Thursday, December 03, 2015


I listened to James White on the Dividing Line yesterday:

This will probably be my last post on the subject.

i) The timing was unfortunate for White. His "Two Contrasting Views of Islam" happened on the same day as what has all the earmarks of another domestic jihadist attack (in San Bernardino). 

ii) His broadcast continues a recent pattern, both on Facebook and Youtube, of scorched-earth rhetoric to characterize those who don't share his viewpoint. If you disagree, he brands you a bigot or Islamophobe.  The whole show was full of mockery.

I have to repeat a question I asked before: what does he hope to accomplish? Is his objective to persuade or to burn bridges?

iii) One irony is how his rhetorical tactics on this issue parallel homosexual activists. They brand their critics as homophobes while White brands his critics as Islamophobes.

Likewise, both invoke the argument from experience. Homosexual apologists ask "How many gay friends do you have?" If you just get to know us, you'll see that gays are good neighbors, too. We're not all alike. Don't lump us in with those obscene, flamboyant exhibitionists at gay pride parades. Don't lump us in with gays who frequent the bathhouses. No, we're monograms, all-American, hand-holding, boy-next-door gay couples. Right out of Norman Rockell. 

Now White is using exactly the same approach in reference to Muslims. He seems to have a bad case of clientitis. 

iv) James White and Rich Pierce had little exchange about how you just can please the critics. How many people over last 14 years have been calling for Muslims to denounce jihad, but when they do so, they must be liars. As soon as they do that they're not the real Muslims. Can't win for losing. 

Speaking for myself, my stated position has been more specific. It really doesn't matter what moderate Muslims in the West say, because they don't speak for the Muslim world. They aren't taken seriously by their own. 

The lead to come from high-level representatives in the ancient, influential centers of the Muslim world. Not from Westernized ex-pats. 

v) Later, White makes fun of Ben Shapiro. For Shapiro, commitment to sharia is a hallmark of radical Islam. White accuses him of knowing nothing about the varieties of sharia and does a facepalm.

But Shapiro didn't actually say that. Moreover, for White's distinction to work, he'd need to give examples of kinder, gentler versions of sharia that can peacefully coexist with the infidel. And he'd need to show how popular that version is. But he gave no such examples. 

vi) Later, White quoted Phil 2, then said it sounds like We christians believe every tongue will confess, Jesus will reign over all the earth, God's will shall be accomplished, his kingdom established. And yet we freak out when another religion says we're going to do the same thing. You can't do that! I'm that weird guy that goes you probably need to be consistent. It's a bummer!

But that comparison is so equivocal. Phil 2 doesn't summon Christians to wage war agains the infidel. it says nothing about Christians imposing this regime on the world. There's no suggestion of conversion by the sword. 

Indeed, that's incompatible with evangelical theology, which attributes conversion to the Holy Spirit. Conversion, in the Christian sense, can't be compelled. 

So how in the world is that seriously analogous to jihadist passages in the Koran and the Hadith? Why does White pretend these are comparable when he knows perfectly well that's not the case?

vii) Later, he attempts a comparison between Robert Dear and jihadists who frequent brothels and get drunk. He then accuses Christians of a double standard: That works for us but not to you!

Yet White keeps hectoring critics on how Islam is not monolithic. But if Islam is so diverse, why can't at true Muslim frequent brothels, get drunk, and go to paradise so long as he dies in jihad? White careens between saying we're not entitled to distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslim, only to draw that very distinction when it suits the immediate needs of his argument. 

viii) He then suggests the solution to ISIS is to change hearts, but for a lot of Christians the Gospel isn't a good enough answer anymore. Let's trust in horses and men.

But, of course, that's a caricature which he himself doesn't take seriously. White is not a pacifist or universalist. So he doesn't think evangelism alone is a substitute for the armed forces or counterespionage.

White is a very smart guy, so why does he feel the need to burn so many straw men? The whole show is talking back at critics rather than reasoning with critics. He accuses the critics of "roid rage," but he's pretty hopped up himself. 


  1. Hey Steve, Appreciate your comments here. I have felt more and more over the years that when James White loses a debate, he still wins. At least in terms of rhetoric to the audience and himself. He could debate a tire is a rock and win. Its just the nature of his style :). Let me also add we are doing a Christian business podcast in which I hope to avoid strawmen. I'd love your feedback.

  2. I've been following James White's ministry since 1996 and in all his apologetical endeavors he's constantly emphasizing the importance of doing apologetics in a God glorifying way. Whether the topic is Roman Catholicism, Islam, Mormonsm, Jehovah's Witnesses etc.

    In all the videos, audios and debates that I've listened to of James White on the topic of Islam, I think he speaks the way he does in order to maximize the likelihood of Muslims converting to Christianity. 1. By distancing himself from obviously ignorant Christian apologists "specializing" in Islam (i.e. folks like the Caners et al.). 2. By doing his best not to give Muslims (and their leaders) reasons to lump him among Christians who are irrationally biased or prejudiced or racist toward Muslims. 3. By demonstrating himself to be a fair and honest scholar of Islam (and its adherents) and not saying anything extreme, inaccurate, ignorant, disingenuous or opportunistic.

    1. If anyone is interested, Sam Shamoun and David Wood did a series of videos on 50 SPECIFIC reasons why Muhammad is not a prophet of God. I've collected those videos in my blogpost here:

  3. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Very disappointed with this response. Straw men abound indeed, but not on my part! As my travel allows this weekend, I will respond, fully.

  5. I've been reading through a book by Packer while flying for business recently. One of the things he points out that the Puritans deplored was unnecessary division, disharmony, and disunity among the brethren over non-essential matters that frequently boil down to sinful pride.

    It's called "A Quest for Godliness". I highly recommend it.

  6. I listen to James White occasionally, and he has very valuable things to say, no doubt. It is somewhat a pattern though, in online media to be snarky at times (WinteryKnight), sarcastic (PyroManiacs) or biting (AOMin).
    I just wonder if it's just one of those things that can't be changed. We all get frustrated with our sinful world, and I too find times when I'm guilty of ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, or just claiming "I'm an expert, so you better listen to me." (M Brown).

    Thanks Steve for pointing out our tendencies. It seems to be part of the landscape.

  7. I thought Dr. White was right to:
    1. Emphasize the Kingdom of God and Evangelism as first priority. (John 18:36) I never got the impression he was down on the military doing it's job of defense, etc. or the right for Americans to have second Amendment rights to take out someone who suddenly starts doing some terrorist stuff here in USA.
    2. Make distinctions between the kind of Muslim in the first video - who we can witness to and not be afraid of; and the IS / ISIS type of Muslims in the second video, who deserve the full force of the coalition/France/US/Britian/Jordan, etc. to take them out.

    1. "[Ken] never got the impression he was down on the military doing it's job of defense, etc. or the right for Americans to have second Amendment rights to take out someone who suddenly starts doing some terrorist stuff here in USA."

      Just listen to what he said at 13:50-14:16 & 1:05:45-1:07:10.

      Moreover, he ducks the question of immigration policy, visas, &c. He ducks the question of how authorities should handle the security situation in the US.

    2. Dr. White clarified more this morning on a facebook post.

      I listened again and to more than only those sections; and I think those windows leave out overall context. In the first section, Dr. White was responding to the extremism of the guy who shouted down a Muslim at a public meeting about a Mosque proposal - the "weight-lifter guy" who shouted - "all Muslims are terrorists" and "I don't care what you say", etc. and the picture of a guy in camo and big gun and face covered following a Muslim woman.

      I did not see the question of immigration police, visas, etc. brought up, so I don't know if he was ducking it specifically.

      Dr. White's main points were on what is the proper Christian attitude and the gospel and evangelism; and that we need to make distinctions between radical ISIS and Al Qaeda type Muslims and other kinds of Muslims. (even if we can't know if some are sleepers or doing Taqiyye (passive deception; dissimulation).

      One thing that President Obama was right on in the last few days, someone on a finance visa from a Muslim country and / or on a no fly list, should not be able to get a gun here. Those current visa programs are even worse than the border of Mexico not having a secure wall.

      Dr. White seemed to be pointing out that we can and should be witnessing to Muslims here in USA, not screaming at them.

      But many American's points/feelings/fears are also understandable and correct that those that have no experience with Muslims are understandable afraid, when it is possible for any Muslim to be self-radicalized.

      In the second section that you gave, I think what he is saying is that if conservative Christians are trusting only in military might, etc. and rah rah going after them alone or by itself, without also reaching out in evangelism to other Muslims (like the debates he has been doing) - he made reference to verses like Psalm 20:7 and Psalm 147:10-11 and Psalm 118:8-9 - I think what he is getting at is that if our politics and security/military defense takes over attitudes so that there is no genuine outreach or compassion to other Muslims; it is not a proper attitude of putting the kingdom of God first. I don't think he means do nothing in the political - military sphere, rather he seems to saying that many times it seems that the patriotism/conservative military attitude is the only attitude among conservatives. We can do both - and support both conservative military and security policies against radical Islam and Jihadism, etc. and have wiser policies on immigration, visas, refugees, and also Biblical evangelism to Muslims.

      I have heard him say that he disagrees with John Piper many times on the issue of having a gun to protect his family - I think he heard Piper say something like not having a gun and being willing to die. ( I would like to find that Piper sermon or section of a sermon or talk, etc. )

      And again, Dr. White's facebook post this morning clarified the issues greatly.

    3. White decides what he wants to respond to. Decides what he wants to cite to illustrate his point. If something isn't brought up, that's because he chose to ignore it.

      Yes, I'm sure he believes in national security. But for polemical reasons, he's dodging a number of serious issues.

  8. Brother Stephen, check what the Muslims did with White's claims:

    1. Hm, that's unfortunate. I respect James White a whole lot. But (judging by the video) I think it's true White's comments in this case do seem to lend themselves to the conclusion that David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi are "liars." Not that this by any stretch of the imagination greenlights everything else the Muslim claims in that video (e.g. "oppressive foreign policies" are hardly the real root cause of Islamic terrorism)

    2. Just to be clear, I'd agree more with David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi on Islam and ISIS.

      A friend has kindly shared this video from philosopher Jeff McMahan. Not that I'd agree with everything McMahan says, but I believe he does make several incisive remarks in the video.

    3. I thought Dr. White's Facebook post this morning clarified things.

    4. Ken

      "I thought Dr. White's Facebook post this morning clarified things."

      Thanks, Ken.

      I presume James White is referring to people like me when he says:

      "It seems that MuslimByChoice posted a video. Nothing new there-I have been documenting the incoherence of this particular YouTube account for quite some time. In fact, I have started to ignore the silliness flowing from this account as it at times is simply laughable. It lowers the level of discussion and dishonors serious Muslims. But a video was posted where my comments were edited to attempt to make it look like I was calling David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi liars. Now, anyone so immature and lacking in discernment so as to not see the painfully edited nature of the video should be ashamed of themselves. And anyone who then jumped into the following comment threads attacking me on the basis of the video who did not take the time to actually listen carefully to what I actually said in its fulness clearly lacks the slightest bit of care about the truth, let alone Christian charity."

      1. Say I agree (arguendo) it's true the video was "edited to attempt to make it look like I [James White] was calling David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi liars." If so, then why isn't it possible what I said was an honest mistake?

      2. If so, is what James White says about me itself a "charitable" representation of what I said (e.g. "immature," "lacks the slightest bit of care about the truth, let alone Christian charity")? How "charitable" are James White's remarks towards me if I made an honest mistake? For example, if it's possible I made an honest mistake, is it "charitable" to conclude I "clearly lack[] the slightest bit of care about the truth"?

      3. Indeed, if it's true I'm "so immature and lacking in discernment," why not consider me the weaker brother, and respond to me accordingly? However, if James White has other people in mind who do deserve a harsher rebuke, then why treat all of us as one and the same?

      4. Ironically, at least in this response, James White appears to be more "charitable" towards Muslims than towards fellow Christians like me. He gives Muslims the benefit of the doubt, but apparently not fellow Christians like me. No, he just lays right into us like a raging bull.

      5. Nevertheless, I still have a lot of respect for James White.

    5. Just to add, I suspect James White may be so accustomed to debating and arguing that it's hard to break out of this mindset. It's sort of like a battle-hardened marine who is so amped up all the time that even when he's on leave and back in civilian life he can't always tell the difference between, say, disagreeable civilians and enemy combatants, and so treats both more alike than unalike.

    6. "Ironically, at least in this response..."

      I should clarify I mean in the entire FB response.

  9. Dr. White put his Facebook post up at the aomin website. I think it is good and clarifying.

  10. Steve, White has responded to his "detractors" on his DL today:

    Your thoughts?

  11. If you ask me, Dr. White did an excellent job; as he did from the beginning of all this recent controversy; to emphasize the gospel of Christ and Evangelism, the Kingdom of God, as first priority; and being consistent; and to glorify God in our attitudes.

  12. Ken- I had the exact opposite impression after listening to today's Dividing Line. James came across as dismissive and condescending toward all of his detractors. In summary, unless you have studied the Koran as much as he has, or have debated as many Muslim apologists like he has, then you really need to sit in the corner and shut up.

    Though he mentioned Steve's blog posts, I don't think he ever addressed any of his points in a meaningful fashion.

    I wonde

  13. My thoughts:

    * White opines the deficiencies in what he calls "journalism" in social media. That facts aren't as highly valued as when he was growing up, that both sides of an issue aren't fairly represented, that there's a decrease in critical thinking, etc. He's holding social media to high standards. Of course, it's obvious many people using social media have pretty low standards. That's no surprise.

    But White broadbrushes all social media with the same paintbrush. As if most his critics on social media are unreasonable, emotional, irrational, etc. Yet, for instance, though one may disagree with his arguments, Steve Hays is a very reasoned and reasonable blogger (to say the least).

    * White laments his critics don't listen to what he's saying. But does he listen to what they're saying? For example, he doesn't address the core points in this very post, "Clientitis" except, I suppose, with an indirect comment or two towards the end (around 1:10), but even this is not very satisfactory, as I'll explain later.

    * Is it true there are Christians who think all Muslims are the same? Sure there are. But there are also Christians who know better. Yet White paints his Christian critics as if most are in the former camp.

    * White assumes people who are emotionally worked up over Muslims won't be able to bear the gospel to Muslims. For one thing, it's not necessarily unreasonable or irrational to be emotional. For another, just because someone may be emotionally worked up online doesn't mean they'll behave the same when witnessing to Muslims.

    * White seems to conflate Christians interacting with individual Muslims and hatred for radical Muslim organizations like ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, etc. I don't see any biblical contradiction in loving our Muslim neighbor to share the gospel with them, and wishing to see ISIS destroyed. The two are not of a kind.

    * White wants both Christians and Muslims to be reasonable, fair, etc. Sure, in an ideal world. But, whereas genuine Christians will strive to do so, that's not the world in which many Muslims live and operate. Many Muslims don't play by fair rules, by "equal scales." In this respect, White may be a bit naive, when he should instead be more prudent, "wise as a serpent" "in the midst of wolves."

    * White addresses critics who say he's "getting soft because [he's] got too many friendships with Muslims" with "are you really seriously arguing that you're in a better position because you don't have any relationships with Muslim people?" But how is this a fair and reasonable response? For one thing, it assumes his critics don't have any relationships with Muslims. Also, White himself later admits it's possible for someone to become "soft" due to becoming too chummy with people such as happens (according to White) with homosexuals. So it's not as if the allegation is entirely baseless.

    * White says he understands the argument that ISIS represents the purest form of Islam. He takes issue with this, and wants the person arguing this to further elaborate. However, one doesn't need to go so far as to say ISIS represents the purest form of Islam. One can take the position that philosopher Jeff McMahan takes which is "there is a textual basis for a lot of what ISIS is doing" and that it's "not a far-fetched or strained interpretation of the text." Indeed, White seems to implicitly concede this inasmuch as he sees this as debatable. He says "the actual sources are not sufficiently clear."

    1. * White makes a point about granting a "consistency and historicity [to ISIS' interpretation of Islam] that they don't deserve to be given." But one problem is that even if it's true (arguendo) some Christians are making ISIS' interpretation more central to Islam by arguing it represents Islam in its purest form, this pales in comparison to the fact that ISIS itself is making its interpretation of Islam more central to Islam. That is, it seems to me ISIS' interpretation of Islam is "legitimized" far more through ISIS' military victories, expansion, conquests, subjugation of others, etc. In this respect, Christians are quite right to be concerned and even "emotional" about ISIS, because ISIS is making their voice heard in the Muslim world far more than Christians are. It's sort of like arguing the fire from a matchstick isn't the most representative form of fire, which may be perfectly true, while there's a blazing forest fire right behind us.

      * The (presumably unintentional) impression White does leave one with is that one has to be a scholar to be able to witness to Muslims. But it doesn't necessarily take an Islamic scholar to share the gospel with a Muslim. Just like it doesn't necessarily take a professor of philosophy to witness to an atheist.

      Yes, in the context of an apologetics debate, or an involved argument over Islam, or something along those lines, an ignorant Christian may fail to make headway with an informed Muslim. There may be intellectual or similar impediments to sharing the gospel if the Muslim has intellectual or similar obstacles to receiving the gospel. In that respect, yes, the Christian should inform himself enough to overcome the Muslim's intellectual objections.

      However, just like not all atheists are sophisticated atheists, not all Muslims are sophisticated Muslims. And not all Christians are called to witness to "the entire spectrum of Muslims." We have to witness according to our appropriate level of knowledge, experience, etc. To be honest with ourselves about what we can and cannot do, don't say more than we know, seek to improve where possible, etc.