Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Of Debates and the Silent Treatment
04/26/2006 - James WhiteI must admit. My job is fascinating. Never dull. Well, almost never dull. This morning while getting a 30 mile ride in at an average speed of 15 mph (yeah, I know---but, I also climbed 2520 feet, which explains the average speed) I was listening to Shabir Ally throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the New Testament, writing mental sticky notes (most of which flew off my brain on the descent back down the mountain) about his misuse of Metzger, misunderstanding of all sorts of technical information, etc., and how I need to use this material in the debate coming up soon. That kind of thing is very enjoyable, and I really, really wish it was all I had to worry about: getting ready to defend the Christian faith against those who would deny and attack it.
But that is not all I have to deal with. For over a week now Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty University and Dr. Emir Caner of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have been giving Dr. Ascol and me "the silent treatment." Beginning on Monday the 17th a flurry of e-mails passed between the four of us. I had, in fact, eleven e-mails from Ergun Caner waiting for me when I arose Monday morning. I had written a lengthy e-mail over the weekend, and he cut his response up into various portions. Even Emir wrote two e-mails that day, as did Dr. Ascol. In any case, this led to some lengthy replies on my part, the last of which was sent on the afternoon of the 18th, 5:20pm my time.
Since that time, we have not received so much as a return receipt acknowledgement of anything we have written. Nothing. Zero. Nada. I have resent the last message multiple times. I have sent other, shorter notes. Last evening I sent a note that basically said, "Excuse me, but how are we supposed to set up this debate and discuss moderation, time frames, etc., if you will not correspond with us?" No response. No replies. Silence.
I recognize that things can come up which impinge upon one's "e-mail time." I have even mentioned this in the notes I have sent. But even someone in the midst of a tragedy can find the time to say, "Sorry, problems, will get to you later." Nothing. Just silence.
More than one person has told me they never expect to see a debate take place October 16th, and they never have. There are many people in the SBC who would never want to see the debate take place, some of whom wield a tremendous amount of clout. Is that why the Caners have stopped talking? I do not know. Are they embarrassed by what they have already said in the correspondence? Possibly. We simply do not know. All I know is over the past week I have sent numerous e-mails to which I have not received a single word in response.
Here is the e-mail that started the icy cold silence. You will note that I asked a direct question toward the beginning of this e-mail, and I have wondered if it is that question that has ended all communication. I would surely hope not, but you never know. With all the politics that exist within the Southern Baptist Convention, possibly someone else has simply put the brakes on and said, "Nope, not going to happen!" Stay tuned.
I wanted to begin by noting I discussed on the DL today the issue of what makes a debate a debate, and I wondered aloud if the staff members and students at Liberty who are involved in the debate team know of your views of scholastic debate? Our first caller was a Liberty grad from May of '05, and he mentioned how mortified and shocked he was when he heard your statements about Romans 9 and Esau. I, too, am a bit surprised you did not even mention this in your e-mails yesterday, since it was such a momentously obvious mistake on your part to say God hated Esau because of what Esau did. We have had many people comment on that amazing statement, in light of the plain words of Scripture:
...for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Romans 9:11-13)
I really have no idea how you could possibly defend your statements in the pulpit on that text, Ergun. You did not mention my response to it. How do you, in fact, defend the idea that God's attitude toward Esau was based upon what Esau did, when Paul goes out of his way to say the exact opposite? What Esau "did" would be his works; you say "because of works" and the Bible says "not because of works." What kind of exegetical process can defend this viewpoint?
Finally, before turning to your e-mail, I have a direct question to ask. I hope you will answer it directly. As I have thought back over our correspondence (I searched the file of our February exchange), I do not recall you ever referring to me as a Christian brother. I have addressed you in those terms multiple times. Given that you have said Calvinists are worse than Muslims, I'm wondering: do you see this upcoming debate as one between brothers in Christ? Or do you view me as a non-Christian heretic?
Dr. Ergun Mehmet Caner wrote:
> This is going to be fun. Law of the Excluded Middle. All deserve eternal death, neglecting the fact that, regardless how they want to dance around it, Christ died for all. Either Christ died for the world or He died only for the elect.
I would invite you to take the time to read John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Ergun, and to do so in light of the fact that I firmly believe a hypothetical atonement (as Dr. Geisler put it, Christ's death did not save anyone, it simply made all men savable) is impotent to refute the heresies of Rome, let alone is it a ground for the glorification of a powerful and perfect Savior. You may call it "dancing" all you wish: again, those who take exegesis and theology seriously will not find that a compelling form of argumentation. I love proclaiming the perfection of the work of Christ! I agree with Spurgeon:
Blessed be God, His elect on earth are to be counted by millions, I believe, and the days are coming, brighter days than these, when there shall be multitudes upon multitudes brought to know the Saviour, and to rejoice in Him. Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, "It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself," they say, "to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty." I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption.
> Drs. White and Ascol- we truly look forward to this.
As I look forward to proclaiming these truths this Friday in debate in Illinois as well, I assure you. :-) I would be happy to send the audio of this Friday evening's debate, if you would like, but since I have offered such materials many times before, I'm slowly getting the idea that there isn't a lot of interest on your side of the aisle, so to speak. But I will keep offering!
> As far as future correspondence- feel free. I shall exercise my free will, to respond or not, depending on whether I am irresistibly drawn to it.
Well, as that ol' pagan Nebuchadnezzar learned, the hard way, "all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Dan. 4:35).
> And two final points, gentlemen- Arrogance is not a debate tactic.
Correct, it is not. Straw men and ad-hominem are not either; they are formal errors of argumentation.
> I cite your statements in red, and my answers in navy:
> Scholastic debate is so hard-
> MY ANSWER: so apparently scholarly debate is bereft of pathos.
Untrue, of course. But sound scholarship and the love of truth causes the followers of Christ to combine disciplined argumentation (for without it, you cannot claim that what you are saying is, in fact, true, over against falsehood) with passionate presentation. I have offered, repeatedly, to provide you with DVDs or audios of debates that demonstrate the fact that you can combine both successfully, if you are willing to work hard enough at it. As for me, I believe God's truth is worth the effort to be disciplined and hence to follow the rules of debate (which exist to show which side has the truth). How about you?
> Partial truths are almost always untruths, Dr. Caner. Partial truth: not all are elected unto salvation. Missing part of truth: all deserve eternal death, justly, for being in union with Adam, his fall was our fall; we are born in sin, and none "deserve a chance" since that would make grace and mercy something that can be demanded.
> MY ANSWER: Thus, you have told a partial truth. Your statement would only be true if God’s intent were not so clearly stated in Scripture. 1 Timothy 2: 1-8 is a simple place to start. I believe the statement should read Partial truth: all deserve eternal death. Missing part of truth: But God is willing that all come to repentance.
How do you answer the refutations that have been offered to you repeatedly, Dr. Caner? I went through 1 Timothy 2 in my rebuttal, and, like your comments on Romans 9, you ignored mesi,thj and the presence of semantic delimiters in the context in reference to pa/j both before and after the text (which was likewise laid out in TPF). How do you respond to my comments on the DL, in my published works, and in these e-mails, regarding the pronouns and context of 2 Peter 3:9? Do you feel you can just ignore these things, not offer a word of rebuttal or refutation, and keep repeating them over and over again?
> I only point out your mis-statements and improper use of terms for your benefit. The person who knows the field will likewise see your misuse of these terms and your mixing of contexts and meanings, and you will destroy your credibility with such people if you are unwilling to become familiar with the field and engage it properly.
> MY ANSWER: You have invented a new logical fallacy, Dr. White: An Appeal to Your Arrogance.
Dr. Caner, you cannot logically accuse me of arrogance for saying you are misusing terminology. It would be arrogant for me to say, "I am the greatest scholar who has ever lived in this particular field, therefore, I can alter definitions that have been in use by generations before me based upon my own standing." That would be arrogance. I have not done this. I have provided you with references, and could provide you with many more, that would accurately identify the term "hyper-Calvinist." I do not have to refer you to my own authority in the field. Hence, there is no more arrogance in saying to you that you are in error than there is in your saying to one of your history students that they were wrong to say the Council of Nicea took place in AD 415.
Now, I have asked both Dr. Caners to direct me to your published works in this field. My requests have been ignored. I trust there is no question that Dr. Ascol and I have published numerous works in the field of Reformed theology. I have written book length works, articles that have appeared in widely read journals, and have engaged in numerous public debates on the topic against a range of opponents. I am currently working on a scholarly article on the biblical witness to compatibilism built upon the exegetical foundation of Genesis 50:20 (the direct parallelism of ~T,îb.v;x] with Hb'äv'x], likewise reflected in the accurate rendering of the LXX by evbouleu,sasqe and evbouleu,sato, is striking, is it not?), Isaiah 10:5ff, and Acts 4:27-28. These are simple facts, are they not? Is it arrogance on my part to note that you have not published or debated in this area? Or could it be construed as a far more virulent form of arrogance for any man to enter a field of study that presents a massive body of scholarly writing and, ignoring that completely, decide to redefine the terms of discussion, all on a whim?
An example, if I may. Certain words have established meaning in the field of Islamic apologetics. Shirk and Qiblah are two such examples. When Shabir Ally makes reference to shirk, I know exactly what he is referring to, for there is an established definition of the term, a range of meanings that allows us to communicate. In the same way, when we discuss the change in the Qiblah in the Qur'an, and point to the historical realities regarding the earliest mosques and their orientation, and the design and form of the Dome of the Rock, etc., again, there is a meaning to the term that allows for meaningful discussion, is there not? Now, you may wish shirk had a different meaning. You may wish to change the meaning to make a particular argument you wish to make "easier." But do you have the right to do so? Will your Muslim opponents let you get away with such an action? Surely not! And who would be so foolish as to think they can do so? So, in the same fashion, when you enter into this field and show not the first sign of fair interaction with the entire body of scholarship and the terminology used therein and seek to improperly and inaccurately identify historic Reformed theology as "hyper-Calvinism," you are engaging in simple misrepresentation and are not honoring the truth. It can't really be said any more plainly than that.
> I am sure we will do fine without your help for our “benefit.” I only offer this to you for your benefit, Dr. White. Anyone in the arena would be taken aback by such a shrill form of snobbery. Those that disagree with you will immediately sense this, and you will have lost credibility.
I will gladly allow anyone to determine, upon review of the entirety of our exchange, whether I have acted in good faith in seeking to exhort you to a high standard in the handling of truth, or whether I have engaged in "snobbery." I trust the fair minded person will be able to see who has acted with integrity.
> I have no idea what you are talking about, Dr. Caner. You have never been like me; and the list of Reformed scholarship is massive.
> MY ANSWER: So too is the list of those who loathe your position.
How is this even slightly relevant to the topic at hand? Logically, it is not. Please note that once again you are the one using emotionally-laden terms ("loathe"). You presented a form of a parable that had nothing whatsoever to do with our current situation; I pointed out the inconsistencies, and made reference to an indisputable fact: the body of Reformed scholarship produced over the centuries by Calvin, Beza, the Westminster Divines, the Puritans, my Baptist forebears in England, Gill, Spurgeon, Bunyan, and great American divines such as Edwards, or Machen or Hodge or Warfield or Boice---likewise destroys the attempted parallel you had presented. So how is saying many men "loathe" my position in the least bit relevant on any logical or rational grounds, sir?
> Whether both sides remain true to their principles and their promises should not be a deep dark secret unknowable to those interested. I had no interest in posting the correspondence; however, I do believe that there will be many questions if the debate is a maze of disjointed presentations, and I believe it would be quite appropriate for me to quote from our attempts to make sure the debate is done properly. And, I will admit, I believe the unbiased observer would be somewhat taken aback by today's exchanges for a number of reasons. Be that as it may, in reality, all those who are addressed in an e-mail exchange must agree to it being "private," and that simply isn't the case.
> MY ANSWER: Ashamed of my correspondence? Of course not. Surprised by something so juvenile as posting personal correspondence? Yes. However, Emir and I do understand your desire to do this. Your don’t mind if we post your personal e-mail address, do you? Simply for clarity sake?
Dr. Caner, I have already made it abundantly plain, repeatedly, that 1) I have no problem with the posting of anything I have said in a public forum, and 2) if I post this correspondence it will be like the last time: en toto, complete, without editing, without anything to hide.
> Possibly you listened too quickly? I avoid both extremes: I do not rob from God His freedom to deal with this issue in the same fashion He deals with all of human salvation. I do not deny to Him the freedom to bring any sinful son of Adam into His presence as He sees fit, but at the same time I refuse to go to your extreme, for this turns abortion into the greatest heaven-filling device ever created by the depraved mind of man. It was hard to tell, given how brief your comments were, but I truly wonder if you actually believe in a full doctrine of original sin, for you seemed to indicate that babies do not die because of sin---if they do not die because of sin, why do they die? In any case, what part of "I believe God has the freedom to extend or withhold His grace, since grace must be, by nature, free, in the matter of human salvation," is not clear?
> MY ANSWER: Is that a YES, all babies go to heaven, or a NO, not all babies who die go to heaven?
Surely, Dr. Caner, you cannot possibly miss so clear a statement. If I avoid both extremes then I do not say ALL who die in infancy go to hell, nor do I say ALL who die in infancy go to heaven: I leave it in the hands of the judge of all the earth to do right and to exercise the same freedom He has in the salvation of adults as to whether He will extend mercy to any individual fallen son or daughter of Adam. I refuse to limit God's freedom in the matter, nor will I make such horrific practices as abortion a great heaven-filling device (the logical outcome of your own position, it would seem---along with some pretty important questions as to your orthodoxy on the matter of original sin and the reasons for death---which you seemed to have avoided in the above paragraph I note).
> It is about as clear as the Westminster Confession, and the citation of “elect babies.” OR, is your answer- God is fully within His nature to send a baby to hell? No need to answer- as you say, it was clear.
Well, the only reason I would not need to answer is if you are impervious to truth and reasoning. You do not seem to believe in original sin, nor that death comes from Adam's sin, and that all who are born are born in Adam and held federally guilty of his transgression. I will gladly defend the orthodox and biblical doctrine against your sub-biblical denial of Romans 5, if need be. :-) And if you think you can play the emotional trump card on this one, please be advised: your denial of federalism undercuts the very basis upon which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so if you go that direction, be prepared to answer a lot of questions.
> Well, since I know Reformed writers clearly distinguish the terms, and I know that you made no reference to the difference between philosophical foreknowledge and the Biblical use of the verb "to foreknow" (which always has a personal object when God is the subject in the NT), then anyone who would profess to be addressing Reformed theology who inaccurately claims we jumble the two terms into one would "just be off base," yes.
> MY ANSWER: The Reformed writers do not “clearly distinguish the terms,” they invent new categories.
Document your charge, sir. Provide references. Demonstrate that you are doing more than merely bluffing with this kind of rhetoric. Can you do so? Who has done this? In what work? When? Where? Citations, please, sir, citations. Meaningful argumentation. Something other than your ipse dixit.
> That is what is most vexing to your position, I assume. We do not buy into a philosophical system that invents its own prism through which it filters all Scripture..
Obviously, I believe the exact same about your own position.
> I care not one whit what Edwards, the Puritans, or any system teaches. We are Biblicists. We take the text first. NOT an interpretation of the text that explains away the “world” citations, and the “for all” statements.
We both claim the text as our highest authority: but when I demonstrate contextually limited uses of world or all, you simply close your eyes as tightly as you can and ignore them as if by doing so they will go away, and, fully knowing you have failed to even begin to respond to this information, repeat your already refuted statements. You truly need to come up with something more than this, Dr. Caner. You really do.
> Either Christ died for the world, and thus His death is offered for all who believe, or He created some for hell. That would be reprobation. That would be hyper Calvinism.
No sir, reprobation is not definitional of hyper-Calvinism, since non-hyper Calvinists have embraced the doctrine. I sent you documentation from scholarly sources on this earlier, and, as you have from the first time we have interacted, you ignored it as if it never appeared before your eyes.
> ONE FINAL MEA CULPA- On John Gill- yes, this was wrong. As a historian, I claim a lapse in thinking here. I should have said Cotton Mather, though he might have just fired me, as they did Henry Dunster at Harvard. Perhaps I should have said Obadiah Holmes who was whipped by Puritans in 1651 for building a Baptist church. Or Thomas Painter of Hingham, who was tied and whipped by Puritan Calvinists. Take your pick. We could go on all night.
I am sure Dr. Gill will rest better tonight for having that blight against his name removed.