A few months ago I took more than a little heat for posting the e-mails that had been exchanged between myself and Ergun Caner (even though, as they show, he himself had simply requested that they be posted en toto, which I did). When they asked that the second “round” of e-mails be kept private, Tom Ascol and I said, “No way. Public debate, public discussion.” Again I was attacked by many for posting them. Brett O’Donnell, though he did not seem to even read them, said I was the most unprofessional person he had ever met for so doing. Etc. and etc.
Time has a way of taking care of such things, as we are now seeing. One side in this situation has been transparent and reasonable. The other anything but. And how can this be proven? Well, it’s called documentation. We have it. They don’t.
Ergun Caner has posted a statement on his website regarding the debate. As expected, it fails to deal with the facts of the situation. If Dr. Caner cannot be bothered to worry about the facts of Romans 9:11 when preaching behind the pulpit why should all those troublesome e-mails written by his own hand bother him?
Now, let’s shine some light on Ergun Caner’s statement. Let’s remember what has been documented. The Caners, via Emir Caner, agreed to a debate format. Emir Caner’s name appears on the e-mail, as I documented earlier today. Now, will Ergun admit this? Will he explain why they acted as if they could negotiate the format and rules with us, if they in fact did not believe they could? Or will he explain why they thought they could but then threw their word out the window and allowed a third party to step in twelve days before the debate and throw out everything they had agreed to? Obviously, if his statement is to be meaningful, it will acknowledge the agreement and explain their sudden change of heart. Oh, and it will likewise explain why Ergun Caner remained stone silent from Wednesday, October 4th until this morning, October 9th. Let’s see how well the statement fairs in the light of what is demanded by simple integrity and honesty:
The definition of revisionist history is often as simple as someone wanting it to be true.
True, but rather irrelevant in a situation where the facts are documented.
As I have the entire Reformed community up in arms over my statement concerning the debate, I would simply like to put an end to the speculation.
Is it possible Ergun Caner does not understand why folks objected to his false accusation of hyper-Calvinism? Probably not, since Ergun Caner does not believe that he is under any obligation to use terminology in a consistent, scholarly fashion. He can make it up as he goes along. I was told recently by someone at Liberty that Caner had actually stated that any person who held to any of the points of Calvinism is a hyper-Calvinist. Does that make a lick of sense? No more than saying Esau was hated because he was evil in light of Romans 9:11 does. But Ergun Caner is not constrained by the same canons of reason, logic, history, or scholarship, that bind the rest of us. He is a law unto himself. The celestial bodies of definition and meaning are meant to assume their orbits at his command.
On Friday as I was flying to a speaking engagement I was informed by my office that Drs. White and Ascol (either one or both of them) objected to the rules established by the moderator, Brett O’Donnell.
Excuse me, but this would require us to believe that neither Dr. Caner, nor anyone on his staff, had bothered to check his e-mail since Wednesday morning. Otherwise, he would have been fully aware of the conflict and the main issue: whether he would stand behind his word or not. This would also require us to believe that Emir Caner had not contacted his brother about the situation over the course of nearly sixty hours. Is this what he is asking us to believe? That he, too, was completely caught off guard by O’Donnell’s actions? I would like to know if this is the assertion being made.
My answer then is the same as my answer now. Whatever the moderator stipulated I would agree to.
Once again, we are now faced with believing one of two things. First, that Ergun Caner had no idea what Emir Caner had agreed to. But this is contradicted by an e-mail Ergun Caner wrote June 27, 2006, in which he stated, “We have all agreed on the format and moderator and topic. My brother and I even gave in on the time, as a peace offering, though that has gone unnoticed.” So there is no chance that this is the case. So, the only other possibility is that he was not negotiating in good faith during that time, since never was it said “this agreement subject to the whim and overthrow of Brett O’Donnell.” Never, ever had it been said, “The moderator will have final and full control over the format of this debate.” Let the reader decide.
And this brings us to one of the main problems with the “their side rejected proper authority argument.” As the documentation shows (for those who have forgotten, there are three files to look at, here, here, and here), O’Donnell’s name was brought up in the context of trying to get Ergun Caner to work with us in establishing a meaningful, workable thesis statement. I assumed (wrongly, it has turned out, one of my mistakes) that Dr. O’Donnell would be familiar with theological debate and hence would assist in explaining the process to Ergun Caner. I was in error. Dr. O’Donnell seemingly has little to no experience in theological debate. His expertise is scholastic and political, and there is a vast difference between seeking to rack up points in a contest of how fast you can speak and how many arguments you can throw out and actually communicating God’s truth to the people of God in the context of debate. The New York Times included this interesting information in an article about O’Donnell and the LU debating team:
Quick speaking hardly captures the velocity of collegiate debate. Varsity debaters talk at 350 to 400 words a minute – about the speed of a fast auctioneer. Only experienced judges – most of whom are coaches from neutral schools – can actually follow the argument. For this reason, debate isn’t a spectator sport. Sitting in a classroom at Annapolis for the opening debate of the tournament, a match between Liberty and Trinity University, I could make out only random bursts of words: “Chinese. . .production facilities . . . economic consequences. . .freely elected. . .patient. . .consequences. . .targets. . .moratorium. . .nuclear winter. . .human rights.. . .”
O’Donnell calls debate “a game of the mind,” but it is also a sport that requires strength and stamina. Contests last 92 minutes, and each debater on each two-person team speaks three times – opening arguments, cross-examination and closing arguments – for a total of 23 minutes. At some tournaments, teams have five matches a day.
Debaters gulp air like competitive swimmers. Melissa Hurter, a senior from Huntsville, Ala., talked at high speed for nine full seconds between breaths (she and her partner Lindsey Hoban, a senior from Lake Ariel, Pa., keep in shape by playing wind instruments). The Trinity debaters sucked air after only five seconds and sounded as if they were drowning. Liberty won handily.
There is a tactical logic to speed-talking. Arguments – even nonsensical or irrelevant arguments – must be rebutted. Those left unanswered count against you. The faster you talk, the more arguments you can make, and the better your chance to rack up points. Debaters carry their ammunition, files of every possible argument and rebuttal, in 14-gallon plastic tubs.
Now, if that, along with the political “debates” we see every four years in the presidential race (O’Donnell has reminded me numerous times that he worked for George Bush in 2004 in prepping him for the debates with Kerry, and to be honest, I’m not sure I would put that on my resume) comprises O’Donnell’s view of debating, it is no wonder he wanted to cut the debate back. For Tom Ascol and myself, your job in a debate is to glorify God by edifying His people through the proper handling of His word and the defense of His truth. You do not do that by speaking 350 to 400 words a minute. You do it by keeping your audience with you, something that is irrelevant in the scholastic forum. It is painfully obvious O’Donnell never even bothered to consider that maybe, just maybe, theological debate was different than what he was accustomed to. And despite Ergun Caner’s self-proclaimed expertise as a debater on his website, he has yet to be able to point me to any of these debates so that I could examine them. What leading Islamic scholars/apologists has he debated? Roman Catholics? Mormons? Jesus Seminar scholars? Who? I do not mean radio interviews, or television interviews. Real debates. Where is his body of work? I have never found out, and though I started asking in February of this year, I have yet to get an answer from anyone, including Ergun Caner.
But note O’Donnell’s words. “A game of the mind.” That is not what theological debate is supposed to be, at least for a Christian. That’s fine in the realm in which O’Donnell works. It isn’t in the theological realm. That’s where the wheels fell off with his participation. He simply transferred the concepts from the realm of 19 year old fast-talkers to a debate on the very sovereignty of God in salvation before an audience of 6,000.
As I was between flights to my final destination I discovered that Dr. White had dictated a deadline of 5:00pm. When I landed at my final destination, they had cancelled the debate. They had refused to come. I am disappointed but not surprised.
Again, we note that it seems it is Dr. Caner’s intention to make it sound like he had no idea what was going on, and I suppose that is possible, but what is definitely not the case is that Emir Caner, his brother, was in the same boat. In the e-mail Emir Caner labeled with a privacy notice, he wrote,
With so much discussion going back and forth over the past few days, I decided to proceed with caution before answering concerns raised by Drs. White and Ascol. To be honest, I believed that the issues raised would be resolved through correspondence between Dr. White and Dr. O’Donnell.
So, here, Emir admits to just sitting back and watching the many e-mails (I just quickly counted thirteen in my inbox from O’Donnell alone between 10/4 and 10/6, though one or two of those might be forwarded from Rich Pierce, I didn’t bother to look) going back and forth. Are we to believe he did not pick up the phone and call Ergun? Again, it sounds like that is what Ergun wants his readers to think, but, is that really the claim?
Dr. White didn’t like the original thesis. He complained.
What original thesis? This monstrosity? “That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity”? Yes, any rational person would complain about a thesis statement like that. And now it is clear why O’Donnell backed them on it: in scholastic debate where how fast you can talk and how many facts you can throw out in the shortest time is how you win points, who cares if the audience has a clue what you are babbling about? Which explains why my counter suggestion, dismissed by the Caners, was, “God Seeks to Save Every Person Equally and Without Distinction.” One makes sense to an audience, one does not. So who was trying to edify the audience with these statements? By the way, please note, if Dr. Caner were really being honest here, he would have said, “He did not like our original thesis suggestion.” The way he puts it sounds as if they had the right to arbitrarily assign the thesis statement and we had nothing to say about it. One will see that was pretty much the attitude all along. Even O’Donnell displayed this attitude, for in one of the many e-mails exchanged last week, he wrote,
I do not have the time to keep arguing through about a few minutes of speaking time when we are paying for the microphone giving you a free tape and inviting you into our place of worship. I would have expected a thank you and civility even if you didn’t agree with the format. As I said before, sometimes participants don’t get to set the rules, not even through intimidation.
Evidently, we were to simply go along with whatever they said since it was on their home “turf.” Sorry, but that isn’t how it is done.
He didn’t like the length of the debate. He complained.
Yes. Theological debates take time. They take discipline, interaction, exegesis, all that kind of stuff, and yes, that takes time. Sound-bite theology isn’t our thing.
He didn’t like the format. He complained.
To be sure, and despite that, Dr. Ascol and I basically gave them that, even though the other side never bothered to take the time until after the agreement was concluded to look at what actual theological debate looks like. As anyone who has read the documentation knows, I offered to send them DVDs illustrating our proposed format, but they ignored every offering until Emir Caner accepted DVDs of the Shabir Ally debate after we reached our agreement.
We agreed to the new thesis. And he complained again.
That is simply untrue. There was no complaint about the vague “Baptists and Calvinism” topic, and that did not even enter the recent discussions.
We created a promotion piece. They even complained about the poster. (View Image Here)
Actually, I did not complain about it. Yes, I saw the obvious attempt to communicate “Calvinism destroys churches,” but I chose to skip it until after the debate or, as it has turned out, in case this happened. Everybody saw it. It was obvious. But for the sake of peace, I skipped commenting on it. In fact, here’s where I posted it. See any complaints there? Of course, Ergun says “they” here, so maybe he’s just moving from the singular “he” (evidently aimed only at me) to a more generic term. But in any case, yes, they tried to insert an obvious slam in their poster. So what?
Now, in attempting to manipulate the proceedings, he actually wanted to tell the moderator how to moderate the debate.
I’m sorry, but this is simply a falsehood. Notice that so far, Ergun Caner has not told his audience that he and Emir had in fact agreed to a debate format and subject months ago (I noted his e-mail of June 27th above, Emir’s signature is on the 9/27 likewise confirming this). So what he now wants us to believe is that the agreement was to allow O’Donnell to throw out everything we agreed to, and that is simply false. Remember, until Wednesday, October 4th, everything was settled. O’Donnell initiated the melt-down with an e-mail timestamped 8:49am that began with the line, “Below are the final details for the debate and are non-negotiable as they are based on what had been settled through earlier discussions.” Of course, that e-mail then went on to overthrow everything Tom and Emir had agreed to! But in any case, I did nothing to initiate this situation, so to accuse me of manipulation is simply untrue. I would ask Dr. Caner to do what I have been doing all along: document your assertions, sir. Otherwise, simple honesty demands you withdraw them.
I am not surprised when James White attacks me or my brother. I am disappointed when he attacks the character of Brett O’Donnell. Brett O’Donnell has won almost 20 National Debate Championships, defeating Harvard, Yale, etc. As an expert in debate, and more importantly, as a Christian gentleman, he did not deserve this type of abuse by James White.
Dr. O’Donnell said the following to me on 10/6: “I knew you were too small to compromise on anything, but this is ridiculous. You can cut me out of your e-mails, but I’ll see you Monday, October 16 from the moderator’s chair. Quit complaining and debate. Much ado about nothing.” Where have I “abused” Dr. O’Donnell by citing the facts of the matter? You want my opinion? I think it was grossly unfair for the Caners to sit back in silence while I had to try to inform Dr. O’Donnell of everything the Caners themselves had already put their name to in agreement. That is abusive, if you ask me.
So … it’s cancelled. They quit. Either Dr. White or Dr. Ascol, or both decided they didn’t want to debate under those rules. It’s as simple as that.
I.e., they did not want to put themselves in the position of trying to work with men who will say “yes, that is our agreement” one day, and “Woops, no, let’s change that” the next. Yes, quite true. And I wonder if Dr. Caner would allow himself to be put in the same position in any other context?
I am unsure if James White has a problem with authority or simply doesn’t like to debate unless he can manipulate the proceedings to his advantage. The rules established by Brett O’Donnell would have been limiting to my brother and myself as well; the difference is, we didn’t whine and we didn’t quit.
Please remember, the last notice from O’Donnell continued to keep the debate shorter than the agreement and it arbitrarily gave to the Caners both first and last speaking opportunities. Goodness, what might have happened on the 16th had we capitulated to the “we run the show, you do what we tell you to do” demands of O’Donnell and the Caners? Sorry, gentlemen, it doesn’t work that way, and all the spin Ergun Caner wants to try to put on it will not change the documented facts.
This sad chapter is behind us, and I go back to being the President of a Seminary that stands firmly on the side of general atonement, like 90-95% of the Southern Baptist Convention. Let the Calvinists and the Hyper-Calvinists fight over the remaining 5-10%.
Ironically, who are the Calvinists if Tom and I are the hypers?
Incidentally, this Sunday night at 6:00pm Dr. Emir Caner will be preaching at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and he will address this topic. I will be there. Whosoever will may come.
We will surely be listening, and I hope Emir Caner will show himself significantly more concerned about honesty and telling the whole truth than Ergun has proven himself in this statement. Then there was a p.s.:
p.s. – If you have the desire to send me 30-page long emails, please don’t. My answer to you will be the same as it has been in this letter. We are ready, Emir and I are there; we weren’t the ones who quit.
Yes, we quit. We quit trying to work with men who would not honor their word. Those are the facts, documented, proven, unquestioned. Let the reader decide on the facts, which, evidently, only one side wants to offer.
Finally, Tom Ascol has begun a series on his blog giving his review of events. We have not communicated about what either of us is writing, but watch the consistency anyway! He did, however, link to a well done video, here, that I wanted to link to as well. Thanks Joshua, I enjoyed watching that. Just wish you had more recent pictures of me!