Bethrick Responds (Part 1 of 3)

After my recent post responding to the charges against Christianity by Dawson Bethrick, he shortly thereafter posted a response on his blog. Now, I do not intend to engage in a drawn-out blog war. Neither it is my desire to reply to all of Bethrick’s comments. I apologize for the length of this entry; yet hope that it will be found helpful as an exercise in applied apologetics.

Bethrick in his response, quotes me as having said:

But, when the Bible uses terms like “eternal life” [it] speaking more of the quality of life.

It is? Why doesn’t it say “better life” instead of “eternal life”?

The Biblical authors are free to use whatever terms they prefer as long as they contextually define their terms. In this case, they do. I have provided several examples which we left unaddressed. Simply because an alternative phrasing is possible, doesn’t make it necessary. Eternal life is life forever in God’s blessed presence for Christians, and Bethrick nowhere makes the distinctions necessary between Christians and non-Christians, a point that Steve Hays in his response, notes.

He then quotes me as saying:

So, while those who are judged in eternity will never cease to exist, biblically speaking, they do not have “eternal life.”

His reply:

So, the human soul lives eternally, or it doesn’t. Which is it? Pick a position and stick with it. Meanwhile, the New Testament is pretty consistent with itself in affirming belief in an eternal afterlife.

I admit that I should not have written the words, “the souls of man are eternal.” But, I did explain what I was rejecting by defining the term. I agree that the Bible is consistent in affirming that eternal life is “that they know” the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [God] ha[s] sent.” (Click here to see an ESV search for the usage of the phrase “eternal life.”) John 3:36 is an excellent example of the Biblical distinction.

Bethrick rejects my explanation regarding the sacredness of life stemming from our creation as the image of God and says:

How does that make life “sacred? And what exactly is this “image of God” that we are “created in”? The god of the bible is said to be supernatural, infinite, omniscient, everpresent, infallible, omnipotent, incorruptible, indestructible, perfect, etc. It is as inhuman as one could imagine. After all, in contemplating what believers tell us about the god they worship, imagination is all we have to go on.

Please notice that Bethrick only speaks here of what theologians call the incommunicable attributes of God (i.e. descriptions of God that cannot be shared by humans). Of course, we do not share every attribute of God. If we did, we would be God. But, we are not gods, we are images of God, finite representations of the Creator. God is personal, and we share personalistic characteristics with Him such a love, thought, feelings, etc. God’s love is not identical to our own, but we must keep in mind that we should never flip the representative principle on its head. God is not made in our image, we are made in His. If we simply chose the attributes of another person that we did not share we could never find commonality with anyone! Despite our common gene-pool, I could say that my brother and I do not share a common humanity because we have different color hair, skin, and eyes. Likewise, we have different heights and weights, not to forget different names!

He then asks,

How does one “slander” that which is supernatural, infinite, omniscient, everpresent, infallible, omnipotent, incorruptible, indestructible, perfect, etc.?

How? Because, from a Christian worldview (rooted in Scripture), God is personal. He has thoughts, desires, and feelings. So, in a similar fashion to the way I could slander Bethrick because he is a person, so I could slander God. This is standard Christian theology and can be found in all branches of Christianity (whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox). Despite what Bethrick may think is appropriate for Christians to believe about God, keep this maxim in mind, “Logic is not a substitute for exegesis.” Of course, this in no way demeans the important place of logic in our thinking.

Bethrick then continues to, in a word, complaint about how God runs the world. God allowed lots of people to die in a number of natural disasters, etc. But there is no argument here, only the implication that since he doesn’t like the way God runs the world then He must not exist. But surely this doesn’t follow. Simply because we don’t like something doesn’t rule out it’s existence. I really don’t like sardines. I really don’t like them. Does it therefore follow that since I don’t like eating them that they do not exist? Of course not.

His questions continue:

Was not Abraham, a man whose faith is held up as a model for all believers in Hebrews 11:17, expected by his god to be willing to kill his son, Isaac? The story in Genesis nowhere shows that he was unwilling to do so. Was Jesus not expected to be willing to die?

Notice how Bethrick repeatedly raises the Abraham story as proof that we should be willing to kill. But those who have read the story know that Abraham did not kill Isaac. Nor did God actually want him to kill Isaac. Scripture itself refers to this incident as a test for Abraham’s faith. Isaac was the child of promise, the very promises that God Himself swore with His life to accomplish (that’s what’s going on in Gen. 15:17). Abraham knew that God would, somehow (!), use Isaac to bring about His covenant promises to Abraham. In fact, the epistle to the Hebrews says this very thing (Heb. 11:17-19).

If Bethrick complains that here I assume the unity of scripture, I will simply point out that it is he, not I, that states in large letters on his blog that the purpose of his blog is to post “criticisms of Presuppositionalism.” For those of you who do not know, “Presuppositionalism” is a form of Christian apologetics. For more info on this click here. But, the point here is that if Bethrick is criticizing presuppositionalism, a method of evangelical apologetics (that seeks to defend Christian theology) that argues on the basis of the unity of scripture, then he ought to criticize just that, and not move the goal posts, so to speak, and attack the unity of scripture. There are plenty of written defenses of the unity of the Testaments, and to rewrite this would simply be trying to reinvent the wheel. Bethrick then says:

..the question I asked in my blog was directed to Christians.

Maybe it was directed to Christians. But that is entirely beside the point. His actual statement was “For the 32 victims and the gunman who ‘died’ on Monday, their lives did not really end. They just passed on to the next stage.” Thus Bethrick is making a statement about the victims of the VT shootings. And, it’s not a stretch to assume that the majority of the victims were not Christians. It seems as if Bethrick is forgetting his original statements in an attempt to defend himself.

On another note, Bethrick makes a point of correcting the typos in my original post. I have no problem with his pointing this out. In fact, I thank him for such correction. Of course, it should also be noted that the chief issues that needed to be responded to were my arguments, not my grammar. I have since corrected the original post, though I believe he, as a responsible adult, had no difficulty in grasping my intended meaning. He then says:

And what of Cho Seung Hui and his actions? “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” says Van Til (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). It’s all an inevitable part of God’s plan.Were Cho Seung Hui’s actions evil? The question is irrelevant, given what Christianity teaches. Why? Because “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” writes Bahnsen (Always Ready, p. 172).

And quotes me as saying:

Does the Bible teach that God controls all things, including the sinful actions of humans? Absolutely (Eph. 1:11).

His response?

Okay, good. So I got another point right.

Given the qualifications of my original post, it seems as if, once again, Bethrick’s fervor is causing him to ignore context. Christian doctrines do not hang in isolation from one another. (Assuming the unity of divine revelation, which I do) every doctrine is in some way related to every other Christian belief (even when it’s difficult to see). As Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen used to say, “Christianity is a unit.”

Next we’ll look at the second half of Bethrick’s reply. I didn’t want to make this post too long.

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Posted on April 24, 2007, in Applied Apologetics. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great response Joe. Some years ago, I did a six part response to the book: Atheism: A Case Against God. I think you can find on my blog when you do a search. However, I found out that Bahnsen had debated the author, then I felt foolish. I thought to myself, the atheist has already been humiliated…I don’t need to write anything else.

  2. isn’t it great that we all can have the same right to make a post now and the same right to have it read by others now too?

    http://witnessed.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/fundamental-evangelical-and-supposedly-professing-christian-critics/

  3. There is an interesting relevant thread over at BackReaction about Dawkins’ The God Delusion and related subjects. My basic rebuttal of his idea is that the ultimate reality doesn’t need to be a complex being, a “mechanism” in any sense. It is mechanisms that need guiding ideas, not ideas (like that life should exist etc.) or even Mind that needs mechanisms.

    BTW where is that cityscape, presumably real?

  4. “Was Jesus not expected to be willing to die?”

    A word to Bethrick…

    A willingness to die does not equate a willingness to kill.

    King James Bible – claims Jesus Christ said…

    “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

    so be HARMLESS as doves would mean not to KILL

    not to mention one of the Ten Commandments, “Though shalt not kill/murder”

    One might also consider who the serpents are in “wise as serpents” not to mention the wolves.

    Perhaps we should be willing to defend our lives but chances are if we live by the sword, we will die by it. I would prefer finding a path towards, and any means to avoid having blood on my hands. may Peace and truth and compassion win.

  5. chuckhowington

    We sow the seed.Some one else waters. But God gives the increase. Jesus said my sheep hear my voice and they follow Me. And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than me, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Fathers hand. I and my Father are one. God is the one who said I GIVE THEM ETURNAL LIFE AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH.

    I BELIEVE GOD!!! If anyone believes in HIS name they shall have ETURNAL LIFE.

    IN HIS GRIP

    CHUCK HOWI

  6. Great article and solid responses. I take great comfort in Jesus’ words in John’s gospel, where he says “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.” Perhaps Mr. Bethrick is being drawn and, as of yet, does not know it. I have more than a few friends who once were ardent challengers of the faith, but are now firmly in the fold. The passion of their former resistance was somehow a part of God’s “drawing.”

  1. Pingback: Kristen M. Watson at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Burlington « Marc Awodey’s Art Blog

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