CONWAY, Ark. – On May 11, 2023, Grace Bible Theological Seminary sponsored a special presentation and interview with faculty member and seasoned apologist, Dr. James White, hosted by Grace Bible Church of Conway. For years White has emphasized the pressing need for Christian academic institutions and evangelical scholars to hear the apostle Paul’s caution in 1 Corinthians 1:10-31. In White’s message, titled “The Foolishness of God,” he noted Paul’s declaration that God’s wisdom is considered utter foolishness to the world.
Early in his career as an apologist, White saw numerous scholars “promoting themselves and their ideas and their scholarship,” but with “no sense of service to the church.” He observed, “When I read the New Testament, I don’t see anything about the office of ‘Christian scholar.’ I do see that we are to take apostolic truth and teach it to men who are trustworthy (2 Timothy 2:2). But very often Christian scholarship is practiced outside of the context of the local church … and I want to do it as a servant of the church.”
White talked about the numerous institutions in America that started off as “Christian” colleges or seminaries, affirming the core tenets of the Christian faith, only to morph over time into bastions of human philosophy and worldly thinking. He explained:
I teach church history, and it's very clear over the course of church history how, very often, churches will start academic institutions, and then those institutions will veer off, almost always in one direction: left. And I've become convinced that it is because there is a temptation on the part of those who have been given intellectual gifts to desire other people to see their intellectual gifts and to be accepted at the table of the world's understanding of “wisdom” and “scholarship."
White noted that the history of the Christian church is filled with Bible-believing institutions who spent millions of dollars on capital campaigns and developed massive libraries and building programs, only to have all of it owned by unbelieving liberals within 50 to 100 years of the school’s founding. White pointedly stated to the audience, “You will not be granted your much-desired seat at the table if you start your scholarly endeavors in light of the lordship of Christ.” He added, “There needs to be on the part of a Christian scholar, from the very start, from the time you’re in seminary, the seldom-heard exhortation that you need to give up quests to be accepted at the world’s table.”
In 1 Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul boldly asserts that the message of Christ crucified is a “stumbling block” to sign-seeking Jews and “foolishness” to wisdom-seeking Greeks—yet it is the very power and wisdom of God (verses 22-24). White observed that the apostle’s challenge both to his Corinthian readers and to present-day Christians is to avoid “preaching the gospel in a way that the world would find to be wise, because that is our temptation.” He continued, “We think that we can just take what we’ve learned of the gospel and make it palatable to man. But see, Paul knew something. He already knew that man, outside of the work of God’s grace in the heart, was the inveterate enemy of God’s truth.”
Driving his point home to a contemporary context, White remarked, “Lost individuals want you to shave off the rough corners of the gospel that call for repentance and submission to make it appealing to them. That’s exactly what they want. And church history is littered with the names of those who gave them exactly what they desired.” White summed up the world-defying message of the Christian gospel in these words:
Have you ever stopped to think what we're telling the world? We are literally telling the world that they are to live their life today in light of a man who, from the world's perspective, died 2000 years ago, didn't write any books, didn't lead any military campaigns, who allegedly rose from the dead, and his followers have been persecuted and imprisoned ever since that particular point in time. We're literally telling the world that that man was the Creator who entered into his own creation and that he's coming back. From the world's perspective, that is ridiculous.
White concluded his talk by noting that he is not advocating for Christians to avoid doing scholarship, and he is not a proponent of lowering standards for Christian scholarship—quite the contrary. Rather, he is simply imploring those who are called to such pursuits to remember that “Christian scholarship begins and ends with Christ.”
White’s presentation on 1 Corinthians 1 was followed by an interview with GBTS Provost and Research Professor of Theology, Owen Strachan. The wide-ranging topics of their conversation included the current state of theological seminaries, the reappearing trend of evangelicals wanting to engage in ecumenism with Roman Catholics, and Roman Catholicism’s emphasis on making converts to “the church” rather than converts to “Christ.” White borrowed from his decades of experience in debating leading figures from Catholic Answers and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), noting, “They believe in a doctrine of the church that ends up eclipsing Christ.”
Strachan and White went on to discuss the identity of “the blessed man” in Romans 4:8, Alpha and Omega Ministries’ early years of evangelizing Mormons in Salt Lake City (led by its Director, James White), and the extended amount of time it often takes to work through theological barriers to the gospel with Mormon hearers. Towards the end of the interview, Strachan commented on the “appropriate toughness” and “appropriate tenderness” that is evident in White’s ministry, traits which are necessary for preachers and teachers of God’s truth. Strachan noted to White, “You engage people as if they need the truth, but as if they also need a loving Christian witness.” White recounted his years of working as a hospital chaplain, guiding families through the process of grief, as the tool God used to develop his tender, pastoral side.
White closed the evening by highlighting the Lord’s providence in connecting him to Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He remarked, “As long as I can be of assistance to the seminary, I want to be. And I hope you’ll pray for the battles that we have—that we will stand firm without becoming hardened. I want to finish well. And I think that’s something for all of us to aim for as we grow older. I hope that’s our goal.”
For more information about Grace Bible Theological Seminary, please visit: gbtseminary.org.
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