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.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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