James White responded to a post I did on his interpretation of John 6:44 on this podcast. I feel honored because he devoted well over half his show to it. (I mean, he did put me after William Lane Craig . . . Ah, but who am I kidding? I’m just be happy to be in there somewhere.)
So here I am responding to the response. Aside from personal attacks and rhetorical flourishes, there were a few items relevant to what I wrote and these deserve comment. After this, I’ll try again to demonstrate what the problem is.
Logical vs. Theological
White’s attacks on my faith are irrelevant to what I wrote and are thus merely fallacious ad hominems. My post was a discussion of the logic behind White’s interpretation. Neither my faith nor his make any difference as to how logic works.
Context vs. Pretext
White makes continual reference to the context of John 6:44 and blames me for excluding John 6:37 from the analysis. However, I did include a discussion of John 6:37 and its possible effects on White’s interpretation in my original post. Thus all those comments are moot.
Logical Analysis vs. Greek Exegesis
White’s demand for Greek exegesis is off point. Just as this is not an issue of theological positions, it is also not an issue of aorist subjunctives. I linked to several translations of the verse in question – including White’s – and the same logical problem with his interpretation arises in every one of them. If White wishes to argue that none of these translations capture the true meaning of the Greek text, he is free to do so. Otherwise, he needs to cut this red herring loose and deal with the logical problem.
Philosophy vs. Sophistry
White scorns my “being a philosopher” and ridicules my use of logic. But logic precedes philosophy – one holding to any philosophical position (or none at all) could do this kind of analysis if they understood basic formal logic. Logic also precedes theology and – yes – even biblical exegesis. This is because we need logic to think rationally about anything! Yet although White demonstrates no logical flaws in my analysis, he calls it a “Mishmash of Sophistry.”
One can, of course, be logical without understanding formal logic (just as one can speak perfectly good English without understanding grammar). However, to attack logic as a means of analysis is just a roundabout way to attack rationality itself. Any argument brought against the use of logic is either logical (in which case the argument defeats itself) or illogical (in which case it would be irrational to accept the argument’s conclusion).
Throwing philosophy under the bus to save one’s theology is a dangerous game. Not only does one run the risk of self-defeat (in the above case), one could also undermine the theology one wishes to protect. For example, I assume White holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in its second chapter that God is a being “without body, parts, or passions.”
Note that the texts cited, however do not prove the point. Yes, the Bible teaches that God is spirit and a spirit has not flesh and bones. But it also describes God (in many more places) as having a body. The passages cited by the WCF to prove God has no parts or passions say no such thing. Dt. 4:15 just says not to make a graven image of God as a figure (male of female) and Acts 14:11 just says God doesn’t have passions similar (“like”) the ones men do. Those verses by themselves do not get you to the WCF’s (correct!) theological assertion. The reason they might seem to is that the WCF is riding in on the philosophical theology of the ancient-medieval Church. (NOTE: I am indebted to my colleague Perry Robinson – who is not Catholic! – for this illustration).
Formal vs. Functional
White doesn’t seem to trust logic’s application to biblical interpretation, but he certainly wasn’t happy with my saying his interpretation was illogical. If he didn’t think logic applied to interpretation, he could have just said, “Yeah, so what? I’ll take Calvin over Aristotle any day!” (And he probably would say that, but not for this reason!) But as White seems to at least indirectly value logic, I don’t get his attitude.
Now I know White can think. I have several of his books (one is signed!), and he’s not dumb. Yet throughout White’s response, he continues to both attack and demonstrate an unfamiliarity with formal logic. Perhaps he is just not familiar with logic as a discipline. For example, HERE he seems confused over what constitutes necessary and sufficient conditions. Unfortunately I cannot tell exactly what he thinks I did wrong because his response was mostly saying, “No” over and over again.
His only followup was to add,
“It’s upside down. John 6:37 – it is the giving of the Father that results in our coming to Christ.”
If he thinks this is damaging to my assertion, then he’s not understanding necessary and sufficient conditions the way they are understood in logic (i.e., how I defined them in the original post). Something “causing” or “resulting in” something else does not set up necessary or sufficient conditions. For example, womanhood is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for pregnancy, but pregnancy is not the cause or result of womanhood. Similarly, pregnancy is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for womanhood, but womanhood is not the cause or result of pregnancy).
In the interest of giving White his due (and maybe getting to do some more graphics!), I’d like to try again. I’ll bring in more of what White thinks needs to be included in the analysis and try to make the logic more explicit. Hopefully that will make his misstep more explicit.
As indicated above, White chides me for not including John 6:37 in my analysis of his interpretation of John 6:44 (although I did). The key, he says, is to follow the flow of the text (which he thinks I did not do).
Fine, let’s do that. From the flow of John 6:37-6:44, White concludes that, “If one is given, one will be drawn.” Does this help his case?
White says the one coming to Christ in 6:44 is “of course” identical with those in 6:37. Fine, let’s say the “audience” is the same from verse 37 to 44 (although it might not be). To be as fair as possible, I’ll start with White’s conclusion (that all those given by the Father [G] are those drawn by the Father [D]) and reverse engineer a valid argument for him.
We know that all those given by the Father [G] are those who come to Christ [C] (John 6:37), and that all those who come to Christ [C] are those who are drawn by the Father [D] (John 6:44). Adding in White’s conclusion above, we’d have this:
- All G are C.
- All C are D.
- ∴ All G are D.
This is indeed a valid logical argument, but it doesn’t address my claim. The question is not whether all those who come to Christ are given and / or drawn by the Father. Rather, the issue is whether White’s view all those drawn by the Father come to Christ. Even including John 6:37 such a conclusion is STILL not demanded by the passage even if they are the same group.
Even making coming to Christ and being given equivalent won’t cut it. How ever the argument is made, it still fails to yield White’s view. Like I said in the original post, the only way White can demand his conclusion regarding John 6:44 is if it can be shown that to be given / coming to Christ and to be drawn are completely equivalent (i.e., All G/C are D and All D are G/C). But such an equivalency is not asserted in the text.
Finally, what if we added being “raised at the last day” into the mix? This is getting pretty complex for a simple categorical syllogism, so let’s try propositional logic.
We know from John 6:37 that if someone is given by the Father, then that person comes to Christ [G>C]. We also know from John 6:44 that if someone comes to Christ, then that person was drawn by the Father [C>D]. We further know from both John 6:37 and 6:44 that if someone comes to Christ, then that person will be raised [C>R]. Does all this together support White’s contention that if someone is drawn by the Father, then that person will come to Christ [D>C]?
Here’s the argument symbolized:
- G > C
- C > D
- C > R
- ∴ D > C
Now it’s time for a Truth Table!!! (Drumroll please….)
As with all other logical constructions of White’s interpretation, this argument also fails to deliver. It is logically possible that all three premises are true (which they are because God said them) while White’s conclusion is false (which it can be, because God did not say it). That means the argument is logically invalid.
Here’s one last graphic to help visualize the problem:
I don’t know how else to demonstrate the logical fallacy. Whether taking White’s argument as categorical or propositional, focusing on John 6:44 or including numerous connections from John 6:37-44, the results are the same. White’s conclusion does not follow logically from the text. Thus, his interpretation is illogical (whether his theological position can be proven from some other passage is another question).
The fact that all who come to Christ / are given by the Father / raised on the last day were drawn by the Father does not mean that all who are drawn by the Father come to Christ / are given by the Father / raised on the last day. They might be – but that is neither demanded nor implied by the text (whether it’s John 6:44 or John 6:37-44, and whether it’s in English or Greek).
This issue is not about biblical hermeneutics, it’s not about Greek exegesis, it’s not about synergism, and it’s not about Catholicism. It’s about logic. If White wants to prove I am wrong, he needs to find a logical error and not simply keep repeating his theological interpretation.
Post Script: It Is What It Is (Or Is It???)
White’s best bet to salvage his interpretation would be to employ the Transitive Law of Identity (i.e., If A=B, and B=C, then A=C.) He could certainly say that being given, drawn, raised, and coming to Christ (and, if he wanted to be consistent, looking and believing – John 6:40) are all the same thing and thus logically convertible. Then the terms could be mixed around until a valid argument popped out.
But doing this would be begging the question in favor of White’s theological position. All someone disagreeing with White’s theology (and many Christians do – whether Catholic or Protestant) would have to do is deny the terms’ identity (which seems fair on the surface since they are all different words – even in Greek).
White does say that at least some of these terms are “coterminous” (which is not exactly the same thing as “identity”). The problem – even with this more modest claim – is that “drawing” and “coming” are not indicated as being coterminous in the text. Thus the claim is just a restatement of the same illogical interpretation.