The recent encounter between James White and Adnan Rashid on “Is the Cross necessary for salvation?” was predictable enough. Dr White did OK on the apologetics, and preached the Gospel beautifully at the end to his credit. But this was not a debate. Everything was so terribly polite, with lots of rather pointed comments about how respectful everything was (subtext: not like nasty Speaker’s Corner!) The cross examination was more like a polite exchange of views – hardly worthy of the name. An hour in (trying not to nod off) I was still waiting for things to get a bit more feisty, more passionate, more real. You can respect someone and still be confrontational, right? They seem to manage it at the House of Commons and Channel 4 News well enough – even at Speaker’s Corner, that’s always our aim. Vigorous debate is much more honest and engaging, and my own experience of debating Adnan Rashid is that he can certainly handle it.
James White’s first objective was to “demonstrate the centrality of the Cross in divine revelation…beginning with the writings of the Apostles.” I wasn’t sure why he didn’t start with Jesus himself – the many times He predicts His death, Jesus statement in Mark that He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), the Last Supper. He dwelt on the fact (Acts 2:36) of the crucifixion rather than its necessity (Acts 4:12) . JW elaborated on Paul’s teaching on the power of the Cross (1 Cor 1:17) to reconcile mankind to God (Ephesians 2,Colossians 1:19-20) and how the suffering of the Messiah is prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53) as stated by Jesus himself (Luke 24:44). This seemed to be slightly off-topic, as the central issue is atonement, not the suffering of the Messiah or his identity – the Qur’an states Jesus is the Messiah, so that shouldn’t be an issue for Muslims (although it does open for them a big can of worms.) There was no mention about the necessity of blood sacrifice in the Mosaic law, fulfilled in Christ and explained at length in the book Hebrews. Although he made some strong points about Jesus’ identity, it felt like he missed the main meat of the argument, which was a shame.
Adnan Rashid argued that only Paul taught salvation by faith in the Cross of Christ, but that the OT doesn’t teach the necessity of blood sacrifice. It does! Exodus 24:3, Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Instead his argument relied heavily upon cherry-picked, de-contextualised verses and appeals to scholarship. He tried to turn every reference from the Gospels into either an authorship issue or a textual criticism issue, for example asking why does Luke omit Mark 10:45? (As Lydia McGrew argues in her excellent lecture, “sometimes a variant is just a variant,” and an ‘omission’ presupposes the author’s intention, when they just might have remembered things differently.) The Mosaic law, the Last Supper, Hebrews etc were all,again, conspicuous by their absence. His most interesting argument was whether or not the Book of James teaches salvation by works, therefore contradicting the letters of Paul?
James White should have recognised this for the clever tactic it was, rather than allow for side-tracking with his ‘just-read-my-book’ answer. This rather pompous response doesn’t work in a debate situation; a failure to give a simple answer comes across like you have something to hide. But there is a reasonable, simple answer to the Paul vs James objection, which John Piper summarises very well:
When Paul teaches in Romans 4:5 that we are justified by faith alone, he means that the only thing that unites us to Christ for righteousness is dependence on Christ. When James says in James 2:24that we are not justified by faith alone he means that the faith which justifies does not remain alone. These two positions are not contradictory. Faith alone unites us to Christ for righteousness, and the faith that unites us to Christ for righteousness does not remain alone. It bears the fruit of love. It must do so or it is dead, demon, useless faith and does not justify.
This was James White’s response, but not very succinctly put. It was unfortunate the rebuttal and cross-examination time were unnecessarily dominated by this issue.
Otherwise, while James White did correct some of Adnan’s misapplication of verses quite skilfully, he bypassed others. For example he didn’t refute Adnan’s claim that Psalm 91 “says the Messiah will be saved.” This is the Psalm quoted by Satan during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4: 5-7:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[a]”
How does Jesus respond? By rebuking Satan for misquoting scripture!
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[b]”
Why is Adnan using an argument from Satan on which to base his objection?
In conclusion the debate (still not the right word for it) was fine, neither a triumph nor a disaster from an apologetics perspective; but the real disappointment was how very one-sided it was. The Islamic perspective was mentioned only occasionally, let alone challenged. Statements like “Islam is consistent with the Old Testament”; “Islam teaches the law and you will be forgiven”; “simply repent and Allah will forgive you”; “we have been promised forgiveness as long as we die as Muslims” all slipped by unchecked. But check it we will – in our next post.