Stephen Bedard at “Hope’s Reason” reviewed God or Godless. You can read it here. Stephen is a Christian apologist, and director of “Hope’s Reason Ministries”. (Along the way he also acquired three Master’s degrees and is currently working on a DMin.) You might think that means that Stephen is automatically going to side with the Christian.
But it ain’t necessarily so. In fact, some of the Christians who reviewed the book have been among the most hostile and vicious in assessing my arguments. Consider the review of another self-described Christian apologist named “Steven Martins” who reviewed the book on Amazon.ca. He writes:
“They did a great job in nominating John W. Loftus for the atheist side of things, he exhibited great class and professionalism. Randal, however, was quite the opposite. His inability to answer hard and deep questions was embarrasing, [sic] considering I knew the answers to the questions being asked. He would revert to mud-slinging which ultimately robbed him of all class and respectability. Whoever nominated him for this book was purposely seeking to humiliate him.”
Given that this comment was as bizarre and hostile as anything I’ve read from the angriest atheists, I was admittedly intrigued. What kind of Christian apologist would write this? After checking a bit I found Steven’s website where he promotes his apologetics and evangelism organization. Here are his academic credentials as listed here:
“He is a York University graduate with a Bachelor of Human Resource Management, while also holding an Evangelism Diploma with Honours from Ray Comfort’s School of Biblical Evangelism, and a Certificate in Soul-Winning from Reinhard Bonnke’s School of Fire.”
Since I’m a “glass is half full” kind of guy, let me begin with the positive: least we know Steven isn’t fudging on his resumé. However, his lack of education is certainly disturbing. And this is not an ad hominem attack. It concerns the simple matter of proper credentialing (which is relevant). Consider an analogy. Imagine that you want to hire an electrician to do the wiring in your new house.
“What’s your educational background?” you ask.
He replies, “I did an Bachelor of English Literature.”
“Okay, that’s nice if I want to get your interpretation of The Sun Also Rises,” you reply, “but I assume you’ve completed an electrician’s apprenticeship? The certificate of qualification exam?”
“Nah, just the English degree.”
That would be a problem. Indeed, this fellow couldn’t legally work as an electrician in Canada without proper certification. And it is easy to see why. Can you imagine the damage that would be done if anybody could claim to be an electrician with no certification in the relevant background fields of study? And can you imagine how, in such a state, the word “electrician” would be hopelessly marred by the many untrained individuals fiddling with wires and putting themselves and others at risk?
Sadly, there is no proper certification required to call oneself an apologist. Anybody can hang out a shingle and start an “apologetics ministry”. Even if their only formal education is in a field completely unrelated to the subject matter … like “Human Resource Management”.
But the viciousness of this review is not explained by the Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Instead, that presumably comes from the intellectual formation courtesy of Ray Comfort, the infamous apologist whose attitude and style is summarized in one of his book titles: You can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can’t Make Him Think. Quite literally I cannot think of any self-described apologist who has done more damage than Ray Comfort.
Back to Stephen’s review
So anyway, back to Stephen’s review. Stephen was clearly put off by Loftus:
“Loftus brings up many of the standard attacks against Christianity. What really marks his statements is a spirit of anger and bitterness. He seems to have been burned by the church and certain Christians and that seems to drive him more than intellectual reasoning.”
I think it is fair game to convey impressions to the reader in the review. But I wish Stephen had provided some examples from the text where he believed Loftus’ assertions were marred by “anger and bitterness”. Otherwise he leaves himself liable to the charge of rendering mere subjective opinion.
In contrast to Steven, Stephen appreciated my presentation:
“He had some great insights that I had never thought of before. He has a sense of humour and a way of bringing intellectual concepts down to the level that the average person can understand.”
But Stephen wasn’t entirely happy with what I wrote:
“I will confess that I was disappointed by some of his answers to the biblical questions. He expressed his discomfort with some of the teachings of Scripture, which is fine, although there are some responses that could be given.”
I expected this when I wrote my arguments for the book. I knew that some Christians would be disturbed by the fact that I propose Christians don’t have to believe God literally commanded the mass slaughter of civilian populations (though from my perspective I can’t understand that discomfort). Moreover, Stephen’s correct that there is more that can be said on this point. For example, I think highly of Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan’s essay in Holy War in the Bible. You can see my review of the book here. But I also think their approach to the text cannot remove all the critical problems and that something more is required (a something more that one might find in the work of scholars like Kent Sparks, Eric Seibert, or Douglas Earl).
The fact is that discerning “the teachings of Scripture” is not a simple matter. Moreover, as I have argued, we inevitably draw on our moral intuitions when interpreting the text. (See my essay “Reading the Bible informed by conscience.”) Moreover, as an apologist, I think we should never place unnecessary stumbling blocks in the paths of people. And to my mind, obliging Christians to accept that God literally commanded the mass slaughter of civilian populations is the very definition of “unnecessary stumbling block”.
Regardless, I appreciated Stephen’s review, all the more given the contrast effect with Steven’s review.