Evidently, you cannot identify apostasy in today’s world, let alone passionately call someone to repent of it lest they experience the wrath of God’s judgment, lest you run afoul of the new cultural First Commandment, Thou Shalt Be Nice. Sometimes being nice is the coward’s way out. I would say most of my failures as a parent were related to wanting to be “liked” by my kids rather than doing what was best for them and right in God’s eyes. How often we are willing to compromise God’s glory, God’s truth, for the sake of our own popularity. We never show ourselves less willing to tread in the apostles’ footsteps than when we fall into line with this new cultural dogmatism.
Last week while I was in Montana I received an e-mail from Tyler McNabb. It had been quite some time since I had last had contact with Tyler, as I had addressed his situation back in July of 2012, here and here. He had drawn back from conversion, briefly, but, as his email indicates, went through with it. Others, who follow his blog, indicate that he was contacted by many of the same folks who have declined to defend Rome’s primary authority claims over the years but who are quick to “compass land and sea” to make converts to Mother Rome. In any case, I did not respond immediately to young Tyler. I had to give some thought to how to respond to his email in a properly biblical fashion.
Apostasy is a grievous sin. It may well be what John has in mind when he speaks of a “sin unto death” as well. There is a vast difference between a purveyor of a false religious belief who does not know the truth, and one who once professed it but now denies it. I must extend great patience and grace to the one, not to the other. The apostates named, by name, in the New Testament are said to be under God’s judgment, and there is no indication, at all, that they are to be coddled, cajoled, snuggled with, treated as folks with “just a different opinion,” etc. They are to be identified, marked out, cast out of the church, denied the ordinances, and most of all, they are to know, with certainty and without compromise, that their end will be that of judgment if they do not repent of their grave sin.
Now, in almost any area of gospel proclamation today, that kind of firm, uncompromising, no-nonsense kind of speech is a rarity. We are living in a day of feminization, feelings, and emotions. Little boys aren’t supposed to play soldier anymore (you’ll get kicked out of school for that), and preachers are supposed to be in touch with their “feminine side.” The prophets and apostles of old would have no idea how to do this “proclamation of truth” thing anymore. And poor John the Baptist—seriously, locusts and honey? Leather belt? Let’s get that poor man some Rob Bell glasses, shall we?
In any case, I do not coddle those who throw the gospel of Jesus Christ under the bus so that they can feel warm and cozy on the far side of the Tiber River. Especially if someone has stood behind the sacred desk and preached the gospel of peace based upon the singular accomplishment of Jesus Christ from the sole inspired revelation of truth we possess in Scripture—such a person is guilty of such an outstanding act of hubris and rebellion that I only have one message for him/her: God’s wrath abides upon you, repent, flee, confess, cry out for forgiveness before it is too late. God will cause those who refuse to love the truth to love a lie, and once you love it, once it is firmly set up as the idol to which you give full allegiance, there is little hope indeed of your rescue. When I speak to unbelievers who have never even known the truth, I must patiently and graciously bring them that good news, seeking, repeatedly, to overcome barriers of misunderstanding and tradition. But the apostate is one who has already possessed and professed that truth—my testimony to them must be clear, and concise.
As you will see, Tyler thinks I’m a big meanie. That’s fine. I’m sure Demas and Alexander had less than warm fuzzies about the Apostle Paul, too. I am no Paul, but I do seek to, as best I can, walk in his footsteps. I falter often. But you see, I am not the issue. I am walking the same path I have trod for three decades of ministry, pretty much as long as Tyler has been alive. As you read these emails, note how often Tyler tries to avoid his own action of apostasy, demand instant legitimacy as a representative of his new religion, and make me, and my unwillingness to grant his apostasy propriety, the topic of conversation. I may be many things—and one of them is dogged, as you will see.
From: tyler mcnabb
Date: May 18, 2013 8:32:34 AM MST
To: James White
I pray that you are doing well! I have no idea if you know what has occurred since last summer, so I not only wanted to update you on what has occurred but I also wanted to end this email with a proposal for some sort of debate. During the month of August I recommitted myself to Catholic theology and last December I officially entered communion with Rome. I wanted to see if you might be interested in a debate. Though I do not have as an impressive resume as you do, I do indeed have a resume. Besides having participated in professional debate, I have a MA in Philosophy of Religion and a BA in Biblical Studies. I am also starting my PhD in Philosophy from the University of Glasgow this year. Furthermore, I am also a professor at community college in North Carolina. It is at this college that I teach New Testament and World Religions.
I propose the following topic:
Knowledge of Catholicism: Can one know that Catholic teaching is true?
I move in the fall to the U.K. so I would love to figure something out before then.
Tyler D. McNabb
Three days later I got around to replying:
From: James White
Subject: Re: Debate
Date: May 21, 2013 3:09:25 PM MST
To: tyler mcnabb
So sad to hear from you! I guess it is best, for as Scripture says, “they went out from us so that it might be made manifest (ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν) that they were not all of us.” It is necessary for the clarity of the gospel that those who do not hold to it be marked out as such.
I am, of course, booked well into 2014 as far as travel and debates are concerned, including teaching in Germany and a trip to London and South Africa in October. I just had a new book released on the Qur’an, and am writing a second with a well known Islamic scholar, so even if I felt there was a reason to invest the effort in debating the above topic (and it is so nebulous, I would not do so), I would surely not be able to do so in your short time frame. I asked TurretinFan if he would like to debate you via Skype, and he said he would. I could put you in touch with him.
I will not bother you with words you will not hear, Tyler. Those who love men’s philosophy more than the gospel will always find a way to shroud their position in a haze of meaningless words of wisdom. No one who has ever truly understood their own heart, their own guilt, and the holiness of God, could ever trade the finished work of Christ for the never-perfecting charade of the Romanist mass, the medieval myth of purgatory and indulgences, and the legion of alter Christi who daily attempt to sew up the rent veil.
I was straightforward in my response. He has gone out from us. He has embraced a non-saving gospel. And as anyone would, I think, know, I have to schedule a bit down the road, especially when traveling around the globe, so arranging a debate in just a few months is a long shot even if it was something I really wanted to do. Further, I do not believe the topic would be useful to the vast majority of listeners, as seems rather obvious, as it could be construed in so many different ways and would lead, inevitably, to a game of philosophical gamesmanship.
Evidently, Tyler thought I would be happy to hear of his abandonment of the gospel of grace. What in my writings or teaching over the past three decades could be the foundation of such a hope, I cannot tell.
From: tyler mcnabb
Subject: Re: Debate
Date: May 22, 2013 1:45:05 PM MST
To: James White
It brings me sorrow to read your words. How you treat others who disagree with you is alarming. If someone ever sends me an email in the future and I believed that they had left the faith, I hope I would not greet them by informing them of how I am ‘sad to hear from them’ or espouse some half hearted diatribe against their religious belief. Regardless, I understand that you are a busy person, and if that is the reason that you cannot debate me then I totally understand. As I am sure you remember, a PhD is a lot of work so I will soon be right there with you on that.
I am not sure what you mean about the topic being unclear. I know you are not familiar with contemporary analytic philosophy/religious epistemology, but there is indeed a problem in philosophy that is articulated in a very similar way to the topic of the proposed debate. I asked for that topic on purpose given the fact that it would allow me to approach the debate in my preferred philosophical approach. I prefer this as this is the field that I am in. Did you already know this? Is this what you mean by ‘meaningless words of wisdom’? If not, why did you bring that up?
I won’t take much more of your time. I am open to a possible debate with TurrentinFan in the future, however, I would have to decline on your counteroffer. I have a specific reason in regard to why I wanted to debate you. Perhaps there might be a chance of that sometime down the road.
Praying for you…