It has come to my attention that James White has commented upon my Sola Fide article (which I described as a 'silver bullet' and would play an instrumental role in his conversion). The following are my comments to his radio show analysis of my arguments. In my response I will make approximate references to the minutes and seconds in which White addresses the various issues.
Throughout the show White repeatedly accused the Catholic position of being in irreconcilable conflict with Scripture and that this is a manifest denial of the Gospel and even proliferation of a false gospel. I am glad he did this, because all sides agree a false Gospel cannot save and such falsehood should be rightly exposed. The stakes are high and there can be no compromising with error. It's no exaggeration to say both our positions hang in the balance on just this topic; if White is right, the Catholic Church comes crashing down; if Catholics are right, White and Protestantism come crashing down.
In his introductory remarks White asserts that I (likely) haven't read or in some way ignored his two main books on this subject, The God Who Justifies (TGWJ) and The Roman Catholic Controversy (TRCC). The truth is, I own both books and have read them in their entirety. As will be shown in my response, I know the manifest deficiencies in those books (as well as other similar Protestant writings on the subject) and my 'silver bullet' article was in fact written to exploit such deficiencies.
Regarding my first point (Abraham believing before Gen 12): The first issue to clear up is that White mistakenly accuses me of denying justification took place in Gen 15, though I never denied such a thing (22:50). Rather, what I said was the *Protestants understanding* of justification couldn't have taken place in Gen 15:6. White strongly maintains Abraham was justified in Gen 15, not before, not after (2:58). (I originally made reference to the objection "Paul wasn't concerned about timing" because I've met Protestants who try to get around this point by arguing just that.) The problem with this assertion is that White must embrace Pelagianism, for Abraham had faith and pleased God prior to that time, which is impossible for the unjustified.
White even suggests (23:40, 23:50) Abraham's belief in Gen 12 onward was akin to "a lot of people who obey general things in this life" and that "that does not mean they've entered into a relationship with God and accepted God's promises." Is White suggesting Genesis 26:4-5 only applies to Gen 15 onward? Would one guess God is *not* in a relationship with someone who: (a) He speaks directly to and promises great rewards, Gen 12:1-4; 13:14ff; (b) has a faith "pleasing" to God, Heb 11:6,8; (c) "built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD", Gen 12:7f; 13:18; and (d) is declared "Blessed by God Most High", Gen 14:19?
It seems the evidence is clearly against White, who is actually imputing his views onto Paul. Paul would never have made such a manifestly weak (even heretical) argument. But that's not all, White argues in Gen 12 Abraham didn't have a promise by which to put his faith in until Gen 15. This is not only false for the above reasons given, it's explicitly refuted in Galatians 3:8, "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you. [Gen 12:1-4]" To top this off, White dodges this verse in The God Who Justifies and The Roman Catholic Controversy.
Regarding my second point (Phinehas in Ps 106): White states he addressed this issue in TGWJ and I should have known the Protestant reasoning behind this. While White does address this issue in TGWJ, if one examines what he wrote they will see the main problem is not directly addressed, but compounded. Here are some key quotes from TGWJ on the approximately two pages (pages 225-226) White spends dealing with this subject (my emphasis):
If Phinehas was justified on the basis of what he did (an action), then clearly Paul is mistaken. Is this the case? Murray answers in the negative and argues as follows,
We must, however, recognize the difference between the two cases (Gen. 15:6 and Psalm 106:31). In the case of Phinehas it is an act of righteous zeal on his part; it is a deed. He was credited with the devotion which his faith in God produced - righteousness in the ethical and religious sense. But that which was reckoned to Abraham is of a very different sort. It is in Paul's interpretation and application of Genesis 15:6 this becomes quite patent. Paul could not have appealed to Psalm 106:31 in this connection without violating his whole argument. For if he had appealed to Psalm 106:31 in the matter of justification, the justification of the ungodly (cf. vs. 5), then the case of Phinehas would have provided an inherent contradiction and would have demonstrated justification by a righteous and zealous act. Though then the formula in Genesis 15:6 is similar to that of Psalm 106:31, the subjects with which they deal are diverse. Genesis 15:6 is dealing with justification, as Paul shows; Psalm 106:31 is dealing with the good works which were the fruit of faith. This distinction must be kept in view in the interpretation of Genesis 15:6, particularly as applied by Paul in this chapter.
Those who would point to this passage as subversive of sola fide likewise ignore a few other issues. The context of Genesis 15:6 is clearly that of God giving the promise to Abraham so that his faith is in that promise, a point Paul will stress in the rest of the chapter. There is no promise in Numbers 25 or Psalm 106. Abraham places faith in God as one capable of keeping His promises. Phinehas acts upon God's law and brings punishment upon evildoers, and as a result is rewarded. The righteousness he receives is, however, defined in the context quite differently than what we have in Genesis 15:6. Phinehas was already a man of faith, and his jealous for the glory of God resulted in his receipt of a "covenant of peace" and and "covenant of a perpetual priesthood." This was not Phinehas's initial encounter with God or with faith in Him.
This is essentially the detailed version of the brief comments White made on the radio show (24:50; 27:45). As is obvious though, the main issue was not addressed: "it was counted as righteousness" in Psalm 106 means the act was counted to be a righteous, thus when applied to Abraham's case should mean Abraham's faith was counted to be a righteous act. Instead of explaining why it cannot mean "faith is counted as a righteous act" (which Catholics maintain works fine), White and Murray shift the focus onto why the context wont allow it to mean justification. While the two issues are closely linked, White and Murray fail to address the key point. Now I will get into the specifics of the above claims:
First, notice how White and Murray repeatedly insinuate that if the Catholic argument is true, then Paul would be contradicting himself and that the Catholic argument is an argument against Paul. The fallacy here is that they fail to note the fact is it's their interpretation of Paul versus the Catholic interpretation of Paul, not 'Catholics versus Paul.' The way White repeatedly states this accusation gives off the impression to his audience that the 'Catholic problem' is with Paul himself, hiding the fact the problem is actually with White's Protestant interpretation of Paul. Second, White and Murray immediately jump to the idea that two different types of righteousness are being dealt with and that one is dealing with justification while the other is not, but this is unsubstantiated. This "distinction" is nothing but a desperate attempt to avoid the implications of Psalm 106. Third, Murray frankly states that Paul would have contradicted himself had he appealed to Psalm 106 (not realizing what Murray really meant was that it would have contradicted Murray's interpretation of Paul), but this implies Paul's argument was so flimsy that a Judaizer could have mentioned Psalm 106 and knocked down Paul's argument (which is what White insinuates when saying the Catholic argument is essentially a Judaizer argument). But surely the Apostle was smarter than that and that inspired by the Holy Spirit wouldn't have had to 'hide' from anything.
Now onto White's remarks: First of all, he says there is no promise stated in Numbers 25, though there clearly is (Phinehas is promised various blessings), but regardless this is invented criteria for a context to be about justification (many people in Scripture were justified without a promise stated in the text, Psalm 32 is a good example). And notice the last part of White's analysis: Phinehas wasn't converting but was already a believer...as if Abraham was converting and was not already a believer by the time of Genesis 15:6? As stated above, White did indeed "address" Psalm 106, but the truth is he only compounded the problem.
Regarding my third point (faith is what is counted as righteousness, it is not an 'empty hand'): Here White doesn't really address the proofs I raised and again relies on the argument that if someone disagrees with White then they must be contradicting Paul. For example, White said, "now if [Nick] is actually arguing that faith has an inherent value that results in God doing something, he just fell into Romans 4:4" (29:45). The truth is this is White's interpretation that runs into problems here, not Paul. This is highlighted by the fact I substantiated my claim that faith is not an empty hand by truly has inherent value, but White never took a careful look at the texts I cited, Rom 4:18-22 and Hebrews 11:1,6. I don't think it was a mistake that White never addressed Hebrews 11 (esp 1,6,4) TGWJ or TRCC. As for Rom. 4:18-22, White briefly touches upon these verses in TGWJ (pages 234), here is some of what he says:
God's promise did not seem to have any high probability of taking place as Abraham saw the situation, yet he "grew strong in faith" and by doing so gave glory to God by believing what He said.
The object of Abraham's saving faith was the God who is able to fulfill promises He has made. ... It was this kind of radical faith, based upon the character of God as the one saving and not upon the facts as he saw them (his age, the age of Sarah, etc.) ...
Now does this sound like the description of faith being of no inherent value but rather an 'empty hand'? Does an 'empty hand' grow strong, give glory to God, be described as "radical", and rise above natural barriers (e.g. age of Sarah)? Unfortunately, White seems to miss the implications of what he says in his book. Again, Paul unpacked Genesis 15:5-6 in Romans 4:18-22, and the facts clearly point away from the notion faith is an 'empty hand'.
Regarding my fourth point (how logizomai is used): White says my claims about logizomai were the worst part of my article and flatly denies any accusation that Protestants define logizomai to fit their needs. He says, "“we are in no way, shape, or form attempting to cram a certain meaning into logizomai" (31:00). As White proceeds to quote my fourth point he says I don't even try to substantiate my claim, when it was White who failed to accurately quote me because I clearly pointed to the (one and only) end note where I lay out the data for all to see (32:05). The fact is, White is simply dodging any attempt to address the issue of logizomai head on. In my experience, I've yet to find any Protestants who have. In both TGWJ and TRCC White speaks of logizomai but only very briefly and with only a few 'rigged' examples of where "counted" is used in Scripture. Consider the following quotes:
How we interpret the Bible affects our understanding of justification. ... many times people build an entire theology on the minority of references to a subject while ignoring the majority. (TRCC, p.146)
The Hebrew term hashav [i.e. "counted"] has some interesting uses in the Old Testament. We need to discover the background of Paul's use of the term as it is found relative to the imputation of righteousness. ... [White then quotes Genesis 31:14f and Leviticus 25:31 as examples of how the OT uses "counted"] ... All of the examples listed above of this use hashav are translated in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) by the very same term [note #17: "Greek:logizomai"] Paul uses in Romans 4 when he speaks of the imputation or reckoning of righteousness to the believer!
Why is this so significant? Because scholars recognize that Paul utilized the Septuagint as his main source of biblical citations, and his vocabulary is deeply influenced by it. Our understanding of what it means to impute something should take this into consideration. (TRCC, pp. 155f; c.f. TGWJ, pp.112f)
I mentioned the first of these quotes for the purpose of showing how White actually goes against his own methodology (i.e. building an entirely theology from a biased sample of evidence). Also, it should be noted that White's claims are essentially the same in both TGWJ and TRCC, and in both cases (though not quoted above) White is arguing that "counted" does not mean to cause a subjective change in the individual. First off, Catholics never argued "counted" means to transform, thus White is starting off his analysis attacking a straw man. The real argument is that "counted" most often is speaking of counting something to be what it really is, rather than imputing an alien status to the object. White then proceeds to quote only a few examples of "counted," from the OT, and uses this as his basis for determining what "count" means. Worse yet, he quotes Charles Hodge (TGWJ, p.114) who employs Philemon 1:18 (which uses a different word than logizomai) as his main proof of how we should interpret logizomai. This is a popular tactic I've seen by various Protestant authors (e.g. Hodge, White, Webster), but it's deceptive for not only is the term in Philemon used different than logizomai, the truth is the term for "counted' appears about 120 times in the OT and 40 times in the NT and yet these are virtually ignored. To select the passages he selected shows White's so called 'analysis' and 'conclusion' are already deeply biased. This is the essence and extent of White's examination of this critical concept, and it's very clear that it falls well short of the level of analysis it deserves.
I invite readers to see the end note of my article where I list every occurrence of the term in the Bible and thus present the actual 'hard data' for people to see. What they will see is that White's claims are either terribly uninformed or down right deceptive.
Finally, White turns to my Romans 4:4 argument and says, "this is where Nick has left the realm of meaningful exegesis" (33:40), but the fact is White doesn't substantiate this claim. In fact he either misses my point entirely or is scrambling to avoid the implications. Later (35:22) he says I'm ignorant of the Protestant position and exegesis, yet I've read and studied and know the classical Reformed position on this subject as well as if not better than most informed Reformed individuals and popular Protestant apologists. My track record speaks for itself, simply examine how I explained Sola Fide in the introduction, quoted the Westminster Confession, and expressed various other points relating to the doctrine all in accurate fashion. When it came to my charge that Paul couldn't be equivocating with the term 'counted' in verses 3-5, White brushes off my claim (35:10). He had no answer for my 'silver bullet' and instead scrambled to dodge the point being made.
The rest of his commentary (up to 37:20) was spent going off on tangents about Romans 4*.
I have responded to every major point White has said and I have backed up all my claims in both my initial article and in this response. White, on the other hand, has a lot of explaining to do, because as it stands now, the unbiased reader can quite clearly see White's position is not only unsubstantiated by Scripture, in many cases he contradicts Scripture.
*For example: White demands to know who Catholics the "Blessed man" of Romans 4:6-8 is (35:55). Clearly, while it applies to all Christians, it's first about David (who wrote Ps 32 about himself), who fell into grave sin and thus must have lost his justification and had it restored (else Paul couldn't quote it as a moment of justification, and clearly David wasn't converting here). White is well aware of this Catholic argument, but I don't believe he has a reasonable response against it, for here is what White says in TGWJ, page 214:
What we see is more of the same form of ad hominem and category confusion from White: in other words, if we disagree with White's interpretation we must be undermining Paul and his teaching. The Catholic interpretation is perfectly consistent with Paul, it's the Protestant position that cannot accept the implications. White also insists I address 4:6-8, which I will now do so briefly. First, I believe "justifies the ungodly" is not God declaring an unrighteous person to be righteous, which even Protestants deny (i.e. God only justifies those who have righteousness, even if alien; God never says "you unrighteous man are righteous", and Protestants fully agree). This realization undercuts the Protestant initial appeal to the passage, making it not as 'extreme' of a statement as they once believed. I believe "justifies the ungodly" clearly connects with Paul's immediate statement, "just as David says...blessed is the one who's sins are forgiven." Thus, to 'justify the ungodly' is first and foremost about forgiving them, removing the ungodliness and thus rendering them godly (c.f. Acts 15:9; 1 Jn 1:7-9). This is also a solid proof that "justify" is more fluid than simply "declare righteous" (as even Protestants admit forgiveness is going on here). Now what does "blessed is the man to whom God will not count sin" mean? Using the same definition of "counted" as before, along with the parallel "blessed is the man who's sins are forgiven," this indicates God in forgiving the individual wont reckon the individual as a sinner any longer, and that's because their sin is truly removed/forgiven (see the context of Ps 32, esp 2b-5 & 11, which vindicates this reading).To attempt to go back into the life of David and undercut the apostle's own interpretation of these words by pointing to some actions David engaged in is to question Paul's own understanding of the texts...