Initial Thoughts On the Recent Annihilationism Debate and Some Serious Concerns About Chris Date

Here are my initial and probably only comments on the recent debate between Chris Date and Joshua “RazorsKiss” Whipps.

Chris Date struck me as someone who knew well what he was doing in terms of argumentative style and debate strategy. He was well prepared. His opening statement focused upon biblical texts that addressed the topic of the debate. He frequently utilized sources that his opponent held in high esteem. He spoke quickly but clearly and exhibited a smooth presentation throughout the course of the debate.

Joshua Whipps came out of the gate strong as well, using Van Tilian catch phrases to highlight Date’s inconsistencies in broader systematic categories, and pointing out that the entirety of Date’s case rested on his understanding of “death.” Unfortunately, Whipps was not as clear as Date, and his speed waned as the debate progressed. Having known Whipps for some time I know that this was not due to a lack of thoughtful responses to Date’s questions and concerns, but those who are more attentive to the surface of the debate as opposed to its underlying content might think that it was.

Moreover, I suspect many will not recognize the greater context of the debate in question, nor the distinctly Van Tilian framework Whipps was attempting to argue from. For example, Date focused upon texts which address the topic of eternal punishment in his opener, but Whipps seemed more focused upon tertiary matters. There are a number of reasons for this.

Whipps was not making the positive case in the debate. Date was. So Whipps had no obligation or reason to argue exegetically for his own position from the passages that Date pulled out. All Whipps needed to do was point out cracks in Date’s defense. And he found many.

For example, Whipps mentioned a distinction between “facts” and the “meaning” of facts. Some Van Tilians will be used to hearing this type of language in the context of philosophy, but not Scripture. Yet it seems to me the same principle applies in the case of Scripture.

Date was, essentially, “shotgunning” in his opening statement. He provided so many texts so quickly that it was somewhat difficult to follow his case. Not only did Whipps not have to reply by providing his own positive case from the aforementioned texts, but he did not have to acknowledge that Date had made a meaningful argument for his own position. Why?

Because Date, at least according to Whipps, was doing precisely what the naïve evidentialist does; presenting a series of evidences as though they had some meaning in the greater context of things without talking about the meanings of the terms involved.

And that was perhaps the biggest qualm Whipps had with Date’s position. Everything turned on how one is to understand “death.” The debate thus immediately moved into what were not, in fact, tertiary matters at all.

That’s when, to his credit, Date started bringing in commentators and systematicians like Calvin, Gill, and Grudem. Unfortunately he also managed to butcher a few of them.

Not only that, but Date did not appear worried by the fact that he could supposedly mount his case from what the theologians above said while outright rejecting their conclusions on the matter at hand in the debate. Of course everyone is inconsistent from time to time. It’s just that it’s very highly unlikely that the vast majority of the church, including some of the sharpest thinking Reformed scholars ever known, should examine this topic so thoroughly and yet get it wrong where Ed Fudge, Chris Date, and a philosopher from New Zealand (who apparently thinks a scholarly treatment of the biblical text involves going to the KJV and an interlinear) discovered something that has only ever been affirmed by the shadiest of cultish groups in church history. But I digress.

Death was not the only topic that came into play. There was also the nature of the human being as well as the intermediate state. Date said he does not know his position on biblical anthropology or on the intermediate state. Surely he was joking? Call me crazy, but I generally do not enter into debates where I have not ironed out the issues immediately related to the topic I will be debating. Date strikes me as having grown a bit too big for his eschatological britches.

The agnostic position with respect to the nature of human beings and the intermediate state nevertheless served Date well. He was able to switch quickly between the various views on these topics whenever he needed to keep his conditionalism coherent.

So again, I was overall impressed by Date’s performance as a debater. But he may have gone too far. Some of the comments I have heard about the debate have mentioned that Date might be perceived as a bit of a “jerk” for some of the tactics he employed.

I noticed a few of these as well. For example, during the cross examination period Date frequently cut Whipps off before Whipps could qualify or explain what he meant by the answer he gave. One time it was extremely noticeable, and Whipps was heard chuckling a bit. (Whipps was not, by the way, angered at any time during the debate, though he is passionate about his position and the truth.) Date might have taken the debate point, but he lost information that might have been helpful if truth was really of the utmost importance in the debate.

Many have commented as well upon how Date took the first few moments of his initial rebuttal period to talk about how poor the opening case Whipps made was and what that might imply for the presuppositional method of apologetics to which Whipps adheres. The comment was uncalled for, but made for a powerful rhetorical device.

Whipps responded by pointing out that unlike what Date had claimed concerning a popular Van Tilian phrase, Whipps had in fact presented an argument. Which is true. It may not have been a convincing argument for Date, but it would have been more helpful for him to spend his time explaining why rather than scoffing at the quality of said argument.

That argument, by the way, was formed over the course of several months of hard work on the part of Whipps. He addressed Date’s entire case on Choosing Hats prior to the debate, and told Date everything that he would be saying. When Whipps mentioned that Date had not responded to any of this material in his opener, Date used the common ploy of emphasizing that it was his opener and not his rebuttal. Date’s tactic would be perfectly valid in most debate contexts, but that is not what Whipps meant, and I suspect Date knew it.

Rather, Date had repeated his opening statement almost verbatim from a previous debate and not taken any of the responses Whipps posted into account in his opener. Obviously, Date did not have to make an argument for Whipps. So Date got the debate point. He just failed to make it seem like he cared at all about the truth that the debate was about.

Date also objected to what Whipps was hoping to accomplish when Date alluded to the length of the work Whipps had done prior to the debate. He said he was going to address what came up in the debate, and do the exegetical work, and the like. But interestingly enough, Date’s attempt to justify himself in not addressing the reams of material that Whipps produced before the debate did not apply when it came to quotes that Date had mined from what Whipps wrote in an IRC chat channel.

Now, I happen to know that Whipps never actually leaves that channel, because he has multiple devices either logging information or allowing him access even while he is working on other business. How many hours did someone waste watching Whipps in an Internet chat channel for Date to pull his quotes from there rather than the posts Whipps wrote for Choosing Hats? Date should be a bit embarrassed for that remark.

Again, I realize that Whipps should have brought some of his referenced work into the debate. I already gave Date his point. But I am more interested in the truth of the matter. There is only so much one can talk about in the context of a debate, and hurried exegetical work has its downfalls. It would have been a remarkable feat for Whipps to address Date’s opening spread of texts in the debate itself and still have time left over to go into other difficulties with Date’s view. Actually, it would have been impossible.

And so for good or ill Whipps took the approach he did. Whipps addressed some of the texts Date mentioned, and cited the earlier work he had done on all of them. He also noted that the hinge pin of Date’s exegetical argument was the meanings of the terms and their place in relation to one another and the whole counsel of God.

Whipps also recognized the dangers of knowing only a little language. His respect for the languages precludes him from taking his chances with making linguistic and thus exegetical errors like Date did. For example in a hurried smattering of texts Date talked about a, “deverbal result noun: a noun referring to the results of its corresponding verb” with respect to “punishment.” But see TurretinFan’s crucial correction here – http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2012/06/punishment-is-deverbal-manner-verb.html.

There is much more to be said about the debate. I have commented mostly on methodology, general themes, and style. Its more specific content certainly deserves a much closer look. The difference between the way the two men interpret Scripture in terms of the Old and New Testaments is especially important to this debate. A historical theological argument might have been of some use as well. But we are all limited in terms of what can be said during the course of debate.

Not surprisingly, Date has resolved to go on teaching about annihilationism, using his experiences with the topic as a layperson to reach others with the teaching. He still considers himself Reformed, though he disagrees with the vast majority of Reformed authors as well as the creeds and confessions which touch upon the subject of hell, justifying himself by noting how few lines there are on hell in comparison to the entirety of the aforementioned documents. Sadly, he confusingly promotes a version of what I have elsewhere called hyper-Protestantismhttp://www.choosinghats.org/2012/04/why-we-should-be-reformed-catholic, falsely believing that in protesting against the doctrines so adamantly defended by the Protestant Reformers he is joining their cause. However, he makes the exception that he, unlike them, and unlike the vast majority of all other Christians in history, is not blinded to the truth of annihilationism. He claims they have been blinded by their traditions while saying that the terms “traditionalist” and “traditionalism” are not intended to be pejoratives. Okay. Of course, Date does not let any of these ridiculous thoughts bother him either. Instead, he assures his listeners and readers that there is another mini-reformation coming our way. He claims to have spoken to a number of pastors in private who affirm the doctrine, but will not name them. He honestly believes that annihilationism will come to be accepted by the majority of Christians in the near future. And why not? He considers himself to have been chosen by God as one of the people who will help bring about this “reformation.” Date reminds me of a New Atheist. If you put yourself into the position of thinking about the future like a New Atheist does, then you will find that it makes sense to say that in the future, religion will die, and the majority of people will be atheists. Of course I am just using this analogy as an illustration.

So you have a pious layperson who boasts that he does not have any formal higher education and does not hold any official ministerial position. He will not listen to others. He claims to be a member of a particular theological persuasion while rejecting some of its most significant claims and teaching others to do likewise. He does so because he believes himself to have been called by God to help others see an allegedly biblical truth that only a handful of questionable groups and cults have ever held. He claims that the church, throughout history, has been blinded by zeal and traditionalism with respect to this great truth. He assures his followers that there is another reformation coming where people will begin to accept the truth God revealed to him and then the church will have its blindness lifted so that she comes to believe the same thing he does. It has already begun to happen, as he has personally spoken to pastors who are deceptively hiding their belief in this great truth from their unsuspecting congregations. And now he has banded together with some of his followers and others who hold the same view as he does to bring about this radical change in the Christian church.

If Chris Date wants to have you over for Kool Aid, kindly decline the invitation.

While we are on the topic of armchair sociological and historical theological observations allow me to predict what will happen with Chris Date from here on out. He will lose a lot of his listeners and readers as they begin to realize that he is leaving the reservation. He will become less interested in other theological topics and more focused upon the topic of annihilationism. It will dominate his thinking and will show in all of his material. It will destroy his balance with respect to other topics. Expect more questionable teachings. Believe me that this all saddens me, but I have seen it before, and I have reason to believe it will happen here again. Pray that I am wrong, and pray that Date will become aware of what he is doing and repent.


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