Thursday, October 07, 2004

Friendly Open Letter and Proposal for James White

Dear James,

Hope you are well today. I listened with great interest last night to your lengthy, amiable conversation with a Catholic who goes by the nickname "Jonathan Prejean" -- on your Dividing Line webcast (October 5th, 2004). It was very encouraging and heartening to hear a Catholic and a Protestant simply talk as "normal human beings," without all the rhetoric and polemics that so often happen on both sides.

I couldn't agree more with your impassioned complaint about people not getting to know you, and rather, resorting to childishly attacking you personally when they know next to nothing about you. I have also tried to simply talk with folks who are some of my severest critics, but they were not willing (I have had very similar experiences to yours on the Internet, though not on the scale you have gone through, no doubt). I agree with Jonathan that you seem to be a good family man and committed Christian. I have never stated or believed otherwise. You mentioned, for example, that no one tries to get to know anything about your family. Your daughter Summer is extremely impressive (I've read some of her writing, posted on your blog). I can only hope my four children (all 13 and younger) turn out nearly as wonderfully. Yesterday was my 20th wedding anniversary, and I wrote a lengthy praise of my wife Judy on my blog. So I am very devoted to my family, too.

You said that you get along fine with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Yes, we all get along better with some people than with others. I have that experience, too. I was so impressed with the conversation that I got the idea that you and I ought to try something similar, rather than always fighting with each other about theology and apologetics (and sometimes descending into personal material, or something close to it -- on both sides). If you want people to get to know you better personally, I am completely willing to do so, and always have been.

My name was brought up on the show and you claimed that you used to take me seriously, but then I got "odd" (I think that was the word used) and you decided to take a humorous approach, where I am concerned (though your recent multi-part critique of one of my radio talks did not appear to me as merely humorous, at all).

Well, I could (and would) make the same complaint that you make: we have never really gotten to know each other as men; as human beings with feelings and a "real life" outside the Internet; as guys who love to have fun and joke around (you obviously possess that trait, too, as I do); as family men who are in ministry. You don't know me personally any more than I know you on that level. I can only get hints of it here and there, such as your show yesterday. I always knew you were a "human being", you can rest assured (since you said some critics of yours seem to not know that). Hopefully, you know that about me, too. :-)

It's not like I haven't tried something alone these lines in the past. I've apologized to you some dozen or more times now, for past statements of mine. I've tried (in vain) to achieve reconciliation through a mutual friend (Catholic) who was getting along better with you, and attaining some level of personal communication beyond the outward polemics. I've said nice things about you on many occasions and urged others to refrain from personal attacks and to stick to the subject. I've defended you publicly when others were far more critical of you than I have ever been, even accusing you of being demon-possessed (!) in some instances. I've publicly praised your work on defense of the Holy Trinity, against Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and King James-Only advocates, and in the areas of pro-life and opposition to homosexual "marriage." I was willing to engage in a lengthy question-and-answer session with you in your chat room. Perhaps you have apologized and said nice things about me, too, but if so, I am not aware of it; maybe you can direct my attention to a writing where you have done so.

Here is an example, from the very paper (now removed) where I was most critical about your methods and (what I perceived as) personal attacks against several Catholic apologists:

I also call equally upon Catholic apologists to repent of any slanderous remarks about Protestant polemical opponents, such as those casting aspersions upon motives, honesty, basic reasoning ability, supposed hidden sins, deliberate "twisting of Scriptures," etc. We are not faultless in this matter, either, and I certainly include myself in this - very much so. I have seen many instances of pitiable rhetoric in looking over some exchanges of Catholic apologists and Dr. White.

Looking back at some of my own remarks about him in private correspondence (and on lists), I can see that they were indeed reprehensible and wicked, and that he was understandably angered and upset by their unpleasant and overly-extreme and at times arrogant nature (and was right to rebuke me at the time). It is with shame that I openly confess that I have done my share to contribute to the alienation and ill will between Dr. White and myself. I have not always acted with love and compassion and patience, as I should have, as a Christian. I have failed far too often, as a man and as an apologist. May God help me do better in the future.

On the other hand, I have apologized to Dr. White on several occasions -- oftentimes on public lists . . . we had two particularly intense conflicts, and I am sure I did not conduct myself in a Christlike fashion at those times, either. But I did ask for forgiveness, and presently I sincerely ask Dr. White's forgiveness once again for all that I may have written which misrepresented or hurt him or caused undue harm in any way, shape, form, or fashion.

It was never my intention to utter any deliberate falsehoods or slanders against Dr. White (or anyone else, for that matter). In the heat of "apologetic battle," unkind things are often said (and that's putting it mildly!). I am sure that this present paper contains some unfair or false accusations as well. If any false allegation can be shown to be just that, I will immediately apologize and retract it.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that this paper can accomplish its purpose: to minimize unworthy, destructive rhetoric in theological and apologetic discourse, and to convict us all of falling short in taming our tongues. We all fail in this; the difference lies in those who allow the grace of God to enable them to improve in this area and to learn more and more to avoid "foolish talk."
This was written on 9 March 2000. I believe it is possible for us to get along much better than we do now. You mentioned Fr. Pacwa as a clear example of what is indeed possible. My friend Steve Ray said that you were a nice (and funny) guy when you two met at the debate on Long Island earlier this year. I say that we should cut through all the nonsense and make an effort to get to know each other personally, too. My complaint is very similar to yours. I think people don't make the effort to become at least personally acquainted with each other as fellow human beings, before launching into rhetoric and disagreeing. I have made that criticism of the Internet for years. In fact, I have become so fed up with Internet discussion boards (including Catholic ones) that I no longer participate on them (or lists) at all. Without the personal element as a foundation, those exchanges often (and quickly) become ugly.

My proposal, then, is this: You often state how you want people to come onto your Dividing Line webcast and simply talk. I heard a great example of that last night. I think it is possible to do this, even in our case. So I am proposing this: how about if I come on and we talk for the whole hour, in a similar manner to your almost half-hour long discussion yesterday with Jonathan (amiable, cordial, good-natured, conciliatory, non-polemical)? It would not be about things where we disagree. We would actually be on the same side.

This is true, of course, in many areas: fighting the cults (Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons: I have opposed the former as an expert of sorts for 23 years now, and have debated Mormon elder Dr. Barry Bickmore), pro-life, defense of the Trinity, conservative politics, opposition to theological liberalism and higher criticism of the Bible, defense of the Resurrection and the Bible, responses to Islam (I have done a debate on that, too, now), other areas of general Christian apologetics (I write about all kinds of things), etc., etc. We could talk about our family lives and about the difficulty of life in ministry, and of how frustrating it is to deal with personal attacks from folks who know next to nothing about us. We have a lot of things in common. Why not truly get to know each other better; doing something edifying for listeners (and readers)? You were calling for that yesterday on your show. I couldn't agree more that it is a great need today with all the impersonal and ad hominem material on the Internet.

So why don't we agree to do something positive like that for a change, that people on discussion boards on both sides can try to emulate? Let's set a good example together, and show that it can be done. I think it would be wonderful and very constructive and helpful for apologetics and Protestant-Catholic relations in general. You have wanted me to come on your webcast for years. I would be happy to, but I want to get to know each other first. After that groundwork is laid, perhaps eventually (after some trust is built up) we can also talk about things where we disagree and do some apologetics.

What do you say?

Sincerely, in Christ,

Dave Armstrong

P.S. I would even extend this proposal to other well-known figures in apologetics and severe critics of mine, such as your friends David T. King and Eric Svendsen. If they are up to it, by all means, I would invite them to engage in conversation with me (on your webcast, if you are agreeable).

P.P.S. I sent the following letter (via e-mail) to James White at approximately 5:50 PM EST on 7 October 2004:

Hi James,

I have written an open letter to you on my blog [URL given], about a possible talk we could have on your Dividing Line webcast. See what you think. If you respond, I'll post your words on my blog (you may want to post them on yours, too). This is totally public, not private (like your letters to Dr. Seifrid).

Thanks and have a great day,

Dave Armstrong

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