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.
- The Blind Leading the Blind and Other McGrathian Posts (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- Tim Bulkeley: On the ‘End of Biblical Studies’ Debate (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)