Reprinted from the Firm Foundation....
The Dobbs-Till Debate
On May 23-26, 1993, H. A. (Buster) Dobbs, Christian, and Farrell Till, atheist,
engaged in a public debate in Portland, Texas. The debate was conducted as part of the
First Gulf Coast Lectures sponsored by the Portland Church of Christ.
The debate was about the deity of Jesus. Dobbs affirmed: "Fulfilled prophecy of the
Old Testament proves Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God." Till affirmed: "The New
Testament claims of prophecy fulfillment in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth
were fabrications or misapplications of Old Testament Scripture."
The format of the debate was unusual. It was agreed that the negative speaker
could call a stoppage of his allotted time at any time during his speech and ask his oppon-
ent any number of questions. The affirmative disputant was given a maximum of two
minutes to answer each question. At the conclusion of the questions, time-keeping was
then resumed, and the balance of the time evenly divided between the speakers. This
made for numerous very interesting exchanges that would not have taken place otherwise.
Brother Dobbs forced Mr. Till to agree to the fact that he (Till) has no hope beyond
the grave whatsoever. When asked what he thought about the Judgment, Mr. Till replied
that "he never thinks about it." However, at least for a brief time during the debate, broth-
er Dobbs, with great effect, forced him to think about it.
The debate was marked by good attendance at each session. Some denom-
inationalists attended, and three or four atheists were present. One of them made it a point
to walk out during the closing prayer each evening.
Brother Dobbs did a creditable job of defending and expounding the Scriptures. It
is likely that no minds were changed by the debate as is often the case in such proceedings.
However, it is good for God's people to cover such ground again, hear assaults on the faith
from a live enemy, and think through such assaults and the answers to them again. The
debate is available in both audio and video tape formats.
(Dub McClish's address is 908 Imperial Drive, Denton, TX 76201.)
Thoughts on the "Final Judgment"
As indicated in the foregoing review of the Dobbs-Till Debate was originally pub-
lished in the Firm Foundation, a monthly paper that Mr. Dobbs himself is the editor of.
Usually, reviews of debates published in Church-of-Christ papers revel in the great victory
for truth that was scored by Brother Whoever, so the rather subdued tone of this review is
quite remarkable and undoubtedly more telling than the author, Dub McClish, would will-
ingly admit. Mr. McClish is doctrinally aligned with the guardian-of-the-faith watchdogs in
the Church of Christ who constantly plead for a return to the "old paths" in opposition to a
growing effort in the church to moderate its hard-line fundamentalist position. Mr. Mc-
Clish also attended each session of the debate, so if he had seen anything in Dobbs's per-
formance to gloat about, surely he would have exploited it. As it was, he had to confine the
praise for his side to an unenthusiastic comment about the effective way that Dobbs had
forced me to think about the final judgment.
This is not to say that no one in McClish's corner has praised Dobbs's performance
in the debate. In personal correspondence to me, Lindell Mitchell, whose article appears
on pages 4-5 in this issue, informed me that Dobbs had "spanked [my] britches" and re-
duced my arguments to "utter ruin." He did not attend the debate, so I assume that he
formed this opinion from having viewed the tapes or else from a process of wishful think-
ing. In the total absence of evidence to prove the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible,
many fundamentalists apparently believe that fervently wanting it to be the infallible word
of God will somehow make it so. It isn't surprising, then, that someone with this kind of
mind-set could find reason to believe that the evasive tactics and straw-man antics that
Dobbs resorted to in the debate constituted "spanking my britches" and reducing my
arguments to "utter ruin."
Is it fair to say that Mr. Dobbs resorted to straw-man antics? Well, the issue in the
debate was prophecy fulfillment. Mr. Dobbs signed on to affirm that "fulfilled prophecy of
the Old Testament proves Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God," but the tapes of the debate
will show that he spent a disproportionate amount of time attacking my despicable atheism
and philosophy of despair. Advertisements of the video tapes in the Firm Foundation have
boasted that "(t)he degrading nature of atheism was clearly shown by brother Dobbs." I
emphatically dispute this claim. Mr. Dobbs repeatedly proclaimed the degrading nature of
atheism, but he by no means clearly showed that it is degrading. Fundamentalists seem to
have great difficulty recognizing the difference in saying that a thing is true and in proving
that it is true. Undoubtedly this explains why Mr. Dobbs and his audience of sympathizers
seemed to believe that he had proven his proposition by simply showing that the Bible says
that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
Now comes Dub McClish to tell us that "for a brief time during the debate, brother
Dobbs, with great effect, forced [me] to think about" the final judgment. After I had read
this review, I wrote Mr. McClish to inform him that he was mistaken. Dobbs did not force
me to think about the final judgment. As McClish reported in his review, Dobbs merely
asked me what I thought about the judgment, and my reply was that "I never think about it."
At that moment, the biblical doctrine of the final judgment was necessarily in my mind;
otherwise, my brain could not have processed the question and answered it. As soon as my
answer was given, however, all thoughts of a "final judgment" passed from my mind, so my
answer to the question still stands. In the sense of lying awake at night worrying about it or
going through my daily activities with nagging thoughts about it on my mind, I never think
about having to stand before some kind of infinite deity in what Christians call a "final
Does this mean that I do in some sense think about it? Well, of course, I "think"
about it in that it is obviously a biblical doctrine, so since I spend considerable time study-
ing the Bible, I necessarily encounter passages that teach the concept of a final judgment.
That, however, is the total extent to which I think about "final judgment." I personally
regard the doctrine as just another of the many absurdities in the Bible. It is a finely honed
fear tactic that religionists use to keep the superstitious in line, but there is no proof what-
soever that any such event will ever occur. The idea of a final judgment is a Persian con-
cept that the Jews apparently encountered during their Babylonian captivity. It is fre-
quently proclaimed in the New Testament, but so are numerous other untestable and,
therefore, unprovable claims. The virgin birth of Jesus his divinity, his resurrection, his
ascension--all of these are proclaimed in the New Testament, along with the doctrine of a
final judgment, but the truth of these assertions rests entirely on the word of a bunch of
religious mystics, living in highly superstitious times, who claimed that they were inspired of
God. How much credence can rational people give to such claims? In my case, not much
at all, which is why I don't sit around worrying about a final judgment.
For the sake of agument, however, let's just grant two claims that the fundamentalist
side has made about the Portland debate: (1) Dobbs very clearly showed the degrading
nature of atheism, and (2) Dobbs, with great effect, forced me to think about the final
judgment. Even with those concessions, what has the opposition proven, for the debate was
about neither atheism nor the final judgment? It was about the issue of prophecy fulfill-
ment. The record will show that Dobbs in no way sustained his belief that prophecy ful-
fillments proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God. He hardly even addressed the
issue. If Dub McClish wishes to see that as "a creditable job of defending and expounding
the Scriptures," I guess he is entitled to do so, but he is sadly mistaken if he thinks I spent
any time during the debate--or since--thinking about the final judgment.