Response to James White (2 of 4)

James White – Alpha and Omega Ministries  Source

 

This article is a continuation of “Response to James White – Part 1 of 4.”

Loaded Words

At the 2:55 mark, James White refers to sola fide and sola scriptura as “fundamental beliefs.”  Here he uses a phrase filled with good feeling words.  This can lead the listener to think that these are basic beliefs held by all Christians universally from Day One.  This claim needs to be substantiated by historical evidence.  Until then, it would be more accurate to refer to these two doctrines as “fundamental Protestant beliefs.”  Asserting that early Christians held to sola fide is arguing from silence (argumentum ex silentio) fallacy.  The fact is, imposing sola scriptura on the early Church Fathers IS a highly disputed matter, and does not hold up under scrutiny. Where is the supporting evidence?

Recommended resources

Michael Hyatt — Scripture and Tradition – “Part 1: Presuppositions,” “Part 2: Proof Texts,” and “Part 3: Tradition.”

Robert Arakaki – Contra Sola Scriptura – “Part 1: Book Review – The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison,” “Part 2: If Not Sola Scriptura, Then What? – The Biblical Basis for Holy Tradition,” “Part 3: Where Does Sola Scriptura Come From? – The Humanist Origins of the Protestant Reformation,” and “Part 4: Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw: Sola Scriptura and Protestantism’s Hermeneutical Chaos.”

Seventh Ecumenical Council

At the 23:00 mark, James White derides the Seventh Ecumenical Council for hermeneutics – interpreting the Bible — he described as “embarrassingly horrific at any exegetical level.”  Here Mr. White uses two words loaded with negative connotations. However, he gives zero supporting evidence. Nada.  This leaves one to assume that the Council’s exegesis (interpretation) of Scripture is “horrific” because Mr. White does not like the outcome.  The lack of clearly defined criterion for good hermeneutics and supporting evidence suggests unreasoning Protestant prejudice.  Here we see the poisoning of the well fallacy (casting aspersions on the Council’s biblical exegesis) combined with external expectations (the Council’s not endorsing Reformed iconoclasm).  Again, where is the supporting evidence?

When I was studying at a Reformed seminary I was curious about Orthodoxy’s acceptance of icons.  My thinking when I started my paper was: “Of course, there’s no biblical basis for icons, so why did the early Church come to accept icons?”  I shared in many of the Reformed tradition’s external expectations of Orthodoxy, but at least I was open to doing research on the matter.  What I found surprised me.  The research resulted in two papers published on this blog: “Is There a Biblical Basis for Icons?” and “Calvin Versus the Icon: Was John Calvin Wrong?

 

Historical Anachronism and “After This, Because of This” Fallacy

Really? Islam fossilized Orthodoxy?

At the 19:07 mark, James White discusses Orthodoxy’s claim to have the Faith of the primitive Church.  He then notes at 19:15 (cf. 21:50) that what Orthodoxy identifies as Tradition really dates back to the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries.  He asserts that Eastern Orthodoxy became frozen in time as a result of the rise of Islam (20:30).  As one who received his M.A. in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I found Mr. White’s claim novel, if not uninformed and simply wrong.  It is disappointing that he does not cite the scholarship that supports his argument.  What we see here is a “after this, therefore, because of this” (post hoc, ergo, propter hoc) fallacy.

 

At the 1:19:10 mark, James White states: “This is the problem with Orthodoxy.  It’s been fossilized.”  The word “fossil” is a loaded one that has the negative connotation of being dead, lifeless.  This assumes doctrinal development is good.  Here Mr. White imposes the Protestant expectation that Orthodoxy ought to have evolved like Western Christianity.  But is this desirable? Does divine Truth, the Gospel the Apostles once and for all delivered to the saints, change and evolve? Mr. White does seem to emphatically think: Yes, Divine Truth does evolve!   But isn’t the idea of evolving of theological Truth something that needs to be proven?  Until then, this is an external expectations fallacy, i.e., that Orthodoxy should conform to Protestant standards.

In any event, an Orthodox Christian could point to Gregory of Palamas’ defense of hesychasm in the 1300s against Scholastic rationalism and Orthodoxy’s decisive rejection of Reformed Protestantism at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672 as evidence that Orthodox theology has not remained static. In both instances, what we see is not a new teaching but rather the restatement of the Faith the Church Fathers had received from the Apostles. Orthodoxy to this day has remained zealously committed to preserving Gospel Truth as delivered to them by the Apostles.  We view the Faith as a body of teachings received from the Apostles and safeguarded for future generations, not as the result of creative theologizing that evolves over time.

Robert Arakaki

 

See also

Robert Arakaki. “How NOT to Do Anti-Orthodox Apologetics — Towards Better Protestant-Orthodox Dialogue.

 

22 comments:

  1. Mr. Arakaki, I’m wondering if you’ll be attempting to engage Mr. James White directly with your findings concerning his Protestant views on Orthodoxy as well as his response to the Bible Man’s recent conversion to Orthodoxy?

    The only foreseeable problem (that I’ve also personally encountered whenever dialoguing with [D]eformed Protestants) is how people, when they think they’re right “because the Bible says,” end up either citing more Scriptures as “proof” justifying their anti-Orthodoxy (which is itself yet another ostentatious exercise in Protestant Scholastic rationalizatoins), or they just ignore everything presented to them within the apologetic response for Orthodoxy’s beliefs and practices because “I’m right, and the Bible says so!” mentality.

    Such [a] response(s) make(s) me recall today’s Gospel where the Pharisees “…had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He [Jesus] was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22, Orthodox Study Bible). In other words, and by parallel comparison, even if given irrefutable evidence concerning Jesus and His words/works, (in this case Orthodoxy’s claim to be the unbroken, living continuum of the Ancient Apostolic Church we read about in the Book of Acts), it will be automatically disregarded along with punishing [ignoring] anyone [the unsaved, non-Christian Orthodox person] that dare contradict the predetermined notion/narrative maintained by them [Protestants]. Thoughts? Thanks!

    1. John,

      I think it would be better for an Orthodox priest like to engage Mr. White in a face-to-face dialogue.

      The purpose of this blog is to engage in dialogue Reformed Christians and Evangelicals open to learning more about Orthodoxy. With respect to those who are not willing to consider historical and other evidences, the best thing to do is to recognize that they are not ready for dialogue and not press the issue. It should be noted though that this exclusive focus on the Bible to the exclusion to all other evidence is alien to the original Protestant Reformation and is a very recent and quite American form of Protestantism.

      Robert

      1. From what I have seen and read of James White, I don’t think he would sit down and have a conversation with an Orthodox Priest. He seems to be of the mind that it must be either a very formal-style debate or nothing at all. There’s not much room for “conversation” in the way he approaches things (and, after issuing his numerous “challenges” to debate, he can appear to hold a high ground when people refuse; a clever tactic he has employed for years).

        The only exception I can find to that is when he was on an episode of “Unbelievable?” with N.T. Wright, and my guess is that he made the exception simply because of the popularity of the show and because, well, it was N.T. Wright; it would be silly of anyone to turn down a chance to sit and talk with him, regardless of your denominational leanings.

        1. Gregory,

          I appreciate your remarks. They are very much in line with my comment to Calen about the need for dialogue over debate.

          Robert

      2. “It should be noted though that this exclusive focus on the Bible to the exclusion to all other evidence is alien to the original Protestant Reformation and is a very recent and quite American form of Protestantism.”

        Robert, this is a truly great point! I’ve noted for quite some time that if Martin Luther could come back to visit us today, and you took him to any of today’s megas, he’d have no idea whatsoever that he was in a church. Furthermore, most Evangelicals today would be scandalized if they knew of the things Luther believed (The Real Presence, the Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos, Confession, etc, etc).

      3. Mr. Arakaki
        Respectfully, I don’t know if I agree with you on the sort of Orthodox opponent and the form of dialogue/debate White would have to face.
        James White is a hero to many Evangelicals, especially those involved in the “countercult” movement (“cult” being taken to mean everything which is not low-church, Evangelical Protestantism). And that’s because he’s a fierce and expert debater, and is informed enough to go toe to toe with renowned atheist Bible scholars like Bart Ehrman or John Dominic Crossan. Basically, many consider him to be the presuppositionalist version of William Lane Craig.
        But given his aggressive rhetoric and, forgive me, the fanaticism of so many of his followers, I don’t think it’s a good idea to call some Orthodox priest who is theologically sophisticated but inexpert in debating, whatever the format of their dialogue. That would most likely end up with White who tries to take down his opponent (that’s what he and his debating opponents do all the time) and the other who doesn’t call him out on that.
        That would get videotaped and someone would upload it on Youtube giving the video a title like “James White PWNS pagan cult leader”. Basically the same thing that the fans of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Carrier do all the time.
        I am perfectly aware that a debate is supposed to be much more than a rhetoric competition, but I don’t think you’ll disagree if I say that many, if not all of us, watch a debate with the primary intention to see our favorite speaker having the upper hand on his opponent.

        In any case, thanks for reading my rant 😉

        1. Ronald,

          Thank you for writing. I am very much in agreement with what you wrote. I don’t think debates are very useful, but I do encourage friendly conversation.

          Robert

  2. I am flummoxed as to the antipathy. Over the years I have had excellent conversations with Protestants, folks who are clearly lovers of Christ. We we’re able to share that with each other to our mutual benefit.

    While I do not agree with Protestant theology I try to look for the good if I attend a Protestant service of some kind-mostly funerals these days. Or if I am talking with them.

  3. Robert

    Re your statement “The fact is, imposing sola scriptura on the early Church Fathers IS a highly disputed matter, and does not hold up under scrutiny. Where is the supporting evidence?” I have a question or two.

    1. Absent a body of oral tradition and the corpus of the church Fathers, which both developed over centuries and which the Fathers themselves did not have (Irenaus was not reading the Cappadocian Fathers nor was he celebrating the liturgy of Chrysostom) what is the source of Christian knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? From whence did the later developed corpus of the Fathers and the oral tradition receive it’s knowledge of the Gospel?

    2. Irenaus writes: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” Adv. Her. 3.1.1

    Are you contradicting the above statement of Irenaus which says the Scriptures are “the ground and pillar of our faith” or do you equate the later corpus of the Fathers and the body of oral (and mostly liturgical) tradition with Scripture? Are the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy of the church “theopneustos?” How does the Confession of Dosiethus agree with Irenaus when said confession is adamant that Christians should not read the Scriptures because they are obscure and require initiation into the secrets of theology?

    3. Do you affirm or deny that the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man? If you affirm then what exactly is it you are rejecting when you reject and claim the Fathers rejected the principle of Sola Scriptura as being the source of our knowledge of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did the Fathers derive their knowledge of God and Christ from some other source than scripture and if so what was it?

    1. David,

      Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. I thought the issues you raised merited a response in the form of a blog article — a series of blog articles, than a brief comment in reply. Thank you for stimulating thoughtful dialogue with Orthodoxy. Please see my just published article: “Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems.”

      Robert

  4. Isn’t it the case that Protestants are now more than ever having the “orthodoxy” debate between themselves? Isn’t this a good thing? On one side of this divide you have the theonomic reformed protestants, who insist that pre-mill dispensationalism, is a static system that freezes time in place, ignores orthodoxy etc. American Protestants are largely pre-mill in their eschatology, unified in their rejection of the cultural mandate as a false hope. The modern church should not expect a better predicament than the first Church encountered with Rome, doing so implies the Church can change its disposition to Rome, and that by human agency alone Christians are expected to create Christian societies, Christian Courts, Christian colleges etc. Such protestants insist that America is a multi-national country that can never be Christian or consider itself part of a original ethnic stock. It is evil to impose our culture or ethnicity on others etc.

  5. James is a ferocious debater, especially in the Q&A format. James has over 200 debates under his belt. I would love to see James give an Orthodox Priest a thrashing in a live setting. Let’s get the ball rolling.

    1. Calen,

      I’m sure an Orthodox Christian debating James White would be quite exciting and would sell a lot popcorn, but will it generate better understanding between Protestants and Orthodox? Also, the misconceptions that Protestants hold about Orthodoxy need to be cleared up before a genuine, edifying debate can be held. Right now, I’m thinking that what is very much needed is for a Protestant to interview an Orthodox priest asking questions like: ‘Do you really believe this?’ or ‘Why do Orthodox Christians do this?’ We need dialogue more than debate.

      Robert

      1. I concur. I just watched Steve Turley responding to The Bible Answer Man becoming Orthodox. The Turley youtube video that you posted spoke to me. I have purchased Tim Ware The Orthodox Church as well as a book by Frederica Mathews -Green. I have been listening to Hank every day, just watching how peaceful and joyous he is during this whole cancer ordeal is speaking to me. I spent allot of years in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, however, something in my spirit has been severely lacking. I will be going to an Eastern Orthodox Church in the next few weeks with an open mind. Please pray that I will find my way home.

        1. Calen,
          You are most welcome…very happy you liked & profited from the
          Dr. Steve Truley’s video. There are many others to watch so I en-
          you to do so as you have opportunity.
          Also, you will likely find your first few Divine Liturgies a challenge. It
          usually (not always) takes awhile to catch on to what’s happening.
          Let me encourage you to attend a good dozen or so to get a good
          feel of Orthodoxy worship. Or course, The Holy Spirit often uses the setting, beauty, music, incense and Icons to capture the heart
          long before the mind catches up! 😉 Enjoy brother…& do pray you
          quickly find your way home.
          in His tender mercies,
          david

  6. Dear Mr. Arakaki.
    Can you, if you wish to, do book reviews of some of these books.
    1. James White’s “The Potter’s Freedom”, and Norman L. Geisler’s “Chosen But Free”.
    Reviews and comments on
    1. N.T. Wright. His works, and the New Perspectives on Paul, and the Federal Vision, and the Auburn Avenue Church theology.
    Reviews of these work.
    1. Orthodox New Testament, 2 volumes, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, CO, 2000. 2. Laurent A. Cleenewerck. EOB: Eastern Orthodox Greek New Testament. 3. N.T. Wright’s Kingdom translation of the New Testament 4. The upcoming version of the New Testament translated by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. Thank you. In Pennsylvania, Scott Harrington

    1. Scott,

      Thank you for your suggestions. I wish I could review these books but as it is I have a lot on my plate right now. Maybe someone else might want to do the reviews?

      Robert

  7. Really enjoying this series of articles, unfortunately, I do not seem them changing Mr. Whites minds, he has shown an unwillingness to engage with Orthodox Christians. One person attempting to response to Mr. Whites arguments against Rome’s Eucharist apply also to ours and was promptly blockeTwitter and banned from the Alpha Omega phone line. However, that does not mean that people will not read responses to him and get something from.

    1. Raphael,

      Thank you for your comment. We should hope for the best, in this case James White being open to learning about Orthodoxy. If he is not receptive, there may be listeners/readers out there who want to learn more about Orthodoxy. I know that there are many Protestants and Evangelicals who have just become aware of Orthodoxy and are curious to learn more. This is the purpose of the OrthodoxBridge blog. We want to help them learn more about Orthodoxy and to enter into dialogue with Orthodoxy.

      Robert

  8. Scott,
    If you take some time reading at Robert’s Blog…you will find many article that deal with
    both NT Wright and especially Federal Vision & Aub Ave — some pointedly so. It is the
    flavor of Ref. Theology I left after 34+ yrs & twice PCA Elder, once in S Wilkins Church
    in Forest, MS. Raised my kids at Aub. and 4 of the eight still there with grands. Many
    article here replying to both Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart and Brad Littlejohn. Did you
    realize there is a continuous steady flow of Orthodox convert families in Moscow, ID
    leaving both Wilson and Leithart’s former Church (he’s moved to Birmingham).
    In His tender Mercies,
    david

    1. Wow, this is Amazing if what you write is accurate. I think the whole Mark Driscoll thing was a big turn off for allot of people. Also, Cultural Marxism, Women Ordination, and Syrian Refugee advocates have invaded the PCA and Westminster Seminary with a vengeance.

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