Randal Rauser is an associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary. John Loftus is a TEDS graduate, and now former pastor and Christian apologist. In this book, they engage in a spirited debate over the big questions of the faith. Each author was allowed to pick 10 thesis statements that they would argue in the affirmative. Each chapter is then one of these debates, which all follow this pattern:
- Opening Affirmative Statement
- Opening Negative Statement
- Affirmative Rebuttal
- Negative Rebuttal
- Closing Affirmative Statement
- Closing Negative Statement
The opening statements generally take 2-3 pages, the rebuttals 2-3 paragraph, and the final statement is confined to a single paragraph. This makes the overall debates each pretty straight to the point. The authors are presenting well thought out lines of evidence but are doing so for a popular audience in a restricted format (since whole books can, and have been written on each topic).
Arguing for God, here are the 10 topics Randal chose:
- If there is no God, then life has no meaning
- If there is no God, then everything is permitted
- Science is no substitute for religion
- God is the best explanation of the whole shebang
- If there is no God, then we don’t know anything
- Love is a many splendored thing, but only if God exists
- Everybody has faith
- God is found in the majesty of the Hallelujah Chorus
- God best explains the miracles in people’s lives
- Jesus was resurrected, so who do you think raised Him?
On the flipside, here are John’ chosen topics:
- The biblical concept of God evolved from polytheism to monotheism
- The biblical God required child sacrifices for his pleasure
- The biblical God commanded genocide
- The biblical God doe not care much about slaves
- The biblical God does not care much about women
- The biblical God does not care much about animals
- The biblical God is ignorant about science
- The biblical God is an incompetent creator
- The biblical God is an incompetent redeemer
Notice anything here? While John is primarily dealing with problems in the Old Testament, all of his topics are attacks on the doctrine of God. John is a thorough-going modernist and perhaps a bit of an adherent to scientism as well. His primary goal in writing is “to force Christians to think about what they would believe if the Bible itself was undermined as a source of divine truth.” Likewise, his second goal is to deny to argue that a omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent biblical God does not exist (177). Very intriguingly, in the acknowledgements (9), John says this:
When I first went online to discuss my doubt in 2005, I found a particular evangelical forum that treated me with disdain and vitriol simply because I disagreed. I knew most Christians were not like this, but this group poured gasoline on the fires of my passion like nothing else. They provoked me to go for the jugular vein of a faith that could be used to justify their treatment of people like me. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably would have moved on with my life. So I want to acknowledge them for helping to motivate me.
This is a very telling de-conversion story and explains much about how John argues in this book. He comes across like someone who is angry at God and hates everything Christian and is trying his best to use reason to justify his hatred. He marshals some good arguments (in the sense that he is actually familiar with Scripture and Christian theology) but generally speaking, misses the thrust of most of Randal’s reductio ad absurdums.
On the other side, Randal does a really poor job when it comes to the Old Testament. Some of that is probably because of his general theological convictions, but he unequivocally states that he is an evolutionist at one point (130) and wants to allegorize the Joshua narratives (56-58). He basically concedes the case at some points when dealing with Old Testament issues and John rightly calls him on it.
All that being said, there are plenty of things I could highlight positively and negatively with this book. As far as the substance of the arguments, I think they both fall flat in various places (John of course more than Randal). But, when it comes to the format, I think this is a great book. Letting two well equipped debaters go at it in a confined space really works well in my opinion. If you’re looking for an in depth argumentation on any of the topics, you’ll be disappointed. For a popular level audience though, and particularly aspiring apologists, this book is a must have. Rather than simply reading the arguments on either side, this book allows you to read the sides arguing, and for the Christian, see how someone with a theological education who left the faith now argues against it.
It also provides a cautionary tale for dealing with those struggling with doubts. One wonders where John would be if he hadn’t been treated so poorly when he first expressed his concerns. It also shows how atheism, at least the militant kind seems to work. It is not by compelling arguments, but by emotional resolve to disprove Christianity (hence John’s blog title, Debunking Christianity). Hate drives reason, not the other way around.
For the Christian, love should drive reason, and though I don’t think Randal did the best job in many of his arguments, there is a kind of playfulness to his dialogue that is absent in John’s rhetoric. Randal seem concerned for John and seems also to be genuinely enjoying the interchange. Arguments aside, I think most readers will want to be a debater like Randal rather than John, regardless of which side they find themselves on.
- Author: Randal Rauser & John Loftus
- Title: God or Godless? 1 Atheist. 1 Christian. 20 Controversial Questions
- Publisher: Baker Books (April 15, 2013)
- Paperback: 208pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in apologetics, and specifically seeing atheistic arguments against Christianity
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Books)