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Dr. White's Review of a Review

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On January 30, 2009 Joel McDurmon posted an article on the American Vision website regarding his attendance at my debate with Bart Ehrman on January 21 that was held at the Airport Sheraton in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to specific statements that appeared in that article. I would like to begin with Joel’s concluding comments:

In the end, despite all of the helpful information and engaging points, the debate proved little beside the limitations of evidentialist apologetics. If manuscript evidence forms the basis of our trust in the veracity, of Scripture then we cannot conclude veracity one way or the other. Without the prior existence of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, revelation in any form cannot exist.

It is hard for me to understand how the debate was even relevant to “evidentialist” apologetics, since the topic hardly lent itself to a comparison between apologetic methodologies. I suppose someone could argue, “You should have begun, ‘You know the Bible is true, Dr. Ehrman, but you are suppressing that knowledge, so you must repent and recognize the existence of the one true God,” but that would have led to a very short debate that would not accomplish any of the goals we had in providing encouragement and edification to the people of God. Besides, I would never suggest that because Joel has written a book, Manifested in the Flesh: How the Historical Evidence of Jesus Refutes Modern Mystics and Skeptics, that Joel is an evidentialist. Presuppositionalists speak of evidence all the time: and when I present what God has done in the preservation of Scripture when speaking to believers, it is always within the over-arching paradigm of the sovereignty of God over all human affairs. But that was not the debate’s subject nor its purpose. As I wrote in my work on Scriptural sufficiency, Scripture Alone:

The divine truth of the sufficiency of Scripture is based firmly upon the bedrock of the nature of Scripture and God’s sovereign rulership over His creation. That is to say that scriptural sufficiency is not a doctrine unto itself that can be separated from the rest of revelation. It is the necessary result of sound beliefs concerning God and His purposes. To believe what the Bible teaches about God, the gospel, the church, and the Scriptures, is to believe in Scriptural sufficiency, the ability of the Bible to function as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church, its ability to equip the man of God for every good work God by His Spirit would call him to perform. Christ’s Church hears in the words of Scripture the voice of her Master (pp. 19–20).

My position on this matter is truly not in question. So why does Joel ask,

We can consider New Testament textual evidence to be among those “many other incomparable excellencies,” but yet must admit that the persuasion of its veracity comes not from that evidence, but from the Holy Spirit. Ehrman, despite whatever errors he may commit, knows at least this much, and Evangelicals should acknowledge it.

I well know conviction is spiritually born: but the Spirit uses means, and the people of God need to see that we are not pitting faith against truth but placing faith in truth when we trust in His Word. I truly do not know what Joel means when he says Ehrman “knows” that persuasion of the truth of the NT comes from the Spirit of God. I suppose you could say that he knows this, and is suppressing it, but outside of this, I really cannot interpret that last line meaningfully in light of what I know of Dr. Ehrman’s position.

Next, Joel misunderstood my meaning and intention when I made reference to the continuing documentation of what we might call the “Liberal Debate Preparation Phenomenon.” That is, those on the far left do not believe they need to take the time to actually familiarize themselves with the specific viewpoints of those they debate on the right. “They all believe the same thing” seems to be their view. So, John Shelby Spong, Barry Lynn, and Bart Ehrman all did the same amount of debate preparation: none. In contrast, I purchased books, listened to debates, and in general did all I could to make the debate the best I possibly could for those who would see and hear it. But for some odd reason, Joel read my commentary on this continued liberal bias in a significantly less than brotherly manner:

This may come as a surprise to the many who have read Dr. White’s assessment of his performance. Far be it from me to disagree with his established authority on these matters, but I find the implications that he essentially steamrolled Ehrman to sound a little inflated. He writes of Dr. Ehrman:

“He did not prepare for the debate, had no idea who I am, and did not read anything I’ve ever written, hence, he was in a tough spot, given that I had studied his works so thoroughly. As a result, he made horrific blunders in misrepresenting me in his rebuttal.”

I don’t know for sure that Dr. Ehrman (whom I have no necessary interest in defending) did not read White’s works in preparing, but I also don’t know how it would have made a difference if Ehrman did. I’m not sure what unique contribution Dr. White’s works have added to manuscript scholarship that Ehrman would not have already crossed in over twenty years in New Testament textual studies....

Of course, I did not offer my commentary on my blog as an “assessment” of my “performance.” It was difficult for Dr. Ehrman to interact with my presentation simply because he had just heard it for the first time. He had not done any preparation, which means I had to invest precious time in explaining basic elements of it to him. I do not think this shows respect for the audience, personally, let alone your opponent. How this has anything to do with an implication that I “steamrolled” Bart Ehrman is truly beyond my comprehension. It seems obvious to me why it would have helped Dr. Ehrman to have at least looked at my work: he would not have to have experienced confusion as to what points I was making! When both sides in a debate are fully aware of the other’s views, the debate goes to a higher level, does it not? So I suggest there is no basis for Mr. McDurmon’s suggestion of an “inflated” assessment on my part.

Next, Joel accused me of engaging in fallacious arguments in the debate, something I take very seriously. He wrote, “Throughout the debate, Dr. White left the main issue in order to point out that Dr. Ehrman elsewhere in his writings and interviews denies the orthodox doctrine of inspiration.” But as we have already seen, exposing the fact that Ehrman’s conclusions do not follow from the evidence was part and parcel of the whole point! And, this assertion is found in the very book we were supposed to be debating! Here Joel has accepted Ehrman’s own excuse for not allowing this to be the focus of the debate. I do not know how familiar Joel is with Ehrman’s work, but I doubt there are many evangelicals who have read more of his work and listened more closely and fully to his lectures and talks than I have. And the conclusion that the NT cannot be the authoritative Word of God due to textual variation is not just a side theme for Ehrman. It is part and parcel of his entire presentation, not only in print, but in his debates. Just a few weeks prior to the debate he had gone to lengths to make sure to press the issue in a radio debate in London, as I cited in my opening comments. So how this is “leaving” the main issue is truly difficult to understand.

This misreading of my intentions and the context of my statements in reporting on the debate came to its most unworthy expression in these words:

I also find White’s mentioning that, “I think those in attendance were a little surprised at Dr. Ehrman’s treatment of me, but I wasn’t overly surprised,” to sound a little like an plea for pity. Ehrman treated White no more harshly than vice versa. Anyone who emerges from a debate with the vigorous and sometimes jabbing rhetoric that White gives should expect a little in return. 

A plea for pity? Yes, I am always doing that! It is once again very hard to understand how Joel could misread my intention here. I was not looking for pity, I was reporting a fact: Dr. Ehrman did not prepare for the debate. He does not believe he has any reason to do so. All conservatives believe the same thing, right? I am sure if Joel engaged in a debate with a defender of the Zeitgeist movie who did not even bother reading Joel’s work on the subject, resulting in his having to correct all sorts of misapprehensions on his opponent’s part, he might point out the lack of preparation, and rightly so. I would never think to identify this as a “plea for pity.” Anyone familiar with my past work would have a hard time accepting Joel’s interpretation here, especially in the context in which it was offered.

Finally, I noted in some of the comments offered on Joel’s article an odd assertion stating that I used a “dispensational hermeneutic” in the debate. I really have no idea where this comes from, as I am not a dispensationalist. I am an elder in a Reformed Baptist Church. Unless someone assumes that Baptist = dispensationalist, I am at a loss to understand such assertions.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to respond to Mr. McDurmon’s comments, and I hope that any confusion regarding the purpose of the debate, its background and its goals, has been dispelled.

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