Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Foundation of Christian Apologetics
01/29/2007 - James WhiteI had a tremendous time this weekend. Far beyond my expectations. My mind is still reeling from all the information I took in regarding the oldest manucripts of the Qur'an. Great information. I'm tremendously excited. You will definitely be hearing the fruit of this weekend in future debates. I am thankful to those who support this work that I had the opportunity of flying out here and meeting with these leading scholars in this field. Though we have kept expenses for this trip very low, please remember us at this time. We are always in need of your prayers and your support.
It is a bit of a rough transition to go from hours of intense conversation on the Qur'an, Arabic orthography, textual transmissional issues, etc., to reading the blogosphere, I confess. But I just saw Kevin Johnson basically saying I'm a big mean nasty guy and that it is mean of me to challenge him to put his claims to the test and show us how he exegetes Romans 5:1 via the "mind of the Church" as he himself said. I sorta expect that, to be honest. It is, in fact, an impossible challenge since, well, his original claim just didn't make any sense. He's just not willing to admit it. But the point has been made for all willing to think about it.
But I'm also mean for pointing out that the rC's are hardly known for their front-line apologetics work. This is an arguable point? Those who assure us that we can't possibly know what Jesus said or meant in the synagogue in Capernaum, who regularly undercut the perspecuity of Scripture, enslaving us instead to human tradition, somehow have something of substance to say to Islam's apologists? Excuse me? What are you going to do, invite them to sit down over a cup of coffee while you discuss your hadith versus theirs? Please. Johnson once again ignores the context of even my own words (this "ignore the context, make it say what you want it to say" syndrome he suffers from is pretty consistent anyway) which was in reference to biblical authority and clarity outside of the addition of human authorities. It is sort of basic to apologetics with other world religions, especially with Islam. Johnson knows this. He just refuses to face it.
Leaving the less-than-edifying, I point out yet again what I have said so many times before: the great apologetic divide goes to a simple question: has God spoken with clarity or not? Sadly, the largest portion of the academy today, Christian or non, says, "no." If you believe God has indeed spoken with clarity and force, you are in a minority. And you know how you can discover the strength of the foundation upon which a gospel presentation is based (or, at least, how consistent the person is in their presentation)? It's pretty easy. The Apostles did not present the resurrection and the call to repentance and faith as probabilites. "It is highly probable that if you weigh the evidence in an unbiased fashion that you will come to the conclusion that there is a better chance Jesus rose from the dead than there is He didn't." Is that how the Apostles preached? No. They presented not only the existence of God as a certainty, but the resurrection is presented as a reality that demands of every man, woman, and child, the response of repentance and faith. That kind of preaching requires the highest view of Scripture, and sadly, when people say, "Why don't we hear powerful preaching any longer?" the answer is not difficult to find. Few believe they any longer represent God as an ambassador with a certain message with divine authority. That's why.
In any case, I'm headed home later today, and so the DL should be at its regular time tomorrow. And don't forget the TC (Textual Criticism) series that starts on Thursday!
An Open Response to Jonathan Bonomo
01/28/2007 - James WhiteMr. Bonomo,
Thank you for your letter. I confess it would be a bit easier for me to respond in detail if your original post, and the comments to which you make reference, were still available, but I will do the best I can in the absence of this material.
I have noted your comments upon reading materials written by Paul Owen, Kevin Johnson, and Tim Enloe. As you know, my history with these men is long. I am without a doubt their favorite target of insult, put-down, and caricature (Doug Wilson might wish to argue that point at least with reference to Mr. Johnson). For years Owen could not write an article or utter a peep in public without taking a shot at me, and Tim Enloe has sunk to saying outrageous things about me and his caricature of my beliefs in such contexts as the Envoy forums, a haven of the most conservative Roman Catholics such as Art Sippo. So it is fairly easy, upon seeing you joining in (both in your comments, and in your own blog), to take your words at face value. I am uncertain how I could have done otherwise. It would be impossible to privately write to each person who you find writing consistently in such a context, who likewise engages in a caricature of your position (your comments currently on the rC website join in the misrepresentation of myself as some kind of individualistic anabaptist, showing a tremendous ignorance of my deeply held churchmanship, my role as an elder in an LBCF church, and my published work which includes sufficient testimony to the breadth of my ecclesiology to convince anyone with an open mind that the constant drumbeat of those in your circles is without merit), and ask them, "Do you really mean what you are saying?"
I appreciate your apology for what you have identified as your "rant" of 1/3/07. I am thankful I was not the only target, though, I must ask, what other Reformed Baptist apologetics ministries were you referring to? I guess I am asking too much of a "rant" to ask where the comments about me ended and those about others began because, of course, I could not see how the entire post was not about me and my "kind." And please realize, sir, that if someone had posted that in my chat channel, for example, I would have assumed it was written by Timothy Enloe. I have entire files of rants just like it, and he means each and every one. So, in light of my having seen your name attached to his, Johnson, Owen, etc., it would be hard to not assume a pattern of consistency based upon similar beliefs and attitudes.
You say you realized the rant was wrong. This seems to have happened after I linked to it, and was related to certain comments posted there. Was the rant "wrong" because it misrepresented me? It seems that what you said, and even the way you said it, is quite consistent with the type of criticism that marks the rC movement as a whole of myself and others like me. Or did the "wrongness" exist in the style, but not the substance?
I believe TULIP represents the spectrum of gospel truth most reprehensible to the natural man. I believe TULIP rips the lips off of man's self-righteousness. It casts man fully upon the mercy of God and leaves no ground for boasting. I believe TULIP then is vital to maintaining gospel balance against the ever-present drag of remaining sin that leads us to constantly find ways of robbing God of his glory and putting ourselves back in some semblance of control.
Likewise, I see Rome's gospel as a glory-stealing, man-exalting, Christ-blaspheming falsehood that can only damn, never save. I see transubstantiation and the concept of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice as gross falsehoods that fall squarely under the anathema of God. I see purgatory as a denial of the finished work of Christ; the sacramental priesthood an unbiblical mechanism of unrighteous control at best, and a gross blasphemy against the singular high priesthood of the Lord Jesus at worst. I see the Marian dogmas as a transparent scheme to distract from the singular glory of Christ. I see the Papacy as a vile imposture with enough martyr's blood on its hands to testify to its gross iniquity for all time.
So you can see why, if the TULIP discussion is "Reformed," and the preceding paragraph is "Catholic," I find the title of the rC website so utterly oxymoronic. And I admit I find those who play games with these eternally important issues, most troubling.
So is TULIP co-extensive with the gospel? No, TULIP refers to a portion of the gospel, not to its whole. But is TULIP therefore irrelevant? Surely not. Sacrificable? No, it is not. Not if we wish to honor the Spirit of God who revealed these truths in Scripture. Of course, part of the problem is I believe many today claim to believe these truths but at the same time never miss an opportunity to cut the ground out from underneath them, leaving us with nothing more than man's opinions and predilections. ...
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Bullinger on Rome, a Reply
01/28/2007 - Mike PorterI made sure I looked both ways before posting. It appeared clear, so cover me: I'm going in.
Kevin Johnson responded to my article on Bullinger. He seemed to understand the implications of Bullinger's views regarding Rome to some of his own views on the matter, although it seems he missed the larger point of the article. The main objections that Johnson issued to my "interpretation" of Bullinger, as he calls it, break down into the following points:
- Bullinger's context is 500 years removed from ours and must be read in a proper historical context to not superimpose our modern and personal perspectives (per his statement about imposing the most absurd sort of anachronistic categories upon the matter)
- Bullinger did not mean all individual churches of Rome; he meant only the leadership of Rome, the hierarchical structure. The people, Kevin asserts, were "largely" viewed as Christians.
- Rome's great blasphemy is therefore reduced to claiming authority and identity exclusively that she simply did not have. While she is not exclusively the true church, she is a part of the true church and still shared in the rights and privileges of the true Church of Christ.
- Kevin claims all of this is indicative of Bullinger's supposedly "fuller ecclesiology," one due to the continued presence of Word and Sacrament among the Romish churches. What Kevin means by Word and Sacrament is unclear, but appears to be synonymous with baptism, communion, and reading Scriptures.
A caution about context is a two-edged sword, of course, and applies equally to Kevin's offered interpretation. Several things must be considered: Bullinger's Decade's have not been republished in English in over 150 years until 2004, his role within the Reformation became somewhat obscured by Calvin, Zwingli and other names, and many of his writings remain in Latin or German still. The danger that many recent scholars of Bullinger face is interpreting Bullinger as ever the student of Zwingli and never his influencer, interpreting Bullinger in view of other Reformers or perceptions of Reformers, or interpreting Bullinger without considering the significance of his role within the Reformation and later Reformed thought (this is an entirely simplistic reduction of points that would require its own article to elaborate).
For instance, Drs. Muller and Venema have both stated in their respective works that Bullinger has been misread or misunderstood. Other scholars have claimed that since Bullinger's 500th birthday, his role and theology have been or is being clarified. So Kevin's caution is well taken, but to my knowledge Johnson has read only Bromiley, which contains sermon one from the Fifth Decade. ...
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Paul Owen Capitulates
01/25/2007 - James White
v.v. verb cease to resist an opponent or an unwelcome demand; surrender. Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
When you are challenged on a theological and biblical claim you have made in public, it is expected that you can respond to said challenge with serious and sober argumentation, exegesis, and contextual argumentation. If you cannot do so, you can either ignore the challenge, or, as is so often the case, you can attempt to obfuscate. This is done by grossly misrepresenting the substance of the challenge and then by attacking, often with extreme prejudice and emotion, the straw man you have erected. The hope is that the wild display will be sufficient to dissuade anyone from pursuing the topic.
The utilization of these forms of invalid argumentation is, to the serious observer, nothing more than surrender. Capitulation. And that is what we see when we evaluate the responses posted by Paul Owen of my critique of his assertion that John 6 is normally mishandled and misread by "Calvinists."
I would encourage the reader who is interested in how various groups in today's world handle the text of the inspired Word of God to spend a few moments doing a comparison. I am posting, here, the text of a fairly brief exegesis of John 6:35-45 I wrote a few years ago. I would probably expand upon my comments on v. 45 today, but I will allow it to stand as is for the moment. The file is in pdf format.
Then look again at Paul Owen's original comments on John 6, found here. Try to avoid the vein-popping, red-faced diatribe connected in the update section, for that came after the original was published. Remember the statement he originally made, and is now doing his best to have everyone forget: "Calvinists take a clearly Eucharistic passage and turn it into a treatise on predestination. It is not." Remember that Owen is the one "locking" the passage into being "clearly Eucharistic" and is denying that it is a "treatise on predestination." Those are his own words. If he wants to retract them, we will all gladly allow him to do so publicly. But that was the assertion to which I was responding. In any case, read his handling of the text of John 6. Compare and contrast it with the file linked above and my own comments. Which, if either, follows the flow of the dialogue in the synagogue? Who jumps from text to text, back and forth, and who follows in the natural order of the conversation, allowing terms to be defined, and then meanings built up? Determine for yourself. I don't have to browbeat you into taking my side. I think the facts speak for themselves.
Now, there is so much venom in Owen's response that it would not be edifying to most to invest a lot of time in it. So I will summarize some of the main obvious errors and let the reader decide who is blustering and who is not. A few things: ...
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Mike Spreng Comments
01/24/2007 - James WhiteThe first comment on Mr. Johnson's post is by a fellow by the name of Mike Spreng:
Don’t you just love how he fires those shots without leaving a chance for anyone to comment on his site (not that anyone wants to interact with such a man)? What can be said about guys like this that only go as far back as Spurgeon, or at best Zwingly?1) We have never had comments, nor will we. Comments sections are the theological ignorance aggregator of the Internet.
2) I do a live webcast twice a week. 877-753-3341, toll-free. Feel free to call. Just have your facts in line.
3) It's Zwingli, not Zwingly.
4) Given that I have published entire books that include discussions of early church sources, including providing my own original translations of some of those materials, Mr. Spreng might want to try checking his facts next time around.
You will note not a single meaningful comment (one that actually interacts with anything I've said so far) has been posted. I expect Owen will respond, but, if he follows his pattern of the past, as soon as I once again re-focus and point out the fact that he has yet to engage the text exegetically he will move on to some other subject (probably related to how Reformed Baptists just can't do anything right---note Enloe's comment currently posted there).
I get a lot of questions when I travel about the process people go through who were once with us, and who now stand against us. Obviously, there are many variations in the theme, but this thread is demonstrating some of the key elements of that process and the abandonment of the authority of Scripture and its ability to speak with clarity.
Of Coffee and Words
01/24/2007 - James WhiteKevin Johnson has responded to my comments about his "mind of the church" hermeneutic comment last evening. Let's remind ourselves what he said and the context in which he said it (for that little element got lost in his response):
My belief is that context ought to be centered more in the concerns of the mind of the Church rather than the mind of the writer in the first place especially as we look to passages like John 6 where it is quite clear to me anyway that what is being presented is a whole lot more than just the arcane details of the miracles of Christ.
Now, despite the abandonment of a belief that words have meanings, contexts are discernible, etc., I will do my best to accurately represent what Mr. Johnson has written, though, he does not seem to think we can do that for the Scriptures. The context of his comment was Owen's sacramentalist interpretation of John 6 and his rejection, over against Luther and Calvin, of the mainstream understanding that recognizes the element of God's sovereign decree in the teachings of Christ. Please note that Johnson says that "context ought to be centered more in the concerns of the mind of the Church rather than the mind of the writer in the first place." This is a direct assertion that the foundation of grammatical-historical interpretation, which seeks first to determine the meaning of the author in the context in which he was writing and in the language in which he was writing is to be subjugated to a new hermeneutic focus, and that focus is provided by "the mind of the Church." Now I note in passing I did not even point out the obvious straw-man provided at the end of the paragraph, for no one is, in fact, suggesting that the only meaning of the text is the "arcane details of the miracles of Christ," since, of course, in the specific portion of John 6 under discussion, no miracles take place anyway. The point was that Johnson is attacking a belief he once held (note the common thread with Owen, Enloe, Johnson, et. al.?). Whether he has thought through the ramifications of making the "mind of the Church" the primary hermeneutical lens of interpretation or not, I cannot begin to tell you. I can only tell you that once you make that step, you should be honest and reject any meaningful concept of sola scriptura and admit you have embraced the epistemological ultimacy of "the Church," however it is you define your beliefs. That is why I said I have more respect for the person who says "sola scriptura is wrong, you need the authority of the Roman See to know what the Scriptures state" than the person who tries to maintain an oxymoronic middle-ground.
In my response I pointed out the obvious problem: if the lexical meanings of words, grammar, and syntax, is not sufficient to inform us of the meaning of an ancient text, how in the world is a nebulous, undefined "mind of the Church" supposed to do so? Johnson has capitulated on the very heart of the matter, and truly has no consistent reason to remain outside of the authority of the Pope any longer. For who gets to define "the mind of the Church?" Kevin Johnson, the coffee company owner from Phoenix? Paul Owen, the former Mormon, former evangelical, former Presbyterian, now Anglican? Who? At least Benedict XVI has a big cathedral and lots of statues and some history behind him! And, most importantly, whoever gets to define this "mind of the Church" obviously gets to define the very meaning of the text of Scripture itself. And that is the point that needs to be understood here. Johnson is arguing for the death of any meaningful exegesis of the text of Scripture. He is arguing for a position that leads to the silencing of God, just as we have seen in Romanism since the middle ages. Once the church becomes ultimate, she enters into a monologue with herself. If her "mind" becomes the hermeneutical principle, then she is talking to a mirror. Reformation is precluded by definition.
With these things in mind, let's look at Johnson's response: ...
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The Gospel in Capernaum Defended Against Roman-Style Traditional Eisegesis (Updated)
01/23/2007 - James WhiteThose who have followed this blog over its two-plus years now know how often the topic of "The Gospel in Capernaum" has come up. I have reviewed a number of attempts to get around this tour de force of clear salvation teaching on the part of the Lord of glory, and all have crumbled to dust when the simple reality of the ordered flow of the text is allowed into the discussion. This is true whether the attempt is made by a hyper-dispensationalist, who seeks to make the text irrelevant to anyone but the Jews of the first century, or to the sacramental traditionalist. Context always exposes eisegesis.
Paul Owen has given us another glowing example of how not to handle the text of the Word of God here. Let's note his words:
Nowhere do we get a clearer illustration of the folly of anti-sacramental, non-churchly Christianity than in John 6. Calvinists take a clearly Eucharistic passage and turn it into a treatise on predestination. It is not. I note:
Note the definition of "churchly" as "sacramental." These words are written by a man who has moved from church to church to church, adopting, and abandoning, distinctive elements of faith, and ecclesiastical conviction. It is hard to take seriously his accusation that those who have seen in this text the clear proclamation of God's sovereignty in salvation are somehow "non-churchly." Obviously, if Owen's "churchianity" is such that he thinks himself under the Pope, for example, that he has adopted baptismal regeneration, and is even willing to go so far as to think that the textual form prevalent in the last Greek-speaking area left in the world after the West went to Latin and the rest of the world become Muslim is somehow invested thereby as the "ecclesiastical" text, who knows what his "churchianity" will look like next year, or five years from now?
Now, let us ponder the claim enunciated here that this is a "clearly Eucharistic" passage. Why does Owen say this? Is it because this text refers to the institution of the Supper? No, it refers to Jesus' teaching in the Synagogue at Capernaum. In fact, the Supper is not even mentioned, for, obviously, the text refers to a time frame well before anyone, including the Lord's audience, could have comprehended the entire concept. So, how is it "clearly Eucharistic?" In the same way the Byzantine manuscript tradition is now proclaimed by Owen as the "canonical" form of the New Testament: in light of the particular version of tradition Owen chooses to associate himself with. It is not because the text demands it to be so: tradition has spoken, well, at least, the tradition to which Owen currently gives fealty.
1. This is a discourse about eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus (6:32-33, 35, 41, 48, 51, 53-58), set in the context of the Passover feast (6:4). It is explaining how people find life through a believing participation in the Eucharistic meal, not how to distinguish God’s eternal decrees.
Here we have a truly classical example of tradition-bound eisegesis in terms that one would be hard pressed to differentiate from the most conservative Roman Catholic rhetoric. Notice how Owen completely misses the actual flow of argument because he has abandoned the text in favor of tradition: he takes an example, an illustration of the previously enunciated teaching, transports it out of the immediate context, drops it down in the midst of a later theological aberration and mutation, and voila! a "clear" meaning appears! Never mind that if you actually follow the conversation the focus is upon who Christ is, and the contrast between the surface-followers who disbelieve, and why this is the case. Never mind the fact that the text plainly and inarguably explains coming in faith (not partaking of a ritual) in light of the Father's activity of drawing; never mind that you have the constant Johannine emphasis upon being raised up to eternal life, faith, and all that. Let's just start out with how "plain" our conclusions are, and hope we can find a way to force them into enough of the text that no one will notice we are not reading our meaning out of the text.
2. It is therefore the case that the distinction between groups which is the concern of this text is not elect vs. reprobate, but those within the Church who enjoy the benefit of the sacrament of the altar vs. those outside the church who do not believe and thus do not partake of Jesus’ body and blood.
If you fail to see how this kind of teaching has even the most remote connection to the text, do not feel badly. It takes a great deal of effort to bend your mind this far. It is not meaningful exegesis that produces this kind of assertion, it is capitulation to external authorities in the form of "tradition." The Lord is addressing unbelieving Jews about their unwillingness to see Him as the Bread from Heaven and so to have life through faith in Him. He is talking about coming to Him, believing in Him. He is not talking about altars or sacraments or being inside the church or outside the church or anything of the sort. But, when you no longer actually believe in sola scriptura you do not have to worry about the mundane details of what the text is actually saying. Flights of theological fancy become common place, and just how far you go will depend on which "stream of tradition" you happen to take a fancy to at the moment.
3. Those whom the Father “gives” to Jesus (6:37) are not to be equated with the eternally predestined elect (though they would be included), but refers to all who enter the Church and partake of the benefits conveyed through the Lord’s Supper.
Another wonderful example of how far from the text Owen stands. Note the actual words and what Owen ignores, or simply does not see, because his newly minted Anglican glasses of tradition get in the way:
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 "But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
What is the context provided by the Lord to His words in 6:37? The proclamation of Jesus' centrality in salvation; the one coming, the one believing, finds in Him all he or she could ever desire. But in contrast to those who find in Christ their spiritual sustenance, those standing before Him He identifies as unbelievers. Those who believe, those who disbelieve. The difference? John 6:37 explains it: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." Who comes and as a result finds in Christ eternal life? The one given by the Father to the Son. Why are some believers and others unbelievers? Altars, sacraments, or church membership? No, the sovereign purpose and will of the Father. ...
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By His Grace and For His Glory
01/20/2007 - James WhiteTom Nettles' classic work, subtitled A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, from Founder's Press, is currently being offered by SGCB for less than $20 until mid-February. If you don't have this in your library, you'll want to pick it up. Great resource, important citations.
A Brief Response to Stafford
01/19/2007 - James WhiteLet me set a few things straight regarding Mr. Stafford's recent comments on his website:
1) email@example.com is not a valid e-mail address. Period. It has never been used by me, it is not my personal e-mail, or anything else. In fact, it has not been in use since, as far as we can tell, the late 90s, and then it was not my e-mail, but a generic e-mail. It is currently not even in use, and, would not have even gotten into an accessible, let alone read, e-mail box in October of 2006.
2) I have an e-mail dated 12/5/03 from Mr. Stafford addressed directly to my current, and private, e-mail address. Hence, he had it, but, according to what he has posted, did not use it on 10/7/06.
3) I am not responsible for e-mails sent to e-mail addresses that I do not and never have used.
4) I imagine Jeff Downs did not forward the e-mail since he saw the cc address, assumed it was valid, and went from there.
5) Therefore, my statement was perfectly correct: I have not heard from Mr. Stafford directly. Mr. Rawe has called Mr. Pierce a number of times. At one point Mr. Pierce specifically asked Mr. Rawe "Does Greg have James' e-mail address?" Mr. Rawe indicated he did. Evidently, he has forgotten it.
6) Mr. Stafford does not seem to understand the concept of a "blog." Sometimes I post long, multi-part articles here. Those are meant to provide full discussions and documentation of a particular subject. I have refuted men like Dave Armstrong or Art Sippo in such formats; I have responded to Islamic attacks upon the textual integrity of the NT in such a fashion; and I likewise invested a great deal of time responding to The Da Vinci Code in this format. These include citations, references, etc. However, I have not even pretended to address Stafford's recent anti-Calvinism campaign on this blog. Anyone with a modicum of sense and balance can tell the difference between a single note referencing a URL and noting the claims of someone, and what is intended to be a response. Unlike Mr. Stafford, I am not nigh unto uni-topical. I deal with a wide variety of topics, and what I post here is not, obviously, always intended to be an in-depth expose or refutation. Mr. Stafford has had the amazing temerity to compare my brief, one-paragraph reference to him (including the URL to his statements) with my pointing out that Norman Geisler neglected, in an entire book on the subject of the alleged errors of Reformed theology, to actually exegete John 6:37ff! I guess I should not be surprised at this glaring mixture of categories, since it is, in fact, the hallmark of Stafford's attempts at doing serious exegesis, especially in this area. But it is still beyond imagination that anyone could be so facile in their thinking as to compare a quick URL reference at the end of a longer blog article with the mistake of writing an entire book on a topic while neglecting to engage the most basic exegesis of one of the most important texts on the topic. Amazing is again a great understatement!
So Mr. Stafford, I suggest you back up the truck, take a deep breath, calm yourself, and stop making absurd accusations against me before you derail any possibility of a meaningful debate at all. You had my e-mail address. I have the e-mail, and will post it, if you force me to, proving you had my proper e-mail address on 12/5/03. You sent your e-mail to an address that is not valid. I never saw it. Mr. Pierce has informed Mr. Rawe that I am waiting to hear from you and that long since 10/7. Neither you, nor he, have asked us, "Well, what about the e-mail I sent 10/7?" You know this to be the case, so please, stop trying to make it look like folks are "afraid" to debate you on this topic. Drop the hysterics, Greg. Now that you have posted your 10/7 undelivered, mis-addressed e-mail, I will download it, and, when I return from my current speaking engagements, respond to it.
A Wise Comment from Greg Bahnsen
01/17/2007 - James WhiteHere is a quick comment from Greg Bahnsen I heard today that is very relevant to discussions taking place these days. You can download the three mp3 set here. Hopefully the advertisement will cover for the 2 minute citation!
I am off to New Jersey. Lord willing, the blogosphere will return to some semblance of balance and normalcy by the time I get back. Maybe someone will install a sarcasm filter, too? Sure would help a lot.
Greg Stafford on "False Doctrine"
01/17/2007 - James WhiteA few days ago I noted, very briefly (all of a single paragraph at the end of a longer blog entry), the continued campaign of Watchtower apologist Greg Stafford in reference to Reformed theology, and in particular, the sovereign decree of God and Yahweh's exhaustive knowledge of future events. I doubt our Open Theist friends are overly appreciative of the assistance offered by Jehovah's Witnesses, but it is a well known fact that the Watchtower (to the surprise of many) has denied Yahweh's exhaustive divine foreknowledge for a long time. In fact, Duane Magnani, if I am not mistaken, wrote a book/booklet titled "The Heavenly Weatherman" about the subject quite some time ago. In any case, my brief notation of his last installment in his series (which did not even bother providing a rebuttal, as Open Theism and its odd off-shoots is not my primary focus at the moment) brought the following retort, posted 1/15:
You know, sometimes I hear things. No, not those kinds of things. But things from the mouths, or pens, or as they appear on the blogs and web sites of others. Take Dr. James White, for example.Now, I am more than a little bit surprised by this response, on many levels. A while ago someone by the name of Richard Rawe began calling our ministry offices, wanting to set up another Trinity debate with Greg Stafford. When Rich Pierce informed me of this, I indicated I had no interest in repeating the debate, and found the request rather odd. Then I heard the "debate" (I hesitate to use the term) with Bob Morey and began seeing the rather passionate denunciations of Reformed theology flowing from Greg Stafford's pen. A while later Jeff Downs sent me a note indicating that he had raised the idea of a debate with Stafford on God's exhaustive knowledge of future events. I said I would be willing to engage such a debate, but Stafford seemed to think Downs was trying to interfere with some future Morey debate. Given that my focus right now is elsewhere anyway, and that I have formally engaged Open Theism in scholarly debate in the past (against one of the leading proponents of the concept, John Sanders, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando), I did not invest much time in pursuing the idea. But when Rawe raised that topic as a debate topic, I told Rich Pierce that I would be waiting for Mr. Stafford's e-mail. Surely he has my address. I have never gotten any response. ...
A debate with him over the merits of Calvinism, a system of belief that has no business being associated with the name "Christian," let alone "Jesus Christ," appears unavoidable. That's a good thing. But until that happens, Dr. White can talk all he wants on his blog. He can post here, or there, or anywhere, if he chooses. But until he takes the stage with me, or until he gets on the radio to defend his traditions, he's just talking to himself, or only to those who already think as he does. Frankly, though he's talking, he's not really saying much of anything.
As I told you months ago, Dr. White, and as I have offered to your friends at "The Bible Answer Man," and through others, by all means let us bring our differences out in the open, as we did with the Trinity. If you are so confident in your beliefs about the knowledge of God and the will of man, then surely you can pull some strings, somewhere, and talk to me, not just to yourself on your blog, or elsewhere only to those who think like you.
I respect you as a person, James, and I admire your accomplishments. But you are teaching false doctrine, still, and so I cannot allow you to hide behind the shallow, in fact, hollow words of "amazing forms of argumentation," "lengths to which he [me] will go," and the like. There's nothing of substance there, and you know it. Yet you say it anyway, and so where does that leave us? The same place it always leads. So let's hurry up and get there.
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Come On Now...
01/16/2007 - James WhiteTo my knowledge, no one has contacted me to ask if Phil Johnson and I are at odds over the current discussion of Stop and Think. Despite how easy it is to contact me (how many folks do you know who sit at a toll-free number an average of two hours a week, and are almost always available on line?), people rarely take their objections directly to me (evidently, my back is a great place for that kind of thing!). Anyway, as far as I know, no one has asked me, but, from the comment Phil posted on TeamPyro, someone has been asking him that question. And I can only echo what he said, and what I have said since last Friday or so on this blog: there is a whole lot of arguing right now that is a tremendous waste of time and energy. I have yet to hear any response to what I've actually expressed as my concerns. I really haven't. I've heard lots of folks assuming this or that, but nothing about what I am actually concerned about. So, please, I haven't heard from Phil, and Phil hasn't heard from me. That makes sense, since both of us have been trying to tell folks that this isn't a matter of individuals or politics: let's stick to a meaningful discussion of the topic, and hopefully, focus some of this passion into a profitable channel.
Tonight the "Calvinist Gadfly" mentioned in our channel, "This evening my reading has been consumed with the gospel and non-western persecuted countries. I am convinced that Evangelical Americans are sadly myopic when it come to what the gospel demands. It demands that we repent and take up the cross. In short, it requires, self-denial, not self-improvement." That struck me, and emphasized what I said on the program earlier today: there is such a vast difference between "improving your life" by "getting with Jesus" and crying to God for mercy in light of your confession of sin and the justice of God in His wrath that I just can't span the chasm between them. In other words, I really doubt anyone would be having this argument in any nation where you were sure to lose your life for confessing Christ, you know what I mean?
A Blog-anza Overload
01/15/2007 - James WhiteWow! A quick blog run has brought me an embarrassingly rich number of things that really, really need to be addressed, each of which can be made into an edifying blog article. But I don't have time to do them all!
First, I note Paul Owen has shown he thinks himself much wiser than his far better known namesake (John Owen) in reference to the atonement. His words speak clearly:
The whole notion of “double jeapardy” [sic] is misguided, for (largely based on a misreading of Isaiah 53:4-12) it depicts the cross as a passive reception of punishment by God on the part of Jesus. Since Jesus was punished for our sins, we cannot be punished again. But the cross is not a place of punishment. It is a place of Jesus’ offering up to God a pure and selfless sacrifice, a sacrifice consisting of his willingness to suffer with and for us in our state of death and alienation. As the embodiment of the benevolent God, Jesus’ desire was to be with us (Matt. 1:23), and to identify with us (Isa. 53:12), wherever that might take him (Phil. 2:8). God was pleased with the death of Jesus, not because it quenched and satisfied his anger, and provided an occasion for him to rectify the demands of strict justice, but because the innocence and purity of the sacrifice of his Son was simply of more weight than the gravity of our sin. His merit outweighed our demerit, so that the whole world has now been objectively reconciled to God (i.e., God is willing to actually wipe away their sins through Jesus’ blood on the condition of faith and repentance), and now the world has to choose whether to remain outside of the household of God, or to come and enjoy the benefits of the reconciliation secured for them.The cross is not a place of punishment? This kind of shredding of basic biblical truths (we are not told why seeing God's wrath and punishment in Isaiah 53 is a 'misreading') is nothing new for Paul Owen, of course, and we have come to expect it. But please note how it is done, and what it costs: it is done by taking one truth (the pleasing nature of the offering of Christ) and using that as a basis to deny plain biblical teaching (the Father was pleased to put Him to grief). All the substitutionary language connected to atonement, propitiation, wrath, etc., is dismissed in favor of another stream of biblical truth. This is a very common methodology and given how often it appears in false argumentation today, should be something we spot quickly.
But consider the cost: God's wrath, and the punishment of sin, is left off to the side. Where is the demonstration of God's wrath and power and the fulfillment of His holiness in reference to those who are saved, unless we have, in fact, that substitutionary atonement of Christ? Does God simply sweep these sins under the rug, or is His holy law satisfied in the sufferings of Christ in behalf of His people? It is hard to figure out just what Owen believes (his position keeps changing so you can't go back to whatever view he had in his last denomination and use that as a benchmark), so leaving him aside, let's consider the vital importance of the demonstration of God's justice in the sacrifice of Christ. This is a topic to which my mind has been turning a good bit of late for the obvious reason that Islam denies this very foundational truth. They assert that God can forgive sin without the holiness of God's justice being fulfilled. Here is a tremendous example of this concept found in the hadithliterature. In a story narrated by Abu Said Al Khudri (Sahih Al-Bukhari 4.676), we read:
The Prophet said, "Amongst the men of Bani Israel there was a man who had murdered ninety-nine persons. Then he set out asking (whether his repentance could be accepted or not). He came upon a monk and asked him if his repentance could be accepted. The monk replied in the negative and so the man killed him. He kept on asking till a man advised to go to such and such village. (So he left for it) but death overtook him on the way. While dying, he turned his chest towards that village (where he had hoped his repentance would be accepted), and so the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment quarrelled amongst themselves regarding him. Allah ordered the village (towards which he was going) to come closer to him, and ordered the village (whence he had come), to go far away, and then He ordered the angels to measure the distances between his body and the two villages. So he was found to be one span closer to the village (he was going to). So he was forgiven."...
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Bullinger and the Upstart Church in Rome
01/13/2007 - Mike PorterAmong the charges the Reformers leveled against Rome was that it was corrupt and heretical. The Reformers also leveled charges against the Anabaptists stating that they were schismatics and unjustified in leaving the church. This same charge was, simultaneously, being leveled against the Reformers by Roman defenders, labeling the Reformers as being schismatic for departing from the catholic faith. Setting aside the Anabaptist issue, it is interesting to observe how the Reformers addressed the unity of the church and their separation from Rome. Henry Bullinger, successor to Zwingli at Zurich (though not to be considered his inferior) is briefly discussed here.
Henry (Heinrich) Bullinger, arguably one of the most influential Reformers, and one who has garnered the title by some as The Shepherd of the Churches or The Father of the Reformed Church(a title given also to Calvin and Zwingli by others), addressed this issue on many occasions. One such occasion is in his Decades, a series of fifty sermons, five sections of ten sermons, covering the whole of Reformed doctrine. This was his most popular work, though he was extremely prolific, writing more than Luther and Calvin combined.
In his fifth decade, second sermon, On the Unity of the Church, Bullinger addresses the issue by arguing the following points:
- Whereas there was once a true church in Rome, that church, the ancient and catholic church, knows nothing of the doctrines and practices of the upstart church in Rome and would have accursed the Romish church had it seen what it became.
- Since Rome is an upstart church and not the true church, then for leaving the church of Rome, the Reformers cannot be considered schismatics.
- The church will have evil and wicked men in the visible church, but the Romanists are the very worst of the enemies of God and therefore have neither the outward nor inward marks of the church.
- A church may exist among the those at Rome, those who worship Christ and keep themselves from all popish pollution but this is akin to saying that God has preserved a church in a Turkish country.
It should be noted that Bullinger does not believe that Rome had corrupted the sacrament of Baptism, for this he acknowledges that Rome did not do in the name of the pope (he alludes to the first sermon in this fifth Decade where he makes the argument). But, neither is that indication that Rome is in any sense a true church.
For argument one, Bullinger states:
For freely we confess, and with great joy giving thanks to God that hath delivered us we publish abroad, that we are departed from the Romish church, and that we do at this day abhor the same. But first of all we distinguish and put a diversity between the old church of Rome and the late upstart church. For there was sometime at Rome a holy and faithful church, which apostolic men and the apostles of Christ themselves did establish and preserve by the word of God: which ancient church was not only without the ceremonies there used and received at this day, but if she had but seen them, she would have accursed them.
Indeed, Bullinger distinguishes the ancient church from that late upstart church of Rome. Therefore, since Rome is a late upstart church and not a true church, it is impossible to be considered a schismatic for leaving the Roman church.
Bullinger states for his second point, "That ancient church wanted the decrees whereupon the church of Rome at this day altogether stayeth herself. She was ignorant of that monarchy and all that stately court. Therefore from that ancient and apostolic church of Rome we never departed, neither will we ever depart."
And again, "Finally, we do not acknowledge that upstart church of Rome to be the true church of Christ, which doth acknowledge and worship the pope as Christ his vicar in earth,and is obedient to his laws. Wherefore we cannot be schismatics, who, leaving the church of Rome, have not departed from the true church of God."
You will notice that he circumvents Roman criticism by arguing that since Rome is not a true church then to leave her is no crime, but in fact, a virtue. Yet, maintaining connectivity to the ancient church, they leave Rome with a clear conscience. ...
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01/13/2007 - James WhiteI was listening to a debate while riding this morning (nothing new there). What was unusual was 1) it was cold (for Phoenicians, 43 and windy is cold, and for anyone, really, on a bicycle, that's cold), and 2) the Christian in the debate illustrated for me yet once again how theology matters. Your theology determines your apologetic, by nature. And since this particular individual's theology is, quite simply, sub-biblical, his non-Christian opponent was taking him to task. If I can find the time I will play portions of this debate on the DL and use it as a contrast to how I would respond to the non-Christian and how our theology truly does matter.
Ironically, one of the points where I would fundamentally disagree with the Christian debater intersects directly with the current furor over the Stop and Think video. Now mind you, one of my deepest concerns in this situation is the fact that there just hasn't been any meaningful dialogue and debate as yet. As far as I can see, Steve Camp and I have raised very similar concerns. Both of us have addressed theological issues, over-arching paradigms, and have sought to express our concerns within the context of avoiding personal issues. For example, Pastor Chan simply is not relevant here, anymore than I am, or my church is, or Steve Camp is. Where Pastor Chan went to school, who produced the video, who is speaking at the same gathering he is speaking at, what kind of car I drive, or how many parking spaces are in someone's parking lot, are so utterly irrelevant it is simply painful to watch people raising such things. It is so very disturbing that so many have shown themselves unwilling, or incapable, of separating personalities from the biblical issues that cry out to be addressed.
I have raised the issue of the impact of an explicit synergism upon the entirety of the gospel proclamation. I have pointed out the importance this has to the church, and how presenting the church as a mere after-thought in the context of a creaturely-centered appeal is very much responsible for the degradation of ecclesiology in the thinking of so many today. I have likewise pointed out that synergism ends up emphasizing elements of the gospel presentation that exclude, by definition, other elements that are just as important. If there is to be any meaningful dialogue and debate on this topic, those are the issues we should be seeing addressed by those who endorse the Stop and Think video as an appropriate and properly biblical gospel presentation. But, sadly, I surely have not received that kind of response.
Instead, as normal, I personally have become the subject, and that quickly. One writer actually had the audacity to grossly misrepresent the ministry of my own church without showing the slightest concern for accuracy or truthfulness in the process. We have been told that if we dare question any elements of the presentation we are being "overly censorious," despite the fact that at least as far as I have seen in SC's comments, and my own, we have carefully focused upon the theological issues and backgrounds, while some others have been first in line with the ad-hominems and irrelevant side-issues. In essence, I would say 98.9% of the comments on blogs on this topic have been utterly worthless in promoting a growth in understanding or in showing a spirit that is willing to consider other possibilities or perspectives.
Now, when I chose to review the video a few days ago, I did so without any thoughts whatsoever of political alliances. I had read a few items about it, but only in passing, and had not had any contact with SC at all on the topic. It just seemed directly related to what I do on The Dividing Line. And if I might make a note here for a wide variety of my regular readers: I don't do politics. I do not sit here running things through a political filter, "Hmm, if I say this, then this group over here might be offended, or this person over here might think I'm talking about him, or that ministry there might get bent out of shape, so, I better avoid this topic completely." Let me say this clearly and loudly: the day I have to start thinking that way is the day I close the doors and turn out the lights. I seek no political alliances, I have no stomach for the entire game of politics. Now, as a result, I regularly offend just about everyone with power in the broadly Reformed community today. For any and all offense I cause out of sinful ignorance or stupidity, I apologize, but for all offense I cause for simply speaking the truth and not caring about being politically correct, I stand firmly behind my statements. If you think I'm living on my phone or in e-mail promoting an alliance here, a connection there, you are woefully in error about me and my way of doing things. We do not join groups, alliances, foundations, you name it, for just that reason. I'm not smart enough to juggle all that stuff. Our ministry is tiny, and will remain tiny, for just that reason. That's just all there is to it. I say what I say because I believe it is true. Period, end of that discussion.
So, when I addressed the video, I did so because I address that kind of thing all the time. I've been playing George Bryson's comments, I've reviewed all sorts of SBC preachers, and here was another opportunity to comment upon a current issue and hopefully bring some perspective to it that would be useful to someone. I wasn't asked to do so. I did not do so to get into some fight with other brothers who take a different view. ...
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Michael Spencer: Selective Hearing Illustrated
01/12/2007 - James WhiteWhat keeps God's love from becoming mere maudlin sentimentality? What is the bulwark, the firm foundation, that keeps the love of God from falling into the abyss of universalism, and prohibits us from the idolatry of seeing God as the great grandfather in the sky, filled with woe and sadness at His inability to make us all happy? I suggest to you it is the balance forced upon the person who honors God's Word by handling it aright, carefully taking into consideration all that the Word says. When we lose our balance in that area, we are liable to fall into any number of serious errors.
Yesterday on the DL I took the last half of the program and played a few clips from the video, Stop and Think. My primary concerns with the video are two-fold: first, it flows from a synergistic, man-centered view of the gospel, where God's primary concern is not His own glory, nor the creation of a people in Christ Jesus (the church) who, as a body, will be presented without spot and blemish, but the individual self-fulfillment and happiness of sinners. Secondly, there is a biblical mandate to proclaim the "whole counsel of God," to hold back nothing the Holy Spirit has deemed important enough to reveal in Scripture and preserve for us today. The gospel by definition includes the wrath of God, repentance from sin, denial of self, all focused upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To put it briefly, my problem with the video is this: the gospel exalts the Triune God and humbles man. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on our Creator. God gets bigger, we get smaller. God becomes Lord, we become servants, slaves. I do not see this being presented in the video. I see man being made the focus of God's attention; I see God presented as seeking, equally, a "relationship" with each individual, without distinction, and experiencing rejection and failure when the creature spurns His appeal. Rather than the gospel being a command, it is reduced to a series of suggestions all based upon the improvement of man's life (rather than His own glory and authority as Creator). Sin is "messing up," it is "junk from the past," rather than a slap in the face of a holy God, bringing certain punishment unless forgiven. In other words, the focus is on man, not on the risen Christ. What is missing ends up vitiating even the good and right things that are said. I repeated myself over and over again on the program: What you win them with is that you win them to. A gospel that does not challenge the sinful sovereignty of the rebel soul will fill your church with religiously hypocritical rebels, nothing more. ...
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Wow...Psalm 135:6 and John 6:44 Thrown Out...Musically
01/04/2007 - James WhiteThe Calvinist Gadfly posted this. It's...uh...wow. Be prepared.