Many of you who have followed my work know that there is a long (and sordid) backstory here. I have to at least summarize it because it will always come up. For those of you (no doubt, most) who are bored with such tedious “polemical history” detail, just skip over all of it and scroll down to the final seven paragraphs, where I explain what I am planning to do. I’ve even made it easy for you to get to: look for or search for the preceding ten asterisks.
I first encountered Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic apologist “Dr.” [???] James White (to whom I have dedicated one of my web pages and one of my books) in 1995 (before I arrived on the Internet), when I wrote to him by mail: inquiring about his anti-Catholic views, and at length the definition of Christian. He responded at length, cordially enough, the first time, then I counter-replied (I admit I wasn’t a perfect saint in charity: but then who is?), and he became downright nasty and dismissive in his second reply.
My second counter-reply was 36 typewritten pages, single-spaced (I have copies of all this correspondence in its paper form), which he has utterly ignored ever since. I have had this (103-page long, in my book) debate posted on my blog since 1997 when it began (with every single word on both sides); White has never posted a link to it. This doesn’t suggest confidence in his own performance, does it?
So that was the beginning of my dealings with Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White. Literally, ever since then, he sometimes responded once to something or other of mine (e.g., a series of critiques of my One-Minute Apologist in 2007), but has never — to my memory, and my memory is very good — counter-replied once I responded back, since his second reply in our 1995 “postal debate” followed by stony silence with regard to my final reply. In other words, he has been unwilling to engage in a normal, sustained, back-and-forth dialogue, these past 24 years.
Mostly, since 1995, he has simply lobbed insults (which have to be seen to be believed, in their utter imbecility, absurdity, and boorishness), and then retreats, lest an actual dialogue should occur. We did manage to have one spontaneous “live chat debate” on Mariology, on 29 December 2000, after another zealous contra-Catholic in a prearranged debate in White’s chat room, basically threw in the towel and forfeited. White came at me full force regarding the doctrine of Mary and the Church fathers.
I had no notes and no preparation, yet I believe it is clear that I prevailed in our little debate (and White disappeared, just when it was getting really interesting and was never heard from again that night. I was told that it was “technical problems”). Again, no transcript of this exchange has ever appeared on White‘s web pages (and if he felt that he prevailed it certainly would have; judging from his general behavior regarding all his oral debates), while it has been on my site for now almost 19 years.
One of the many controversies and tempests in a teapot in our history was the whole tiff about my supposedly having made a sacred vow to never talk to (or debate) anti-Catholics again. It’s true that on one occasion (on 14 March 2001) I became exasperated with anti-Catholic arrogance, lack of charity, and intransigence and made an exaggerated statement that — in retrospect — I shouldn’t have made, but I never made a vow (as White and other anti-Catholics repeatedly falsely accused me of making). It was a resolution, and resolutions (like the famous ones of determining to diet or exercise or lose weight) can be changed.
What White neglects to tell his readers, when he is attacking me falsely about “vows” that never took place, was that he made his own resolution to avoid me, two months earlier, on 12 January 2001:
I have done all I could since then [our first “postal debate” from 1995] in light of certain aspects of your behavior to avoid interaction like the plague. My website contains nothing about you for that very reason. . . . It’s a no-win situation, and I am still kicking myself for even thinking about hitting the “reply” button on the first e-mail from you regarding that dialogue. . . . But we all have moments of weakness, I guess. So I apologize for even considering the idea of having ANY contact. As they seem to say amongst the young people today, “My bad.” . . .
I have to trust God’s Spirit to lead His people as He sees fit. I have had a number of folks contact me about your posting of my letters and actually warn me against “casting pearls before swine” in doing what I am doing even now. I had three people say to me this morning, “You are wasting your time.” I will have to accept their counsel after this response.
Mr. Armstrong, I have no interest, whatsoever, in continuing this with you. I don’t like you, and I don’t believe you like me. Until a few weeks ago I had followed the path of wisdom and avoided every entanglement with you. I erred in moving from that path. You will undoubtedly claim “victory” and shout loud and long about my supposed inability to respond to your “tightly reasoned” arguments. So be it. I know different, and what’s more, I think, somewhere down inside, you do too.
Continuing to attempt to reason with you is likewise foolish: if you write an angry e-mail, like yesterday, and I reply to it, the next day you’ll use the calm, rational response, and upbraid me for being nasty. No matter what I do, the end is the same. I knew this years ago. My memory must be failing or something for even making the attempt.
I’m going to ask you to join me in promising to stay as far away from each other as possible. I’m not asking you to not respond on your own website to what I write or doing whatever you want to do when speaking, etc. I am talking about personal interaction. Stay out of #prosapologian. [his chat room] Don’t write to me. Don’t ask to do dialogues, debates, or anything else. You just do your thing, and I’ll do mine. OK?
Let’s leave the issues to those who have a true interest in such things, and given that our personalities are such that we cannot possibly co-exist in the same space (physical or cyber….we’d kill each other on Survivor!), let’s not obscure the issues with our personal clashes. I think that is a fair request, one that would advance the cause of truth no matter how one views the debate. No one needs to waste their time thinking about our inability to get along. That’s just the way it is.
Dave, I pray God’s best for you, and health and blessing upon your family.
The additional silly (and humorous) thing about this is that the day before, White (hardly wishing to ignore me then!) had challenged me to an oral debate, which I turned down, as I always have, because I don’t do them with anyone, out of a principled objection to their nature, as opposed to far-superior written debates. He had challenged me before in 1995, and would again in 2007 (it seemed to be a cycle of every six years).
This was a manifestation of his “sour grapes / “I’m takin’ my bat and ball and goin’ home” sort of mentality. Oral debates or bust . . . But he has done plenty of written debates with others, and even did with me in 1995 (notwithstanding his forfeit and surrender at the end), so this was just a subterfuge.
White obviously massively disregarded his own strongly stated resolution here, as can easily be seen and abundantly verified with a search of my name on his blog archives. He continued on, year-after-year, with flurries of activity in 2004 and 2007 because he was critiquing two of my four bestsellers in the field: The Catholic Verses and The One-Minute Apologist.
He did a few more hit pieces in 2008 and finally stopped. The last personal insults (out of the vast and innumerable total number) I ran across from him were from 17-18 May 2012 on his Twitter page:
Dave Armstrong is not a Roman Catholic scholar. He trolls the Internet and cobbles stuff together. Worst of the worst.
Dave Armstrong is not a serious or thoughtful or reflective or studied Roman apologist or writer. Period.
Dave Armstrong has never had a fresh insight on a theological and doctrinal topic. Period.
And 12-13 January 2015:
Dave Armstrong is one of the best arguments against Romanism I know, actually. :-)
Believe me…I’ve known all about DA for decades.
So, it is reasonable to ask: why deal at all with such a man, at this juncture? Well, because — whatever one personally thinks of him or his ideas — White remains the most prolific, zealous, and influential anti-Catholic Protestant apologist over the last 25 years. Anti-Catholic argumentation is not all that he does (by a long shot), but he has done more of that than anyone else I know of.
I stopped debating (with a few exceptions) anti-Catholics regarding theology in 2007, after having concluded that it was impossible to get them to even have an ordinary, intelligent discussion about the definition of the word, “Christian.” I had challenged six anti-Catholics to have a live chat discussion on that very topic, and all refused. At that point I gave up (having done more than my share of trying to reason with these people for ten years online). The apologist has to decide which topics he will deal with, and when to do so: as a prudential and time-management issue (since we deal with so many topics).
But now (probably at least a thousand articles and some 40 books later) the time is right to go back and revisit White’s huge backlog of anti-Catholic articles on his blog, because it is important in and of itself for some Catholic to deal with these, and because he provides a treasure-trove of articulate (albeit fallacious) arguments that stimulate Catholic apologists to more comprehensively defend the Catholic faith against historic Protestant arguments against it.
Lately, my big projects have been refuting Catholic reactionaries and anti-theist atheists. They’re a bunch of intellectual cowards who refuse to defend their views. I’m tired of that and am ready for a change in what to write about. At least White (even though he, too, is scared out of his wits as regards written debate with me) puts up some vigorous arguments.
Protestants, for whatever reason, are not defending their own views very much these days, and not attacking Catholicism much, either. I can hardly find even a single one out there doing that (they used to regularly gravitate towards me so that I didn’t have to even go out searching). In one important sense, that’s a good sign for ecumenical relations, but bad insofar as it shows that people (both Protestants and Catholics, and Orthodox, too) simply don’t care about theology as much as they used to: even twenty years ago. I’ve seen the diminishing lack of interest, myself, in my line of work.
So in order to provide some fresh defenses of distinctive Catholic doctrines (i.e., those which White and his buddies would think are heretical), one has to go back to the ones who are making the attacks and the arguments that can be replied to: and that is — preeminently — James White, among the relatively few anti-Catholic polemicists that can be found. No one else comes close.
He obviously despises me as a person and as an apologist, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s not personal with me — never has been. I’m simply interested in replying to these anti-Catholic arguments and showing how they don’t succeed. James White provides a vast array of such arguments, and so it is worth dealing with some of those. He can provide the challenge and opportunity for me to allow my readers to see and understand both sides of these debates (each presented by an advocate), which I think is an excellent teaching tool: side-by-side competing viewpoints.
My friend Nick Hardesty commented on Facebook: “You should have never made that promise to never debate them, the truth is just too powerful to keep to yourself.”
I replied at some length:
1. Time management. It’s the old dilemma of Proverbs. I have applied the different advice at different times:
Proverbs 26:4-5 (RSV)  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
I applied 26:4 from 2007 till now (with notable exceptions).
I applied 26:5 from 1990-2007 (since 1996 online), and now I am back to it, as regards White.
So it has been 12 years of applying the one proverb, and 17 years of applying the other. As they are not absolutes, this is altogether to be expected, and it is wise and prudent (for the most part), as part of our stewardship of God’s gifts, and the best use of our time.
2. One has only so much patience. Now that White has finally kept his own resolution of ignoring me (11 years and running, excepting just a few passing shots on Twitter), all the personal nonsense is out of the way, so I can concentrate on the theology without the circus. He ain’t comin’ back to dealin’ with me. He knows better. I’d be extremely surprised if he showed up again.
3. I continued to debate historic anti-Catholicism, such as the defenders of sola Scriptura, my critiques of Luther and Calvin, etc. Moreover, I engaged in plenty of meaty theological debate with non-anti-Catholic Protestants: largely Lutherans.
4. At the time (2007), White and his clone-buddies claimed that without my dealing with them, I would disappear and/or have nothing to write about (as if they were the only thing to deal with). I’m still here, 12 years later, as a full-time apologist, having written now more than 2500 articles and 50 books. 35 of these books were written after the time I stopped debating White et al (2008-2015 was my time of book-writing).
Meanwhile, major anti-Catholic polemicists, like Eric Svendsen, and Frank Turk (aka “centurion”), have literally disappeared from the Internet. Others, like “Turretinfan” and David T. King write a lot less anti-Catholic bilge than they used to. But I’m still here, doing apologetics of many sorts, as I always have. And White is still fulfilling what he believes is his calling as well. I give him points for perseverance. And quite a bit of what he writes about, I agree with, if it isn’t anti-Catholicism.
5. When I stopped the debates, I had probably already done more refutation of anti-Catholicism than any other apologist. I think that remains the case even now, 12 years later. So it’s a relative thing. If I had ignored them always, then a point could be made: that an apologist must deal with them. But I had done my share. Anyone can see how much I have dealt with this stuff on my Anti-Catholicism page (as well as the James White page).