Was Anyone Else Vexed by the James White vs. Steve Tassi Debate?

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As some of you might recall, I posted a short article about a debate that James White had with Leighton Flowers.  It was supposed to be about Romans 9.  When Leighton pretty much just ignored the topic of debate, and used it as an excuse to launch into what was basically a screed against Calvinism.  After watching that debate, I thought, “What a hash, and waste of time.”  I was hoping for a well thought out position that could interact, and challenge some of the notions that I hold to.  Not to overthrow those notions, but rather to sharpen, and hone them. (Good arguments have a way of doing that.)

Well, I went into this debate with low expectations because, “I heard things.”  Let me just say that my expectations were a bit high.  It was very disappointing to me.  I have some friends who are Calvary Chapel peeps, and they usually can separate their feelings towards Reformed soteriology, and their feelings for me as a person.  We can have a chat, and discuss theology without it getting to the, “Shots fired!” battleground.  This debate was a, “bait and switch.”  James White went to Norwalk, California prepared to debate Romans 9.  When the debate started it turned into an anti-Calvinist, sneak attack.  Where Steve Tassi abandoned the rules and format of formal debate.  He used the debate as a forum to express anti-Calvinist, and anti-James White sentiments, that seemed to be fueled by his personal traditions, and a false caricature of Calvinism. (Straw Man)

I felt bad for everyone there, especially people who paid to travel there.  I felt bad for them, not just because of financial expenditures, but mainly because they were not able to get the benefit of a spirited, well thought out debate.    The debate Dr. White had with Dr. Michael Brown was much more educational and edifying for all involved.  It followed the rules of debate, and both sides presented well thought out arguments from their own positions, while remaining friendly and respectful.

I enjoy watching debates that are well done.  I get a lot out of them.  I am vexed, because in  many ways this was a waste of time, resources, and efforts.  It was also a waste of opportunity.  This could have been a great way for the men to genuinely listen to each other, to hear and understand what was being expressed.  They could have come away from this as better friends, and more understanding brothers in Christ.  I don’t blame James White for this.  I understand why he got impatient.  I could even understand why some people might have misunderstood his attempts to coax or goad Dr. Tassi into following the rules as snarky or mean.  I don’t think Dr. White was being snarky or mean.  I just said I could understand why some people would think that, so don’t be putting words in my mouth, so to speak.  I thought James did as good a job as could be expected, under the circumstances.  I don’t think I could have been so gracious to Dr. Tassi.  I was fighting my frustration just watching the debate.

Let’s look forward to more good debates, and learn from the bad ones as well.  That way they aren’t a total loss.  I learned that when you get thrown a curve ball you need to think on your feet, and be well prepared ahead of time.  If you’re a Christian who is well studied in the word of God, you can respond to most arguments thrown at you, even if they are off topic.  Also I learned that we must be patient with people who don’t see, or hear what we are really saying.  We have to maintain our composure and soldier through, just like Dr. White did.  We can do those things, and still call people on their errors, without being unloving.  Squishy doesn’t equate to loving, or non-loving.  Standing firm for, and on the word of God, is loving.

Apparently, the video won’t play on other sites, because the owner(Tassi’s ministry outreach) has disallowed it.  So here is a link to the video on Youtube so you can watch it.

Reformed Baptist vs Southern Baptist debate on exegesis of Romans 9.

I just spent almost 3 hours listening to an SBC Pastor Dr. Flowers, make a terrible showing against Dr. James White. The debate topic was supposed to be two different exegesis of the text of Romans 9. Dr. White started out by giving his exegesis of Romans 9. Then Dr. Flowers came out with a polemic sermon against several doctrines of Calvinism, without exegeting Romans 9. It was ridiculous. Yet there are no doubt, people thinking that Dr. Flowers did well. He kept using analogies, and homespun parables instead of actually interacting with the text. He would also go out of Romans 9 to impose other ideas on the text. He was practicing eisegeses not exegesis. I was very annoyed. I wanted to see someone honestly offer and logically consistent and Biblically consistent alternative exegesis, but instead it was an ambush, a gothca. I expected better from someone with Dr. in front of their name. Here is the debate if you’d like to watch or listen to it.

Freewill?

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Why don’t we have a problem when God chooses people in some scriptures, but when it comes to salvation we say, “God is a gentleman and would never force us to choose Him against our freewill!”

For instance in Acts 40 we don’t have a problem with God choosing who would see Him after the resurrection.  “39“We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40“God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”  (Acts 10:39-41)

But, in Ephesians 1:3-5 when Paul tells us how God chose who would be saved by Jesus before He made the world everybody gets all offended about having their precious sinful, I mean ahem, “freewill” getting violated.  Excuse me, but I’d much rather have a divine intervention and go to Heaven than have a, “freewill” any day.  That is because I understand that before regeneration and justification my will is a sinful will, a curse from the fall, a will that is enslaved to do nothing but evil continuously.  After all aren’t we supposed to pray that the will of the Father be done?  Aren’t we supposed to become more like Jesus and less like ourselves?  Aren’t we supposed to die to ourselves daily and take up the cross of Christ?  It sure seems like our wills should be replaced with God’s will.

I think the problem lies in the sin of pride.  People think to highly of themselves and their abilities to please God, they don’t see how sinful their sin is, and they definitely don’t contrast it with the holiness and righteousness of God.  They need to see God as completely transcendent, totally other, instead they have to elevate man and lower God to protect their notion of freedom.  We should magnify God and humble ourselves.

I’m not saying that we are not responsible for our sin either.  People try to say that it is a mutually exclusive statement.  They say if you don’t have our brand of freewill then God can’t hold you responsible for your sin.  It seems to make sense.  Of course you would have to lower God and elevate man.  We are still morally culpable for sin because we are born sinners and choose it continuously because of our state of being dead in our sins and being slaves to our sin natures.  When God saves someone of His grace and mercy it is exactly that way.  He saves them by His grace (unmerited favor).  They did nothing to deserve salvation.  Matter of fact, everything they have done has come from a corrupted heart.  If God planned it this way then we as creatures have no right to judge Him or His plan.  He owns us and has all rights to us.  He would be just in destroying all of us whenever He wants to.  The fact that He saves any of us is wonderful news.

We make choices that are consistent with our natures.  God is consistent with His attributes.  God cannot be unjust, or evil, or untrue.  In the same way a sinner cannot be desirous of God while yet a slave to their sinful nature.  (Romans 5:8) “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  In their sinful nature they make all kinds of choices that are consistent with that nature.  These choices are allowed by God in His sovereign will to be used by Him for good in accordance with His will.   I would remind you that the problem is pride and how we see God, ourselves, and sin.  He ultimately has ownership rights over all of us as Creator and can do with us as He sees fit.

19You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:19-24)