Sunday, November 05, 2006

White vs. Spong Debate

Watching the debate last week between James White and John Shelby Spong left me with several impressions.

God built James White to debate. He is obviously gifted in his ability both to prepare and to present the fruit of those preparations in a formal format that allows for the give and take of cross examination.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, though very bright, seems inexplicably uninformed about the evanglical stream of his own confessional history. When he was asked about J. C. Ryle's views on some point that was in question, he responded by asking, "Who is he and when did he live?" I literally fell out of my chair.

James repeatedly explained and defended biblical Christianity and Bishop Spong repeatedly dismissed without engaging his arguments. Nevertheless, Spong insisted on maintaining the label of "Christian" even while rejecting theism and identifying himself as a "mystic."

I was reminded of J. Gresham Machen, the great Presbyterian theologian of the last century. In his 1923 book, Christianity and Liberalism, he shows liberalism is not simply another kind of Christianity, it is an altogether different religion from Christianity. He argues that liberalism and orthodoxy are not two varieties of the same religion, but in reality, two essentially different types of thought and life. In an autobiographical essay he wrote this:
There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots. In particular, … Christianity is not a "life," as distinguished from a doctrine, and not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression, but that--exactly the other way around—[Christianity] is a life founded on a doctrine (from "Christianity in Conflict").
The debate made this abundantly clear.


GUNNY said...

"a life founded on a doctrine"

Amen, never one without the other if the faith is genuine.

GeneMBridges said...

Bishop John Shelby Spong, though very bright, seems inexplicably uninformed about the evanglical stream of his own confessional history. When he was asked about J. C. Ryle's views on some point that was in question, he responded by asking, "Who is he and when did he live?" I literally fell out of my chair.

This honestly doesn't surprise me in the least. Liberal theologians like Spong talk to each other and have little or no knowledge of the opposing side. I consider that a great act of God's grace, because it makes our job a lot easier. Thumb through a truly liberal commentary and what do you find? They quote each other. Check the index of one of "ours"...we interact with each other and with the liberals.

Dr. Crossan isn't as bad an offender as Spong. Spong, however, has expressed open contempt for evangelical Christianity, so I get the impression he remains ignorant because he writes it off without giving it any consideration. He's arrogant enough to think that because he was raised in it, he knows it, but when you're a Episcopalian and don't know who Ryle is, well that just speaks for itself. Richard Dawkins is in the same boat.

scripturesearcher said...

Regarding the White and Spong debate - DEJAVU!

Through the years many have vainly attempted to maintain the label of CHRISTIAN while remaining almost totally ignorant of the basic, fundamental truths of who Jesus Christ is and what He taught.

The great lesson we need to learn from the New Testament, history and even current events is that many people are void of redemptive TRUTH.

jigawatt said...

Going along with what Gene said, I would reccomend Iain Murray's book, "Evangelicalism Divided" - specifically the seventh chapter, "'Intellectual Respectability' and Scripture".

Murray quotes John Wenham, saying (p.211) "We ourselves [evangelicals] have scarcely dented the academic world. People can write books about contemporary theology and not mention us at all . . . we are not [even] considered as offering an alternative school of biblical criticism."

Stewart said...

I was at the debate and I had just about the same reaction as Dr. Ascol. His responses were, to slightly alter MacBeth, "full of sound and fury (towards the orthodox), Signifying nothing." He sounded semi-gnostic. His argument support was other liberal theologians and evolutionary scientists, who have a higher knowledge that could not be understood if you believe that "God has spoken." When Dr. White gave Scriptural support for his position, Bishop Spong would dismiss it under the assumption that the Spripture cannot be authoritative. Then he would quote his higher authorities! Here is someone who cannot/will not see his own inconsistencies.

On a better note, thank you Dr. Ascol for your clear presentation of the minister and the ministry of the Word. All in attendance were blessed!

Andrew said...

There's a great biography of Machen by Terry Chrisope... it's really hard to find. However, it's definitely worth the read if you can get a hold of a copy.

Bartimaeus said...

What so tragic is that the media will fall over themselves to interview Bishop Spong; and present his views as being new and refreshing. At the same time they will marginalize a person like Dr White they will call Dr White’s views regressive and bigoted. They will like Sprong refuse to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the other side and dismiss the arguments as being total irrelevant. But then again they are only showing the incredible arrogance of unregenerate humanity. This as Paul said is the perfect example of mankind suppressing the truth of God by their wickedness.

GeneMBridges said...

The byproduct of course is that there were those there who got Dr. White's book. Hopefully, they opened it and found that Dr. Spong had not interacted with with Dr. White's argumentation. In fact, hopefully, they'll open it and the Holy Spirit will do a work of grace in them. Spong is just a man. My God can beat up his god anyday, and there's nothing Spong can do to stop Him.

deacon said...

It is really sad when I realized the two liberal "theologians," Spong and Crossan, have both been featured speakers at the local United Methodist college, Millsaps, here in Jackson, MS. Dr. Crossan even "preached" at St. Andrews Cathederal. When Dr. Mike Ross, Trinity Presbyterian, PCA, asked to respond to Dr. Crossan's accusations about theology, Bible, and Jesus; St. Andrews would not allow him to speak. Who knows what would have happened if the Bible was preached from? ;)

ClemsonCalvinist said...

Can you get audio of the debate? someone tell me where to look.

Jeff Downs said...

Just today I posted in my Resource Blog a lecture by Walter Martin titled "The Cult of Liberalism." This lecture is one of my all time favorites from Martin. I would recommend it to you and your readers:

Part 1 and Part 2 (Real Audio).