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Malcolm Yarnell

Please help me, Brother Lumpkins, with these two haunting questions that come to mind.

(1) When did the Lord command His followers to engage in formal debates as opposed to making disciples? My memory of any such scriptural command is failing here.

And, (2) When did the Lord model such a worldly tactic for His people to emulate? Of course, he engaged in healing, teaching, even declamation, but His encounters with His religious and intellectual opponents always seemed to be in the context of other aspects of His ministry and initiated by the opponents of the gospel.

Formally or informally, but undebatedly, yours,


again....you show the world what a fruit loop James White is....and quite articulately done, I might add!

Always a joy to read your blog.

Do continue to pray for Dr. and Mrs. Caner, and their sons. It's really a shame that James White has perpetuated his sickness onto innocent women & children. He should be ashamed of himself.

'nuf said. Thankful for our blog.

A.M. Mallett

My first exposure to James White was with his "Dr. Oakley" persona on Paltalk chatrooms some years ago. He had a bad habit of insisting that his opponent in these chat rooms, if he was to take them seriously, have the credentials worth taking up his time. He would then dismiss the opponent and begin the denigration process on open mic. When I pointed out that his "doctorate" credentials were attained through a storefront diploma mill operation, I was thrown out of the chat room by his hosts. I have always considered that an accomplishment of sorts

Scott Barber

White's criticism of Caner's resume is not that he fails to follow an arbitrary debate structure, but that he misuses the word, implying that he is participates in formal debates. When Caner claims to "debate" Shabir Ally, the audience is left to simply assume that he is referring to a scholarly, formalized engagement. I am in grad school, and if I were to show up to attend a debate, simply to find two guys sitting on couches discussing their respective positions, with no formal interaction, no cross examination, etc. I would of course complain. That is a conversation, and at my university, and every university I have attended they are advertised as such. Anyone in academics is familiar with this phenomena. Caner is claiming to have gone for a 15 mile run, when instead he went for a stroll around he block. And on several occasions he never even left the house, much less a 15 mile run.

And Peter, are you honestly implying that White does not debate legitimate participants? I certainly hope not because that would discredit you.

David B. Hewitt

Dr. Yarnell,

It's been many years; haven't seen you since you left Midwestern a while back. I hope you are well!

I didn't want to take up your time long, nor to take up much space on Dr. Lumpkins' comments section, but I wanted to comment briefly in hopes of clarifying something.

You said:
"(1) When did the Lord command His followers to engage in formal debates as opposed to making disciples? My memory of any such scriptural command is failing here."

The answer of course is that He did not. However, the reason for that is because of the false dichotomy you created. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, but James White (and other Christians who engage in such debates) are not doing so in opposition to making disciples, or even instead of doing so. Rather, their desire is to help make disciples by means of their debates by demonstrating the errors in the arguments and worldviews of their opponents, holding up the shining truth of the Gospel in the process. In that way, Christian debaters such as Dr. White encourage the brethren as well as evangelize the lost in the audiences where they speak.

I hope such an explanation is helpful. With regard to your second point, I'd have to do more research into the claims before I could respond to or agree with your assertion. :)

May God bless you as you serve Him and His churches.



Dr. Yarnell,

Interesting questions. I wonder though, when did the Lord command Christians to create universities accredited by secular authorities? And when did he command those universities to have Debate Institutes?

It would seem these are worldly tactics that His people are emulating.

Maybe, James White just went to the wrong school and if he had taken advantage of the Liberty Debate Institute he could have:

Learn in one of the finest debate facilities in the country!
Come experience instruction from one of the best institute staffs in America in our new, state-of-the-art, 3500 square foot facility. Students at the Liberty Debate Institute have access to a private computer lab (no fighting the rest of the student body for time on a computer), an on-site copier, a workroom for cutting evidence, and a high-tech classroom for topic lectures.
Andrew Disque

Is there something newsworthy in this post? Did Dr. White claim that all of his debate opponents are scholars?

I am confused. Anyone who has listened to the Dividing Line or read the AOMin blog much already knows very well that Dr. White has regrets about various aspects of his debates (e.g. the opponent was not prepared, the opponent WAS prepared but strayed onto different topics, the opponent took an unexpected approach.... on and on and on). This man has done so many formal debates that he seemingly always has constructive criticism for how they "could have gone better". You have not revealed anything new here, Peter.

When looking at the field of Muslims who are willing to engage in formal debate, there are few. Dr. White has sought the best of the lot, and has landed many, but not all of them. When you cannot get the best opponents, you settle for whoever will make for good interaction so that the gospel will be brought to bear upon Muslims. That is what took place in this debate.

I submit to you that this debate with Sami Zaatari was helpful to some (it was to me). DID YOU WATCH ALL OF IT? Or did you merely stop upon learning the man's credentials? If there was false advertising on Dr. White's part then you, Peter, should contact him first before going to the reading public. I assume you did that. What did Dr. White say to you?

Besides all this, I find it curious that you would consider Sami Zaatari to be "not up to the task" while at the same time maintaining that Dr. White did not earn a legit doctorate. Which is it then -is Dr. White an accomplished scholar or is he not?

Ron Phillips, Sr.


I was one of those nerdy geeks in high school that was a formal debater. I was President of Debate and the Forensics (speech) club in high school. I spent two weeks at Baylor's Debate Camp when in high school. I too hated when people would use the word debate for anything but a formal, moderated, timed debate that was not one of the "four types" of debate: Parliamentary, Lincoln-Douglas, Cross Examination (team), or Academic. When Reagan and Carter "debated" I would complain because they were not "really" debating. They were just answering questions. How ignorant of the press to call it a "debate". What about the very common phrase of someone "debating themselves?" Ridiculous! But I grew up. I put away childish things. I learned that there are more than four types of debate. I also learned that it was and is a common term to use for putting forth any type of argument, formal or not. We did it in college at lunch and breaks when "debating" theology, Calvinism, eschatology and a host of other topics. This is one of the most absurd charges that White and followers are making. Debates can and are formal argumentation (my favorite). But colloquially it is used for much more than formal argumentation.

Dr. Yarnell brings up a valid point. Let's take it further: Where is there any NT example of Christ's followers engaging in "formal" debate? Peter didn't debate at Pentecost - he preached. Paul didn't debate before Festus - he proclaimed Christ. Paul didn't debate at Mars Hill - he declared the One True God.

If only White et al would do the same: declare the One True God to this Muslim with whom they have collaborated.


Ron P.


Dr. Yarnell,

Well said. Imagine our Lord's command being, "go into all the world and debate the gospel with every creature..."

With that, I am...



Some comments are logged to Dr. Yarnell by James White supporters which I am simply not going to post in the form they are in. If you want to question what he has written, excellent. But I will *not* post a comment on this public log which denigrates his person or, frankly, his position as an accomplished theologian.

Hence, if you'd like to address him, you will do so with at least the appearance of humility.

With that, I am...



I'm not Dr. Yarnell but one thing I note is your clarifying desire for debaters like White: "Rather, their desire is to help make disciples by means of their debates by demonstrating the errors in the arguments and worldviews of their opponents...

As Francis Schaeffer noted, apologetics is, at best, pre-evangelism. Indeed if apologetics is not even evangelism, how may it be so closely related to discipleship?

Anyways, if Shaeeffer is correct, making debate--and in the case of James White, exclusively formal debate--the warp & woof method of "making disciples"may very well capture the idea about which Dr. Yarnell disputes.

With that, I am...



Last shall be first--No: I am not claiming White only debates the non-scholarly. I gave a link to White's vitae which obviously includes known experts.

You write, "When Caner claims to "debate" Shabir Ally, the audience is left to simply assume that he is referring to a scholarly, formalized engagement."

But Scott, I could write the very same thing about White:

When White claims to "debate" Sani Zaatari, the audience is left to simply assume that he is referring to a scholarly, formalized engagement.

Zaatari was a college student majoring in English when White "debated" him. I'm not seeing how I'm supposed to take such an encounter seriously given the participants.

Last, during the same "debate" week with Zaatari, White "formally" debated yet another student! My question is, since White lists dozens of debates with opponents about whom I have no familiarity, how many of them were worthy opponents? Must I check them all? Why include "debates" like the one with Zaatari, a "debate" virtually impossible to take seriously--at least for me.

With that, I am...



No headlines were intended on this piece. I made no claims in discovering new info. What I was doing was offering perspective on the subject of "formal" debate, White's insistence upon it, and the insufficiency of insisting on "formality" while at the same time ignoring whether another element may be even more significant--namely, the participants.

Is "debating" college juniors who don't even major in theology and/or religious studies but English a worthy pursuit? Evidently it is for James White. He makes no distinction whatsoever in his catalog of "formal" debates.

If White is a professional debater and he thinks college juniors are worthy opponents, perhaps it could follow that we who are not professional debaters may find college freshmen to be suitable opponents. Or, for someone like me, maybe even a sharp high schooler.

Hence, Andrew, I see glaring irony in James White's listing of college students as "formal" debates, especially when he insists others only do "interviews." Better an "interview" in my own perspective than arguing with kids.

With that, I am...

Stephen Bean

It looks to me like you’re really stretching things in your attempt to make White look bad. I don’t know anything about Sani Zaatari but I think I have a fine explanation for why he is counted among those whom White has debated. Remember your first sentence? “James White is a vocational Christian debater.” It’s not like all of these “blockbuster debates” are lined up all year for the guy to go from one to the other. For a person who does this for a living to have one very small debate where he is able to speak the truth to a few people and have the recording for even more people doesn’t seem like a problem to me.

Is it your contention that White only debates these types? That Shabir Ally, Robert Price, Bart Erhmen, Dan Barker, and the forthcoming debate with Christopher Hitchens are in the same category as Sani Zaatari? Perhaps if they were all like Zaatari you would have a case for saying his debates don’t count for anything (like Caner’s interviews) but the majority of his debates are with the best other faiths have to offer.

I’ve read a lot of your recent stuff and most of it makes you sound pretty unhelpful to the Christian community but this is probably the worst. What exactly are you trying to accomplish here? I hope the SBC isn’t really like this “tomorrow” or I’ll have to jump ship. I would encourage your to reevaluate your standard for writing and try to do something for the body. Say what you want about White, he’s done a lot to encourage people in their faith and continues to preach the gospel to those of many different faiths.

Grace and Peace,



A) I'm hardly stretching anything, so far as I know--unless you can be more specific. On the other hand, counting as a "real" debate a public exchange with an undergraduate student with no expertise in Islam constitutes a bonafide stretch were one to ask me

B) Yes. I do recall my first sentence. Could you please offer me a parallel in other disciplines where a trained professional competes with a green novice? Do pro-golfers challenge college students to dance? Do pro-boxers climb in the ring with non-contenders? Perhaps in Rocky movies.

C) I won't answer the question about whether my contention is whether White only debates "these types." No use exchanging with one who does not read the OP. But I'll give you a shiny new nickel for every time you finding me implying it in the OP

D) Oh my: "Perhaps if they were all like Zaatari you would have a case for saying his debates don’t count for anything..." Another shiny nickel for finding me implying such in the OP

E) Then, Stephen, my writings should be avoided by you at all costs.

F) White's methods and ideas have also done much to harm Christian expression within the SBC community. And, it will be those things which, when I sense the need, to explore.

Have a great day.
With that, I am...



Maybe James White doesn't have it all right on his idea for debates but we must remember he is a sinner like you and me. With that in mind we ought to be rejoicing that Zaatari and his "college friends" heard the reality that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. They heard that Jesus is the One who came into the world to save sinners. This should be music to our hears as we hear a redeemed sinner give the testimony of Christ to those who are lost.

I am also wondering what good this post accomplished? Our focus as brothers in Christ ought to be on the gospel and what Christ has done to redeem sinners through his atoning work on the cross not on what debates are right and not right. If you don't agree with Mr. White on debates that is fine with me because I don't on everything either but I love the fact God is using him to speak the truth to those who are lost.

May we be faithful as well to preach Christ crucified.

Grace upon grace,


My goodness, I don't get defensive tone of most of the comments towards White. Your points are easy-to-understand and well-taken Peter.

If White says his definition of "debate" is a formal structure, he should follow it or put a disclaimer on his own that do not meet that format.

Likewise, if he generally promotes that he "debates" scholars, or prominent scholars in fields in which they are considered somewhat of an expert, he should immediately identify the credentials, or lack thereof, of those whom he debates who do not meet his generally assumed criterion.

Seems simple and honest.



I know a 8th grader, who is an athiest. Maybe White can debate him? Reckon?



A.M. Mallett

Steven wrote:
... For a person who does this for a living ...

I suggest:
You nailed the problem right there.


I am sometimes asked why I would debate a young, inexperienced man like Sami Zaatari. The answer is simple: while I seek to defend the Christian gospel against the leading proponents of Islam, I have come to realize that especially in the West, there is a vast difference between the arguments and approach of those leading intellectuals and those in leadership in Muslim countries. You can see this for yourself. Go listen to a Hamza Yusuf lecture on YouTube, then listen to MemriTV and listen to the most recent appearance of a leading Imam from Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the like, and compare them. If you did not know better you would think they were presenting different religions, the only similarity being the language they use. Of course, in passing, you might note the freedom Muslims have in non-Islamic countries to speak their case, and the lack of such freedom for Christians in the Islamic countries. We will return to that later. In any case, Mr. Zaatari represents the "Muslim street," the kind of Islam that represents the views and feelings of the mass of Muslims, the ones living in Islamic societies, and, the ones attacking our brothers and sisters in other lands. They may do so only verbally, arguing against Christians in the marketplace, but as we all know, they do so regularly in a much more open fashion, persecuting, beating, imprisoning, and even killing, believers who refuse to renounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ. So for the sake of those precious believers who suffer in Muslim lands, I debate the Sami Zaataris and Osama Abdullahs and Jalal Abualrubs so that I may provide to those precious brothers and sisters the biblical and apologetic resources they need to give an answer in their own contexts. As long as I have the freedom to do so, I will.

Reading the website in question would do wonders for posts such as this. Context is a beautiful thing.



Thanks. And, of course, I do read White's site. However, Zaatari represents a "street" Muslim about as much as the typical junior college student in America represent the "street" Christian.

White's explanation does nothing to offset the sheer oddity of implying the debate with Zaatari represents a legitimate, scholarly, and fair exchange. It does not.

With that, I am...


So Peter, you see no value in providing to "our brothers and sisters in other lands" the "biblical and apologetic resources they need to give an answer in their own contexts"?

If you do see that value, do you deny that the exchange with Zaatari accomplished that?

Do you want James White to stop calling the exchange with Zaatari a "debate"? If so, what do you recommend calling it?



Dear Curt,

Id' be glad to answer a question relevant to what I've written. And, if you have none, that's fine.

With that, I am...



Sorry you found my questions irrelevant. Let me see if I can convince you that they aren't.

I provided a quote from White on his motive for engaging with Zaatari. He felt such an exchange would provide help to Christians in other contexts who will face the kind of argumentation offered by the likes of Sani Zaatari. Your reply to the full quote from RazorsKiss was to say that it didn't represent "a legitimate, scholarly, and fair exchange."

My questions were designed to show:

    1. That you see value in equipping believers who are in other contexts to give a defense of the Christian faith.
    2. That the exchange accomplished that goal (we can disagree as to the degree White succeeded)
    3. That the word "debate" is the only (or at least most) meaningful term to use to describe the exchange

I am guessing that you do not agree with #3, for you wrote in part,

    This is precisely one place where White’s model on proper exchange breaks completely down. For one may insist on the strictest, most formal format possible, but if the participants are not in important ways equal to the task, one may blow the horn all day long about “formal” debate and “cross-examination,” but it really won’t be a legitimate “debate.” It would undeniably remain an unfair exchange.

Assuming you agree with #1 and #2, you would not have White remove "Jesus: Divine Son of God or Prophet of Allah? vs. Sami Zaatari" from his website, but you prefer that in addition to the category "Formal Debates", White also include a section called "Unfair Exchange" where he lists this interaction with Zaatari? Would that do it?




You may have "designed" your questions to show any number of things, Curt. But the relevance is unclear to my laments on this post.

And, while James White can call his public exchanges with junior college students who major in English "formal debates" all he wishes, he need not expect his readers to take such "debates" seriously. I don't. And would not for anyone who claims to "debate" someone who ends up being a kid.

Formality is one element which White sees as non-negotiable. There is another in my view--legitimate sparring partners.

With that, I am...

Steven P. Morriss  III

Brother Peter,

Just want to say that I enjoy reading your blog. I appreciate your stand for truth and your stand against relativism and the watering down of the gospel.

I find it fascinating that James White is debating 8 year-olds; that Muslim couldn't even grow a proper beard! It's difficult to take James White's criticism of Dr. Caner seriously when he's debating 8 year-olds -- eight year-olds dude.

James White is not the son, nor is he the heir, his formal debates are not the gift to Christian apologetics as you have shown here. I think though what you've shown us here is that James White needs to shut his mouth. How can he say that Dr. Caner has gone about things the wrong way? Besides, isn't James White, the great biblical scholar and debater that he is, aware of Jesus' commandment in the NT to love? Dr. Caner is human and needs to be loved, just like everyone else does.

God bless brother Peter,
--Steven P. Morriss III

Lucas DeFalco

Peter, Dr. Yarnell, et al:

The problem with today's postmodern, TV-driven culture is that there is not much territory between formal, structured, parlimentary debates and the Jerry Springer show. Anyone who has attempted to engage atheists, Muslims and other is informal street debates or just public conversations will quickly realize that these encounters often engage in counterproductive free-for-alls. Unless you are Ray Comfort with a soapbox and a bullhorn you will most likely end up walking away with the only thing lifted up being your blood pressure!

The reality is that there is absolutely no comparison between the level of theological discourse between informal encounters and that of a structured debate.

As for the quality and qualifications of White's opponents I would invite you to post the backgrounds of ALL of the 70+ people that White has debated over the years and let your readers come to their own conclusion rather than picking one from the list. I am sure if you contacted Dr. White or Rich Pierce they would be more than happy to provide this information.



You write, "Anyone who has attempted to engage atheists, Muslims and other is informal street debates or just public conversations will quickly realize that these encounters often engage in counterproductive free-for-alls." That is not true to my experience. Indeed in our culture, "debates" are in so many ways, seen as both arrogant and prideful. Hence more conversational engagements are extremely powerful venues.

Hence, your conclusion does not follow: "there is absolutely no comparison between the level of theological discourse between informal encounters and that of a structured debate." But even if it did, what I argued here does not exclude formality. Instead it adds another no less significant element--participants in the exchange.

Finally, there is no need to "post the backgrounds" of all White's "debate" partners (I did give the link to them and others may be my guest). One was enough to illustrate White "debates" some participants who need not be in the ring with him. That's all.

As for contacting James White, give me a break. No one who knows James White dare contact him unless he or she is willing to have the exchange publicly posted on his blog.

With that, I am...


Is there a character count "length" to comments that can be posted in this combox?

I am attempting to post a comment but it won't let me. Is it because of the length of the comment?

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