Responding to James White (Part 3)

White’s third post in his series can be found here. I start off by noting the following comment (I’ve already responded to his comments about the First Vision):

the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.

Unless White can document the rejection of Mormonism as Christian by “the entire spectrum of Christian churches” I would ask him to avoid hyperbole. But as has been pointed out in the comments section of this post, White’s hyperbole is demonstrably false. A 2007 Pew Research Center Survey (found here) found that 40% of white Evangelicals, 62% of white mainline Protestants, 43% of black Protestants, and 52% of Catholics identify Mormons as Christians. Historically, I have seen a few different kinds of responses to these data. They usually come down either to the notion that these people must not be real Christians; that it’s the church’s official judgment that counts, and that’s determined by whether or not they consider Mormon baptisms legitimate (or something along those lines); or the data will simply be ignored. Perhaps White will have a different approach. For the issues with his prioritization of the “doctrine of God” in analyzing Mormonism, see my comments in Part 2.

White continues:

Fundamental to all of these discussions was the overwhelming testimony of the divinely inspired Scriptures, that is, Yahweh is the eternal creator of all things, and there is no God other than Him. Monotheism is not a negotiable for the Christian faith, and it never has been.

This is simply false. As I already pointed out, Paul asserts there are many gods and many lords. Identifying them as demons not only reads into the text something that isn’t there, but it also doesn’t change the fact that demons are divine beings, or gods. Christians accept the Hebrew Bible as God’s Word, and the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of numerous divine beings from beginning to end, even calling many of them gods. The modern concept of monotheism is not that there exists only one divine being. It’s that there only exists one divine being monotheists consider worthy of worship. In the first century that wasn’t even true, though. Revelation 3:9, 21 show that humans were expected to be worshipped in the end times. 4Q246 shows the same expectation within the Qumran community. 1 Enoch and other pseudepigraphical texts expressed the same, as did a number of rabbinic texts. It wasn’t until the assimilation of the Greek notion that God, understood as a universal superlative, could not number more than one, that these ideas were manipulated to fit into the new rubric. Many of the ideas didn’t go down without a fight. This is why Christianity fought for centuries to make it sound logical to have three distinct deities considered one deity.

White goes on:

It is only when the divine inspiration and consistency of the Bible is denied (as Mormonism does), and the consistency of belief of the Christian people on the fact that there is only one true God is made to be only as relevant as the views of a religious sect from the Intermountain West that arose 1800 years after the founding of the Christian faith, that the question can be made difficult or complex.

This is absolutely true, but James would have to provide an argument for why my denial of a univocal Bible (I don’t deny it is in some sense inspired, I just don’t commit to any particular idea about exactly what that means) is unfounded before this comment could become relevant to this discussion. As it stands it is a simple statement of dogmatism and only serves to reinforce my original conclusion, namely that White’s rejection of Mormonism as Christian is not based on an objective or logical analysis, but on nothing more than sectarianism and dogmatism.

White continues on for some time apparently defending the fact that his argument was begging the question. He ends with a series of questions that I’d like to answer:

But let us note something here that is very important: if Mormonism can be included as a Christian faith, then…what is the Christian faith?

A variegated collection of religious groups claiming to be trying to follow Christ.

We know Mormonism actually does not claim to be merely a Christian faith, it claims to be the Christian faith, the one true Church, the sole repository of God’s true authority in the priesthood, etc. So keep this in mind as you listen to Mr. McClellan’s rhetoric.

In other words, try to be offended as you read my comments. It makes disagreeing with them so much easier. We do claim to be the only church with the proper authority. We don’t claim to be the only Christians, though. We don’t equate “Christian” with “saved,” too. Christian is not a soteriological judgment in our book. Salvation is a process that we believe finds culmination only after this lifetime, and we don’t believe anyone who tries their best to live up to the worldview to which they hold will simply be flippantly denied salvation.

But even more important, if Mormonism is Christian, I have to ask…what isn’t?

All groups that do not self-identify as Christian and claim to be trying to follow Christ.

I mean, as we will see, Mr. McClellan will appeal to the “self-identification” of Mormons as Christians as evidence.

I said it was the most important criterion, but I also said it wasn’t the only one. The word began as a descriptor for people who follow Christ. That must also be taken into consideration. The person’s sincerity, as we will see, is also important.

OK, then Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too, right?

Do they self-identify as Christians, and do they claim to follow Christ? If so I see no reason to deny them the designation.

And, if a Muslim wants to be called a Christian, they do believe in Jesus, right?

This is a rather silly question. Can anyone point to any Muslims who honestly self-identify as Christians?

And how about Robert Price, the atheist scholar, who is a member of an Episcopalian Church? Can we have an atheist Christian, too?

Does he actually claim to be a Christian and does he claim to follow Christ?

 Why not?

I didn’t say he couldn’t.

Is there any objective element to Christianity that can differentiate it from what is “not” Christianity?

Yes. I already explained what those elements were. These questions aren’t addressing my claims, they’re just trying to find silly loopholes in the logic. Anyone can do that, even for James’ definition of a Christian. Observe: If a Muslim said they accepted the Nicene Creed and believed the Bible was the only word of God, would they be a Christian? Will White respond that they would no longer be a Muslim, or will he respond that he’s still a Muslim and so he can’t believe those things? Either way, the integrity of his premise falls apart.

Let’s ask the question this way: am I a Mormon? If I “self-identify” as one, am I one?

Does White self-identify as a Mormon? Obviously not. The hypothetical situations are really pointless since their rhetorical strength rests exclusively on the conflict created by the juxtaposition with a current reality that precludes the hypothetical one.

I believe Joseph Smith was a false prophet, the Book of Mormon a 19th century fraud, the temple ceremonies bad copies of Masonic rituals, etc. But as long as I “self-identify” as a Mormon, who is to say I am not?

The people who know that White being completely dishonest in his self-identification are those who would say he is not a Mormon. Mormonism is a different animal altogether, though, since it holds to a much more limited and unique set of ideologies. Additionally, this line of argumentation is becoming increasingly silly.

If Mormonism has the right to define its borders and boundaries, why can’t Christianity?

First, “Mormonism” can technically mean more than just the mainstream LDS church, and those that self-identify as Mormon contribute to that general boundary. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can define its borders and boundaries because it has, since the beginning of its existence, maintained a very clear and very formal process to gain and maintain membership. It also has a central authority structure that is recognized by the entire membership. That structure is reaffirmed by the membership twice a year. The apodosis here doesn’t follow. Christianity does get to define its borders and boundaries, but White alone does not speak for all of Christianity, and not only do Mormons self-identify as Christians, but there are plenty of Christians in other denominations and churches that have no trouble identifying Mormons as Christians.

White concludes his final (?) response with the following:

The reality is, Christians for over a century and a half have been putting Mormonism “outside the circle,” and until just recently, Mormonism seemed to be fine and dandy with that, and returned the favor. Can Mormonism retain its identity while seeking to mainstream? I am unconvinced that it can.

No, Mormonism has not been fine being considered non-Christian. They have been fine not being considered mainstream Christian, or Protestant, or any one of a number of other sub-designations, but it’s equivocation on White’s part to insist that not identifying with specific other Christians means not identifying as Christian. White has shown throughout these responses of his that he hardly speaks for all of Christianity, much less for Mormonism, and that he doesn’t give the facts a fair shake when he’s got a rhetorical point to make; his predictions about Mormonism’s internal integrity thus don’t really amount to much more than dogmatism and petty sectarianism.

UPDATE: I have added a reference to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey after a commenter reminded me of it. I have also made a couple minor edits.

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17 responses to “Responding to James White (Part 3)

  • Nelson Chung

    Dan,
    “the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches”

    is wishful thinking on “Dr.” White’s part. The opposite is true.

    More Christians consider Mormons Christian than not. The only subgroup for which that’s not true is evangelicals.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1717/glenn-beck-christians-mormons

    http://people-press.org/2007/09/25/public-expresses-mixed-views-of-islam-mormonism/

  • Nelson Chung

    “A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center reported that a majority of Catholics (52%) say that Mormons are Christian; 29% say they are not. Among all Protestants, more say Mormonism is a Christian religion than say it is not by a 49%-to-34% margin. This includes 62% of white mainline Protestants who say Mormons are Christians.”

  • Eric

    I am not a Mormon and do not hold to those beliefs, but you present a much more logical and coherent argument than does Mr. White whose posts are replete with logical fallacies, poor scholarship (and poor grammar – although I’m really not one to talk!). I am however both a scholar and student of Christian history. It is clear that Mr. White is ignorant of many of the most important elements of Christian history. Far worse he is ignorant of the history of his own denomination which was also condemned as heretical and is still held as such by the Roman Catholic Church. There is no better way to characterize Mr. White’s comments than did you: “White’s rejection of Mormonism as Christian is not based on an objective or logical analysis, but on nothing more than sectarianism.” This has been an on-going issue over the past thirty years especially with self-identified Evangelicals and the “Christian Right”. While they openly reject claims to be the ‘only true church’ their actual practice belie such a rejection. In other words they are certain, in their own mind, that they alone represent “true Christianity” and that all others are heretics unworthy of the name of Christ, and doomed to eternal torment. This allows them to feel justified in passing judgment on all others failing to realize that they are now doing the very thing that the first Protestant reformers condemned of Rome. On the Biblical front, Jesus predicted that the field of Christian wheat would become overrun by imitation weeds (tares–bearded darnel). In another place he stated also that “many on that day” will proclaim ‘Lord, Lord’ but will not be recognized as a true follower. He also stated that when he comes again ‘the faith’ would be–depending upon one’s reading of the Greek–either hard to find, or unrecognizable, though both are true. Paul stated that in the “last days” Christians would have merely an outward form of godliness. It is undeniable that such designations, both by Jesus and the Apostles, were made to demonstrate that at our time in history it would be the /majority/ of Christianity that would be impure. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean the minority are any purer but it does mean ‘true Christianity’ would be practiced by those outside of the mainstream otherwise their warnings would be illogical and not at all prophetic.

    • Arlin

      Eric,

      “I am not a Mormon and do not hold to those beliefs, but you present a much more logical and coherent argument than does Mr. White”

      I would tend to disagree.

      “whose posts are replete with logical fallacies,”

      Please give one example and then explain why it fits the definition of the fallacy you claim it to represent.

      “poor scholarship”

      Please give one example and explain why it is an example of poor scholarship.

      “(and poor grammar – although I’m really not one to talk!).”

      Yet you did anyway. Strange.

      Please give one example and explain how it is poor grammar.

      “I am however both a scholar and student of Christian history.”

      I am sure you are.

      “Far worse he is ignorant of the history of his own denomination which was also condemned as heretical and is still held as such by the Roman Catholic Church.”

      Considering Doctor White has written multiple works on that very topic, two of which I own (the Roman Catholic Controversy and Scripture Alone), I highly doubt he is “ignorant of the history of his own denomination” or that he is under the many anathemas of the Roman Catholic Church. Namely in Trent, Unigenitus, Vatican I, ect.

      He and I, and virtually all Reformed Christians are quite acquainted with the Roman apostasy.

      Reformation Christianity (Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the Reformed) is mutually exclusive of Roman Catholicism, we ourselves (at least those of us who are consistent) make this very clear.

      • Eric

        You seem to be forgetting that this comment of mine is on Mr. McClellan’s blog, not Mr. White’s. Also, as a comment it is impossible to answer every claim that White (or McClellan) makes without essentially creating my own blog posting. It has been long noted that when people are unable to answer an argument they resort to sarcasm or ad hominem. Mr. White’s arguments and analysis are not sound but are indeed firmly rooted in sectarianism. There is so much wrong in his posts that it would be impossible to outline it in a comment on someone else’s blog. I do not subscribe to historic revisionism. If you truly believe that the Roman Catholic Church no longer hold to its creeds and dogmata and have somehow excused their “separated brethren” then you have my sympathy.

      • Arlin

        “Also, as a comment it is impossible to answer every claim that White (or McClellan) makes without essentially creating my own blog posting. It has been long noted that when people are unable to answer an argument they resort to sarcasm or ad hominem. Mr. White’s arguments and analysis are not sound but are indeed firmly rooted in sectarianism. There is so much wrong in his posts that it would be impossible to outline it in a comment on someone else’s blog.”
        I asked for only one example of each claim.

        Again: Please give one example of a logic fallacy and explain why it fits the definition of said fallacy.

        Again: Please give one example of poor scholarship and explain why it is poor scholarship. Refute it if you would like.

        Again: Please give one example of poor grammar and explain how it is poor grammar.

        The should not be hard if “there is so much wrong in his posts that it would be impossible to outline”.
        Examples for each of the above should be a dime a dozen.

        As a “scholar and student of Christian history” I am sure you are more than capable of doing the needed research to find ONE example of each of the above and then explain why they are erroneous.

        Onto Romanism:
        “If you truly believe that the Roman Catholic Church no longer hold to its creeds and dogmata…”
        When did I say that?
        I have no clue how you derived this from my comment.

        I was saying their beliefs are an apostasy of the Christian faith. We Reformed believers are very much acquainted with their apostasy of the Gospel.

        My whole point is that they still hold to their dogmata. Trent, Vatican I, Unigenitus, all clearly anathematize we Reformed folks, and the rest of Protestantism to boot. In so doing they anathematized Biblical Christianity, the Gospel of Grace, and forever enshrined their magistereum above the scriptures.

        “and have somehow excused their “separated brethren””
        I have NO idea what you mean by this.
        When did I say anything about excusing “separated brethren”?

        We have all be anathematized by Trent and Unigenitus.
        We can hardly be called “separated BRETHREN”.
        But this is not the first time Rome has contradicted itself. =)

  • Nelson Chung

    Arlin, you obviously haven’t read anything McClellan has written.

    Please give one example of a logic fallacy and explain why it fits the definition of said fallacy.

    How about this hyperbolic and blatantly false statement?

    the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.

    Please give one example of poor scholarship and explain why it is poor scholarship.

    How about “Dr.” White’s claim that the Bible is monotheistic from start to finish?

    ‘Dr.’ White’s ‘scholarship’ is atrocious and symptomatic of an ignorant fundamentalist Christian with a phony degree.

    • Arlin

      McClellan, if you are going to delete posts, may I suggest you delete Nelsons? This is a mean-spirited and spiteful post containing only slander and insults.

      Nelson,

      “Arlin, you obviously haven’t read anything McClellan has written.”

      Strange claim, considering I have been quoting and interacting with him.

      “How about this hyperbolic and blatantly false statement?”

      Considering I agree with that statement, I fail to see how it is either hyperbolic or blatantly false.

      That also wasn’t a logic fallacy. That was an assertion. Assertions exist in things called “arguments”.

      “How about “Dr.” White’s claim that the Bible is monotheistic from start to finish?”

      That isn’t poor scholarship. That is a claim based on reading the Bible as a coherent narrative.
      It is a position held honestly by many well educated people. Not ‘poor scholarship.

      “‘Dr.’ White’s ‘scholarship’ is atrocious”

      Considering the kind of slanderous nonsense this post consists of, I think the only thing atrocious here is your morbidly cynical attitude.

      “and symptomatic of an ignorant fundamentalist Christian”

      This is just an Ad Hominem, logic fallacy. It means attacking the person rather than the argument.

      You have done this now and will do it again:

      “with a phony degree.”

      Poisoning the well.
      Ad hominem.
      Slander.

      Doctor White is very clear about his degree and who he received it from. Colombia is very clear that they are non-accredited.

      Columbia is non-accredited by choice and offer degrees and education programs for the edification of the Church.
      There are many good institutions like this in the country.

      Being non-accredited does not mean “phony”. That is just an ignorant statement.

      • Daniel O. McClellan

        Arlin-

        I very rarely delete posts on my blog, and in this case I only did it because I explicitly and directly told you not to bring up your assertion again without addressing my arguments against it. You completely ignored my warning, and that got your post deleted.

  • Nelson Chung

    Considering I agree with that statement, I fail to see how it is either hyperbolic or blatantly false.

    More Christians consider Mormons to be Christians than not, so ‘Dr.’ White’s assertion that the ‘whole range’ of Christian churches reject Mormonism’s claim to be Christian is not hyperbole. It’s blatantly false.

    That isn’t poor scholarship. That is a claim based on reading the Bible as a coherent narrative.

    Like I said, reading passages without regard to proper context is symptomatic of a fundamentalist Christian with an illegitimate degree. It’s violence to the Biblical text. White has no training in comparative semitics, and won’t even exegete the Hebrew when Heiser called him to. This isn’t ad hominem; his lack of a legitimate doctorate exposes itself in his approach.

    • Eric

      I would disagree with the notion that one must have a degree to properly understand any Biblical text. It has been my experience that many without a degree understand the scriptures better than those who do. In fact, this argument often assumes in essence that one’s credentials verify he has the holy spirit, or that the holy spirit cannot be possessed by one without credentials for it is the holy Spirit that leads one into truth, not a university degree or divinity training. I am not saying that you, Nelson, believe this, but that many do. The Apostles were unlearned and unlettered men and understood more than did the Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat. The parallel today is uncanny – the unlearned and unlettered of today frequently understand more – and more clearly – than do mainstream Christians (usually self-identified Evangelicals). Evangelicals have dominated Christianity and politics in the United States since the 1970s, but have fallen into the same trap that did Christian of earlier times namely that they /alone/ possess the true and correct interpretations of sacred scripture and all others are heretics and eternally lost. The appeal is often to the “official” interpretations, but frequently such interpretations were approved by majority vote in church councils called by Popes, Kings, or Popes under the influence of Kings. Unfortunately Mr. White (and our friend Arlin) are either ignorant of this or have forgotten it. It is either “my way or the highway” – “us four and no more”. I do not know if the Mormon view is the same (‘we understand but you do not and are thus lost’). Hopefully not. But for anyone to say they are not Christians or that the “entire spectrum” have rejected the Church of Latter Saints is without foundation and as demonstrated is not supported by the facts.

      • Nelson Chung

        Eric,
        most important, I completely agree with your statment about the troubling rise of secularism in this country. It’s due mostly to digust with the religious right. That is the greatest problem facing the USA today, and our enemy should be Richard Dawkins. Yet fundamentalists like ‘Dr.’ White are being petty and provincial in flinging mud at other religious movements.

        You are absolutely correct in not needing a degree to read the Bible. My degrees aren’t in any fields related to this. But this is an academic blog. The issue is that ‘Dr.’ White is improperly using the Bible’s supposed monotheism to exclude Mormons from Christendom. Instead of interpreting passages in their original context, their excuse is that they are “reading the Bible as a coherent narrative.” White has done violence to the Biblical text in his attempt to exclude Latter-day Saints.

  • Are Mormons “Christian”? | Diglotting

    [...] the past few days Daniel McClellan (here, here, here, here, and here) and James White (here, here, here, here, here, and here) have been engaging in a [...]

  • Perry Robinson

    Mr. McClellen,

    Your reference to Rev 3:9 & 21 seems to inogre the wider semantic range that existed at the time and after for the term “worship.” It could be used ina a variety of senses, from mere respect, to bowing and such without worship in the more restricted sense given to a deity. Consequently to say that the early Christians thought humans could be “worshipped” in the eschaton seems entirely misleading.

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    Thanks for your comments, Perry. I appreciate that you’re taking the time to engage my concerns. Your other post addresses a lot of points and I will prepare a response to it, but I thought I would respond to this first. I’m aware of the generic use of the word proskyneo, but two things lead me to believe that its usage here is quite clearly meant to communicate religious worship rather than just generic deference. First, Revelation shows no signs of appealing to the generic sense of the word. The word occurs 24 times in the book of Revelation (twice as many times as the book with the next most frequent usage: Matthew), and holding Rev 3:9 to the side, in every other instance it refers explicitly to religious worship, either directed to God, or directed inappropriately to other beings (usually the beast, but twice to an angel who then warns John not to direct it at him, but only to worship God). Considering the author’s usage, Rev 3:9 can only refer to religious worship. The fact that the one who overcomes will actually sit down in God’s throne in the same manner that Christ sat down in his throne is another pretty explicit appeal to theosis.

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