Over the years I have chosen to allow listeners to debates to decide for themselves regarding presentation, behavior, and substance. Many times I have not even had to say a word: the behavior of a Tim Staples, or a Robert Sungenis, has said all that needed to be said. The few times I have commented I have done so because my opponent has decided to “spin” things, and I have sought to correct the record. This was the case with Patrick Madrid, for example, when he wrote his Catholic Answers hit-piece, “The White Man’s Burden.”
Last month I apologized to the fine brethren in Oklahoma City for having even suggested they invited Dr. Robert Wilkin to debate in their B.B. Warfield series. I had to do so because Dr. Wilkin’s presentation, and his behavior during the debate, fell far below my expectations. While we had been asked to present overheads (powerpoints) giving our texts, Wilkin inserted silly pictures. While I sought to present a theological and biblical case, explaining my position and its foundation, Wilkin debated for his “group,” not even trying to provide a cohesive, coherent, systematic position. It was a wasted opportunity, for all he chose to do was go after me, which left the real chance for a meaningful debate over the important issues out in the cold. Don’t get me wrong: if Wilkin would like to debate particular passages, for example, or if we were debating “Calvinism” as a system and I was defending it, fine. But the fact of the matter is that the topic of the debate was quite clear; the intention of the debate had been made clear as well; and if Wilkin had simply behaved as a scholar, shown enough respect for the folks who invited us, and for the audience, to define and defend his position (rather than just assuming it), we might have been able to accomplish something. But the fact that he chose to do as he did, and also due to the fact that there was no cross-examination, insured that we would not be coming to any meaningful conclusions as a result of the debate. In that situation, it would have required the cooperation of both to make it work: and Dr. Wilkin was not there to engage the subject in such a fashion as to communicate with anyone outside of his own group.
I was sent a link to a publication wherein Wilkin gives his debate report, and then reproduces what others have said (including, oddly, a “diappointed Dr. White supporter”). Here are some highlights:
One of the people from Stillwater commented to J.B. after the debate that when I was speaking Dr. White often frowned and shook his head, whereas when he spoke I smiled and listened intently.
Well, it is natural to shake your head when your opponent is tossing straw-men into the audience along with lighted matches and gallons of lighter fuel. I saw people in the audience laughing at the absurdity of the caricatures of Reformed theology, and my own beliefs, that Wilkin was tossing out in his opening statement. I’m sorry, but when the man does not quote a single published work, and yet has the guts to accuse me of undercutting the doctrine of imputation based upon his taking a single phrase from our statement of faith and not even trying to handle it fairly, I find it hard to remain utterly stoic, let alone “smile” about it. I read Wilkin’s book: he did not bother to return the favor, but instead showed me, and the audience, great disrespect by constantly misrepresenting me out of his own abject ignorance–an ignorance he did not have to suffer (the data was right there–he just didn’t seem to care enough to get it right), and an ignorance he seemed intent upon retaining, no matter how often he was corrected. And yes, it is quite frustrating to listen to someone throw out a pile of falsehoods in 20 minutes, knowing you only have ten minutes to put out the fire. It can’t be done, especially without cross-examination. In other words, the debate format we used required scholarly behavior by both sides, and it only got that from one.
Another time I did indeed respond, mainly by sitting back and showing simple amazement on my face, was during the reading of the audience questions. Someone asked his view of these words of the Lord Jesus:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter]. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)
I was sitting right next to Wilkin as he said, “Well, I can surely hear Dr. White saying those words….” I.e., “did we not prophesy in your name….” etc. By this time I was just about choking on the smoke from all the burning straw men, the accusations of believing in works righteousness, and the utter and abject ignorance of Reformed theology that lay under everything Wilkin had said, so to have him twice say that I would be saying what those rejected by the Lord are recorded saying in that passage was just about enough. So yes, I shook my head when Dr. Wilkin demonstrated he had not read a single one of my books, let alone those relevant to the topic. Dr. Wilkin did smile a good bit: when you are not listening to the other guy, and are content with your caricatures of his views, you can smile all you wish. Why not?
I note in passing that Wilkin said there were only about thirty “Free Grace people” there. I would have thought it was fifty-fifty myself, but I don’t know the area, so I could only guess. This means only a very small portion of the crowd had any idea what he was saying, since he just didn’t bother giving a defense of it.
Wilkin writes, “Dr. White seemed unfocused the whole debate.” My two presentations were intended to be used in a scholarly debate. They were not intended to carry the entire debate on themselves so that Wilkin could spend his time with humorous pictures while throwing out every kind of false accusation. My presentations were quite focused: Wilkin’s were, too: on his straw-men, not on the topic of the debate. My rebuttal periods were in fact unfocused: I had a broad range of topics from his presentations to attempt to address, since he chose to ignore the vast majority of my own presentation. I could have chosen to just say, “Dr. Wilkin has ignored my arguments, so I will go back over them,” but I didn’t. I’m sure everything would have been more focused had we had cross-examination.
Next we have,
He was extremely reluctant to admit he wasnt sure he has everlasting life. I said he wasnt sure, and I challenged him to tell us he was sure each time I spoke. He only admitted he wasnt sure at the very end in his closing comments.
I found it offensive then, and I continue to find it offensive, that Wilkin chose to stand in front of an audience, knowing he had not done his homework, knowing he had not read my works, knowing he was depending upon the worst kind of selective citation and “research,” and yet presume to tell people what I believed anyway. It is a part of the argumentation of this group to play games with the meaning of words, and as I explained (and Wilkin did not hear–he missed a lot of what I said, and once wasted time refuting me for saying faith was unidirectional, when I had actually said that his view of faith was unidimensional over against the rich biblical definition), his claim to be “sure” of his salvation is based simply upon denying there can be false faith (therefore, his must be true faith, therefore, he’s unquestionably saved!). Such is not certainty–it is unbiblical presumption based upon a heretical denial of clear biblical teaching. So, to say I do not “know” I have eternal life based upon his unbiblical paradigm while ignoring the Reformed emphasis upon assurance as part of saving faith, the work of the Spirit, etc., is simply absurd. Further, Wilkin mocks the idea of growing in one’s confidence and knowledge of Christ, but did not bother responding to my pointing to these texts.
His failure to respond to my comments on Matt 7:21-23, Luke 8:5-15, John 4:14, 5:24, 11:25-27, and a host of other texts was quite telling.
Two things: as noted above, Wilkin just didn’t listen well. At one point I sat down, having just addressed a passage, and almost the first words out of his mouth was how I had avoided doing so. Even people in the audience chuckled. Secondly, when you have 20 minutes to present, no one, in ten minutes of response, can get to everything that was said. Further, Wilkin ignored the vast majority of my own presentations despite the fact that I placed them in my powerpoint and actually took the time to explain to the audience why they were relevant (rather than just assuming the audience would know). It is a cheap victory to do the “machine gun reference” trick where you throw out passage after passage without actually doing the work of exegesis so as to demonstrate that your take is even relevant–another illustration of Wilkin’s disrespect for the topic and the audience.
Next we find a truly amazing statement from Wilkin:
He spent about 5 minutes at one point quoting from 2 confessions and from a number of Reformed theologians. I pointed out that this was a waste of time as this was a debate about what the Bible said on these issues. I said I believed in Sola Scriptura. That really made him angry.
Yes, it did, since to my knowledge Bob Wilkin has never defended sola scriptura against Roman Catholics, Mormons, and others, as I have for decades now. And it angered me that a man who is supposed to be a scholar could so completely miss the point of my statements. I did point out his error later, but, as this newsletter proves, he did not have ears to hear that response, either. As any person who was there knows, I was not quoting the confessions to prove Wilkin wrong; I was quoting them to prove that Wilkin is not representing the Reformers and the churches that teach in harmony with them when he claims to uphold sola fide. His response was telling indeed: he admitted that his view of “faith alone” is not what was believed by Calvin or the Reformers or the Westminster Confession or really anyone at the time of the Reformation nor in the generations since then. So I really wonder—how would Wilkin attempt to prove that his view of sola fide is consistent with the Reformers? He allowed an endorsement to be printed on his book that says Luther and Calvin would give him two thumbs up, so evidently he believes that, but how would he prove it without citing the same sources I did? Obviously, he can’t. A telling point indeed. [continued]