An Open Letter to Dr. Lee Carter

Dear Dr. Carter:
   I have had the privilege of teaching for the past sixteen years, and am thankful for every opportunity I have to stand before a class of students. It is an honor, but it is truly a privilege as well, one to be taken very seriously.
   It is my understanding that during your philosophy class at Glendale Community College on Thursday, September 20th, you had a number of exchanges involving the raising of your voice, interruptions, and very strong and emotional assertions on your part, with my daughter, Summer White. It is my understanding that during these exchanges you not only repeatedly interrupted Summer, but you likewise made claims regarding her being “deceived” and “lied to” by none other than myself. These are, of course, serious breaches of professional decorum. But more than this, the entire context of the encounters, and the claims made therein, have caused me to write this open letter.
   Over the weeks as my daughter has been listening to your lectures (I have even listened as well via mp3 recorder) she has noted that you have spent a very large portion of your time criticizing President Bush, the war in Iraq, Republicans, etc. To say that your viewpoints would be aligned with “” would be to put it mildly. It seems that there are two topics that come up all the time in your lectures: your dislike of George W. Bush and your dislike of Christianity. These elements appear at some of the oddest junctures in your lectures.
   Evidently, the lecture on September 20th was supposed to be on Nietzsche. In fact, it seems that this was supposed to be the topic for a number of classes, but that the actual class time devoted to Nietzsche has been much less than that dedicated to political indoctrination in leftist ideologies. Personally, I wonder why there is such a need for the constant and repetitious proclamation of your leftist political agenda in a philosophy class, especially when this results in significant diminishment in actual instruction on the subjects at hand? While there is always room for application, it seems in this situation that you have gone far beyond application to simple indoctrination. Is this fair to the students who might actually wish to learn about philosophy, and may have need for such basic information in future classes, where your leftist ideals will not be of any use to them? I have often found keeping the future studies of my students in mind a useful check to my personal desires to “ride a hobby horse” thereby failing to give them what they need and what I have claimed I will provide in the course itself.
   Moving to the actual events that took place during class, I have been informed that you frequently make negative, and often unfounded, comments about the Christian faith, the Bible, etc., in your lectures. Summer has reported a number of them to me and as a Christian academic I confess that I find it troubling that so often these comments show a very minimal familiarity with the subject at hand. But these came to a much fuller fruition in the encounter in class. I truly wish I had a full recording of the class (a problem I will surely alleviate in all future situations), but Summer’s recollection includes assertions regarding the text of Deuteronomy and allegations that to “really believe” the Bible one would have to hold to some form of radical theonomic reconstructionism involving the use of stoning for prostitutes; assertions about the Bible’s teaching of the relationship of male and female that involve absolute “rulership” by the man, along with a challenge to Summer to provide “any” text indicating any form of equality whatsoever between male and female (ouvk e;ni a;rsen kai. qh/lu\ pa,ntej ga.r u`mei/j ei-j evste evn Cristw/| VIhsou/ given its ancient context would seem to fit the bill, would you not say?); and the odd challenge, repeated more than once, for Summer to “Google Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” so as to ascertain their authorship. This last challenge, I have been told, included a “$100 challenge” to Summer to provide you with the specific authors of these books.
   Along with these was the troubling assertion that Summer had been deceived and, in fact, lied to by me. Her recollection is that you seemed to be incredulous that an 18 year old freshman in college could have knowledge of the original languages of the biblical text, their translation, relationship, issues relating to canonicity, etc. She informed you that she had grown up around the Bible. She has. Some of her earliest memories are related to her father writing books, speaking, teaching, and debating. Want photographic evidence? Here is a clip from a debate I did on Long Island with an Islamic apologist in 1999. At the very beginning of the clip you will see a young girl turning around to see the person who is asking the question in the audience (I have posted a screen capture from the clip above). That young girl, aged ten, is Summer, attending a debate, and listening carefully to the dialogue, on the topic of the deity of Christ in the New Testament. A few years later she attended this debate with ACLU board member and head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Barry Lynn. (I wish she had been able to attend the debates with John Dominic Crossan and John Shelby Spong, but she was not able to). I have notes Summer took in kindergarten or first grade in a church history class I was teaching while Scholar in Residence at Grand Canyon University–in colored marker. I actually took the time to find these notes, and had to chuckle when I read this page (see graphic). See what I see? Evidently, I had discussed Augustine’s use of the biblical phrase “compel them to come in” with reference to the Donatist Controversy; then I mentioned the Inquisition (“incosishen”), and the ex opere operato theory of sacramentalism. Likewise B.B. Warfield. But then note Summer heard me speaking of Jerome and Origen, two of the only early writers who knew both Greek and Hebrew, and she noted this, “study hebrew,” along with Jerome’s date, AD 400. This was one page of three over the course of a more than hour long class. She listened to the entirety of it at age six. My recollection is that you could not believe she would make reference to Hebrew, and accused her of making things up. Ironic how even these old notes prove you wrong, Dr. Carter. I likewise provide here a picture of her and her brother at a Christology class I was teaching for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary a few years later. She has, therefore, been exposed, constantly, over the course of her life, to discussions related to the biblical languages, canonicity, and theology. As I am a critical consultant on a major Bible translation, she has likewise been around critical Greek and Hebrew texts, and has heard me discuss translational and textual issues many times.
   Given this information, I am sure you now regret accusing her of “making things up” in class. While she has not learned the biblical languages personally, she has more than a passing familiarity with the subject.
   Which brings me to the subject of the authorship of the gospels, and my allegedly deceiving her, or lying to her. I cannot begin to imagine ever speaking to one of my students in this fashion, to be honest with you, sir. But that breach of professional decorum aside, I have to ask you: how do you know what I have said to my daughter about the authorship of the gospels? For your information, she is now old enough to attend my Sunday morning Bible Studies at our church, where I am in the midst of what has been, so far, a four-year long Synoptic Gospels study. We have been working through the Aland Synopsis, tackling every “synoptic problem” as it has arisen in our studies. In the course of said study I have addressed the topic of the authorship of the gospels. It is painfully obvious you do not have any idea what I have said, in any of my more than twenty published books, and many dozens of articles, on this, or any other, topic. It is likewise just as obvious that you are assuming a naïve view of the issue both on my part and Summer’s. Possibly you are used to shocking poor Christian students with your erudite observation that, in fact, Matthew, Mark, and John are anonymous works. Luke is known through Acts and Paul’s epistles. It is hard to say, but to actually direct a student to “Google” the topic is enough to convince me that you were making the worst, most disrespectful assumptions concerning Summer and, by extension, myself.

   It is not a tenet of Christian belief, Dr. Carter, that one must accept traditional ascriptions of anonymous books to be in good standing with one’s Creator. It is likewise not much of a challenge to offer $100 to someone who can give you the exact identity of an ancient work that does not specifically identify its author. Your $100 seems pretty safe. But I would think that any scholar who would offer such an empty challenge would lose much more than the worth of a small amount of cash in the field of integrity. I truly doubt that even if the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, for example, said, “This book written by Matthew,” that would you find even that kind of documentation compelling.
   But those issues aside, I see no reason to believe anyone but Matthew wrote Matthew, and the same is true for Mark. John’s authorship is even more compellingly clear in light of the rest of the Johannine corpus. So looking primarily to Matthew and Mark, I accept the traditional ascription of authorship for both books. Why? Lack of counter-evidence, primarily. There is sufficient consistency of language to view the works as having one author; the earliest traditions ascribe these names, and these names only, to the books. The connection of Mark to the Petrine circle is likewise early. What other options are there to the fair-minded researcher? All modern theories of group-authorship/redaction haven’t the first bit of footing in the historical data. No one in the earliest sources ever dreamed of such theories, despite the number of controversies that they addressed on these very topics. Further, there is very good internal, and external, evidence of an early dating for the gospels. In fact, if Luke/Acts is, as I believe, the equivalent of an amicus brieffor Paul’s Roman trial (which would explain the point at which the Acts narrative breaks off), this would put Luke/Acts around 62 or 63 AD; if Mark is indeed earlier than Luke, then, this would put Mark within twenty to twenty five years of the gospel events, and no serious historian is going to question the provenance of a source that close to the original events. With reference to the authorship issue, the earlier the dating, the more reason there is to view the works as having a single author (over against a lengthy redaction process), and hence, when the tradition gives only one author from the start for these works, there is good reason to question the assertion of any other theory of authorship.
   In any case, I would request of you, sir, an explanation of your action of telling a Christian student in one of your classes that her parents had “lied” to her regarding the issue of the Bible when you simply have no standing upon which to make such accusations.Tell me, Dr. Carter. If Summer’s name was not “White” but was instead, say, “Muhammad,” would you stand in front of a class and accuse her parents of lying to her regarding Muhammad? Would you offer $100 to someone who would “Google Surah 19 and tell me the exact author”? Or should we assume that only Christian students are “fair game” at Glendale Community College?
   I am also told that when other students in the class complained about your behavior toward Summer, you sat down and said something along the lines of, “Well, there are twelve minutes left in class, the floor is yours, Summer.” Once again, as a professor with years of teaching experience, I cannot imagine doing something like this in front of one of my classes. I do not believe it was Summer’s fault that you were “going off” on Thursday, and I cannot imagine a professional turning the class over to a freshman student. Along the same lines, I confess I am not sure I could have done what my daughter did in approaching you after class, extending her hand, and informing you that while you have your disagreements, she respects you as her teacher and hopes you would still respect her as your student. This took some character on her part, to be sure. But it was most disappointing, sir, in light of how long you have taught and how you are literally old enough to be her grandfather, that your only response to her was, “You google Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and tell me who wrote them!” Is this truly how one responds to such a gracious approach by a student?
   Dr. Carter, I believe your students deserve to hear “the other side.” Since I teach in the Phoenix area, just as you do, I would be happy to make myself available to your classes to discuss the textual history of the Bible—its authorship, its transmission, its collation, etc. I would gladly reciprocate in offering you time in my own classes, but my next class will be in the Spring on Islam, and I am uncertain as to whether your anti-Christian presentation based upon a deep-seated hatred for George W. Bush would be overly helpful to seminary students in that particular context. But as I have taught various courses in philosophy and apologetics, possibly something could be worked out in reciprocation in the future. In any case, I would be happy to bring along critical editions of the BHS, LXX, and the Greek New Testament, and answer your objections and interact with your students.
   Beyond this, Dr. Carter, I would invite you to consider arranging a formal, academic, moderated debate, similar to the more than five dozen I have done over the past seventeen years with men like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Barry Lynn, Shabir Ally, and many others. Debate is a lost art today, sadly, but it is one I believe is very useful to students, especially. Surely such a spirited, and scholarly, exchange in the context of GCC or ASU West would be most useful, wouldn’t you think? I would surely be amenable to seeking to work out arrangements for such an encounter between us after I complete my debate with Islamic apologist Shabir Ally on the subject of the crucifixion on October 19thin Seattle. From what Summer has told me, there is a wide range of topics that we could address that would be most useful and worthy of consideration. Just one that jumped out at me from reviewing your writings on line would include the amazing statement that Irenaeus “creates the New Testament and selects the 4 gospels from over 20 available.” That kind of claim would make for great public debate, to be sure.
James White