On today’s episode of The Dividing Line, James White argued that JD Hall’s recent critique of Jeff Durbin and Apologia Church was out of line because he “doesn’t know” Jeff Durbin. To the contrary, James White does know Durbin. Not only does he know him but, according to White, he is one of Jeff Durbin’s greatest theological influences. On the Dividing Line White gave Durbin lofty praise for his dedication to his church and the way he tirelessly shepherds his congregation. White also provided some background into the beginnings of Apologia Church in order provide insight into the context its church culture…the very culture JD Hall criticized from afar. James White set JD Hall straight…
Or did he?
White’s argument about Hall not knowing Durbin enough to critique him is a specious one, though, at first blush, it seems completely reasonable. Of course one should know something about the target of one’s critiques. However, one doesn’t have to be intimately familiar with someone in order to point out his clear and public errors. Furthermore, being too close to someone can cloud one’s ability to exercise critical judgement.
Consider the example of the charlatan Ergun Caner. James White is perhaps Caner’s most prominent and vociferous critic. Yet, White is barely, if at all, personally acquainted with Dr. Caner. Caner has had no shortage of personal friends to line up and vouch for him with a “you don’t know Ergun defense.” This hasn’t stopped White (and many others) from rightly exposing Caner for what he is. (To be clear, Durbin is no charlatan, so the comparison with Caner should end there.) So what if JD Hall doesn’t know Jeff Durbin? Does someone personally have to know the sponsor of a booze and tattoos church plant fundraiser to point out the folly of such an event?
White praises Durbin for his pastoral dedication. So what? The world is full of dedicated pastors who are bereft of doctrinal soundness. Are there dedicated and caring Oneness Pentecostal Pastors who deeply care about their congregations? Almost certainly. Are there scores of Southern Baptist ladies who dutifully lead Beth Moore studies and pray for the ladies they lead into error with every new LifeWay workbook? Of course. As the old truism goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Apologia’s critics, namely Hall and ChristianNews.net, aren’t arguing that Apologia isn’t full of caring, sold-out people. Jeff Durbin may be the world’s nicest guy and the world’s most caring Pastor. His congregation may be full of dedicated people. So what? Lots of dedicated people are dedicated to the wrong things.
JD Hall does not have a friendship with Jeff Durbin that could cloud his objective analysis of Durbin’s boozy tattoo fundraiser.** On the other hand, White’s own daughter attends Apologia Church. White and Durbin are friends. Can White be as objective? By law, Auditors who own stock in a company aren’t allowed to audit its financial statements for the purposes public reporting. As owners, they may know more about the company than anybody. Yet, they lack objective independence. The same can be said of friends.
Everyone who has ever been in error has friends; many of the people stepped in error are kind and dedicated. JD Hall doesn’t know Jeff Durbin. That’s probably for the best. Theological discourse shouldn’t be personal; when it is it can become petty. Rather, theological discourse should be conceptual. Christians end up looking ridiculous and self-centered when they duke it out publicly over personal issues. It may drive up podcast ratings for both sides to do so but it drives down the overall value of the Christian “brand” (please forgive my word choice). Christians should be very careful to stick to the issues. Hopefully, the issue of tattoo and beer fundraisers won’t ever again rear its head. Hopefully arguments about who knows whom will find their way out of the theological discourse as well.
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[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
**For the sake of clarity, it should be understood that the fundraiser at which beer was provided took place at different location and time than did the tattoo fundraiser. Both fundraisers were for the same project.