James White: Laid to Rest

   Ah, it is a great weight off my shoulders. I am now irrelevant. I can now sit on my porch (if I had one) and rock the rest of my brief life away. At least, that’s what a Texas attorney who, to my knowledge anyway, has never taught a seminary class, never been published in book form, in a scholarly article, etc., never been chosen to an academic position of any type in the theological realm, and has never, to my knowledge, engaged in a public debate in defense of his position, has concluded. Yes, the same man who struggled to answer if the Incarnation is a unique event has provided the epitaph to my entire apologetic career! Here are his ever insightful words:

   In fact, that’s the point in a larger sense. White has made several attempts to revive long-dead confrontations in order to establish some sort of relevance as an anti-Catholic apologist, and it seems appropriate to point out that White is now basically a dried-up old fossil, much like his debate partners John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. He’s strictly senior tour material now; he peaked long ago, and his decline has been steady since then. Drying up and blowing away is a pretty good description of what has happened to White’s reputation. You kinda have to pity his situation; he’s having to bring in guest bloggers (including the equally past-his-prime James Swan) just to keep up with slicker blogs like TeamPyro and Triablogue. It’s like watching someone who used to be “famous” hoping to be recognized.
   I just wanted to point out that this flurry of activity, rather than re-establishing White as a force in anti-Catholic apologetics, pretty much just bears out the opposite conclusion. He’s done; has been for years.

   Like I said, I feel so much better now. Of course, I have never wanted to be a force in whatever “anti-Catholic apologetics” is anyway. I’m a Reformed Baptist elder, professor, and apologist, and I’m quite fine staying busy, and active, in that realm.
   And in pursuit of that, I notice that Prejean, always the one to be humble and self-effacing, has written an article on his blog, “James White paws at my sleeve for more attention.” Yes, it’s all about the attorney in Texas. But while he is big on repeating how much of a dullard I am, I found it ironic that he would make the following statement:

Third, White actually called Athanasius a “true Protestant,” following (if I recall correctly) a characterization by one of his students, and so White must surely at least argue that Athanasius must have believed what is essential to being a Protestant.

   Now, how good a reader is Prejean? How careful is he? Let’s find out. Here is the context from the original article. Note what it is actually saying:

   During the course of the decades following Nicea, Athanasius, who had become bishop of Alexandria shortly after the council, was removed from his see five times, once by force of 5,000 soldiers coming in the front door while he escaped out the back! Hosius, now nearly 100 years old, was likewise forced by imperial threats to compromise and give place to Arian ideas. At the end of the sixth decade of the century, it looked as if Nicea would be defeated. Jerome would later describe this moment in history as the time when “the whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian.”24
   Yet, in the midst of this darkness, a lone voice remained strong. Arguing from Scripture, fearlessly reproaching error, writing from refuge in the desert, along the Nile, or in the crowded suburbs around Alexandria, Athanasius continued the fight. His unwillingness to give place—even when banished by the Emperor, disfellowshipped by the established church, and condemned by local councils and bishops alike—gave rise to the phrase, Athanasius contra mundum: “Athanasius against the world.” Convinced that Scripture is “sufficient above all things,”25 Athanasius acted as a true “Protestant” in his day.26 Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority. Athanasius would have understood, on some of those long, lonely days of exile, what Wycliffe meant a thousand years later: “If we had a hundred popes, and if all the friars were cardinals, to the law of the gospel we should bow, more than all this multitude.”27
   Movements that depend on political favor (rather than God’s truth) eventually die, and this was true of Arianism. As soon as it looked as if the Arians had consolidated their hold on the Empire, they turned to internal fighting and quite literally destroyed each other. They had no one like a faithful Athanasius, and it was not long before the tide turned against them. By A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople could meet and reaffirm, without hesitancy, the Nicene faith, complete with the homoousious clause. The full deity of Christ was affirmed, not because Nicea had said so, but because God had revealed it to be so. Nicea’s authority rested upon the solid foundation of Scripture. A century after Nicea, we find the great bishop of Hippo, Augustine, writing to Maximin, an Arian, and saying: “I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both—the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”28
24Jerome, Adversus Luciferianos, 19, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 6:329.
25Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, 4:453.
26I credit one of my students, Michael Porter, with this phraseology.
27Robert Vaughn, The Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe (London: Holdworth and Ball, 1831), 313. See 312-17 for a summary of Wycliffe’s doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
28Augustine, To Maximim the Arian, as cited by George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 295.

   Now, please note what I was actually addressing. I was speaking of a fact that many do not understand today: Nicea had to fight for its teachings. The idea of “ecumenical councils” as understood by Rome today did not exist in that context. Nicea had to fight against Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium. And for a number of years, things did not look good. Athanasius was banned and condemned by the vast majority of the existing church for lengthy periods of time. And it is just here that “Athanasius against the world” comes into view. Is that what Rome teaches its people today? To stand against the entire hierarchy of the established church for years, even decades, all because you are convinced that the Scriptures support you? Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Roman doctrine, practice, and history, knows otherwise.
   But note that aside from ignoring context, Prejean is not even accurate in his representation. The offensive phrase is, “Convinced that Scripture is ‘sufficient above all things,’ Athanasius acted as a true ‘Protestant’ in his day. Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority.” Notice that I put “Protestant” in quotes. It is an anachronistic term. I was clearly, in context, referring solely to his insistence upon standing on Scripture even against the condemnations of councils and bishops. Prejean does not even seem to have bothered to read the original article! Or, if he has, he has dishonestly misrepresented it. Note he writes, “White actually called Athanasius a ‘true Protestant,’ following (if I recall correctly) a characterization by one of his students, and so White must surely at least argue that Athanasius must have believed what is essential to being a Protestant.” I said Athanasius acted as a true “Protestant” with reference to his refusal to give in to ecclesiastical censure and condemnation. Prejean does not even have a clue what I was actually talking about! But, facts not withstanding, he’s certain I’m washed up anyway.
   Well, once again, the bankruptcy of this entire spectrum of RC apologists has been seen and documented. Notice again how one side can cite references and provide links to both sides of the conversation, but, one side cannot. One side invites the other to call and prove their point, the other banishes people and removes links from web posts. I cannot help but think of the Index Prohibitorum of old, and express my thanks that we live in a day when Rome does not determine who gets to speak and what they get to say.