Blake Ostler and James White on God and gods

1.  Yesterday afternoon, I listened to the audio of James White’s presentation on the Trinity shared on May 30, 2009 in Draper, Utah.  (May 30, 2009 is a significant day.  It marked the 17th anniversary of my marriage to my precious wife.)

In his lecture, James White brought up Jeremiah 10:11.  This is an incredibly courageous declaration in Aramaic!  God brought this verse to my attention back in February of this year.

So I looked in the scriptural concordance of Blake Ostler’s third volume, Of God and Gods (2008), since I am only in chapter 3 of the book.  In my curiosity, I could not find Jeremiah 10:11 in the discussion of the book.  So now, I need to ask Blake Ostler for his take on this verse.

2.  I think it would be good if I could get both James White and Blake Ostler up here to the Idaho Falls area for a debate/conversation hosted by me and my church family on the topic of the Trinity.  I would seek to invite every Southeastern Idaho LDS religious authority to this talk.  In the event, we would reserve the last rejoinder for LDS.

In the public sharing of my thoughts, I have not talked to either man.  But I do think that it is vital for Southeastern Idaho to have a serious talk here in the future about the Trinity.  All of what we are and do flows from our thoughts about God.  Let the talk of God consume our thoughts.

So who would be game for considering such an event or something similar to it?

42 comments

  1. Sandpoint. The guy and his wife are practically living in Paradise. Hmmm . . . Greg, I didn’t realize we had such a popular speaker in Idaho for the Orthodox.

    Actually, I have been thinking this afternoon of another guy I would like to bring to Idaho Falls for this event:

    Aquinas

    His blog: http://summatheologica.wordpress.com/

    Somewhere in this community event, I would like to ask Blake a series of heart questions on God. Likewise, someone like Aquinas could ask the same number of questions to James. If I couldn’t get Aquinas here, maybe I could get the infamous Backyard Professor of Idaho Falls.

    Kerry has as much invested interest in this subject as I do:

    http://www.backyardprofessor.com/the_backyard_professor/2009/05/the-incomparable-yahweh-even-among-all-the-other-gods.html

  2. I can understand that, Greg.

    But even tonight as I mull over the possibilities of such an event, I consider several things:

    1. LDS Authorities don’t do these kinds of things.

    2. And LDS people are discouraged from these kinds of events in a practical sense. In all probability, it would be only Blake speaking to a group of interested S.E. Idaho evangelicals.

    3. In fact, in Southeastern Idaho culture, the spirit of contending/debating over truth is looked upon as an easy ticket to contention and the work of the devil.

    4. And what “religious” person out there in S.E. Idaho wants to hear about the Trinity?

  3. FrGregACCA,
    As I’m not Catholic or Orthodox, I don’t understand why you would want to use an orthodox to debate the trinity and not an RC.
    I just assumed you were Catholic, are you not?

    BTW,
    I don’t consider a debate helpful. I’m all for some good conversation and exchange of ideas, but if your motivation is to get someone on stage and trap them into what they do or do not know at the time, I see why most people wouldn’t participate. That’s why I lke the internet, because you can get multiple ideas, have time to think, exchange, try an argument, get it shot down, try again, and really come to more knowledge, instead of just winning a debate.

  4. In the LDS Church, the only ones who value debate are lawyers.

    But for LDS Authorities, whose strengths are marketing and business, they calculate all theological debate as loss to the organization. Of course, this modern-day paradigm does not fit closely with biblical prophets and apostles.

  5. Todd: Re: Jeremiah 10:11. The gods at issue are mere idols or figurines made of clay that are common throughout the Near East during this time period. Therefore, they will perish. It is important to note that not all references to “gods” or elohim refer to the same thing. Some references are to gods of other nations (believed to be real beings who actually influenced the course of history). Some are sons of God or bene elohim or bene elyon who are gods in virtue of their status in the council of gods. Some are kings and divinized humans like David. Some may be references to deceased individuals. The meaning of the words “gods” must be determined from context. In the context of Jeremiah 10, the gods are mere idols worshiped by those foreign to Jewish covenant commitments.

    BTW Jeremiah is written in Hebrew; not Aramaic.

    With respect to a debate, there are many people that I am willing to debate. I am not willing to debate a person whose sole purpose is to create an appearance or performance. I am quite familiar with James White and I don’t believe that a debate is really what he does — it is more of a theatrical performance for effect.

    However, I am more than willing to have a respectful dialog that begins from the premise that we are both (or all) committed to love each other as neighbors fellow believers in Christ. I am very willing to have a Town Hall format or a question and answer where I speak to groups or we sit down and reason together.

    FrGregACCA: I agree that having the perspective of an Orthodox theologian in addition to, rather than in place of, a RC theologian is valuable. The Cappadocian emphasis on the social trinity and the distinction of the divine persons in perichoretic union is a valuable perspective that is quite different from the Augustian/Thomitic emphasis on psychological metaphors and emphasis on the modes in which the one god presents itself.

  6. Blake sez,

    “However, I am more than willing to have a respectful dialog that begins from the premise that we are both (or all) committed to love each other as neighbors fellow believers in Christ.”

    So you are only really interested in debating people who recognize you as a Christian, so that really eliminates virtually all Christians and really only includes other mormons. Way to go on a limb and agree to debate other mormons about mormonism!

  7. Blake, that particular verse is Aramaic.

    So isn’t it this idea: for the Jews in Babylonian exile to let it rip in the language of the people.

  8. I do like a Town Hall format. Blake, that would work very well for Idaho Falls, Idaho. But I could not sign some pre-event statement agreeing that we are “fellow believers in Christ.”

    Nic’s banner pic for his blog makes a good advertisement for all the books we can read in preparation for this event.

    http://rdtwot.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/twilight/

    Everybody in town has read and watched Twilight. Now, we need to get on the really joyful topic in Idaho Falls: The Holy Trinity.

  9. Todd, I didn’t say that you had to sign onto a statement that we regard each other as Christians; but could you sign onto a statement that you accept that we each believe we have a duty to love each other? That is quite different. You do believe the Jesus taught that we should love each other, don’t you?

    As for Jeremiah 10:11 in Aramaic, I guess I should just say that I agree with the vast majority of biblical scholars (those who are not inerrantists) that this verse is an interpolation from a time later than Jeremiah’s. Jeremiah wrote in Hebrew and this verse appears to be out of context in chapter 10.

    For the record, I know where I stand with Christ, so I don’t need your approval.

    Sido: I couldn’t possibly, in any possible world, care less whether you think I am a Christian.

  10. Blake, your books tear right into the fabric of everything that I hold precious about God. And He must be the consuming love of my life.

    These heart issues are fundamental. And I respectfully believe that our two views of God ought to be put out on the public table before the town. The LDS view dominates in my small sphere of the world. But I want them to thoughtfully muse on the God who set me free.

    As far as love, you bet, God desires for me to love you, Blake.

  11. Blake, OK, call me evil, but I got a little chuckle out of this:

    Todd, I didn’t say that you had to sign onto a statement that we regard each other as Christians; but could you sign onto a statement that you accept that we each believe we have a duty to love each other?

    ….it begs the question, would you trust Mr. White’s interpretation of what this agreement means, even in the unlikely event that he’d sign it ?? Wouldn’t you guys just fight like wet cats about what “love” means ?? Is there a “you’re just no loving me enough” police ??

    I’d still love to hear the debate, but I’ll learn to carry on if it doesn’t happen. Theres always Judge Judy.

    GERMIT

  12. Germit: We wouldn’t just fight like cats because I have the good sense not to get into a pissing contest with someone who very clearly has a very large and full bladder and who regards everyone who doesn’t adore him as God’s advocate as an enemy to be pissed on.

    At the very least, one who engages another intelligent and well-meaning person who believes differently has a duty to ask him or herself: “what is it about this way of living, of seeing and engaging the world, that this person finds valuable and even worth committing a life to”? I think that there must be room for “holy envy,” of seeing and grasping what another’s point of view or religious community does better than one’s own. I envy Catholics their robust theological tradition and the fine minds that have developed amazing works. I have nothing but respect for folks like Augustine and Aquinas, Calvin and Arminius. I wish that my own religious community were as good at developing such fine minds and thoughtful works of devotion that engage both the heart and mind. Frankly, we Mormons just aren’t very good at theology.

    Todd: My books were designed to dislodge the unjustified assumptions brought to the text that control what it mus mean, what it can say and thus does not allow the text to teach us. However, God is much larger and more loving than your assumptions that control how you read the text.

    Further, I don’t believe that to be Christian one has to have some right set of beliefs based upon the most accurate exegesis of the Bible. If one has to be able to elucidate the Trinity in a coherent and biblically faithful way for salvation, then I am confident that there are very few Christians (in fact none) — and there is no evidence that Jesus himself could qualify by your standard.

    One thing that I am really sure about, however, is that any standard you set up for Christians that would disqualify Jesus is just plain wrong-headed.

  13. Germit, are you sure that you don’t want me to reserve for you a front row seat?

    Blake, by grace, I am learning more and more, and bowing my will more and more to the words of the prophets, apostles, and Jesus on the Holy Trinity.

    Through an event like this, my prayer would be that the whole town ripple in conversation on God. And that in the theological tension/conflict, others would be drawn in true worship.

    And verily, God is much larger and more loving than me.

  14. I think that there must be room for “holy envy,” of seeing and grasping what another’s point of view or religious community does better than one’s own.

    well said, sir

    GERMIT

  15. Todd wrote:
    And verily, God is much larger and more loving than me.

    we’re betting everything that you’re right on this one , Todd; don’t let us down, dude

    GERMIT

  16. “holy envy”

    Who was it that promoted this? Truman Madsen?

    And didn’t he pick up this phrase from Harvard, Krister Stendahl.

    Of course, some things that Krister might have envied, I wouldn’t.

  17. I think that there must be room for “holy envy,” of seeing and grasping what another’s point of view or religious community does better than one’s own.

    Honest question though, Blake: do you actually have any “holy envy” of evangelical Christianity?

    You told Darrell on Jessica’s blog a few weeks ago that he had “traded a true birthright of eternal value for a mess of pottage.” One could take that statement as you calling evangelical Christianity “a mess of pottage.” Was that what you meant by it?

    I’ve gotten the impression from reading your comments and blog posts that you don’t think very highly of us, though I certainly owe it to you to read your books before I come to firm conclusions.

    Regarding James White, I really couldn’t blame someone for saying “no” to a debate with him, in fact I have a close LDS friend who recently did just that. I have fewer issues with him than I do with other figures in the countercult ministry, but his works on Mormonism have always been fairly polemical and written with the agenda of showing that Mormons are not Christians. A lot of Mormons just aren’t interested in interacting with that approach.

  18. Todd: I believe that “holy envy” is an idea promoted by Krister Stendahl — as you note. I heard it also from Roger Keller, a Mormon who used to be a pastor in a Reformed Church.

    Bridget: I envy the carefully worked out positions on justification, imputed merit, and predestination by evangelicals in the Reformed tradition. The Calvinistic system is very coherent. In one sense, the notion that everything that happens is laden with divine meaning and purpose because God purposes it (causes it) means that I can search for “why” in the divine plan and know that everything is in divine order no matter what happens. At one level, such a view is very comforting.

    The downside of course is that it also follows that god decides to damn some people he could save. There is no room for genuine love in such a system. It also entails that all of the evils in the world must really be goods — and I cannot see for the life of me how the abduction, rape and torture death of a two year old is necessary to a greater good. I know, I’m very limited — but any religion that requires me to regard as “good” and praise god for the rape and torture of a two year old isn’t one I’m likely to embrace.

    I also envy the genuine expertise of evangelicals in the issues related to Paul’s view of justification by grace. I disagree with them and believe that the New Perspective on Paul is much more persuasive. I would be proud if Mormonism ever developed a biblical theologian as intelligent and informed as Millard Erickson.

    I have had very good evangelical friends. I love them. I am proud to have them as friends.

    Yes, I believe that Ev is a mess of pottage. However, recognize that pottage is still food. If I were starving to death, in that moment I may choose pottage over a birth right. I believe that faith in Christ is universally valid for any person that has it, Mormon, Ev, Catholic, Orthodox or non-affiliated. Prayers to God are heard by God from all. There is power to work miracles in the name of Christ for Mormon, Ev and the Catholic alike because faith in Christ is universally valid and always true. I believe that faith in Christ saves whoever has such faith. I cannot understand those who insist that I must have a Ph.D. in biblically studies faithful to the Reformed tradition to be saved.

    However, just as there is more than one key on a piano to make a song, there is more to Christ’s gospel than salvation by grace. I don’t think Evs ever get past salvation by grace in their discussions with Mormons. They keep pounding on one key on the piano and expect us to hear a symphony. The Christian who is justified does not need to go back and get justified by grace again — it is done. The task for the Christian is: (1) learning and doing what Christ taught and commanded; (2) removing from one’s life everything that gets in the way of a glorifying/exalting relationship with God through Christ.

    With respect to (1), Evs rarely ask what Christ has commanded and taught in my (admittedly limited) experience. He has taught us to be baptized in his name and to receive the Holy Ghost. He has commanded us to bring forth works of love and to become sanctified through our synergistic works and God’s grace. The scriptures say that s/he who is baptized is saved — so close is the relationship between doing what Christ has commanded and having faith in Christ to salvation. The person who refuses to be baptized into Christ really doesn’t have the kind of faith in question, it seems to me, because such faith entails a willingness to do whatever Christ asks of us.

    With respect to (2), it is simply repentance by another name. Evs are focused on salvation by grace, it seems to me, but they seem to forget that once saved, the task is to work out our salvation by alienating from our lives everything that gets in the way of loving relationships. We are judged by our works and at this stage of Christian life it is more than appropriate to focus on the works of love that are the fruit of a true faith in Christ and love for one’s neighbor . . . and enemy alike.

    Now look what you’ve done Jack, you went and got me to get all preachy.

    Jack: You’ve summed up well my reservations about interacting with White. He is more interested in scoring points than regarding another with respect and love. In my view, that bassackwards.

  19. Just as there’s a fairly large standard deviation of Mormon thought, my views regarding specific evangelicals are also fairly varied. Jack, there are some I respect A LOT more than others. And yes, it is very hard to find anything worth envying in Evangelicals who damn people like myself, and new-born babies. I am learning, however, that these are NOT all Evangelicals. And there are some Evangelicals that I have a holy envy towards. I just think that inter-religious dialogue (which is not a debate) needs that Holy Envy.

  20. Blake ~ Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve long felt that we evangelicals do need to spend more time teaching sanctification & glorification.

    And actually, I first learned about Krister Stendahl’s “holy envy” philosophy from Roger Keller myself.

    PC ~ I actually think it’s better to look at the religious philosophy itself rather than how well individual members practice it, although meeting inspiring practitioners is certainly helpful. I think it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t judge Mormonism based on the behavior of the first Mormons who reached out to me. Trust me, I would have walked away fast.

  21. Happy Friday Ya’ll….I was kicking around the idea of passing the hat and getting JACK something for asking BLAKE a very direct, yet sincere, question… going above and beyond , if you ask me. I was thinking maybe

    1)a walk across a raggedy rope bridge somewhere in the Himalayas, during a white out…

    2)bunjee jumping into something really cavernous (and maybe dark and bat infested)

    3)warm cuddly pet….maybe a tarantula or kimodo dragon

    4)a BYU scoozeee (for cold POP, obviously)

    any takers ?? JACK: you are off the scale in boldness.

    GERMIT

  22. I am tossing around ideas about a debating partner for Blake. But if I get Blake here to Idaho Falls, I wonder which LDS even know Blake?

    And another thought, maybe I could do a grassroots city wide survey on questions about the Trinity before the event.

  23. Todd ~ To be sure, relatively few LDS would darken the doorstep at such an evangelical-sponsored event/debate. My own meager attempts to interest LDS in Brigham City and Idaho Falls on the subject of gospel doctrine have borne this out. Nevertheless, because “contrast brings clarity” we can bet the Spirit will do the work of enlightening and convicting no matter the demographic of the audience, assuming, of course, that the respective presenters/debators are capable of effectively contrasting, and this, in a Christ-like manner.

    Blake ~ Thank you ahead of time for taking the time and energy to prepare for and participate in such an event/debate should it ever come to fruition. Your willingness to represent NOT necessarily the views of the LDS Church, but YOUR personal views as an LDS, in a public venue is to be highly commended.

    One more ticket sold and/or one more seat taken!

    Charis kai eirene

  24. Mormons do believe Christ was divine. Also, Don’t confuse the LDS doctrines of salvation vs. exaltation.

    Actually, Mormons believe all mankind is SAVED by the GRACE of God, even Hitler will end up in a degree of glory (for Mormons hell is a lesser glory relative to the higher state where God dwells and family units are eternal). Conversely, Evangelicals believe a person must perform the WORK of physically “accepting Jesus” vocally to be saved. For them, not all will be “saved.”

    Therefore, mormons believe in being saved by grace and Evangelicals believe in salvation by works (act of being born again).

  25. He’s a Catholic philosopher. I don’t know if he would call himself an apologist, but he is certainly capable of defending his Faith. I think he has grown in popularity since the publication of his book “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism”

  26. ” Everybody in town has read and watched twilight. Now , we need to get on the really joyful topic in Idaho Falls: The Holy Trinity.”

    You go!!!!

    Gloria 🙂

  27. Jack,
    You have guts, girl. 🙂 Doesn’t look like you are “scared as hell” of blake anymore!
    I am praying for you & your family.

    God bless,
    gloria

  28. ” And yes it is very hard to find anything worth envying in Evangelicals who damn people like myself and new-born babies”.

    Christians damn new born babies???? Where did you get that idea? Other than the Roman Catholic Church, ( and possibly Greek Orthodox?) who teaches this?

    I personally do not attend a church or worship with Christians that teach such.

    Kind regards,
    gloria

  29. Calvin and his early followers damned unbaptized infants. The Orthodox certainly do not. Rome has recently explicitly rejected this. In Roman circles, a widely held theological opinion, not dogma, was that unbaptized infants, while deprived of heaven, were not damned, but were confined to “limbo”, that is, were not able to access the SUPERNATURAL happiness of communion with God, but were, instead, allowed to enjoy the fulness of NATURAL happiness. All very Aquinian.

    Not that speculation about “the age of accountability” is any more biblical (or traditional).

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