12 July 2011

Open Letter to Dr. James R. White (1 of 3)

by Frank Turk

Dear James --

It's a funny thing: most people know you as a rather uncompromising apologist, but when I owned the bookstore the best-selling book you publish (and I kept them all on the shelf) was the little 98-page tome, Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace. This book is a top-10 best-seller in its category (Death + Grieving), and is a great insight into your heart as a pastor and as a Christian with regard to your real love of people. It doesn't outsell the KJVO Controversy or The Potter's Freedom, but it's a book which all kinds of people buy not realizing that it's written by the same guy who was the first to comprehensively out Harold Camping as a gigantic spiritual fraud, and whom Ergun Caner has called a hypercalvinist heretic.

Ahem.

This letter is one of three letters I'm going to write to you over the next 3 weeks, and they all stem from one specific tweet you sent to me:


I was an early adopter of the internet, and so were you. In fact, you and I would never have met except for the internet, so I count that as a win for me.  It's one of those things Jesus will pat you on the back for in the final account and say, "thanks for being my means of grace to that malcontent Frank."

There are brilliantly-good things that really could never have happened without the internet. Specifically, there are things good and great for the sake of the Christian faith in the English-speaking world which could never have happened without the internet, and I think your ministry overall is one of them. Perhaps you might have found another way to make AOMin an influential voice in the Christian conversation in English -- maybe thru newsletters or thru radio or the debates -- but the AOMin that exists today is, let's face it, a product of the medium in which it has grown up and which it has confronted.

So in this first of three letters, I wanted to say plainly: there are three people in this world to whom I owe a splendiferous spiritual debt. The first is the pastor who baptized me and made me more than someone with just a hollow confession of Christ as savior; the second is my wife who has been spectacularly-loving and patient with me as I have gone from spiritual infant to christian husband and father in our home; and the last, quite plainly, is you.

See: in being an early-adopter of the internet, I was on a road a lot of initially well-meaning people start on. I saw a gigantic wave of trash on the internet from people who are simply uninformed about the basic facts of the Christian faith -- let alone the substance and meaning of the Christian faith. And it's easy for any person halfway-serious about Christ and His work for us to get involved in trying to straighten some of that out.

I found myself, in the late 90's, sort of embroiled in an accidental stew of amateur apologetics. I had a column in a short-lived webzine called "IM-UR", and was a regular contributor at what was then MSNBC.com's religion & faith forum/BBS. I was also in the middle of many forums at the theological Sargasso Sea which was CARM.org. And I was both under-informed and overwhelmed. I was looking for resources, and I found your book, the Potter's Freedom.

Now: it would be pretty easy to make a long excursus there regarding how that book and my grappling with it changed my internal and external life in faith. That's not the point of my letter here. The point of my letter is to spell out specifically why you personally are among the best-in-class when it comes to internet apologetics, and why it means so much to me.

Having read TPF, I was frankly disoriented. I couldn't sort out the meaning of God's love in that context, and I couldn't make sense of God-centered theology as opposed to the various forms of man-centered theology which I sort of unintentionally believed. Then I found out you had a web site, and through that site I found that you also had a live chat channel in which, when you were available, you would talk to anybody.

Now, let's face it: a lot of kooks pass through the channel. So the approach you take to new people is cautious and guarded -- but you engaged me. You made sure that I had the right answers to the questions Reformed theology caused me to consider. And you made me part of a small community in which my questions could be asked and answered without getting distorted by misinformation or uninformed biases. And while many people couldn't possibly fathom this, you insulated me against fundamentalism and against uncharitable sectarianism while at the same time teaching me to rightly divide truth from error.

This wasn't a 12 week course by any means. This process evolved between 1999 and 2004, and it was slow going. But you spent that time generously as it was available to you and to me (and to all the channel rats, to be sure)(NB: one Tim Challies was one of those fledgling internet voices you also put up with), and I benefitted from it greatly.

So when we consider my tweets on lessons of the dangers of internet apologetics, I consider those things to be starkly juxtaposed to the service and ministry you present through the internet. What you do, I cannot hate -- if for no other reason than I am a product of it, and I have profited from it. And for that I am sincerely grateful.

I'm looking forward to talking more about this subject with you next week.







38 comments:

Mark | hereiblog said...

It's funny how one doesn't sleep well when his wife is halfway across the country for a funeral. It was time for bed when I saw this letter in my reader just as I was about to close my laptop.

Of course, I had to read it since it was written by one friend of mine to another.

Frank, this letter is kind and reveals a side to James White that, unfortunately, not many people know. I do know that White's book on grieving as gone out to many hurting people with return responses that is was very helpful. And on the ministry's dime, I might add.

As one who has also benefited greatly from James White I appreciate this letter of appreciation. :)

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Frank, I was wondering if you would make the link from your tweet available, since I'm no twitterer, and missed it.

Now that I know you two are so closely connected, I can see the resemblance. But which one sported the bald head first?

Fusion! said...

Oh Mr. Turk, and I was hoping to hear about something else on the DL next week. I hope you're happy.

Pierre Saikaley said...

First, I share your appreciation for James White. I was listening to him and reading his books at a time when I was repenting of a long prodigal absence from church. And he is the one, frankly, who pushed me over the line to resolve limited atonement in my thinking.

Second, I am so much more appreciative of what he does because, from what I understand from what I've read of him, he is first and foremost a pastor, a shepherd. And he'd rather be expositing the Scriptures to the people of God than confronting the myriad false religions, cults, and theological errors that are out there. I think that colors his apologetics, and why he is such a good one.

Frank Turk said...

Merrilee --

James was bald long before it was trendy. I am bald as penance for my misspent youth.

Frank Turk said...

Pierre --

Hey: I promised to write 3 open letters to James her, and if guys like you steal all the good parts, I'm going to sound like a broken record. :-)

Frank Turk said...

Fusion! -

I can never tell what time the D/L is on. I used to have to block out 3 hours of time to try to catch it, and now I guess I should just keep up with the Podcasts.

JackW said...

Frank, this is a nice well written letter and a great start to a longer saga, but …


… what a wimpy ending. Looking forward to talking more about this subject? No hook? I was expecting something like, “Next time I’d like to explain why I think Giesler got the better of you.”

Not that I need something like that to tune in next week.

stratagem said...

Good message, but I would probably have only written "Hey James, it wasn't you I was talking about" and left it at that. No wonder I'm not a blogger!

Frank Turk said...

I think my tweet and james' reply are a pretty significant hook all by themselves.

Frank Turk said...

Strat:

You have to remember that open letters are really not so much to the person you're writing to as the people you believe will read the letter.

Robert said...

Frank,

Thanks for sharing...I think I am somewhere in the earlier stages of how you described your journey into apologetics and have found it mind-boggling how many different resources are available. I find myself humbled almost every time I read the posts here and on some of the other blogs I visit. And I am grateful for how you and others take the time to pour out what you have learned so that we can all grow. Hopefully I will grow more into a faithful apologist who is speaking with people and not speaking past them.

It is so easy to get caught up in debating to win an argument instead of puttign forward the truth in hopes that God will work through us to either save the souls of the lost or sharpen other believers. Half of that has to do with the heart and mindset of the person listening, but we can only control what we are doing and that is the half we really need to focus on (outside of determining if the audience is a believer(s) or unbelievr(s)).

I look forward to the next two letters...once again thank you for sharing with us. You're making this Louisianan reconsider my thinking about the state of Arkansas (even if you're not a native).

The Squirrel said...

"Now, let's face it: a lot of kooks pass through the channel."

*nods knowingly*

Squirrel

DJP said...

...at mirror?





BWAHHHH hahahaha, j/k, couldn't resist, didn't try

David Regier said...

Hairline resemblance - check.

"Vertical miles" resemblance - not until the rapture.

Frank Turk said...

Vertical?

Why would I want to go vertical?

Frank Turk said...

Squirrel:

I think Pierre used to be one of those kooks. I certainly was.

Do you remember when I tried to script a bot to welcome people to channel? I thought it was hillarious, but DrO didn't think so -- thought it was too cruel and impersonal.

The Squirrel said...

Frank,

I wrote a script that would say "There is no spork, only Zuul." whenever anyone used the word "spork" in channel... Doc said, "Cute, Squirrel... but too easily abused..."

:oP

Squirrel

stratagem said...

Thanks Frank for the reply.

Now that you've jogged my aging memory, I can remember some pretty shaky apologetics coming out of the pre-internet world, too.

For instance, I remember reading several decades ago, a book of apologetics which reasoned that Jesus must not have been a fraud because his disciples died for him, and supposedly "no one would die for a lie."

A few years later I wondered if that line of reasoning convinced many people (since history is filled with people who have quite willingly died for a lie, such as Hitler's "disciples"), or if it had the opposite effect of merely convincing them that the author was naive? Compared to the "gold standard" of apologetics (the Bible), that best-selling book was not that convincing in some of its arguments (although I would not be surprised to learn that God still used it in a powerful way, as he does many simplistic things).

I guess I am a bit off-subject here, but that's the memory this letter jogged for me. I suppose the difference (and the point youare making) is that with the arrival of the internet, the bar is much much lower to be "published" than it ever was before.

Interesting stuff.

SandMan said...

God be glorified for His grace and the wisdom He gives to men like Dr. White and others. I must admit that upon my first encounter with the internet in 1991 I couldn't see the point. (Friend's mom using Prodigy to "chat" with people across the country-- she didn't even know them-- though she later left my friend's dad and married one of them...so sad, that).
All of that to say, for a man like Dr. White to see the www's usefulness and give freely of his time to encourage and nurture younger Christians is such a testimony to the grace of God in His life. I am sure he could have thought of many more important uses of his time, yet, he found this worthwhile. Incredible.

Gordan said...

Just to chime in, about ten years ago, the KJV Only Controversy saved my spiritual health, praise to God.

Robert Warren said...

I would like to echo Pierre's comment about James White's heart as a pastor and teacher. White's debates might have given some the impression of someone who is ruthless in winning, but anyone who has listened to the Dividing Line for any period of time knows that his debating attitude comes from his desire to present the truth of the unedited Gospel.

How ironic it was that during the "John 3:16" Conference in 2008, where White was pronounced a "hyper-calvinist", he was in London speaking to Muslim high school students about the Trinity.

Frank Turk said...

I would note: ACTUAL Muslims, not fake ones from Switzerland.

just Sayin'.

Algo said...

I think you mean "Sweden" otherwise Ergun in Lederhosen would have been a dead giveaway.
Algo

donsands said...

Our Lord works through His pastor and teachers to strengthen and equip us. James White is the genuine article.

Nice letter. If God didn't want us to use the internet He wouldn't have invented computers.

stratagem said...

Uh oh. We may be veering dangerously close to making Bill Gates into a prophet!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

What do you mean, Bill Gates? Everyone knows Al Gore invented the internet!

Rhology said...

How ironic it was that during the "John 3:16" Conference in 2008, where White was pronounced a "hyper-calvinist", he was in London speaking to Muslim high school students about the Trinity.

Win.

Oh, and /me is a James White fanboy.

CGrim said...

I asked Lord to teach me humility, and he made me bald.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

:)

Rachael Starke said...

The Esther strategy. I love it.

Except why am I guessing Dr. White is probably Mordecai, and not Hamaan?

Pierre Saikaley said...

"I think Pierre used to be one of those kooks. I certainly was."

The Holy Spirit's 2x4 is dealing with that very...progressively...:-D

Just Jules said...

My mother passed away on June 24th, so I'll be picking up a copy of "Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace."

Frank Turk said...

I just want to point out that the Biblical pattern God has for dealing with people who make fun of godly bald men is to have them be eaten by a bear.

Carry on.

DJP said...

Hear, hear.

Victoria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victoria said...

I made my nonsensical comment early in the morning when thinking is very difficult! Just so you know.

Solameanie said...

Frank, I'll have to remember the bear line as a balding man myself. I've always wanted to raise a black bear cub. He might prove useful.

trogdor said...

Thanks for this. I've spent the last hour or so writing thank-yous to people who patiently modeled Christ when I was a totally immature jerk of a stupid annoying weiner kid, and because of their grace, mercy, and swift kicks in the butt, I'm significantly less of one today. And now I have to consider how I can be more gracious and Christlike to the stupid annoying weiner kids God has placed in my life.