My Debate with James White on Whether the Radical Unity Secured by the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness Destroys Other Connections that May Bring Division among God's People

Theologian, Elder, and Author James White wrote:

... because there is only one righteousness that is imputed to believers, and that is the active and passive obedience of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, then that means that there is a radical and new unity between believers in the church that destroys any concept of ethnic division within the body of Christ based upon the history of your people versus my people. Because now we are one people, and those other connections that would bring division in must be severed and destroyed in our thinking.

That is what I am talking about, and I will defend that against anybody, and if you’ve got a brain in your head, and you know anything about the New Testament, you will not accept a challenge to debate that, because you will get crushed, because that is plain biblical teaching. That’s plain biblical teaching. That’s what I’m talking about.

You can watch the whole video here. His comments begin at 38:15.

What follows below is a twitter conversation/debate on the topic he laid out in the quote/video above. I pray this edifies and gets people to think biblically, critically, and lovingly for God's glory, the building up of our churches, spreading the gospel, and for discipling and relating to our neighbors and the nations.


PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 23h23 hours agoMan. Praying for Brother @DrOakley1689 tonight. His video today on @pastorTstawp and @AlsoACarpenter's articles were so close to being biblical yet skewed by a big blind spot. Praying for his Christian friends to obey Heb 3.12-13 for his joy and thinking in Christ.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 23h23 hours agoWe all have blind spots so I pray my Christian friends obey Hebrews 3.12-13 for my joy and thinking and teaching in Christ as well.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 23h23 hours agoHere is a panel session @mastersuniv on ethnocentrism (racism) and the church that will more closely communicate the Bible's teaching.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 16h16 hours agoMoreUmm, is that how you say, “He’s wrong, sinfully so, but, I won’t explain how from the texts or exegesis he offered” but in a really, really nice way? :-)

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 13h13 hours agoBrother, I'm happy to talk to you about it if you are willing. I know that you don't know me personally so I don't presume to have a right to your ear. I would, with fear and trembling, take you up on your debate challenge from the video where you say one would be crushed.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 13h13 hours agoOn every other issue I can think of that you have taught on, that I am aware of, I am in enthusiastic agreement (justification, inerrancy, calvinism, being a reformed baptist, etc). If you would be open to interaction, I'm willing to call, DM, or converse on Twitter. Let me know.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoIt is very difficult for me to understand how you could possibly agree with me on “everything else” and yet take issue with what I said. So, I had that portion transcribed. Here it is. You are willing to debate against this position? …

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoI understand it can be difficult to understand how. I would say it is due to a blind spot in your argument and framework. That is why I can agree with you on the other things and genuinely thank God for your other teaching! Thank you for posting, brother. I'll take a look now.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoJust read your post. Thank you for transcribing it. I was transcribing it but yours was much better! I went a bit further to the great(x3) grand pappy stuff but that was the part I was referring to.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoYes, I'd like to debate (discuss) that with you I was able to pinpoint specifically where you are off in your point and therefore misrepresent New Testament teaching applied to this current discussion Do you just want to discuss it publicly on twitter? Please DM me if otherwise

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agMoreClue: From the 3 "must be willing" at the end, I am 1000x enthusiastically unwilling on the first 2 & have a laser pointed at the framework assumed behind the third "must." Because it is an unstated assumption I called it a blind spot. As your brother I'm willing to point it out

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agMoreFeel free: I would love to see how an RB could possibly argue against the righteousness of Christ as the unifying reality of the body.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agoOk. Here we go (with fear, trembling, prayer, and I trust, love): Yes and amen to the union we have in Christ by his imputed righteousness to all of us sinners! Question: I assume you are speaking of our spiritual union in Christ, not institutional or relational union, correct?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoIf by “institutional or relational union” you mean membership in the local body or something along those lines, such relationships could only be severed by church discipline in reference to unrepented sin, as in Corinth.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agoright. So that severing is not a spiritual severing but relational/institutional (R-I) due to unrepentant sin. You're post slides from the unbreakable spiritual union rooted in the glorious imputed righteousness of Christ to division in the R-I union of the church.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoIn the church our union with other believers is based upon, and derivative of, our union with Christ and the commonality of our salvation. None are more or less “saved,” more or less “in” than another. No classes due to the one righteousness of Christ.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoAmen & amen! We are spiritually united. So you are speaking of spiritual union, not institutional union. Your error seems to be in your application of your phrase, "The unity of the body in the righteousness of Jesus Christ" Amen to that unity. But what is the "nature" of it?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoIn that sentence the statement is a recognition of the truth of Col. 3:11, the renewal in which there is no…. Since every one, no matter background, is the recipient of that righteousness, there can be no hierarchy in the sense of division/supremacy.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agoamen to Col 3.11!

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoPlease define your use of “relational/institutional” as per previous request.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoMy point: this spiritual union in Christ cannot be divided. No one can divide it! We're not talking about dividing the spiritual union, that's impossible. You seem to accuse the other side of saying they are dividing the institutional/relational union of the body on earth, right?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 10h10 hours agoI am saying the other side demands that ethnicity be brought into even the ordinances of the church “as a matter of survival” (direct quote), and that seeing that union as doing away with color or class or standing is itself an error. If that is the case, then ethnicity would

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agIf that is the case, I can agree with you I think (I need to see the quote in its context). But your video and statements go beyond that, or at least apply beyond that. I'll finish my point...

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 10h10 hours agoBy the way, I'm so lost on twitter right now as there are replies between my replies that the whole order is getting messed up for me. I will have to trust the Lord that clear communication will break through this means of communication...

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoRemain a major factor in the relationship of different groups in the church. I maintain that not only is there no positive apostolic teaching supporting this idea, but there is plenty of evidence against it.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoPlease define your use of “institutional union,” and from when you derive it, biblically.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours MoreRelational-institutional (R-I) union: the union of the local church. Biblically, 1 Cor 5, for example.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoWhen you excommunicate, you are not "dividing the body and denying the righteousness of Christ imputed." The excommunicated member may still be spiritually united. Or he never was. But the church does not divide the spiritual union in humbly confronting sin.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoI fail to see what the need for discipline in the church to maintain the purity of the body and remove those who were “never truly of us” is related to ethnicity in the church. I see a major category problem with your “blind spot.”

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agoFair enough, brother. I'm quite confused with which line on twitter to follow so I apologize. I think I'll just camp on this thread here for the rest of it.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoYou seem to accuse the other side of saying that they are dividing the institutional or relational union of the body here on earth, correct? If not, then division is impossible. If so, then institutional and relational union between fellow Christians gets divided often while full

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agIf so, then institutional and relational union between fellow Christians gets divided often while fully agreeing on the (spiritually) unifying, seamless, and perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to all of us.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agMoredepending on what you mean by "divide" I'm willing to argue that division is a good thing. Excommunication is a good thing. Confronting sin and calling to repentance is a good thing. Denying the spiritual union based on the imputed righteousness of Christ is a bad thing that I am

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agMoreDenying the spiritual union based on the imputed righteousness of Christ is a bad thing that I am not arguing for

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 12h12So…you are saying my “blind spot” is not factoring excommunication into a discussion of the reality that the only way unity can be experienced in the body is to recognize the eternal truths that make it a reality over against temporal concepts that disrupt it?

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoI'm saying it is not "divisive" to suggest that your "only way" unity can be experienced is by insisting on the glorious imputation of Christ's righteousness. Relationally and institutionally, sin must be confronted/repented of among justified saints to experience unity.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agMoreThere is a category confusion in your post/video from spiritual unity in Christ that is unbreakable, eternal, & indivisible & the "experience of unity" that is local, institutional, relational, & divisible. To insist on repenting on earth is not to question Christ's finished work

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 12h12 hours agoNo, sorry, PJ, it doesn’t. What you call a blind spot is a categorical error on your part. I cannot tell from when you derive it, but that doesn’t change its erroneous nature. I appreciate your irenic spirit, but I repeat the challenge: are perceived ancestral sins actionable?

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agMoreI will consider if I have erred. My point: To have brothers "divide" by confronting what they perceive to be sin in the local church/denomination does not mean they deny the imputed righteousness of Christ for all saints of all time. Don't we agree on that?

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Great question on whether perceived ancestral sins are actionable. But let's not get off the original challenge you gave in the video and the blog post about whether those who disagree with you are dividing the spiritual union secured in the imputation of Christ's righteousness.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24But that was the whole context of my statement, PJ. Ignoring the fact that I am responding to those who are seeking to hold entire segments of the church accountable for the actions of past generations is to remove this entire exchange from its context!

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24fair enough. I certainly want to understand what you mean. Even then, if they are wrongly holding the church accountable (to grant that point here), it is wrong for you to say they are sinfully dividing the indivisible union secured by Christ Jesus for all of us.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24You might say they are sinfully dividing the institutional church and relationships within greater evangelicalism. Fine. That's a legit debate. But to say they are denying the imputed righteousness of Christ is erroneous and dangerous in its inevitable influence.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 2eI am saying setting up externally-based divisions (ecumenical councils to declare me a heretic!) based upon categories done away with in Christ is, in fact, dangerous—which is why I have spoken out, yes. No blind spot: I see the danger and am pointing to it.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Brother, I can see the danger there too. By all means, point to it. But point to it correctly and don't misuse the NT teaching on the imputed righteousness of Christ and the indivisible spiritual union we RBs celebrate to say they are dividing the spiritual union. Make sense bro?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24I do hope you never have to face a fractured fellowship, or an apostatizing denomination, where these movements, which began innocuously, end up like so many “mainline” groups, crushed on the rocks of error.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Me too, brother. I'm in the SBC and so we have to think carefully about these things. On the many other issues I've appreciated your voice and ministry, brother. I know you probably pray for the SBC from time to time and we're thankful for your prayers and ministry.

(cross post lost in tangled line)

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agTherefore, your err in saying that Christians divide the spiritual unity of the body (based on Christ's imputed righteousness) when calling for repentance and confronting what they perceive to be sin dividing the R-I unity of the body (like excommunication or denominationalism).

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 11h11 hours agoRepentance for actions of my ancestors? Yes, that is unbiblical. Repentance for my own actions? That is not what is being called for. When you line up ethnic groups in the church and start playing the penance game, you’ve missed the entire point of the gospel of peace.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 11h11 hours agMoreI agree with that. That's not my point, brother.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 12h12 hours agoAnd note your language, “What they perceive….” Perceptions based upon what? The realities of Col. 3, or sociological constructs, historical theories, and political movements? This is an important point of the conversation.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoYou are 100% right about this being an important point of the conversation. It is. yes and amen to that.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoDo Baptists "divide" the body with Presbyterians who are all counted righteous in Christ? It depends on what one means by "divide" and "unity."

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agoI don't deny "that there is a unifying, seamless, perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to all believers without reference to skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or anything else."

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 12h12 hours agMoreI don't deny "that our unity is found in the equal relationship we have through the Spirit to our Lord, and to one another through that one in-dwelling Spirit."

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24Well, I’ve asked, but not received, your definition of relational/institutional unity; I’ve challenged, categorically, the connection of church discipline with allowing for ethnic groups to charge one another with ancestral sin, etc. And finally, “perception” is not sufficient.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Relational/institutional unity: being peaceful brothers/sisters in the same local church and/or denomination with no unrepentant sin needing to be confronted between us.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24OK—in that definition, is it proper to hold you accountable for your great grandfather stealing chickens from his neighbor, causing an old style feud with another family 60 years ago?

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24If it is improper and that person/group is mistaken, is it correct then to say that they are dividing the sovereignly secure spiritual union we have rooted in the imputation of Christ's righteousness? We should be able to agree it is incorrect and erroneous as RBs.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24Their attempted action is based upon elevating previous (before regeneration) relationships (ethnicity) to the point of allowing division (one group must do penance to another) in the church, contra the foundation of unity, yes. That’s my point.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Let's not use pejorative terms like penance here, for the sake of clear headed exchanges and for those listening in to not get off track. They are asking (at their best) acknowledgement of past sin and shared lament over its effects carried into the present day.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24They may be wrong on that, but they are doing their best to communicate why they think there is sin. Stating and consequently rallying others to say they deny the imputed righteousness of Christ and divide what is indivisible is untrue and errs.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24I have said their position is not based upon biblical categories and ignores the true basis of biblical unity, yes. The importation of external sociological and political viewpoints (CRT) *does* end up resulting in the denial of imputation—just look at modern denominations!

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24But brother, we RBs and PCA bros are "divided" denominationally, but not spiritually. We think they're wrong in baptism and they us. We think they're disobeying Scripture by not "baptizing." They think we're not parenting our kids faithfully. But we're not denying spiritual union

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24I do not see a parallel to the demand to divide the fellowship along ethnic lines in one particular part of the world based upon “perceptions” derived primarily from either political or historical events and narratives. CRT is poison in the rest of the world, truly.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24I get that. But to say, therefore, that they deny the imputation of Christ's righteousness and divide the (spiritually indivisible) union of the body by insisting on what they (wrongly, in your view) perceive to be sin is hardly a denial of the gospel or imputation.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24They (I'd even say "we") may be sinning and getting that point wrong and sinfully/foolishly letting anti-biblical thoughts creep in here. May God grant us all mercy and eyes to see! So point it out, brother. But point it out correctly and apply the NT doctrines correctly on this.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24Sorry, that is not a pejorative. They are not calling for repentance since, by their own definitions, this is to be an “on going process”! Hence the proper term is penance, a continuous state between two divided groups—not proper for the church!

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24fair enough. I'm happy to concede that point here, brother.

(cross posted and tangled on the twitter feed...)

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24Let's not get off the point. To have brothers "divide" by confronting what they perceive to be sin in the local church/denomination does not mean they deny the imputed righteousness of Christ for all saints of all time. Don't we agree on that?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24Can you understand how ancestral or ethnically based past sins cannot be brought into the body due to the nature of the gospel producing a NEW set of relationships that transcend and do away with the old?

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24You do know that some on the other side were calling for an “ecumenical council” to proclaim “color blind theology” a heresy, right? You would agree that’s just…off the charts?

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24I agree with you that it is off the charts given our historical-cultural location. But I understand the impetus.

James White‏ @DrOakley1689 Aug 24Please! Explain the “impetus” to me!

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan Aug 24I'd be happy to in another conversation as we try to stay on the main challenge you laid out about unity and division and the imputed righteousness of Christ.

PJ Tibayan‏ @pjtibayan 1d1 day agoThank you to Brother @DrOakley1689 for my first twitter debate. The format was confusing but my point and prayers still stand for him. A gift to the church in so many ways. Debating on twitter on the issue of race & the church is a rodeo. Man! God is good to us in Christ Jesus!