Peter Dimond vs. James White on justification

The two people I’ve been dealing with in my previous posts, James White and Peter Dimond, have actually confronted each other as well, at least on one occasion. On this YouTube video you can hear br. Peter calling James White’s radio program, wanting to debate justification (or perseverance, or losing salvation, however you’d like to put it). What then follows is a 15-minute discussion on Ephesians 5:5-8, Romans 8:28-32, etc. Sometimes the dialog makes me smile, sometimes it makes me roll my eyes. Here are my comments.

Since I obviously agree more with br. Peter on the basic doctrines of soteriology, and since the video is on White’s channel serving his apologetics purposes (he gets to give the 7-minute commentary at the end, making it look like it was a clear victory for him), I will have more to say against White than against Dimond. However, I do think Dimond deserves some criticism, which is what I’ll start with.

Dimond’s defects

First off, Dimond’s major argument isn’t a very good one to begin with. Eph. 5:7 doesn’t “clearly prove” (note the language again – I talked about this in my previous post) that a justified man could lose his salvation, all it says is that Christians shouldn’t be partakers with people who will be excluded from the Kingdom of God. One needs to make huge assumptions about the word “partakers” and about the consequences of disobedience to this exhortation in order to think this verse teaches what Dimond thinks it “clearly proves”. Nor does Trent’s Decree on Justification use this passage to argue that one can lose salvation.

Secondly, Dimond doesn’t get White at all most of the time. When White asks about being baptized and not gaining justification (he seems to mean final justification i.e. what he would rather call glorification), Dimond starts talking about adults putting an obstacle and receiving the mark but not the character of baptism. But worst of all, Dimond doesn’t really seem to understand White’s main argument: what is it in Romans 8 that makes Dimond think that 8:30 talks only of a small part of all the justified, and not all Christians?

Thirdly, White makes a good point about Dimond’s double standards: Dimond insists on going to passages that define what a Catholic is when he wants to “prove” that the Pope is not a Catholic, but in dealing with justification he won’t go to passages that talk specifically about justification. I’d level the same accusation at him from another angle: Dimond thinks with the mind of the Church in soteriology, but he does the opposite in ecclesiology.

This helps us to understand a fascinating point: the basis on which White dissents from the Church’s teaching on justification is the same basis on which Dimond dissents from the Pope’s Catholicism. Fundamentally, White and Dimond share the same problem of private interpretation, picking their texts and insisting on their interpretations of them, over against the Church. They both have good arguments, but good arguments and a bright mind don’t guarantee truth. It’s at the same time illuminating and terrifying to realize that at least one of these men is really and truly (as long as the law of non-contradiction is valid) in error (both generally speaking and in their criticism of the Church). Here’s where I think White is wrong.

White’s wrongs

First of all, White claims that the Catholic teaching on justification is based on assumptions and eisegesis instead of the text of Scripture, which in his view demonstrates the Catholic belief to be a “doctrine of demons”. Well, the Catholic doctrine, like it or not, is based on the apostolic tradition, always seen by the Church to be evidenced in the Scriptures as well. The Apostles didn’t teach their congregations to forget their oral teachings and then try to come up with a consistent theology from their writings. They taught their converts something, and that teaching can be discovered in early Christian writings.

Now, White recognizes the Catholic doctrine goes “back to Augustine”. This is an interesting admission, and it makes me ask White whether he thinks Augustine believed a doctrine of demons. Was Augustine in the camp of the enemy, and not a true Christian? But White should know, and I think he does, that the Catholic doctrine goes back further than Augustine. It goes back all the way – or can White show us a post-biblical pre-augustinian Christian that believed that justified Christians could not lose their salvation? Were all post-apostolic Christians deceived by doctrines of demons?

White claims Romans 8 demonstrates that what we believe is a doctrine of demons. Well, there’s no discussion of demons there, no discussion of the gravity of various mistaken views on the doctrine of justification. All it says is that God glorified those that he justified. Just like Dimond assumed Eph 5:7 “clearly proves” his position, White assumes Rom 8:30 “demonstrates” his. Both are just as naive. Romans 8:30 is a text open to many interpretations, as a consultation of the various exegetical commentaries would easily demonstrate.

I haven’t studied this enough to make any definitive pronouncements on the verse, but one thought does come to mind. All the verbs are in the past tense – couldn’t this be describing what God has already done to Christians? White is assuming “glorified” means future heavenly glory, but does it have to mean that? And here is where Dimond’s good points come in: there are many passages in Romans itself which give us good reason to question that Paul wanted to teach that all justified Christians would necessarily be ultimately saved.

Dimond cites eg Rom 11:20-22, which White deals with only briefly in a way that isn’t convincing at all. Paul is here talking about Gentiles that stand in the new people of God “by faith”, having God’s favor or “goodness”. If we are consistent in our Calvinistic or Catholic theology, we must admit these people have been justified. And yet Paul says they will be cut off and merit God’s severity if they do not continue in God’s goodness, if they lose their faith. What God did to unbelieving Jews, he can and will do to Christians, who do not persevere in faith. I could add Rom 8:13 from Romans 8 itself – addressing to Christians a real threat of “death” if they live according to the flesh.

I should add that these passages, as well as others also cited by the Church’s official teaching at Trent (eg 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 10:12), have led world-class Pauline scholars to conclude that Paul really did believe that one could lose one’s salvation. It’s not as if the Catholic Church simply held on to an external, eisegetical, “infallible” authority, contradicting the clear and perspicuous teaching of Paul, which anyone can see in the text itself. No, many leading Pauline scholars, not clinging to any external infallible authority but trying to understand Paul as well as possible in his own terms, come to the same conclusion as the Catholic Church, and not to the Calvinistic position held by James White.

Concluding comments

There’s much more I could say, but I will save something for later posts, too. One of the funniest things about White’s presentation is his accusing Dimond of assuming that there are these Christians that are justified but won’t be glorified, while he tries to defend his position from the warning passages by assuming a category of non-justified members in the visible Church. This needs to be dealt with in detail later, but suffice it to say that the Catholic understanding of initial justification for all the baptized explains Paul’s words to the Ephesians much better than the Reformed (so clearly tradition-based and not Scripture-derived) view that says the words are really true only of some members.

Another issue is the whole rhetoric about the “man-centered” versus the “God-centered” reading of the Bible. First of all, who defines man-centered and God-centered? It’s not like there are only two ways of reading the Bible, there are hundreds of ways of interpreting biblical soteriology alone. Many of these systems could justly call the Calvinistic interpretation a “man-centered” one (eg. N.T. Wright has done just that in his recent book Justification, and a more radical OSAS system could easily do the same). Second, the whole problem is an unbiblical one – the Bible contains passages about God and man, but no hermeneutic guidelines to harmonize them.

Lastly, I would again point out how smart apologists can use strong words and skillful rhetoric, only to expose their naivety to the critically-minded. According to Dimond it was “obvious” that White didn’t have an answer to Ephesians 5 when White was simply trying to get to the heart of the matter. According to White “everyone”, or “anyone who’s fair-minded” could see that only White wanted to do exegesis. But Dimond was also bringing up a valid exegetical point in regard to Romans 8 needing to be in harmony with Romans 11.

Many people, and especially convinced apologists who believe they’re defending truth, have a hard time admitting that other people can hold opposite beliefs in good faith and with good reasons. They like to think their position alone is reasonable and so clearly true that anyone who would see the evidence and deny it would be dishonest or unfair. Yet reality is very different. We need to proceed on the path of truth with a lot of humility, a willingness to learn, and most of all with a respect for others, because ultimately we must be in it for the salvation of souls.

Explore posts in the same categories: James R. White, The Dimond brothers

4 Comments on “Peter Dimond vs. James White on justification”

  1. Hi Emil,

    This sentence seems a bit awkwardly phrased: “Neither does Trent’s Decree on Justification doesn’t use this passage to argue that one can lose salvation.”


    • Emil Anton Says:

      Oops, thanks for noticing, I had rephrased the sentence and mistakenly left the extra “doesn’t” in there – removed it now and changed neither to nor as well:) Hope that’s better. Thanks for the comment!

  2. The rest of the post is great. Balanced critique…


  3. Jim Says:

    For what it’s worth, in White’s debate on justification with Fr. Pacwa, he was asked by Fr. Pacwa if there was any Christian living prior to John Calvin who held to White’s understanding of justification. White answered, “No.”

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