Frank Turk (he did the "aura" folks, not I)
I ran across this interesting article: Open Letter to Dr. James White (3 of 3), by Baptist writer / apologist / blogmaster Frank Turk (aka "centuri0n") in Google blog search. As always, I am interested in any self-analysis of apologetics, since that is my field: even if it comes from our Protestant brethren: and even from the tiny anti-Catholic wing that Turk is part of. Ironies abound in this piece (above all his glowing opinion of Bishop White: one of the nastiest, most uncharitable personages who claims the Christian name, ever observed online).
But it has a good deal of truth as well. Truth is truth, wherever it is found, and whether or not it is mixed with glaring error and astonishing blind spots, as presently. I am presented in a passing potshot as Exhibit #1 of All That is Wrong With Internet Apologetics. This appears, I think, because of my past (shall we say, being as restrained as possible, "difficult") history with Turk himself. I first ran across him on the CARM forum in 2002, where he desperately, repeatedly, tried to engage me in "debate" -- and harmonious relations do not typify my interactions with White, Svendsen, Hays, TAO et al: the whole cornucopia of active online anti-Catholic Protestant polemicists. Turk wrote the following on his site, on 11 January 2007:
For example, some day God is going to lay it on me that I have to make nice with Dave Armstrong. In theory, that day is here already -- because in principle, you should love your enemies and do good to those who do evil to you. But I'm not even remotely convicted by that. God has far more immediate matters for me to attend to, and those are even more scary than trying to find a way to make peace with DA.
Alas, that day has not come yet, and I don't expect it to arrive anytime soon. Anyone interested in those past "exchanges" can look up the names on my Anti-Catholicism page. I no longer debate theology with these guys, because it is a complete waste of time and as futile as anything in this life can be: this has been my policy for four years, and very likely indefinitely into the future. Many past exchanges remain online, if anyone wants to see how I used to interact with them. Occasionally, however, I observe and comment on their concerns and polemics, as I am doing now: far more sociological observation than theological analysis.
For the most part, they ignore me as well, which is fine with me (I'm absolutely delighted): I go on doing the work I have always done, essentially unopposed (a best-case scenario), and I continue to hear from a steady stream of folks who claim that my work has played some role, entirely by God's grace, in the deepening of their faith, or conversion to Catholicism. Let the anti-Catholics ignore me, then. But despite themselves, still occasionally, we see the potshots against me. I'm beyond all argument now, so they think. Mere mention of my name is enough to elicit horrified, "knowing" shrieks of abject horror. I am Attila the Hun; Vlad the Impaler. Yawn. What else is new? . . . If nothing else, such attacks provide some belly laughs and entertainment. We all need humor: makes the days go by faster.
I shall now note some parts of Frank's piece that I agree with, and others that I don't agree with, or that exhibit a pronounced blind spot, or tunnel vision, or inability to see the beam in one's own eye (what one might accurately describe as hypocrisy). His words will be in blue.
. . . you and I both know I do not hate apologists or apologetics. But here's the thing: there is nothing worse that [sic] bad apologetics, except maybe strident, careless, glib, misguided, overconfident, under-informed, or worst of all self-righteous so-called "apologists".
Absolutely correct. As one who has engaged in apologetics full-time for almost ten years now, believe me, I constantly have to be confronted with the baggage of such bad apologists. They reflect on my field: they exhibit a certain negative image or stereotype that legitimate apologists have to fight against and overcome all the time. They give us a bad name. There is a lot of animus against apologetics: some of it is because of terrible examples of it, and some comes from a misunderstanding or lack of comprehension of what apologetics is: the goal and purpose of it. In a largely relativistic and subjective world, many folks detest being told that some ideas and doctrines or moral beliefs are wrong, and can even lead one down the road to hell. That doesn't go over too well . . . These two things are the one-two punch, leading many people to take a negative view of the entire apologetics endeavor.
We reviewed some examples last week of this, right? The anti-calvinists, and the post-theological/post-biblical philosophers? It's easy to point at them and to voice our concerns because let's face it: they are not like us. They will be pleased to say so, in fact: they are nothing like us.
I'm curious to go find the examples, since this is "Part 3." This is high comedy, insofar as Turk is writing to James White and patting himself on the back that all the bad examples are "not like us." White has produced some of the most vile, personal, insult-filled rhetoric to be found anywhere. I won't spend time giving countless examples, but trust me, I have them documented, lest anyone doubt what I am saying. The spectacle, then, of Turk noting bad apologetic behavior, and then ridiculously contrasting himself and White (his proclaimed hero) starkly against them, is almost too much to bear without fainting in disbelief or throwing up, for those of us who have observed their pitiable antics through the years (I've followed White's apologetics since 1995).
A highlight of the humor here is the mention of "anti-calvinists." Both Turk and White use this term, while at the same time habitually decrying (in no uncertain, passionate terms) the use of "anti-Catholic" -- which is a scholarly term that has been in use many years in the academic community (as I have shown many times, with heavy documentation) See a prime example of the illogical double standard in a 2005 Turk article.
We are not like Ergun Caner, for example. We are not like Dave Hunt. Thank God we are not like Dave Armstrong. Listing the ways we are not like them frankly is a kind of apologetic in and of itself, and it can be educational for the apologetic n00b or the "normal" christian to see the differences and realize that just because someone has a radio show, published a book, or professional alphabet soup after their name, what they put out isn't necessarily good spiritual food.
How fascinating that, in an article essentially directed towards the errors of non-Calvinist Protestant apologetics, I am mentioned. Hunt and Caner are both Arminian Protestants.
But what happens, James, when there's someone in our own camp who is off the ranch? And in this case, I don't mean rank doctrinal heterodoxy. How could they be "Reformed" after all and be heterodox? I'm talking about people who are heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. You know: that list strikes pretty close to home in our camp. We get accused of it often because there are many like that in our camp, and I grant the critics that it can be hard to see the difference between careful rebuke and reckless and brutal drive-bys when all one has witnessed is the latter rather than former because the former is really so rare.
Again, Turk is dead-on correct, that all these things are wrong, and too prevalent. The problem is that he completely exempts himself and White from such criticisms, when in fact, their work so often represents prime examples of this very conduct. The blind spot is breathtaking. Turk (to give credit where it is due) seems to have toned down his harsh rhetoric quite a bit since 2002, when I first encountered him, but White is every bit as harsh, defaming, slanderous, ad hominem, relentlessly insulting and grossly unfair and uncharitable to his opponents as ever. From where I sit, the Reformed anti-Catholic apologists are precisely the worst offenders, whether it is Steve Hays, "Turretinfan" (The Anonymous One, or TAO), or White and Turk themselves, or David T. King (absolutely the most poorly-behaved Christian, bar none, that I have ever "met" online). They are the very worst examples of "apologetics" that I have observed in my 15 years online. Yet Turk is blind to all that, and can only see the speck in his Arminian Protestant brother's eye (and in my own).
In my view, we should take the warning of James the brother of Jesus seriously: Not many of us should become teachers, for we know that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Apologetics is a teaching ministry, part of the office of being an elder. And while one does not have to be an elder to be an apologist, one ought to be able to own the pastoral duties of apologetics to do give a proper defense of the faith.
Absolutely correct. I couldn't agree more.
Now with the internet, the proliferation of self-appointed theological sentries looks like a toll road where every household has a booth to collect its own duty. It is now far less likely to find people who think that to defend and contend for the sake of Christ, and therefore for the sake of His people, one needs to be in and among His people -- it is in fact a badge of honor to be churchless.
Indeed. For example, I tried in vain to find out where Steve Hays goes to church: after he blasted me for being supposedly unaccountable to my own priest. I pointed out to him, that with two clicks of a mouse, he could easily get to my church's website from my blog. But no matter. He simply blathered some sophistry to dismiss that. Bishop White, to his credit, has been accountable: he is an elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist church. Whether he has ever been rebuked by his fellow elder / bishops for his frequent outrageous and uncharitable behavior, though, is another question (there may be no one above him at his own church). If he has, it has had no discernible effect whatever on his continuing abominable and unethical rhetoric against any and all theological opponents.
The idea that there is spiritual authority apart from the words one can self-publish is categorically lacking in the so-called apologetics blogosphere
Absolutely true. This is why one of my books has the approval of my own bishop; another has an Imprimatur from another bishop. I'm accountable to my parish and my priest. I was accountable as a staff employee of the Coming Home Network for three years, and am in close working association with Catholic Answers presently (a book of mine is to be published by them soon), and with big Catholic publishers (OSV, Sophia). Plenty of accountability: and not simply to one dinky local church, like Turk and White (since Baptists by nature are congregational). It's easy to get cronies and fans in a small congregation like that; easy as pie. If someone is against you, for the right reasons, you can simply pack up and go somewhere else, or even start your own new denomination. This is Protestantism. But to have the approval of a bishop, who has oversight over millions in some cases, and of national apostolates with boards comprised of many priests, bishops, academics, and prominent laypeople, is another story. I am accountable in this way; why, then, was my name brought up as such a supposedly pitiable example?
Turk is the one (far as I know) who is "self-published." I have six books published by real publishers, and several magazine articles in real Catholic magazines, with oversight and flesh-and-blood editors. But Frank can write whatever he likes on his blog or on Pyromaniacs. Where has he ever been published apart from the Internet, which anyone can do? Who has ever supervised or censured his writings when they got out of hand? Yet here he is writing his "self-published" words, critiquing others who are merely "self-published" as he himself is.
I recently pointed out that David T. King's and William Webster's three-volume series on the Church fathers regarding the Bible and Tradition issue (highly touted by many anti-Catholics), is itself self-published.
Not that I am opposed in principle to blogs or self-published books at all (I have many of my own on Lulu, and 2600 papers posted on my own blog); I'm simply noting the irony of a self-published person blasting others of the same status, as if it is a fundamentally suspect status, and not seeing anything whatever wrong in his own rhetoric.
the idea that we can be both humble and certain, have both Truth and Love, both gentleness and reverence, both Scripture and reason, all heart, mind and soul, and above all having both freedom and responsibility when we are militant for truth and the right faith of others cannot be found.
I think it can be found (especially in Catholic circles, but among many Protestant apologists as well: the ones who aren't anti-Catholic like Turk and White). Occasionally, an anti-Catholic apologist can be located (like a needle in a haystack) who doesn't specialize in ad hominem attack, and who deliberately avoids it; sticking to the issues. Jason Engwer is a prime example; but it is a very rare species. The anti-Catholic position is so fundamentally hostile in theology, before we even get to behavior and demeanor, that it is almost inevitable. But then, Jason is not Reformed. :-)
The Calvinist / Reformed anti-Catholics: the majority of the group, and certainly the most active and vocal against Catholicism, are also notoriously hostile against Arminian Protestants (as we see in this very article by Turk). It's just as it was when the "Reformation" began. Martin Luther was even more vicious (verbally and behaviorally) towards the Swiss Reformed (Zwingli, Oecolampadius), radicalized Lutherans (Carlstadt), and Anabaptists than he was against the Catholics. He even called for the death penalty against Anabaptists (i.e., the ones who believed in adult baptism, like Turk and White do), but not against Catholics.
Turk's and White's lives might very well be in danger if the original, earliest Lutherans or Calvinists were around (even, alas, from Old Man Calvin himself), but not my own. They might very well have ended up on the bottom of Lake Geneva (the Anabaptists were usually drowned, as a mockery of their baptismal beliefs). How ironic, huh? Calvin in turn despised the Lutherans (notwithstanding his friendship with Melanchthon). The Protestant leopard has the same spots that it has always had. They will always be burdened with endless and biblically ridiculous in-fighting because of their flawed rule of faith (sola Scriptura and unbridled private judgment).
We can see this clearly in those who are not like us: the real pelagians and semi-pelagians beget social gospel followers either on the left or the right; the softie arminians beget invitation junkies, and the hard arminians beget anti-intellectual zen Christians who think programs are the thing -- opportunities mean more than actual discipleship.
Here is the hostility I was just talking about . . . Some of this does occur, surely, but he paints with far too broad and prejudicial of a brush.
. . . we have to re-evaluate what we think we are doing in the playing field of apologetics.
Yes, they sure do. Now if Turk would be bold and honest enough to include his own antics as well as White's and the other men I have named above, then some real progress could be made that we could all rejoice in. But there is almost no chance of this ever happening. The ones who insult, continue to do so, unchecked by anyone. The ones who don't (like Jason Engwer) continue to behave as they do. There is a model that Turk could follow and note, but like I said, Engwer isn't (unfortunately for Turk's point) Reformed, so he doesn't fit into the mold that Turk is constructing, where the Arminians are the bad guys and jerks. But they do have the anti-Catholicism in common.
Doesn't judgment start in the house of the Lord?
Yes! It's a start to at least acknowledge the true principle; to apply it fairly and honestly (in the anti-Catholic apologetics world) is another matter entirely.
But it seems to me that if we have the time to refute anti-Calvinism -- which is usually a kind of commitment to ignorance -- we can find the time to refute heterodox behavior -- which is usually just a commitment to being awful.
In the end, these letters I have written to you are not about indicting you for anything because I think there's nothing to indict you for. We agree on so much, and I am proud to call you a father in the faith and a brother and fellow (if senior) workman in God's field.
Yes, Bishop White (who could doubt it?) has been an exemplary, heroic figure of the utmost charity to all opponents. If you are able to bring yourself to believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you (please, by all means, contact me). This characterization is as far from the truth as east is from west or black from white. But this sort of blindness is exactly the reason why the anti-Catholic crowd never reforms its abominable behavior and sub-Christian ethics. Personally, I don't think it can or will, because the theology and premises of the group (in terms of its view of Catholicism) are so dead-wrong and inherently hostile, that the behavior inevitably (with rare exceptions like Engwer) follows the rotgut theological / ecclesiological position. That is human nature. If we detest someone's theology and define it out of Christianity altogether (on utterly erroneous, wrongheaded grounds) we will likely detest the person who holds it, too.
Thus, we have the basis for the unending personal attacks and vitriol (we see the same exact dynamic in politics today). If anyone doubts that White has incessantly lied about me (as just one example of a person he disagrees with, and personally despises), just go to his site and do a search of my name, or, for that matter, of fellow Protestants Dave Hunt, Ergun Caner, Norman Geisler, Paul Owen, or William Lane Craig. Don't just take my word for it. I could easily compile a compilation of White's insults and uncharitable rhetoric that would be (at a bare minimum) fifty times longer than this post.
But this is a call to consider the state of Christian apologetics inside our own camp. Is there really nothing to be done to remedy the rampant unchristian approach so many take to Christian apologetics?
I commend this call; it's great. But it will never get off the ground if Turk is so blinded by his abject fandom of White, to see that White himself is the worst offender, almost bar none. Only David T. King has behaved in a more unChristian fashion than White, at least according to what I have observed these past 15 years (but he is infinitely less active online, fortunately for anti-Catholicism and its already atrocious image). But Turk can find nothing at all wrong about White's demeanor (or his own). Therefore, his call for reform will never amount to anything, until he rectifies those huge blind spots. If you're calling for the removal of elephants from the room, and can't see the elephant sitting in the middle of the very room you are in, then obviously it is a quixotic enterprise, doomed from the get-go.
* * *
I was curious to see the first two parts. Here is Part One, with some replies of mine:
So in this first of three letters, I wanted to say plainly: there are three people in this world to whom I owe a splendiferous spiritual debt. The first is the pastor who baptized me and made me more than someone with just a hollow confession of Christ as savior; the second is my wife who has been spectacularly-loving and patient with me as I have gone from spiritual infant to christian husband and father in our home; and the last, quite plainly, is you.
More hero-worship. It's a classic case study of being literally unable (or unwilling) to see the evident faults in our heroes, nor being able to see how we, too, often copy the same faults in our heroes, as Frank has done.
I found myself, in the late 90's, sort of embroiled in an accidental stew of amateur apologetics. I had a column in a short-lived webzine called "IM-UR", and was a regular contributor at what was then MSNBC.com's religion & faith forum/BBS. I was also in the middle of many forums at the theological Sargasso Sea which was CARM.org. And I was both under-informed and overwhelmed.
I can certainly vouch for the "under-informed" part . . .
. . . you personally are among the best-in-class when it comes to internet apologetics . . .
Gag me with a spoon . . . This is truly pathetic.
I found that you also had a live chat channel in which, when you were available, you would talk to anybody.
Really? I didn't notice that. I've been kicked out of his live chat forum (simply for being a Catholic) so many times I have lost count . . .
And now on to Part Two:
. . . you framed something which, let's face it, has been going around about me for about two years now: Turk hates apologists.
Ah, now I get it: it's the familiar old theme of the person who has failed at something, now being against the thing altogether, because he failed at it. If I've seen this dynamic once, I've seen it a hundred times. I'm not saying that it is the entire motivation of Turk's post (I can't read his heart in the first place, to determine that), but it seems to be a significant reason. If Turk was truly called to apologetics and believed in the core of his being that it was important and crucial, he would have never stopped doing it, let alone gotten a reputation as a hater of same.
But let's think about something here: you wisely do not spend all of your time cataloging the vagrants wearing tin-foil hats and the newspaper tuxedoes who think they are fully equipped with the full armor of God. You could: they are legion.
Yes; this is why I no longer debate theology with anti-Catholics.
And look: it's extremely easy to find you personally modeling the right kind of apologetics.
I don't deny that White ever does anything good: he does: he argues for and defends several things that are true and right, and I have happily noted that on many occasions. But he also does a great deal of abominable apologetics: fighting for falsehood, and being an atrocious model of Christian behavior and exactly how not to act as an apologist defending Christianity. Turk is blind to all that, simply because he agrees with the end and the goal.Therefore, his analysis is fundamentally flawed (in terms of ever succeeding in real life) because it denies that a=a, right in front of his nose.