Desperate Apologists for the NAR: Dembski and Qureshi Put Their Faith in Bentley and Bethel

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Mike Tyson

While scripture demands that every believer always be ready to make a defense for his hope in Christ, the most polished defenses of the Christian worldview are expected to come from professional Christian apologists. These men spend their careers obtaining graduate-level educations in fields such as theology, mathematics, philosophy, and science and carefully crafting air-tight arguments to refute the constant attacks hurled upon Christ’s church by naturalists, cultists, pagans, and secularists. They spend hour after hour each year preparing for and engaging in formal debates against the most vociferous and vicious detractors of the Christian faith. They author book after book hoping that their readers will be equipped to articulate and defend a Christian worldview. Unfortunately, the brightest of the bright are just as susceptible to suffering the slings and arrows of this fallen world as any Christian. Amidst the groaning of creation, even the finest tailored argument for theodicy can echo hollow when one is hit in the mouth with intense suffering or the looming prospect of an untimely death. Tragedy can cause even the most intellectually grounded Christian apologist to act foolishly, thereby causing onlookers to wonder if his entire body of work consists of nothing more than the specious musings of a terribly naive man. Consider the sad cases of William Dembski and Nabeel Qureshi.

Dr. William Dembski is a Princeton-educated theologian who holds PhDs in science and mathematics from the University of Chicago. He has held teaching positions at Baylor University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Evangelical Seminary as well as a fellowship at the Discovery Institute. He is widely known as a proponent of Intelligent Design and outspoken critic of Darwinism. However, in 2008, he also gained notoriety for taking his family to an “impartation service” put on by notorious NAR “faith healer” Todd Bentley. Dembski hoped that his severely autistic son would be healed of his infirmity. However, his son was unable to even approach Bentley (supplicants with wheelchairs were preferred). In the end, Dembski apparently saw Todd Bentley for what he truly was, a charlatan. However, by even choosing to optimistically attend a Todd Bentley event, Dembski opened himself and his scientific prowess up to criticism. In opposing Darwinism from a “scientific” perspective, Dembski was going against the grain of what was accepted in the academy. How did Dembski come across to skeptical naturalists when he sought out the miracle services of clear fraud such as Todd Bentley?

Bentley is a known friend and associate of Bill Johnson, Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. (Bentley was one of multiple NAR leaders invited to endorse Johnson’s 2003 book, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide To A Life of Miracles.)  Both are self-described “Apostles” and are considered to be a proponent of the New Apostolic Reformation. Miraculous manifestations of glory clouds, gold dust, angel feathers, and fire tunnels have been claimed at Bethel Church, which is also famous for it’s “healing rooms” and the practice of “grave-sucking”. A youth leader at Bethel claimed that Jesus once asked him for forgiveness. Among educated and informed orthodox Christians, Bethel Church is considered something of a dangerous cult. Yet Christian apologist and scholar, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, recently sought to travel to Bethel for his own healing. Quershi is a medical doctor who has received theological training from Biola, Duke, and Oxford. He formerly toured with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to speak about his radical conversion from Islam and Christianity. (He was once arrested in Dearborn, Michigan while preaching to that city’s extensive Muslim population.)

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 nabeel-warned

Unfortunately, Qureshi was recently diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. It is this illness that has led Qureshi to seek out healing at Bethel Church. Despite being a Christian scholar and medical doctor, Qureshi has given credence to Bethel Church. Qureshi claims to have converted from Islam to Christianity after experiencing a vivid dream of Jesus. How will he (and his “visions story”) now look to doubting Muslims when he considers credible the false manifestations of God and the Holy Spirit touted by Bethel Church?

Most people reading this will never know what it’s like to have a severely disabled child or face death from the scourge of cancer. Both Dembski and Qureshi deserve prayers and sympathy. Qureshi, especially, is under immense pressure and hardship. Both men are tragic examples of how desperation can damage a Christian witness or even cause one to lead others into error. Often Christian apologists are accused having a purely intellectual faith and trying to “argue people into the kingdom” while ignoring the essential role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. An even worse, though less leveled, accusation is that apologists don’t believe in the product that they are selling. In other words, they don’t even believe their own arguments but carry on rather like Geoffrey Chaucer’s Pardoner character, telling believers whatever they want to hear in order reap a financial harvest. When we see professional apologists so desperate that they seek out charlatans and false teachers such as Todd Bentley and Bethel Church, the Pardoners of our day, we can only feel sympathy for them and their followers.  Too many people are punched in the mouth by this world and find themselves being helped to their feet by charismatic hucksters instead of the true body of Christ.  Let Christians never grow weary of exposing such hucksters so that the most vulnerable among us are not sucked into their grasp during their weakest hour.

UPDATE.  SINCE THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED, QURESHI HAS POSTED THE FOLLOWING COMMENTARY ON HIS FACEBOOK WALL:

“Okay, so this morning I have discovered that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are concerned that I would go to Bethel Church for prayer. Although I’ve looked into Bethel and Johnson in the past, I did not realize reservations about Bethel were so widespread, so this morning I’ve been doing some more research. Here’s my take on Bethel so far (I have to get going for now, I’m speaking at a conference this afternoon):

If the reports are true (and I don’t know if they are) there are indeed some weird things happening at Bethel Church (e.g. people flailing around, angel feathers falling from above, gold dust filling rooms, etc.) But I’ve spent hours searching for and reading articles critiquing Bill Johnson and the church, specifically looking to see if they preach heretical teachings, and I have found none.

Of all the articles I read and videos I watched, the one that seemed to do the best job of remaining emotionally removed and critiquing Bill Johnson’s christology with a clear mind was this one: https://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/bill-johnsons-christology-a-new-age-christ and I have to say, once again, I did not find anything necessitating an accusation of heresy.

The charge leveled against Johnson is that he believes Jesus was just a human empowered by the Holy Spirit, and therefore that He was not God incarnate. The evidence is a variety of Johnson quotes, demonstrating that Johnson believes Jesus performed his miracles “as a man, laying aside his divinity in order to become a model for us.” My response to the charge is this: the belief that Jesus emptied himself and became a man, thereby performing His miracles in His capacity as a human, is not a heretical belief; it is a fair exegesis of Philippians 2.5-7 and corroborating verses like John 14.12. The belief that Jesus was not divine during his time on earth would be a heretical belief, but Johnson never says that. Every attempt is made to imply that Johnson believes that, but I see no quotation from him either explicitly stating that or necessitating that.

In addition, an attempt is made to impute something like adoptionism to Johnson, that His divine capacities were imbued to him at his baptism. This would be heretical, but once again, Johnson never says that explicitly either, nor do his statements necessitate that. In addition, to assert that he teaches divine adoptionism at Baptism while also teaching that he did all his miracles as a human makes very little sense.

I appreciate your concerns, brothers and sisters, but understand where I’m coming from: I’ve received so many criticisms (hundreds, if not thousands) from people who misunderstood me and falsely imputed beliefs to me that I am very hesitant to do the same to others. Armchair critics of active ministers (and I’m not saying you are armchair critics, but there are many, and they tend to be vocal), in my mind, are extremely damaging to the church. Unless the heresy is clear and explicit, I will not give voice to such accusations. I certainly will not criticize other Christians just for doing things that I wouldn’t do, things that might seem “weird”. I’m very hesitant to denounce other ministries, and I think we all should be.

I hope this makes sense to you. I really appreciate your concern and continued prayers. God be with you all, brothers and sisters.”

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church to which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Seth Dunn

Editor at Pulpit & Pen
Host of the Christian Commute Podcast
Member, Evangelical Theological Society
@gsethdunn

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