Tag Archives: Christian

Dr. William Lane Craig answers questions about Jesus in the New York Times

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students at Purdue University

Nicholas Kristof, a secular leftist writer for the New York Times, is interested in Jesus, but he doesn’t want a Jesus who can perform miracles. He decided to ask the best living philosphical theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig, some questions. As you’ll see, Dr. Craig’s answers to his questions are perfect for the secular left audience of the New York Times.

Before we start looking at the questions and answers, I want to mention one important point. When discussing Christianity, it’s very important that Christians not allow the atheist to nitpick about minor details of Christian history or Christian theology. The Christian needs to ALWAYS redirect the discussion to the question of God’s existence. There, we are strongly supported by mainstream science. Only when the skeptic accepts a Creator and Designer can we allow ourselves to be moved on to specific points of theology or history.

Like this:

  • Skeptic: was Jesus born of a virgin?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

And again:

  • Skeptic: am I going to Hell?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

Why is this important? It’s important because most skeptics are fundamentalists. They think that if they can refute Christianity on an edge case issue, then the core crumbles. It’s very important to frame the discussion so that the skeptic understands that there are core claims of Christianity which are important and strongly evidenced, and there are less important claims, and also claims that are not well evidenced. The goal of any discussion with a skeptic is to get them to accept the important core claims which are strongly evidenced. If they accept the core, that’s enough to get them out of atheism, and into a relationship with God, where they can continue to grow.

I wrote a whole post about this that you can read later, but let’s get to the interview with Dr. Craig.

Let’s start with the first question and answer:

Kristof: Merry Christmas, Dr. Craig! I must confess that for all my admiration for Jesus, I’m skeptical about some of the narrative we’ve inherited. Are you actually confident that Jesus was born to a virgin?

Craig: Merry Christmas to you, too, Nick! I’m reasonably confident. When I was a non-Christian, I used to struggle with this, too. But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal! Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence), an occasional miracle is child’s play. Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism. So what’s the problem?

Did you notice what Dr. Craig did there? Regarding the evidence from science, Dr. Craig has defended that in two separate academic books, both with Oxford University Press. (Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology and God? A Debate Between A Christian and An Atheist)

Here it is again:

Kristof: How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?

Craig: I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.

For those who are concerned by this answer, you should know Dr. Craig is the former president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and they do indeed sign a statement of faith that includes inerrancy. But again, an interview in the New York Times is not the place to focus on defending inerrancy. This is the place to have secular left elites contend with the core claims of Christianity.

In the next question and answer, notice how Dr. Craig refuses to yield that the skeptic is rational and evidence-driven. You should never let atheists assume that atheism is the “default” view of people who are reasonable and evidence-driven. Atheism is NOT the default view for reasonable people who are evidence-driven. Atheism is a furious retreat away from reason and evidence. In particular, it’s a refusal to bound your worldview with science and history.

More Dr. Craig:

Kristof: Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?

Craig: I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions? I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics. Some of the arguments for God’s existence that I’ve defended, such as the arguments from the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe, appeal to the best evidence of contemporary science. I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion. David Hume’s famous argument against miracles is today recognized, in the words of philosopher of science John Earman, as “an abject failure.” No one has been able to do any better.

This is the book he’s alluding to, there. Oxford University Press.

Please read the whole interview.

If you have non-Christian friends who think that all the “smart people” reject Christianity, and you don’t now how to talk to them, why not send them this article from the New York Times? There are also resources that you can use to train yourself to answer questions like he did.

Some people reading may not like Dr. Craig’s approach. That might be because you’re only able to talk about Christianity to people by quoting the Bible to them. Maybe you think that quoting the Bible to a non-Christian will cause them to become a Christian. This approach, (I call it the “magic words” approach), is popular in many churches. It will work on people who are already Christians, but it won’t work on non-Christians, since they don’t accept the Bible. It’s also not how anyone in the New Testament talked about spiritual things. (See Acts 17 for an example, or read what Jesus does to prove his claims to skeptics in the gospel of John). If you want to discuss Christianity outside the church, then I recommend Dr. Craig’s approach.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Paul Copan responds to questions frequently asked by postmodern relativists

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

Four articles from Paul Copan over at the UK site “BeThinking”. Each article responds to a different slogan that you might hear if you’re dealing with non-Christians on the street.

“That’s just your interpretation!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Gently ask, ‘Do you mean that your interpretation should be preferred over mine? If so, I’d like to know why you have chosen your interpretation over mine. You must have a good reason.’
  • Remind your friend that you are willing to give reasons for your position and that you are not simply taking a particular viewpoint arbitrarily.
  • Try to discern if people toss out this slogan because they don’t like your interpretation. Remind them that there are many truths we have to accept even if we don’t like them.
  • ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’ is a statement that is presented as a fact. If it is just an interpretation, then there is no reason to take it seriously.

More responses are here.

“You Christians are intolerant!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If you say that the Christian view is bad because it is exclusive, then you are also at that exact moment doing the very thing that you are saying is bad. You have to be exclusive to say that something is bad, since you exclude it from being good by calling it bad.
  • There is a difference, a clear difference between tolerance and truth. They are often confused. We should hold to what we believe with integrity but also support the rights of others to disagree with our viewpoint.
  • Sincerely believing something doesn’t make it true. You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. If I get onto a plane and sincerely believe that it won’t crash then it does, then my sincerity is quite hopeless. It won’t change the facts. Our beliefs, regardless of how deeply they are held, have no effect on reality.

More responses are here.

“That’s true for you, but not for me!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • If my belief is only true for me, then why isn’t your belief only true for you? Aren’t you saying you want me to believe the same thing you do?
  • You say that no belief is true for everyone, but you want everyone to believe what you do.
  • You’re making universal claims that relativism is true and absolutism is false. You can’t in the same breath say, ‘Nothing is universally true’ and ‘My view is universally true.’ Relativism falsifies itself. It claims there is one position that is true – relativism!

More responses are here.

“If you were born in India, you’d be a Hindu!”

Some of his possible responses:

  • Just because there are many different religious answers and systems doesn’t automatically mean pluralism is correct.
  • If we are culturally conditioned regarding our religious beliefs, then why should the religious pluralist think his view is less arbitrary or conditioned than the exclusivist’s?
  • If the Christian needs to justify Christianity’s claims, the pluralist’s views need just as much substantiation.

More responses are here.

And a bonus: “How do you know you’re not wrong?“.

Matthew Vines and Michael Brown debate homosexuality and the Bible on Moody radio

The audio of the Matthew Vines vs Michael Brown debate is streamed here on the Moody site.

Details:

Can you be gay and Christian? Matthew Vines says you can and he’s created a viral video and best-selling book defending his view. This Saturday on Up for Debate, Vines joins host Julie Roys to debate author and leading evangelical apologist, Dr. Michael Brown. Is gay monogamy an option for Christians? Is it unloving to reject gay marriage? Listen and join the discussion this Saturday at 8 a.m. Central Time on Up for Debate!

Summary key: Julie Roys (JR), Matthew Vines (MV), Michael Brown (MB)

Summary:

Opening speeches:

  • JR: Why should Christians be open to reinterpreting the Bible on homosexuality?
  • MV: Consider the lives and testimonies of gay Christians. Here is my personal story.
  • MV: According to the Bible, a person with same-sex attractions would have to embrace lifelong celibacy. I refuse to do that.
  • MV: There are 6 passages in the Bible that are relevant to the goodness of homosexuality. All are negative.
  • MV: None of these passages address gay relationships that are “long-term” and “faithful” that are based on “commitment” and “love”.
  • JR: You say that it is “damaging” for Christians to disagree with you views, is that true?
  • MV: Yes. One of my friends declared his homosexuality and he did not feel safe to come home. He felt pain because Christians disagreed with him.
  • MV: You cannot ask a person with same-sex attractions to be celibate, it causes too much harm to ask gays to abstain from sexual relationships.
  • JR: Respond to Matthew.
  • MB: The Bible only permits heterosexual sexuality and in every case condemns homosexual acts.
  • MB: Matthew is taking his sexual preferences and activities as given, and reinterpreting the Bible to fit it.
  • MB: Genesis talks about women being made to help men, and to fulfill God’s commandment to procreate and fill the Earth.
  • MB: The Bible speaks about the complementarity of the sexes when talking about how two become one in marriage.
  • MB: I am very sensitive to the stories of people who are gay who experience discrimination as “gay Christians”.
  • MB: You can feel sad for people who have two conflicting commitments, but that doesn’t mean we should redefine what the Bible says.
  • JR: Stop talking, we have a break.

JR takes a caller for the next topic:

  • Caller 1: I had same-sex attractions and I was able to change my sexuality.
  • JR: Matthew, respond to that.
  • MV: Alan Chambers of Exodus International says that 99.9% of people he worked with had not changed their gay orientation.
  • MV: Lifelong celibacy is not acceptable to gays, so the Bible must be reinterpreted to suit gays.
  • MB: Matthew thinks that God himself did not understand the concept of sexual orientation and inadvertently hurt gays because of his lack of knowledge.
  • MB: There is a solution in the Bible for people who cannot be celibate, and that solution is heterosexual marriage
  • MB: If a person is only attracted to pre-teen girls, do we then have to re-write the Bible to affirm that so they won’t be “harmed”?
  • MB: Alan Chambers was speaking for his own group, and his statement does not account for the fact that thousands of people DO change.
  • JR: What about the Jones/Yarhouse study that found that 38% of reparative therapy subjects were successful in changing or chastity?
  • MV: (no response to the question)
  • MV: (to Brown) do you accept that the Bible forces gays to live out lifelong celibacy

Another break, then Brown replies:

  • MB: Yes. But change is possible.
  • MV: Do you know of any Christian who acknowledged that this was the consequence of the Bible’s teaching for gays?
  • MB: Paul’s explanation that the options for ALL Christians are 1) celibacy or 2) heterosexual marriage. For 2000 years.
  • MV: Paul (in Romans 1) is talking about people who are not “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships.
  • MV: Paul was not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships at the time he wrote his prohibitions in Romans 1.
  • JR: How do you know that fixed sexual orientation is true? And that the Biblical authors would written different things if they knew?
  • JR: Are there any references in the first century to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships?
  • MB: Yes, in my book I quote prominent historian N. T. Wright who documents that those relationships were known.
  • MB: Matthew’s view requires that God did not know about sexual orientation when ordaining the Bible’s content.
  • MB: Leviticus 18 is for all people, for all time. This was not just for the Jews, this was for everyone.
  • MV: I am not saying that Paul was wrong because he was ignorant.
  • MV: Paul was writing in a context where “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships were unknown.
  • MV: NT Wright does not cite first century texts, he cites a problematic 4th century text.
  • MV: Absence of 1st-century references to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships means that God did not intend to prohibit them.
  • MB: Whenever the Bible speaks about homosexuality, it is opposed to it – Old Testament and New Testament.

Another break, then the conclusion:

  • JR: Respond to the Leviticus prohibition, which prohibits homosexuality for everyone, for all time.
  • MV: It is a universal prohibition on male same-sex intercourse, but it does not apply to Christians.
  • MV: For example, Leviticus prohibits sex during a woman’s menstrual period. And Christians are not bound by that.
  • MV: What is the reason for this prohibition of male-male sex in Leviticus? It’s not affirm the complementarity of the sexual act.
  • MV: The Bible prohibits male-male sex because it is written for a patriarchal culture.
  • MV: In a patriarchal culture, women are viewed as inferior. That’s why the Bible prohibits a man from taking the woman’s role in sex.
  • MB: The prohibition in Leviticus is a universal prohibition against male-male sex, applicable in all times and places.
  • MB: Homosexual sex is a violation of the divine order.
  • MB: We can see already the consequences of normalizing this: gay marriage, and supports for polygamy and polyamory.
  • MV: So the earliest reference there is to a “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationship is a 4th century text.
  • MV: But that gay relationship is not like modern gay relationships.

I have a few comments about Vines’ points below.

My comments:

Even heterosexuals who have not married are called upon to embrace lifelong celibacy. I am in my early 40s and am a virgin because I have not married. I wouldn’t seek to reinrepret the Bible to allow premarital sex just because what I am doing is difficult. I would rather just do what the Bible says than reinterpret it to suit me. And it’s just as hard for me to be chaste as it would be for him to be. In short, it’s a character issue. He takes his right to recreational sex as non-negotiable, and reinterprets the Bible to suit. I take the Bible as non-negotiable, and comply with it regardless of whether it seems to make me less happy. With respect to the purposes of God for me in this world, my happiness is expendable. If I don’t find someone to marry, I’m going to be “afflicted” with the lifelong celibacy that Vines seems to think is torture, but let me tell you – God is happy with the contributions I am making for him, and if I have to be chaste through my whole life, I am 100% fine with that. I serve the King. And not the reverse.

Notice that he talks about “long-term” but not permanent relationships, and “faithful” but not exclusive. This is important because the statistics show that gay relationships (depending on whether it is female-female or male-male) are prone to instability and/or infidelity. I just blogged on that recently, with reference to the published research on the subject. Vines is talking about a situation that does not obtain in the real world – according to the data. Gay relationships do not normally value permanence and exclusivity in the way that opposite-sex marriage relationships do, especially where the couple regularly attends church. The divorce rate and infidelity rate for religious couples is far below the rates for gay couples, depending on the sexes involved. Vines is committed to the idea that marriage is about feelings, e.g. – “love”, but that’s not the public purpose of marriage. Marriage is not about love, it’s about complementarity of the sexes and providing for the needs of children. We have published studies like this one showing that there are negative impacts to children who are raised by gay couples, which dovetails with studies showing that children need a mother and that children need a father. We should not normalize any relationship that exposes children to harm. We should prefer to inconvenience adults than to harm children.

Matthew Vines made an argument that Christians have to stop saying that homosexuality is wrong, because it makes gay people feel excluded. I wrote previously about the argument that gay activists use where they say “if you don’t agree with me and celebrate me and affirm me, then I’ll commit suicide”. In that post, I quoted a prominent gay activist who made exactly that argument. I don’t find the threats to self-destruction to be a convincing argument for the truth of the view that gay marriage being the same as heterosexual marriage. In fact, this is confirmed by a recent study which showed that features of gay relationships themselves, and not social disapproval, is to blame for high rates of suicide in the gay community.

Vines seems to want to argue that the context in which the Bible authors were writing did not allow them to address the problem of gays in “long-term”, “faithful” relationships. Well, we have already seen that statistically speaking, those relationships are in the minority. One British study mentioned in the post I linked to above found that only 25% of gay couples were intact after 8 years. The number is 82% for heterosexual marriages, and that doesn’t filter by couples who abstain from premarital sex and who attend church regularly. If you add those two criteria, the number is going to be well above 82% in my opinion. Studies show that premarital chastity and church attendance vastly improve the stability and quality of marriages.

In addition, Vines is trying to argue that 1) the Bible authors were not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships and 2) their failure to explicitly disqualify these “long-term”, “stable” gay sexual relationships means that the Bible actually condones them. A friend of mine pointed out that this is a textbook case of the argument from silence, where someone asserts that because something is not explicitly condemned, then it must be OK. Carried through to its logical end, that would mean that things like identity theft are OK, because they are not mentioned explicitly. Brown asserted that there was a blanket prohibition on homosexual acts. He is arguing from what we know. Vines says that “long-term”, “faithful” homosexual relationships are not mentioned, and are therefore OK. He is arguing from what we don’t know. And he is trying to reverse the burden of proof so that he doesn’t have to show evidence for his view. Brown wouldn’t take the bait. The fact of the matter is that no one for the last 2000 years of church history have taken Vines’ view. Every single Christian before Vines, who were closer to Jesus’ teachings than Vines, understood the verses that Brown cited to be providing a blanket prohibition on homosexual sex acts. If Vines wants to claim that the Bible condones what he wants it to condone, he has to produce some positive evidence from the text or from church history or church fathers. He has nothing to support his case that could convince anyone that this is what Christians have believed, and ought to believe.

Finally, if you are looking for another debate, I blogged about a debate between Michael Brown and Eric Smaw. There’s a video and summaries of the opening speeches in that post.

Are Mormon doctrines supported by philosophy, science and history?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[…]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[…]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[…]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Further study

If you want a nice long PDF to print out and read at lunch (which is what I did with it) you can grab this PDF by Michael Licona, entitled “Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock“.

Matthew Vines and Michael Brown debate homosexuality and the Bible on Moody radio

The audio of the Matthew Vines vs Michael Brown debate is streamed here on the Moody site.

Details:

Can you be gay and Christian? Matthew Vines says you can and he’s created a viral video and best-selling book defending his view. This Saturday on Up for Debate, Vines joins host Julie Roys to debate author and leading evangelical apologist, Dr. Michael Brown. Is gay monogamy an option for Christians? Is it unloving to reject gay marriage? Listen and join the discussion this Saturday at 8 a.m. Central Time on Up for Debate!

Summary key: Julie Roys (JR), Matthew Vines (MV), Michael Brown (MB)

Summary:

Opening speeches:

  • JR: Why should Christians be open to reinterpreting the Bible on homosexuality?
  • MV: Consider the lives and testimonies of gay Christians. Here is my personal story.
  • MV: According to the Bible, a person with same-sex attractions would have to embrace lifelong celibacy. I refuse to do that.
  • MV: There are 6 passages in the Bible that are relevant to the goodness of homosexuality. All are negative.
  • MV: None of these passages address gay relationships that are “long-term” and “faithful” that are based on “commitment” and “love”.
  • JR: You say that it is “damaging” for Christians to disagree with you views, is that true?
  • MV: Yes. One of my friends declared his homosexuality and he did not feel safe to come home. He felt pain because Christians disagreed with him.
  • MV: You cannot ask a person with same-sex attractions to be celibate, it causes too much harm to ask gays to abstain from sexual relationships.
  • JR: Respond to Matthew.
  • MB: The Bible only permits heterosexual sexuality and in every case condemns homosexual acts.
  • MB: Matthew is taking his sexual preferences and activities as given, and reinterpreting the Bible to fit it.
  • MB: Genesis talks about women being made to help men, and to fulfill God’s commandment to procreate and fill the Earth.
  • MB: The Bible speaks about the complementarity of the sexes when talking about how two become one in marriage.
  • MB: I am very sensitive to the stories of people who are gay who experience discrimination as “gay Christians”.
  • MB: You can feel sad for people who have two conflicting commitments, but that doesn’t mean we should redefine what the Bible says.
  • JR: Stop talking, we have a break.

JR takes a caller for the next topic:

  • Caller 1: I had same-sex attractions and I was able to change my sexuality.
  • JR: Matthew, respond to that.
  • MV: Alan Chambers of Exodus International says that 99.9% of people he worked with had not changed their gay orientation.
  • MV: Lifelong celibacy is not acceptable to gays, so the Bible must be reinterpreted to suit gays.
  • MB: Matthew thinks that God himself did not understand the concept of sexual orientation and inadvertently hurt gays because of his lack of knowledge.
  • MB: There is a solution in the Bible for people who cannot be celibate, and that solution is heterosexual marriage
  • MB: If a person is only attracted to pre-teen girls, do we then have to re-write the Bible to affirm that so they won’t be “harmed”?
  • MB: Alan Chambers was speaking for his own group, and his statement does not account for the fact that thousands of people DO change.
  • JR: What about the Jones/Yarhouse study that found that 38% of reparative therapy subjects were successful in changing or chastity?
  • MV: (no response to the question)
  • MV: (to Brown) do you accept that the Bible forces gays to live out lifelong celibacy

Another break, then Brown replies:

  • MB: Yes. But change is possible.
  • MV: Do you know of any Christian who acknowledged that this was the consequence of the Bible’s teaching for gays?
  • MB: Paul’s explanation that the options for ALL Christians are 1) celibacy or 2) heterosexual marriage. For 2000 years.
  • MV: Paul (in Romans 1) is talking about people who are not “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships.
  • MV: Paul was not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships at the time he wrote his prohibitions in Romans 1.
  • JR: How do you know that fixed sexual orientation is true? And that the Biblical authors would written different things if they knew?
  • JR: Are there any references in the first century to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships?
  • MB: Yes, in my book I quote prominent historian N. T. Wright who documents that those relationships were known.
  • MB: Matthew’s view requires that God did not know about sexual orientation when ordaining the Bible’s content.
  • MB: Leviticus 18 is for all people, for all time. This was not just for the Jews, this was for everyone.
  • MV: I am not saying that Paul was wrong because he was ignorant.
  • MV: Paul was writing in a context where “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships were unknown.
  • MV: NT Wright does not cite first century texts, he cites a problematic 4th century text.
  • MV: Absence of 1st-century references to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships means that God did not intend to prohibit them.
  • MB: Whenever the Bible speaks about homosexuality, it is opposed to it – Old Testament and New Testament.

Another break, then the conclusion:

  • JR: Respond to the Leviticus prohibition, which prohibits homosexuality for everyone, for all time.
  • MV: It is a universal prohibition on male same-sex intercourse, but it does not apply to Christians.
  • MV: For example, Leviticus prohibits sex during a woman’s menstrual period. And Christians are not bound by that.
  • MV: What is the reason for this prohibition of male-male sex in Leviticus? It’s not affirm the complementarity of the sexual act.
  • MV: The Bible prohibits male-male sex because it is written for a patriarchal culture.
  • MV: In a patriarchal culture, women are viewed as inferior. That’s why the Bible prohibits a man from taking the woman’s role in sex.
  • MB: The prohibition in Leviticus is a universal prohibition against male-male sex, applicable in all times and places.
  • MB: Homosexual sex is a violation of the divine order.
  • MB: We can see already the consequences of normalizing this: gay marriage, and supports for polygamy and polyamory.
  • MV: So the earliest reference there is to a “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationship is a 4th century text.
  • MV: But that gay relationship is not like modern gay relationships.

I have a few comments about Vines’ points below.

My comments:

Even heterosexuals who have not married are called upon to embrace lifelong celibacy. I am in my early 40s and am a virgin because I have not married. I wouldn’t seek to reinrepret the Bible to allow premarital sex just because what I am doing is difficult. I would rather just do what the Bible says than reinterpret it to suit me. And it’s just as hard for me to be chaste as it would be for him to be. In short, it’s a character issue. He takes his right to recreational sex as non-negotiable, and reinterprets the Bible to suit. I take the Bible as non-negotiable, and comply with it regardless of whether it seems to make me less happy. With respect to the purposes of God for me in this world, my happiness is expendable. If I don’t find someone to marry, I’m going to be “afflicted” with the lifelong celibacy that Vines seems to think is torture, but let me tell you – God is happy with the contributions I am making for him, and if I have to be chaste through my whole life, I am 100% fine with that. I serve the King. And not the reverse.

Notice that he talks about “long-term” but not permanent relationships, and “faithful” but not exclusive. This is important because the statistics show that gay relationships (depending on whether it is female-female or male-male) are prone to instability and/or infidelity. I just blogged on that recently, with reference to the published research on the subject. Vines is talking about a situation that does not obtain in the real world – according to the data. Gay relationships do not normally value permanence and exclusivity in the way that opposite-sex marriage relationships do, especially where the couple regularly attends church. The divorce rate and infidelity rate for religious couples is far below the rates for gay couples, depending on the sexes involved. Vines is committed to the idea that marriage is about feelings, e.g. – “love”, but that’s not the public purpose of marriage. Marriage is not about love, it’s about complementarity of the sexes and providing for the needs of children. We have published studies like this one showing that there are negative impacts to children who are raised by gay couples, which dovetails with studies showing that children need a mother and that children need a father. We should not normalize any relationship that exposes children to harm. We should prefer to inconvenience adults than to harm children.

Matthew Vines made an argument that Christians have to stop saying that homosexuality is wrong, because it makes gay people feel excluded. I wrote previously about the argument that gay activists use where they say “if you don’t agree with me and celebrate me and affirm me, then I’ll commit suicide”. In that post, I quoted a prominent gay activist who made exactly that argument. I don’t find the threats to self-destruction to be a convincing argument for the truth of the view that gay marriage being the same as heterosexual marriage. In fact, this is confirmed by a recent study which showed that features of gay relationships themselves, and not social disapproval, is to blame for high rates of suicide in the gay community.

Vines seems to want to argue that the context in which the Bible authors were writing did not allow them to address the problem of gays in “long-term”, “faithful” relationships. Well, we have already seen that statistically speaking, those relationships are in the minority. One British study mentioned in the post I linked to above found that only 25% of gay couples were intact after 8 years. The number is 82% for heterosexual marriages, and that doesn’t filter by couples who abstain from premarital sex and who attend church regularly. If you add those two criteria, the number is going to be well above 82% in my opinion. Studies show that premarital chastity and church attendance vastly improve the stability and quality of marriages.

In addition, Vines is trying to argue that 1) the Bible authors were not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships and 2) their failure to explicitly disqualify these “long-term”, “stable” gay sexual relationships means that the Bible actually condones them. A friend of mine pointed out that this is a textbook case of the argument from silence, where someone asserts that because something is not explicitly condemned, then it must be OK. Carried through to its logical end, that would mean that things like identity theft are OK, because they are not mentioned explicitly. Brown asserted that there was a blanket prohibition on homosexual acts. He is arguing from what we know. Vines says that “long-term”, “faithful” homosexual relationships are not mentioned, and are therefore OK. He is arguing from what we don’t know. And he is trying to reverse the burden of proof so that he doesn’t have to show evidence for his view. Brown wouldn’t take the bait. The fact of the matter is that no one for the last 2000 years of church history have taken Vines’ view. Every single Christian before Vines, who were closer to Jesus’ teachings than Vines, understood the verses that Brown cited to be providing a blanket prohibition on homosexual sex acts. If Vines wants to claim that the Bible condones what he wants it to condone, he has to produce some positive evidence from the text or from church history or church fathers. He has nothing to support his case that could convince anyone that this is what Christians have believed, and ought to believe.

Finally, if you are looking for another debate, I blogged about a debate between Michael Brown and Eric Smaw. There’s a video and summaries of the opening speeches in that post.