Oh, the e-mail I get! If I took the time to actually look at all the URL’s sent my direction, I’d never do anything else. The Internet has changed the face of apologetics in general, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten some real nuclear bombs from folks. I addressed some of them on the Dividing Line broadcast of 6/10/00. It is fascinating, though, to note that two groups which espouse VERY different theologies (Rome and Salt Lake), often use the very same tactic in an attempt to defend their positions by dehumanizing and attacking their opponents, rather than dealing with the arguments of their opponents.
The first example comes from the March, 2000 issue of Apologia, a publication of Darryl Barksdale and FAIR, the “Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (ftp://www.fair-lds.org/pub/Vol3/March.PDF). Here, on the first page, is a less-than-flattering picture of myself along with the following caption: “Anti-Mormon author James White, who used the “patsy approach” in his book “Letters to a Mormon Elder.” White has consistently refused invitations to debate LDS apologists and scholars in a live setting.” We reproduce the picture and caption here:
(BTW, for those who care, for a more up-to-date picture, click here and go to the bottom of the page).
There are two major problems with the assertions made by Mr. Barksdale here. First, many people, both LDS and non-LDS, have noted the accuracy of the presentation of Mormon belief in Letters to a Mormon Elder. I had to choose between using some of the many real letters I had from LDS missionaries and others, or using the approach I did. Obviously, on any logical basis, the real issue is, “Does Letters accurately present the LDS position?” The answer is obviously, “Yes.”
But more disturbing is the false assertion that I “consistently refuse invitations to debate LDS apologists and scholars in a live setting.” Let’s remember: LDS scholars are not known for doing debates, are they? And who is the one person who has often invited them to do just that thing? Me! Who has appeared live on radio with two BYU professors, with an LDS attorney as the host of the program, on a radio station in Salt Lake City? Me! (For the tape of this encounter, click here). Over the course of the past year I have contacted Daniel Peterson, William Hamblin, John Tvedtnes, and others at BYU, asking them to engage in an exegetical debate on our web page on key passages relating to soteriology. They have declined. We do not know of a single challenge from a single LDS scholar for a live debate that we have declined: and we challenge Mr. Barksdale to document not only one, but a “consistent” pattern of such activity. Mr. Barksdale claims that he has challenged me to debate in Northern California. While I do not even recall such a challenge, it would not surpise me a lot if Mr. Barksdale, at some point in time, has said something about debating him in public. But, as anyone can see from reading the debate we did on our webpage (go to the online debate center to read it), Mr. Barksdale didn’t “fair” too well when it came to handling scholarly material. In fact, in the March edition of Apologia, he refers to Ignatius of Antioch as Ignathius (he blames his secretary for that one), quotes from the longer (and later) Latin version (without telling his readers), and engages in enough eisegetical misuse of Scripture to boggle the mind. But what other LDS apologist is Mr. Barksdale referring to? Van Hale, with whom I’ve done more than a dozen radio programs? Who? It is ironic: years ago Patrick Madrid of Catholic Answers tried to label me a “debate junkie,” and yet Mr. Barksdale says I’m afraid to do what I’m best known for. What a strange world!
But dishonest misrepresentation is not limited to LDS apologists like Darryl Barksdale. No, Stephen Ray, Roman Catholic apologist and author, likewise seems to be truth challenged these days as well. Aside from producing the worst examples of patristic chicanery (see a recent example here), Ray likes to join Patrick Madrid and the folks at Envoy in promoting the untruth that I believe the early Fathers were “Protestants.” Such is simply absurd. When Envoy magazine ran a cover article promoting this silliness, the Christian Research Journal was kind enough to allow me some space to point out the absurdity of the claim. This response was published on pages 52-53 of Volume 21, number 4. Recently an e-mail was forwarded to me wherein Mr. Ray wrote:
You are right of course in your view of the Fathers. I have had a long “history” with White and have his books and know his shoddy arguments well. He does not respect the Fathers like we Catholics do. He uses them only to prove his point, kind of like weapons. He takes their quotes out of context and does them great injustice. [At this point he refers his correspondent to articles on his webpage, including this response to the above mentioned article, www.catholicconvert.com/webster/sermon131.html Have no fear of White and Webster. They sound good at first, especially if you want to believe them, but once you look at them carefully, especially their abuse of the Fathers, their disingenuity becomes quite apparent.
This e-mail is dated 5/2/00.
Stephen Ray is known to Protestant apologists as the man who argues from silence. His anachronistic attempts to turn the early Fathers into faithful followers of modern Romanism are almost the stuff of legend, and would be humorous if they were not resulting in such damage in the personal lives of individuals who are deceived by his writings. While he accuses me of disrespecting the Fathers, is it showing respect for Augustine, for example, to put words in his mouth he never spoke? Is it showing respect for the Fathers to force them into the mold of modern Romanism, replete with doctrines and beliefs they never embraced? Was it fair for Mr. Ray to present a section on Augustine that utterly ignores the vital passages that demonstrate his higher commitment to Scripture than to the opinion of the bishop of Rome? The sad but true fact is that it is Mr. Ray who is guilty of every charge he makes against me, and any fair reading of his work, Upon This Rock, bears this out. There is no attempt made by Mr. Ray to attain some level of fairness: instead, this is a sterling example of the vain attempt to create a “unanimous consent of the Fathers,” something honest Roman Catholic scholars admit simply does not exist.
Who can allow the early Fathers to be….the early Fathers? Protestants can. We can allow them to teach everything they taught, not just those parts that later Roman tradition codified as doctrine or dogma. We can accept the truths they lived and taught, and reject the errors each man, as a fallible human being, embraced. We do not have to turn them into Protestants, and I have never said they were. I have said that they often expressed sentiments that are far more Protestant than Roman Catholic in today’s context: Athanasius’ standing on the foundation of Scripture over against councils and bishops and prelates is not the action you expect from a Roman Catholic. It is the Roman Catholic apologist who has to turn them into something they were not, and this Steve Ray does in glowing colors.
One of my favorite patristic citations might well illustrate this. Augustine said:
All things that are read from the Holy Scriptures in order to our instruction and salvation, it behooves us to hear with earnest heed…. And yet even in regard of them, (a thing which ye ought especially to observe, and to commit to your memory, because that which shall make us strong against insidious errors, God has been pleased to put in the Scriptures, against which no man dares to speak, who in any sort wishes to seem a Christian), when He had given Himself to be handled by them, that did not suffice Him, but He would also confirm by means of the Scriptures the heart of them that believe for He looked forward to us who should be afterwards; seeing that in Him we have nothing that we can handle, but have that which we may read.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume VII, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Homily 2, 1 John 212-17, section 1.
Are these the words of a modern Roman Catholic who subjects himself to the ultimate authority of the infallible Magisterium in Rome? Are these the words of a Roman Catholic apologist who is often telling us about how Jesus did not command the apostles to write but instead to preach? Roman apologists are always saying that sola scriptura is responsible for doctrinal chaos, yet, Augustine taught that it is the Scriptures that make us strong against insidious errors! Remember, this man did not believe in an infallible Papacy, did not believe in such dogmas as indulgences, the treasury of merit, transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, the Bodily Assumption, etc. and etc., yet, we are asked to believe he was a Roman Catholic? One truly has to wonder if, when men like Steve Ray accuse us of misusing the Fathers, they are not really just attempting to quiet their own consciences and hide from the simple facts of history.