Of Gary Novak and the Columbia River

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the more fair you are in your criticisms of a false religion, the more strident will be the response. That does not sound logical, does it? Normally, you would think that if I were to engage in hysterical ranting and raving in criticizing such a group, that would increase the likelihood of a strident, nasty response. But that simply has not been my experience.

I have tried to be very consistent in writing books that are fair and accurate in the presentation of the theology of a group that I am criticizing from a biblical perspective. I have often criticized those who use sensationalism, for example, in attacking Rome or Mormonism. I have tried to be very consistent in using official sources whenever I can, and responding to the best arguments representing the official leaders of a religious group about which I am writing.

But, no matter how much fairness you show in dealing with non-Christians (and especially with those who claim to be Christians, yet deny the central truths of the faith), you will be sorely disappointed if you expect to get the same kind of fairness in return. It just will not happen. Matthew 5:11 is fulfilled more often than not when dealing with false religions, and especially with those who promote them.

Recently I was directed to the web page (http://www.teleport.com/~novak/worst/index.html) of a Mormon who was calling my recently completed doctoral studies “bogus.” I had never heard of the man, and to my knowledge, he had never even had the temerity to contact me and ask for my side of the story. As far as I can tell, he has no idea what work I did, nor how long it took, to complete those studies. While his page gives the appearance of having done his homework, all he really did was briefly visit the offices of Columbia Evangelical Seminary. If he really wanted to know the truth (and be truthful in his presentation), he missed a golden opportunity, for he failed to do the most important thing: talk to me.

But, again, I know why Mr. Novak has undertaken to denigrate my work. I mean, Mr. Novak makes no bones about his viewpoint. In his own words:

Novak’s Rule of Anti-Mormonism: When becoming an anti-Mormon, expect your IQ to drop at least 85 points. Or, to put it a little more succinctly: God strikes you stupid.

This is the kind of rhetoric Mr. Novak puts out. Of course, if we were to post anything like that on our website, it would be noted as “unChristian bashing of Mormons” or something along those lines. But, rarely have we found LDS apologists fair in their criticisms or actions, so this is hardly surprising either.

When I encountered Mr. Novak’s web page, I immediately scanned my outgoing mail for the past six months to see if he took the time to contact me. It seemed incumbent upon a person making the kinds of allegations Mr. Novak is making to be honest enough, and to show sufficient integrity, to do the necessary homework. My e-mail address is readily available, and since Mr. Novak links to our website, it’s obvious he knew how to contact me. But, no record existed of my writing a response to anyone with his e-mail address. But, knowing the pitfalls of electronic communication, I took the time to e-mail him. Here is the note I sent him:

Greetings Mr. Novak!

I had the wonderful pleasure of encountering your web site today, and your kind comments upon me and my work at CES. I have a few questions if I might:

I did a full search of my outgoing mail since April of this year, and for some reason, could not find the keyword “Novak” in any of it. Now, I’ve had one incident of a virus destroying my hd, and one bad CPU this year, so it is quite possible that I lost the relevant e-mail. But, could you let me know when you contacted me to ask me about my credentials? I mean, it would be unthinkable for someone to post something like you have on your page without asking *me* about your allegations. Such would be the yellowest of yellow journalism, and would tremendously damage your credibility. So, could you send me the e-mail where you inquired concerning the issues you raise on your web page? I seem to have misplaced it, and I surely have no recollection of it. And if I replied, do you still have my response?

Your page is a little confusing. The way you have written your main page article makes it look like your responses to the “cults of Christianity” page are actually responses to me. Could you please clarify the difference between that and your assertion of my “bogus degree”? I’d appreciate it.

I’ll be posting a response to your page very soon. I’ll make sure to let you know when it is up. Before then, would you be so kind, please, as to list for me 1) which of my books you have read and own, 2) which of my debates you have listened to or watched, and 3) which of my published articles you have read. And, could you forward to me any meaningful rebuttal/interaction you have written to any of these materials? I have to a honestly admit that I’ve never heard of you, and it would help me to provide a meaningful response to be able to credit you with the quality of your work. I mean, again, no one would ever take the kind of personal shots you have at me without having done their real homework! I’m sure you’ve been quite thorough, so I look forward to your written responses.

James>>>

It only took about four hours for a reply to be forthcoming. Notice that the message he sends is CC’d to “skinny-l,” an intra-BYU list made up of LDS apologists, academics, etc. Click here for an example of the kind of behavior found on skinny-l.

From: “Gary Novak” <novak@teleport.com>

To: “James White” <orthopodeo@aomin.org>

Cc: “SKINNY” <skinny-l@smtp.teleport.com>

Subject: Re: Greetings/Questions

“Dr.” White:

How nice that someone finally pointed you my way. I have watched with interest your correspondence with Drs. Peterson, Hamblin and Midgley and Stan Barker and perhaps others. So I know a little bit about you. I am associated with a little listserv with which you may be familiar. It goes by the name of SKINNY.

Why would I need to question you about your credentials via email? You have it all there on you webpage. And why would it be “unthinkable” to respond to your webpage without contacting you? This looks like more of the kind of accusations you leveled at Ara Norwood on your website (“A Study in FARMS Behavior” I think it is called). If I may be permitted to speculate where speculation is clearly uncalled for, I suppose I will now be hearing how my manners are bad.

Please let us now hear about how everything is a personal cheap shot directed at you. What I am claiming on my website is quite simple–your degree was granted from an institution that is not quite up to snuff. Good luck in your response.

Feel free to peruse your vast collection of FARMS REVIEW OF BOOKS or BYU STUDIES if you cannot find hide nor hair of me. I have to admit that I find your career as an anti-Mormon to be somewhat less than interesting and I am unlikely to ever say a word about you in print. There are a few sections of your website, however, that may find their way to the “Worst.”

Speaking of the “Worst of the Anti-Mormon Web,” I often highlight more than one site at a time. If you had been but two weeks earlier, you could have seen the page with the CES stuff exclusively. So please do not think that I am attempting to associate you with that other dreadful anti-Mormon site.

You may now attack me.

Gary

novak@teleport.com

The manner of such a response should surely tell us something about the “fairness” of Mr. Novak’s evaluations. Here is my reply:

>How nice that someone finally pointed you my way. I

>have watched with interest your correspondence with

>Drs. Peterson, Hamblin and Midgley and Stan Barker

>and perhaps others. So I know a little bit about you.

>I am associated with a little listserv with which you

>may be familiar. It goes by the name of SKINNY.

Yes. It seems to be the “inside BYU” list.

>Why would I need to question you about your

>credentials via email?

I think the terms “fairness,” “honesty,” and “integrity” have *something* to do with it, Mr. Novak.

>You have it all there on you webpage.

No, I don’t, actually. I wonder Mr. Novak: if I wrote something about FARMS based *solely* on their web page, might you consider that a little less than thorough?

>And why would it be “unthinkable” to

>respond to your webpage without contacting you?

Generally, most folks take the time to make sure of their facts before attacking someone’s work, that’s all. Again, possibly I follow a code of behavior that is old and passe? I mean, my e-mail address was well known to you. It would have been fairly easy, if, of course, you wanted the “whole story.”

>This

>looks like more of the kind of accusations you leveled

>at Ara Norwood on your website (“A Study in FARMS

>Behavior” I think it is called).

No, not really. Mr. Norwood did contact us—“under cover” and in a dishonest fashion, but at least he contacted us.

>If I may be permitted to

>speculate where speculation is clearly uncalled for, I

>suppose I will now be hearing how my manners are bad.

Speculate as you wish: your actions speak to the issue of motivation, and honesty. Your lack of research will, of course, figure in a response to your personal ad-hominem attack upon me. While some could care less, the honest person, who really does want to know both sides, will take your lack of concern to “get it right” to heart.

>Please let us now hear about how everything is a

>personal cheap shot directed at you.

Well, if you wish to identify your writings in that way, I won’t stop you.

>What I am claiming

>on my website is quite simple–your degree was granted

>from an institution that is not quite up to snuff. Good

>luck in your response.

Why thank you. I will make it clear that those who judge merely by institution (rather than accomplishment) are operating on an illogical standard.

>Feel free to peruse your vast collection of FARMS

>REVIEW OF BOOKS or BYU STUDIES if you cannot

>find hide nor hair of me. I have to admit that I find

>your career as an anti-Mormon to be somewhat less

>than interesting and I am unlikely to ever say a word

>about you in print. There are a few sections of your

>website, however, that may find their way to the

>”Worst.”

Well, your accuracy in speaking of my “career as an anti-Mormon” is about as accurate as your reporting of facts and your consideration of the truth, Mr. Novak. But, I get the feeling, in light of Novak’s Rule of Anti-Mormonism, that you really are not interested in fairly evaluating my work.

>Speaking of the “Worst of the Anti-Mormon Web,” I

>often highlight more than one site at a time. If you

>had been but two weeks earlier, you could have seen

>the page with the CES stuff exclusively. So please

>do not think that I am attempting to associate you

>with that other dreadful anti-Mormon site.

I.e., you will not clarify your unclear writings. OK, that’s fine.

>You may now attack me.

For someone who puts up a website such as yours, your response is truly incredible.

Please note the elements of my post to you that you ignored/failed to respond to:

>>Before then, would you be so kind, please, as to

>>list for me 1) which of my books you have read and own, 2) which of my

>>debates you have listened to or watched,

I take it from this that, in fact, you have not read *any* of my books, even my books on Mormonism?

>>and 3) which of my published

>>articles you have read.

I take it from this that, in fact, you have not read *any* of my published articles, either?

>>And, could you forward to me any meaningful

>>rebuttal/interaction you have written to any of these materials?

I take it from this that you have not, in fact, reviewed, refuted, or interacted with, *any* of my books, articles, or tapes?

If I do not hear back from you, I will assume that this is the case.

Mr. Novak’s response, received the next day, is so filled with sarcasm as to drag our effort here down too low. Let’s suffice it to say that Mr. Novak confirmed that he has not read a single book I’ve written (including my works on Mormonism), hence, he has not read anything I have published that represents the work I was doing with CES. Ironically, Mr. Novak, in his sarcastic and disrespectful response, went so far as to start calling himself “Cultist Gary Novak.” FARMS has, of course, complained loudly about the application of the term “cult” to Mormonsim; yet, Mr. Novak uses the term of himself in a sarcastic fashion, though I did not use such terminology in writing to him! What is more, as soon as this issue got into the “skinny” list, Louis Midgley, likewise, jumped into the fray. Both he and Novak decided that it was totally disingenuous of me to assume that someone would bother to contact me before writing a hit piece about my doctoral work on the web. And the reason they offered? They point to a response I wrote to L. Ara Norwood’s less-than-useful review of Letters to a Mormon Elder, (click here for this article) and say, “Hey, you didn’t contact Ara before posting that!” I found the argument so utterly without merit it was hard to know how to reply. Let’s compare the reasoning of Mr. Novak and Dr. Midgley:

Norwood (representing FARMS) wrote a review of my book. He contacted our ministry, not in an honest fashion, but as a representative of “Delta Lithograph,” inquiring about whether his company could publish the book! Of course, he asked a number of questions about the book in the process. Later he sent us a letter, this time saying that he is an LDS elder, but not mentioning that he was also, concurrently, working on a “review” article on the book for FARMS. Mr. Norwood’s review, in comparison with material that has become stock-in-trade for FARMS since then, was fairly mild, though it did contain more than enough unnecessary ad-hominem argumentation. The article to which they now refer was my response to a written article by Norwood against my book. How anyone can suggest a logical parallel is beyond me. Mr. Novak’s hit-piece is not a response to my having written about him.

Now, before responding to his specific article about my work, I note that Mr. Novak provided an article explaining what you have to do to get a “real degree.” Let’s take a look at what he says, and compare it with the work I did.

On Getting a “Real” Degree

Mr. Novak provides the following description of the process of getting a “real” degree (http://www.shields-research.org/Novak/real_degree.htm). He begins with a gratuitous swipe at me:

If you are thinking that the requirements for James White’s doctorate are perhaps something less than rigorous, you may also be wondering what the requirements are for a regular Masters or Doctorate. While the requirements differ from school to school and from program to program, I will outline the requirements for an advanced degree.

We will see that Mr. Novak did not bother to actually find out what the requirements for my doctorate were. Instead, he listed some classes from a catalog (undergraduate classes at that), and ignored something he himself noted later: that in a mentoring situation, one works with one’s mentor to craft a program. Hence, listing a few classes from the catalog hardly represents the reality of a program, and, since Novak did not ask me for information on what I did, he can’t hardly speak to the requirements of my program with much credibility. He goes on:

Typically a Masters degree requires 30 credit hours; a doctorate requires around 54 credit hours. Most universities require that a certain number of hours be in residence at that university. A Masters degree usually requires two or three years to complete; a doctorate requires three to five years to complete. Most programs require a certain number of core courses—methods classes, foundational issues, etc.—and sometime foreign language skills are also required. Of course students are required to take electives, specializing in their chosen field.

This is generally accurate, at least in secular universities. In most seminaries, the requirements are much more extensive. Mr. Novak mentions that he did a Master’s degree at BYU. If he is relating information that accurately reflects his own experience, he did 30 semester hours of work for his degree. My M.A. at Fuller Seminary (an institution he forgot to mention in his discussion of my academic credentials) included 100 quarter-hours of work, which converted to semester hours, would be about 66. Hence, my first graduate degree took more than twice the number of hours that, seemingly, Mr. Novak devoted to his own.

Now, again, the doctoral figures given reflect primarily secular universities. The Th.M./Th.D. program I completed with Columbia required a total of 128 semester hours of work for the Th.M, and an additional 32 for the Th.D. (totallying 160 hours, vs. the 84 Novak lists). As I already had a Master’s degree, and had already shown proficiency in my chosen field through published works, I had a running start on the Th.M. Mr. Novak, as we will see, seems very troubled that Columbia gave me credit (in the Th.M. program) for work already completed. What he for some reason forgets to mention is that the main work under consideration (The King James Only Controversy) is a work that has not only been endorsed by the leading authorities in the field, it has become a textbook in numerous colleges and universities around our nation. Columbia accepted it as my Th.M. thesis. I would gladly put the work up against Mr. Novak’s thesis, titled “Eros and Thumos in Plato’s Laws,” both for size, content, and most importantly (in my mind, anyway, since we are talking about a degree in theology), relevance to the Church. That is not to say that there is not room for studying terms referring to strong passion in Plato, as there is. My point is that you can do real scholarship without being so obtuse that no one will ever bother to read your work (as Mr. Novak admits about his own thesis when he writes, “As if anyone would want to read that thing.”) What is obvious is, if my Th.M. from Columbia is “bogus,” then why is his Master’s “real,” when it required less work? I will address the issue of “review” below.

So far, then, my own program, combining an “accredited” M.A. and a non-accredited Th.M., has amounted to more than four times the number of credit hours Mr. Novak has indicated. But there’s more. My doctoral program included the writing of six nationally published books. Most doctoral programs require papers and a dissertation. Four of those six books would, taken individually, be substantially longer than many standard dissertations. And while they are written at a popular level so as to communicate with their audience (major publishers do not publish books written so that only a few people could possibly read them), anyone who takes the time to examine the endnotes and the sources used (something that, again, Mr. Novak “skipped” in his research) can see that they required extensive study and research. They do, in fact, demonstrate an ability to do first-level research in my chosen field: apologetics.

Novak continues:

When the coursework is completed—depending on the program—a comprehensive examination may be administered. This is often based on a reading list that is separate from texts read for courses, although there may be some overlap. The examination may be written or oral.

Sometime during the second year of studies, the student must select a thesis or dissertation topic. This is usually done in close consultation with his graduate advisor. The thesis or dissertation is a major scholarly work and is intended to make a contribution to the field of study. A thesis or dissertation usually runs at least one hundred pages and often much longer. The student is expected to do original research.

A thesis or dissertation must then be submitted to a sort of ad hoc committee of professors—usually, but not always, from his own university. The members of the committee read the work and then perform an extensive, exhaustive examination. This is the thesis or dissertation defense. The actual defense may take several hours. There are few rules—committee members may ask any questions they please. In my own case a member of my committee asked,

Suppose it is five years down the line. One of your students comes to you and says, “I just read your thesis. So what?” How do you reply?

Upon successful completion of the thesis or dissertation defense, copies of that document are prepared and signed by committee members. Copies are deposited in the university library and in the appropriate department. At this point the requirements for the degree are met and the degree is awarded.

This completes Mr. Novak’s listing of what a “real” degree involves. Seemingly, since he identifies mine as “bogus,” he doesn’t feel I’ve fulfilled these requirements. Let’s see.

First, Mr. Novak does not address in his article my successful graduation from Fuller Seminary, nor the requirements as far as examinations that would require. Next, the main thrust of this section seems to be the accountability built into the examination of the thesis by a group of professors. There is everything to be said for the necessity of such examination. It is indeed one of the main advantages of campus-based education to have a ready cache of such folks available. But, again, Mr. Novak seems to have forgotten to ask what kind of review my work has been exposed to. And it is just here that the silliness of Mr. Novak’s personal attacks becomes so obvious.

You see, one of the reasons I am so thankful to the Lord for how he has worked to join my educational experience with my ministry work is that the results of that work are open for the whole world to see. That is, since the majority of my doctoral work has been published by one of the largest and best Christian publishers in the United States, I can simply point to a pile of work and say, “Well, there it is! If you wish to demonstrate a problem, get busy.” That is, I don’t have four or five folks reviewing my work. I have thousands. Mr. Novak is right: his thesis has probably been read by half a dozen people, grand total, in the world. My Th.M. thesis has been read by multiplied thousands, and I can tell you this: a number of them were anything but friendly to me. While Mr. Novak’s professors would feel a need to be rigorous in their review (if they really had time to be), it is highly doubtful that his work was exposed to the refutations of those who hate him with unrelenting hatred. Anyone who has read the web pages written about me by KJV Only advocates knows what I mean when I say that my work has been reviewed by those tremendously hostile to me and my position. The same is true of many of the books written as part of my doctoral work: The Roman Catholic Controversy has been cited in numerous works since its publication, and can anyone seriously think that a work like Mary—Another Redeemer? will not be held up to serious scrutiny as well?

Obviously, the works I did were reviewed by Dr. Rick Walston, my mentor, and others associated with the seminary. But given the fact that I was involved in front-line apologetic work all through the time I was working with CES, we all recognized that my work was going to be reviewed over and over again by those with a very, very big ax to grind. And, of course, since the published versions of my work are sent to a wide variety of scholars and writers for their review and endorsement, one might well point out that there is more review throughout the process I underwent than there would be in a normal university situation.

My dissertation has recently been published under the title The Forgotten Trinity. This work is a biblical presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is 224 pages in length in type-written format. Mr. Novak makes mention in his article that he did not see a bound edition of my dissertation at CES. That is true. I had begun work on the conversion process when my computer died a few months ago. Since then, with the indulgence of Dr. Walston, I have had to focus upon getting the final published edition ready, at which time I can then worry about the single hard-bound dissertation edition. As I was converting the project to dissertation format, I discovered that the conversion rate of pages typeset/pages in dissertation format came out to approximately 1:1.6. Hence, in standard dissertation format, my work would be approximately 350 pages in length.

The only meaningful criticism that could possibly be raised against my dissertation is this: it is not “focused” enough. That is, conventional wisdom is that your dissertation topic must be very narrow, very focused, and the resultant work must be extremely in-depth, showing an ability to do original research. Such is the standard dissertation. And while there is more than sufficient scholarship in my dissertation as far as original languages, or in-depth discussion is concerned, I gladly and openly confess that it is not your every-day dissertation. The “Trinity” is FAR too wide a topic to qualify in most doctoral programs. Of that we can all be sure.

However, it is just here that I must thank Mr. Novak for raising this issue, and, I confess, I’m almost glad he didn’t bother to even inquire as to the subject, or form, of my dissertation. For now I can make a meaningful defense of our (yes, our) decision to go this direction. We (I and my mentor) went this direction simply because it was fully consistent with our purpose and goal. What better dissertation could I write for a Th.D. in apologetics than a unique, helpful, solid work providing a focused, biblical defense of the single doctrine most often attacked by cultists and unbelievers? Consider these two facts:

There are no works in print comparable with The Forgotten Trinity. Most works are either very long and complex, or, they are extremely short and shallow. The work is unique in its genre, and hence it does makes a contribution to the field of knowledge, but it does what most dissertations can never do: it communicates that knowledge to the widest possible audience!

I believe any fair-minded person will agree that it takes a high level of scholarship and ability to take a complex issue and explain it in a concise and yet accurate manner. Add to the task the need to present the material in an apologetic context so that you are at the same time providing a response to critics and enemies of the faith, and you can see that the task was indeed “rigorous” and demanding.

But even more important for me, anyway, is one last consideration, considered foolish by many in the world: I will gladly suffer the slings and arrows of the Gary Novaks of the world in exchange for the satisfaction of knowing that the time I invested and the work I did results in the glorification of God, the promulgation of His truth, and the salvation of the elect of God. All I ask of the Lord is that The Forgotten Trinity have the same impact that I know to be true of other books such as Letters to a Mormon Elder or The Roman Catholic Controversy: the salvation of the lost. I consider it an honor to be allowed to write a work that can help someone know God better and grow in His grace. That is something I wouldn’t trade for all the kudos of Mr. Novak or anyone else.

On To the Article

Having seen that Mr. Novak is rather inconsistent to refer to my work as “bogus” when I more than adequately met his standards for what one must do for an advanced degree, we move on to his specific comments regarding CES and my work there. But before we go into the article, I do have one thing to point out. When did I become the issue? Mr. Novak is LDS. Where, in any of my published works on Mormonism, have I said, “Well, Mormonism is wrong because I say so”? Indeed, it is rather ironic to note that both of my books on Mormonism were written prior to my graduation from CES with my Th.D. Hence, what is the logical relevance to what I have written about the LDS Church? Why don’t I find Mr. Novak providing a meaningful response to my latest book, Is the Mormon My Brother? Indeed, no one, to my knowledge, has written any kind of a meaningful review of that book from the LDS perspective (and I include the hysterics of Darryl Barksdale of FAIR in the “no one” category). The book, if it is “unscholarly” and flawed, is readily open to criticism. Yet, LDS apologists choose only to attack me personally rather than deal with the documentation in the book. Why? The answer is simple. Ad-hominem is the stock-in-trade of defenders of Mormonism. Go look at Kerry Shirts’ defenses of the Book of Abraham. Read the interchanges between FARMS notables and those opposed to Mormonism. What is the constant element in each? Ad-hominem attack upon the “terrible anti-Mormons.” It is little more than the throwing of dirt and dust to obscure the issues. I invite the reader to consider well how in politics the person who has lost the debate immediately turns to this kind of desperate argument. If my work is so flawed, so bad, why not deal with it, rather than with me?

Here is what Mr. Novak had to say, with my comments interspersed:

A while back a friend brought to my attention James White’s very interesting document discussing his own doctorate. White mentions not only that the institution granting his degree is unaccredited, but also that it is named Columbia Evangelical Seminary. Living near the Columbia river myself, I wondered if the seminary might be nearby. Indeed it was. I immediately sent away for the catalog and arranged to take a trip to the seminary.

I only note in passing that Mr. Novak is kind enough to admit that I have always been up-front about the non-traditional nature of CES. From the first time I mentioned the school on our web page, I have brought out this fact. Why? Because I knew there were folks like Mr. Novak out there who would make no end of it if I didn’t. But, of course, they make no end of it despite my being up-front about it anyway!

So what kinds of courses would catch the eye of the average, everyday Latter-day Saint? The Columbia Evangelical Seminary Catalog lists some interesting courses including AP-301 Cults which “examines and critiques various non-Christian cults in light of God’s Word, to include [surprise!] Mormonism . . .” or AP-302 Mormonism which is “an in depth [sic.] examination of the Mormon cult . . .” and the textbook is—surprise again—The Maze of Mormonism, by none other than “Dr.” Walter Martin. If you are thinking that two courses out of a couple of hundred is no big deal you can also take AP-508/708 Cults—same textbook, of course—and study “the Apologetics of [“Dr.” Walter] Martin” (AP-606/806) or TH-216/416 Cults using “Dr.” Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults. So of course with quality textbooks in hand the quality of your education is assured.

Talk about selective citation! What Mr. Novak seemingly forgets is what he later indicates: students work with their mentors to develop course syllabi that reflect their work. In fact, one of the advantages of the system is that it allows a student to choose a mentor of his/her denominational background/affiliation, and hence to allow CES a wider target audience than most traditional seminaries. Be that as it may, I did not read simple, basic books for any of my classes. The above classes represent past completed courses, not what anyone would specifically be doing in a class today. For example, I developed a course with a student of mine on NT Introduction. They utilized Gundry’s A Survey of the New Testament as well as Bruce’s New Testament History. Interestingly, both books were textbooks I used at Fuller. We also required an in-depth paper on the Synoptic problem, which required some extensive use of other sources to work through one of the tougher issues raised in the comparison of the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This was for a single class for a person just beginning seminary.

What Mr. Novak does not want to address, of course, are other classes on apologetics, including those introducing the thought of Cornelius Van Til, or Greg Bahnsen. Given the attitude displayed by Mr. Novak in his personal correspondence, I am doubtful he noted such classes, simply because he would not be familiar with such individuals in the first place. Rather, by focusing solely upon course descriptions that use Walter Martin’s name, Novak hopes to denigrate, unfairly, the course work I did; though, of course, he likewise doesn’t seem to feel he had to inquire about what that course work was in the first place. I allow the reader to decide how motives appear clearly in such writing.

Now “Dr.” White would like you to believe that CES is merely “too young to be ‘accredited.'” But the simple truth of the matter is that CES probably could not be accredited by a regular, recognized accrediting institution. (To its credit, CES is very open and up-front about its lack of accreditation.) One reason among many is that CES allows students to write their own syllabi. All of the class work is done off-campus . . . and the curriculum seems to be designed without the benefit of regular curriculum committees and reviews. Hence there are no fixed course competencies such as one would find in a traditional school.

Mr. Novak inserts the word “merely.” CES has not sought accreditation, and personally, if it requires CES to stop giving opportunities to those who need its unique services, I hope it doesn’t. But, that may well change. Again what Mr. Novak fails to note is that there is (whether he knows it or not) a growing trend toward distance and non-centralized education. Many fully governmentally accredited institutions are beginning to offer degrees in non-traditional manners, including through the Internet. The growth in technology and its general availability is changing how education is being done on many levels. Join this with the fact that for many (myself included) the very cost of education is going beyond reach (a B.A., M.Div., Ph.D. program now running, in many places, to $100,000.00 in tuition alone), and the need for such means of work is readily seen. In the old days you had to go to where a professor was to learn from him. Now, you can sit at your computer and interact with people from all over the world, replete with video and illustrations. Education cannot long resist the impact these developments must have upon it.

CES has offices (which Mr. Novak visited). It would be silly to have classrooms, if your students live all across the United States. Yes, all the work is done off-campus, both by design and by necessity.

Students do write their own syllabi—in conjunction with, and with the approval of, the student’s mentor. The two are to work together to craft a program that will meet the student’s needs, but it is the student who is responsible for putting the final form together, not the mentor. As I have worked with students, I have assigned texts, and, on the basis of my interviewing the student regarding his/her ministry, assigned research projects that would specifically aid them in that work. But, they then have to put the syllabus together, send me a final copy, and send one to the seminary as well. Obviously, this is very much the same kind of process a student would work through with a mentor in European universities, and in many American settings as well, where it has been realized that a fixed course curriculum has to be amended to allow some focus work and some freedom of research.

As to “fixed course competencies,” that is up to the mentor and the seminary. There is review of the syllabi by seminary officials to make sure the course work is in line with the student’s program (i.e., not too heavy or too light, given the direction and goal of the program).

CES has had about 155 total students pass through the institution.

I have not confirmed the number, but it sounds about right.

It currently services about 65 active students.

Same as above.

Everyone on the CES board also teaches for CES.

Dr. Walston has indicated this is untrue, and that he did not tell Mr. Novak this. In fact, Dr. Walston indicated to me that Mr. Novak was in the office a very short time, and that Dr. Walston got the impression he was a prospective student. Mr. Novak did not indicate that he was doing research, nor did he raise any concerns to Dr. Walston (who could certainly have helped in providing meaningful responses).

There is no library, no student services and no bookstore. CES does not have any of the services normally associated with a college or university.

If by “no services normally associated with a college or university” you mean a cafeteria, dorms, or the like, of course not. Given the goal of the institution, why would such things exist? Why have a centralized library when the student will never be there?

This might, however, be a good place to point out how Mr. Novak seems entrenched in the “old line” of thought. The idea of the centrality of the library speaks to this. As you read this article (unless someone downloaded it and printed it out for you), you are connected to and accessing the largest information resource tool ever devised by man: the Internet. But just “where” is the Internet? Well, obviously, its constituent parts exist at various places, but the entity itself does not have one central location. Yet you are able to obtain a tremendous amount of information from it.

I know of more than one fully “accredited” institution that has a “library” that would not even begin to provide the kind of information one could obtain sitting at one’s computer while connected to the Internet. I know of many who, while attending a fully accredited school, must travel long distances to a much more sufficient library to obtain needed resource materials.

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in another field, that of CD-ROM technology. When I enrolled at CES, I invested in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae CD-ROM. This work, containing a vast library of original Greek documents, is a gold-mine of original research information. I used this work in my studies at CES (as I’m sure Mr. Novak used it in his). This work would not have been included in the resources available to me at many “accredited” universities. That is, CES students have to do their own research with less “help” than those on a centralized campus—but it is ridiculous to assume that such research cannot be done. Mr. Novak would surely be interested to note that all of the patristic citations (those taken from Greek sources, anyway) in one of the chapters in The Forgotten Trinity were translated, directly, from the TLG CD-ROM. Would it be proper for me to criticize the dissertations of, say, graduates of BYU from a number of years ago, if they did not have direct access to the kind of information available today, and to deny the validity of their work and their scholarship on that basis? Certainly not. Yet, is this not the implicit assertion of Mr. Novak, and indeed all who seem to wish us to believe that the important factor is not the work you do, nor the scholarship you show, but the name on the sign out front? Does a book read differently when taken from the library of a large institution than it does when obtained by a private individual?

James White’s Master Thesis was signed by Rick Walston, CES president. There does not appear to have been a committee review. Most universities require that a thesis or dissertation be defended before a committee of three or four people.

It was also signed by Phil Fernandes (why Mr. Novak would miss this detail I do not know). My M.A. from Fuller did not include such a dissertation defense. And, as I noted above, Columbia accepted as my thesis my extensive work on the KJV issue, which has been reviewed a thousand times more extensively than Mr. Novak’s own thesis work.

James White’s Master’s “contract” was with Rick Walston. Inquiring minds will no doubt want to know if he worked with anyone else during his coursework.

Only if inquiring minds ignore the concept of a mentor/student relationship.

James White’s Master’s “contract” also indicates that he would do 45 hours of coursework and lists some of the books that he would read. It did not indicate what the courses were.

Dr. Walston has indicated that Mr. Novak was in the office only a brief time. Since he did not make his true intentions known when visiting, he could hardly have access to everything that he could have seen, if he had just identified himself fully and asked direct questions.

James White’s Doctor’s “contract” was also with Rick Walston. Did he work with anyone else during his coursework? Who, besides Rick Walston, read or critiqued his dissertation? With whom did he defend his work? I suspect that James White did not experience any of the things that students at normal universities do in order to earn their advanced degrees.

Others did, of course, read the work, and, more importantly (as noted above), will do so, for years to come, Lord willing. Mr. Novak admits that no one is likely to read his thesis. May I ask the serious-minded person to please consider for a moment what that means? I gladly say that Mr. Novak has shown scholarship in writing a thesis on Plato. Yet, Mr. Novak says that I have not shown scholarship by writing a dissertation on the Trinity. And the difference? Where it was written, not what it says. Will Mr. Novak’s thesis be subjected to unfriendly and tremendously adversarial review? Mine will be. And that, of course, is the test of scholarship, especially when one thinks that scholarship (at least the Christian kind) should be evaluated on the basis of its service to the Church, not its service to anyone or anything else. I’ll gladly thank the Lord for the opportunity, again, of investing that period of my life in something that will still be making a difference when I’m gone. Yes, I know, that’s not the “normal” way. But for some, who realize the shortness of this life, it might touch a chord of understanding.

Finally, a question about James White’s dissertation. I did not see a copy of his dissertation at Columbia Evangelical Seminary, even though it is soon to be published. Did White write his dissertation before his coursework was completed? What about his thesis?

This is purely my fault, as I noted above. I had begun the process of providing the hard-bound dissertation when my hard-drive failed. Dr. Walston has been kind enough to allow me to focus upon making the work publication-ready, though I still have to finish the conversion process and submit the hard-copy. Dr. Walston read the dissertation in electronic form, recognizing that it was going to be published. I would go into the “publish or perish” concept in many schools, but that might indeed seem self-serving. I shall leave it simply at this: how many professors in theology have the list of publications that I can present, and in as many different fields? For some reason, Mr. Novak doesn’t believe that is relevant, since he didn’t mention it. In fact, he didn’t mention my accredited M.A., nor my professional teaching experience in accredited schools, nor my professional work as a critical consultant on a major Bible translation—basically, he didn’t mention anything that could possibly give credence to the work I have done with CES, and in my published works. Then again, he hasn’t read any of those works, so that might give us some insight at that point.

There is some reason to think that White used projects for his thesis or dissertation that he had already started or perhaps even completed before finishing his coursework. “Dr.” White ought to be able to clear this up rather easily. Notice in this essay White speaks of his The King James Only Controversy as if it had already been published before he went to CES; and in this essay the book does not seem to be related to his thesis. I would love to be wrong about this.

There is no question about this. I had the head of an accredited extension seminary suggest to me that I find someone to accept that work as my doctoral dissertation. I did not pursue that idea, but it does indicate the respect given the work by unbiased individuals (Mr. Novak’s bias is beyond question, given his association with FARMS, and his behavior in electronic correspondence). As I indicated above, CES did accept my extensive work on the KJV issue as part of the Th.M., that then allowed me to focus primarily upon the doctoral work (having already completed Master’s level studies to begin with). Is it Mr. Novak’s assertion that such works should not be accepted unless they are written during a particular time period? Is a work more, or less, scholarly and valuable depending on when it is written? It is unclear what his particular problem is with the recognition of the value of such a work and its acceptance toward a program. But, again, we can’t be too harsh: Mr. Novak didn’t read the book, so he’d hardly be in a position to judge.

Does James White have a genuine doctorate? Here is what we know. The degree is granted by an unaccredited correspondence school. There are no set course syllabi; students write their own syllabi. CES has no library, student services or bookstore. The school has no curriculum committees and no course review procedures. There appears to have been no committee and no thesis or dissertation defense; the only signature in James White’s Masters Thesis is that of CES president, Rick Walston. White’s “contract” was also with Rick Walston. Does James White have a genuine doctorate? What do you think?

If Mr. Novak put the last statement in its only meaningful form, we would not have any problems: if he would replace the word “genuine” with “governmentally accredited,” all would be well. From the first day I made mention of my work with CES I indicated (in fact, at first, in ALL CAPS) that a student at CES cannot take out student loans, cannot get government grants, and that is because CES is not accredited. Given the particular type of education we try to do, as explained above, that is not a major revelation.

The educational system moves slowly, and is only now beginning to recognize the need to move away from the centralized/single campus mode to the satellite/campus and distance-education mode. Till distance education becomes more prevalent, those of us who take advantage of it will have to do two things: 1) prove our scholarship directly by what we write and teach (rather than by institutional association), and 2) recognize that being “politically incorrect” will preclude us from “crossing over” and gaining the acceptance of those who could, in fact, get the government to help them pay for their education. At the same time, we will have to trust that the serious minded person will recognize that everyone should be evaluated on the same standards: that is, that scholarship should not be accorded some special privilege just because of an institutional association. Scholarship, whatever that nebulous term is taken to mean, should be evaluated for its truth-content, its consistency, and (in the Christian setting), its faithfulness to the Lord and His truth. Any person claiming to be a Christian scholar who does not submit himself/herself to the dictates of the Scriptures and the service of the Church is not worthy of the label. They may well be a scholar—but it is a much higher calling to be a Christian scholar.

A Few Concluding Thoughts

It is not hard to figure out the reason why Gary Novak, a Mormon associated with FARMS, would wish to put up on the Web such a one-sided article aimed solely at me on a personal level. This is typical FARMS/LDS apologist behavior. It differs not at all in spirit from the “Metcalfe is Butthead” behavior of his seniors. What truly strikes me (and I hope the reader will likewise consider this) is this: when have I made myself the issue in anything I’ve written and published on Mormonism? None of my books on Mormonism were written after my graduation from CES. None of them say “Dr. James White,” nor do any of them, in the slightest, make me the issue. So why would Mr. Novak, and the folks at FARMS, care?

Well, the reason is obvious: their standard means of responding to criticism is to attack the critic, not the issue at hand. They have not produced a meaningful response to either book, since there is no meaningful response to be had. The issues are clear, and certainly the testimony of Scripture is clear as well. While they may attempt to undercut the authority of the Scriptures (click here for an example of this), even this does not provide sufficient “staying power” for them. Rather, they know that their supporters are most “encouraged” by this kind of writing.

As Dr. Walston reminded me, the issue regarding a doctorate is content. In fact, I’d say that’s the issue regarding all scholarship: content. Our society has come to embrace what we might call “institutional scholarship.” That is, if you went to a “good institution,” that makes you a scholar, and it invests your words with near infallibility. Hence, we often read that “scholars have determined that the Bible is in error when it says this” or “scholarship has assured us that God did not create the world.” The Jesus Seminar speaks often of how scholarship has made it clear that pretty much every element of the Christian faith is, in fact, a myth, in error, and in need of rejection. Our nation worships scholarship, and our new high priests inevitably end their names with Ph.D.

For a long time I’ve counseled my students to “de-mythologize scholarship.” That is, do your homework, check things out, and don’t believe it just because Dr. So-and-so says it. You can have all the degrees in the world, and still completely miss the forest for the trees, even in your area of expertise!

Let me make something clear: I am very thankful for CES and for the Lord’s guidance of my life so that I could complete a program with Rick Walston and the folks there. Given my commitment to ministry and to the church, I had to find such a program if I desired to progress in my studies. I think the fact that Mr. Novak can call an earned Th.D. in Apologetics such as mine “bogus” tells us more about Mr. Novak than it does about me. A “bogus” degree is one for which you did no work. The very term “bogus” indicates deceit, lying, deception. Yet, even Mr. Novak admits that I have been open in directing people to CES’s webpage, which makes it very clear that CES does not claim governmental accreditation. And, my degree, if anything, was earned—and in a way that allows all interested parties to examine the majority of the work done (i.e., through my published books). It was earned at the cost of more work than many secular doctorates that Mr. Novak would never consider calling “bogus.”

In light of my call to evaluate a person’s scholarship by what they write and teach, rather than by their “pedigree,” I would like to invite the reader to continue on to an examination of some of the writings of Mr. Novak, Dr. Peterson, Dr. Ricks, and others associated with FARMS. If my degree is “bogus,” it should be easy to see how my scholarship fails when compared with the “real” scholarship of these individuals. But, is this what happens? Let’s find out: click here.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply