Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Responding to Steve Tassi on Romans 9

September 8, 2016

In his recent live interaction with Dr. James White, Steve Tassi argued that while Romans 9 is referring to election, it is not discussing salvation when it refers to mercy.

First, he argues that we must consider the audiences spoken to.  He does not clearly elaborate on this point, but his implication seems to be that the audience spoken to is Jewish readers.

The audience, however, are gentile Roman believers.  We see this in the first chapter:

Romans 1:7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

So, the audience is not the nation of Israel, but rather is believing Gentiles.

Glorious Salvation Terms
Second, he argues that we must consider the references made are to Pharaoh, Moses, Isaac, and Rebekah, rather than to the typical terms that Paul uses when referencing salvation, such as “the blood of Jesus,” “the cross,” and other references to blood sacrifice and grace.

Dr. White countered this point by observing that the chapter and verse divisions are somewhat artificial, and that he demonstrated a continual flow from Romans 8.

To elaborate on that point more fully, Christ’s death is explicitly mentioned in Romans 8:34.  Moreover, Romans 9:32-33 specifically mention faith in Christ.  Tassi surely cannot deny that both Romans 8 and Romans 10 are about salvation, so his assertion that Romans 9 is not about salvation because of the usage of terms, seems weak.

Context of Cited Texts
Third, he argues the Old Testament material cited or referred to by Paul never refers to salvation in its original context.

Dr. White countered this by pointing out that it’s more important to note how Paul uses them, then how they were originally used.

To provide an example, in Galatians 4, Paul points to Hagar and Ishmael in contrast to Sarah and Isaac. Moreover, Paul explicitly interprets those figures as an allegory, rather than relying on their original context.

Furthermore, it is Pauline to shift between Old Testament images and analogous New Testament ideas.  For example, 1 Corinthians 10 is full of this kind of transition.

Tassi essentially concludes that the references in Romans 9 are references to election and mercy with respect to national Israel vis-a-vis the destruction of the nation, rather than to the church and salvation from hell.

This conclusion is unjustified.  To the extent it is premised on the arguments presented in its support, those arguments have been shown above to be incorrect.  Moreover, it is a conclusion that runs directly contrary to the text of Romans 9.  For example:

Romans 9:23-24 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

How can that be mercy on the nation of Israel if it includes not only Jews but also Gentiles?  It cannot.  Which is one of numerous reasons that Tassi’s presentation on Romans 9 should be rejected.


What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, by James White – a Review

May 15, 2013

With great pleasure, I recently read my friend James White’s book, “What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an,” published by Bethany House Publishers. It may be helpful to begin by clarifying what the book is not, then identifying what I liked about the book.

The book is not “what every Christian needs to know about Islam.” While understanding the Qur’an is probably the central part of understanding Islam, this book is narrowly focused on the Qur’an. You won’t find extensive discussion of all the different schools of Islamic thought, all the different sects and sub-sects of Islam, or discussion of the behavior of Muslims in various countries, except to the extent it is relevant to the topic at hand.

The book is not “what every Muslim needs to know about the Qur’an.” While there are some sections that will be particularly helpful for a Muslim seeker who is trying to understand why he should be Jesus’ disciple, rather than Mohammad’s, this book is not written primarily to Muslims but to Christians.

The book is not “everything there is to know about the Qur’an.” While there is in-depth analysis of a number of passages of the Qur’an, and there is a variety of overview material, much of the Qur’an is not discussed in detail.

The book is not “what every Christian needs to know about the Hadith/Sunnah.” While a number of important ahadith are discussed in the book, the various collections of hadith cover numerous topics besides the Qur’an and are the basis for the Sunnah, which includes plenty of things that are extra-quarranic.

The book is not “what every Christian needs to know about Arabic.” While a number of Arabic words are used, with the exception of one illustration, I believe they are all given in a Romanized form. Moreover, the number of Arabic words is really dictated by the fact that the words tend to have a technical meaning in connection with Islam, and are not necessarily considered translatable by Muslims. There is a helpful glossary at the back of the book for some important terms and phrases, and other terms and phrases are explained in the text itself.

The book is not “the Qur’an for dummies,” “Qur’an 101,” “what most people already know about the Qur’an” or the like. While there is some overview material, the book aims to educate Christians and elevate their knowledge of the subject.

The book is not “The most sensational and shocking aspects of Islam or the life of Mohammad.” While such books may have their place, this book is not in that category. If there are materials that will shock or offend Muslims in this book, they are not being presented simply for that shock value.

From my standpoint, the high point of the book was chapter 4, which deals with the Qur’an and the Trinity. In my view, the Qur’an’s treatment of the Trinity is one of the fatal flaws of Islam. Dr. White does a masterful job of proving from the Qur’an and other early Islamic sources that the author of the Qur’an did not correctly understand the Trinity, which demonstrates that the purported authorship of the Qur’an cannot be the true authorship.

Two other chapters I expect Christians will find useful are chapter 10, which deals with the sources and parallel passages in the Qur’an and chapter 11, which deals with the textual transmission of the Qur’an. Chapter 10 could have been two chapters – one on the sources that the Qur’an draws on, and one on the parallel passages in the Qur’an. The section on the sources illuminates the fact that Qur’an draws on a variety of pre-Islamic sources that are unreliable Jewish or heretical legend.

The other section of chapter 10 deals with parallel passages in the Qur’an. This section is not just interesting from the standpoint of highlighting some of the inconsistencies in the Qur’an, but is also interesting from the standpoint of providing rebuttal material when dealing with Muslim criticisms of the Gospels. After all, while there may be differences between Matthew’s account and Mark’s account of a given event, the Qur’an (in a single work) has differing accounts of the same events.

Chapter 11 is similarly useful in terms of providing rebuttal material to the oft-repeated allegation that the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved. The chapter illustrates that such a claim is undermined by the historical evidence we have, much of it from an Islamic perspective, but also from the earliest major Christian interactions with Islam.

I did scour the book to see if there were things in it with which I would disagree. The few things with which I would disagree are basically trivial points that don’t deal with the substance. Let me address the biggest point of disagreement, to illustrate how small the disagreement is. I agree with Dr. White that one possible basis for Muhammad’s misconceptions regarding the Trinity are the idols that were growing in acceptance in the churches in Mohammad’s region during his lifetime. In particular, he probably saw professed Christians who carried images of Mary and Jesus with them, or saw such images installed in churches. However, I would not expect that the images would be statuary in 7th century middle-eastern churches (more likely paintings, tapestries, or similar flat portrayals), nor do I expect that there were any crucifixes (crosses, yes, but not crucifixes), and I think it is unlikely any of them would have any purported likeness of the Father creating world (presumably Dr. White has in mind the atrocity found on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel). (Cf. p. 87 of the book.) Keep in mind that all of this discussion is about a point on which Dr. White is not dogmatic (he phrases the matter in terms of speculation and as a mere possibility) and does not really matter for Dr. White’s argument (after all, Christian iconography probably did contribute to Mohammad’s errors). My other points of question or disagreement are even more trivial than this minor point and are definitely not worth mentioning. I would, however, hope that if any Muslim readers spot errors in the book they will bring them to my attention.

In conclusion, the book is a resource that I would recommend to anyone who plans to discuss things theological with their Muslim friends, relatives, or neighbors. The book is not “what every Muslim knows about the Qur’an,” and I think it is likely that your Muslim friends, relatives, or neighbors are unlikely to know all the material that is in this book. The book responds to a number of widely-held myths about or based on the Qur’an, and it is likely that Muslims you meet will have heard those misconceptions. Being prepared to talk with them may help you open the door to discussion of why they ought to be Jesus’ disciples, rather than (not “in addition to”) being the followers of Mohammad. This book is a valuable asset for such preparation.


In the interest of disclosure, I blog at Dr. White’s blog, in addition to being his friend.

Two Recent Reviews of "Kingdom Through Covenant"

September 17, 2012

Michael Horton (link to review) and J. W. Hendryx (link to review) have provided interesting responses to the book, “Kingdom through Covenant.”  I’m sure I’m closer to Hendryx than to Horton when it comes to the issue of Covenant theology, but Horton also provides interesting comments in response to the errors of KtC.


Why Dr. White Dominated the Barker-White Debate

May 7, 2009


I have listened to the Barker-White debate of last Thursday twice (an mp3 of the debate can be obtained here). Many things could be said about the debate. I have a few quick thoughts on why Dr. White dominated the debate:

1) Dr. White presented a Biblical case.

This is the primary reason that Dr. White dominated. Dr. White properly identified God as the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, the God who created the visible world (with a cellular energy transfer process as an example), and the God through whom alone knowledge is possible.

Dr. White did not rely on an evidentialist approach or a philosophically rationalist approach that tries to borrow a secular platform to argue for God’s existence. In this, in my opinion, Dr. White was dramatically superior to many of those who have tried to argue from probabilities or from clever philosophical syllogisms.

2) Dr. White was Prepared

Dr. White had done his homework on Barker. In fact, those of us who had listened to the Dividing Line webcast for the past few weeks were not surprised by anything that Barker said in his opening speech, and there really wasn’t much more that he said in other parts of his speech that were surprising.

This preparedness gave Dr. White a clear edge, since he was able to anticipate several of Barker’s arguments in his own opening statement. Additionally, Dr. White was even able to anticipate Barker’s follow-up questions during the cross-examination section.

Barker did not appear to be similarly prepared. Barker ended up having to waste time during the cross-examination section finding out preliminary facts about Dr. White, such as whether Dr. White accepts the hypothesis of evolution and whether God could be said to be behind the swine flu outbreak.

Likewise, because Barker was not familiar with Dr. White’s background, he confused evidence of God with evidence for God. Dr. White noted evidence of God in the evidence, but did not try to prove the God of Scripture from the evidence.

3) Dr. White Avoided Landmines

Dr. White avoided ad hominem arguments, except where the matter was relevant. For example, Dr. White did not argue that atheists were statistically more immoral than theists, did not try to make the argument that being an atheist makes you a Stalin, or any similar argument. Instead, Dr. White wisely stuck to pointing out the fact that atheistic morality is simply an unwarranted borrowing by atheists from the Christian worldview.

Dr. White did, at one point, note that Barker’s education to be a pastor was (to quote Barker’s own words) little more than a “glorified Sunday school,” but he did this only because it had become relevant in view of Barker’s suggestion that as a preacher he had been unaware of the most notorious textual critical issue that exists in the Bible. Although Barker may not have known about it, it wasn’t because Christians hide this issue, but only because Barker’s familiarity with Christianity wasn’t very deep. Dr. White was quick to point out that Barker is an exceptionally intelligent man (in the top few tenths of a percent of the population), and Dr. White made it clear that he was not arguing that Barker was lacking intelligence.

4) Dr. White Linked To Other Debates/Discussions

Dr. White provided a significant numbers of connections to other debates and discussions, both to debates that Barker had done and debates that Dr. White has done. These connections demonstrated the fact that Dr. White was aiming for consistency: not only in his own presentation, but in insisting that his opponent be consistent as well. These connections permitted Dr. White to focus on the important issues that had been raised in other contexts, even when Barker may not have raised them as clearly in this particular debate.


On the whole, I think Dr. White did a great job. Obviously, being a Christian and a member of his blogging team, I’m liable to bias. Nevertheless, I trust that the listener will agree with me and that has been the case with many of those with whom I have chatted about this debate. He presented the consistent message of the Bible and contrasted it with the inconsistent message of atheism.


Myths and Realities about Arminianism

January 8, 2009

Paul Manata of Triablogue has provided a thorough and detailed (and consequently lengthy) review of and response to Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, by Roger E. Olson (link to review). Olson is a self-described Arminian responding to what he views as various misconceptions about Arminianism both those of Calvinists and those of self-identified Arminians. I hope that the more serious Arminians out there will take the time to consider what Manata has written. His precise explanations, in many cases, cut right to the heart of the matter. I am thankful for this sort of piece, since it can promote understanding by clearly stating points of difference, while providing supporting explanation.


Turretin Reviewed

October 15, 2008

Curate at Kata Rogeron has provided a positive review of Turretin’s Institutes (link). It is a very brief review, but as a fan of Turretin, I certainly appreciated it.

Evangelical Manifesto Reviewed

June 9, 2008

B.J. Buracker at Stupid Scholar has provided an interesting and insightful review of the so-called “Evangelical Manifesto.” (link) His conclusion is about right, which is why I do not anticipate myself providing a more detailed critique of this document.

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