Friday, December 11, 2015

"Full-tilt attack mode"

James White attempted to respond to my latest post:

It's an interesting window into how his mind operates these days. 

Steve Hays of Triablogue has decided to go full tilt attack mode

White has been in full tilt attack mode for weeks now. That switch is jammed. 

Of course, that is NOT my focus, and no one reading my comments or listening to my presentations could ever think it is. It is easy to shift the focus and then accuse me of “dodging” but it is likewise fallacious to its core.

Did I suggest that was the focus of his presentation? No. BTW, a presentation can have more than one focus.

Rather, I've pointed out that he's derelict not to address how his position meshes with Christian social ethics vis-a-vis our duty to protect the innocent from gratuitous harm. 

Do forgive, me, Steve, for not limiting myself to your particular interests. 

But that's the problem. It shouldn't just be my particular interest. Social ethics ought to be a matter of common concern for White as well. 

But Rich and I are both dealing with all sorts of people making that exact argument. 

Which I never denied. But one problem is when White accuses his critics of broad-brushing Muslims, but then proceeds to broad-brush his critics. 

Your Hays-centrism leads you to attack me for not just focusing on—you. 

A petulant response. I never suggested that he should focus on me. Moreover, I never suggested that he should focus on any one thing. He keeps pedaling that false dichotomy. 

Rather, he should include an explanation of how his position is consistent with Christian social ethics regarding our duty to protect the innocent. Evidently, he's forgotten the context of the debate.

This isn't me attempting to redirect the initial topic of conversation–although there'd be nothing wrong with that. Rather, my response is actually pegged to how White himself originally framed the issue. Listen to his introductory comments in this video:

He started off by describing how many Americans in general as well as many Christians in particular are responding to the threat of militant Islam. So it's not as if I interjected security issues into a discussion that was originally about something else. To the contrary, the security issues are the express backdrop for White's own response. His response is in explicit reaction to that. But now he's lost track of his own argument. 

Sorry, Steve, but I do not consider you a relevant player in the field of apologetics to Muslims. 

My, what a self-important statement. Has he always been this haughty? Let us hope he doesn't fall off that high horse and break something. 

Till then, you would do well not to read into my comments a focus upon you.

Another petulant response. Where's the evidence that I was reading into his comments a focus on me? 

What I actually, said, of course…

What he actually said? I was quoting him verbatim. That is what he actually said. 

I am sorry, but this is just an astounding example of ignorance of Hays’ part.  He may well be in dialogue with all sorts of Muslims, reading authors from a wide spectrum—but if he is, he hasn’t given a scintilla of evidence of it here.  How on earth is that first sentence even coherent? Islam isn’t monolithic—there is an obvious spectrum of belief and practice that can be traced by careful scholars (with open minds anyway) all the way back to the earliest centuries…He then, mockingly, it seems, notes something that I did not believe any Christian apologist questioned: that the Qur’an is not a consistent, homogenous work of theology. Does Steve Hays want to drop his sarcasm and try to defend the idea that the Qur’an is not variegated in its materials?  Maybe he’d like to take a shot at demonstrating the hadith, as a corpus, are consistent?  How much of the entire body of the hadith have you even read, Steve?  Might want to do your homework before playing Apologetic Sniper.

For some reason, White is simply unable to follow the argument. He acts as if I think Islam is monolithic. Acts as if I deny the diversity of the founding documents. What accounts for such a systematic misreading of what I wrote? Is it just that he's so accustomed to stereotyping people that he forces them into his typecast roles? 

As I actually framed the argument, the question at issue isn't whether there's "an obvious spectrum of belief in practice in Islam." The question at issue isn't whether the Koran is theologically heterogenous and variegated in its materials. 

Rather, as I've explained on more than one occasion, the actual question at issue is the logical relationship between White's emphasis on diversity in Islam and his contrary emphasis on the alleged parallel between orthodoxy/orthopraxy in Christianity and Islam. 

White's two arguments tug in opposing directions. If, on the one hand, Islam is essentially and originally diverse, then, according to White, Christians have no right to distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslims, for there is no singular standard of comparison. He keeps harping on that.

Yet, in the very next breath, White will say Muslims, like Christians, are entitled to differentiate true Muslims from nominal Muslims. His specific example was a jihadist who gets drunk and has sex with prostitutes. 

Moreover, White himself, in this very broadcast, comments on the need of pollsters to "filter out" (his words) "nominal Muslims" (his words) from "truly religious" Muslims (his words) or Muslims "representational of the worshiping community" (his words). 

Yet he berates Americans in general and Christians in particular who distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslims. Why is he so blind to his inconsistency on this point? It isn't even subtle. 

So, just what “back to back contradiction” am I “oblivious” to?  We can’t say, since Hays sort of forgot to explain it, let alone prove it.

Actually, I've explained it on more than one occasion. Is he just too angry to follow the argument?

Again, someone who has actually listened to what I have said would be scratching their head wondering what Hays is up to.  How is this relevant to what I said on the DL today?

It's relevant because he was riffing off of Ben Shapiro's video ("The Myth of the Tiny Radical Muslim Minority"). Shapiro is concerned with the threat posed by militant Islam. Is Islam a "violent religion" or a tolerant faith. Shapiro frames the issue in terms of flying planes into skyscrapers, beheading journalists, &c. 

I didn't drag the security issue into this debate. Once again, White lost track of how he himself initiated the discussion. 

I was pointing out that those doing the “all Muslims are the same” argument (which, by the way, was the EXACT argument of the big weight lifter guy in the video I referenced—who, evidently, Steve seems intent upon defending)

It's easy to pick on someone like that. But a professional Christian apologist has a duty to engage the best representatives of a position. 

Is Hays ready to defend the thesis that all interpretations of Sharia are identical all across the Islamic world?  It is an indisputable fact that there are differing interpretations of Sharia.

Once more, White is no longer able to follow an argument. The question at issue isn't whether "all interpretations of Sharia are identical all across the Islamic world," but whether they become a flashpoint for Muslim adherents living in the West. 


  1. First, I'm a Calvinist. I used to listen to James White's The Dividing Line every week. I've read many of his books and, so far, I've always found them to be very helpful. I say this so that it's clear that I'm not one of White's crazy Arminian, Muslim, KJV Onlyist or whatever critics. I'm a fan (or used to be).

    I first found out about James White maybe 10 years ago when I was looking for some defenses of Calvinism. I first found his debates and eventually found his Dividing Line program and I started listening to all of the past and present episodes I could.

    About a year and a half or two years ago I've had to quit listening to The Dividing Line. I'm not sure if White has gone off the rails recently or if I'm just realizing that he's always been off the rails. He can't seem to focus, he's always the victim, all critics are demonized and, before too long, silenced (blocked on twitter, kicked out of chat, removed from FB).

    His Dividing Line program may be his biggest problem. His debates are still good (though he obviously spreads himself thin trying to keep abreast of so many topics) and his books are still good (probably because an editor forces him to the higher standard of publishing). His DL program has become an echo-chamber for him to spiral out of control amidst a small die-hard fan base where White can do no wrong.

    I hope that somewhere along the lines someone can get through to White and change his attitude, narrow his focus, and knock off his pride.

    1. Jonathan- My thoughts exactly. The irony of the whole thing is that James spends much of his time on the DL critiquing others and their position, which,in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, it seems that he has a little bit of a problem when others point out that maybe he isn't nearly as consistent as he thinks he is.

      I too have followed him for about a decade, and it seems like recently he has started to go off the rails.

  2. I am astounded at James White's lack of clear thinking here when addressing Steve Hays' argument. White is not grasping the argument Hays is making, even quoting Hays' quotation of himself (White) saying Islam is not monolithic and taking Hays' mere quotation as him (Hays) saying Islam is monolithic, when all he was doing was quoting White for the purpose of his broader point about White's inconsistency! This is unacceptable for a seasoned apologist who constantly (and rightly) emphasises the need to 'hear the other side' when debating/interacting.

    And I find White's condescending and high and mighty attitude towards Hays wholly unbecoming, and unworthy for such an experienced and (usually gracious) man.

  3. Honestly, the part from Dr. White that I have the most problem with is this statement:

    Sorry, Steve, but I do not consider you a relevant player in the field of apologetics to Muslims. If I have missed your books, articles, and debates, please feel free to link me to them.

    It's not the condescending aspect of it that I find problematic (I generally don't care about other people's tone), but rather the fact that a person doesn't need to study anything about Islam to point out that Dr. White's statements seem to be inconsistent--that only requires us to read/listen to White. Even Turretin Fan, in defense of White, wrote on Facebook:

    If I follow Steve's accusation correctly, he's saying that Dr. White is inconsistent because:
    1) Dr. White distinguishes between "truly religious" Muslims and "nominal" Muslims; but
    2) Dr. White criticizes others for saying that ISIS are "true Muslims," because Dr. White states that there is no coherent standard for true Islam.

    I can see why Steve might mistakenly believe that these two things are inconsistent with one another. It might sound like Dr. White is saying "you have to distinguish between true Muslims and others," while simultaneously saying, "there is no way of identifying true Muslims."

    TF then, in my opinion, provided a *much* better defense for White's position than White provided.

    I respect White a great deal, and have tried to read his words as charitably as I can, but it almost seems like he is unable to hear what Steve is actually writing here. What it appears to me happened is that White made some statements against a particular group of anti-Islamic people using universal language instead of qualifying it, and Steve pointed out that White's statements with their universal, non-qualified meanings resulted in direct contradictions when one takes them at face value. Instead of adding the necessary qualifications to keep the statements consistent (qualifications that Turretin Fan did add), White seemed to take Steve's point as a broad attack on White and a defense of the anti-Islamic positions White was originally addressing. Because White saw Steve's comments as a personal attack, and because it looks to me like he continues to see everything Steve writes as a continuation of that attack, I don't think he can see the actual substance behind what Steve says.

    Maybe I'm wrong about that, but it's the way it appears to me, for whatever that's worth.

  4. Moreover, White himself, in this very broadcast, comments on the need of pollsters to "filter out" (his words) "nominal Muslims" (his words) from "truly religious" Muslims (his words) or Muslims "representational of the worshiping community" (his words).

    I'm not sure filtering out nominal Muslims is always a good thing. It would seem to me that nominal Muslims could also be a source of terrorist activity. I can imagine a nominal Muslim feeling guilty for living a seriously sinful lifestyle and realizing that the only hope of him escaping Islamic hell and guaranteeing himself a place in Islamic paradise is to die in a jihadist terrorist attack.

    Especially if the very sinful activities he's feeling guilty about in this world are they very rewards he'll receive in Islamic paradise in the next world. In other words, an Islamic man understands that committing fornication in this world sends one to Islamic hell, but if he dies in Jihad, he can have a minimum of 70 perpetually virgin female houris in paradise.

    The corresponding nominal Christian who seriously feels guilty may either become truly saved according to a correct understanding of the Gospel. Or become more harmlessly pious out of ignorance of the true Gospel. Though, admittedly, a small minority of those become priests or pastors who do great harm (e.g. doctrinally or by committing crimes like pedophilia). Though, I would assume that this number is much smaller than the number of nominal Muslims who become Jihadists. Since Jihadists think they are actually doing good, whereas pedophilic "Christians" usually know they are doing wrong.

  5. Try being an Arminian! He talks to Muslims and Roman Catholics with more respect than he does with us.

    1. Yes, but to be fair, Arminians are only like 3/4 human

    2. I'm pretty sure the Constitution says it's 3/5ths.

    3. I was going to say something along the lines of what Maul P. and Peter Pike did but decided not to, figuring that *some* Arminians can't take a joke. Not that they can't understand it, but that they're overly sensitive. Then after refreshing the blogpost I find Maul P. and Peter saying what I was going to say (*grin*).

      So, instead of saying something funny, I'll say something serious.

      Calvinists are sometimes more harsh on their Arminian brothers precisely because (like many Calvinists) many Arminians 1. are truly regenerate 2. rightly hold to Sola Scriptura. And so in some sense (assuming the truth of Calvinism) Arminians should know better [unlike Muslims etc.]. If Arminians were more consistent with 1. their principles of Scripture having the highest authority and being perspicuous on matters of salvation, 2. their regenerate nature, they'd be or become Calvinists.

      You Arminians might say, "Well, if Calvinism is true, then we Arminians were predestined to be (and remain) Arminians so long as we are. How can you blame us?" It's true God ordains our acceptance or rejection of particular truths or errors. For example, some Arminians have a better grasp of the truth of the efficacy and importance of prayer than some Calvinists [and so pray more earnestly and with greater results]. But God also ordains our blameworthiness and praiseworthiness as well. Better Calvinists than myself would be able to explain *how* that can be [cf. HERE].

      Nevertheless, my point is that Arminians ought to be Calvinists if they were more consistent with their good principles and regenerate nature. Or Open Theists or even atheists if they were more consistent with their bad principles and their still sinful "flesh"/sarx.

  6. Unfortunately, White's position is riddled with inconsistencies. On the one hand, he says the Koran is self-contradictory. It contains disparate materials. Excerpts of longer scenes or sayings.

    On the other hand, he says detractors quote the Koran the same way atheists quote the Bible out of context.

    But the obvious problem with that attempted parallel is that Christian inerrantists say those are just apparent contradictions. If you take the full context into account, they can be harmonized, in practice or at least in principle.

    Yet by parity of argument, White is handing Muslim apologists the very same out. They can always say the Koran is really consistent once you make allowance for the original setting–although that may be irretrievable this far down the pike.

  7. Sadly I must echo many of the earlier comments. I discovered White about 10 years ago during a season when I was fairly involved in countercult activities, and his resources on JW's, Mormons, and Romanists proved invaluable to me.

    I devoured aoblog's archive for months on end, bought several of his books, listened to/watched him on YouTube, and even frequented his IRC for a time.

    It was highly instructive in many ways, not the least of which was that I began to become aware that White seemed to frequently come across as rather thin-skinned and peevish for such a seasoned and intelligent Christian apologist and elder. I thought this also negatively affected his ability to argue without indulging in excessive ad hominem and fallacious reasoning. Not great for a Christian, much less a serious Christian apologist.

    After a time I stopped reading and listening to him because it seemed that he was becoming more and more self-absorbed and petty, or else I was just becoming more aware of it.

    This was around the time he lost all that weight by taking up serious cycling. I'm not suggesting any connection between the two, it's just that it was around this timeframe that I moved on from following his ministry. I think this was also around the same time he began studying Arabic in earnest and started his Muslim apologetics season.

    Anyway, we all struggle in many ways, and have many besetting sins. White is just a very public and vocal figure, so his issues are out there for everyone to see.

    This latest series of volleys is just surreal. He's become impervious to criticism and correction. He sounds unhinged. Sad.

  8. It's disheartening to see two men that I admire greatly go at it. But to be honest, what worries me more is that we're more focused (perhaps too much) on arguing with each other than we are on praying for each other. I mean, if you really believe that your brother in Christ is in error, why WOULDN'T you pray for them?

    1. What would make you think they aren't praying for one another?

    2. Caped Baldy

      "It's disheartening to see two men that I admire greatly go at it."

      To be fair, there are different ways as well as degrees to "go[ing] at it." For example, both sides may "go at it" irrationally, both sides may "go at it" rationally, or one side may "go at it" rationally while the other side does so irrationally.

      In my estimation, if you start at the very beginning, and read or watch the exchanges in sequence, then Steve Hays is behaving more reasonably than James White is.

    3. I'm not saying that they definitely aren't praying for each other. I'm just worried that it might be a possibility. I sure hope that isn't the case. We should certainly keep them in our prayers.

  9. This is such an interesting time for me to randomly visit blogs that I haven't visited in nearly a decade...I'm not sure much has changed, however (although maybe some things truly have).
    I don't wish to pass casual judgment on anyone, but the collective, corroborating comments in this post (esp. those of "Reformed Baptist," "CV," and "Jonathan") invoke deep reflection on a situation that was, in one season of my life, very important to me.
    It was my blog wars with Hays, blogging at for two years, and blogging/podcasting for the now defunct for three years that made me realize (among other things) that (firstly) the pressure to publicly deliver is what perhaps most greatly causes men to say things, embody attitudes, and invoke rhetoric that they never otherwise would have. Especially in a fight for audience and clicks, and in White's case - the need to keep a character-oriented, non-profit organization afloat - there are no clear boundaries. The situation worsens without being regularly involved in academic communities (e.g., societies, institutions of higher learning, etc.) that serve to sharpen, restrain and offer an extra set of eyes that see things that others just can't see. I suppose public comments on a blog like this might help to some degree, but it's not really the same (most readers tend to be supportive, partake in the same kind of subculture, conversation, and intelligibility nuclei, and tend not to be scholars in a field; in other words, public figures and authors rarely adjust their perspectives according to blog comments, so it isn't really an effective mechanism of correction, much less a means of cultivating critical thought). A church elderboard or denominational hierarchy also can't provide the same kind of accountability for some of the same reasons (mentioned above).

    I also (secondly) realized the spiritual and intellectual toll it was taking on my personal life to have spent so much mental energy and so many hours at the keyboard doing nothing more than quibbling and critiquing other fellow Christians. Is that really what I was called to do? Were the issues really that important? It was at that point that I realized I needed to stop, open myself up to new fields of learning, new relationships and communities that could genuinely correct my rough edges, and do more distinctly, Christian and challenging things (though I have a long ways to go in all of these areas - and in many more areas as well).

    I have so many other thoughts, especially regarding the nature of evangelical fundamentalism, apologetics, public perception, person(a)-oriented organizations, blogging, ideas of monopolizing theological truth, etc., but this certainly isn't the time or place. But I guess I wanted to express my appreciation for some of the honest comments posted, and to say that I haven't missed my former blogging days *at all*.

    jamin h