In Which I Respond, For the Last Time, to Hector Avalos

Hector’s new essay in Bible and Interpretation is simply a re-hashing, in my estimation, of previously rehashed ‘atheists can too do biblical studies’ arguments that have been addressed decades ago by none less than Karl Barth.  So here, my final response to Hector (because now we really are at a serious impasse from which we cannot extricate ourselves until he either becomes a Christian or I become an atheist- neither of which seems likely and especially not the latter), will simply be a repetition of Barth’s brilliantly articulated statement (with a dab of Luther for good measure) – applied to the real impossibility of dialogue with militant atheists (and fundamentalists of all stripes, including fundamentalist atheists).

There are three reasons why all planned apologetics and polemics have obviously been irresponsible, irrelevant, and therefore ineffective.  a) In such apologetics faith must clearly take unbelief seriously.  Hence, it cannot take itself with full seriousness.

As Barth rightly notes, granting unbelief recognition means granting it seriousness- and that a seriousness which it does not deserve.  To take it seriously is to denigrate faith.  So to recognize the unbelief (the angry atheism, whether he likes the phrase or not) of Avalos and others is to recognize something unworthy of recognition, since in gazing in the direction of that unbelief one has, for the moment, turned one’s gaze away from faith.

b) In all independently ventured apologetics and polemics there may be discerned the opinion that dogmatics has done its work.

But dogmatics hasn’t had its final say because dogmatics, the articulation of the Christian faith, is ever new because ever new persons are in need of hearing that articulation.   Atheism cannot demand ‘a full accounting’ because none exists, nor can it ever.  And assuming that it does, and can, is to fall into the trap of pride.

c) An independent eristics at least runs the risk that once its task is completed dogmatics will think that its conflict with unbelief has been brought to an end in the form of such prolegomena, and that it will thus lose the necessary awareness of the constant exposure to assault of all its statements.

Theology, and biblical studies, must go their own way without regard for unbelief or they become slaves to the ideology of unbelief and indentured to unbelievers who demand an answer from them when no answer will satisfy unbelief anyway and hence all such efforts are doomed to fail.

Dogmatics requires Christian faith.  Dogmatics is a function of the Christian Church.

And, I would add, so are biblical studies.  Absent Christian faith, neither dogmatics nor exegesis can be or are meaningful.  Avalos may disagree with this, as may others as well, but unless I am shown by plain reason and Scripture that I am in error, I cannot, I will not, alter my view (any more than Avalos is about to alter his).  My presuppositions may be showing, but atheist presuppositions are equally transparent.  So until we can all adopt the very same presuppositions, there’s no point in talking past one another.

I’ll let Luther have the last word- the last provocative word- on the subject (since I think I’ve made my position pretty clear) –

Hence it is a poor and miserable thing that this rabble of sophists opposes [the Gospel].  For what do these poor bats hope to accomplish with their petty flappings?  Let them come!  By the grace of God they have no true learning.  In all these things there is no better counsel than to preach the Gospel simply and purely, praying God that he will direct and lead us.

5 thoughts on “In Which I Respond, For the Last Time, to Hector Avalos

  1. […] is in light of this crappy article that I’m going to reproduce Dr Jim West’s excellent blog post in full, which takes a brutal gander at the reality of the atheist – […]


  2. Niels Peter Lemche 30 Nov 2010 at 11:34 am


    This discussion ended in a cul-de-sac, not being very meaningful. After all you and Avalos are mistaken: This is not about faith; it is about methodology. You and Avalaos should be able to agree on a lot a things as long as you place the method in front. As I wrote in my answer to Avalos, evangelicals have their own ideas about the Bible. These are meaningful — to themselves. We don’t need to care about them. However, if a critical decision is made (or prevented to be made) because of a position of faith, then the person who did not/could not make a critical decision sided with the evangelicals and is in no way entitlet to call him- or herself “critical.”

    The problem will be when a person is dictated by atheist or agnostic ideas to make certain decision because of his own beliefs (anti-beliefs). This is as uncritical as the evangelical who knows in advance what the truth is.


    • Jim 30 Nov 2010 at 11:52 am

      i dont think we (you and i) are that far apart.


  3. […] Hector Avalos describes six ways in which confessional scholars resort to empty rhetoric and vacuous bluster in order to dismiss academic approaches to biblical studies (on Bible and Interpretation). Duane Smith (Abnormal Interests) is essentially in agreement, but points out ways in which Avalos’ points could be made stronger, and also points out a blog response by Jim West (Zwinglius Redivivus) that inadvertently proves Avalos’ case. […]


  4. donsands 1 Dec 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Well posted words. Good encouragement for the heart, which we pilgrims in this dark age need. Thanks for standing on the rock of His Word, and not the sand. Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!


Comments are closed.