Response to James White (1 of 4)

James White – Alpha and Omega Ministries  source

 

As I listened to James White’s 13 April 2017 podcast “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Christian Be the Bible Answer Man?,” I was struck by the numerous fallacies that so often mar Protestant critiques of Orthodoxy.  The quotes below are organized topically, not chronologically.  The intent here is to promote good reasoning and courteous interaction in Protestant-Orthodox dialogue. Please see my earlier posting: “How NOT to Do Anti-Orthodox Apologetics” for a description of fallacies and faulty reasoning.

 

Sola Fide and the False Dilemma Fallacy

At the 3:39 mark, James White brings up one of Protestantism’s core doctrines sola fide – justification by grace alone through faith alone.  He insists that the omission of that one word “alone” opens the door to the legalism and works righteousness of Roman Catholicism.  Here we see the conflating of two fallacies: hasty generalization and false equivalence.  Just because Orthodoxy refrains from using “alone,” that does not mean that their reasons are the same as or identical to Roman Catholicism.  First, it must be shown what the Orthodox understanding of salvation actually is.  Second, that doctrine must be compared with the Roman Catholic understanding to see if they are identical. They are not — as any historic theological investigator without an axe to grind will quickly see.  By casting the question in terms of Protestantism versus Roman Catholicism, Mr. White presents the listener with a false dilemma.  This is the fallacy where something is presented as an either-or situation, when in fact there is one additional option.

At the 33:42 mark, we hear the recording of Hank Hanegraaff reciting the Nicene Creed.  At the 35:15 mark we hear the line: “Who for us and our salvation descended from heaven. . . .”  At that point, Mr. White interjects:

Flesh it out!  They didn’t at that point.  That’s why it isn’t sufficient.  If you say that’s the basis for mere Christianity then there’s no place for the Gospel.

For James White, because the Fathers at the Council of Nicea failed to articulate sola fide the Nicene Creed is theologically insufficient. Here he passes judgment on the universal confession of the Early Church! By what standards? By that of the sixteenth century Reformation?!?!

At the 1:10:05 mark, Hank Hanegraaff is heard saying that he has been saved “by grace alone through faith.”  Here James White leans eagerly on the edge of his chair then theatrically slumps in disappointment when he does not hear the word “alone.” He notes:

This is purposeful folks.  This is not “through grace alone by faith alone.”  “Through grace alone by faith” that is . . . that’s not even . . . he’s accurately dealt with James 2 in the past.  This is Eastern Orthodoxy speaking.  This is a knowing, unwillingness to affirm the language of sola fide (1:10:35).

False Dilemma Fallacy   Source

When James White (or anyone else) asserts: “there’s no place for the Gospel,” he commits the false dilemma fallacy presenting the listener with a stark black-and-white choice between salvation and damnation. When Mr. White insists that the Gospel be understood in terms of “justification by faith alone,” he makes the false equivalence fallacy.  Sola fide here is presented as the untouchable touchstone for true Christianity.  It may be for Protestants, but did any of the Church Fathers make a similar assertion? Was sola fide part of the historic Christian Faith?

In Protestant-Orthodox dialogue sola fide must be proven from Scripture, not just from the biblical text but from the way the text has been understood historically.  It should be kept in mind that Protestant Reformer John Calvin had no qualms about citing the Church Fathers.  Calvin was not a simple-minded Fundamentalist.  It must be shown how the doctrine “salvation through grace alone by faith alone” is the core meaning of what Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:6-9.  At 1:45:48-1:46:01, James White interjects:

And wouldn’t you say that in light of Galatians chapter 1 that justification is one of those dividing lines? . . . . It’s right there: “Let him be anathema.”  False brethren.  You can actually make an argument. ??  There’s stronger evidence that that was an apostolic dividing line.

False Analogy – Apple vs. Orange

Protestants often fall into the false analogy fallacy when they assume that Paul’s argument with the Judaizers about the Jewish Torah in first century Asia Minor is the same as the Protestant-Catholic controversy over earning merits in sixteenth-century Europe.  While there are overlaps in terminology, the issues and contents of the two debates are significantly different.

Noted Anglican biblical scholar NT Wright has written and spoken about how the Protestant Reformers have misread or misunderstood Paul.  See R. Alan Strett’s interview with NT Wright in Criswell Theological Review.

See Seraphim Hamilton’s “Those Whom He Justified He Glorified: Paul’s Argument in Romans 1:17-3:31.” On Behalf of All.

These articles show how Mr. White’s false dilemma of Protestant versus Roman Catholic understanding of justification by faith oversimplifies the theological issues within Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians.  He compounds the confusion through the false equivalence fallacy: Orthodoxy = Roman Catholicism.

In closing, Orthodoxy must be treated by Protestants as a faith tradition distinct and separate from Roman Catholicism.  While they have much in common, they also diverge significantly. Furthermore, Protestants cannot take sola fide (justification by faith alone) for granted in Reformed-Orthodox dialogue. Does the phrase “faith alone” appear in the Bible?  Where?  Did the early Church Fathers universally teach justification by faith alone? One cannot cherry pick the Church Fathers. To persuade the Orthodox, Protestant apologists need to show that justification by faith alone was part of early Christianity, not a sixteenth century doctrinal innovation.  As they dialogue with the Orthodox, Reformed Christians and other Protestants need to be open to the historic Christian Faith as understood by the Orthodox.  Let’s have a frank and friendly dialogue!

Robert Arakaki

 

 

18 comments:

  1. We became Orthodox promoted by (among many other things) the discovery that in the book of James he says “not by faith alone”. (James 2:24)
    Thanks for taking on this dialogue.

  2. Thanks, Robert, for taking the time to delve into this issue at hand and explain a thing or two! It all seems to come down to the Protestants maintaining a faith tradition that is essentially extra-biblical; i.e., that the three hallmarks of mainstream Protestantism (Sola Scriptúra, Sol(a/o) Fide, and Sola Grátia) are actually man-made, pseudo-biblical traditions developed in response to the scholastic rationalizations and papal abuses of Roman Catholicism. One cannot properly understand Protestantism if one misunderstands Medieval Catholicism. As a convert from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy, I can vouch that Orthodoxy’s teaching concerning faith and works is indeed different from that of Roman Catholicism, which, ironically, also has its own pseudo-biblical traditions justifying the threefold papal claim to universal jurisdiction, supremacy, and infallibility.

    1. Are you claiming that Sola Gratia is a Protestant error? If so, does that mean Hank was wrong when he asserted that he has been saved “by grace alone through faith”

      1. Erik,

        I believe that sola gratia is a Protestant error. Just because Hank Hanegraaff used a Protestant phrase does not necessarily mean that he is espousing this Protestant belief. To determine that one would need to ask what Mr. Hanegraaff intended when he made that statement. I suggest you contact him directly rather than speculate here on this blog. The purpose of this article is to clear up Protestant misunderstandings about Orthodoxy, not to defend Hank Hanegraaff or speculate about his beliefs. Any concerns you may have about Mr. Hanegraaff are best directed towards Mr. Hanegraaff himself or his priest.

        Robert

    2. Have ever read Ephesians chapter 2? Or John? How can you sit and say that “saved by grace through faith” is a man-made pseudo-Biblical tradition. Read the text of what God has spoken and tell me it’s man-made, please. Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria are not man-made concepts. They are God spoken to us through scripture. It is His chosen way to express His method of salvation on His creation, His people. The fact you cannot understand that boggles the mind, actually.

      If you cannot understand Sola Scriptura, then please read Mark Chapter 7 about Christ Jesus’s teaching about tradition over what God has spoken to us. What Sola Scriptura does is prevent straying from God’s word and keeps His people on point. Please take these things, with love, from a believer in Christ Jesus and not just some Protestant.

      1. Eric,

        I suspect you wrote your opening sentence: “Have you read Ephesians chapter?” either tongue-in-cheek or as a rhetorical question, but it comes across as insulting the other person’s intelligence. But to answer your question: “Yes, I have read Ephesians 2. Many times. And, I’ve read it in the original Greek more than once.” Furthermore, as an Orthodox Christian I affirm what you just wrote: “saved by grace through faith.” As a matter of fact the Orthodox Church affirms that indeed we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Orthodoxy rejects the notion that one can earn one’s salvation through good works.

        I recently came across this short but helpful podcast “Saved by Faith Alone? (with Fr. Barnabas Powell)” that helps frame the issue. For many Protestants, especially born-again Evangelicals, faith is understood as “intellectual assent.” That is, if you share with someone the Four Spiritual Laws and that person intellectually assents to the propositions laid out in that tract then one is saved and has eternal life. For Orthodoxy, faith as intellectual assent is not enough, one must be united to Christ through the sacrament of baptism administered by the Church. Faith in Jesus Christ expressed through the sacrament of baptism has been the norm until Protestantism’s sola fide began to weaken this connection.

        It may come as a surprise to you but many Protestants — some long time Protestants, church elders, pastors, and seminarians steeped in Reformed theology — have laid aside sola fide for the historic Christian Faith in Orthodoxy. We rejected sola fide because it is not based on Scripture and because it is a recent doctrinal innovation.

        I can sense your sincerity in your exhortation. I can sense your sincerity even as you reiterated the Protestant party line. I exhort you to be open minded with respect to sola fide and not to be so defensive about it. Be open to reading Scripture in other ways and be open to the historic Christian Faith. Many of us have been where you are right now — aghast that there would be people who would discard sola fide, and scared at the prospect of another way of being Christian. It hasn’t been easy for us Protestant converts to Orthodoxy, but we are willing to dialogue with you about it.

        Robert

  3. “You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.”

    James 2:22

    AMen.

  4. Hi Robert,
    If we take James White’s logic then Paul is open to criticism. If James White ‘insists that the omission of that one word “alone” opens the door to the legalism and works righteousness of Roman Catholicism.’ then Paul is guilty as charged.

    Or is James White looking at Luther’s German Bible where he ‘fixed’ Romans and Galatians by adding the word ‘alone’ to prevent confusion.

    I think it is fairly universally recognised that no Father ever took ‘justification’ as a single one off event. It is very hard to reconcile this with the Reformation understanding.

  5. The beginning portion of the video he did the day before, the one entitled “Hank Hanegraaf and Eastern Orthodoxy, David Allen’s Refutation, and an Insightful FB,” demonstrates some even more fallacious thinking in his approach to Eastern Orthodoxy. I found it fascinating how someone who claims to be such an expert (count how many times, for example, in his videos he mentions “I teach church history) can be so demonstrably wrong in their understanding of the Orthodox Church, especially given its prevalence and consistency throughout history.

    Like many (all?) of his style of thought, they view everything through the lens of TULIP, and if it doesn’t line up with their categories, then it is automatically wrong. They never stop to consider the possibility that TULIP itself could be flawed or inadequate, so it becomes very difficult to get past that point. Instead of looking at history from the perspective of The Cross and moving forward from there, they begin with the 16th century and move forward and backward from that point, which confuses all sorts of issues.

  6. Just a note of correction: the article you linked to from the “On Behalf of All” blog is actually written by Seraphim Hamilton; not Gabriel Martini.

  7. I believe you are misrepresenting what the issue is here. And, that is quite disingenuous , honestly. Dr. White was not attacking the Eastern Orthodox Church. What he was doing, in context of recent events, was listening to what Hanegraaff was saying and comparing it to what we believe to be true, as Reformed Baptists. At this point in time, it appears that Hanegraaff is neither fully Orthodox or fully Reformed. He is now somewhere in the middle. The only reason this is so important is simply because of the amount of people he reaches daily. There is a reason Hank has lost so many radio stations support. A person must take the entire event into context. Hank Hanegraaff cannot sit there and say that his beliefs have been codified over 20 years of books, and nothing is different. Yet, his belief did change, and that’s why he is now worshipping at a Church that has tradition and Church authority instead of Sola Scriptura.

    1. Eric,

      I looked the meaning of “disingenuous” and the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “lacking in candor or giving a false appearance of simple frankness.” I disagree with your characterization of my article as “disingenuous.” I took great pains to give supporting evidence in the form of quotes and time markers. The focus of this article has been on what Mr. White has said about Orthodoxy which I find to be rife with logical fallacies. It is these fallacies that I wish to address.

      The focus of this article is not about Hanegraaff or his conversion to Orthodoxy, but what Mr. White said about Orthodoxy. The question Mr. White posed in the title of his podcast “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Christian Be the Bible Answer Man?” is a fair one and Mr. White’s assessment would be worth listening to if it weren’t for the numerous fallacies in his podcast.

      In closing, let us not impugn the motive of others, but treat one another with mutual respect and with charity.

      Robert

  8. It is worth pointing out that Orthodoxy affirms that faith saves, not works. Aren’t we supposed to pray the following every morning from the prayer book:

    “…if Thou shouldst save me for my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. … If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me.”

    Yet Orthodox are not antinomians. Neither are Calvinists. John Calvin wrote, “We are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone.” Faith will include works!

    So, being that Orthodox don’t believe they are justified by works, and Calvinists don;t believe that a faith without works saves, what’s the difference?

    Protestants reject the sacraments. This is unbiblical, and unheard of in Christianity for 1500 years. If we argued more about the sacraments instead of stupid latin slogans, we would get much further in conversation 🙂

    1. Craig,

      That line from the Orthodox prayer book about being saved by faith is beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

      Robert

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