Over the last year, James White has been a busy little bee. On a number of occasions he’s gone after Hank Hanegraaff and the Orthodox Church as well. I am not going to use any space here to discuss Hanegraaff and I’ve responded to pretty much all of James White’s criticisms of the Orthodox Church already. He has nothing new or significantly challenging to offer.
Going through his criticisms of Orthodoxy and his jabs at Hank, something interesting caught my attention that is worth pointing out. Long before the Hankamess, James White was a semi-regular critic of William Lane Craig with respect to a couple of issues. Readers will recall criticisms of Craig’s heretical Christology that I have made and some of his compatriots (here and here). At times White makes passing reference to these areas, (March 5, 2020, at minute 1:31:20ff) but strangely expends no substantial effort in developing this criticism even though Craig’s position is an outright denial of the Incarnation. This is very strange indeed and it is worth exploring. Why does White give Craig a pass?
B. You’re Doing It Wrong
The two areas where White semi-regularly criticizes Craig are apologetic methodology and Molinism. We’ll briefly look at each of these in turn. White claims that Craig has the philosophical cart before the theological horse because he allows his philosophical apologetic to determine his theology. There is some truth to this, though White ignores the most egregious example of this in Craig’s non-Christian Christology. Craig’s substance Dualism is the grid into which Christology must be forced into. But White is concerned primarily with soteriological matters, because apparently that matters more than Christology.
White complains that the typical evidentialist route that Craig employs that posits investigative levels as subsequent steps to reaching the inspiration of Scripture is inappropriate. The idea is that one starts by demonstrating the historical reliability of the Gospels and at least some of the Epistles. But since historical reliability doesn’t entail or imply the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures, at this level the argument doesn’t turn on those beliefs. Here I date myself by noting that older apologists will recall it was exactly this line of reasoning employed by John Warwick Montgomery to meet the objection that arguing for the Bible from the Bible was circular reasoning. Montgomery was correct to distinguish that there are different levels and at this point the argument only turns on historical reliability. This is not to endorse Evidentialism but simply to note the reasoning for the framework. Apparently White isn’t sensitive to the charge of circular reasoning.
White thinks that this method is inappropriate because he thinks it places the individual as a judge over God’s Word. There are a number of possible defenses that one could offer, not that I am interested in defending Craig here. One could reply that White’s charge turns on confusing the order of knowing and the order of being. Sure, those works are God’s Word in terms of what they are, but some people don’t actually know that yet, at the least in terms of being epistemically fully self-conscious. It is the goal of the apologetic to bring them to that point by offering them reasons for thinking so and so that they thereby meet the conditions on knowledge.
In addition, I must confess that I find White’s complaint not a little ironic. First because he’s A-OK with placing every individual as an authoritative judge over God’s Church via the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment, but God’s Word is a bridge too far. Where does scripture place any individual with the biblical text as a judge over the whole church? This is also true for every interpreter of Scripture with respect to the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment as well since they are acting as a judge with respect to the meaning of scripture itself. They decide what Scripture means for them and no one can obligate them otherwise. A more direct problem for White is explaining how the Reformers weren’t in exactly the same position as judges over God’s Word when they decided their formal canon of scripture. Did they not assess which books were canonical? Did they do so at least in part on the basis of historical reliability? They surely did. Or does he think that the formal canon of scripture was decided by the Reformers by comparing their inner testimonies of the Spirit? How strange it is when an apologist cuts off the branch he is sitting on.
White also emphasizes that the appropriate method is to present the message of the Word and the Spirit will do the work of convicting of sin and apparently persuading. He is right that to some degree this is the classic Reformed model of preaching but seems to miss that this is not an apologetic, let alone an apologetic method. What is more, it betrays a fundamentally Nestorian and/or Adoptionistic framework. The Reformed model is that the Spirit uses the written Word to bring about regeneration. The Word itself is rather impotent on its own even with the elect and so suffers from electile dysfunction if you will. It was not for no reason that this same pattern structures the Christology of figures like John Owen where the Spirit’s power accounts for the divine acts done by the humanity of Christ rather than the divine person of the Word.[i] Scripture and the Spirit are related instrumentally because on many Reformed glosses the divine person of the Word is extrinsically related to his humanity through an act of will via the Spirit. The Word then is only effective when the Spirit works with the Word and not of himself or itself. This is no small point as the Lutherans and Rome have a long tradition of pointing out that this Christological defect structures the Reformed view of the sacraments as well as the relation between the Spirit and Scripture. This is the Christological reason why the Lutherans hold to baptismal regeneration and the Reformed do not.
Furthermore, since White claims to adhere to Presuppositionalism if the apologetic method he is proposing is the preaching of the Word presumably attended to by the working of the Spirit, perhaps White cares to share exactly where TAG (Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence) fits in there. That is after all the principle argument used by Presuppositionalists. Perhaps White has some nifty exegetical argument showing where TAG is expressed by Scripture he has yet to reveal? Or perhaps he has a transcendental argument for the Trinity? When was the last time White presented TAG as par of a “biblical” apologetic? Yeah, even Pepperridge Farms doesn’t remember.
White takes a number of other shots at Craig but these are less than stellar. For example, he notes that Craig isn’t truly Reformed. If White wishes to deploy this kind of Protestant sectarianism then he isn’t in a position to complain when the Reformed themselves argue that Baptists like White aren’t truly Reformed and holding to the Five Points doesn’t change that either. An Anabaptist by any other name would still exclude infants from the Covenant. And then there are those pesky Lutherans who aren’t Reformed either whom White seems to considers to be barely Protestant.
C. Two Kinds of Fools
Famously, Socrates notes that people become fools in two ways. The first is in thinking that they know something when they don’t. The other way is when people who actually have some knowledge in one area venture into some other area and think that the former licenses knowledge claims in the latter. White acknowledges this point as he uses it against Craig, whom he sees as being a philosopher intruding into theology. Perhaps he missed the fact that Craig has an earned doctorate in theology as well. Craig may not spend a lot of time in theology and he may be very bad at doing theology, so White’s complaint bakes no bread.
The irony though is rather thick given that White has spent a fair amount of time criticizing Craig’s Molinism when White himself has zero training in philosophy apart form a single introductory course and no earned degrees in the field, let alone any competence in philosophical theology or basic propositional logic. But that doesn’t stop White from damning the torpedoes and ordering all ahead full. After all, if he can do Presuppositional apologetics without any competence in philosophy why not criticize Molinism? White possesses a truly dizzying intellect.
Before looking at White’s criticisms of Molinism, it is important to get clear on the basic idea of middle knowledge which is central to a Molinist view of providence and its relation to the actions of free creatures.
As to middle knowledge the idea is perspicuously presented by the late Hugh McCann,
“Molina attributes three kinds of knowledge to God. Natural knowledge consists of logical and conceptual truths — e.g., that no bachelor is married — which are recognized by God as a matter of his essential nature. Free knowledge consists of contingent truths that are settled by God’s will as creator — e.g., that there are tigers. Middle knowledge is so named because it falls between these two. The truths of which it is composed are, like those of free knowledge, contingent; but like natural knowledge they are held to be settled independently of God’s will.”
The basic idea is that God’s knowledge can be distinguished in terms of the nature of its objects-necessary, conditionally contingent and absolutely contingent or free. A few things should be added here. First, middle knowledge isn’t had by God by looking down the corridors of time to see what Fred does if he is created. Nor does God engage in a kind of causal deduction where he deduces the end results from initial causal conditions. Molinism generally takes it to be that God has this knowledge of himself, seemingly along more intellectualist lines, that is, in terms of the powers of the divine intellect itself. God can simply and directly “see” what a yet uncreated agent would do in any given circumstance. Consequently, if God’s Middle Knowledge is antecedent to creation, then it isn’t causally dependent on it. In this way God’s middle knowledge doesn’t depend on anything but His own power of knowing.
But James White seems to take God’s middle knowledge to be grounded in “autonomous” creaturely acts which God accesses by looking down the long corridors of time. And so he takes middle knowledge to be something that is “revealed” to God rather than what God has by virtue of the power of his own intellect. To be fair to Craig this gloss is expressly rejected by Craig.
“Rather I accept some sort of conceptualist model, according to which God’s knowledge is not acquired by any sort of perception but is more akin to innate knowledge. God just has the essential property of knowing only and all true propositions…Indeed, the doctrine of middle knowledge just is a theory of how God can know future contingents without any sort of perception of the world at all. I think that you have mistakenly assumed that according to the doctrine of middle knowledge, God deduces from the circumstances in which a free person is placed what he would do in those circumstances.”
This is not to say that I agree with Molinism. I rejected Molinism as unsuccessful many years ago, but the point is that White can’t seem to even fairly represent the view he is attempting to criticize. And then White himself produces some howlers. He believes he has an argumentative point against Molinism by asking how God can have middle knowledge of an agent before he wills to create them. (1:03:25ff) But of course, a contrary reply is available here not only to the Molinist but to many other models of divine omniscience. One has only to ask Mr. White, how is it possible for God to decree to create such an agent unless he has an idea of what it is he wills to create in the first place? White’s point here trades on denying that God has knowledge of unactualized possible agents logically prior to willing them.
Second he glosses middle knowledge as imposing a kind of extrinsic constraint on God which of course ignores the standard Molinist gloss that middle knowledge is had by God immediately and directly simply by the power of the divine intellect. What is more, it is as if White has no knowledge of or space for the difference between an absolute and condition willing in God.
The worry that White expresses is well known among the followers of Banez as well as addressed by Molina and various Molinists. That worry is that God is dependent on creatures if God’s knowledge depends on them as an independently existing entity. But it isn’t clear that the Reformed themselves escape this problem. Make God’s providential control as exhaustive as you like. God is still dependent on creatures in their view, which is why he must exert exhaustive control over them. If God doesn’t, their acts would entail a lack of divine perfection in God. A truly independent God can’t be changed by what creatures do.
D. Losing Jesus’ Soul
The above is pretty much standard for James White. He semi-regularly lobs salvo’s at Craig along these two lines. Last March White criticized Craig’s Christology by name, though he spent no substantial time on it. (March 5, 2020, at minute 1:31:20ff) Still, this was significant and it caught my attention for a few reasons. First few have ventured to criticize Craig’s non-Christian Christology and second because this was the first time to my knowledge that White ventured to do so.
It became more significant because back in April 16th of 2019 White explained the reason why there isn’t more public criticism of Craig. White offered a publicity and profit motive to it. White says essentially that if you say that William Lane Craig has it seriously wrong, you don’t get invited to the “big apologetic conferences.” (@24:30ff) I was rather surprised to hear him say this. I of course agree that this is a main reason why there isn’t more discussion of Craig’s non-Christian Christology because these apologetic organizations are functionally businesses that have a sort of gentleman’s agreement of not criticizing each other or at least not so much as to be lethal to their competitor’s business.
It was surprising because Craig has been promoting his non-Christian Christology for a solid twenty years now. Given that James White has debated anti-Trinitarians and others who deny the Incarnation over that period, one has to wonder why it took James White so long and why he spends no substantial time providing an analysis and refutation of Craig. It can’t be because he considers Craig’s Apollinarianism and Monothelitism to be acceptable because White clearly calls it “unorthodox.” Such a treatment would be a slam dunk as it would remove Craig from the field of Christian apologists.
But what I found even more surprising was that not long after these remarks, White brings up Craig’s heterodox Christology again, but this time he refuses to name Craig, indicating that his audience members know of whom he speaks. (wink, wink- see here May 8th, 2020, @ 14:29ff) So we go from March 2020 where White designates Craig’s Apollinarianism and Monothelitism as heretical, calling him out by name, to then May 2020 with White then refusing to even name Craig when criticizing his views. And remember, the reason White himself proffered for why we don’t hear criticism of Craig is due to a profit motive. So, we have to ask, does James White refrain from naming William Lane Craig as promoting a heretical view of Christ out of a profit motive? If not that, what other motive shall we ascribe to White’s behavior?[ii] As I noted previously, White has refused to call out financial corruption and abuse with respect to Hanegraaff both now and in the past, most likely due to a profit motive. And I am not alone in this as the late Steve Hays of Triablogue agreed that there was sufficient evidence for White to know that such corruption was taking place at CRI and that over a long period of time. So, this criticism doesn’t turn on a commitment to Orthodoxy as Steve Hays most certainly was not Orthodox. And as far as Craig’s Christology being heterodox Steve Hays[iii] as well as other Reformed bloggers have pointed this out as well as Reformed publications. And this could be extended to Catholic apologists criticizing Craig’s Christology.
E. But For Wales?
So, what is the situation? White admits that Craig’s Christology is heretical. And the Apollinarianism and Monothelitism promoted by Craig is not limited to him. Personal conversations with J.P. Moreland in addition to his collaborative work with Craig have confirmed that he too openly professes and teaches Apollinarianism and Monothelitism. As I have noted before Garrett DeWeese of Biola University also adheres to this view, along with Melinda Penner of Stand To Reason.
Given that Christology is not a minor area of theology, Apollinarianism is a deal breaker. White himself acknowledges that dissent with respect to those who deny the Trinity is ground for treating others as non-Christians.[iv] Christology is no less important. Please note that this is not an Orthodox specific position but common to Catholics and classical Protestants as well (Lutheran & Reformed). Dissent such as this is sufficient to call out say Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons but we are to believe that it isn’t just because the person is a professing Christian apologist? If Christological heresy is not sufficient to call out a public figure who is a professing Christian apologist, what else could be?
And yet, White muzzles himself when it comes to defending the Incarnation of Christ and fails to warn the sheep, because after all, as he himself said, you don’t get invited to the “big apologetic conferences” by doing such things. This is why when White makes these remarks and positions himself as if he and his “ministry” (read business) sacrifice for the truth, it simply isn’t true and it isn’t so when it comes to the identity of Jesus Christ. So for all of White’s whining about Craig’s Molinism and different apologetic methodology, he muzzles himself when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Why complain about Molinism or apologetic methodology when you have a knock out criticism on Christology?
But this is in keeping with White’s over all strategy which is the common strategy of most “para-church ministries” that are part of the “apologetic industrial complex.” If you watch White closely he behaves in a certain predictable ways. First, he discusses the soup of the day. Whatever happens to be raging in the news for long enough, White will most likely discuss it, even if it is far outside his area of expertise. This is because he has to, because the business depends on subscribes and consumers and that is the easiest way to attract new customers. (Hank does the same-just notice that Hank is now talking about politics and Christianity. Gee, I wonder why?) Second, White only attacks figures that he knows can’t or won’t respond and that will get him noticed. His attacks on Craig & Hanegraaff are a perfect example. (Hanegraaff and others act in the same way. Craig generally only criticizes non-Christians to maximize his appeal.) Hank won’t (and can’t) respond so White can chip away at what is left of Hank’s market share with impunity. In this way, White and others are simply marionettes of the market. And this is why White won’t ever respond to the charges I’ve made about his public and gross moral failure covering Hank’s corruption for decades, because he can’t and he can’t afford to have his subscribers start questioning his integrity. That would affect the bottom line of his “ministry.”
In sum, White’s criticisms of Craig are just for show because he deliberately refuses to openly call out Craig’s position as non-Christian and provide any substantial refutation. And he refuses to expend a comparable effort against Craig as he does with other Christological heresies. As White himself said, there is a clear profit motive in not doing so.
If it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul, what could be the fate of those who lose the soul of Jesus?
[i] See for example Alan Spence, Incarnation and Inspiration: John Owen and the Coherence of Christology, p. 110-111.
[ii] After all, White feels free to charge others with refraining from fulfilling their moral obligations by tarring them with a profit motive, so why doesn’t the same standard apply to him? Matthew 7:2
[iii] I should note that with respect to Christology Steve Hays and I were also not on the same page. Hays objected to Craig’s Apollinarianism because on Hays’ gloss the person of God the Son and the person of Jesus are not strictly identical. For my part I took Hays’ remarks linked here and here to be substantial evidence of Nestorianism on his part. But sadly after many years of debate and discussion with Steve he passed away this year. My own position has been clearly stated against such views here and here with respect to the Reformed dissent from Chalcedon and Constantinople II. Christ is all and only the divine person of God the Word who assumes into is divine person human nature and in this way with respect to two natures after the union his hypostasis can be truly said to be composite. The Reformed gloss given by say Vermigli takes hypostatic composition to amount to the production of a tertium quid in which the divine person of God the Word and the humanity are subjectival subsets of the person of the mediator, namely Christ.
[iv] Given that Craig’s Apollinarianism and commitment to Substance Dualism causes him to also alter the doctrine of the Trinity to one soul with three wills and three consciousnesses, thereby rejecting the teaching of Nicea and all the church councils along with every major Protestant confession, the issue is all the more important. It is ironic that White spends considerable time discussing Craig’s apparently failure to frame the question, Is the Trinity essential?, properly but completely ignores Craig’s dissent from the Christian position on the Trinity. See here @ 14:00ff