Last week ABC’s Nightline Face-Off hosted a discussion on the Existence of Satan. The panelists included Annie Lobert, Bishop Carlton Pearson, Deepak Chopra, and Pastor Mark Driscoll. It was a very intriguing and provocative discussion, but at the end of the show the host concluded by saying, “It is always difficult to have one’s core beliefs challenged, but it is also healthy.” Interestingly enough, I agree. Nothing is, I believe, worse than a firm believer unwilling to engage in intelligent, critical and thorough analysis of his faith. The reason, I would imagine, that so many are afraid to do this is because they either do not believe that the Christian faith can stand up to such scrutiny, or because they are afraid they will embarrass themselves. But last week I was reminded again of how logically consistent and foundational the Christian worldview is to all of life.

The “Face-Off” began with opening statements from each of the panelists. Mark Driscoll began with a simple and clear presentation of the gospel which identified who Satan was, what sin is, who Jesus is, and why man needs Jesus. Chopra followed up with a detailed explanation of the ambiguity of human nature (the divine and diabolical in us all). He simply stated that the concepts of “Satan” and “sin” are the products of our own guilt  and lack of enlightenment, and simply put, “healthy people do not have any need for Satan.” The other two participants each presented their introductions with equal conviction. Annie was a former prostitute who gave her testimony, which indeed was sad, and Bishop Pearson explained his shift away from Fundamentalism to a position much closer to that of Deepak Chopra, a sort of Christianized version of Hindu spirituality.

The discussion touched on all sorts of related topics: The nature of God (Pearson repeatedly attacked the concept of the God who destroys his enemies); The words and person of Jesus (Driscoll and Chopra got into a heated discussion about what Jesus meant when He said “I am in you, you are in me, and I and the Father are one”); Evolution (Chopra was very committed to the science behind evolution); and frequently the concept of morality. The three men were each well versed in philosophy and were greatly prepared to interact with one another, but repeatedly the only one who could give real justification for his convictions was Mark Driscoll.

When discussing the concept of Morality both Chopra and Pearson could give no clear statement that the terrible things done to Annie Lobert (rape, torture, etc.) were evil. Both wanted to psychologize the event, Chopra in particular kept stating that both evil and good were necessary for one another and part of life (the ying and the yang, you can’t have one without the other). When it turned to Q&A the audience’s questions made it even more evident that only Christianity can make sense of morality. One audience member asked how one could judge something as bad if everything was “one” and there was no distinction between good and evil (terms Chopra stated we should not use). Driscoll alone gave an answer, saying that without God you can’t judge something to be evil. God is outside the world and can judge it, and He alone can set up the standards by which we can judge all things in our world.  Another audience member asked Chopra, “You said that belief was a cover-up for insecurity, do you believe that?” Chopra answered, “Yes” to outbursts of laughter and applause. The joke was totally lost on him…for someone with such a higher enlightenment I would have expected more, but he repeatedly looked silly and revealed the incredible short comings of his philosophical worldview.

It was encouraging for me, as a Christian, however, to see that there are godly, theologically-sound, people out there who can interact at these levels in intelligent and meaningful ways. Driscoll was his usual self: witty, funny, sharp-tongued, but compassionate and sensitive, and very intelligent. We’re not all Mark Driscoll. Many of us (most of us?) don’t have the philosophical knowledge and apologetical skill that he does, but what we can rejoice in is that Christianity can hold up to the weight of scrutiny. The culture at large likes to mock and demean Christianity as stupid and ignorant, and indeed some are, but here we have a prime example from popular culture of an intelligent Christian interacting both graciously and firmly for the faith. At one point during the Q&A a woman asked Mark, “If you believe that the underlying issue for all sin and evil is pride, then isn’t it wrong for you to believe you have the market cornered on truth?” It was a keen question, but Driscoll’s response was good. He stated that the whole reason he was doing a show like this was to show that Christians could intelligently engage in conversations like this and entertain other’s ideas of truth, but in the end what he was most concerned with was “truth” itself…and if something turns out to be true, and something else not true, then it isn’t selfish to affirm the one and not the other, it just makes sense.

Friends, Christianity can stand up to the criticisms, the analyses, and the investigations of the culture, so engage with earnest intelligent conversations about the faith. If you fear that you don’t know enough then study more, but don’t fear that the faith will fall apart. So remember two things, you can discuss intelligently the Christian faith and it will endure, and if you ever have the chance to make Deepak Chopra look like a fool…you should take it!


  1. Ugh. I hate listening to debates and this one didn’t dissuade me from the perception that they’re not all that useful.

    More often than not, debates feature two people talking past each other, ignoring uncomfortable questions to focus on positions of strength, and turning the proceedings into more an exercise in polemics than any sort of a quest for truth. Ignoring the bishop’s left-field answers and the former prostitute’s I-can’t-explain-it-but-it’s-true answers, Driscoll repeatedly answers not what is asked of him, but some other question. His answers sound good enough, but he continually skirts the issues that give people trouble.

    Really though, the argument is kind of weird—pitting inerrantists against people who think the Bible’s just a wise book. There’s no real debate there. One group cannot be logically convinced to the side of the other since faith in Scripture is not based, ultimately on observable evidentialist claim but instead on faith alone. If someone strongly believes Scripture is inerrant, then no amount of reason can dent that belief because God’s logic is higher than man’s. Therefore, what would have been possibly interesting would be a debate between inerrantists who disagree on the status of Satan.

    But in the end, it would still be a debate and so would just feature people talking past each other and avoiding questions.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  2. There’s no denying that Driscoll chose not to answer numbers of questions, but on several occasions he seeks to get to the deeper issue that is at the heart of the question. He wants to touch on the assumptions not just the surface level question, and I commend him for that.

  3. I thought a debate was a polemic by definition. So there’s really no other format than to have people attempt to confront issues they disagree on.

    I think the major problems with the debate is that it’s topic was far to specific, and half of the participants should have been watching from the audience. Annie has a compelling story, her ministry may be strong, but she didn’t seem intellectually capable at the level of Driscoll and Chopra. And Mr. Pearson (what’s he bishop of again?) repeatedly showed that he has no intellectual curiosity about the things of God. He decided that God wouldn’t do something, so he figured the Bible must be wrong. His account of how the Bible became English (Aramaic > Greek > Latin > German > 16th century King’s English)was enough to make me pause the video and walk away for a while.

    This debate should have featured Driscoll and Chopra, and maybe two others who can stand at that level. The topic should have started at the roots of the tree, instead of a largely insignificant branch: Philosophy of religion, or religious worldviews from their two perspectives. Then they would have been able to talk about the big conflicts they have, without avoiding questions. And, though they would have been talking past each other much of the time, the goal would be to establish terms and definitions, so they could talk to each other next time.

    Charles Joness last blog post..Ideology is Good

  4. Those are fair comments Charles, but you can’t fault the participants for doing what they were asked to do. abc set up the parameters of the debate. You are absolutely right about Annie Lobert, though. A Sweet gal with a gripping testimonty but her only contribution was, I feel it so it must be real.

  5. First, these type of forums are mostly only interesting for their entertainment value and this one didn’t disappoint on that score! As for the outcome or the relative performances of the representatives of the various points-of-view, the Driscoll fellow probably handled himself in the most effective manner for the forum. Bishop Pearson also represented himself with poise and grace while doing a commendable job of explaining his perspective and the reasons for his changes of heart on several doctrinal issues. Ms. Lobert is a disaster on just about every way imaginable. Of course, I’m happy for her personal transformation whatever it’s underlying cause!

    Deepak Chopra was deeply disappointing, disrespectful and oddly argumentative for someone from his philosophical/spiritual moorings.

    Having said all this, the event was pathetically moderated and devolved quickly, as one should expect, into trite analogy, shallow charges and counter-accusations and meaningless demonstrative statements of faith without any substantive peeling back of each claim to put them up to the light of reason.

    As any thoughtful and intelligent person should know, it’s futile to argue about statements of faith, which, by their very definition, are either accepted as being true via some combination of subconscious recognition, factual analysis and supernatural revelation. One might as well host a forum featuring a panel who believe the color BLUE is the by far the best color against equally passionate advocates for the position that BLUE represents all manner of evil and ought to be eliminated from the color wheel so as to protect society from its pernicious evil.

    The most interesting, unthoughtful, uncaring and unconvincing comments came from the studio audience because they didn’t have the discipline or the careful presentation style of Rev. Driscoll, who’s as good as anyone at managing the stylistic language of appearing exceedingly reasonable while articulating the equivalent of Dr. Gene Ray’s “Time Cube” theory.

    We are human beings. We are innately superstitious. We believe all manner of silly things that serve to make us feel better. Other human beings, who innately seek power as a tool of survival and expression of will within a fluid system of control of both large and small areas of the human experience, learn to leverage our superstitions and desire for tribal security for personal gain. Some, of course, sincerely execute the dictates of their faith and become influential for their integrity to their particular belief system. The sincerity and/or success of the adherent, however, is ultimately irrelevant the underlying philosophical questions.

    Being sincere, consistent and rational within an irrational system works just fine once an irrational system becomes the dominant structure of society.

    Is there a God like the one in the Old Testament? Many believe there is and how would we prove it either way? Personally, if God exists, I don’t believe God orders the genocide of entire races of people like the God of the Book of Judges clearly does or that God would allow an innocent woman to be viscously raped and sodomized by a mob so as to protect an “Angel of the Lord” from that fate. Using the logic of the adherents to scriptural authority, I either have to accept that God is really like that or I have to reject that God — so, I reject that God could possibly be like the petulant homicidal God of those stories.

    Then again, I can’t prove it either way, can I?

    I was raised a Southern Baptist and I’m not hostile to the good folks who continue in that tradition or any other. I have a type of faith which is less defined than any formal religion and admittedly equally ridiculous to any other superstition, yet, I draw great comfort and inspiration from my faith each day of my life.

    I’d have loved to have been on that panel because it would have been quite a lot of fun to participate. I just don’t kid myself that any on any side of the equation is edified or has their minds changed by the experience — we simply become more convinced that our side has all the answers and their side are morons, imbeciles and/or of Satanic agents.

    I stand with the late and great mythologist Joseph Campbell and say simply to “follow your bliss!”

  6. @Charles:
    I think formal debate tends toward polemics (i.e. artful disputation/i.e. worthless concern for propagandizing one’s opinion), but debate doesn’t have to be formal and it doesn’t have to rely on polemics. I mean take the best examples of disagreements here on Capca. You’ll find informal debate over ideas, arguments that reflect and respond to the arguments and questions offered previously. And do so without using artful dodging, hedging, and misdirection.

    I’ve yet to see a formal debate that had half the moral character and value of two people hashing things out. Instead, they are either graded matches (which elevate the argument form rather than the content) or they are simply rah-rah matches designed to pump support of constituents. Years back, my whole office went to attend a James White vs. George Bryson debate on Calvinism. Those who went in boosting Calvinism thought White won handily and those who went in on the side of Arminianism though Bryson wiped the floor with his opponent.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  7. @Kurt:
    On the whole, your thoughts here are well-placed. If you’ve got faith, you’ve got it. If you don’t, then you don’t.

    I will hope to clarify one thing you mention however:

    If God exists, I don’t believe God orders the genocide of entire races of people like the God of the Book of Judges clearly does.

    Of course, this rests on the belief of a deity who controls the world and the destinies of all in it. The Christian God determines the lifespans of all the people on earth, whether the Amalekite victim of Israelite invasion or the 102-year-old great-grandmother who passes in her sleep. In this sense, God kills all people (in that he is responsible for ending life) and does so in response to the judgment merited by their sin. So the ban on the Amalekites in 1 Samuel is really no different from all the ninety-five year olds who will die this year (when one considers that in OT revelation, Israel is operating as the incarnated hand of God—insofar as it does as he says) and vastly different from the wars and genocides crafted by Russia, Germany, Cambodia, and the U.S.

    Of course, this relies on one believing that God is in control and that God allowing death in the realm he controls is workable (faith again), but I did want to demonstrate that within the system, the logic holds even on something as repugnant as genocide.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  8. Funny how people can not understand Chopra. The reason they laughed is because they are all CLOSE MINDED CHRISTIANS. Christians are a funny group, they make fun of other Christians when right there in “their” 10 commandments (copied straight from Egypt’s religious Book of the Dead) it says “treat thine neighbor as thine would have them treat you”. But then Baptist want to talk crap about Pres and the Catholics make fun of some of the others….Point being they are all crazy as crap. Furthermore how can Christians say they are so good and Hitler is so bad? The Christians started the FIRST Holocaust when they started the Crusades, at least Hitler was after only ONE other religious group, the Crusades and Christians they killed anyone and everyone that would not convert to Christianity, WOW, lets a be a christian, do not think so, Christians are the biggest liars, cheaters, back stabbers, then they just think it will be ok b/c I put some money into the offering plate…..WOW a religion driven on the one thing that your pastor will tell you is the root of all evil……GREED… SO lets join hands and sing Hymnals……B S

  9. For Eli: A lot of societies have a code called the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. It’s not wrong for the Bible to reiterate that. If anything it might make the Bible look less insular and more universal.

    Christians are not the only ones who say Hitler is bad. Most of the entire planet sees Hitler as a villain.

    If you meet anyone who says, “I’m so good. I’m so good…” Just keep going because they have a lot to learn about humility. Bragging has less to do with religion than personal character. Belief in God doesn’t grant instant social skills. Those must be learned.

    As for learning that is wrong… The Christian deity is more than happy to teach those skills through trials and tribulations that humble people into awareness that they are not the center of the universe. Guaranteed to be a life long lesson. Some people take a long time to get this into their heads.

    Christians did not start the Crusades. The Crusades were started by a man called a Pope. Whether or not he is Christian is a matter of opinion. I figure some were in their hearts and some were in name only. What other possible explanation is there?

    many Popes did evil things. Like the Borgia Pope who gave permission to the Conquistadors to rape an pillage natives and strip Mexico of her gold. That was an evil acting man. He happened to hold an office in a large church. Evil people are found everywhere. But that doesn’t make all Christians evil. Anymore than driving a car makes you a mechanic.

    And the Crusaders who did evil acts chose evil ways. In that time there were also people calling themselves Christians who would never murder in the name of God. Those people did not get very far in the military. They were not soldiers. So you never hear about them.

    I’ve been lied to, stabbed in the back, used, practically spat upon by people who claimed to be Christians. I am a Christian. It hurt me deeply.

    If someone does that to me or those I love, I stay away from them. Anyone can claim to be a Christian. Doesn’t mean they are. And even if they are, it doesn’t mean they follow Christian ideals.

    You can’t compel people to do what is right. They have to commit themselves to it. In the mean time they call themselves Christians and do not perceive the wrong they do. I can’t understand very bad behavior by such individuals. Why they don’t feel a conflict in their souls. When it seems they should.

    I have never put money into an offering plate expecting anything in return. I would never accept money for doing anything related to being a Christian. That would be like profiting on something that is supposed to be free. A repugnant thing to God. Other Christians can decide those details for themselves.

  10. “…if you ever have the chance to make Deepak Chopra look like a fool…you should take it!”
    It seems that Chopra upset you enough to motivate you to encourage others to take vengeance don’t you think? You’re one step away from a religious fanaticism.

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