’ God saves not by force but by persuasion. For him all men are created in the image of God and are thus responsible for their choices. If man could not really choose freely, punishment and reward would be pointless. And yet Paul teaches we will all be judged by our works (Rom 2).

In conclusion, the Calvinistic anthropology follows the Gnostic one in classifying people into three different groups, of which only one is really targeted in evangelization. The problem of course is that no individual could ever really know which group someone else belongs to.

The Gospel was given to the Church to preach to all people without distinction. All creatures, all nations, let everyone come and drink the waters of eternal life.

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2 Comments on “White’s Gnostic anthropology”

  1. Nick Says:

    Hi Good to see you blogging again.

    I don’t quite see how this fits into the category of anthropology, since each man’s nature is the same in White’s view. You do touch upon two problematic points of Calvinism though:

    (1) The Calvinist must present the Gospel to all men, but if the Gospel wasn’t intended for certain men, they cannot be condemned for rejecting it. So when a preacher proclaims the ‘Good News’ “If you don’t believe Jesus died for your sins, you will be damned,” the non-elect are in a bind, since Jesus didn’t die for them, they cannot rationally believe he did. Thus the Calvinist “offer” forces the non-elect to be damned for refusing to believe in an objective lie.

    (2) The problem of “Eternal Justification” precludes the possibility of the “third group,” since if Jesus already took the punishment the elect deserved, then they never can be under God’s wrath “until they believe.”

    And this reminds me of a humorous example of how the Calvinist position butchers John 3:16 –

    “For God so loved the elect that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever of the elect believes in Him…”

    The phrase “whosoever of the elect believes” is nonsense, since they by definition believe. Thus, one cannot substitute “the elect” for “the world” in John 3:16, because the latter is of a larger scope.

    • Emil Anton Says:

      Thanks for these excellent comments! To be fair to White I can tell you how he’d address John 3:16. There is no “whosoever” in the Greek, it is pas ho pisteuon, “each believing one” or “all the believing”, thus restricting the scope to the believers.


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