19 July 2011

Open Letter to Dr. James White (2 of 3)

by Frank Turk

Dear James --

Last week I wrote underscoring the real, sober, and personal impact you've had on me over the years, and how grateful I am for you and your ministry. But let's not lose sight of the tweets that inspired me to write these letters to you:


I mean: I get it. It's Twitter. One can't hardly make every tweet a nuanced dash of salt. And one of the subtexts of your tweet is the crusty hard Scottish shell you pretend to have in front of everybody, as well as your general Stooges-esque treatment of channel rats past, present and future. I see the basic exchange as fairly harmless in and of itself -- except that you framed something which, let's face it, has been going around about me for about two years now: Turk hates apologists.

Now, I want to highlight something this week before I go for the gold next week. In some sense, you also "hate" apologists. "Hate" is probably an imprecise word here, but it's the one we've put into play, so I'll run with it.

You know: those half-baked preachers you review in Radio Free Geneva are worthy of a little disdain. Their grasp of theology -- let alone the art of apologetics -- leaves much to be desired that when they spend a few minutes on "discernment" it's such a painful exercise that one either has to laugh, or cry, or beg them just to stop before they hurt themselves or someone else.

There's a long line of these quacks out there, and so there will never be an end to the fodder for Radio Free Geneva. But let's think about something here: you wisely do not spend all of your time cataloging the vagrants wearing tin-foil hats and the newspaper tuxedoes who think they are fully equipped with the full armor of God. You could: they are legion. But, as you wisely put it in a recent podcast, only those calvinists who can't get out of the cage-stage would want that. There are more important things to do.

Together, let's admit something: there's at least one ditch on the apologetics highway which we can agree on to avoid. There is at least one kind of apologetics which, frankly, we'd both love to see come to a sudden and glorious end -- and if some want to call that "hate," so be it.

But there's another kind I think you and I would also agree on which needs, at least, substantial reform. There's a brand of philosophical theism also posing as mainstream Christian faith, and it would be a boon to the general orthodoxy of apologetics as a whole if it took a sabbatical. There is certainly room for epistemology and metaphysics in Christian apologetics; there is certainly room for ontological, teleological, cosmological and evidential arguments in apologetics. But when one presents these as somehow more convincing than the Bible, and then it turns out that after years of doing this one also finds himself glad to adopt a position about God's knowledge that is only barely-different than Open Theism, perhaps one would have been better off doing something else. We need less cleverness, I think, in popular apologetics and more pastorally-founded wisdom that makes foolish the wise men of this world -- and I think you'd join me in welcoming those doing this sort of thing to give it up until they could do something better.

So maybe that's two ditches we agree on: the ignorant and the overly-wise. I think we could agree fully that there are kinds of apologists which, in the best case, need to upgrade their game from merely "winning" to real ambassadorship for the grace of God.

And look: it's extremely easy to find you personally modeling the right kind of apologetics. In your first segment of the 17 June 2011 Dividing Line (up through about 10:00) you run through a brief apologetic against the trend in America to profane marriage. The first sort of bad apologist -- the ignoramus -- would rail against the sins of other people and call his followers merely not to be like them; the other sort of bad apologist -- the philosopher -- would reason from nature alone that the legislation in New York was bad. But in your approach, Scripture is the centerpiece, and we are deconstructed and judged and then finally given hope by it. That is: the true apologist and his apologetic is squarely standing on the Gospel, and it making much of it.

This of course goes back to what I said last week: you're a truly-pastoral fellow. You don't see the work of shepherding souls as somehow two-dimensional. You don't see it as complete if it shows only one side -- as if the riddle of the pastoral Rubick's cube is solved when only one face is in place. Truth and Love, gentleness and reverence, heart, mind and soul, Scripture and reason: they come together in the right proportions in true apologetics.

That's what brings me to next week's final letter, and in the meantime I hope this letter finds you well and in God's good graces.







28 comments:

philness said...

Got an apologetic question or in a theological bind and go into channel for help- you had better be thick skinned and up on your rabies shot because the beating & berating you'll get from all directions is quite overwhelming with your very own foamy infection ensuing. It is indeed an underground fight club. I'm not sure if it is the vie for the @ designation or mere fear of being out witted and shunned from the @hierarchy rats or even their @rat-most-high, but whatever force they are bound by it is uniquely telling and entertaining.

Patrick Chan said...

Hi Mr. Frank Turk,

Sorry I haven't followed the "Turk hates apologetics" meme over the last two years, so this comment probably reflects my ignorance. Like I don't know if your open letters are meant to be a corrective against this "Turk hates apologetics" meme, or if they're meant as criticisms of James White's and/or other Christians' apologetic methodology, or both, or neither and something else entirely. It seems like you're gearing up for something, but it's hard for me to tell what it is. Or perhaps you're intentionally saving the big reveal for your third and final letter. Anyway, apologies in advance if I'm like stepping into the middle of something without realizing what it is and knocking over a bunch of stuff. A bull in a China shop. In any case, I thought you might find this "Comparative Apologetic Anatomy" helpful if you haven't already seen it.

patrick

Frank Turk said...

Anyone who can waid through that link from Patrick by "the" Steve Hays will benefit from it.

Thanks!

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I have a question: is the video that you refer to in your tweet vital to understanding your context, Frank, or is it sufficient to assume that it was just an example of what you describe in paragraph 4? Just wondering. (I'm beginning to think about joining twitter, but am reluctant. Maybe I'd do it if I knew how it could make me a better housewife and mother.)

Frank Turk said...

It's actually audio -- it's James' podcast.

I would have transcripted it, but it's not that necessary to have his exact words to parse.

Robert said...

Good post, Frank. And thanks for that link, Patrick...very good information there. I really think that Christians should look at how we see apologetics used in the Bible so that we can better define Christian apologetics. Just read through the Pauline epistles and we can see Paul laying out a thorough defense of the Gospel. We can also see that he confronts Peter publically over a sin issue and how he does so (to some extent). In Galatians, he shows how if we turn to works, we try to make Christ's work on the cross of no use. In Romans, he shows how all mankind is without excuse. In Acts, he tells the Athenians that they have been worshipping all of the false gods and missing out on the "unknown" God that they had set up an altar for. All of this was in bringing the truth of the Gospel to people and then keeping the church in line as to what the true doctrine of the Bible (and thus the church) is.

I don't think apologetics is about winning a debate (although this results from good apologetics) or making ourselves seem smarter or better than others, but it is about bringing the truth to light and making a defense of it. And part of laying out the truth and defending it does rest in taking apart false beliefs and statements that others make. The better (and more prepared) the apologist, the more thorough and complete the laying out of truth and defense of it will be...and the more thorough the defeat of false beliefs and statements will be.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Truth and Love, gentleness and reverence, heart, mind and soul, Scripture and reason: they come together in the right proportions in true apologetics.

Just thought that deserved emphasis.

Rhology said...

But, but, but...when are you really going to bust his chops?!?!


(Word verification: necting. Exactly.)

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

The very thing I love about James White is that his great, exterior/interior wall of "confidence" is not rooted in the faculties of his own mind, but deeply rooted in God’s Word.

God’s Word can keep men of great intellect very grounded, and that is what is so pleasing in every respect about Dr. White. He is void of self and gives all the glory to God. That’s why I believe you love him too, Frank.

David Regier said...

I had a comment, but my word verification rebuked me.

upest

Brad said...

This could just as easily been entitled "An Open Letter to William Lane Craig".

And rightly so.

Frank Turk said...

Brad --

I cannot confirm or deny that Dr. Craig's name was ever associated with this open letter.

jbboren said...

"...you framed something which, let's face it, has been going around about me for about two years now: Turk hates apologists."

Gee, I've been around here for a couple years, and that's the first time I've heard this. I should pay more attention when Frank is being rude!

stratagem said...

Y duz Frank h8 peeple hu go around apologizing? Iz he meen er sumthin?

verification word: mullett (how fitting)

Robert Warren said...

@philness

You're speaking of the channel that Dr. White's listeners frequent? I've only been there 2 or 3 times, so my observational base is limited, but I didn't see any rabidness. In fact, the first time I appeared, one of the regulars started a private conversation with me to make sure I knew the Gospel.

CGrim said...

This point in particular is excellent, excellent, excellent:

"There's a brand of philosophical theism also posing as mainstream Christian faith, and it would be a boon to the general orthodoxy of apologetics as a whole if it took a sabbatical. There is certainly room for epistemology and metaphysics in Christian apologetics; there is certainly room for ontological, teleological, cosmological and evidential arguments in apologetics. But when one presents these as somehow more convincing than the Bible, and then it turns out that after years of doing this one also finds himself glad to adopt a position about God's knowledge that is only barely-different than Open Theism, perhaps one would have been better off doing something else."

That's good stuff.

Rhology said...

Generally, those who stubbornly reject the Word of God while in channel are the set out of which the subset of those who call the channel "rabid" is drawn.

Jugulum said...

Brad:

Well, except for the sentence, "But there's another kind I think you and I would also agree on which needs, at least, substantial reform."

Rachael Starke said...

I waded through the Steve Hays stuff. Now I'm up to my knees in liquid concrete. Thanks a lot.

Ransom said...

Good letter, Frank. Though now I'm beginning to wonder if next week's "punchline" is going to live up to all the anticipation . . . it's like a summer blockbuster movie in that respect.

Mike Westfall said...

> There is certainly room for
> epistemology and metaphysics in
> Christian apologetics; there is
> certainly room for ontological,
> teleological, cosmological and
> evidential arguments in
> apologetics.

Depending on the audience, I suppose. These kinds of arguments seem to be especially useless when interacting with John Loftus and his ilk for example.

donsands said...

"Hate" is probably an imprecise word here, but it's the one we've put into play, so I'll run with it."

I think hate can be just the right word at times. And I know James White & you do to.

I hate that Philips Craig & Dean still get air time on my local CCM station, WITHOUT telling the audience these three so-called brothers are false brothers. I hate it.

Another terrific letter, and to P. Chan stop by is quite nice indeed.

Have a blessed cool rest of the week, as you seek Christ in all you do.

Brad Williams said...

Frank,

Philosophical Theism masked as apologetics, eh? I thought that those guys were just contextualizing the gospel for academics. Sort of like smart emergents or something.

Word Verification: Letheel. Booyah.

Frank Turk said...

Brad:

The gadflies need an update from you.

Steve Drake said...

Some great stuff with Steve Hays and Patrick Chan and the folks at Triablogue, but a commitment to a six-day, young earth, global and universal Noah's Flood view is not one of them. To those who would chasten me for these remarks, please know that for this exact reason, I love and admire what Phil, Frank, and Dan do here.

Sir Brass said...

Talk about opening up on molinism with both barrels, Frank. Bravo. Nicely put (and a slam dunk to boot).

ajlin said...

I've been in Dr. White's chat channel and can confirm both the experiences of philness and Robert Warren.

Patrick Chan said...

Steve Drake said:

"Some great stuff with Steve Hays and Patrick Chan and the folks at Triablogue, but a commitment to a six-day, young earth, global and universal Noah's Flood view is not one of them. To those who would chasten me for these remarks, please know that for this exact reason, I love and admire what Phil, Frank, and Dan do here."

Thanks, Mr. Steve Drake. I appreciate what I've seen you write as well!

BTW, in case anyone is interested, I think this is the discussion to which Steve Drake is referring (although there could be others I'm unaware of).