Yesterday I began replying to the comments found in the May, 2005 “Partners in Grace” publication from the Grace Evangelical Society. I conclude my remarks in this entry. Wilkin noted:
He criticized me for being overly concerned about works-salvation. I responded by saying that the reason he wasn’t overly concerned about works-salvation is because his view of faith is works-salvation. This too upset him.
How does one respond to this kind of mind-set that is steeped in ignorance of the position he is denying and that shows not the first ability to hear any response or rebuttal? Of course, what I had said was that the Hodges/Wilkin position is grossly imbalanced, and that for Wilkin, it was the result of a pendulum swing out of a works-salvation system (this is his own testimony, both in his book and in the debate, regarding his background). To take that observation and twist it into my saying that I am not overly concerned (note the equivocation–I meant “overly” as in “imbalanced” and he means “overly” as in “White doesn’t really care one way or the other”) about works-salvation is illustrative of just how utterly out-of-touch Wilkin was in the debate, and remains thereafter. Once again I saw folks wincing in the audience, for while Wilkin has spent his energies promoting cheap grace, I have defended justification against all comers. It would have really helped had he bothered to at least skim a work like The God Who Justifies. But he didn’t, and seems quite happy to remain in the state of blessed ignorance. But please note: this viewpoint, which turns faith into a nod of the head, grace into a vapor, and denies repentance is part of the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration, identifies hard-core, “God saves, saves perfectly, without man’s assistance” Calvinism as “works-salvation.” Though I repeatedly said there is no merit to repentance–they will not hear. Though I repeatedly said we are speaking of the nature of saving faith as it relates to the work of the Spirit, and repeatedly pointed out that nothing we do is in any way, shape, or form, related to our standing before God (which is based upon the imputed righteousness of Christ, not our works–which Wilkin would know, if he had bothered to read a book, maybe even just read all of the 1689 London Confession, which, after the debate, he admitted he hadn’t), Wilkin continues with his accusation against all Reformed churches that we teach a works-righteousness system.
Next we see the influence of Zane Hodges:
6. I spoke with Zane Hodges about the debate the Monday after and he said he thought the reason Dr. White was unfocused and didn’t respond to my arguments was because he probably has never been confronted like that before. It is rare for someone to tell a Calvinist that he doesn’t believe the gospel, that he isn’t sure he has eternal life, and that he is preaching a false gospel. Zane said that Dr. White was probably also upset because he likes to use these times to show how great his position is. In this debate, he couldn’t do that. In fact, the glaring weaknesses of his position were exposed, especially the lack of certainty prior to death.
Now, of course, Hodges can only go on Wilkin’s reporting, and hence can hardly be held accountable for any inaccuracies therein (and given the string of inaccuracies in Wilkin’s presentation, there is little chance Hodges was given an accurate picture). But, yes, it is, thankfully, rare for a Calvinist to be told he doesn’t believe the gospel–and since Wilkin made it rather clear at the end of the debate he considers the gospel I defend false, and that he would be a heretic if my gospel is true, it seems these folks are not looking at being seen as simply holding a slightly different view: they have the “true gospel” and the Reformation and all those who descended therefrom have been deceived into believing a false gospel. Of course, as he pointed out, they still have a chance if they just for a moment believed the “true” repentance-free, non-life-changing, unidimensional head-nod faith version of the gospel–though how they would have done that, since no one was preaching it back then, I have no idea. As to glaring weaknesses being demonstrated, yes, I failed miserably…to use pictures in my presentation and to go after Wilkin with straw men galore. If that’s how theological debate is to be done, then I will leave it to the Hodges and Wilkins of the world to do it. For my part, I’d love to see Wilkin debate a SINGLE topic with cross-examination. Perhaps he’d like to handle John 6 against me, based solely upon the Greek text, in front of his home audience, with full cross-examination? We would surely see who would be “unfocused” when straw-men and ramshackle shacks are excluded from the encounter, and serious, scholarly cross-examination is put in place.
Now, a few selected comments were published as well. Given that only initials were provided, one at times wonders about such things, but two of those published were worth commenting on. “M.I.” from all the way out in San Francisco wrote:
It was a highly charged atmosphere which showed the stark contrast between two systems of theology. One system where man has virtually no human free will, where faith includes obedience, repentence and surrender, and where an uncertain assurance is based on works and perserverance. The other system where God’s love and salvation is available to all, where faith or belief alone in Jesus is required for eternal life, and where a certain assurance is based on the promises of God’s Word.
Well, at least this person was not confused about what the issues are, anyway–a clear contrast between the deadness of man in sin and the power of God’s grace in salvation, versus a man-centered, tip-of-the-hat faith that provides nothing but a cardboard-cut out of “assurance.” But this comment really caught my eye. BW of Stillwater, OK wrote:
I really enjoyed the debate. I thought you [Bob] did a better job on addressing why you believe what you believe from a biblical standpoint rather than simply being critical of the others position, as Dr. White seemed to be.
At this point I simply have to say to BW, “Sir, Wilkin was the tall one.” 🙂