Plans for the much-discussed debate involving Drs. Ergun Caner, Emir Caner, James White and me have taken many turns over the last few months. I am happy to announce that the debate has been slightly restructured and is now confirmed by all four participants (yes, including me) for October 16, 2006 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Below is a statement that the four participants are jointly issuing to those who have shown interest in these events. Please note our request that you would join us in prayer as we move toward the debate. After the statement, I have a few more comments of a personal nature to add.
A Public Statement
Since February 27th of this year, plans have been underway to schedule a debate on Baptists and Calvinism. Drs. James White, Ergun Caner, Emir Caner and Tom Ascol initially agreed to participate in this event which was scheduled to be held at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia on October 16, 2006. Over the last five months, efforts to negotiate the terms of the debate at times degenerated into heated, antagonistic exchanges between the four participants. In both speech and tone too much of the communication has been perceived and/or characterized by sinful attitudes that have not honored the Lord Jesus Christ. We acknowledge our responsibility in this and deeply regret that we allowed it to happen. Each of us longs to represent Christ honorably and our intent is to conduct further negotiations in ways that will do so.
Through ongoing communication out of the public eye we have come to terms regarding the debate. It remains scheduled on October 16th and will involve all four of us. The topic will be, “Baptists and Calvinism: An Open Debate.” The length will be three hours. The format will be modified Parliamentary. The place will be Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.
We are committed to engaging in a debate that will highlight the significant differences that exist between our respective views of how the Gospel of God works in bringing salvation to sinners. We believe that such debate can be conducted in a lively, vigorous exchange that need not violate the standard for Christian conduct that God has given us in His Word. Our goal is to do exactly this. The issues on which we disagree are important. It is because of our love for Christ and His truth that we believe these issues are worth debating. However, we regard this as a fraternal debate and intend to approach it not as antagonists, but as brothers with strong disagreements.
To that end we are asking those who have followed the issues surrounding this debate to join us in prayer that the Lord will guide us as final preparations are being made and that He will help us to conduct ourselves in a manner “worthy of the calling with which [we] have been called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Sincerely in Christ,
On a personal note, I first want to express gratitude to our Lord for the graciousness and humility that Ergun, Emir and James have shown as we negotiated these final arrangements. These men have been models to me in how to work through awkward and difficult relationships.
Secondly, I want to acknowledge publicly one particularly egregious and harmful contribution that I made to the breakdown of our previous discussions. The email exchange between Ergun and me that I posted on June 26, 2006 contained a letter that I sent to him that, sadly, added fuel to an already raging fire, rather than helping to calm that fire. The tone of the letter was unkind and one metaphor I employed was particularly ungracious and inappropriate for followers of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us to “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). My email failed miserably on both points. For that I am profoundly sorry. I have expressed my repentance to both Emir and Ergun and they have been gracious in their responses. Now, I am asking for your forgiveness as well.
Please join me in praying that this debate, that some would like to see turn into a type of “smack down,” will instead be an occasion to highlight real differences in a manner that will advance not only the cause of truth but also the commitment to love and humility within the SBC and beyond.