White vs. Spong Debate

Watching the debate last week between James White and John Shelby Spong left me with several impressions.

God built James White to debate. He is obviously gifted in his ability both to prepare and to present the fruit of those preparations in a formal format that allows for the give and take of cross examination.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, though very bright, seems inexplicably uninformed about the evanglical stream of his own confessional history. When he was asked about J. C. Ryle’s views on some point that was in question, he responded by asking, “Who is he and when did he live?” I literally fell out of my chair.

James repeatedly explained and defended biblical Christianity and Bishop Spong repeatedly dismissed without engaging his arguments. Nevertheless, Spong insisted on maintaining the label of “Christian” even while rejecting theism and identifying himself as a “mystic.”

I was reminded of J. Gresham Machen, the great Presbyterian theologian of the last century. In his 1923 book, Christianity and Liberalism, he shows liberalism is not simply another kind of Christianity, it is an altogether different religion from Christianity. He argues that liberalism and orthodoxy are not two varieties of the same religion, but in reality, two essentially different types of thought and life. In an autobiographical essay he wrote this:

There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots. In particular, … Christianity is not a “life,” as distinguished from a doctrine, and not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression, but that–exactly the other way around—[Christianity] is a life founded on a doctrine (from “Christianity in Conflict”).

The debate made this abundantly clear.