by Peter Ditzel
On 3/19/2008, Dr. Ella sent me the following email:
Dear Peter, I have been very ill for some time and away at my son’s in the north of Germany. Back here, I am still in great pain. For the next week, I shall be busy preparing for the New Focus Conference where (God willing) I shall give two lectures on the Heroes of the North. I must also finish my update and extention of my new edition of Law and Gospel in the Theology of Andrew Fuller by then. However, as things stand, I am not fit enough to travel. I shall come back to you at the beginning of April. I feel that I have already covered your questions in my articles but, as the adage goes, ‘If you do not succeed at first, try, try and try again.’ I did prepare two further lengthy rebuttals of your points and sent them off but was advised not to proceed as there was obviously too great a chance of rancour raising its ugly head. Your latest letter put such fears on my part at bay.
Yours in grace,
I immediately responded with the following:
Dear George, I am sorry to hear of your illness. I hope that you will somehow find the time to rest despite your busy schedule. Please do not feel obligated to respond until you have recovered and have the time. You will be in our prayers.
Dr. Ella never replied, and I assumed he was either too ill or too busy to do so. At about this time (I don’t remember just when, nor do I seem to have any record of when), Michael Lyman, pastor of City on a Hill Baptist Church in Tennessee, sent me a set of lectures Dr. Ella had given at his church a few years before. I asked Michael if he was going to put them on his website. He said he would like to have them online, but he did not have the technical expertise to do it. So, it was decided that I would put them on wordofhisgrace.org. I had no problem with this, especially considering that Dr. Ella’s last email was less vitriolic than his first two. But I did have reservations about putting Dr. Ella’s talk, “John Gill and Justification from Eternity,” on the site without a rebuttal. Thus, I wrote one and put it online when I uploaded the talks. While my rebuttal is frank, I was careful to not include rancor or personal remarks. Considering Dr. Ella’s state of health, I did not want to bother him with a personal email, but figured that as he recovered and got out and about, he would probably come to hear of my rebuttal and, when he could, resume our email exchange. This did not happen.
Despite the fact that Dr. Ella said he would get back to me when well enough and he had the time, he did not. What he did instead was to write and publish on his site an article, “Peter Ditzel on Justification” that misleads his readers about what I said and gives them the false impression that my rebuttal is a confused mix of poor philosophy, illogic, alterations of the Authorized Version, and false accusations. If anyone cares to read my rebuttal and then compare it with Dr. Ella’s article, I leave them to judge whether what Dr. Ella wrote fairly represents what I said in my rebuttal article. As just one example among many I could cite, Dr. Ella writes, “In his final complaint, Ditzel accuses me of misrepresenting John Murray by quoting his words, ‘Justification is not the eternal decree of God with respect to us.’” But what I said was, “Something that must be addressed in this article is the fact that Dr. Ella in his talk most obviously misinterprets John Murray. I don’t want to be misunderstood here as either defending John Murray or of accusing Dr. Ella of purposefully misrepresenting John Murray’s position.” “Misinterpret” and “misrepresent” have two entirely different meanings (with “misrepresent” usually including the intent to deceive), and I specifically said I did not want to be misunderstood as accusing Dr. Ella of misrepresenting John Murray’s position—the very thing Dr. Ella accuses me of doing.
Also on Dr. Ella’s site is a two-part article, “Covenant Theology as Seen by the NCT,” which begins with these inflammatory sentences: “Peter Ditzel, whose attempt to distort Peter Meney’s and my own doctrine of justification was dealt with in the last issue, belongs to the latter day New Covenant Theology group of para-church movements. These have radically altered their common beliefs of some dozen years ago and are now expanding their Marcionite dualistic vision from their various contradictory views of the Covenant into all areas of theology. They are now winning recruits from once staunch holders of Presbyterian covenant views such as The Founders Ministries who have brought new variations with them.” Notice that Dr. Ella accuses me of holding to Marcionite dualism. Marcionism was the belief that the God of the Old Testament was a different and lower God from the God of the New Testament. It rejected the God of Israel, the Old Testament, and even much of the New Testament (its canon consisted of an edited version of the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles). To accuse me of this heresy is defamatory and slanderous and totally irresponsible for a man who is supposed to be a scholar. It is also an utterly ridiculous lie that is unbecoming of a Christian.
As soon as I found out about these articles, I wrote to the following email to Dr. Ella:
When you last corresponded with me in March 2008, you told me you were very ill. I hope you have recovered.
It has now been brought to my attention that you have some articles on your website, evangelica.de, in which you mention me. The two primary ones are “Peter Ditzel on Justification” and “Covenant Theology as Seen by the NCT.” While not at all agreeing with your assessment in the former of what I wrote in “A Rebuttal to George M. Ella’s “John Gill and Justification from Eternity'”, it is the latter article that I am especially concerned with.
You begin “Covenant Theology as Seen by the NCT” by saying, “Peter Ditzel, whose attempt to distort Peter Meney’s and my own doctrine of justification was dealt with in the last issue, belongs to the latter day New Covenant Theology group of para-church movements. These have radically altered their common beliefs of some dozen years ago and are now expanding their Marcionite dualistic vision from their various contradictory views of the Covenant into all areas of theology.”
Since an attempt is a purposeful action, you therefore begin your article by accusing me of purposefully attempting to distort Peter Meney’s and your doctrine of justification. This is a defamatory statement. You have no evidence to back it up. Indeed, it would be impossible to have such evidence because the statement is not true.
You may certainly say that I misunderstood your doctrine, and I may take another look and either agree or not agree. This is scholarly debate. But to say that I made an “attempt to distort” your doctrine is to accuse me of a purposeful deceit and, thus, to say that I am a deceiver, a liar. This is slander.
In the next sentence, you group me together with others and say we are expanding our “Marcionite dualistic vision.” This statement implies that I am a Marcionite. As a theologian and historian and biographer of the Christian church, you certainly should know that Marcionism is named after the second century heretic, Marcion. I think that anyone who understands the beliefs of Marcion would agree that the following are his essential doctrines:
1. He believed in two gods, distinguishing between the creator and redeemer god.
2. He rejected the God of the Old Testament as an inferior demiurge.
3. In rejecting the God of the Old Testament, he rejected the Old Testament.
4. He rejected much of the New Testament—his canon consisted of an edited version of the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles.
On the other hand, I am on record as believing:
1. One God: “God is a Trinity of three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (“Why Christians Believe in the Trinity“).
2. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament (evidence of this is throughout my writings—I never distinguish the God of the Old Testament as somehow being different from the God of the New Testament).
3. The Old Testament is a part of the canon of Scripture: “Christians rightly believe that the written Word of God consists of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments;” “The Old Testament Was Written for Our Sakes” (“The Superiority of Jesus Christ and His New Testament Revelation“). Saying that the New Testament is the superior revelation and that New Testament writers interpret the Old Testament is not a rejection of the Old Testament, and it is certainly not Marcionism.
4. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are part of the canon of Scripture: “Christians rightly believe that the written Word of God consists of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments” (“The Superiority of Jesus Christ and His New Testament Revelation“). I use all of the New Testament books throughout my writings.
Thus, I am not a Marcionite. I am not even close to being a Marcionite. To include me in a group that you say holds a “Marcionite dualistic vision” is a defamatory statement.
I also want you to know that there would be very little, if anything, that you have said in any of your articles that mention me that I consider to accurately reflect what I actually teach. From what you have said, you also apparently believe that what I have said in “A Rebuttal to George M. Ella’s ‘John Gill and Justification from Eternity’” does not accurately reflect your position. Although I do not agree with this assessment, I am willing to remove that article and all references to you on my website and not mention you there again if you will remove all references to me on your website and not mention me again. Please don’t misconstrue this as a capitulation. It is just that, considering your refusal to discuss what I consider to be the real issues in both our email exchange and in your articles and your apparent unwillingness to accurately quote me or summarize what I say, I consider that any further effort in this area would be a waste of time.
But however you consider my offer in the previous paragraph, I do want to stress the following: Your statement accusing me of purposefully attempting to distort Peter Meney’s and your doctrine of justification is defamatory. And your including me in a group that you say holds a “Marcionite dualistic vision” is a defamatory statement. Do you, as a scholar, really want to make such irresponsible statements? Do you, as a Christian, really want to publish unfounded calumnies against my character and reputation?
I request that you retract these statements. I would not construe your doing so to be any sort of admission or agreement with me.
So that this is not something that sits for any length of time, I will expect an answer by April 12. If this is not enough time, then please at least send me a suggested alternative date by April 12. Please also know that I am NOT interested in debate. That moment is past and was a waste of time.
On 4/5/2012, Dr. Ella responded with the following:
Thank you for your enquiry concerning my health. I have had ten operations in all recently, 12 hospitalisations and three rehabilitation clinic periods of three weeks each but am now through God’s grace picking up.
Your letter was a great puzzle to me for several reasons:
1. You refer to your broken off correspondence with me in 2008 and now reply four years later. Yet, though you have taken your time, you demand from me that I reply to your mail before 12 April, giving me a week to reply. Is this fair?
2. You originally questioned the doctrine of Justification from Eternity publically as held by me publically and misrepresented it publically, though obviously not understanding it. Though I replied in public, you did not thereafter explain yourself in public. You remained silent. Now, years after you bombard me with new, strange accusations, though you ignore our original topic which needs settling first. I repeat: my point then was that you had fully misunderstood the doctrine but instead of confessing this and asking me to clarify my terms (which I nevertheless did in later articles), you sought to refute what you did not understand, thus causing more misunderstandings. You still owe me this response, though, admittedly, I did not give you a deadline.
3. I have looked into your web-site regularly over the past few years but found no public explanation of why you rejected my defence. You obviously did not do the same but have been informed by third parties, relying on hearsay which is always questionable. I have, however seen how you have became more and more radical since your all too radical WCG days and are now seeking to drive the NCT likewise to further extremes by adding new doctrines to the list of those you claim are of your faith. Your recent denunciation of your own father-in-the faith Abraham as not being born-again was a pioneer novelty of your own which I have never come across, so worded, in NCT literature before. As Abraham is your father in the faith and you rob him of the new birth, does this mean you are not born again either? The New Testament speaks of the Old Testament faith of Abraham given him by Christ which was his justification and made him your father in the faith as well as mine. I trust you do own Abraham as your father in Christ within the terms Christ and the author to the Hebrews lay down.
4. You say that you do not wish to debate but you have given me a programme for further debate which would last until Kingdom Come, should we both rise to the occasion. This is most confusing. Do you wish to debate or do you not? If we are to debate, however, I suggest we do so on far different irenic grounds.
If you wish to debate, I would expect you to avoid complicating the issue with matters which tie you up with further knots rather than stick to the original point which is not cleared up. I promise to deal with all your other topics point for point, though it will take ages, but as they all develop from your initial criticism which is not yet cleared up, it would be folly to start on new misunderstandings from your side leading from your initial faulty argument. Faulty arguments usually lead to faulty faith and faulty apologetics, witnessed by your letter.
I thus suggest we drop all polemics, rhetoric and hot air in future, which will be difficult but necessary for us both, and keep to the topic of your original attack on Peter Meney and myself and your view of Justification from Eternity which I find un-Biblical and therefore faulty. Your misunderstanding has given rise to your present over-reaction as you build one wrong thought on another initiated by your first mistake. This has given rise to your present letter which merely takes us further away from the matter in hand. Unless you can understand me whom you attack, how can I understand you, the attacker who continues to misunderstand?
Let us therefore, take one step at a time in brotherly cooperation.
As you started this debate on a condemnation of Justification from Eternity as I see it, and you did not, let us clear the air by you stating as concise as possible what you feel is my doctrine. I shall then respond and you are free to respond back. Then we shall mutually work out the pros and cons together. We can then proceed to other topics. The Covenant itself would be of great interest to us both. What do you think?
Yours sincerely in Christ,
George M. Ella
A few hours later, Dr. Ella sent me via email an article he had published, “Christ’s work as Saviour within the Covenant of Grace,” in which he again publicly attacked me and New Covenant Theology.
Copyright © 2012 Peter Ditzel