On the 2009/3/12 Dividing Line, James White makes one of the most absurd arguments I’ve heard. He poses the question, what if Mary brings unholy requests to God from people praying to her? So he poses the false dilemma that either Mary has perfect knowledge of God and omnicience or else she brings unholy requests to Jesus.
Firstly, one certainly doesn’t need exhaustive knowledge of God to distinguish good from evil requests. We must distinguish between requests that are simply not God’s will with requests that are intrinsically evil. Dr White conflates them and comes to false conclusions. Secondly, what if Mary brought a “bad” request to Jesus? Catholicism doesn’t claim that Jesus does everything Mary requests, no questions asked.
Dr White then goes on to say that “honoring your father and mother does not mean granting everything that they ask”. Straw man! Who ever said it did? The point is that Jesus is more inclined to do things if his mother asks. Remember the unrighteous judge who did what he was asked to do, because the woman bothered him about it day and night? Why do we pray at all, unless we think God may be willing to listen? Remember when Mary asked Jesus about the wine, and Jesus said “woman, what has that to do with me”, but then he did it anyway? Obviously there are things that God won’t do unless we ask enough and in the right way.
Dr White also criticises the Catholic apologist for asking why we would expect to find intercessions to Mary in particular in the bible. The point that Dr White misses is that Mary is at the end of the day, just one of the saints, and we wouldn’t expect her in particular to be singled out. He also misses the point that Mary may well have been still alive when the NT was complete which would of course mean there would be no reason to expect this to be in there.
An Orthodox Christian who reads here let TurretinFan know about James White’s miscitation of Basil I reported on here. Apparently Turretinfan reported the miscitation to Dr White, but without telling him his source, because on the 2009/03/06 Dividing Line, Dr White mentions the miscitation he got from Turretinfan and goes into a long rant about Roman forged documents. This of course is water off a duck’s back to me, not being Roman Catholic. However White continues to imply that Basil is some kind of sola-scripturaist, and Roman Catholics have misrepresented him. I showed quite clearly the aforementioned article that is not the case.
I think it’s quite interesting that it took 5 years for anybody to bring up the fact of this miscitation, and it took an Orthodox Christian to do it. With White’s wide circle of devoted fans, don’t you think one protestant would have looked up the citations to see what the context of them is, and reported back that the citation is wrong?
It seems fair to say that White’s band of followers survive on quote books, rather than testing what he says from the source documents. Apparently few of them read the Church Fathers either. Hey, I used to be there. But then I started checking up on him. Now I’m not protestant any more.
I previously commented on some dividing lines where James White comments about a discussion between Bart Ehrman and “the infidel guy”. White comments derisively that when Ehrman meets someone even more radically skeptical that he has to resort to appealing to authority. How do we know Paul wrote Romans? Well, because no scholar thinks otherwise says Ehrman. James White was right to notice Ehrman do this.
However, what do we find in the White/Ehrman debate of January this year? Surely the most important question of the debate is whether we have the original readings somewhere in the manuscripts. How do we know if we do? When Ehrman pressed White on this, it all came down to appeals to authority figures, and a slogan “tenacity of the text”.
Unfortunately, nobody knows how tenacious the text is, because we can’t measure how many readings that made it into the text eventually were lost from the text. It’s like standing at the top of the mountain and saying it is easy to climb because of all the people who make it to the top. Unless you can measure how many people didn’t make it, you have no argument. We can’t measure how many readings were lost, we can purely look at those that weren’t. Judging by the existence of a number of singular readings (some of which actually made it into NA27) and readings that exist in the Fathers, there were certainly readings that were lost and nearly lost (though not necessarily original ones).
So we have White as a radical skeptic meeting an even more radical skeptic in Ehrman and having to appeal to authorities like Wallace and Aland. Hmm. What was that about inconsistency and failed arguments?
In his 2009/2/11 Dividing Line, James White for some reason expresses surprise that Catholics can seek intercession from dead relatives who are not canonised saints. That he would express surprise at this is odd. How does he think saints became canonised in the first millenium prior to the Vatican taking over the declaration of saints? Obviously the recognised saints are thus because of the practice of the church. The church historically didn’t lobby the Vatican prior to seeking intercession from a saint.
Dr White seems to want to criticise the practice by saying that isn’t someone judging someone’s salvation by seeking intercession from them? Well, when Jesus said “Judge not, lest you be judged”, he was surely talking about judging negatively. The intention is to avoid self-righteousness criticism of others, not to avoid thinking well of other people.
But doesn’t Dr White do the same thing? If he seeks intercession from someone at his Church, surely he is judging that they are someone who is right with God, otherwise what good are their prayers? Does that mean Dr White claims infallible knowledge of others salvation? Of course not.
In his 2009/1/13 Dividing Line, and several previous, Dr White amuses himself as Ehrman, a scholar and skeptic argues with a radical skeptic (“infidel guy”). Dr White is amused at the fireworks when a skeptic meets someone even more skeptical skeptic.
From my point of view, I have the same amusement with Dr White, as he is a skeptic of many things, meeting Ehrman as a more radical skeptic.
A lot of Dr White’s comments and arguments have been assertively pointing to the Christian community of the 1st century acting as a confirmation that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wouldn’t have embellished or changed the story about Jesus, because the community would notice such a change and reject it.
Well ok, why can’t I argue that early figures like Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp who knew the apostles could have served the same function with apostolic teachings as the community did in safeguarding Jesus’ teachings much earlier?
Why can’t I argue that the Christian community of the 2nd century acted as a community to not allow any changes to the apostolically mandated practices? Why can’t I point to Tertullian and Cyril of Alexandria and other very early Christian figures who take Chrismation for granted as an apostolic practice and make the same argument as Dr White that only radical skepticism would argue that the Church could have corrupted the teaching, seeing as the community would have safeguarded it?
How is doubting these things different to doubting the apostolicity of the pastoral epistles for example? In this very episode White advocates throwing out the periscope of the adulterer because it is not originally in John. Even if not originally in John, how does he demonstrate that it is not aposotolic and/or not scripture? Yet he is keen to toss it out of the bible altogether. What substantive objection could he raise against throwing out all the pastoral epistles? He would be left to argue about percentage points of probability, but couldn’t actually say anything decisive against someone in his church if they decided they weren’t going to accept the pastorals as authoritative, when Dr White is making his own emendations.
Why couldn’t I move the argument into the 3rd century? It merely becomes a matter of degree of skepticism how far you go forward before skepticism gets the better of you.
So if this is Dr White’s big argument, didn’t he just explode his entire epistemology which is to doubt the apostolicity of the early extra-scriptural practices? Isn’t inconsistency the sign of a failed argument?
Dr White is left in the difficult position of arguing that his particular level of skepticism is the appropriate one. How could he criticise me for being less skeptical?
In the 2008/12/04 Dr White makes an argument he has made many times before. The claim is that without a Reformed view of salvation, no assurance is possible. So the argument goes, if Jesus’ atonement is for everyone, including those in hell, how does faith in his atonement give you assurance?
Let me try and explain the point that Dr White misses. In the non-Reformed view, if you believe in Jesus, you’ve got every reason to believe you will be saved if you persevere. And whether you persevere is within your own control. So the system is quite straight forward.
But in the Reformed view, there are a whole bunch of people who think they believe in Jesus, but who aren’t even saved now. By introducing this whole new category of people who seem to believe in Jesus, and who think they believe in Jesus, but don’t really, all assurance just went out the window.
At least perseverance is known quantity. We have to have faith and keep having faith. But Calvinism introduces a “je ne sais quoi” to the salvation equation. Nobody can really tell you for sure whether the kind of faith you have now, is saving faith. If its not the faith that was caused by the regeneration of God, but is the wrong kind of faith, in some indefinable kind of way, you may be inevitably destined to fall away. And there is nothing you can do about it, if you are not regenerate. It is inevitable.
Now how can there be any assurance under these circumstances? In a bid to avoid the uncertainty of perseverance, Calvinists have sacrificed the assurance of the here and now.
In the “Conference on Rome” available from Dr White’s web site, a speaker (it’s not clear to me at the moment which speaker it is), makes some arguments on sola scriptura churches versus churches with an “infallible interpreter”. These arguments are a response to the allegation that sola scriptura churches are too fragmented in their beliefs.
His first argument is that it is unfair to compare one “entity”, the Roman Church, with the thousands of sola scriptura entities. Rather we should compare one entity (Rome) with say Reformed Baptists.
Given the relative age and size of Rome versus Reformed Baptists, I don’t know that this is a valid defence. I mean, I could start off my own denomination with just me as member, and have 100% unity, but it wouldn’t thereby be much of an argument against a church which has stood for 2000 years and has a billion members.
But lets ignore that for a moment. What is this entity of “Reformed Baptists” that he speaks of? There is of course, no such entity. If you want to define Reformed Baptists as those who agree with the 1689 Baptist Confession, haven’t you just defined your group in terms outside sola scriptura? Haven’t you just defined yourself as winner by means of a document? I guess I could write a 10,000 page treatise on what I believe, then define by proclamation an “entity” of all those who agree with the document, and then proclaim victory that all those who agree with me, uh.. agree with me. That’s claiming victory by fiat.
The next argument he puts forth is that it is unfair to compare Rome with all the denominations that hold sola scriptura. Rather we should compare all the churches that hold to sola scriptura with all the churches that have an infallbile interpreter. This means we should compare say Baptists and Presbyterians with Rome and Mormons.
However, this is absurd. To compare all the religious groups who hold to a SINGLE book (the bible) with all the religious groups who have VARIOUS infallible interpreters is to compare apples to oranges. The more apt comparison in that case would be all the religious groups who hold to sola written scriptures, which would include a portion of Muslims. By this time, the whole comparison is simply a waste of time.
The speaker claims that nearly everyone in the sola scriptura camp embraces each other as brothers, in contrast to the infallible interpreter camp. But this is again apples to oranges. To compare ONE book – the bible with ALL interpreters is invalid. Rather the speaker would have to embrace Muslims who hold to Koran-only as brothers to make this argument fly. He would have to compare people who hold to ANY book, with people who hold to ANY infallible interpreter. Or else compare people who hold to ONE book, with those who hold to ONE infallible interpreter.
In his 2008/12/02 Dividing Line, Dr White espouses the “double payment” argument.
On many occasions, James White has made the statement that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is a distinctly reformed viewpoint, and those non-protestants who pay lip service to the idea of substitutionary atonement, and yet are not reformed, are inconsistent.
Of course, isn’t it a bit of a problem for Dr White to admit that substitutionary atonement arises during the reformation? If this doctrine is so supposedly important, why did we have to wait 1500 years for Christians to figure this out?
In this Dividing Line, Dr White poses the question of why God would put onto Christ all the sins of people who he knows will not be saved. Of course, this is only a problem for someone enslaved to a penal substitution model of the atonement.
The whole of creation is damaged goods due to Adam. Christ didn’t die only to save people, but to redeem the whole created order. Rom. 8:21 “that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption”. Dr White is so focused on the situation of the elect that he is missing the bigger picture. All of creation is what Christ came to redeem, and he succeeded in that. But he doesn’t force those to stay who want to opt out. Why would Christ die for those who will not be saved? Well, why did he die for the whole created order? The non-elect are part of the created order, and they don’t get a special exemption. Only by focusing on a penal model is this even an issue.
Dr White poses the problem in terms of Christ attempting to, but failing to save those who he knew weren’t going to be saved. But the issue is not Christ failing to do anything, but of people not wanting to be saved. It’s like Christ patches up the hole in the Titanic so it won’t sink, but then people throw themselves overboard and drown themselves anyway. The Titanic is the created order, and all you’ve got to do is accept the redemption that has been provided.
The double payment argument is that if God sends people to hell, then they’ve paid for their sins twice, once in hell, and once by Christ on the cross. But people go to hell, because they choose to, not because a payment needs to be made. They are in hell because they don’t want Christ.
In his 2008/12/02 Dividing Line, Dr White comments on what is apparently some kind of a Southern Baptist anti-Calvinist conference.
In it the Southern Baptist speaker expresses the conviction that nowhere does scripture teach that we are born guilty. Rather, after Adam we are born with a “sin sickness” that makes it inevitable that we will sin. How completely Eastern Orthodox of him!
Dr White responds with a rather limp argument. He asks why children die since “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). But surely the context of Ro 6:23 is not temporal death, but eternal destiny. Eternal life versus damnation. Surely Dr White will not argue that people who sin more inevitably die earlier? Or even that those “in Christ Jesus” (v23) will die later or not die at all compared to those who are not.
Furthermore, did not Christ die despite being sinless? Since Adam, the whole of creation is damaged, and death is now part of the world, whether or not a particular person sins.
James White concludes his book rallying his troops around the sufficiency of scripture and recommending the readers explore the topic further.
Of course, the problem is since Dr White is arguing for the sufficiency of scripture, there isn’t a whole lot more to say since there aren’t any more scriptures that can be pressed into service on this topic.
And here is the fundamental contradiction that the protestant faces: he must admit that the apostles did not teach or advocate sola scriptura, because he knows that during their ministries the new testament wasn’t written, and the old testament was insufficient as the sole basis for the Christian faith. So the protestant must try and argue that some verses teach sola scriptura, all the while engaging in double think, knowing that the new testament church didn’t and couldn’t function with sola scriptura.
All protestants when pressed will admit this, but they won’t tell you how the church was to transition from oral authority to written only. The scriptures don’t mention such a transition and the church never implemented it.
So why are protestants so dead set on a doctrine that isn’t taught in scripture? Why must they find, somewhere this teaching? Nobody in the early church dreamt that the bible should be independently interpreted outside of the recognized church. There was no controversy about this up until Luther.
Of course the reason is that Rome forced Luther into an untenable corner. And Luther only perceived two solutions, either submit to the authority claims of Rome, or come up with a whole new way of looking at the world. He was a man of his age. Humanism was the new catchcry. Everyone wanted to decide for themselves what truth was.
It’s notable that with all Luther’s studies, he didn’t just one day cry “Eureka”, I’ve discovered sola scripture, and from there figure out his new beliefs. Rather after he was forced into a corner he had to find a new rule of faith and moved on from there.
But millions of Christians before, during and after Luther read the same bible and don’t find sola scriptura in it. If scripture is supposed to be sufficient, and sola scriptura is its first principle, then that’s quite a contradiction. Protestants find sola scriptura in scripture because they feel like they’re in the same corner Luther was in. They must find sola scriptura somewhere because otherwise they would end up in Rome, and they don’t want to end up there.