2008April10, Thursday

This Is Not The Reformed View

Posted in Pet Peeves, Theology at 11:30 by Trey Austin

James White and Steve Gregg, both internet/radio theologians, have been conducting a debate on “Calvinism.” Steve Gregg’s radio show and website is The Narrow Path and James White’s radio show and website is Alpha and Omega Ministries.

Now, i understand that Steve Gregg is your run-of-the-mill Arminian Evangelical who, like many of them, doesn’t take Scripture seriously when they don’t really like what it says, and i fully admit that James White is a biblical exegete of great prowess. However, my problems with James White exist at several points.

First, i hate how James White treats everyone with whom he debates like an enemy. There are people whom he debates who are his enemies, without a doubt. They are enemies of Christ, enemies of the Gospel, and enemies of every professing believer. And, of course, even when people are our enemies, Christ has given specific instructions on how we are to treat them. I don’t have to go into that, i don’t think, but suffice it to say that i don’t find White living up to this attitude toward his enemies who are his enemies. Worse, though, in my opinion, than White’s treatment of enemies in a way that does not live up to the kindness that Christ enjoins us to, is White’s treatment of other Christians as though they are enemies, without affording them even the kind of treatment that he should even with enemies. James White is condescending, hateful, anything but charitable toward those with whom he disagrees. He regularly displays an attitude that he has fully attained to the proper view of the faith and that he has nothing else to learn that may mitigate the extremity of some of the views he holds. Overall, he does not put forward an attitude that would communicate the idea that he is willing to hear people out, understand them, and show them his perspective with a hope to reach the mutual good of all involved.

Second, James White is so fixated in his theology and ministry with the sovereignty of God that he cannot speak with any kind of substand about God’s will, desire, love, or grace about anything other than God’s sovereignty, decree, and predestinating purpose. Even in the debate that he held with Steve Gregg, he displayed this when Gregg asked him clearly and unequivocally whether there were any sense in which God desires the salvation of the non-elect who hear the Gospel. James White couldn’t muster a single biblical or theologial point that could be conceded on this front. My suspicion is that James White operates like other Calvinists i know, who seem to believe that any kind of concession to “the other side” (again, the attitude that they are enemies) will somehow give away the farm to the Arminians. This, however, is a ridiculous attitude, which—cannot say it in any other way—is just plain juvenile. Adults make fine distinctions and show where they truly do disagree without painting with such a broad brush that it puts people off; being able to make those kinds of fine distinction can lead to a much more conciliatory attitude on the other side (remember that thing about showing kindness to those who mistreat you and pouring hot coals over his head? Has anyone ever pointed that out to James White?). But of course, more than an attitude of not wanting to appear weak to one’s debate partners, White’s default point of view is that of God’s decree, and since that’s what White thinks about as a matter of course, such a question about God’s desire for the salvation of the non-elect, in any sense, simply doesn’t compute in that framework. So, his system of theology is limiting his thinking categorically.

Third, James White constantly throws around the phrase “the Reformed perspective” or “the Reformed view,” or something of the like. This is what i take most exception to of all. James White does not represent all Calvinists or Reformed Christians in what he says. His is a particular and narrow strain of Calvinistic thought. He is a Neo-Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist Puritan. To say that such a view is Calvinism or the Reformed view is plain wrong. No more than you should have some Protestant Reformed theologian, who denies the free offer of the Gospel, and who denies common grace, to be the poster-child for being a Calvinist should you have James White out in the public eye representing himself and his lop-sided Calvinism as true and proper Calvinism.

So, if you want Puritanism of the modern variety, James White is your man; he tows the line to a tee. But if you want real, historical Calvinism, he’s not any kind of reliable source. That is not “the” Reformed View. Make no mistake.

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24 Comments »

  1. James White said,

    The irony is that your ad-hominem filled screed goes far beyond anything any rational person could remotely attribute to me in response to Mr. Gregg, but, it likewise forgets to even take notice of the shrill personal attacks launched by Mr. Gregg and his followers during the course of the encounter. Thank you for your judgmental mind and heart reading of me, sir. I leave it to others to decide the truthfulness of your claims. 🙂

    James White
    http://www.aomin.org

  2. Trey Austin said,

    Well, Dr. White, the point of my post is precisely with your attitde and actions as a person. Is there a way to criticize that without it being inherently ad hominem in that sense?

    But more to the point of what an actual ad hominem argument is, i have not employed the argument “you’re a bad person, therefore your view is wrong.” I’m a confessional Calvinist. I’ve taken vows to uphold and defend the Reformed Faith and the Church of Jesus Christ. My problem is not with your theology in terms of soteriology. My problem is with the attitude you display and with the extremity of your views, which are not reflective of historical Calvinism in its fullest measure, yet you put your views (i.e., Puritanism) forward as if it is the only Calvinistic view at all.

    So, while i certainly have read your actions, i have not attempted to read your heart (other than supposition and conjecture, which in no way is intended to be anything other than my own attempt to explain what might be behind what you’ve said and how you’ve acted, noted as such). But even if i were to mention the attacks, it would make no difference, for two reasons in particular. First, your own strong language invites similar levels of response from others; in other words, some level of those attacks is invited when you are condescending and demeaning the way you often are in debates. Second, no matter how others attack you, it doesn’t in any way justify responding in kind (yes, that goes for those who attacked you, but it goes for you as well). I’m a husband, father, and pastor, and i know (and am guilty of) that kind of response to others, so i of all people know how detrimental it is to our relationships with others.

    I still respect you as a theologian, pastor, and professor (even if we come from different schools of thought). In no way am i in a position to think that i am perfect in my thoughts, words, or deeds (along with my congregation, i confess my failures in this regard, not only in private, but in public worship), so my criticisms of you come from another pastor, who, like you, is a sinner being sanctified and growing in God’s grace. I would love more than anything for you to recognize the vastness of the Reformed Faith (beyond High Calvinist Puritanism), to show charity toward those with whom you debate and disagree (even being willing to recnogize that your understanding is one way of looking at the issue; reading Vern Poythress’s Multiperspectivalism, if you haven’t already, would be an aid in this), and to recognize that we can and should speak of God’s will and desires beyond what he has decreed to come to pass (as important as that is).

  3. Barry Ladden said,

    Trey,
    I must admit, I too find it interesting that you have spotlighted areas of James’s actions you find unappealing and fail to even acknowledge any of the behavior of Mr. Gregg during the debates or his & his follower’s posts on his site afterwards.

    I was able to listen to most of the debates and there is a common thread I see in the church today which was painfully obvious during the debate. When someone presents a solid, biblically based teaching full of the depth of God’s powerful word & not friendly to the feel good, lackadaisical, “Why can’t we all just get along” (as the great prophet Rodney King said) positions many adhere to today, that person is 99% of the time attacked personally. It’s so easy to spot. “Well in the light of true exegetical examination & textual criticism of scripture, I can’t actually defend my beliefs other than w/my own opinions so instead I’ll shoot the person down so I can feel good about holding onto my milk bottle. Forget the petty personality attributes….we are to be as the Bereans & search the scriptures daily, to show ourselves to be an approved workman, not ashamed but one who correctly handles the Word of truth. James demonstrated time & time again his position as being based on God’s Word alone. Steve stated time & time again what he believes with very little scriptural references and or references which were clearly shown to be misunderstood.

    Every day of the week & twice on Tuesday I will trust & heed the speaker who grounds their beliefs solely in scripture & not allow the evil one to distract me with personality issues. I don’t believe Jesus ever worried about how he came across when delivering the truth of God’s Word.

    Barry Ladden

  4. Peter Pike said,

    If I may toss in my $0.02, I think you’ve seriously misunderstood the nature of debate when you say: “First, i hate how James White treats everyone with whom he debates like an enemy.” The fact of the matter is that in a debate you have OPPOSING SIDES. The fact of the matter is that debates are not kumbaya sessions where people gather by the fire to explore one another’s feelings. The fact of the matter is that the two sides of a debate *are* in opposition, and just as the offense will “combat” the defense in any sporting event, so too there are “offenses” and “defenses” going on in debates. If James White was giving a sermon, that’d be one thing; but this is a debate where both sides know in advance what the rules are and what behavior is or is not appropriate, and there’s a reason moderators exist to enforce the rules. And unless you’re the moderator for the debate….

    Secondly, since you’ve put this in your pet peeve section, I have my own pet peeve: people who get offended on behalf of someone else. Suppose that James White is a big jerk to Steve Gregg. Why should that offend *YOU*? It’s a matter between Gregg and White, not between Gregg & White and Trey Austin.

    Thirdly, supposing James White really is sinning in this instance. Doesn’t the Biblical method require you to first address him personally and privately, rather than corporately in a blog? Last I checked, there’s a “contact” feature on the AOMin website. Did you send him anything personally? And if there was no response, did you contact the PRBC which happens to be his local church and ask them whether or not he needed to be disciplined?

    Fourthly, you’ve accused White of inappropriate behavior even in the midst of his debates with non-believers. Have you seen how the Bible addresses non-believers? Have you looked at how Jesus treated the Pharisees? Have you looked at the imprecatory psalms? I only bring this up because, while I’ve not seen all of White’s debates, I’ve seen several and his actions can at best be considered tame compared to the above examples.

    Fifthly, you’ve criticized White’s responses to Gregg as White being afraid of “giving away the farm” to Arminians. Again, this demonstrates that you do not understand the way a debate works. Debates are not conducive for intricate, detailed theological nuances. They are necessarily general and broad. What you interpret as fear of “giving away the farm” I interpret as ignoring minutia to focus on the relevant differences in the two positions. If White was writing a systematic theology, then you’d expect him to delve into those discussion. You can’t expect him to do so in a two minute answer to a question founded on false assumptions.

    Finally, you mentioned that you’ve read Poythress. I have to. I would ask that perhaps you now think of this issue from the perspective of a debator and not from the perspective of someone looking for an excuse to blog about a pet peeve.

    Full disclosure: In the past, I often frequented White’s chat room, although I’ve been unable to for almost a year now. While I agree with much of White’s theological view, I am PCA and we’ve therefore had our share of disagreements too. I don’t think ad hominem is ALWAYS wrong…but I think your use of ad hominem here is. And, FWIW, I got to this post not through anyone at AOMin or anyone from the chat channel, but because I’m one of the Triabloggers and Gene posted a response to you there.

  5. Mark Farnon said,

    Very well said Peter.
    Trey, you and I have discussed issues before at Genes board, and you have not changed!

    I think Postmodernism has just about consumed you at some level.
    Yet, in your desire to not offend (Including Roman Catholics I might add) you display a far greater level of disdain than anything I have ever heard from Dr White.

    Mark

  6. David said,

    I was thinking about the idea that Trey should have gone to White first, by way of Matt 18. I think Gal 2:11 may have some bearing on this. For public “sins” sometimes a public response is required.

    David

  7. David said,

    Just to clarify, I was not saying what White did was a sin. I was simply speaking in terms of whether or not Matt 18 is the only rule we have when dealing inter-personal conflicts.

    David

  8. Peter Pike said,

    David said:

    I was thinking about the idea that Trey should have gone to White first, by way of Matt 18. I think Gal 2:11 may have some bearing on this.

    Actually, I think Galatians still supports the Matthew view. That is, Paul opposed Peter to his face (personally). Peter then repented, so Paul didn’t need to go to the church or anything like that. Galatians is not Paul’s opposition of Peter, but rather it is the reporting of that previous opposition which had since been resolved.

    That said, Matthew 18 is not the “only rule we have” for “inter-personal conflicts.” For instance, I disagreed with Trey Austin but did not approach him personally first. The difference between my action and Austin’s towards White is that I haven’t accused Austin of sinful behavior (I did ask him a question that, if he responded in the negative, would demonstrate he engaged in sinful behavior; but I didn’t accuse him of it since I don’t actually know the correct “answer”), whereas Austin said:


    Worse, though, in my opinion, than White’s treatment of enemies in a way that does not live up to the kindness that Christ enjoins us to, is White’s treatment of other Christians as though they are enemies, without affording them even the kind of treatment that he should even with enemies. James White is condescending, hateful, anything but charitable toward those with whom he disagrees.

  9. David said,

    Hey Peter,

    Is there a way to email you directly?

    Thanks
    David

  10. Seth McBee said,

    Thanks for the update on this issue…pretty brutal to say the least.

  11. Peter Pike said,

    Certainly, David. It’s a Yahoo! address: petedawg34

    (Due to spam-bots I’ll have to let you reassemble it. Just put the @yahoo.com after the above.)

  12. I agree with Peter Pike who said that the nature of debates is to oppose the other person you are debating. We have grown so accustomed to the poor Presidential debates in our nation (which are not true debates by nature but are simply press conferences) that we think that showing emotion while debating or even getting upset is outside of the lines. I do agree that name calling is not fitting but I have not heard James White or Steve Gregg do that. That would not only be childish but sinful.

    As an Arminian I have found the debate interesting. While I don’t think that it will answer every question, it does get people thinking about the theological issues at hand. Calvinism and Arminianism both appeal to Scripture and to reason but obviously both can not be right. The nature of a debate is to overwhelm the other with facts for and against a position and to answer any questions about your position with clear defense. Dr. White is very good at this and he often wins debates for this reason.

  13. Tony said,

    Steve Gregg asked James White this question:

    “Here’s what I said. I’m reading it: “According to your self-described Calvinistic belief system, do you believe there is any sense in which God wills the eternal salvation of the non-elect that hear the gospel call?” I didn’t ask does he want them to hear the gospel call. I’m talking about the non-elect who hear it. Does he, in any sense, will for them to be saved?”

    At this point, James begins his reply by saying:

    “I’ve never heard of a distinction between the non-elect who hear and the non-elect who do not, to be perfectly honest with you. And, from a Reformed perspective, there wouldn’t be any real differentiation between the two that I can see as far as having any relevance to that particular question.”

    Now, without going into a critique of the beginning part of Jame’s response above, I don’t think it is fair to say that James said “THE Reformed perspective,” as if he’s articulating (and is about to articulate) something that is monolithically the case among the Reformed. Further, I don’t recall in the rest of the debate if James spoke as if he was stating “THE Reformed perspective.” So, while there are things in Jame’s responses that are worthy of criticism, I don’t think this is one of them.

    Peter Pike,

    I would like to thank you for correcting Gene Bridges over on TurretinFan’s blog, regarding his criticism of one of Trey’s points. Trey is CLEARLY not saying that he himself has “THE Reformed perspective.” Trey is quite knowledgeable of the diversity of Reformed opinion in the area of soteriology (and elsewhere). Rather, Trey was under the impression (incorrectly) that James claimed to have “THE Reformed perspective” in this debate. Gene Bridges significantly misrepresented the facts of this post in this area, so thanks Peter for honestly bringing that to his attention.

  14. Tony said,

    Trey said:

    “Third, James White constantly throws around the phrase “the Reformed perspective” or “the Reformed view,” or something of the like.”

    This may be quite true at other times, but I don’t recall this being the case during the debate with Steve Gregg. That was my point in the above comments.

  15. Tony said,

    “Trey was under the impression (incorrectly) that James claimed to have “THE Reformed perspective” in this debate.”

    After re-reading Trey’s post above, he seems to be speaking generally, and not about what transpired during the debate. Sorry if I misrepresented you, Trey.

  16. Tony said,

    The anonymous and unaccountable “Turretinfan” blogger made the same misrepresentation of Trey’s post even before Gene Bridges:

    “Rev. “Trey” Austin, III has the gumption to suggest (with the title of the post) that Dr. White’s view in a recent radio debate with Steve Gregg is “not the Reformed view.”

  17. Tony said,

    Quite frankly, “TurretinFan” and Gene Bridges seem to be functioning like the theological flipside of the anonymous “Charles” and Bob L. Ross in this matter, and related areas. Such is their behavior.

  18. David said,

    In addition his debate with a presbyterian minister on the issue of baptism is not the Reformed view.

    Just my two cents worth.

  19. Mike said,

    The easiest way to make a theologian out of yourself is to create a false dichotmoy – or latch on to an existing one – and roll around it as much as possible, for as long as possible, in front of as many people as possible. The modern Arminian/Calvinistic debate demonstrates this very thing. These are two oversimplified views of the gospel that will never never come to terms with each other.

  20. Peter Pike said,

    After talking a bit with David, I’m not certain the Matthew 18 issue applies here re: Trey Austin’s response to James White. It might, but it might not either; and since there is reasonable doubt on my end now, I will retract my third point from my first post.

  21. TJ said,

    While Trey and I certainly don’t agree on everything, I will say that calling him “postmodern” is a bit of a stretch. I think he would liken himself to someone more along the lines of a Shedd while distancing himself from John Owen in the process (I don’t believe I am misrepresenting him by saying that) on the matter of our Lord’s atonement.

    I like James White a lot. I even went on one of his sponsored cruises a year or so ago. I saw him debate Bishop Spong and he was excellent. However, he does have the tendency at times to go into attack mode w/o warning. I was speaking to him privately at the end of the cruise and made a joking comment about baptism. He did not “attack”, but he did get very defensive and began talking about the debate over infant baptism he had with William Shisko in near-bragging terms (the joke I made, fwiw, was over the mode of baptism, not the subjects). It sort of soured the experience for me.

    Having said all that, I do appreciate Dr. White’s ministry and consider him to be a faithful teacher and defender of the gospel. He cares enough about the free offer to stand outside the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City witnessing to the LDS there. I would add that Trey is a good friend, former seminary colleague, and someone I respect enough to ask to preach my ordination sermon. He too is a faithful minister of the gospel, imho, even if we do not always see eye-to-eye.

  22. Tony said,

    It should be noted that a different “David” from the first (i.e., not Flynn) has posted a comment now. They are not the same person.

  23. Tony said,

    Hi TJ,

    I have spoken with Trey about some epistemological areas and I think it is absolutely absurd to associate him with postmodernism. To make that accusation shows a great deal of ignorance on the part of the one saying it.

  24. TJ said,

    Tony,

    I recently had the same thing hurled at me (by an adamant unbeliever, no less) on another blog just a few days ago (perhaps that is why the “postmodern” comment resonated so much with me). I was scratching my head on that one, as anyone who knows me would attest that I am about as stubborn and hard-nosed on some of these issues as anyone could be (and even Trey would probably admit that I lean TR — he even compared me to the Covenanters once on this very blog!). After careful analysis, I realized why the person came to this conclusion: he was making an inaccurate statistical comparison (I have a background in mathematics) that led him to a causation error in his thinking. I pointed out that even if two statements are true, the correlation between the two does not imply causation. My point that the methodology he was employing was false; he thought I was saying that truth does not matter. Hence, we were talking past each other. He already had his mind made up, though, I refused to listen to anything else I had to say. I would hope that Christian brothers (and that goes for all sides) would treat one another in a kinder matter. Indeed, Paul chastises the Corinthians for acting just like the world in the way they interacted with one another.


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