Mark 3:25 “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
I. Introduction: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
This will be my last substantive post about the Hankamess and it will be a long one. (I will open comments but they will still be moderated.)
For those who may not want to wade through everything, the post is divided into three main sections. Section two takes a romp through James White’s criticisms of Orthodoxy noting what I think he gets right (The Good). Section three (The Bad) provides analysis and replies to his criticisms of Orthodoxy and sometimes even of Hank. Section four (the Ugly) discusses the role James White and other well-known apologists played in Hank’s rise to power.
II. The Good
III. The Bad
IV. The Ugly
After this, I am moving on with my life, as I did nearly thirty years ago. For about the last year, I have chronicled the Hankamess resulting from Hank Hanegraaff’s reception into the Orthodox Church. I have also tried to sketch for readers the main points along the Hankamess timeline leading up to that reception, from 1989 forward. For many good and interesting reasons, I haven’t been able to present all the information, respond to every argument or tell everyone’s story who has been involved in it. I have also made some mistakes along the way. There are things I could have done better. As to my standing in this whole drama though, honestly, I have always been a very small person, a hobbit of sorts, in a much bigger drama. I have only tried to tell the truth and do what is right regardless of the consequences to me.
In the main, things went as I expected them to, though at one point, God threw me a curve ball I did not expect. Hank has behaved in the way I said he would, shrugging off any calls for the slightest repentance or an apology. He immediately began working his way into the power structures of the Church, presenting himself as a “teacher” to financially benefit his Protestant private business. I know many did not believe me when I laid out this narrative in the beginning, but over a year later, it is frankly now indisputable. I told you so.
I did not expect Hank to fall to his knees and offer an apology. It wasn’t that this was impossible, but given thirty years of consistent lying and graft I judged it to be improbable. There remains a hope, but in the main I hold it as a fool’s hope. (He still has my cellphone number and the contact information for many other people.) His repentance for public wrongs would not only benefit his salvation, but his many victims as well, some who unlike me, still suffer serious consequences stretching into eternity. They are part of the reason why I have done what I have. “Many of these trees were my friends.”
I’ve Got A Little List
That said, Hank didn’t get to his Benny Hinn lifestyle all by himself. He had help and lots of it. And he had help from people who not only should have known better but I believe did know better. They were, for a very long time in a position to do what was right. The majority of them self-designate as apologists and make their livelihood based on claims of expertise to evaluate arguments and evidence and discern truth from error. It’s their job to point out fakes and sound the alarm. They are well known and some pride themselves on defending the “purity of the Gospel.” But instead of doing the very least that was morally required, they chose rather to ingratiate themselves with Hanegraaff for their own personal profit. And they did so all the while their brothers and sisters in Christ were losing their jobs, losing their homes, dying of cancer or having a crisis of faith to the point of denying Christ Himself. In what follows, I name names and bring out the role they played in the past. What they did in the past was wrong and their attempt to profit from that deception now, is also wrong.
Now, after Hank’s reception into the Orthodox Church they have broken out in a few different directions. Some continue to ingratiate themselves with Hank to promote their products. Others have tried to occupy a no man’s land between where their theological commitments are and where their financial interests lie. They’re Protestant and critique Catholic and Orthodox beliefs and practices, except when its Hank. Others by contrast have positioned themselves as the de facto and true “Bible Answer Man” decrying Hank’s lapse into heresy, offering critiques of Orthodoxy along the way. Chief among these is James White, famed Reformed Baptist apologist and debater.
Over the course of the last year or so, James White (and some of his ministerial associates at “Alpha and Omega Ministries”) has offered a series of videos criticizing Orthodoxy and Hank Hanegraaff. Here I place them in temporal order (One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six. )In the interests of time and labor, I don’t index remarks by White (and others), but the video links provided are I believe sufficient.
II. The Good
In the interests of fairness, I think it is only right to note what James White gets right in his comments about Orthodoxy. There are certainly areas in praxis where Orthodox around the world could use some reasonable improvement and he is right to note them. He is also right to point to out “inconsistencies” to be as charitable as possible, in Hanegraaff’s positions and responses.
A. The Problem of Nominalism
James White (henceforth JW) notes that all is not well in the idealistic kingdom of Orthodox Konvertski. Many historically Orthodox countries, particularly Eastern European nations are filled with nominal members of the Orthodox Church. In some cases to say that these nominal members have a passing familiarity with the basics of Christianity would be a stretch.
I will go further still. Even in the U.S., particularly among the Greeks, many members are quite nominal. When someone attempts to bring non-Christians to partake of the Eucharist or your kid’s Sunday school teacher says that Jesus was raised as a ghost, you have a serious problem. I will be first in line to note that we do in fact have a nominal member problem and it is just not limited to countries in Eastern Europe. The Orthodox need to do a far, far better job both teaching their people and maintaining reasonable theological discipline over their members. The recent dust up over Bp. Ware and the heterodox subversives at “Public Orthodoxy” is just one of many examples.
That said, it still remains true that this line of criticism is of little value. First because it doesn’t tell us whether the theology of Orthodoxy is true or not. Second, in those Eastern European countries and Russia (Is Russia part of Europe?) they have suffered unimaginable destruction and persecution for the better part of the last century. Eighty to ninety percent of their clergy were eliminated through nothing less than mass murder. A fair number of the remainders were put into mental hospitals and underwent medical experimentation and torture. The vast majority of churches were destroyed and seminaries eliminated along with documents and theological works of no small number. Besides, when Reformed churches in Russia set up icons in their churches to dupe and draw in Orthodox believers, violating their own iconoclast commitments, please, don’t complain to me about Orthodox nominalism in Eastern Europe. I’ll take nominalism any day over duplicity.
With the above in mind, we have to perform a little thought experiment. How well do you think the bodies of the Reformation would do and come out after such a situation? Just imagine, no bibles to read, no pastors and no churches to attend, except those controlled by the KGB, for about a century. Protestants have never had to face anything like the Gulag, the largest and longest lasting prison camp system the world has ever known. So, when we already have a situation in the U.S. like that in the LCMS where they have a statistically high or substantial share of their members who think they get into heaven because they are a “good person” it isn’t exactly clear that pedagogically speaking the Reformation bodies are in a position to talk. “Dad” Rod Rosenbladt used to complain about this quite often at the CURE Academy meetings so long ago.
Without a doubt the theologically conservative Reformed will pride themselves on not having any substantial degree of nominalism. But nominalism can be measured in lots of ways. If we start asking basic theological questions about the Trinity and Christology of members of say the PCA or a Reformed Baptist body, I really have to wonder what we would hear in the main. I know what I have heard even from pastors, across multiple states and it hasn’t been pretty, and this is equally true for Reformed Baptists.
Should Reformed Baptists boast that they do not have this nominal problem, one thing to consider is the fact that they might not because well, they have never tried to or successfully carried out the transformation of cultures and nations for Christ. While there are plenty of nations that have historically been Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran or even Reformed for long periods of time, this to my knowledge is not a feat that the Baptists, let alone the Reformed Baptists have achieved. It is very easy to laugh at the big kid who misses a rung on the monkey bars when you’re arms aren’t even long enough to reach anyone of them.
In my own experience, I’ve met people from Orthodox countries who have been quite devout. They love God and it shows. They aren’t academics but they aren’t ignoramuses either. When I was first received into the Church via the Greek Archdiocese in East Texas, most of the people at my parish were native Greeks and hence native Greek speakers and the liturgy was in about ninety percent Greek. But the people were on the whole relatively far from being nominal. Nominalism existed, but it wasn’t the majority. Our priest was half Greek and half Mexican and he was anything but nominal. By contrast, later generations of people from Orthodox countries tend to be more nominal in my experience. They treat the Church more as a badge of cultural heritage and identity than a commitment to God and the ark of salvation. They worry more about being Greek, Romanian, etc. than whether they are Orthodox.
On top of this, it is helpful to distinguish between nominal and ignorant or rather unlearned. I’ve known a fair amount of Orthodox who are not by any means either theologically astute or very biblically literate. But they weren’t nominal, either in terms of church attendance or participation in works of charity performed by the church or even on their own. They certainly had a credible profession of faith in Christ, even when they spoke. It was quite obvious to me and many others that they had acquired a Christian character and mode of life. So in assessing the problem of nominalism, I have learned not to be so quick to conclude that people are nominal just because the propositions they express aren’t well informed. After all, Jesus didn’t call the little children to himself because he could see in their heads libraries full of all the right propositions.
And of course we have to take into consideration the evangelism done by the Orthodox Church of native populations in North America and elsewhere. When we compare it to Protestant and particularly Reformed endeavors things look quite different. Forcing Native Americans to leave aside their language, dress and art is not something Reformation tradition want to showcase. And besides, when you have 100,000 church members show up for the very long memorial procession and liturgy for the murder of the Czar and his family, it makes it more difficult to take claims of nominalism seriously.
But in the main JW is right. Nominalism is a problem and converts should expect to have to deal with it to some degree or another wherever they go. There are lots of reasons for it and it is unlikely that it can ever be eliminated. The truth is that for everyone, to one degree or another, the nominal you will always have with you.
B. Greeks Without a Pope?
JW notes that one can’t simply equate Orthodoxy with Catholicism. They are quite different in a number of substantial respects. Reformation critics should be careful not to simply assume that they can transplant arguments against Rome in arguing against Orthodox. You are going to have to do your homework and that means reading far beyond the popular blog posts and books put out by Reformed critics. Here JW is right on the money.
C. Evangellyfish and Quackadoxy
JW is also right to point out deficiencies in the world of evangelicalism (as if at this point a definition of that term could be had) serve as a motivation for people to look elsewhere. When Protestant bodies are mired in modern “worship” that aims at producing specific emotional responses, when preaching is saccharine and superficial and the weekly church life is driven by gimmickry, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that people are going to intuit that something is wrong and look elsewhere. Such evangelical groups are merely aping the culture. To paraphrase Chesterton, you are never as influenced by your culture as when you think you’re not.
Of course we can’t ignore the perpetual theological catastrophe generator well beyond the threat of theological liberalism. Whether it be Theonomy, Federal Vison, the NPP, or issues in conservative Lutheran theology, every so many years some new theological apocalypse rears its head. All of the king’s horses and men have to be rallied to the cause. And none of the above even touches the quackadox popular evangelical hydra that mutates a new head on a nearly biannual basis.
After a while, people get tired of it and start to look at their options. And I quite admit that when people see longevity in Orthodoxy that it is a powerful draw and of course it should be. Here is why. First because, well if you are going to claim to be the church Jesus founded, you are going to have to be old and you’re going to need to be able to denote real places, people and documents to show that your society actually existed for the last two millennia.
But there are other reasons that should not be underestimated. People can intuit theological problems or truths for that matter by a variety of means. Sometimes a person can’t put their finger on a problem, but something just doesn’t seem right. People can often intuit truths from art and architecture. It isn’t too difficult to walk into a given religious body’s building and get a decent idea about what they believe. And this is true for evangelical and Reformed bodies as well. Given the absence of any manifestation of the world as a good creation of God in the space employed for worship, the conclusion one can often draw from a spatial void is that God is everywhere in general but nowhere in particular. This is, needless to say problematic for a paradigm that turns on God not only creating the world, but acting in and through history. This is just to say that if you’re view of worship is primarily about getting the right ideas into the heads of people, something is probably wrong and might just resemble incipient Gnosticism. Moreover, people aren’t at times moved from atheism to belief in God by the starry host above or the vastness of the Pacific Ocean for no reason. Kant was quite right when he wrote,
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
Following in this train is another aspect that should not be ignored. Like it or not, we are embodied beings. The body and more directly, the matter of the body is not an afterthought. We tend not to think about it, particularly when we think about worship, church architecture and such. The ever affectionate uncle Screwtape though never forgets this point.
“At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
The point here is not primarily ethical, but relative to worship and this includes whatever from the material world we include or prohibit in the context of worship. If your theology primarily and in praxis begins with the Fall or say the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity and you speak of the soul as imprisoned in the material body people will find ways of affirming the goodness of God’s creation.(1) And this will usually take the form of people using music, architecture and artwork. I’ve seen not a few Reformed folk do this, pushing the limits of what their other Reformed commitments will allow because of the deep need to affirm the goodness of God’s creation.
So I think JW is quite correct to note that people convert because of smells and bells, but there is usually a lot more going on than a mere matter of taste. This is in part why this line of criticism is of limited value. At best it doesn’t tell us whether the conclusion that they draw is correct, but only that the premises that they used to reach it were either wrong or insufficient at worst.
Concurring with the experience of others people who convert just for aesthetical reasons usually do not last either. (2) After a few years or most often, quite less, they drop out. The regular activity of Orthodox worship, not to mention a decent effort to observe Lent tends to weed such people out. Either that or something doesn’t go their idealized way and they split.
D. The Simple Many
JW also notes that people want simple answers to their questions. And he is quite right. People want everything dumbed down and cut into tiny sound bites with words of no more than two syllables. I’ve seen plenty of converts in the last twenty years who live in a fairy tale world of some idealized existence regarding Orthodoxy. It makes the world simple for them in the way that Dispensationalism makes the nightly news simple. Unfortunately, this is true for every position and not just theological positions. Reformed folk are also not immune from the same kind of mistaken thinking. There is no shortage of hagiographic reading material about Calvin, Luther or many other Reformed figures. And the same goes for a Reformed emphasis on providence and divine causality which functions to flatten out all historical and theological problems. The fact is that the impulse for simple, manageable answers is a human problem. As Plato rightly noted, the Many can never be reflective or philosophical.
E. Trinitarian Kudos
I admit it was nice to see JW give the Orthodox kudos on being thoroughly Trinitarian. And he is quite right. I know this may sound a bit self-serving, but the fact of the matter is, Eastern writers were hashing out Trinitarian implications and defending it long before Augustine had the first twinkling of condign grace in his eye. The depth of thinking in this area, whether it be in terms of primary sources or contemporary works tends to be deeper and better than much of what passes for Trinitarianism in other traditions.
Of course, the Orthodox also do Christology quite well and for the same reasons. Frankly, no one does Chalcedon like we do Chalcedon. Just ask Pope Vigilius.
F. The Babel Answer Man
JW is also quite right to point out that Hanegraaff’s statements that his views haven’t changed is, shall we say less than plausible. Even if we give Hanegraaff the most charitable read here, namely that in the core areas of theology, nothing has changed, it just can’t be taken seriously. There is no list of core doctrines that the three main traditions agree on. The only other option open to him is to say that he changed on say theosis, the sacraments and such but kept all of the Protestant distinctives. But that won’t work either because that would bring him under Orthodox condemnation. The problem is, the immutable Hank just can’t be immutable. So JW is quite right to point out that Hanegraaff has in fact changed on Reformation distinctives such as Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide.
What is more, Hanegraaff has a moral obligation to inform listeners. He should be upfront and say that he used to believe them but no more and then explain why. But Hanegraaff’s tactic has been to hide behind cliché’s and talk of the “essentials.” As noted above, there is no list of essentials that we agree on so a change would entail a change in the “essentials.” And his protestations that he has been and remains committed to the essentials trades on falsehoods and equivocation. All one has to do is take a look here at the CRI statement of beliefs that was current up until a few months ago to see that that is simply not true. (3) CRI was fairly clearly Protestant. So if he wasn’t committed to those Protestant “essentials” he’s been dishonest for thirty years or he is being dishonest now. Either way, he is just flat out lying. How can he be the Bible Answer Man if he lies about doctrine?
JW is also right to note that Hanegraaff is in a transitional position. The problem of course, just as a practical matter is that he has set himself up as a “teacher” in the church. (4) At 68 years old, he simply doesn’t have the time to get a college and seminary education in the short time he has left. The other practical constraint is that Hank is not a systematic thinker. (5) He adopts doctrines in a piecemeal fashion and so he is highly idiosyncratic. For these reasons, this is why it might appear to some that he is attempting to mix the two traditions, but I don’t think this is the case. It is just simpler to explain his behavior by the above constrains and educational deficiencies. Hank doesn’t know what he is doing and he never has.
G. Mere Incoherence
JW is correct to point out that Hanegraaff’s emphasis on “Mere Christianity” does no real work for him. (6) For Protestants, Reformation distinctives, in some form or another constitute “Mere Christianity.” So if Sola Fide constitutes “the Gospel” and “Mere Christianity” leaves that out, then JW is quite right to say that it leaves out the Gospel. Of course, I don’t think Sola Fide is true or constitutes the Gospel. But JW has a fair point here and Hanegraaff just isn’t being honest.
H. Geeky Greek
I admit that I found Hanegraaff’s initial and repeated claim about learning NT Greek now that he goes to a Greek Church humorous. It was either an attempt at deception or misdirection or just plain ignorance of some pretty basic information on Hank’s part. Jim Stamoolis over at Christianity Today caught the error as well as yours truly. Greek parishes offer classes in modern conversational Greek and Hank’s parish website made it plain that it was merely conversational Greek. They couldn’t care less about teaching their members to learn NT Greek. What they care about is preserving Greek culture so that when the Yaya and the Papu (grandparents) come over, they can speak Greek with them. There is nothing wrong of course with preserving one’s culture and language but selling the audience on some idea that its great to be Orthodox because you learn NT Greek is pure hogwash.
What was worthwhile in JW’s remarks was that he noted rightly that Hanegraaff has had decades to learn NT Greek. One doesn’t have to go to a Greek Orthodox parish to do so. All you have to do is pick up a starter book and off you go. They are now quite user friendly. (7) One would think as someone who is the head of a major apologetic “ministry” that acquiring a college education and at least one of the relevant biblical languages would have been high on the list of priorities, but it seems not.
I. Support Your Local Modalist
Ok, not really. In one of the videos though, JW responds to Hanegraaff’s claim that White takes material from Witness Lee’s Local Church sect out of context and so is guilty of twisting the words of others. When CRI came out with their “reassessment” of the Local Church in 2009, a number of other mainstays in the counter-cult community issued an Open Letter , expressing that in their judgement that the Local Church remained at best theologically aberrant and probably heretical. (8) If you take the time to read the Local Church’s response to the Open Letter and other criticisms they are paradigm cases of verbal legerdemain and they have to be. The reason is that Lee is taken as a kind of restorative prophet, picked by God to restore apostate Christianity. To say that Lee was wrong or made serious theological mistakes, even in his mode of expression would undermine the raison d’être of the Local Church.
In his response, JW is quite right to note that the signatories of the Open Letter are well known names in the counter cult community. It reads like a veritable of Who’s Who of counter cult apologetics. What is more, JW is correct to point out that some of the names were former long time and senior researchers at CRI both before and during Hanegraaff’s tenure. It should not be lost on those who can read between the lines that these figures were researchers that Hanegraaff forced out or fired. While not directly showing that JW did not take that material out of context, it does render Hanegraaff’s claim all the more improbable. It should not be forgotten that when Hanegraaff relates what motivated him to investigate the doctrine of theosis and set him on the path to Orthodoxy, when he talks about “Chinese Christians” he is speaking about members of the Local Church in China. And of course, as I have noted elsewhere, Hanegraaff has made clear the influence of Watchman Nee on his own relatively recent thinking. We can add to this the fact that Paul Young, CRI’s chief operating officer and board member has been a member of the Local Church since 2008/9. And of course Hank is a co-owner of Young’s million dollar South Carolina estate.
J. Conversion? What Conversion?
Over the last year, Hanegraaff has had to engage various callers who either managed to get past the call screeners or were let through regarding his reception into the Orthodox Church. If you listen to his replies, his strategy is to by and large play down his conversion as if nothing has changed and it is not really a big deal. He glosses it as just joining a specific local body of believers, which of course just simply isn’t true, let alone being consistent with clear Orthodox teaching. But even if this were true, it is beside the point. Catholic philosopher and apologist Douglas Beaumont noted early on how Hanegraaff played down his reception into the Church. (9) Likewise, JW is also correct to point this out, noting that Hank makes it seem as if his theological commitment is no big deal. White is right to note that it is a big deal. In fact, to pretend it isn’t is to simply be dishonest.
K. The Most Important Point of All
I was struck by JW picking up on what is arguably the most important point in thinking and discussing the Hankamess. In the absence of any public announcement by Hank of his conversion, the infamous photo emerged from Facebook confirming his reception into the Church. As soon as that happened, individuals at Pulpit and Pen, who are apparently bereft of any tact and grace, immediately poisoned any future discussion. JW was quite right to note that this gives Hank an out because then he doesn’t have to deal with serious criticism. Everything can be lumped under the rhetorical heading of the claim that Hank is not a Christian in any meaningful sense. That claim is going to strike most Christians, even some of those in the Reformation traditions as implausible, if not absurd. What Pulpit and Pen did was do an immense favor for Hanegraaff by clouding a whole host of issues and giving Hank an out. And quite predictably, Hank made quite a bit of hay out of it. It then structured the entire discussion and motivated Orthodox to defend Orthodoxy and Protestants to line up their ready made anti-Catholic arguments for use on this new front.
By poisoning the well in this way, Pulpit and Pen gave Hank the out that he needed. He can and has accomplished a measure of damage control on that front. If they had rather focused on the fact that the Martin family and dozens of former employees have been calling for his resignation for thirty years and that he lives a Benny Hinn lifestyle, the situation would have been much more difficult for Hanegraaff to deal with. And the reason is simple. Those are the issues that he doesn’t want to talk about at practically any cost. Attacking Orthodoxy just gives Hank a chance to continue to promote himself, play the martyr as well as get better at defending himself theologically. However much damage it caused him, it played right into his hands. He immediately had a cabal of Orthodox defenders. And it further cemented his position by motivating the Orthodox faithful to accept him and his persona without question. In short, all Pulpit and Pen did was make the entire situation far, far worse. This is why Orthodox bloggers such as Robert Arakaki and others who rushed to Hanegraaff’s defense were mistaken to do so. They allowed Pulpit and Pen structure the subsequent discussion and debate, while ignoring matters of genuine importance.
This is not to say that the theological issues do not have a kind of primacy because they most certainly do. But ethics also matter and the Orthodox would have been far less likely to defend him and the hierarchy to elevate and promote him, if Protestant critics would have focused on financial improprieties and abuse of employees over a long
period of time in the public record. Under that kind of pressure, the Orthodox hierarchy would have been motivated to have Hank sit down and be quiet, perhaps even retire. But the opportunity was missed because the only people making those kinds of criticisms of Hank were former employees like myself and the Martin family.
Of course JW couldn’t make those kinds of criticisms nor bring them to light. The reason is quite simple. White had been in bed with Hanegraaff since the mid 1990’s, going on to the BAM show, promoting his books on the BAM show and writing numerous articles for the CRI Journal. James White defended him against the accusations from former employees like myself and many others. In order to make those kinds of criticisms now, White would have implicated himself by being complicit to some degree or another. After all, he’s an apologist. It is his job to piece together evidence and to discern the truth. At best, the most White could have done now is just admit his sins and errors and say he was wrong then to defend Hanegraaff and that he should have said something a long time ago. So in the main, while JW is right to point out that Pulpit and Pen poisoned the whole subsequent discussion, JW is really not in a better position. In fact, given his past defenses of Hanegraaff and his complicit behavior with Hanegraaff’s fraud which resulted in a personal benefit to himself, James White is in a worse position than Pulpit and Pen. Consequently, his ability to criticize Hanegraaff is limited by the ties from the past that, like it or not, tie him to Hanegraaff. Until he cuts those strings by coming clean, he really is in no position to criticize Hanegraaff. I’ll have more to say about this in section three.
L. What is James White Doing?
I watched the videos that James White released as they came out. When I watched the first two from April 10th and April 13th, 2017, a question popped into my head. And the question was the heading above. Granted, it was obvious that he had to say something and he had to make some kind of critique of Orthodoxy from a Reformed Baptist perspective just by virtue of the fact that Hanegraaff’s move was news, but what was he doing? How was this being framed and to achieve what goal? And then it struck me. JW is working to capitalize on Hanegraaff’s loss of market share. The fundamental thrust of JW’s arguments were that Hanegraaff can’t be a “Bible Answer Man” because the Orthodox tradition already settles matters for him in some a prior manner. This explains why JW’s ministry released a video after the Hankamess started detailing the ways in which their “ministry” operated as a “parachurch” ministry with integrity. The message was clear. James White is the de facto Bible Answer Man and his “ministry” has integrity, so send your donations to Alpha and Omega Ministries. The grabbing hands grab all they can because, well, it’s a competitive world.
III. The Bad: James White’s Critique of Orthodoxy
A. The Wholly Other, Other, Other and Other…
To start off, JW gives essentially a caveat that he hasn’t and isn’t going to devote the requisite time to become familiar with Orthodoxy or make it a focus of his “ministry.” Consequently his remarks will be essentially cursory. Fair enough. But it seems a bit ironic to say that you’re not informed on a topic and then spend the better part of four hours discussing it. Putting that aside, JW unfortunately falls into all of the typical mistakes and glosses concerning Orthodoxy. Most of these are garnered from the usual suspects, namely less than well informed converts, popular literature, and travel to eastern European countries.
First in line is the idea that Orthodoxy is so fundamentally different than western “mindset” that it is practically unintelligible. Westerners, wherever that geographic line is to be drawn, are not so much wrong but ask the wrong questions. Orthodoxy is so apparently “other” that one cannot even put it in outline form of any kind because it is too “mystical.” Trying to get western thinkers to think like eastern thinkers is “really, really hard” JW tells us.
All of this is the typical nonsense one hears from recent converts or in popular works. One would think that Orthodoxy was veritably Apollinarian in its spirituality, removing the mind in toto. And is Orthodoxy so alien that it is more so than say the Islam that JW writes about and debates? Is Byzantine Greek so much more removed from Latin and Koine Greek than seventh century Arabic? How is this wholly other entity and thought world even possible when we share many of the same sacred texts but also philosophical texts? And I have to wonder what John of Damascus’s work, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith is other than putting Orthodoxy in outline form. If White teaches church history (presumably at his Baptist church) and has read the Fathers as he claims, then it is rather difficult to miss, among many other texts.
Furthermore, a familiarity with the theology of figures like Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria and the Cappadocians would put one in a very good position to grasp Orthodox theology. If you know the theology of those men, how is it “really, really hard” to understand Orthodox theology exactly? This is not to say that there aren’t significant differences, points at which concepts are “tweaked” in certain ways. All of that is true and worthwhile. But if one has spent a good amount of time in the figures noted above coupled with a handful of monographs from the current revival of patristic studies, then one should be in a very good position to understand Orthodox theology.
Lurking in the background is the silly popular cliché that western theology is rationalistic or is committed to a form of rationalism. To be fair, from the scholastic period forward there is a sense in which reason, or more specifically logic gains a kind of preeminence it did not have before. It is a preeminence in terms of going beyond revelation or in seeking to explicate everything in revelation by it. This is to be observed in the protestations of Lanfranc sans Anselm. But rationalism is a specific thesis and using a term at home in the Enlightenment to describe the Medievals is anachronistic at best. Moreover, none of the medieval think that an intelligible explication of theology replaces the spiritual life either. If anything, it is just the opposite.
So usually what is meant when one hears about Orthodoxy and reason can be grasped by the distinction between propositional knowledge and knowledge by acquaintance. The fit isn’t exact, but it is sufficient for our purposes. There is certainly theology in the academic sense where arguments and logic structure discussion. This is to be seen veritably anywhere the Fathers are explicating core doctrines or fending off some heresy. This would fall under propositional knowledge, that which is expressed in utterances. That of course has its place within cataphatic theology.
Then of course there is knowledge by acquaintance. There are certainly things you know not because you read some text about it or how to do it, but because you experienced it. It would be silly, at least to most people, to read a book to learn how to ride a bike or to find out what red looks like. What is more, apophatic theology in the experiential realm has an added existential element to it. And by existential, I do not mean in some weird 1960’s beatnik sense. I mean more in a Kierkegaardian sense of how one is oriented in oneself towards God. In genuine supernatural experience and knowledge, words simply fail. And this is for a very simple reason. Such things can only be grasped personally and known from the inside out. The knowledge can only be had from the inside and in no other way. And this is just to say that persons are not reducible to things, substances, essences or any such thing. But we have to go further. One analogy that can be helpful is to think of Blackholes. The gravitational pull of a Blackhole is so intense that there is a demarcating point after which light cannot escape the Blackhole’s gravity. (Here I take physicists word for it having no personal experience of Blackholes myself.) This demarcating point is known as the event horizon. Knowledge of God here is akin to being dropped off on the “other side” of the event horizon of language. At the summit, here is where the person is laid bare before God, completely open and free and yet laid hold of. The person revolves around a reality that is real, not under your control or subject to you in any way, experienced yet inexplicable, rendering everything else in the periphery blurred.
And that is all I have to say about that.
The point here simply this; The Orthodox can argue with the best of them. Maximus the Confessor didn’t keep converting the imperial representatives by appealing to private experiences. He reasoned with them and he did so about doctrine. And this is so for volume after volume of the Fathers.
Sometimes I hear remarks to the effect that the Orthodox are not scholastic or that they lack a systematic theology and this sentiment is echoed in White’s remarks. There is nothing adverse with writing about theology in an organized or topical way. If any objection is to be made to the scholastic method it will revolve around two points. First, the metaphysical assumptions of Aristotelian logic, taking the world to consist of oppositional powers will be problematic for the simple reason that God has no opposite. Nothing in and of itself, qua nature, relates to God oppositionally. This is why evil is always glossed in terms of the personal and in terms of deficiency. So a method that structures theology oppositionally will be distorting. Second, Orthodox theology doesn’t take philosophy to be the handmaiden to theology. That means that we don’t use philosophical concepts to give semantic content theological terms. And this is for the same reason as above. Philosophical terms will be oppositional or dialectical and therefore distort theological meaning. This is why key conciliar terms such as homoousious are undefined or are rather apophatic. To this we could note other examples such as the Chalcedonian terms “without confusion”, “without division” and so forth. In this way conciliar terms are quite unphilosophical.
In these ways, Orthodox theology is “mystical” and ultimately transcends reason. But this is not meant in some quasi-Buddhist or Hindu sense of absorption into the divine essence where all individual identity is obliterated. If anything, Orthodoxy maintains just the opposite, with personal identity established in communion with God. In short, when JW talks about Orthodox theology in terms of being wholly other, “really, really hard” to understand, he’s just simply wrong. I did it after all. How hard can it be?
B. Its All in the Genes
At one point, JW talks about the “real eastern Orthodoxy” outside the Americana konvertski community. He takes what you see among nominal members in Eastern block countries to be “real” Orthodoxy. People born in that area have that religion because of where there were born. I am not sure if he gathered this from personal interviews of millions of people or from polling data, but simply visiting the Ukraine doesn’t put him in a position to know that this is so. What is more, while there are lots of circumstantial and other kinds of reasons why people end up having the beliefs that they do, it is arguably true to some extent or another of everyone that when and where they were born and to whom they were born plays a large part in what they end up believing, even for Reformed Baptists. What is more I find no principled reason to take lax praxis represented by nominal members to be “real” Orthodoxy than I do to take the “Frozen Chosen” to be “real” Calvinism.
C. What Do You Get When You Cross Apples and Oranges?
Next JW talks about supposed divisions within Orthodoxy, as much as we might not want to admit that they exist, he insists that they do. I find this rather unclear. Does he mean to pick out the 1,500 year old schism with the Copts after Chalcedon or does he mean to pick out jurisdictional bodies? I just don’t know. But if it is the latter it is quite absurd. I can go and partake of communion as a full member in a Bulgarian, Russian, Greek, Serbian or any other Orthodox church. National jurisdictions are not akin to denominational divisions. Just ask any Reformed Baptist who tries to take communion in a Missouri or Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church.
And to put the shoe on the other foot for a moment, none of the Reformation traditions (Reformed, Lutheran & Baptist) recognize each other as true visible churches and there is no formal communion between them, for five hundred years and counting. They may agree on Sola Fide and other points, but as far as the New Testament goes, the mark of unity is intercommunion and not an identity of mental content between groups of people. If you do not even eat at the same Table, don’t tell me you’re family.
D. Orthodoxy in Your Back Pocket
In one of the videos, JW picks up the Catholic Catechism and notes that you won’t find something akin to this in Orthodoxy. This is said after of course noting that learning Orthodoxy would take too much time on his part, so one has to wonder how he would know this is so. That aside, having a singular Catholic Catechism is a fairly recent development, relatively speaking. French Catholics in the twelfth century didn’t have any such document and neither did Italians. Historically speaking, catechisms were written by various bishops and used with synodal approval across various territories. What is more even today the Catholic Catechism is not on Catholic grounds an infallible document. It is entirely revisable and has been altered and corrected over time by the Catholic church.
JW gives the impression that the Orthodox have no defined body of teaching because, after all, we’re too spooky and “mystical” for it. One has to wonder what he makes of all of the teaching in the various church councils stretching well into the medieval period. There is certainly plenty of defined and normative theological content from Nicea up to the Palamite councils. And if as he says, Orthodoxy can’t be embodied in a text, (can any doctrine, really?) then I have to wonder what exactly he thinks all those bishops were doing in debating and writing all of that very specific and precise content at church councils.
E. The Dinosaur Religion?
JW then makes the claim that Orthodoxy suffers from “fossilization” and that this makes exegesis irrelevant. He isn’t clear what he means by fossilization so I can only take a stab at it here. If he means that the church simply repeats already established ways of speaking, then the Orthodox certainly eschew this practice. Articulating Orthodoxy isn’t merely rehearsing pre-established forms as has been made clear by Florovsky, Staniloae and many other Orthodox theologians.
Now if he means that by the mere fact that the doctrine of the church isn’t negotiable or revisable, then guilty as charged. That of course doesn’t make exegesis impossible or preclude it. It only precludes exegeting texts in particular ways. And this is true to some extent for the Reformed as well. JW is not free to exegete scripture in just any old way. If he were to deny the deity of Christ for example, yet appeal to the supremacy of scripture over confessional authority, I am quite sure his local congregation would show him the door.
F. Theosis: An Absorbing Topic
At one point, JW talks about theosis. He remarks that he’s familiar with the doctrine primarily by interacting with Mormon claims that the patristic doctrine provides theological exculpation for their doctrine of exaltation. (10) Then he says that theosis amounts to a kind of absorption into the divine being “in a sense.” At another point he speaks of the doctrine of the energies, which he seems completely unfamiliar. He glosses this as a kind of quasi-New Age type belief where people in the old countries have a kind of folk belief about divine power being communicated to or through material objects.
Generally speaking, one doesn’t find the language of absorption into the divine essence or being among patristic figures. A romp through Russell’s survey text will make this quite clear. It should be noted that there isn’t one doctrine of theosis historically speaking, to be had. There are a family of doctrines of deification in late antiquity, both Christian and non-Christian. This is due in part to various views of deification among philosophical schools and competing religious bodies. And for Christians of practically all traditions, each of them has some doctrine of deification or glorification for the simple reason that the biblical language is there and the fact that no current Christian body fell out of the sky fully formed yesterday.
As to the doctrine of the energies, I am not sure why he takes the belief that divine power works through or can be conveyed through material objects to be particularly New Age or a product of Far East mysticism. One would think his many years of exposure to Catholicism would make this familiar, or at least as familiar as such things can be for a Reformed Baptist. Moreover it is not as if the Biblical material is bereft of plausible candidates for such a belief. (Acts 19:12) And of course there is that doctrine across all Christianity, save the Nestorians, that God is united to a physical body and his divine power works through it, namely the Incarnation.
And it is not as if energia is not a biblical term, because, well, it is. It means activity, working, etc. And it is related, at least theologically to dunamis, for power. I would have thought that this would not have been lost on someone who’s job turns on familiarity with Koine Greek. And of course those terms and associated concepts played a pivotal role in the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the first five centuries of Christianity. Given JW’s claim to a certain degree of expertise in ecclesialstical history, particularly in these areas, one would think he would be familiar with such terms. (11) All of this is to say that the doctrine of the divine energies, whether one believes it or not, simply has nothing whatsoever to do with New Age mysticism and JW should have known this.
G. Imago Dei and Semi-Pelagianism
Next we come to issues JW is more accustomed to dealing with. He makes a number of statements about Orthodox anthropology and soteriology. He claims that given a denial of original sin and the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity that Orthodox anthropology is “sub-biblical.” If that wasn’t bad enough, Orthodoxy has a skewed view of grace and doesn’t believe that unregenerate humans are biblically speaking “dead.” He chides Hanegraaff for misrepresenting the issues of the Reformation, namely that the debate was over the sufficiency of grace and not the necessity of grace. It is because of a denial of the sufficiency of grace that Rome, and the Orthodox by extension, are semi-Pelagian because they include human activity in the ground for justification. In fact, he says, that for this reason, Rome falls under the Pauline anathema in Galatians 1 because including doctrines like baptismal regeneration and the sacramental system essentially denies the Gospel. (12)
Well, things look very bad indeed. Some of this is just sloganeering. So JW thinks that the Orthodox have a “sub-Biblical” anthropology, which is code for a number of statements. (13) The first statement it is code for is, the Orthodox aren’t Reformed, but of course we knew that already. The second is likewise unto it, the Orthodox don’t interpret the Bible the way James White does and the Orthodox interpretation is different than his. Both of these and many others, we knew already. It has no argumentative value. Here he is just cheerleading for his sect.
As far as Original sin goes, the Orthodox tend to give a different read on it from how it has tended to be explicated by Catholicism and that much is true. But as far as an outright denial of it, namely that Adam’s fall harmed only himself, this is patently false as any casual review of Orthodox catechisms will make clear. Of course when one doesn’t do the necessary research one tends to miss such things. Now it is quite true that we do not hold to the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity but that is hardly news, especially when one considers that not even Augustine held to it. And the reason is quite simple. The doctrine of Total Depravity is a whole lot more than the mere claim that one cannot move oneself to faith or any other pleasing work before God apart from grace. Total Depravity entails specific claims regarding the loss or alteration of the imago dei in humans at the fall, and an identification of moral righteousness as an essential constituent of the imago dei before the fall. The former tends to be Manichean in spirit and the later, Pelagian. (14) Consequently, the Orthodox denial of Total Depravity is not only in keeping with Augustine’s teaching but it is aiming to preserve other Biblical doctrines and to avoid the twin heresies of Manicheanism and Pelagianism.
As to biblical expressions that unregenerate persons are spiritually dead, I can only state that the Orthodox assent to them. That of course doesn’t mean we assent to the Reformed interpretation of them. We certainly agree that the unregenerate cannot move themselves to faith apart from grace or divine power, so in that sense they are “dead.” Furthermore, biblically speaking such persons are said to be dead “in” their sins. Likewise, those of the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, which is why they cannot please God. They do the “setting.” (The implication being, some others can please God.) In their deeds, they are also dead because their deeds produce all manner of death. Moreover, their being dead and unable to raise themselves to divine life also bears the force of habit. (Jer 13:23) And on top of that, the Orthodox fully affirm that as a consequence of the Fall, humans inherit a loss of divine power and life, the consequences of which are mortality and a disordered state of desires or passions such that they cannot save themselves or move themselves to faith apart from grace. But of course, none of that entails, implies or amounts to Total Depravity.
Now JW is quite right to chide Hanegraaff with historical legerdemain on this point. Hanegraaff just isn’t speaking to the relevant points of dispute, namely whether human activity could participate in grace or more narrowly, justification or not. White is clearly on solid ground as far as that point goes. The trouble is that it doesn’t go very far at all and the reason is that White himself is skewing the matter. White glosses the question as to whether grace was sufficient rather than merely necessary. But this is a mistake. Here White is begging the relevant question. The question is, whether the Reformation view of the sufficiency of grace was to be held or whether the Augustinian view of the sufficiency of grace was to be held. White doesn’t get to assume the former is what was at issue during the Reformation without argument.
For Augustine in regeneration, God’s act of moving the person is primary and it is
primary in terms of transcendental causality. This for Augustine does not exclude or preclude the person also moving themselves in terms of secondary causation. So God enables the person to believe and whether the person believes or not is a matter of what they choose to do. This is why for Augustine being regenerate is not equated with being elect. (15) Therefore it is entirely possible for Augustine to be regenerate but not be elect.
Much the same could be said with respect to justification. Including human activity in justification doesn’t amount to a denial of the sufficiency of grace on Augustinian grounds. Consequently, Augustine is quite the synergist when it comes to regeneration and justification.
“If synergism is taken to mean a view of the relationship between God’s grace and man’s free will in which God and man are each partial causes of man’s salvation, then synergism is rightly to be rejected as a misunderstanding of God’s sovereign working in us (his transcendental causality) of both the willing and the accomplishing of the salutary act (Phil 2:13). But if synergism is understood simply as a co-working or co-operation of God and man in the work of salvation (without suggesting that they work on the same or an equal plane), if it is taken to mean simply that man does something essential in the work of salvation, or that grace and free will are both involved in justification and salvation, then this is not only not a Semipelagian viewpoint-as some suppose-but a viewpoint that is central to Augustine’s doctrine of grace. In De gratia et libero arbitrio, especially where Augustine speaks of the gratia cooperans, we find the fullest statement of Augustine’s synergism.” (16)
“The dialectic can also be lost, as von Loewenich suggests, when one holds that grace is added to free will in the manner of a partial cause operating with another partial cause to produce a common effect. (17) This is a naïve synergism, an ‘Additionsschema’ that is foreign to Augustine and the Catholic tradition. Heinrich Barth admirably conveys the nature of the Augustinian dialectic when he wrote: ‘God’s assistance is neither placed alongside of man’s action nor before it in time. The entire action is the action of man. And the entire action of man is, on the other hand, the action of God.’” (18)
“Semipelagianism was therefore not simply a doctrine of synergism. Nor was it an attempt to reconcile ‘God’s foreknowledge and foreordination …with man’s freedom’ in opposition to a supposed view of Augustine ‘that God predestined everything and that, as far as merit went, the human will was absolutely impotent to do aught but sin.’” (19)
“The essence of the Semipelagian doctrine which was attacked by Augustine and by Prosper of Aquitaine and later condemned by the Second Council of Orange (529) was, rather, the idea that it belongs to the natural power of free will to initiate belief and salvation, to accept the gift of faith once it was offered by God.” (20)
Consequently, White is wrong to say that the issue at the Reformation was the sufficiency of grace, as if there was one concept of sufficiency to be had. Here he is clearly begging the question and making the matter a zero sum game as if it is a matter of grace only in toto excluding any human participation or activity. If the sufficiency of grace entails an absolute preclusion of human participation or activity in justification and that to include it is tantamount to a denial of the Gospel, then it is quite clear that Augustine and every figure before (21) and after him denied “the Gospel.” (22) This would also convict Augustine himself of Semi-Pelagianism. Apart from being anachronistic in the extreme, it is rather absurd.
Furthermore, if sola gratia did precluded any human participation in justification and sola gratia was a necessary condition of the Gospel, then it is very difficult to see how White’s view doesn’t imply a de facto apostasy claim along the lines of the Mormons. This is all the more relevant since White invokes Paul’s anathema from Galatians 1. So if that is what sola gratia meant and that is essential to the Gospel and it was denied, in principle from after the apostles to the Reformation, then it certainly seems as if the whole church lost “the Gospel” and was under Paul’s anathema, for 1500 years. In sum, when White speaks of Rome not being able to maintain sola gratia in any meaningful sense, he is patently wrong, because on that score, Rome and the Orthodox by extension are simply following the Augustinian anti-Pelagian tradition and the Reformation bodies are not. (23)
JW may wish to argue that Sola Fide is implied or entailed by an Augustinian view concerning the unfree will. That pathway is open to him, but he would need to provide the actual demonstration first. Second, it is implausible that such a path exists as McGrath notes,
“If human free will is enslaved, it is certainly true that humans cannot justify themselves-but this does not place God under any obligation to justify them by means of an extrinsic righteousness, provided the source of justifying righteousness is conceded to be none other than God himself. That the will of humans is enslaved is one matter; that God should choose to justify them in one specific manner as a result is quite another.” (24)
Consequently, in the absence of a demonstration showing either an entailment or implication from human bondage to sin and death, to Sola Fide, a case for Sola Fide will have to be made independently of the former thesis of postlapsarian human helplessness.
As an added benefit, at one point White notes contra Hanegraaff that the early Church at Nicea had not “fleshed out” a theory of justification, which is why the Nicene Creed is insufficient. Let’s take a moment and think about that. If they didn’t have a theory of justification, then it would seem to follow that they didn’t have or express the theory of justification known as Sola Fide. That would seem to be problematic, especially since up until this last century, classical Protestants were at pains to show that Sola Fide was in fact expressed in the patristic tradition. White’s remarks seem to give up that ghost.
Moreover, as far as the Creed goes, it is quite true that it doesn’t express a theory of justification. That of itself is worthless though. The reason is that there is in back of what soteriological language there is in the Creed a definite soteriological model. This is explicated by figures such as Ireneaus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, The Cappadocians, Chrysostom and Augustine. More specifically, White is clearly wrong to imply that there was no model or theory of justification on hand at that time. There certainly was as is evidenced by Augustine. But if that be considered too late, we can easily go much further back two centuries to witnesses such as Origen whose model of justification is essentially the same as the figures named above, especially Augustine. And the model provided by Origen (25) most certainly is not that of Sola Fide. (26)
Lastly, with respect to baptismal regeneration and the sacramental system, certainly Augustine didn’t take it to be antithetical to sola gratia so, White has to place everyone under anathema. Baptismal regeneration is not some late doctrinal development either. It is very early, long before Nicea (and evidenced in Nicea as well for that matter) finding ample evidence in the second and third centuries. What is more, if baptismal regeneration and a strong doctrine of the eucharist amount to a denial of the Gospel, then White has placed the Lutherans under Paul’s anathema, which of course would include Luther. (If White is going to anathematize Luther, who am I to argue?) The relevant question though is, why doesn’t White debate Lutherans on their alleged denial of the Gospel? Why doesn’t he openly call them heretics as well? Why isn’t this a case of special pleading on White’s part?
H. Falsifiability and Sola Scriptura
Between a video post and a text blog post JW tackles Hanegraaff and then Frederica Matthews-Green on the subject of Sola Scriptura. (27) Before wading into the specific problems in JW’s remarks, it is important to keep in mind some of the distinctive features of Sola Scriptura. The first issue is that of normativity of judgements made by individuals relative to the normativity of judgements made by the church. Take whatever ecclesial model you like here. The issue doesn’t turn on a particular ecclesial model. Here I am picking out an essential constituent of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment (DRPJ). I’ve discussed this previously. (28) In sum, the DRPJ is the thesis that any Christian individual is ultimately obligated to adhere to belief X, if and only if they judge (determine, assess, etc.) that belief X is scriptural. A consequence of this is that no ecclesial body can ultimately bind the conscience of any individual. At the end of the day, the judgement produced by the individual is of superior normative weight relative to himself than any judgement produced by any church. A further consequence of this is that on Protestant principles, formally speaking no doctrine is beyond revision or negotiation and this includes the formal canon of scripture as well. The faith is an approximate construction produced every generation through their exegetical practices and beliefs. On the point of normativity, Richard Bauckham writes,
“The notion of the formal sufficiency of Scripture does not, of course, mean that Scripture requires no interpretation at all—a notion which anti-Protestant writers have frequently and easily refuted, thus missing the real point—but that it requires no normative interpretation. Protestant interpretation of Scripture employed all the ordinary means of interpreting a text, especially the tools which humanist scholarship had developed for interpreting ancient texts, and respected the views of theologians and exegetes of the past as useful, but not normative, guides to understanding Scripture. The real difference between the classic Protestant and the classic Roman Catholic views lies in the Protestant rejection of the view that tradition, expressed in the teaching of the magisterium, possesses a binding authority against which there can be no appeal to Scripture. Behind this difference lies, on the one hand, the Reformation’s originating experience of a rediscovery of the Gospel in Scripture apart from and in contradiction to the teaching of the contemporary church, and, on the other hand, the Roman Catholic trust in God’s promise to maintain his church in the truth.” (29)
It is important to be clear on this point. The reason is that other views take scripture to be the only infallible rule for faith and practice but do not amount to Sola Scriptura. And they do not do so because they do not include the DRPJ. So by contrast, take the view sometimes designated as Prima Scriptura. On this view, Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. All doctrine is to be derived ultimately from Scripture. But on Prima Scriptura, the church is the only infallible judge or interpreter of Scripture. Such a view seems to have been taken by figures such as William Laud and other Caroline Divines. By contrast it should be easy to see the differences between the two views.
Moreover, the distinction between material and formal sufficiency should be clear as well. On Sola Scriptura, no interpretation of scripture could be ultimately normative or infallible, but on Prima Scriptura, this is entirely possible. Ex hypothesi, nothing precludes the church from doing the work of exegesis and then interpreting the scriptures in an infallible manner. If God should share such a power with the church, then nothing precludes this taking place. If the church had such a power, then it would ex hypothesi be incapable of interpreting scripture incorrectly. It wouldn’t make sense to pose the question of whether the church’s interpretation were correct or not if such a view were true. So then the relevant question would be, is such a view true or not? White doesn’t get to assume it isn’t and then argue on the basis of that assumption.
This is why JW’s discussion of Sola Scriptura is somewhat baffling. Against Hanegraaff, he deploys an argument that turns on a kind of falsification principle. Unless a view is capable of being falsified by a comparison with scripture, it is to be ruled out a priori. JW’s thinking here seems to be something like the following. If the church infallibly decides matters for you beforehand, this makes it impossible for you to be in a position to be corrected by scripture or to even find out what scripture teaches. There has to be some “objective, external standard” by which the church in toto is correctable.
The first thing to note is that this of course begs the question as noted above. He is assuming a premise that the Orthodox do not grant, namely that the church per se is fallible. So he is launching a criticism that only bakes bread with people who already agree with a Protestant ecclesiology. But we already knew that the Orthodox are not Protestant, as shocking as that may strike some. This is why his argument goes nowhere.
Second, is that falsification principle itself falsifiable by scripture? It seems doubtful at best. What is more, to say something is not falsifiable is not to say that it is unverifiable. If the church infallibly interpreted scripture this wouldn’t preclude the church from offering proofs verifying its claims. White here seems to be mistaking the modal and normative strength of a judgement with whether proof can be given for that judgement. If the judgement is infallible then it can’t be false and it would be ultimately normative, but that says nothing as to whether a proof could be given for the statements or propositions comprising the judgement. Take God speaking to a given prophet. Presumably God speaks infallibly but does this preclude God providing requisite proof for what he says? How about the apostles and the prophets speaking infallibly? I can’t see how.
Third, we can turn JW’s falsificationist principle more generally against Christianity in a myriad of ways. An atheist could (and atheists have argued) that unless we measure the truth of Christianity against an “objective, external standard” and Christianity could in fact be proven false, then Christianity is unfalsifiable and therefore not to be considered. Or take a person of liberal theological persuasion who argues that unless White is open to the possibility of demonstrating that say Paul and James contradict and that Scripture is therefore not infallible or inerrant, he can never be in a position to know the truth. Why exactly is a falsifiability acceptable when White uses it, but not when it is used in other contexts? We aren’t of course told.
Fourth, when White speaks of an “objective, external standard” I have to wonder what he means here. He seems to think scripture and the exegesis of it is “objective” in some Enlightenment theory neutral way. This is akin to older theories of science where theories were discriminated by facts verified through the scientific method. One could examine a belief (hypothesis) isolated from all other beliefs and test it. So a theory ends up looking like the building of a wall out of many bricks over time. Likewise, White seems to think this is how theological models are derived. You have scripture which provides you individual facts and then when you apply the appropriate rules to the facts, then the meaning of the text is yielded up. Presto! In this way, a theological system can be built up incrementally.
But this seems seriously wrong, especially for someone like White who at least seems to claim the name of a Presuppositionalist. On a Presuppositional model what facts are and how they are interpreted is not theory neutral and so an incremental approach is precluded. (30) Facts are not brute and interpretation free. Facts are interpreted within a framework or a worldview. In this sense there are no worldview neutral facts out there. So if “objective” means paradigm neutral, then White is inconsistent. What scripture is and what it means is not paradigm neutral.
More directly, our experience of scripture through our senses and the use of our rational faculties is also not theory neutral. If we take say each verse or portion of scripture as a fact, it is interpreted as part of our worldview and not apart from it. What it can mean for us is therefore a function of our worldview. This does not imply some kind of Postmodern semantic nihilism. I am not denying that the text has meaning independently of what I think of it and so I am well within Realism here. But if we are to take Presuppsitionalism seriously such that facts are not interpreted apart from a worldview and facts do not of themselves discriminate between worldviews (that is, they do not indicate which worldview is true of themselves) then this will include scripture and our interpretation of any given part of it. And this is so because it will include our presuppositions about language, meaning, the nature of legal relations, metaphysics, and many other things. And those beliefs will select for certain theological views or interpretative options, whether more or less at critical points. (31)
One other thing it entails is that we cannot verify or falsify beliefs directly because of the way they are related to other beliefs we hold. We do not examine our beliefs one at a time as it were, in isolation and this includes our beliefs about what any given portion of scripture means. This does not imply that we cannot jettison beliefs or add new ones. We certainly do but we do so in a way relative to how much we are willing to sacrifice or admit. We don’t pick out a passage and examine it in isolation from all our other beliefs and then ask, what semantic information does the passage all on its own give me? None of this of course denies that we can and do get to the meaning of the text. It just means we don’t do it in some crypto-Positivist and worldview neutral way as White seems to think.
But there is another point here that is relevant to Presuppositionalism. If the meaning of facts is a function of a given worldview and there is no worldview neutral access to facts, and we are to interpret the facts according to the Christian worldview, would that be some kind of Christianity in general? If as was discussed above the notion of “Mere Christianity” is nothing more than a pragmatic constraint and is conceptually incoherent and historically untenable, then Christianity in general will not be tenable for the same reasons. So then the question is, which specific claimant to the Christian worldview are we to employ in interpreting facts, including scripture? Adherents of each theological model or schema will hold that theirs is the fullness of Christianity and everything else is a deviation. And each of course will interpret scripture according to their own schema. When faced with difficult passages they will choose between various ways of accommodation or elimination. For example if some canonical book contradicts their core views, they will simply remove it from the formal canon. Or they will employ various interpretive techniques to blunt its force. Or they will appeal to what specific terms mean in other contexts and claim that the usage in this one particular case is vague, unclear and so on, and so must be interpreted in light of “clear” usage in other passages. This of course simply moves the problem to those other passages. Such moves assume that we isolate semantic content and beliefs and take things in a one by one fashion and build up a model incrementally. In any case, theological models as a type of worldview simply resist the kind of direct falsification by exegesis that White proffers and that seems to be part and parcel of the presuppositionalism he claims to profess. In this way, if objectivity means worldview neutral or rather theologically neutral, then there is no objectivity to be had in exegesis. This doesn’t imply that we are precluded from accessing the semantic content of the biblical text. But what it does imply is that we do not do so in a theologically neutral way.
J. Scripture, Tradition and Irenaeus
Following on the heels of JW’s falsification principle is the advantage that he seems to think that this bestows. If we can directly falsify views by an “objective, external standard” namely scripture, then this seems to put the Protestant view in a superior position. This is because the Protestant position can be self correcting over time. And he thinks that for Rome as well as for the Orthodox this is not possible. One of the reasons he thinks it is not possible is because he thinks Orthodox theology ossified due to its encounter with Islam. Consequently, Orthodoxy is “frozen” in the 7th-8th centuries and is therefore no longer “developing.” Moreover, JW thinks that any appeal to tradition is futile because there is no way to define or identify tradition by looking back through history.
As to the first point of Protestantism being self-correcting, there is certainly some prima facia appeal in such a notion, but it should not be missed that this comes at a price. What it implies is that there is no fixity in doctrine beyond a pragmatic constraint. The fact that a given Protestant tradition hasn’t seen substantial theological change or development in say, three to four hundred years has more to do with sociology and psychology than principles and any supposed self-correcting mechanism at work. The reason is simple. If all interpretations of scripture, along with all human traditions are in principle revisable, then it follows that no interpretation is beyond revision. More directly, since the formal canon of scripture is also a fallible human tradition, it too is not beyond revision. If Luther can remove James and 19th century Reformed can attempt to remove some of the Johannine epistles (due to evidence of episcopacy) there is no reason this could not happen again. This is just to say that it hasn’t happened not because it in principle can’t but for other reasons. There is nothing in the notion of being self-correcting that implies progress toward a fixed goal. And if the formal canon isn’t beyond revision, then we could see various sects adding to and/or removing works from scripture. Consequently, what would count as self-correcting could vary widely. This is all the more relevant in the face of liberal mainline revisions. The upshot is that having a system were no plank is privileged is not necessarily an advantage.
And then we have to take into account cases where “self-correction” has been offered such as with for example the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) by such figures as N.T. Wright or the Federal Vision perspective. How is that received? So far it seems that advocating for such self-correction is not met with dispassionate examination of a case on its merits, but more with ossified and intransigent prejudice such that advocating for it is a good way to get yourself put on trial for heresy, such as the case with Leithart. The Reformation confessions become a normative tradition by which scripture is to be interpreted. And proposals for substantial revision are met with a swift kick to the ecclesial posterior ejecting advocates out the door. It matters not that they take these documents to be fallible when functionally they work just like infallible documents relative to scripture.
Then take into consideration the three main traditions of the Classical Reformation: the Lutherans, the Reformed and the Reformed Baptists. (It is actually more like two and a half traditions since the Reformed and the Lutherans do not consider the Reformed Baptists to be genuine inheritors of the Reformation mantle.) None of these three recognize each other as true visible churches and have no formal communion for the last five centuries. They differ not only on incidentals but major areas of theology such as the sacraments, church government and substantial Christological differences. Where exactly is the self-correcting and falsifying principle at work here for the last five centuries between the traditions of the Reformation? It seems as if no substantial progress has been made, even though the data set has not changed. It does no work to say, well perhaps God wanted it that way. Well perhaps he did and perhaps he didn’t. Nothing of argumentative value follows from “maybe” or “what if” proposals. Besides, such a thesis would imply that God providentially inhibits the proposed self-correcting nature of Sola Scriptura which obviously isn’t a help here. In any case, what actual cases of scripture being self-correcting relative to Protestantism itself could White offer? (32) There are no substantial cases that I can see. The lay of the confessional landscape has pretty much stayed the same for the last five centuries. So much for “semper Reformanda.”
As to the second point concerning the ossification of Orthodox theology I find it difficult to take his reasoning here seriously. To be sure, when you are facing annihilation or abject subjugation by Muslim hordes, that kind of grabs your attention but White’s use of this is little more than a genetic fallacy and a red herring. The first thing to point out is that it is factually untrue. There is no shortage of theological discussion, controversies and such that have little to nothing to do with Islam or Orthodoxy’s apologetic efforts against Islam. These include controversies regarding the Eucharistic elements, over divine power, the nature of the relationship between philosophy and theology, universalism, Trinitarian theology and many other topics. What is more, I find it difficult to take White’s assessment seriously since he confesses not have spent any serious amount of time studying the matter. Any romp through Haldon’s Byzantium in the Seventh Century, Runciman’s The Great Church in Captivity or Hussey’s The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, all standard texts will show that White’s claim is fairly unfounded. I also must note that Protestant traditions such as White’s certainly seem to have benefitted from such “ossification” in the seventh century given their professed adherence to Christological Dyothelitism. That doctrine of course is formalized in the 7th century A.D.
Second, if the persistent presence of an apologetic adversary brings about theological ossification, then shouldn’t we expect that to be the case with Protestantism? I mean, it is not as if Catholicism has gone anywhere in the last five centuries. And it is not as if Protestants have stopped “protesting” either. White himself makes his living off of such “protesting” so should we conclude by his own reasoning that his theology has ossified or “frozen” due to constant apologetic engagement? What is more, has classical Protestantism seen any substantial theological development in the last five centuries? What major or substantial theological alteration has taken place? Has the London Baptist Confession of 1689, to which White subscribes “developed” in four hundred years in any substantial way? Not that I can tell. So it seems to me his own reasoning would imply an ossification of Protestant theology such that it is stuck in the 16th century.
What is more, White is assuming some as yet unexplicated theory of doctrinal development. Does he think doctrine develops like say Cardinal Newman did or is this some other theory of doctrinal development? And why think that theology should “develop” in the first place? And how is this not just question begging, namely to measure Orthodox theological history in terms of a Protestant theory of doctrinal development? And how would such a theory of doctrinal development be exegetically derived from Scripture alone do you suppose? What White owes us here is some theory of doctrinal development that picks out the telos or goal of doctrinal development that the Orthodox somehow fell short of due to ossification.
Third, with respect to Islam, White makes it seem as if Protestantism bore no substantial political or theological pressure from Islam. The fact of the matter is that during the Reformation well into the modern period, Islam continued to present an existential threat to western societies. One has only to look at a map of Europe in the 17th century for example to see that this is so. Muslims were not passing out Quranic tracts at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Should we expect to see theological ossification and alteration due to Islamic influence in Protestantism too? If so, where? After all, White himself is currently engaged in apologetic efforts against Islam.
From here we can move on to White’s claim that there is no way to define tradition by looking back at history. White seems to think this is so because, well, history is “messy.” The messiness is amplified by a variety of views expressed in the patristic corpus, some of which are contradictory or false. To begin, White here ignores some principles of historiography. History is not a mere heap or aggregate of temporal data points. History requires a selection criterion in order to construct a narrative, situating what is significant, and explaining why it is so, while weeding out irrelevant data that makes no explanatory contribution. (33) So while history is messy, this messiness doesn’t preclude us from knowing about the past or constructing intelligible models of it. If it did, White’s own views would collapse as well.
For example, if history is sufficiently “messy” such that we can’t identify and reconstruct tradition reliably, then why think that we can do so with respect to say the canon of scripture for example? After all there is the same “messiness” with respect to who accepted what books and why or why not as there is with any other candidate for tradition. If we can’t identify what the tradition was regarding the canon then all we have is a heap of individual opinions. Here the normative status of a given tradition is not the question. The question is whether the tradition can be identified and known. In short, the matter is epistemic and not the normativity of ecclesial tradition. So if tradition can’t be discerned, then this undermines a whole host of Protestant apologetic lines from supporting the Trinity and the deity of Christ to the formal canon of scripture. In this way, White’s claims undermine his own position.
What is more White simply supposes that there is no selection criteria to be had by the Orthodox as to what constitutes genuine tradition and what doesn’t. By White’s telling one would think that the Orthodox got right what they did by fluke. Of course the Orthodox have a number of selection criteria, not the least of which was proffered by Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus proposes that that which is taught by the churches that have an apostolic founding is the means to identify what is of apostolic origin, with dissenters or outliers being revealed as being not of apostolic origin. That proposal all by itself is sufficient to plausibly weed out no small number of claimants, including the Gnostics. This of course is not the only selection criteria that the Orthodox can avail themselves of. They can also utilize that which has been codified and defined by ecumenical councils to identify both apostolic tradition as well as what is to be taken as legitimate patristic and ecclesiastical tradition. And of course there is no reason why the Orthodox cannot avail themselves of modern disciplines and tools in archaeology, paleography and such with respect to identifying apostolic tradition. If the latter were not so, then Protestants would be in the same boat in identifying the biblical corpus. In short, White doesn’t get to just assume that there isn’t or can’t be any selection criteria or means of identification. He needs to prove it.
It might be helpful to think of the matter in terms of lower textual criticism. Any given manuscript family has variant readings, and plenty of those are mistakes of various kinds, yielding in some cases ambiguous or even conflicting readings. This, though, doesn’t imply that we can’t reliably reconstruct the original texts, even though we do not possess any of the originals with the resulting text being normative. Even beyond this, biblical interpretation is also quite “messy.” (It is an inductive method after all, just like history.) If it weren’t so after all, we wouldn’t have intransigent and unyielding divisions lasting five centuries across Reformation traditions. Yet somehow the “messiness” in these other areas does not seem to move JW to the conclusion that all is lost for Protestantism which is why this line of reasoning on his part smacks of special pleading.
Next we come to White’s invocation of St. Irenaeus as a counter example for the reliability and normativity of patristic claims of conveying apostolic tradition. As is well known, Irenaeus in his work against the Gnostics, Against Heresies, argues against a specific Gnostic thesis, namely that Jesus’ ministry lasted only twelve months. The number twelve playing a secret and symbolic role indicating some supposed higher truth in the Gnostic cosmological hierarchy of intermediary beings. Irenaeus plays the overkill card by utilizing the doctrine of recapitulation elongating Jesus’ ministry such that his age is about 48 or 49 at the time of the crucifixion. White deploys this in the typical manner as a kind of absolute game stopper but of course, it isn’t and here is why.
First, it is no one’s position that one is required to accept any single claim to apostolic tradition found in the patristic sources. Just being in the patristic corpus may be a necessary condition but it is not a sufficient condition. Nor is it anyone’s position that historical witnesses and conveyers of information from the apostles to us must be infallible or completely free from error in order to convey information to us. So here White is implicitly attacking a strawman. There is no need to quibble with White over the exact details of what Irenaeus says or meant, though I think the case can be attenuated. That is really irrelevant because White is criticizing a position no one holds.
Second, the way White frames the situation is such that he thinks that the Orthodox (and Rome) have no way of correcting for or weeding out such errors. We are just stuck with them as it were. But something here seems afoul. If what White were claiming were true, then we should expect to find Rome and all of the Orthodox churches teaching that Jesus was about fifty years old at the crucifixion. And yet this belief to my knowledge finds no currency at any subsequent point in church history. It receives no advocation from Popes or Councils to any detectable degree, anywhere. It is almost as if it got nipped in the bud right at the time of Irenaeus and went exactly nowhere. Now that is very strange since according to White, the Orthodox have no criteria for identifying tradition in history and we supposedly have no way to weed out any given claim to apostolic tradition. So we should just be stuck with the teaching. But we aren’t and never have been and the belief never moved on historically. The belief was weeded out because it was in conflict with other things the churches believed and taught, ironically following Irenaeus’ own principle for identifying genuine apostolic tradition.
K. The Orthodox “F” Word
The Orthodox “F” word is well known, that being the Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine of the Filioque. (34) That doctrine is quite specific. The doctrine is not the idea that the Son sends the Spirit in the economy of salvation. That is the Filioque is not a doctrine primarily about the Spirit’s work in salvation history. The doctrine is a thesis about the relations between the members of the Trinity, particularly causal relations. The Father eternally generates the person of the Son, noted as begetting and generates the Spirit noted as procession. The Filioque doctrine is the thesis that the Father and the Son eternally generate the person of the Spirit as from one causal principle. The undergirding principle that licenses the doctrine is the thesis that what is exemplified in the economy of salvation expresses and maps at a deeper level what the inner life of God is. So the reasoning is that if the Father and the Son send the Spirit in terms of a temporal mission in salvation history, then they “send” the Spirit in terms of eternally generating his person.
What is interesting for this discussion is that, while mentioning the doctrine and its relation to the Creed, White spends no time defending the doctrine on the basis of scripture alone. To be fair, he can’t talk about everything in these videos so he has to select between topics. But this is a major issue between Orthodoxy and western Christian traditions. Second, White doesn’t to my knowledge ever provide any exegetical argument for the doctrine even though the doctrine has wide confessional acceptance, including his own confession, the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Nor is the doctrine of incidental importance given that it occurs as part of the doctrine of the Trinity and structures its understanding and explication.
The relevant point being that if White wishes to chide the Orthodox on the grounds of Sola Scriptura, he owes us an exegetical defense of the Filioque. The problem is of course that Protestant exegetes tend to concede that it can’t be derived exegetically without adding philosophical principles like the one above. That is just to say that it cannot be justified on the basis of Sola Scriptura. To be consistent, White should either provide such an exegetical case, revise his own Confession or adherence to it, or jettison his commitment to Sola Scriptura.
L. The Bad Cyril and Dirty Laundry
In the course of the videos, White brings up Patriarch Cyril Lukaris. I am not exactly sure why he brings him up except perhaps to air Orthodox dirty laundry. Maybe White thinks it is some reason to think Calvinism is true or something. I don’t know. But in sum, Lukaris was Patriach of Constantinople during a turbulent period, about a century after the conquest of Constantinople by the Muslim Turks. He had the unenviable task of trying to keep the Christian community there in existence. To make matters worse, Orthodox churches in eastern Europe, Poland and elsewhere, were being overrun in various ways by the Catholic Jesuits. Occupying the chief Eastern See, these churches also required his care and attention. During this period, he aimed to form an Orthodox–Protestant political alliance of sorts to counter the influence of the Jesuits. Eventually documents in Latin attributed to him expressing an adherence to a Calvinism of sorts surfaced in Europe and a controversy ensued. Eventually by 1672, the Orthodox had condemned the proposed “confession” though not finally anathematizing the Patriarch. I have no idea what JW thinks this shows but I’ll give it a go nonetheless.
The first thing to note is that there is a fair body of literature on this topic. The whole affair is quite complicated and rather clouded for all sorts of historical reasons. Consequently, there appears to be no academic consensus on whether the confession in question is really from the hand of Lukaris or not.
“The question of the authorship of the so-called ‘Loukaris Confession’ has remained open and controversial to this date.” (35)
Therefore whatever value White thinks can be had by citing this and other related documents really goes nowhere. But even if this were not so and we suppose for the sake of argument that the documents are authentic it really doesn’t prove much of anything. The first thing to note is that the documents do not express a Reformed Baptist faith. To be sure there are elements which are decidedly Calvinistic. But take for example section 15, which reads,
“We believe that the Evangelical Sacraments in the Church are those that the Lord instituted in the Gospel, and they are two; these only have been delivered unto us and He who instituted them delivered unto us no more. Furthermore, we believe that they consist of the Word and the Element, that they are the seals of the promises of God, and they do confer grace. But that the Sacrament be entire and whole, it is requisite that an earthly substance and an external action concur with the use of that element ordained by Christ our Lord and joined with a true faith, because the defect of faith prejudices the integrity of the Sacrament.”
That section expresses a sacramental theology which is decidedly not that of the Reformed Baptists and probably even beyond most signatories to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Much the same can be noted in section 16 with respect to Baptism.
“We believe that Baptism is a Sacrament instituted by the Lord, and unless a man has received it, he has no communion with Christ, from whose death, burial, and glorious resurrection the whole virtue and efficacy of Baptism proceeds; therefore, we are certain that to those who are baptized in the same form which our Lord commanded in the Gospel, both original and actual sins are pardoned, so that whosoever has been washed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are regenerate, cleansed, and justified. But concerning the repetition of it, we have no command to be rebaptized, therefore we must abstain from this indecent thing.”
Notice the dreaded doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which according to JW compromises the Gospel. Much the same could be said about other articles contained in the document. At best the author is expressing a rather high or nose bleed Calvinism. So it doesn’t seem that the author is quite as Reformed as JW would like us to believe. In short, he’s no Particular Baptist. But none of this matters one way or another. The conversion of a given person is not indicative of the truth of the view converted to.
Of course everyone has dirty laundry. All it proves is that any given society of people is composed of…people. And people can change their mind, make mistakes, etc. And Reformed or Particular Baptists are not an exception. For example, take the case of Thomas Collier (1615-1691) who was a very active leading preacher and church planter among the Particular Baptists.
“The most orthodox phase of Collier’s career was the period between 1653 and 1659 when he served as the leader of the Particular Baptists Western Association. Under his leadership the association produced their Somerset Confession in 1656.” (36)
That’s a position of no small influence at the time. By 1674, Collier had written his major theological work, A Body of Divinity. Soon he attached an addendum of sorts explaining himself more fully on controversial points. The following is just one of the gems from
“And as it is necessary for everyone to be established in this truth, that there is a God, so likewise that there is but one God, and not a plurality of Gods…although in this one God there is a plurality of Titles, and varieties of discoveries, yet I dare not say of persons, or distinct subsistings.” (37) (38)
Collier’s anti-trinitarianism, deformed Christology and many other errors led to an involved controversy. In fact, Anti-Trinitarianism was rather rampant among various non-conformists during the 17th and 18th centuries not to mention the prevalent millenarianism. (39) And of course there was no fixed Baptist tradition yet as Mark Bell notes.
“While Collier was certainly a Particular Baptist and won many adherents to their beliefs, he did not follow the London line. He provides an excellent reminder that Baptist beliefs were still being born and that a cohesive doctrine was not universal among believers. Collier is a forceful example of how different Baptists had differing ideas as to what the movement should become.” (40)
Nor will it do much good to point to earlier Baptist confessions to try and make Collier out as atypical or unBaptist. The London Confessions weren’t uniformly accepted or binding across Baptist congregations due to the congregational polity endorsed by the Baptists.
“Although the London Confessions were true statements of Particular Baptists beliefs, they were not the single standard for all Calvinist baptized believers. They were not authoritative statements for all Particular Baptists. Not only was each association free to make its own declaration of faith, but also the decisions of the association, much less London, were not binding on the individual churches.” (41)
And of course Collier’s views were not limited to him. Even in his own congregation the London Baptists could not remove him because a majority of its members voted to retain him. Collier apparently took Sola Scriptura to heart, feeling himself unbound by any authority he did not agree with or rather, that did not agree with him.
“In 1678 Collier issued another confession of faith, both defending himself and objecting to the theology of the 1677 London confession. The latter half of Collier’s 1678 confession demonstrated his continued concern with eschatology. Just before his death Collier composed a Doctrine Discourse of Self-Denial (1691), which was published posthumously along with A Short Confession. Several churches signed this confession in support of Collier’s views. These last two texts testify to Collier’s unwillingness to be cowed into accepting beliefs that did not meet the test of Scripture or the test of his soul. Many Baptists supported him and considered him the primary Baptist theologian up until his death. Although he had chosen to go his own way, he had done so in good company.” (42)
I suppose Collier’s use of the ordinary means just wasn’t enough to get him to Trinitarianism. The Collier case forced the Particular Baptists to draft the 1677 London Baptist Confession, which eventually became known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession. The LBC plays down Baptist distinctives and essentially apes the Westminster Confession of Faith. The reason was that the Baptists feared that if the government identified them with Collier’s views, their heads could very well be on the literal chopping block. Better then to hide under the skirt of a Presbyterian than lose one’s head. Even still though, one could say that the Particular Baptists weren’t, shall we say, “Westminster men.” And of course the 1677 confession differed from the earlier 1644 Baptist confession in important ways. The Baptists found it necessary compromise or adapt their confessional beliefs for political expediency.
“The preface also claimed that the new 1677 Baptist confession was in agreement with the Baptists 1644 confession, but this was manifestly not the case. Among other changes, there were deviations in the doctrine of marriage, the use of the Scripture, and the issue of open verses closed communion. Again, in their efforts to win acceptance, the Baptists had adapted their beliefs.” (43)
After the Restoration this doctrinal downplaying allowed the Baptists to make common cause with their old enemy, the Presbyterians and to construct a single front with them against the Anglicans and their diabolical Book of Common Prayer.
“The Restoration had forced all nonconformists into closer cooperation and the London leaders no longer saw their old enemy, the Presbyterians, as Antichrist.” (44)
Prior to the Restoration, Baptists and Presbyterians had less than amicable relations, viewing each other as Antichrist.
“At this stage, the uneasy alliance between the Baptists and the Levellers depended on two things: common goals and common opposition to the Presbyterians. For Baptists, both of these conditions stemmed from their eschatology. The eschatological outlook that Baptists had developed naturally led them to identify the Presbyterians with the forces of Antichrist. Since John Smyth the various Baptist movements had identified hierarchical religion as the mark of the Beast. Thomas Edwards reported that John Webb, a leader of the “Anabaptists…loves not the Scottish Nation, but terms them the Babylonish Beast, and the Presbyteriall government the Priests Monopoly.’ In other words, the Baptists perceived their struggle against the Presbyterians as a continuation of their fight against the forces of Antichrist…The apocalyptic nature of Baptist opposition to the Presbyterians and their support for the Levellers’ reforms was demonstrated in two Baptist publications appearing in 1647. The first of these two texts was penned by Richard Lawrence, a Particular Baptist who had risen to the military rank of Marshal-General of the Horse in 1645. Lawrence wanted to delineate the full ramifications of a Presbyterian settlement, not because he had petty feuds with individual Presbyterians, but rather because he recognized the apocalyptic implications of such a settlement. As a result, he published The Antichristian Presbyter: or Antichrist Transformed; Assuming the New Shape of a Reformed Presbyter, as his Last and Subtlest Disguise to Deceive the Nations (1647). Lawrence placed on the title page a quotation from Revelation 13 that described how Antichrist would deceive the people. The quotation concisely summarized the thrust of his text: Antichrist, he argued, was a crafty deceiver and the saints must not be too confident that he had been banished from England. Indeed, Lawrence recognized that Antichrist was now working through the Presbyterians in a last-ditch effort to ruin England. If Presbyterians succeeded in settling themselves in the old bishop’s seats, then Antichrist would triumph and all the blood spilled in the war against the king would have been for naught.” (45)
“For those who insisted that Antichrist was still to be identified as the pope, Lawrence replied ‘I shall refer you to Mr. Prynne, Dr. Bastwick, Mr. Burton, and Lieu-Col. Lilburne: I wish them to remember the loss of their eares, their branding in the face, their pillory, their whipping-car, their exile and imprisonment. Ask them if Antichrist cannot persecute as well in the shape of a Protestant as a Papist.’” (46)
Ah, the good ole days when Baptists and Presbyterians could anathematize each other as Antichrist and other terms of brotherly affection. It is not for no reason that the Reformed generally do not take the Particular Baptists to be genuinely Reformed. One has only to read the theology of figures like John Smythe, and others much later to see
why. (“So, believing that there was no true church from which a valid baptism could be obtained, Smyth baptized himself. “) The Anabaptist quietism, Christological error and just plain old stupidity and goofiness were with the Baptists ab initio and persisted for centuries. Frankly, reading through the history of the Baptists is not unlike reading the early history of TBN or millenarian movements of the 19th century or of the medieval era. To be honest, it instilled in me the thought of finding the nearest pediatric ward and opening up a fire hydrant inside of it. These guys make Saint Irenaeus look well-nigh inerrant. Please note that Baptists are making these kinds of major theological errors after a thousand years of Christian exegesis, with a fixed canon, tons of biblical and theological argumentation and debate on the Trinity and Christology, to which they had general access, and they had a printing press to boot. And these are the people who recovered the true apostolic faith? Cough.
So James White wants to give a jab at the Orthodox because Dutch Reformed apparently converted a bishop, though he never joined a Reformed body or started one to his dying day. Ok, I’ll see you a Calvinistic bishop and raise you an anti-Trinitarian Baptist founder along with a gaggle of theological quackadox.
M. Putting Hank on the Couch
At one point in the videos JW attempts to put Hank on the couch regarding Matthew 23:37. Now, you’d have to work at it to find a more pointed critic of Hanegraaff than yours truly. Here I think JW is being uncharitable and unfair to Hank. On top of that, I think JW is proffering a psychoanalysis of Hank and people of different theological persuasions on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence. So here is how it goes.
Hank is discussing the above passage in relation to free will/predestination. JW is playing the clips and commenting as they move through that particular days show. When the passage comes up, Hank makes a mistake in quoting it glossing it as how often Christ desired to gather the Jewish leaders but they would not will it, whereas the text says that Christ desired to gather the children of Jerusalem (the people) but the Jewish leaders would not allow it. From here, JW psychoanalyzes Hank to try and argue that here you can see how people’s theological commitments psychologically dispose or compel them to even alter the very text of scripture. Ah! The horror!
Now, let’s be fair here. First, Hank is 68 years old. I am 46 and I can barely remember where I put my car keys half the time as my wife can duly attest. Hank has made a number of mistakes like this over the last year. They are most likely mistakes in reading or memory. I didn’t point them out because that is what they seem to me to be, just plain old everyday mistakes. And of course I don’t need Hank to be wrong about everything in order to make my point anyway. Second, this is an awfully slim reed on which to rest that kind of armchair psychoanalysis of someone, especially when JW is not a psychologist. If he had dozens of examples of Hank doing such a thing, he might have a point, but seriously, this is just absurd. What is more, Hank is as White noted not a representative for Orthodoxy. First he’s a layman and a laymen of no academic or intellectual standing in the Church. In order for White to convict the Orthodox or Orthodoxy of distorting scripture in the heads of its adherents, he’d have an awfully heavy burden of proof to bear. What he needs is a plausible representative and then to construct an argument that demonstrates the problem. One sparrow does not a spring make.
And of course, if you watch the video and listen to JW very carefully, you’ll note he too misquotes the passage himself in his critique of Hanegraaff, mistakenly substituting chicks for children at the wrong juncture. Perhaps this is indicative of some subtle Reformed Baptist heresy regarding children and chickens such that James White’s mind is warping even his reading of scripture! This would certainly add a new chapter in the history of Reformed Baptist quackadoxy to be sure. Thomas Collier, hold on to your chickens! The lesson is simple. People in glass houses should not throw stones. Everyone makes mistakes. Focus on what matters.
N. James, Paul and John MacArthur
Late in 2017, John MacArthur blasted Hanegraaff for abandoning “the Gospel” by converting to Orthodoxy. To be fair, MacArthur at least said up front what Hanegraaff will not say, namely that the Orthodox deny the doctrine of Sola Fide. Not long after Hanegraaff responded and I wrote up an account of the affair here. Hanegraaff’s response centered around flopping around James 2 without ever expressing a denial of Sola Fide. The reason of course was obvious, namely that what is left of his constituency probably won’t tolerate an outright denial of Sola Fide.
In any case, in one of James White’s videos he chimes in on the affair, providing a gloss on James 2, that essentially expresses the standard Reformed gloss. That gloss goes like this. James and Paul not contradicting each other because they are dealing with different issues. While they use similar or identical terms, Paul’s expressions absolutely preclude human activity from participating in justification, while James is combating the error of a faith that lacks the requisite fiduciary element and so is not genuine faith.
Furthermore, James is indicating that works are necessary but not meritorious. So a faith with the necessary fiduciary constituent will be accompanied by good works. Abraham as an example in James amounts to justification before man, whereas Paul is justification before God which absolutely precludes any human activity, even faith. On this gloss faith is the “empty hand” which is just another way of saying that faith itself doesn’t please God, it is as a virtue is intrinsically worthless. It is only extrinsically and instrumentally valuable because of what is received by it. It is the highway by which the earned moral credit of Jesus is transferred to us.
Here I’d like to take some space to do a couple of things. First, I’d like to offer a diagnosis of why I think JW jumped in at this juncture. Second, I’d like to make some points regarding his proposed exegesis.
The Reformed gloss on James 2 is hardly a state secret. There are a myriad of sources, commentaries and many other books that provide expositions on James 2. I’d bet money that there are a number of Youtube videos already on it, so why provide another one? As I noted in section 2. L. above, this strikes me as about market share. White had positioned himself as the de facto Bible Answer Man with his previous videos and posts. Along comes John MacArthur positioning himself as a critic of Hanegraaff in defense of “the Gospel.” So JW has to one up MacArthur by using his signature skill, providing exegesis from the Greek NT, LIVE!
Something that I thought was interesting harkens back to a previous post I wrote about the MacArthur/Hanegraaff exchange. MacArthur doesn’t actually hold to Sola Fide. And the reason he doesn’t is that he takes faith to entail willing obedience as a constituent of faith. Consequently, MacArthur doesn’t have the “empty hand” view of faith’s relation to justification. As I noted previously, MacArthur’s view, unless he has substantially changed it, amounts to the doctrine of formed faith, namely that faith is completed by obedience and is therefore justifying on that basis. What is strange to me is that this has been out for a long time and White could easily point it out as compromising or as a denial of “the Gospel” of Sola Fide, but he doesn’t. Instead he takes the opportunity to go after Hanegraaff.
As to James 2, JW situates the issues in a particular way. Either one has to reconcile them in the way he argues or one is stuck with a liberal gloss of thinking that James and Paul contradict. He proffers these as the only two interpretative options. But of course framing the matter in this way is distorting and wrong. First it is not a distinctly liberal thesis to take them as contradictory. It may be dominant now among liberal commentators but there is nothing distinctly liberal in doing so. And the way you know is that that is how Luther initially took them, not to mention other various antinomians. That path was taken long before theological liberalism even existed.
Furthermore, there are other interpretative options. If one takes the route proffered by Augustine for example, namely that of formed faith, there is also no contradiction between James and Paul. Paul is speaking about Abraham when all he had was the God given virtue of faith, which pleased God (cf. Neh 9:8, Heb 11:6) and so he was initially justified. James by contrast is talking about Abraham’s continuation and expansion of the virtues to possess love, which is why James is speaking about works of love relative to the poor in the previous chapter, so that Abraham’s love completes or makes his faith mature. This fits well with Paul’s remarks in 1 Cor 13 regarding having “all faith” but no love. On that schema too, like it or not, Paul and James are not contradictory.
Another interpretative option is to take Paul to be speaking about works of the law in Romans 4, namely those works by which Israelite identity and covenant membership were established, such as circumcision, whereas James is speaking of works born of grace, namely works of love or charity. Here again, love completes faith and makes it
genuine. It is the contrasting element that the demons lack-they have no works of love but rather evil deeds. Moreover, this fits well with Paul’s statements in Romans 5 about the love of God poured into our hearts and his remarks in Romans 13:10 where love fulfills the law and that the law is fulfilled in us, per Romans 8:5. It does not matter whether the Reformed agree with these interpretative options. What is relevant is that it is not the zero sum game that White frames for us. And this is so even for the commentaries he lists as sources for his own chapter in his book, The God Who Justifies. Those authors present some of the above interpretations as legitimate options.(47) And there are of course other interpretative options such as those presented by Scot McKnight in his commentary on James in the NICNT series and elsewhere.
A couple of subsidiary points about James 2. A relevant question concerning to James 2 is whether such a faith, whatever concept of faith is in mind here, saves, is useful, is good or beneficial with all of the latter referring ultimately back to the former. The framing is soteriological. It is not social. Consequently the passage is not about justification or vindication of Abraham’s faith before men, unless we want to say that such a vindication is part of what “saves” someone. I don’t think anyone’s position desires to include such a result. It is really quite weak to say that Abraham’s faith was justified before men as JW does for a few simple reasons. The mere fact that the sacrificial victim was a human witness is a fairly weak basis to conclude that the goal was before men. Adding in the angels doesn’t seem to add much here either. The reason is that the primary audience
and direction of Abraham’s action was God and not the angels or humans. Second, James is talking about this case in terms of it being “saving” and not it being validated as saving. The question is, what use, what good, etc. is such a faith? Can it save? A faith demonstrated before men doesn’t save because it is demonstrated before men. Exemplification doesn’t contribute to soteriological here for the Reformed. Since James is addressing what makes it “saving” the vindication or justification doesn’t turn on the audience of men. Rather it turns on the relationship of completion, perfection or maturity that works bear to faith.
And of course James’ parting body/soul analogy is pretty much ignored by White. James notes that the body is dead without the soul and so faith is dead without works. Now granted, this is an analogy and so it should not be pressed too hard but the idea the analogy appears to turn on is that the soul bears some kind of life giving causal relationship to the body. The soul isn’t merely with the body, but rather makes it live. If that is the idea, then works provide a relevantly similar relationship to faith. But on White’s account he’d have to read the analogy as saying, because it is a living body, it lives. Well sure, but James’ analogy is that the soul makes the body a living body. James expresses a causal relation of works to faith, not of faith to works, as White’s position fundamentally has it. And that presents a fundamental problem for the standard Reformed reading that White presents. For if works make faith genuine, then a mere accompaniment of works to faith, that is, of a contiguous presence is not going to be sufficient to save because contiguity is not the kind of relationship expressed by the Apostle James.
O. Upon This Para-Rock
In this last section of “The Bad” I’d like to discuss one other video presented by JW’s “ministry.” This video was made by Rich Pierce (RP), who is apparently something like the chief operations officer for the “ministry.” It was released in in June of 2017 not long after JW’s initial video’s criticizing Hanegraaff and Orthodoxy.
RP presents the video as prompted by “recent events” though he doesn’t say exactly what. This most likely includes Hanegraaff’s outing event. In any case, RP presents the
video as a chance to show presumably donors to Alpha and Omega Ministries how things are done there, specifically with an eye to accountability. He fields a number of objections to the very idea of a “para-church” ministry and then moves on to the accountability structures in place there. He explains that as a para-church organization they merely seek to work “alongside” the church. Uh, along side you say? Is that like synergism?
I’ve written here before about why I think para-church ministries are unbiblical and frankly dangerous. They take resources away from churches and end up creating personality cults. The timing of the video is just more of the same in terms of gobbling up Hanegraaff’s market share. The chief objection that RP fields is essentially that para-church “ministries” are not licensed or instituted by scripture. (17:20 min mark and following) This of course would and should be a game stopper for those professing Sola Scriptura, especially a Reformed version of it. What is interesting here is that RP fairly clearly acknowledges that there is no scriptural justification for para-church ministries. But what he argues is that there is such a great need for “specialists” who do this kind of work because the local pastor simply can’t keep up. So what licenses the existence of Alpha and Omega ministries is not scripture, but pragmatic demands that license them to go beyond scripture. This is the typical justification that is offered by all of the para-church “ministries.”
Call me silly but this looks like a significant inconsistency here. So these are the people who adhere to Sola Scriptura but admit that what they are doing violates Sola Scriptura. Shouldn’t they pull the log out of their theological eye first before they go making criticisms of anyone else? Second, note that this is an inconsistency not merely in the abstract. It is not a conceptual issue but also a moral and practical issue. They run a business that violates their own views on what Scripture licenses and institutes and it is a business from which they derive a financial benefit and that for many years.
And as if violating their own formal principle, Sola Scriptura, wasn’t bad enough, the argument that RP offers is a very bad one. The appropriate conclusion to be drawn from the great pragmatic need for such works is not that one institutes something other than the church, contrary to Scripture, but rather that you create the necessary positions within the church and the offices ordained by God in and for the church. (48) So if you need more teachers, then you hire more teachers, ordain more deacons and presbyters, etc. The need for a cooperative effort doesn’t provide a justification for parachurch businesses. So Peirce’s conclusion just doesn’t follow from the premises.
Now if the need is so geographically wide that this creates distinctive pragmatic problems for Reformed Baptists and others that engage in Congregationalist polity, then they need to find ways, on their own principles, to deal with those problems consistent with their views on Sola Scriptura and not contrary to it.
Please take note, that my criticism here doesn’t depend on Orthodox principles or commitments. It turns on Protestant commitments and Mr. Pierce’s own remarks that the very existence of the organization he heads falls afoul of being instituted by scripture. So either the folks at AOMIN need to come up with an exegetical case for the existence and institution of para-church organizations or they need to dissolve it to comply with their own beliefs about Scripture. I am not holding my breath for either option to be enacted.
What is more, it really doesn’t matter what mechanisms of accountability Pierce discusses in the video. Here is why. First, having a board just means that they pick people to be on the board even if those people are not members of the organization or JW’s congregation. Second, the fact that ministry/board members have to make a profession of faith every year and be in good standing with some local congregation is better, but of course that too doesn’t indicate much in terms of accountability. What people have to understand is that non-profit organizational status just means they don’t endorse political causes or candidates. It doesn’t mean that a profit is not made. So if you want accountability, you have to look at where the money goes. This is not to say that I am accusing or implying in any way any kind of financial malfeasance with JW’s organization. All I am pointing out is that the video doesn’t make any financial
disclosures so as to achieve public transparency. How much does JW make? How much is his housing allowance? Who keeps their books? Who decides his salary? Who decides who gets on the board? And where do all the book revenues and speaking honorarium’s go and what do they amount to? These are the kinds of questions when answered speak to the question of accountability. People do not abuse yearly professions of faith or nab board members in the middle of the night. They take money. And of course, that is all money that should be going to churches and not some self-appointed knock off entity.
Two last items before we move on to the “ugly” matters. The first is Mr. Pierce speaks of theological items that are “non-negotiable” to be a member of the ministry. But of course that they are “non-negotiable” is just a matter of human tradition. That is, what they consider to be non-negotiable is just their custom. Why anyone, including AOMIN members be obligated to observe what AOMIN considers to be non-negotiable is a fair question. Invocations of scripture won’t help either because of course as we saw above, on their view of matters there are no normative interpretations of scripture to be had. Sure, they think their interpretation of scripture is true, but is there anyone who thinks their interpretation of scripture is false?
The second item is that Mr. Pierce brings up the possibility of serious moral failure in the organization and the means to address it. The mechanism appears to be that there would be a confrontation with the individual by ministry heads and then an informing of their elders. Fair enough. What I wish readers and AOMIN to consider is the following question. Why doesn’t what I present in the next constitute a serious moral failure on the part of James White? And if you think it does, what is AOMIN going to do about it?
IV. The Ugly: You Gotta Watch the Ones Who Always Keep Their Hands Clean
A. What Did the President Know?
The Watergate scandal in the U.S. lasted for a very long time. It dragged on for month after month. Evidence kept building as leak after leak made its way through the news outlets of the time. Eventually Sen. Baker asked the critical question in Congressional hearings. “What did the President know and when did he know it?” This serves as an appropriate framework for thinking about what follows. Over the last year, I have pointed out financial scandals, professional incompetence and abuse of employees that were expressed in the public record and in the accounts of multiple former employees. The relevant question is, what did James White know and when did he know it? Other relevant questions are not far behind. Why didn’t he as a minister of the Gospel associated with CRI call for an independent investigation? Why didn’t he at least cease from such associations until the matters could be settled? Why did he publicly defend Hanegraaff against the charges made by numerous independent parties? These and other questions will be addressed below. This is because as James White says in his own videos criticizing Hanegraaff,
“You can’t do the truth part but not the life part.” And “You can’t separate truth and life.”
I could not agree more.
B. A Hobbit’s Tale
In February of 1992 I was terminated from CRI. Others had been terminated or forced out before me such as Craig Hawkins, Dan Schlesinger, Jerry Kistler and others. I was about 19 years old when they fired me. Due to the loss of income, I lost my place to live, a rented room. I had to drop out of college because I could not afford gasoline among other expenditures. For a short while, I lived out of my car, an orange 1974 VW Bug. Soon, I ran out of cash. Eventually I moved back in with my mother until I could gain employment. That was during a recession and work was more difficult to find. Eventually I landed a job at Costco which enabled me to get back on my feet.
The early 1990’s was a time just before everyone discovered the Internet, when companies like AOL and such were in their infancy, charging by the hour for internet usage. Fortunately, I was a bit ahead of the game with a 486 computer with a 20meg hard drive I eventually acquired and a handy Netcom account for twenty bucks a month for unlimited internet access. Modems were lightning fast at 300 baud rate. Not long after, it jumped to 1200, then 2400 and eventually to 14.4k. You could transfer a whole 1.4 meg disk in a day!
This was the time of Bulletin Board Systems and mIRC (Internet Relay Chat). On a BBS you’d compose your messages offline and then upload them. MIRC though quickly became my favored domain since it was real time group conversation. I initially went by the “nick” St_Anselm, but eventually settled on “Acolyte.” Having had a good background in apologetics, I worked my way up the food chain and became a channel operator. And of course at this time, I was a Calvinist, being a member in the Reformed Episcopal Church, specifically at Michael Horton’s parish in southern California during the beginnings of CURE.
At this time James White also had a presence on mIRC with his own channel. At times, we’d spar, usually about whether Reformed Baptists were genuinely Reformed or not, or some related issue. Eventually I became persona non grata in his channel. It didn’t help matters that as I read the writings of the Caroline Divines I became less Reformed and more high church Anglican. Names like Hammond, Thorndike, Taylor, Bull, and Forbes replaced those of the Puritans and the Reformers in my head. Needless to say, this didn’t make me Mr. Popular among the Reformed there.
On not a few occasions in my discussions with JW, I told him what went on at CRI or at least I tried to tell him. Time and again I kept trying to convey to him that Hanegraaff could not be trusted, that he was a fraud and that he was in it for financial gain. But he would not listen and dismissed me out of hand. That was 1992.
B. The Sparks Fly
I went on with my life. There was nothing I could do about CRI. And people need to remember, this is at a time when cell phones were like bricks and there was no social media. To get something to go viral, you had to have access to the mainstream media and frankly I had no connections. So there was really nothing I could do.
In 1994 I believe Brad Sparks, another employee, had been terminated. He brought a lawsuit of wrongful termination against CRI. Sparks had brought to light in his suit many of the same abuses that persons like myself and others before me had. For about a year or two the suit dragged on, but eventually Sparks ran out of cash and the suit was settled in mediation with Hanegraaff I believe paying Spark’s legal fees and Sparks signing a non-disclosure agreement.
C. An Accountability Attempt
Between 1992 and 1994, a number of other employees had been forced out or fired, including apologists such as Rob Bowman and Ken Samples along with a number of other employees. When the Sparks lawsuit began it was a galvanizing event. A good number of us banded together and formed the Group for CRI Accountability. (49) (Yes I know, not a stellar name.) We were about thirty or so in number including former employees as well as CRI volunteers who had worked for CRI on a daily basis. Some former employees did not wish to get involved. In their thinking they had careers to protect. Running up against Hanegraaff who had all the connections in the publishing industry, radio stations and mega churches would be very bad for their career.
People here need to understand. Think of matters “hypothetically.” Suppose you are a senior researcher at CRI. You have your earned degrees and an established reputation and probably a list of independently published books under your belt. Suppose after your exile you manage to get a spot on a local radio station with an apologetics call in show. Suppose further that Hanegraaff is golfing buddies with the station or network manager. If you say something critical of Hanegraaff on air, your show gets threatened with termination. Much the same thing can happen in publishing. A wrong word in the right ear and you can forget about ever getting something published.
So, former employees broke in different directions at this point. Some were willing to stand with us and some not. Some had been compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements and so aren’t legally free to speak about the matter. While I understood the position of those who don’t want to get involved, the way I saw it the problem would only get worse. Second, we had a moral responsibility to the people who depended on CRI who numbered in the millions, not to mention to the memory of Walter Martin. And of course, if you’re a Christian a little bit of confidence in divine providence to take care of your earthly needs goes a long way. Some of those that didn’t help us were so morally compromised and complicit in wrongfully firing others or in covering matters up that there was no way for them to come clean without implicating themselves. (Here Bob Lyle, Scott Larsen, and Jane Huckabee come to mind.)
During this time, many members of the Group received letters from Hanegraaff’s attorney, Sealy Yates, threatening us with various legal actions if we did not cease and desist. I myself received a nine page letter from Mr. Yates threatening me with all sorts of legal action. Of course the legal advice I received told me to disregard it because it was merely a scare tactic. If they had intended to carry out any legal action, they would have just done so.
The Group met on a few occasions. We were loose knit. There was no single leader. Members collaborated to a greater and lesser degree. Most members disclosed their membership, but there were many others who, while not formally part of the group still helped out. And then we had a few moles still inside the organization feeding us information on what was going on. It was surreal. At one point, about 25 or so of us went down to CRI. (This was when CRI was in Irvine, CA, at the 17 Hughes address.) We tried to meet with Hank or anyone else there that would listen, but were rebuffed with threats of trespassing and police action if we stepped foot on CRI property. So instead, we just picketed for the afternoon.
While we sent out packets of documents to various other ministries and churches, our fundamental problem was that pretty much no one else in power would help us bring accountability to CRI. This wasn’t necessarily because they liked Hanegraaff. It had more to do with the Good Ole Boy network that existed between megachurches and para-church ministries. I learned very quickly about the parachurch ministry commandments, chief among them being, Thou shalt not out the wickedness of other parachurch ministries, lest your own wickedness come to light. On top of this, we could get no serious media attention. After the Spark’s lawsuit folded, the Group fizzled out after a few months. People went on with their lives and that was that. That was about 1995 or so, maybe as late at 1996.
Other signs appeared in the counter cult community as well. Sometime in 1996 or 1997, CRI was removed from the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, of which I believe Walter Martin had been a founding member. Along with the removal came the removal of Elliot Miller from the EMNR board. This all centered around repeated and documented charges of plagiarism and other allegations against Hanegraaff and questionable behavior on Miller’s part. Sources indicate that the subsequent ethics protocols implemented by Eric Pement at EMNR were made due to the abuses by Miller and Hanegraaff.
It was also during this time that Hanegraaff’s millionaire lifestyle began to come to light. This centered around his then Coto de Caza home. At the time, Coto de Caza was prime southern California real estate. Hanagraaff secured ministry funds to pay the down payment on the $730,000, 5200 sqft home. By today’s market standards in Southern California, 730k is a bit steep, but in 1992 average homes in southern California were on the range of about 250kish. Eventually, Hanegraaff was confronted about the home and the “bridge loan” from CRI and he chose to lie about it to callers. You can see for yourself. Only after another purge of employees in 2003 did Hanegraaff admit the “loan” from the ministry and agree to pay it back, after ECFA had been notified. Whether it was ever paid back is unknown. More on this situation below.
And then around 2005-2007 Hanegraaff launched a defamation suit against Bill Alnor, yet another name that White recognizes as a long and well established name You can read about it here. At the time, Alnor was suffering from cancer and eventually succumbed to it. Hanegraaff had no problem not only suing other Christians, contrary to biblical teaching (1 Cor 6:1ff) but someone who was dying of cancer. But Hank had no problem with it. He had no mercy. I believe that eventually Alnor ran short of cash and could not further support his claims. Hanegraaff’s suit was tossed out by the court because it was in violation of California’s Anti-SLAPP laws designed to protect whistleblowers from reprisals. Alnor’s account is visible here.
D. The Brain Drain
From 1994 to 2000 there continued to be high levels of employee turnover at CRI. You can see from this list what the turn over from 1989 to 1995 looked like. –> CRI employee list 95 (50) If you know anything about the apologetics and counter-cult world, some of those names should be familiar to you. (Some of the same names show up on the “Open Letter” regarding the Local church sect mentioned above.) Between 1989 and 2000, CRI numerically turned over its entire staff, averaging about 45 employees, over three times. At one point other former employees ran the numbers showing that this was far greater turn over than represented by comparative industry norms. (51) To be sure not everyone was fired or left for the same reasons. Some of these were like Bowman because they refused to ghostwrite for Hanegraaff or they wouldn’t go along with something unethical that Hank wanted to do, or they had raised concerns or blew the whistle. Others saw what was going on and just got the hell out of Dodge, no questions asked. With others it was just natural employment turn over. Not everyone was in a position to see problems. So the list should not viewed as a master list of employees who objected to Hanegraaff’s actions and position. But the list does show that there was a lot of turn over, far greater than is usual in similar circumstances. And it shows the elimination of figures in the research department, many of whom were selected by or during Dr. Martin’s lifetime.
Eventually, by 2000, the “Think Tank” element of CRI was whittled down to two or three individuals from about ten to twelve. During this period, CRI began outsourcing work to freelancers. Why pay a senior researcher 40k a year to work fulltime for you when you can pay someone 500-200 dollars per article? (See Page 9) In this way, CRI ceased to be a Think Tank and began to be a product promotion business. The BAM show was transformed adopting a talk show format with featured guests and their products for sale. Apologetics became about buying and selling the faith.
In any case, as Hanegraaff essentially liquidated the research department, he faced a problem. He had to find de facto replacements to do the work that the senior researchers had done. This work was to be outsourced to apologists paid on a per diem type basis. The talk show format and product promotion filled part of that need along with freelancers writing for the CRI Journal. One of those outsourced replacements was James White.
In the mid to late 1990’s James White became more prominent in part due to his being a guest on the BAM show and the obvious vacancies in the research department. There he was able to promote his own “ministry”, and books and to increase his standing in the apologetic community. He also became a contributing author for the CRI Journal, which he remained at least until 2006. He was also able to get CRI to carry his books for sale, which to date they still do. That of itself is highly ironic, but I digress.
During the late 1990’s White had to know and recognize that prominent names in the apologetic community were being eliminated from CRI’s research staff. He would have known this from just the fact that persons he knew who had been there, were no longer there. That would have been apparent when he was on location and in studio for the BAM show. In White’s videos criticizing Hanegraaff he is clearly aware of such figures like Paul Carden and many others as staple names in the counter cult and apologetic community.
What is more, he defended Hanegraaff against charges made by former employees in 1998 (White Defends Hanegraaff). Here I need to take some space to explain what you are looking at. The publication in question, On The Edge was an internet publication, written under a pseudonym. It appeared to be put together by an informal small group consisting of at least someone with private investigator experience. It also seemed to have as a member someone with insider knowledge of CRI. I quickly realized in the late 1990’s when it came out that whoever was writing this stuff knew things about the inner workings of CRI at the highest levels. Neither I nor any of the former employees that I knew, knew who the authors were, but whoever they were, while being pointed, they knew exactly what was going on. To date, either no one I know knows who the authors were or they aren’t talking. The publication disappeared eventually, accessible only on the wayback machine. In any case, in 1998 White was defending Hanegraaff, just as he had defended Hanegraaff to me in 1992 and during the Sparks lawsuit in 1994.
G. Widows and Orphans
The situation continued to deteriorate with Darlene Martin, Martin’s widow resigning from the board. In mid 2000 The Los Angeles Times published two pieces (one and two) detailing that the Martin Family and Walter Martin’s widow, Darlene Martin, had called for Hanegraaff’s resignation. The second piece was a personal letter from Darlene to the editor. Darlene had resigned from the board in 1996. (I had only met Darlene once back in 1990 and I had had no further contact with her after that.) Darlene had been on the CRI board for six years so she was in a position to see what Hanegraaff was like behind closed doors. Other former employees (who were never part of the Group for Accountability) relate their witnessing occasions where Hanegraaff was screaming at Darlene in his office and Darlene ran out in tears. The biblical material on how one treats widows comes to mind here. Notice also the basis of the Martin Family’s complaints articulated by Darlene.
“At the time of my husband’s death, I believed Hank Hanegraaff was a man God could mold into a strong Christian leader, one who could play a positive role in leading CRI. I supported him loyally for six years before I came to see he was not the man I believed him to be. Secondly, one of our family’s main objections to Hanegraaff’s continued leadership is his mistreatment of fellow Christians. He has left a trail of wounded people behind him since the takeover of CRI in 1989. The testimonies against him include those who are his “right-hand” people, people who worked closely with him.”
If you read through the accounts of various groups of purged employees over a nearly thirty year period, this is the same complaint that keeps popping up again and again. And it comes up independently from many eyewitness sources, most of whom had no contact with each other. The issues were not theological, but ethical. Please note that this letter from Darlene Martin was in 2000, a full three years before the relationship between James White and Hank Hanegraaff supposedly ended by White’s account. By this time it should have been very apparent to someone in James White’s position that there were serious ethical problems with Hanegraaff. Back in 1992 and forward, he knew from me and other former employees that there were serious problems. And eventually this spilled out into public venues such as the LA Times and Christianity Today, among others. Given that White’s “ministry” is an apologetics and discernment ministry, it is part of his job to piece together information and to call out wrongdoing.
So what did he do? Did he distance himself and his “ministry” from CRI? Did he no longer appear on the BAM show or use it as a platform to promote his books and other materials? Did he cease writing for the CRI Journal? Did he publicly call for an independent investigation? The answer to these questions is of course “no.”
Instead he continued writing for the Journal, continued appearing on the BAM show and he continued to publicly defend Hanegraaff. And along with that, he continued to profit from that relationship because Hanegraaff needed someone who could write articles, do debates and such.
H. Claiming Innocence
Next we come to 2003, when White claims he was ambushed by Hanegraaff on the BAM show during a debate with Calvary Chapel pastor, George Bryson, who was “defending” Arminianism. White claims in the videos linked above that it was at this juncture that the relationship was essentially severed between Hanegraaff and White. White positions himself in the 2017 videos as if he is innocent of any wrong doing.
The problem is that his account of the matter is only partly true. It is partly true because it was an ambush and all one has to do is listen to it to see how hostile out of the gate Hank is towards White. Second, it is partly true because this is the typical modus operandi for Hanegraaff when he wants to sever a relationship. I know, I watched him do the exact same thing to Michael Horton over a decade earlier regarding the book, The Agony of Deceit. Hanegraaff used the opportunity to make a case against the book and Horton, even though the book was created using CRI research and Walter Martin himself contributed a chapter and personally endorsed the book. Under Martin, Horton and his staff had complete access to the research department when putting the book together. Hank had to discredit the book so he could put forward a book under his own name on the subject, which was Christianity in Crisis. In any case, the ambush format is typical of Hanegraaff so White is right on that score.
But CRI still sells White’s books, still carries articles written by him for the Journal and White was listed as a contributor as late as 2006. Moreover, White is only telling part of the story. That debate with Bryson was in December 2003. Unfortunately for James White, in August of 2003 the LA Times along with Christianity Today (here is the bulk of the CT article for free.) put forward articles detailing yet another financial scandal at CRI. Please note, this is four months prior to the debate in 2003 where White alleges he was cut off by Hanegraaff. From the LA Times,
“During the latest tempest, at least six employees have been fired or have resigned from a staff of about 50, former workers say. Those employees said the ministry routinely used donations to pay for Hanegraaff’s personal expenses and luxury items, including a board-approved 2003 Lexus sports car and smaller items. They also said he paid his wife a large salary although she spent little time in the office and her role was unknown to most employees.”
“Employees were also concerned about Hanegraaff’s salary. According to publicly available financial disclosure forms, CRI paid Hank Hanegraaff $251,886 in 2001 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). This represents an increase of $52,886 (26.5%) over the previous year. Kathy Hanegraaff received a salary of $87,600 as CRI’s director of planning.”
Sound familiar? Now of course according to the 2016, 990 forms, Hank and his wife pull down a clean 500k in salary alone, but I digress. The ring leaders of the small band of former employees were Jen Hubbard and Thaddeus Williams. They were unaware of any other group of purged employees before them. They mistakenly thought that if they brought these problems to the attention of the internal officers, corrections could be made. (At the time, I was in Saint Louis working my way through graduate school. I had no knowledge of their situation until a few years later.) So they reported it to the appropriate people and were told that there would be a meeting and the problem would be fixed. Not long after, they were fired. To their credit, they took to the internet and constructed a webpage, CRIrestoration.org. You can read their account of the events there. The commonality of problems and themes they report should strike readers who have been following the Hankamess here. To their credit, they even got past the call screeners to confront Hank live on the air about the financial abuses. You can listen to the call below (BAM, May 19th, 2003)
Of course, Hank cuts off the caller and the show was deleted and was never made available. This is Hanegraaff’s typical modus operandi in such cases as I mentioned in previous posts. You can read the caller’s testimony at the endnote. (52)
So these are the same claims made by former employees from the time of Craig Hawkins, Martin’s right hand man in 1989 all the way to 2003/4. These people all came to the same conclusions independently of any influence from any other former employees or the Martin Family. So that’s about fourteen years of repeated documented problems in the public sphere and yet not a single word from White. Both the CT article and the LA Times article were public knowledge and made their way through the apologetic community. How could James White not know about them? Again, this was all months before the Bryson debate.
So when White positions himself as innocent in this whole affair, it just doesn’t ring true. He had sufficient evidence of serious wrong doing at CRI for years. Moreover, if you dine with the devil you don’t get to complain that you were mistreated. White knew exactly with whom he was dealing. He was apparently just fine with the situation when other people were being abused just so long as it personally benefitted him. But when Hanegraaff turned on him, well, then he is the victim! Poor James White he got ambushed by Hanegraaff! White is entirely responsible for how he was treated by Hanegraaff. He has no one to blame but himself.
G. Sold Me Down the River
Between 2003 and 2017 I detected very little in terms of relationship between White and Hanegraaff. White’s articles for the Journal and books continued to be sold. And of course the problems with CRI continued to deteriorate. There were other purges of objecting employees or employees who figured out something was seriously wrong and got out. These were generally much quieter. In 2006 CRI moved to Charlotte, SC. There Hanegraaff picked up about a million dollar home for Paul Young, chief operating officer at CRI, and a 3.1 million dollar 9200 sqft mansion complete with a walk out golf course. The entrance fee as I documented in past posts for the country club, dubbed the Club at Longview, was 65k. And it turns out, Hanegraaff was a founding member of the country club as far back as 2004 while he lived in California. (53) The back story as I noted previously and as reported from sources close to Geisler was that Geisler and Hanegraaff reportedly had something of a deal. Hanegraaff would move out to Charlotte bringing CRI with him. Hanegraaff would receive an honorary doctorate and serve as a figurehead of Southern Evangelical Seminary, Geisler’s pet project. But for some reason the deal fell through and Hanegraaff only got the honorary doctorate as the consolation prize. Now sources indicate that CRI is whittled down to about 14 employees and two of those are his children.
In any case, in White’s 2017 videos criticizing Hanegraaff he calls for people to no longer support CRI. I must confess, I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard him say this. So let me get this straight. He was fine with people supporting Hanegraaff with massive financial abuses as indicated by multiple and independent eyewitness accounts that even made their way to major secular and Christian media outlets, he was fine with dozens and dozens of Christian employees being fired and abused, some so traumatized that they became ardent atheists (think millstones here), he was fine with the exorbitant Benny Hinn lifestyle Hanegraaff engaged in, but the minute Hank kisses an icon, well, we just can’t have that!??
Seriously? Honestly? Now?! NOW? You say this James? After this has been going on for nearly thirty years, now you say not to support Hanegraaff? There are multiple words to describe James White in this situation but none of them have anything remotely to do with terms or phrases like honesty, integrity, or beyond reproach (1 Tim 3:10). Recall James White’s own words from his videos linked above criticizing Hanegraaff.
““You can’t do the truth part but not the life part.” And “You can’t separate truth and life.” (54)
And of course recall the video from Rich Pierce noting the “accountability” measures for White’s “ministry” entailed a confrontation for “moral failure” of a ministry member. So White materially participates in a deception covering for a fraud, defending the fraud and contributes by doing so to the abuse of many other Christians who suffer great harm simply because they followed scripture, and White does this all to his own personal financial benefit. Yeah, that sounds like a “moral failure” to me.
So the question is, what will AOMIN do about it?
H. The Way Forward
Now James White has a couple of options. He can of course choose to dismiss me, the other former employees and the Martin Family as he did in the past. He could choose to offer some explanation to defend himself. Or he could simply repent and say he knew and he was wrong. People get duped by their desires. They fall prey to greed and celebrity status. Reformed Baptists are not immune from such things. So I get it. It is a tough temptation to resist. If he apologized and admitted his mistakes and sins here, he could move on with a clean conscience. I don’t hate him. I just think he did some seriously wrong things and he needs to make them right. There is no shame in repentance.
Now some might be tempted to push back by saying that I should have gone to him privately. But please remember a few things here. First, I already did. I warned James repeatedly in the 1990’s as did others. Second his participation in these public matters is documented. This was not a private matter done in a corner. Third, he is a public figure and what he does as a public figure is open to public criticism and calls for public repentance.
Also notice that my criticism here doesn’t turn on any of the theological differences between us. It doesn’t matter that I am Orthodox and he is a Reformed Baptist because the ethical principles between us on these points are functionally identical. It also doesn’t matter that he may have had good intentions or initially given Hanegraaff the benefit of the doubt. By 2000 it was very clear that there were serious problems there and it was no longer permissible to associate with, defend and endorse CRI and Hanegraaff.
In any case James, the ball is in your court.
I. The Horse’s Mouth
Of course, White wasn’t the only one who knew or was in a position to know or benefit from the situation with Hanegraaff. There were others. Between 1990 and 1994 I was an active participant in Michael Horton’s ministry, Christians United for Reformation (CURE). Every Friday night I spent my time at the CURE Academy learning from Reformed and Lutheran theologians. After the lecture we would go to Horton’s house (actually Horton’s parents house at the time), eat Pizza and play “Tootin Tilton” and other creations of Shane Rosenthaul. (Here only those with the gnosis will understand.) It was a hoot.
Sometime in 1991 when I was still working at CRI I was invited to a secret meeting at Horton’s home. I was invited because I was at the time working for CRI. After the ambush of Horton by Hanegraaff over Agony of Deceit, CURE representatives polled me for information on what was going on at CRI. At the time I knew that there were serious problems there and I was working on collecting as much information as I could but I happily obliged. At the meeting was Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebaeger, and Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason fame. I believe Shane Rosenthaul and “Dad” Rod Rosenbladt were also present but I am less sure about their presence.
The meeting covered a number of topics. It seemed to me at the time that the main purpose of the meeting was whether Koukl would join CURE or if there would be some kind of future association between them. (CURE eventually became the Alliance of Confession Evangelicals) When the time came, I was polled on what I knew about what was going on at CRI. I spoke for about ten to twenty minutes if memory serves. Later I came to find out that Koukl had also been told by other former employees of the problems with Hanegraaff.
This is why I found Koukl’s remarks in May of 2017 so curious. Koukl fields questions about Catholicism and gives a negative assessment of Catholic teaching. That of course is no surprise. But then he fields a question about Eastern Orthodoxy and Hank Hanegraaff. I never knew that Koukl was such a skilled dancer but he is clearly dancing around a whole host of pertinent questions. He argues that we would need to know the reasons for Hanegraaff’s conversion and so we should hold off before making any kind of assessment. But of course by this time, Hanegraaff had already given his reasons on air and on more than one occasion. All one has to do is go back to the BAM show archives for April 2017 to see this. Koukl and his on air partner, Melinda Penner refer to James White’s podcast assessment which had come out a bit earlier and state that they plan on listening to it.
Well here are a couple of problems. First, wasn’t their point that you needed to hear from the converting individual why they chose to do so first? Why listen to White before listening to Hank? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what they said one should do? Second, as displayed above, all of the publicly accessible information about Hank’s activities had been out for years and yet they said nothing and they continued to say nothing about them. Why is that, do you suppose? Could it have anything to do with the fact that CRI still carries and publishes numerous articles by Koukl? (55) As I have noted elsewhere what we have here is a good ole boy network between these “ministries.” (56) As an aside, I found it somewhat humorous that Melinda Penner stated
“I don’t understand how somebody goes to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy frankly.” (57)
I found this humorous because Melinda is something of an open and avowed Monothelite and apparently an Apollinarian as well.
“A question that has challenged the orthodox view of the incarnation since the early first millennium is the nature of Jesus’ will. How many wills did Jesus have? Constantinople III concluded that Jesus had two wills and rejected monothelytism. This is the only issue of the first six ecumenical councils that I am aware of that I take issue with their conclusion because I believe it was based on an ill-conceived metaphysic. Constantinople was wrong in locating the will in the nature. The will is an active power that is a capacity of soulish creatures. More specifically, persons have rational wills; this is true of different beings that belong to the category of persons, including humans, angels, and God. So the will seems to be a soulish capacity, and the rational will is a capacity of persons. All persons also have natures, but their natures are unique to each kind, so it seems reasonable to place the will in what is common to all who have one. If a person is a soul, then Jesus had only one will. He had one will as the preexistent second person of the Trinity and did not add another when He added a human will.” (58)
To regular readers of this blog or to anyone who has read the primary and secondary literature on the Monothelite controversy, it should be obvious where Melinda Penner goes wrong-the soul is not the person. Remember also dyothelitism is confessionally adhered to across classical Reformation traditions. So as far as the theological issues go, Penner and the folks at Stand To Reason might then understand why people convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism if they were Christian in their Christology. Yeah, you might want to fix that blatant Christological heresy before you go throwing stones at Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Speck meet log.
In sum, Koukl, like many others was aware that there were serious problems at CRI, for decades. And as public evidence mounted and the situation got worse, this apologetic watchdog was either asleep or being fed steak to keep quiet. Either that or while he is a very nice and polite dog, he is a very poor watchdog.
J. Apologetic Para-Church Corporate Complex
There were of course many others involved who had access to a greater or lesser amount of information in the apologetic community. Some worked at CRI at one point and have moved on to other “ministries.” Some of those changed their theological allegiance and became Catholic such as Francis Beckwith. (59) They either knew of the problems or given their education, training and position, should have known. What is more they should have said something. Unfortunately, to our shame, we have to wait for atheists like the “Banjo Atheist” to do the work of exposing frauds like Ravi Zacharias.
So people need to understand. What we have here is a loose network of personalities running “ministries” that are nothing more than businesses. And these businesses support and help to create personality cults. Whatever benefit they claim to provide,
they in fact take resources, people and talent away from churches across traditions. And there is nothing they do that churches can’t and shouldn’t already be doing. They are not churches on either Reformation grounds or on Orthodox or Catholic grounds. They are businesses and nothing more. They work to protect each other. They go on each other’s shows and sell each other’s books. They scratch each other’s backs and protect each other. But make no mistake. Below the surface the egos are hard at work trying to carve out and expand wherever possible their amount of market share. Any time there is a case of one of these “ministries” accusing another of theological error or deficiency there is a fair chance something else is going on.
What we have then is an apologetic corporate complex where members mutually protect each other. This is quite evident in examples such as coming from William Lane Craig. I don’t think it is possible to give Hank a softer touch from a Protestant perspective than what Craig provides here.
But of course, this brings us to a key example of the Apologetic Para-Church Corporate Complex. Craig himself is an open an avowed Christological Apollinarian and Monothelite and he is not the only one, with other figures at places such as Biola and elsewhere who also openly espouse those Christological heresies. Please note, these are heresies that are condemned by Orthodox, Catholic and confessional Protestants and they are in a core area of theology, Christology.
Craig has been espousing these major Christological heresies for nearly twenty years and nary a peep out of anyone in the Apologetic Para-Church Corporate Complex. There has been nothing from James White, Hank Hanegraaff, Greg Koukl, Ligioneer, Probe, Poached Egg, Apologetics.com, Reasons to Believe, Apologetics 315, Tektonics, and on and on the list goes. Not a peep. And yet these are the people who are supposed to be defending the faith and sounding the alarm in such cases. Now why do you suppose that is? Is it at least possible that such a move would be bad for business? Or maybe these supposed apologetic ministries are just too busy to notice major Christological heresies published in Craig’s well known works? Some of us “hobbits” certainly took note, here and here, and recently Reformation 21 has also though it seems to have gone exactly nowhere. Curious.
Here I use the case of Craig to illustrate the problem. One would think that essentially denying the Incarnation would generate quite a bit of noise, but twenty years and running practically nothing has been done because well, Craig is a celebrity and he has a huge following, not to mention that he is so utterly polite that he makes any critic look like a meanie bereft of any grace at all. The cases of Craig, Hanegraaff, Zacharias are just symptomatic of the problem in the apologetics and counter cult community. When your bottom line outweighs telling the truth and fulfilling obligations to warn others, then you have lost any divine license you think you had.
In conclusion, I have tried over the course of a year to tell a story that I thought I would never have to deal with again. People did not listen then, and I suspect people will not listen now. That way Protestants can feel self righteous by ignoring their own failures and the Orthodox can feel trumphalistic and self assured. People are pretty much the same wherever you go.
The only remaining task for me is to finish the stand alone website and write up some concluding thoughts. After that I don’t care anymore. I have done what I was called to do, which is to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
I did my best.
1.Calvin, Institutes I.15.2. When one identifies the imago dei with immortality as Calvin does, this tends to be the theological result.
2. I am indebted to Seraphim Hamilton for pointing this out.
3. CRI eventually changed their doctrinal statement because of the posts made here. We detected visitors from the CRI mail server to a few of our blog posts containing criticisms that depended on specific Protestant statements in the doctrinal statement. A few days later, the doctrinal statement was changed. If memory serves that was seven months or more after his reception.
4. Hanegraaff referred to himself this way at a Greek parish in Illinois this last year.
5. Others came to the same judgement independent of anything I have said. Take this 11 year employee of CRI with whom I had no contact. “My point is merely to say that Hank’s theology, just like the rest of us, has developed over time. When we hear the Word preached and read our Bibles, we grow in our understanding. In Hank’s case, however, I noticed an underlying problem—the lack of consistency. In my opinion, Hank’s theology is a mashup of many different beliefs. He doesn’t like to be put into a box. He seems to borrow from multiple Christian traditions to form his own sort of hybrid.” https://lifeandoctrine.blogspot.com/2017/06/thoughts-on-hank-hanegraaff-from-insider.html
6. To start thinking about why the notion of “Mere Christianity” and “essential Christian doctrines” might not be coherent, see https://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/05/the-very-idea-of-religion
10. The LDS at times have sought to construct arguments that their theology is actually more consistent than the church fathers on this score. For an assessment of one attempt see https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/contra-mundum-athanasius-and-the-lds-on-deification/
11. See for example, https://www.amazon.com/History-Neo-Arianism-Patristic-Monograph-Kopecek/dp/0915646072/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532055360&sr=8-1&keywords=Kopecek+History+of+Neo-Arianism and https://www.amazon.com/Power-God-Dynamis-Trinitarian-Theology/dp/0813229146/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532055392&sr=8-1&keywords=Michel+Barnes+the+Power+of+God
12. JW wishes to take Sola Fide as a “dividing line” but of course the NT lists more than one such “dividing line. It is not as if holding to Sola Fide were sufficient. 1 Jn 4:3 If for example some anti-Trinitarian held to Sola Fide then everything isn’t theologically peachy. This is all the more relevant given Reformed dissent from Chalcedonian Christology.
13. Of course White thinks that the paedobaptism held by the larger Reformed world and the Lutherans is also “sub-biblical.” http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2011/11/05/reformed-reforming-who-is-truly-reformed-part-ii/
14. For a standard Reformed gloss on the loss of the imago dei, see Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol 1, p. 611 ff. Pelagius’ fundamental error was in taking human nature to be naturally righteous or “graced” and as such was impervious to any loss of natural power. Works righteousness guided by a moral exemplar was the consequence of this error. It was because of his view of human nature that Pelagius could assert that salvation was by “faith alone.” Since human nature was impervious to change, it could only be related to God attitudinally or extrinsically by faith. Sound familiar? See https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/sola-fide-in-a-church-father/
15. Here the Lutherans hold fundamentally the same position.
16. Harry McSorely, Luther:Right or Wrong?-An Ecumenical-Theological Study of Luther’s Major Work, The Bondage of the Will, Augsburg Publishing/Newman Press, 1969, p. 102. Augustine De gratia et libero arbitrio, 12 reads “Then, in order to exhibit also his free will, he added in the next clause, And His grace within me was not in vain, but I have laboured more abundantly than they all. This free will of man he appeals to in the case of others also, as when he says to them, We beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1) Now, how could he so enjoin them, if they received God’s grace in such a manner as to lose their own will? Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God, after saying, His grace within me was not in vain, but I have laboured more abundantly than they all, he immediately added the qualifying clause, Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Corinthians 15:10 In other words, Not I alone, but the grace of God with me. And thus, neither was it the grace of God alone, nor was it he himself alone, but it was the grace of God with him.”
17. This was in fact the view of Gabriel Biel to which Luther was reacting and mistakenly took to be the position of the Scholastics. See Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval theology, p. 162-163.
18. McSorely, p. 103.
19. McSorely, p. 103.
20. McSorely, p. 104.
21. https://www.amazon.com/Doctrine-Grace-Apostolic-Fathers/dp/0965351769/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532114730&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Torrence+grace+apostolic+fathers and https://www.amazon.com/Christology-Church-Oxford-Christian-Studies/dp/019929710X/ref=pd_sbs_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=019929710X&pd_rd_r=Z7XEPENWNCWA7PGV8BRD&pd_rd_w=pmM6J&pd_rd_wg=yY8Qm&psc=1&refRID=Z7XEPENWNCWA7PGV8BRD
23. Lionel Wickham’s remarks are instructive. “When the mind of the Eastern church was directed to issues germane to the Pelagian controversy (the nature of fallen man, of the finite to the infinite will, and the consciousness of Christ), as it was in the controversy between Severus of Antioch and Julian of Halicarnassus in the sixth century, and in the later monothelite and agnoete controversies, the issues were raised and resolved in ways which had nothing to do with the Pelagian controversy.” In Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, Cambridge, 2002, p. 210.
24. Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 3rd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005, p. 231.
25. While Origen is not a church father, he is taken to function as a witness to early Christian thought and practice when coupled with patristic figures.
26. On Origen’s model of justification see https://www.amazon.com/Origen-History-Justification-Origens-Commentary/dp/0268041539/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532117320&sr=8-1&keywords=Origen++justification
27. I noted already that Frederica isn’t up to the task of engaging informed Reformation figures. See https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/footsies-with-frederica/
28. See https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/are-you-flying-solo/
29. Richard Bauckham, “Tradition In Relation To Scripture and Reason,” in Benjamin Drewery and Richard J. Bauckham, eds., Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, A Study in the Criteria of Christian Doctrine, Essays in Honour of Richard P. C. Hanson, T & T Clark, 1988, p. 123.
30. See Van Til’s remarks about “Blockhouse Methodology” in his Defense of the Faith.
31. A perfect example is a metaphysical belief about what natures are and how they do or can relate. If for example one has a view of natures such that they are incapable of participation in other natures or that natures and persons cannot be metaphysically distinguished from natures, this will inform one’s views and select for and/or exclude certain exegetical possibilities relative to the biblical material on divine impassibility. This gets cashed out in Christology for example as to whether one is Chalcedonian or not. That is, that metaphysical belief will guide exegesis so that one ends up denying that the Eternal Word suffers on our behalf but rather affirm that the Eternal Word is merely associated with or present at the human suffering of “the man” on the Cross, as is evident in a variety of Reformed authors. Take a figure of no small influence in the Reformed tradition such as Vermigli when he writes, “You now have enough for you to know about me-that although I deny that the Word of God really suffered and died, still I do not claim that the passion and death did not involve it [the Word] at all, for the Word was present at the passion and death, as has been said, because of the hypostatic union, although in a quiescent way. It was not affected by any suffering or by any new quality.” Vermigli, Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ, p. 60. See also the late R.C. Sproul who wrote not too long before his death, “Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being. We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.” https://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/ Such expressions are clearly Nestorian in part because they in turn on conflating person and nature. The relevant point being that the given metaphysical beliefs select for specific exegetical possibilities and rule out others in core areas of theology.
32. Maybe he has in mind cases like where the Reformed Baptists moved from prohibiting singing of any kind in their congregations to eventually allowing it.
33. The problem of a selection criteria is a substantial problem in secular attempt to construct historical accounts. See https://www.amazon.com/Where-History-Going-Christian-Philosophies-ebook/dp/B079CD2QVB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532212772&sr=8-1&keywords=Montgomery+where+is+history+going%3F and https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/history/
34. Would or could this be a genuinely Orthodox post if I didn’t say something critical of the Filioque?
35. Kitromilides, “Orthodoxy and the west: Reformation to Enlightenment,” in Andgold, Michael, ed., The Cambridge History of Christianity: Vol. 5 Eastern Christianity, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006, p. 198.
36. Richard Land, Doctrinal controversies of English particular Baptists (1644-1691) as illustrated by the career and writings of Thomas Collier, Oxford Univ. , 1980, p. 1
37. Taken from Collier’s A Body of Divinity, See this fun video by Reformed Baptist, Samuel Reniham, at https://www.facebook.com/InstituteofReformedBaptistStudies/videos/1893494270707565/
38. Collier’s anti-Trinitarianism though goes back much further among the Particular Baptists to 1648. See G. Stephen Weaver Jr., Orthodox, Puritan, Baptist: Hercules Collins (1647-1702) and Particular Baptist Identity in Early Modern England, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015, p. 75.
39. See https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Hot-Disputes-Academic-Paperback/dp/0567042219/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532322287&sr=8-1&keywords=Nice+hot+disputes
40. Mark R. Bell, Apocolypse How: Baptist Movements During the English Revolution, Mercer Univ. 2000, p. 139.
41. Bell, p. 142.
42. Bell p. 145.
43. Bell p. 144.
44. Bell, p. 143.
45. Bell, pp. 105-106.
46. Bell, p. 107
47. See chapter 20 list of resources at the beginning of the chapter. See also Ralph Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary, 1988, pp. 80-84, Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James, NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1982, pp. 120-133.
48. To their credit, the LCMS seems to have a least made a reasonable attempt to do just that, creating departments that handle and create their own apologetic material. There is no reason why Reformed Baptists can’t do the same with James White.
49. “The dispute is another in a string of controversies surrounding Hanegraaff, who is best known as a Christian purist who holds pastors, churches and denominations accountable for teaching Bible-based Christianity. Nine years ago, another group of former employees who banded together as the “Group for CRI Accountability” accused Hanegraaff of abusive leadership, misuse of donor money and other transgressions. In 2000, the widow of institute founder Walter Martin called for Hanegraaff’s resignation, citing similar concerns.” http://articles.latimes.com/2003/aug/17/local/me-watchdog17
50. The list contains a few minor errors. For example Michelle Hanegraaff worked there off the books before 1992. She was Hanegraaff’s daughter from his first marriage. We were about the same age and dated for a short while unbeknownst to Hank. One other mistake was including an employee who at the time of the lists publication was still working there.
51. If memory serves this calculation was run by Rob Bowman but I am unsure.
52. What listeners did not know was that this particular caller, Joshua Leland Scott, had been a trusted and valued employee of CRI for more than four years. Joshua worked in many different areas at CRI–even screening calls for The Bible Answer Man Show.
by Joshua Leland Scott
“ By way of introduction, my name is Joshua Leland Scott. I am 28 years of age, and the Christian Research Institute, in Southern California, formerly employed me. I have been asked to put this statement together concerning a phone call that I placed in to the Bible Answer Man broadcast, the radio ministry of the Christian Research Institute (hereafter referred to as CRI), and hosted by the president of CRI, Hank Hanegraaff. What follows is a brief explanation of the reason why I called the show, and a defense against Hank’s claims during that phone call.
My decision to call in to the Bible Answer Man show was not made lightly. Getting an audience with Hank is quite difficult, as it was while working for CRI, and after resigning from my position, I had determined that the only viable way to communicate directly with Hank was through the radio show. Having worked at CRI for over three years, more than one year involved directly with the radio show itself as primary call-screener, I knew that Hank was not someone easy to get in contact with. Hank is isolated and inaccessible within the walls of CRI, so that staff whose job requires direct contact with Hank do not have it. Based on this understanding, the radio show was the only way to speak with Hank about my concerns.
In regard to those concerns, I had resigned from CRI due to gross financial and ethical behavior on the part of Hank, and the executive department. My concerns in this regard, as well as the concerns of other staff members including those who either were fired or resigned between January 20th and February 7th, 2003, were confirmed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, of which CRI is a paid member. In late March 2003, after a month of questioning and investigation, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (hereafter referred to as the ECFA) found that CRI had violated three of its seven Financial Ethics Standards, specifically Standards 2, 4, and 6. The ECFA then began a process that they said would be about Biblical repentance and restoration, as well as being meant to restore donor confidence in the financial accountability of Hank and CRI. However, in order to restore donor confidence, those of us who had left CRI felt that Biblically the donors would have to be told. The constituency of CRI was largely unaware of CRI’s violation of the ECFA’s Standards, simply because there had been no press release by either CRI or the ECFA telling the donors of the violation. The other former employees of CRI and I waited patiently for this public confession of wrongdoing. It never came (and still has not).
On May 19th, I decided to call the show, using my prior experience as lead call-screener, to ask Hank whether he thought that an apology was a necessary part of that process of repentance and restoration, Biblically. Knowing the right time to call, my call was the first on the show. I used my middle name (Leland), believing that had either the current call-screener or Hank known who I was immediately, I would have been screened out myself, and not had the opportunity to ask Hank. I began with a question regarding the nature of Biblical repentance and restoration, and whether an apology was a part of that process. He agreed that it was, saying that it showed that an apology demonstrated a real desire to repent. That is when I asked, since CRI had violated ECFA Standard 4, why then had he not apologized to his constituency for misusing their funds. He then cut me off (keeping me from speaking in my defense to his next statements), and said that it was I who should apologize for getting on the air under a false provision (I think he meant false pretense), and asking a question which had no basis in reality, and therefore slandering CRI.
First, in my defense, he charges that I’m calling under a false provision (or pretense). I’m not sure if he is referring to my not using my first name, or if he’s referring to my asking of a question that he feels is unrelated to my second question – thereby entrapping him. If he means the first, regarding my use of my middle name, I would like to simply say that this is a baseless complaint. In my time as lead call-screener, there were many callers that I screened who did not want to use their first name, or even any part of their real name, and this was perfectly acceptable to both the producer of the show and to Hank. It was routine for me to tell callers that didn’t want to use their real names to either use their middle name or to use a fictitious name. Never was this ever an issue, of course, until I call in to ask Hank about misspending donor money. If Hank was implying that I entrapped him, I can only respond by saying that my call is similar in scope to how Nathan confronted David in 2 Samuel 12 (not that I am anything close to Nathan). Therefore, since there is Biblical precedent for this type of confrontation, I would suggest that Hank has no basis for complaint on this issue either. Any charge of false provision or pretense is baseless.
Second, as to his claim that my question had no basis in reality, this is easily refuted. I called the Vice President of the ECFA, Dan Busby, the following day to discuss the call, and Hank’s claim that what I had said was not true. Mr. Busby confirmed that, in fact, CRI was still in violation of not only Standard 4, but Standards 2 and 6 as well. Furthermore, the ECFA makes available by request two public statements regarding CRI. The first statement tells of CRI’s “unwilling” violation of Standards 2, 4, and 6. That statement was made available to interested parties in late March 2003. Unfortunately, CRI’s donors remained unaware of the violation. The second statement, put out by the ECFA in late June 2003, states that CRI was now back in compliance with ECFA Standards, though a compliance review remained open. This means, of course, that from late March 2003 to late June 2003, CRI was in fact in violation of the ECFA’s Financial Ethics Standards 2, 4, and 6. Given that my call in to the Bible Answer Man occurred on May 19th, 2003, it is clear that Hank lied to all of his listeners on national radio regarding that misspending of their money. I’d say that the ECFA needs to reconsider their finding of “not willful”.
In conclusion, it is the hope and prayer of the former CRI staff and myself, that Hank and CRI would do the Biblical thing in this matter. There are two ways this can take place: First, Hank and CRI could be completely honest, open, and transparent with their wrong-doing and their finances, confessing their sin to the donors, and placing themselves under real, Biblical, and effective accountability, so that donor confidence could truly be restored. If Hank and CRI don’t want to embark on this God-glorifying process, then there is a second option available. Hank, the entire CRI board of directors, and the entire executive staff at CRI (Paul Young and John Stoffel) could resign their positions and step down from the ministry, to preserve the integrity of it and the message CRI puts out. This would also be Biblical since Hank has disqualified himself in light of 1 Timothy 3, and he should step down if he refuses to confess his sin and truly repent of it. Until either of these two things happen in a very public way, it is incumbent on the church as a whole to communicate our displeasure to CRI continually. This can be done by writing to Hank, calling into the Resource Center at CRI and the comments and suggestions line, and by calling into the Bible Answer Man show itself. Most importantly, Hank and CRI will definitely understand the request for Biblical integrity of it’s donors stopped donating to CRI. Hank continually encourages people to withdraw their support from aberrant ministries, we should follow his advice in this respect, and collectively withdraw our support for both him and CRI, until the Bible Answer Man does the Biblical thing.
I’d like to thank Jill and Kevin for their willingness to post both my call and this statement on their site, and especially for their exceedingly long fight to bring about Biblical change in the ministry that was founded by Jill’s father, Dr. Walter Martin. It is my hope that, together, the church will decide to maintain its credibility in the world by condemning sin within our own ranks, just as we do in the world. By doing this, we maintain Biblical integrity, and thus glorify God. Should anyone wish to contact me for further information, or to answer specific questions surrounding the current situation with CRI and my employment there, feel free to write me at my email address: email@example.com . May God change Hank’s heart, and the hearts of those who support his unethical behavior, so that His Name would continue to be upheld and defended by the Christian Research Institute.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Sourced at http://www.waltermartin.com/cri.html
53. See the article from the Charlotte Observer, GOLF COURSE HAS BIG NAMES, sourced at http://www.waltermartin.com/cri.html
54. Matthew 12:27
55. To be fair, it seems as if CRI has dropped most if not all of Koukl’s books. When that happened or why, I have no idea.
56. “The second thing that has happened is that a de facto Good Ole Boys network has been established. Everyone is on everyone else’s’ show, promotes each other’s works, etc. And on top of this, nary a word negative is really said about any of the other people’s views and such. They have each other’s fiscal backs as it were. Just look around at the usual Image result for good ole boys cool hand luke suspects when Hanegraaff was outed by a picture posted on Facebook back in April. Some of them still slam Catholicism but when Hank’s conversion comes into the conversation, they do an Irish jig so as to not say anything too negative.” https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2017/12/08/upon-this-para-rock/
58. https://www.str.org/articles/philosophical-theology-christology#.W1oE49JKgdV Notice in Penner’s treatment that there is absolutely no engagement or demonstrated familiarity with the primary or secondary literature on this question. She appears here to be following the lead of other Biola/Talbot Monothelites such as William Lane Craig and Gary DeWeese.
59. Catholic Answers is not without some fault here as well. They too were in a position to know better and said nothing. What is more, they had Hanegraaff on their show allowing him to promote his apologetic fraud. https://www.catholic.com/audio/caf/118 One would think that they would have learned their lesson with the Fr. Corapi scandal, but I suppose not. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/father-corapis-bombshelThe Ugly
I’m a casual reader who stops by every now and then to see how the blog is doing. I listened to about as much of James White as I could before it all started to sound the same and was hoping you could help me with some further reading. JW complains about the exegesis done by the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council but I’m having a hard time finding the canons online. Is there a source you could direct me to or does St. John Damascene cover it with “On the Veneration of the Holy Images?”
Without a reference on his part I have no idea what exactly he is referring to. He might be aping Patrick Hines who made practically verbatium the same claim.
I would wager though that White has actually not read the council and is working off selections from Calvin. Calvin engages the council through the translation done by the Carolingians, the Libri Carolini. This was a translation into Latin by Franks whose knowledge of Greek, let alone Greek patristic works was shall we say, requiring serious remediation.
About a century ago I believe there was a clean translation of the Libri Carolini relative to 2nd Nicea, but in terms of Nicea itself, there has not been a full translation to my knowledge from the Greek text until just a few months ago, via Liverpool Publishers. And I doubt White has read that translation or really any of the academic literature on 8th century iconoclasm.
For supplementary reading, I’d pick up Theodore the Studite’s work, On the Holy Icons. Thomas Noble’s Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians, is also quite helpful.
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