I don’t know if I am getting older, grouchier, smarter, more informed, or less intelligent–but James White isn’t doing it for me anymore. His shtick is getting pretty tiresome to me, and though he has a lot of good info (and if he got any more intense he would probably alienate his listeners), I am disappointed because I am hungry for more.
Ed: This article was made when I was a Protestant and upon greater learning and reflection my thoughts may have evolved.
What is James White’s shtick? If you are a real fan of his, he has a few obvious ones:
-He’s a brainiac, which is why even when he bikes up mountains he is listening to books at 1.8X speed. Constant information input is a must for James White and he learns at speeds that are beyond us mortals.
-There are detractors of White’s that have made somewhat coherent rebuttals, such as Most Holy Family Monastery, which are simply not worth White’s time. He’s up to stuff that’s far too important. Then he wastes time debating the Black Hebrew movement, essentially a bunch of loud mouths that might intimidate you at a bus stop near you. But, to James White, debating these functional illiterates is of major importance.
-Pope Francis is an “embarrassment to Catholic apologists.” Every few months the Pope is “this close” to changing crucial Roman Catholic doctrines pertaining to justification, sexuality, and gender roles. However, no change ever comes and Catholic apologists really don’t seem that embarrassed…
-Albert Mohler is ripping off famous White catch phrases like “the dividing line” and “theology matters.”
-Catholics have not debated him in years because they simply are not up to snuff. For this reason, he has had to take on an entirely new religion (Islam) to fill up his time.
-James White is an expert on Church History and the first class he ever taught at the University -level pertained to Church History.
Now, the final point is the one I will dwell upon here. I have been reading Church History for years, but not in a very critical way. I read Augustine a few times, Eusebius, the Apostolic Fathers, and other things here and there. At the time I was also working 70-80 hours a week running a repair shop and dating my wife who lived two hours away, so my learning was quite stunted.
Then, I closed my shop for marital reasons. About a month later, my pastor in an unrelated conversation recommended James White’s debates against Catholics. I instantly became a junky. The debate format resulted in both positions exchanging ideas and quotations really fast. Plus, they can be lsitened to while working and had the knack for putting me to sleep during a restless night. I became a regular listener to the Dividing Line and listened to many of White’s debates.
In time, parts of White’s shtick started becoming obvious–but hey, he is essentially in the entertainment business so that’s okay. He knows his stuff, right?
However, I started noticing that a few things were a little off. White always seemed to have only a cursory understanding of the Fathers he quoted. He seemed to know quotes, but not the contexts from which the quotes were derived. Turretinfan, James White’s anonymous partner in crime when it pertains to Church History, also displayed the same lack of cohesiveness. I noticed that he relied upon secondary sources, quotefarming 19th century Anglican apologists. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I read sections of Ambrose’s and Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood and I came to learn how early the priesthood began (a topic glossed over in his debate with Father Pacwa.)
I tweeted him a question about what the quotes means and in 140 characters or less he responded, “Not what you think they mean.”
I thought this was odd considering I am not a Catholic.
Not long afterward I called up the Dividing Line and asked him the same exact question. He was oddly caught completely off guard and appeared leery eyed as if I was going to jab him with a debate point here or there. The problem was, there was no jab. I was asking for information. James White was used to making rebuttals but not necessarily presenting facts. Perhaps this is because a rebuttal can pick apart the logic of an opponents assertion or address a similar topic that relates in which the debater is more acquainted with. However, no jab came–just a question about where I can read more about the priesthood.
White responded that I should read The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Suffice it to say, the book is a verifiable piece of crap that is chock full of historical inaccuracies. I literally wish I can get the hours of my life back from reading it. I tweeted White back how the book had errors and asked for another book. He tweeted back about his tattoos and facial hair, and argued with a random guy on Facebook named Paul Barth, but never responded to me about the book.
So okay, he might not know so much about the history of the priesthood. Again, he covers so many topics, its a forgivable thing.
Not long afterwards, James White then started re-emphasizing Church History during his show, reading the entirety Didache and the Gospel of Thomas. This is a practice he had done years ago (he read an entire letter of Ignatius’ once on air), so it was of passing interest to me until I learned he was going to teach through Church History on Sunday mornings.
Now, this got me excited. I found Communio Sanctorum as too surface level and reliant upon secondary sources. An able mind like White’s should be able to do a much better job. To my disappointment, I find that it is in fact much worse and less informational.
White’s survey of Church History, according to White, is ridiculously concise. He spends the first ten minutes of each class congratulating himself that the first time he taught Church History in his church, he did it much quicker.
Sadly, he fails to deliver the goods. White gets started but often gets distracted with irrelevant side topics (all recent happenings on the Dividing Line). When teaching Clement he found it important to take time to discuss the Black Hebrew movement and during his class on Ignatius he spent 20 minutes discussing a subordinationism controversy stemming from comments from theologians such as Wayne Grudem. What is notably lacking in these classes is an actual, intensive study of the thinkers themselves and what they taught. A careful reflection upon the essence of the teachings of these books appears notably missing, which is unforgiveable because these are very short books.
And so, that’s the end of my rant. White has only so much time in a day, but he is not the man to go to in order to find a good understanding of Church History in light of Protestant soteriology. Recently, I got turned onto JND Kelly and have liked what I read, but I am looking for someone to listen to as I drive. If you have any recommendations let me know.
And, as for James White, if this ever trickles itself up to him, hopefully it motivates him to either present the topic of Church History more carefully, or at the very least, less bombastically.