Thursday, April 10, 2008

Debate

UPDATE BELOW

So, I've been listening to the webcast/radio debate on the topic of Calvinism - or the doctrines of grace, with Dr. James White and Steve Gregg, over the last four days (day one, two, three, four). Today is the final installment of the debate, and you can listen live by clicking this link at 5pm eastern time.

James has posted a few thoughts of his own on how things have progressed so far - over at his blog. And now, few short thoughts of my own on this debate, up till now.

1. Its been very difficult to follow the logic/reasoning of Steve Gregg. He's incredibly inconsistant and clearly doesn't know how to properly exegete a text. I'm no exegetical expert, but I know good exegesis when I hear it, and so far I have not heard it at all from Steve Gregg. This actually inspired me to create a new t-shirt, while I was listening last night.

2. Philosophical thought appears to trump the text, with Gregg. "In my opinion" or "my understanding is" appears to be the order of the day. I can understand why he says this so much since he himself admits he's not educated in the original Greek language and yes kids, that DOES matter. While you do not need to understand the Greek language to understand the NT, you certainly cannot approach the text with your own traditions and then insist that it says this or that - if or when the Greek language will prove you incorrect. This is why it's good and helpful TO know the Greek language, or at the very least be willing to concede to someone who DOES know it.

That would be like two people having a conversation about parking cars in garages, as opposed to parking cars in driveways or on the street. One is fluent in English and French and the other is fluent in French only, but with a very limited understanding of English. The one speaking in English says "I parked my car in the garage" and the guy speaking French is obnoxiously adamant that the English speaking guy just said "I eat creamed houseflies on my toasted bagel every Wednesday at 4". He insists that this is what the English speaking man said, because in French, some of those words can be translated in a broader way and can mean that (if isolated and taken completely out of context) - or - he's just always been told that this is what these words mean. The man fluent in both English and French says "no, this is not what was said, this is what I just said" and tells him again that he parks his car in the garage and explains why it cannot be translated the way the French guy thinks it can. You can believe the creamed housefly interpretation all you like, but if you took the time to examine the statement in it's original language, and in the fuller context of the conversation (the English speaking man is pointing to his car, in the garage, and you've just been talking about cars, and whether you park in the garage or the driveway), AND the language expert just corrected you... you'd know you were wrong. For the French speaking man to take that statement out of context this way, simply makes no sense. Why would the English speaking man suddenly, out of nowhere, make such a ridiculous statement that had nothing to do with the context of the conversation? The very same application works in Scripture. You just cannot take a verse or a part of a verse and insist it means something that is completely contrary to the context surrounding it, or the fuller context of Scripture - especially if you're ignorant of the Greek language and grammar. (As with all analogies this housefly/bagel one likely falls real short, but I'm sure you get the point).

3. Folks that cannot be humble, gracious and considerate, should never agree to debates. I could never do it, I know that I'm too easily sidetracked and long winded on topics I am deeply passionate about, and far too prone to trying to get the last word in. I don't go out of my way to be rude or condescending, but I suppose that could happen given the right scenario. What I noticed Gregg do yesterday in part four, was after he was backed into a corner to prove his position from the Scripture (and couldn't) he struck with words. Insulting words, at that. This is what people do when they can't stay on topic, or can't prove what they're saying - they take it personal and make a personal character jab against their opponent (which is exactly what Gregg did - more than once). Very bad form in debate, and in a Christian discussion in general.

4. Steve Gregg actually seems like a fairly nice guy, except when forced to defend his faith from the Scripture, and not from his own traditions. ALWAYS a huge mistake. We are to approach Scripture prepared to have every tradition (even the ones we don't know we have) stripped completely - and then have our views completely reformed according to the written word of God. If we refuse to do that, we've got issues. Big ones.

Today is the final installment in this debate, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Listening to James White give an answer for the hope that lies within him, is a blessing to me personally and it encourages me to do the same. If you'd like to have your apologetic skills sharpened, you'd do well to listen to these debates as well.

UPDATED 4/10

Part five of the radio debate is now available here, if you haven't already heard it.

Concluding thoughts:

I listened to this yesterday and have to say that the way they changed the format for the final installment went a LONG way toward making part five much much better than part four. Amazing how such a small change made such a big difference.

As for content:

James White consistantly goes out of his way to literally deconstruct a text of Scripture to analyze the Greek grammatical structure, for a deeper understanding of what's being said. While I am not a grammar or Greek expert, it's incredible to me that he can do this - and line the whole thing out in a way that even someone like me (untrained, and someone who really doesn't like grammar at all) can not only understand what he's saying, but see it myself in the Scriptures he's analyzing.

On the other hand, Steve Gregg (at least in this series of debates, I've never heard him before this series) goes out of his way to eisegete the text - to read into what the text is saying and consistantly use phrases like "in my understanding", "in my mind" and "I believe this is what it says". Over and over again Gregg approaches the Scripture with what he wants it to say, and then finds sections that he believes supports that position. He simply does not allow the text to say what it actually says.

The bottom line here for me is the truth about what the Bible actually says - not what we want it to say based on what we already think we know. Steve Gregg's disdain for reformed theology/Calvinism is so clear, that he continuously makes condescending little remarks in response to James' answers to questions, and explaination of the text. I found that rather annoying, but the more I listened to Gregg throughout this debate the more he struck me as a lot less "orthodox" than I originally assumed. In a very brief chat with a friend on this last night she said he came across to her as part open theist, part mystic and part philosopher. I think that summed it up pretty well.

My hat is off to James for sticking to the text, not once lowering himself to any kind of condescending remarks but exalting God's majesty and sovereignty in salvation, and explaining how and why the Scriptures teach this.