Debates—particularly those centered around beliefs you affirm—are always tricky to watch; it is incredibly difficult (at least it is for me) to try to listen to an opposing idea without a desire to start picking it apart before it’s even come out of the speaker’s mouth.
The Nightline Face-Off between Mark Driscoll, Annie Lobert, Carlton Pearson & Deepak Chopra was, honestly, no different in that way. But, here are my thoughts, for better or worse:
Mark Driscoll was not at all like the caricature that certainly many Christians are aware of, and how the media presents him (“Pastor Dude,” etc). He generally spoke with a great deal of humility and wisdom. Wins and losses:
- Presented the gospel, clearly and confidently, really taking the debate in the direction it should go, which is looking to Jesus as the answer to our problem with sin, rather than just “getting rid of Satan.”
- Very wisely turned Chopra and Pearson’s arguments against them by calling into question the consistency of their position(s). Using Annie’s story as a launch point, he did a great job showing why the enlightenment v. ignorance argument is a farce.
- During the audience Q&A, Driscoll was actively listening to a woman’s question directed at him (if I remember correctly, it was on whether or not Driscoll was hypocritically judging the beliefs of the opposing side in the debate), asking “are you saying XYZ” before responding. This may seem like a little thing, but it shows he actually cared about answering her question as best as he was able.
- There were some times where I felt like what he said was incomplete, particularly when discussing free will, but I don’t know if that was due to editing or picking appropriate battles given the context of the discussion.
- His weakest statement: The hypothetical punching example. His point was still well-taken, but his tone came off like he was saying “I want to punch you in the mouth,” and Chopra jumped all over it.
Deepak Chopra is a man who likes to sound very intelligent, and does so quite well, but I found that when I actually listen to what he is saying, it is alternately contradictory and condescending. Examples:
- Driscoll explains the creation account according to the Bible, and Chopra responds by first saying that everything Driscoll says contradicts everything we know scientifically about the origins of the universe (big bang, etc.); he then proceeds to say that this doesn’t exclude God… So, if the big bang theory doesn’t exclude the possibility that God created the universe, what is his point?
- I felt his Enlightenment v. Ignorance argument leaves you with two options: You’re either enlightened, and thus incapable of sin—or at least feeling guilty about the sins we commit; or we are ignorant, and thus need to personify your guilt and shame.
- “As soon as you define God, you limit him… he is infinite, transcendent…” There’s an element of truth here that needs to be addressed. When we define God by our own standards, we absolutely limit Him. He is infinite, He is transcendent, but He is also intimate. He is loving (indeed, He is love), but in His love, He also shows us His wrath. That’s what makes the Bible so important for how we can understand God. It is God telling us about Himself, not humanity creating the God of our imaginations.
- “I don’t trust my mind, but I trust my spirit.” This sounds very nice, but in saying you trust your spirit, you are in fact making a judgement with your mind (there’s also the problem of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”)
- In response to Annie’s story, Chopra wrongly says that the six men who raped her all must have been abused themselves in their youths, because no evolved, enlightened person would do such a thing. Even the smallest amount of research can show that this is absolutely not true.
- “Belief is a mask for insecurity.” I think the audience member who tripped him up with the question “Do you believe this?” really said it all.
Annie Lobert is a dear Christian sister with a powerful testimony, and she is doing a great thing through her organization, Hookers for Jesus. However, I found that she, like many of us, gives Satan far too much power, elevating him to a higher degree of authority than he really has (almost to the position of a “counter-god”). I am in no way invalidating her experience, because I know exactly what she’s talking about. Aside from her own testimony, she brought one important point to the discussion: If you try to add to or take away from Scripture, you invalidate it.
Carlton Pearson is an interesting character, and I can understand where he’s coming from, although I profoundly disagree. Pearson was a Pentecostal pastor for a number of years, before he determined that Satan didn’t really exist. And he’s right. The Satan he had been taught about doesn’t exist. He’s not omnipresent, omniscient, nor infinite. Satan is a created being, extremely powerful to be sure, but finite. Again, I understand where he’s coming from because many, particularly Pentecostals, give Satan power and authority on the level of God Himself. In general, I found him to be incredibly patronizing. The statement “If it’s working for you, that’s great” is nothing but insulting and arrogant, simply because it implies that you’re actually a fool for believing as you do.
On the subject of the authority of Scripture, Pearson’s scholarship regarding the historic validity of the Scriptures was nothing short of appalling particularly given that the earliest references to the New Testament documents are found within a few decades of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
His position of cherry-picking the Bible is particularly interesting on two levels: One, you can only do this if you do not see the Scriptures as the inspired, authoritative word of God; two, it makes us need to question how we view the Scriptures in a healthy way. Do you view the entirety of Scripture as God-breathed and profitable or do you see it as inspired of man, and thus you are able to edit or ignore its teaching as you deem fit?
I think we would do well to learn from this example. If the Bible is God’s written, authoritative word as it claims to be, then there is no excuse for not accepting the full counsel of God. So for those who preach, preach the full counsel of God. Preach the hard parts. Preach the confusing parts. Preach God’s love, but also preach the reality that we are God’s enemies without Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
In the end, was this debate worthwhile? Absolutely, with a footnote. This debate was only worthwhile, frankly, because of Mark Driscoll’s presence. Despite Chopra and Pearson’s best efforts, he always brought the debate back to the person it’s really about: Jesus.
Does Satan exist? Yes. But who has defeated Satan?
Does Satan tempt us to sin? Yes. But who has given us the ability to overcome sin and temptation?
Why does this matter?
“We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5;18-20).