HT for the cartoon: James White and Angelz
Ergun Caner has written that the debate was cancelled because, “They quit.” As I have tried to show in the previous blog entries, it’s not quite that simple. We refused to allow the moderator, with the approval of Drs. Caner, to completely renege on the agreement that the debaters had negotiated. I am very disappointed that neither Ergun nor Emir stepped up to stop the sabotage of our agreement. Either could have done so very easily immediately after Dr. O’Donnell’s October 4th email asserting completely new terms. For reasons unknown to me, they chose not to do so.
Though I am disappointed that the debate will not happen, I am not sorry that a sincere effort was made to cause it to happen. I am sorry that so many had made plans and are now left holding reservations that they no longer need. Some have emailed and called and indicated that they will be traveling to Lynchburg anyway, since they have non-refundable tickets and hotel reservations. Perhaps such people can somehow connect with each other for fellowship while in town.
The effort that was put into attempting this debate, as frustrating as it was at times, has already served many useful purposes. It has provided a context and forum for some serious discussion about the doctrines of grace. It has called attention to Baptist theology. In this respect, I agree with Emir Caner when he writes, “It is never a waste of time to study theology – never.” I believe that many have been provoked to look more deeply into our Baptist heritage over the last few months leading up to the debate. Its sabotage has not diminished the value of such studies.
With that being said, I am grieved and concerned by the way that the demise of the debate has been construed by the other side. Dr. O’Donnell wrote this in an October 8th email:
I have spoken with Dr. Falwell regarding the debate. Given that the two
sides cannot agree on the terms of the debate in a spirit of compromise
he concurs that the debate should not occur and therefore there will not
be a debate on October 16 agreeing with the decision that was announced
on Friday by Dr. White. I would hope that perhaps in the future all
parties could come to terms for a civil discussion on these important
Since I was back in the USA by that time, I immediately responded with the following email:
Thanks for letting us know. I sincerely hope that someone will explain to Dr. Falwell that the two sides did in fact agree on the terms of the debate in a spirit of compromise and that we even have written confirmation of that agreement. The reason this debate has been cancelled is because one side was willing to honor that agreement and the other side was not. Those are the facts–sad, but nevertheless, true.
Any suggestion that this debate was cancelled due to an unwillngness to compromise or negotiate terms is inaccurate at best and most likely dishonest. Both James and I have provided overwhelming documentation of this fact. Further, the agreement to which all four debaters agreed did not, in Emir Caner’s words, “overlook time needed for introductions, intermissions, etc.” The terms to which we agreed included 3 hours of actual debate.
I have two great concerns in the wake of this whole fiasco. The first is that sinful passions have been and will continue to be incited by not only what has happened but by the mischaracterization of the facts. I sent an email to Ergun yesterday appealing to him to speak the truth in love and to refrain from calling James White or me hyper-Calvinists. He has obviously disregarded my appeal. The result has been as I feared. He has discredited himself in the eyes of those who actually know what hyper-Calvinism is and has incited strong and sometime sinful reactions on the part of some.
My greater concern, however, goes to the very heart of a growing conviction that I have held over the last several years. It is a matter that I have repeatedly addressed on this blog, in sermons, articles and casual conversations. Often I am accused of being only or at least primarily concerned with seeing Calvinism recovered and spread. I know that is how I am perceived but it is certainly not a self-conscious priority. Rather, I am convinced that we have far bigger issues than Calvinism confronting us today. I am convinced that, in many respects and in many places across evangelicalism we have lost the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far more important than recovering Calvinism is recovering biblical Christianity itself. So much that takes place in our churches and institutions today simply is not Christian. It may be religious. It may be ritualistic. It may be traditional. But too often it simply is not Christian.
This loss of Christianity among the “Christian” community is what makes the line separating the world and the church so blurred. The church looks, thinks and acts increasingly like the world in many ways, often intentionally so. Consequently, we are seeing the demise of “Christian ethics” all around us. This explains why on so many moral issues the conduct of Christians and non-Christians is indistinguishable. When biblical Christianity has been trampled underfoot or lost altogether, those within the Christian community feel no qualms of conscious acting like mere worldlings.
Much of what I have seen surrounding the demise of this debate sadly fits this profile. Please note: I am not speaking of anyone’s personal relationship with Christ. I am not questioning anyone’s salvation. But I am deeply concerned that the distortions, misrepresentations and false accusations are simply that–not Christian. An untruth is an untruth no matter the credentials of the man who speaks it. Bearing false witness is simply that, regardless of who does it.
The events of the last week should not be measured in terms of Calvinism and Arminianism. Rather, they should be evaluated in terms of biblical Christianity and unbelief. Christians are commanded to speak the truth and not falsehoods (Ephesians 4:25). The righteous man, we are told, swears to his own hurt (Psalm 15:4). That is, he keeps his word even when inconvenient or painfully difficult. Christians are to let our yes be yes and our no, no (Matthew 5:37; James 5;12).
These are a few of the principles of biblical Christianity that have been violated in the sabotage of the debate.
Balthasar Hubmaier’s famous dictum has been often quoted: “The truth is immortal.” He was right, of course, and therefore all lovers of truth can take heart. Even though truth sometimes suffers at the hands of its friends and takes some severe blows, it cannot be killed.