UPDATE: As expected, James White responded to this piece on his follow-up "Radio Free Geneva" podcast. Well, let me be clear: it really wasn't a response to this piece so much as an acknowledgment of it. During the first few minutes, he talks about "almost forgetting" about old "Petey" (And, we want to assure James White we've not forgotten about him, either!) Then, he and Rich Pierce ridiculed the video I put up because of the number of views, etc. comparing my traffic to his. What a hoot! Like giddy, junior high boys giggling, poking fun, and wrestling around over the floor, White & Pierce give us a little show as if the video itself did not bother them. However, what they fail to note is, within minutes of my video being posted on youtube, Rich Pierce, Vice President of Alpha & Omega Ministries, logged on and demanded (or shall we say, "politely asked") I take the video down since it breached copyright law!9 Well, views or not, James White appears really sensitive when his views are openly criticized.
In addition, White states the collection I put together was ripped from each snippet's respective context suggesting the words on my video skewed his meaning. As I said in the post below, I gave the link to the entire podcast so anyone may check to see if I did skew the context. One tires of this cheap response (which is really no response unless one can show how the context is skewed).
Consider one change when listening to White's second mention of Rogers' "anti-Calvinism book" on his "Radio Free Geneva": White's tone, attitude, and commentary on the second podcast reveal an undeniably marked difference compared to his first one. Observe his unemotional, straight-forward presentation when he mentions Rogers' book. He neither ridicules nor scorns as he did in the first podcast. And, yes, I do believe he changed his approach due, at least in part, to the criticism below contra persistent claims otherwise.
Below is my response to James White's hour-long "Radio Free Geneva" review of Ronnie Rogers' newest book, Reflections Of A Disenchanted Calvinist: The Disquieting Realities of Calvinism. It's long. It's necessarily long. For that, I apologize in advance. By the way, note also SBC Today is presently running a series of posts on Rogers' book beginning with an author interview. In addition, the current post is the second of four installemnts which will eventually constitute the entire 16th chapter (part I).
Now, on to James White's book "review" >>>
We are no stranger to James White—at least so far as internet exchanges are concerned. White is a well-known Reformed apologist known for his numerous formal debates with Mormons, Muslims, and miscellaneous combatants sporting a worldview inconsistent with White's brand of Reformed theology. White has taken some personal swipes at me, in fact, pronouncing me a "radical synergistic bigot" among other personal not-so-niceties (I mean, who could forget his creative analogy between me and Alexander the Coppersmith?).
Admittedly, I've ruffled his feathers a time or two parodying his extreme Calvinism not to mention his apparent misogynistic views and less than fuzzy information surrounding his educational credentials and questionable adjunct professorship at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (see also here and here)1. Granted. Granted one and all.
But I've hardly gone personally "below the belt" so to speak by making him out to be the psychological-immoral basket case of the evangelical world like White so often does others. In fact, I've gone the second mile even during rigorous discussion to commend James White when I could. The fact is, White even challenged me to "debate" him. My response then was (and would be now), "And about what should we debate? Whether or not I am a deceitful liar as you continually suppose?"
Unfortunately, White becomes so emotionally unraveled with critics like myself whom he cannot control by his bullying tactics (I have a keyboard just like he does and require little, if any, ata boys from the internet community to live a full and meaningful life), he appears to lose all semblance of fair play in exchange. Truth be told, one debating professional appeared confused over White's unprofessional interaction with me but nonetheless confident that given White's intellectual depth, he'd finally come around and see the unreasonableness of his flaming, emotionally-driven caricatures and make it right (for the record, he did not).
Even so, responding to James White remains a mammoth task.
Yet, we proceed and happily do our duty...
In his recent "Radio Free Geneva" podcast, White starts off with "Pastor Rogers' new book, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist as [his] subject in an hour long edition" (//link, hereafter, Reflections). One would think an hour would be sufficient to discuss some of the strengths of a book the size of Rogers' as well as point out as rigorously as necessary the inherent weaknesses including whether or not it would be a good purchase. Instead what one finds on the broadcast is an hour long harangue jaded throughout with unnecessary insults toward Rogers and perhaps anyone for that matter who dares breach Dort's pronouncements on orthodox Calvinism, the only expression of authentic biblical Christianity available (at least that seems to be the case given White's understanding as you will soon note).
Below is a collection of critical snippets taken from the entire hour-long podcast.2 While White's books generally come across, to me at least, as fairly sober and substantive, his "radio" presence remains severely lacking. He rarely finishes a thought before riding off into the sunset chasing one thought after another "philosophizing" and "theologizing" in what appears to be an endless string of propositions (sometimes related and sometimes not). Indeed it took White the whole hour to comment on pages 1-2 in Rogers' book.3 In addition, White possesses the annoying habit of mumbling whole sentences under his breath before gradually fading out into silence. This leaves the impression that he's not focused but wondering what he will next have to say. It also gives the impression that he was totally unprepared to speak confidently about his subject, zigzagging here and there with what appeared to be spontaneous chatter.
Listen to the collection below (about 7 minutes long). Then, I'll offer a several closing remarks.
First, to suggest as White does that Rogers' book is nothing more than "sermon notes" which are "completely unedited" remains absurd on its face. I've preached for the last 30 years, and I know what sermon notes look like. In addition, I've edited sermon notes for several years now and consequently have an inside scoop on what other preachers' sermon notes look like—very similar to my own. But unedited sermon notes Reflections is not.
Hence, for White to twice reduce Rogers' book to untouched sermons notes cannot be taken as anything less than literarily ridiculous. If White was trying to be funny or "cute" it didn't come across that way. It came across as ridicule and scorn rather than an honest literary criticism about which we are sure James White is fully capable. Admittedly, there are numerous curious redundancies which White rightly questions.4 However, Rogers' explicit explanation of those redundancies (xiv)—however sufficient or insufficient his explanation may be for critics—easily accounts for the repetitiveness per se.
Let's compare White's ridicule toward Rogers' book above with Rogers' own attitude toward those with whom he contends in Reflections:
I have absolutely no desire to play with straw men or misrepresent my godly mentors and comrades. If in fact I have failed in my attempt to be accurate at some point, understanding my audience, I ask forgiveness, and I am more than happy to correct my unintentional error.
Therefore, [as disenchanted Calvinists] I refer to those who are thankful for the influence of all who seek to be Biblicists, be they Calvinist, Arminian, Molinist, or other non-Calvinists...
I do not pretend to even entertain the thought that the following comments will solve the age-old debate...but rather I only intend to clarify succinctly what I believe concerning areas where I disagree with Calvinism's interpretations... Hence, I love and respect my Calvinist friends...
For me personally, let me say that it may well be true that I lack the "theological acumen or the necessary acuminous intellect" to rise to the level of my Calvinist brothers and sisters. Moreover, it seems to me that this reality unfortunately is born out to me repeatedly in the daily intercourse of life by such things as not being able to find my own food dish at times; also, those who walk with me along the corridors of Trinity Baptist Church know that I still have difficulty knowing which is the south and which is the north end of the building... However, I would strongly demur to the same characterization of others who agree with me, for that same deficiency cannot be demonstrated to be true about countless others who do not accept Calvinism's answers to the puzzles of Scripture.
Further, none of my statements concerning my soteriological position, or problems with the TULIP, are to be understood or characterized as against Calvinists, but rather against the system of Calvinism. I have great regard, appreciation, and esteem for most Calvinists' love for God and His Word. Further, I owe no small measure of my spiritual growth and knowledge of Scripture to Calvinists.5
Contrary to the theological know-it-alls so ubiquitous among us today, Rogers displays the kind of spirit which can take us far down the road to success in our own dialog concerning Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. The truth is, Rogers is a humble breath of fresh air and precisely the direct opposite of James White's theological narcissism visibly displayed in reviewing Rogers' book. And, for the record, if the words quoted above constitute Rogers' unedited sermon notes, then pray to God we have more preachers like Ronnie Rogers!
Second, twice James White categorically asserted that Ronnie Rogers not only was not a disenchanted Calvinist, but has never been a Calvinist. Even though Rogers flatly states "I was categorically classified as a four-point Calvinist without clarifications for twenty years" (xvii, italics added), White nonetheless denies Rogers' testimony and asserts the contrary, and, by doing so, calls into question not only Rogers' integrity, but also the underlying thesis of Rogers' book. White's reasoning? Because Rogers was not the kind of Calvinist White is—the only kind of Calvinist is a White-kind-of-Calvinist. No matter that church history is on Rogers' side. No. Apparently only White possesses the official definition of Calvinism. Therefore, if others do not meet the standard he proposes, they can call themselves anything they desire, but they are not Calvinists. And that's that!
Even so, for White to beg the question by presuming his exclusive definition of Calvinism in order to drain the pond all around Rogers only reveals how Calvinists like White "win" many of the debates. They insist on defining all the terms! Well, the biggest dupe in town can win any debate with anybody if others are naïve enough to concede all definitions to the dupe.
What is more, not only did White prohibit Rogers from self-identifying as a former Calvinist, he insisted on labeling Rogers a Molinist! Maybe I missed it in Rogers' book, but I don't think he ever got around to saying he converted to Molinism. If I recall correctly, he quoted but a single Molinst a single time, yet White droned on and on about Rogers' alleged "molinism" in the review.6 The irony is stark. On the one hand, White refuses the theological moniker Rogers chooses (i.e. Calvinism) but on the other, chooses a theological moniker Rogers apparently refuses (i.e. Molinist).
Consider, however: since James White apparently thinks it's acceptable to critically label his theological opponents according to his exclusive definitions, we wonder if White will whine the next time someone concludes that his extreme views constitute Hyper-Calvinism? After all, the ones about whom I am aware have deeply thought-out, theologically-nuanced definitions for Hyper-Calvinism, and, given their sophisticated criteria in formulating their definition, they definitively identify James White's theological position as Hyper-Calvinism. Hence, if White wants to be so belligerent in theologically labeling others contra their wishes, he possesses little moral ground to complain when others observe the same principle in classifying his theology and dub it accordingly--Hyper-Calvinism.
Third, White asserts that not only is Reflections "two-thirds" philosophy, but also complains Rogers neither focuses on biblical-exegetical issues—a promise he allegedly made early in the book—nor offers a positive message about what he actually believed. White goes on at length to suggest not just Rogers, but all non-Calvinists ("Arminians") he reads focuses on tearing down Calvinism rather than stating positively what they actually believe.
In response, to assert that the first "two-thirds" of Reflections is basically philosophy constitutes another caricatured description White employed. No, it is not philosophy per se, for crying out loud, and White knows this. While Rogers admittedly asks philosophically- oriented questions within the context of the biblical doctrines in chapters 1-16 (e.g. How can free human agency co-exist with divine sovereignty?), Rogers is no more philosophical than White as White either repeated questions about "middle knowledge" or suggested when "my free will comes in contact with God's free will, I lose" or White's absolutist definition of what necessarily constitutes "complete, total, REAL, active sovereignty," a definition of which is not easily located in Scripture by pointing to a specific verse. Even so, White rails on about Rogers being "philosophical" while White himself is apparently just being "biblical".
Nor did Rogers early on point to his work as being exegetically focused—at least he did not in any place I can find. Instead Rogers informs his readers he would write at times from a "technical theological perspective" in order to show, if possible the "serious consequences" as he sees them, "of Calvinism" (xiii). Hence, Rogers found it necessary to define the way he used terms like "major Calvinist," "moderate Calvinist," and "minor Calvinist" (xiv) not to mention "disenchanted Calvinist" (xv). Indeed one may easily gather from Rogers' Introduction that, unlike C. Gordon Olson's helpful volume, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive, Mediate Theology of Salvation, a dig rich in golden exegetical nuggets of soteriological significance, Reflections would focus on what constituted the disquieting realities of Calvinism which forced Rogers to abandon Calvinism's rigid theological grid for a more thorough-going simple Biblicism..7
Nor did Rogers fail to offer extensive positive affirmation concerning what he actually believes contrary to White's extended complaint. From chapter one through chapter 16, Rogers begins each chapter with a thorough detailed affirmation concerning what he believed the Bible teaches on certain soteriological doctrines--doctrines including God's sovereignty (p.1), predestination and foreknowledge (p.7), double predestination (p.12), origin of sin (p.16), total depravity (p.21), and atonement (p.25) among many other biblical doctrines and/or key salvific concepts—and continues in this pattern for 16 of the 20 total chapters in Reflections. In addition, not only does Rogers state clearly what he affirms about the biblical doctrines he examines, he follows the "I affirm" sections with a correlating "I disaffirm" section for all 16 chapters.
Hence, for White to imply Rogers does not clearly and positively state what he believes the Bible to teach on redemptive truth but rather just runs Calvinism down is so fundamentally skewed, one knows not how to receive White's criticism. Did White not take the time to actually read any passages in the book or did he just rely on his memory as he peddled along on his bicycle while perspiring into his headphones? Is severely--not to mention frivolously--botching a book review8 like White does with Reflections supposed to represent, in comparison to the supposed low-level "Arminian" publications, the high "level" and exceptional "quality" of the "Reformed" literary arsenal about which White so narcissistically boasts?
While White may think he can ride bikes and comprehensively digest the literary accomplishments others make without ever cracking a book or even fact-checking to make sure he understood correctly, we nonetheless are convinced his "review" of Rogers' book may remain the quintessential model of sloppiness, inaccuracy, misunderstanding, and unreasonable judgmentalism many already view as the norm for conservative Christian scholarship. In short, White did the Reformed community no favors with this bottom-rung review.
Finally, James White categorically states that Calvinists who reject Limited Atonement—that is, Calvinists who are 4 Point Calvinists—are nothing more or less than 1 Point Calvinists. He insists every Calvinist he's talked to, when pressed, will end up affirming only the P on the classic TULIP. If I hadn't heard it myself, it would be hard to imagine someone with White's credentials could affirm such utter theological absurdity. Indeed White's view of Calvinism is precisely the view of Calvinism against which I've been arguing in the Southern Baptist Convention for six long years.
Given White's view, the sole reason to hold to eternal security is found not in Scripture but in the other 4 points of Calvinism. For him, it's apparently the first 4 points which gives eternal security--the 5th point--validity, power, and truthfulness. Not the words of Jesus (John 5:24); nor the words of Paul (2 Tim 1:12); nor the words of Peter (1 Pet 1:3-5, 9); nor John (Rev 21:3-8). Instead, it's Calvinism supporting Calvinism, the system mechanistically supporting the system.
For James White, couched in words from a bygone political era, it's the system, stupid.
And, from disenchanted Calvinists like Ronnie Rogers, we hear—precisely!
1nor, so far as we can tell, is White serving as Adjunct Professor at Golden Gate seminary to this day (//link). UPDATE TO FOOTNOTE: White also mentioned in the second podcast linked in the "UPDATE" above that he taught a course for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary just this last January (2012) making it appear I "still" have my info wrong. Consider, however: a) White is still not listed as an officially contracted adjunct professor at GGBTS; b) White does not have the last teaching engagement (i.e. 01/2012) he mentions in his second podcast on his website profile (//link); c) there are sober reasons to explain why his name is absent on both accounts. While White apparently did, in fact, teach a week-long class in January, and those who attended it apparently got some type of credit for attending, James White taught the class "volunatrily" (i.e. he was not contracted as an adjunct professor by GGBTS to do so) in his own church. I taught a few seminary extension classes in my church several years ago, the attendees of whom were given some type of credit for the class at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. And, I did it "voluntarily" but was in no moral position to justifiably publicize I was an adjunct professor for Southern seminary. It would have been absurd for me to have claimed such a status in the same sense it is absurd for White to claim the"class" he voluntarily taught at his church in January, 2012--and taught without a contract as an official adjunct professor at GGBTS--constitutes his rightly being classified as an adjunct professor. The more dealings I have with some of these internet apologists, the more I am convinced that, in the long run, they may be harming the cause of Christ more than helping it. The sneaky methods and partial information cited as "proof" for their claims appear more and more fantastic.
2While the entire podcast is two hours long, only the first half is relevant to Rogers' book. The link to the entire podcast is provided courtesy of A&Oministries and is offered as a convenient tool for the reader/listener to judge for him/herself as to whether I "fudged" on the context of White's statements. In addition, the collection is not chronological. By that I mean I pasted excerpts together which I thought could keep the flow going. I did not try to be exhaustive in the selections I chose which mentioned Rogers specifically. However, I'm confident I got most of the main selections. Most of White's "review" had nothing specifically to do with Rogers' book. In fact, White could just as well have used any non-Reformed book and his "review" would remain substantially unchanged.
3no, I am not making this up
4I gather at least part of the reasoning White suggests Reflections is untouched sermon notes is the stated redundancies he cites. And, while the redundancies do not account in the least as pointing to sermons notes, it remains curious why Rogers used the exact phraseology so many times. In other words, one may be repetitive without using the identical sentences. Or, said another way, one may state over and over the same proposition without ever using the same sentence twice. For my part, White offers a constructive literary criticism toward Rogers' work at this juncture while remaining just as corny in literarily concluding Reflections is nothing more than unedited sermon notes.
5from the Introduction, pp. xxiii-xvi
6on page 32, Rogers alludes approvingly concerning "counterfactual knowledge" as stated by molinist theologian-philosopher William Lane Craig in his book, The Only Wise God: the Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. However, it is not clear it follows that if one approves part of Molinism, then one embraces the whole of Molinism. Perhaps Rogers does favor Molinism. However, there seems to be entirely too little evidence to categorically assert Rogers is a Molinist. Also, Rogers does recommend Southern Baptist theologian, Dr. Ken Keathley, and his book, Salvation and Sovereignty: a Molinist Approach (p.159). Once again, however, appreciating a book as helpful and even agreeable to one's own understanding at certain junctures remains a far cry from embracing the entire system. I reviewed Dr. Keathley's book and found it profoundly helpful in a number of ways. But, I am definitively not a Molinist.
7note carefully: a thorough-going simple Biblicism—simple is not to be confused with simplistic
8albeit a verbal review not a written review but a purported review nonetheless...
9White did mention something for which I needed to apologize (and did on the comment stream at youtube). He cirticized my "doctoring" a pic I used in the video. It's true I apparently used a "doctored" pic but I didn't doctor it nor did I know it was doctored (his face is fairly small on the pic I used and so didn't know it wasn't him). The collage of pics was assembled from the internet. Again, my deepest apologies to James White for using a pic which apparently was not him...
10I responded to Pierce but he took down his original request