Category Archives: Current Issues
HOPE AND DIRECTION IN OUR PRESENT CRISIS
Book Review by David P. Craig
Anyone who has lived their lives in the United States as a Christian for the past 20-50 years has witnessed a radical change in five major areas: (1) Our economy; (2) Our morality; (3) Our education; (4) Our Legal Rulings; and (5) The gaining privileged position of Islam and the decline and vilification of Christianity.
Lutzer gives ample illustrations to demonstrate the decline of the Judeo-Christian worldview and values that many of us grew up with, but doesn’t stop there. Going back to the Bible and history he gives us examples of how these types of changes and hardships for Christians have always been the norm. Hardship and suffering are certainties in the life of a Christian, but Lutzer reminds the reader “the consistent lesson of 2,000 years of church history is that the church does not need freedom to be faithful…If there is any truly good news in America, it will not be announced in Washington but will be heard through the lips and lives of believers who share the good news of the Gospel wherever God has planted them. Our task, quite simply, is to witness to the truth of the Gospel in a nation that is under judgment.”
Erwin Lutzer writes compellingly about the calling of the Christian as aliens in this world. He doesn’t minimize the hardships or sufferings that lie ahead. However, he uses examples from the Scriptures to demonstrate that our sufferings are purposeful and that we ultimately will win in the end. We have amazing resources and promises from God by which we are to live in the world and make a difference until Jesus returns. Lutzer’s book is more encouraging than depressing, because he reminds us of the sovereignty of God and how we are a part of His plans that cannot be thwarted no matter how bad things look now. Ultimately everything we do for Jesus matters and lasts for eternity.
I highly recommend this book because it offers numerous constructive things to focus our attention on until the return of Christ. It offers biblical thinking, principles to live by, and actions to take that really do make a difference in our society and for the sake of eternity. It offers hope for the present and for the future. You will be encouraged that you can stop being part of the problem, and how you can be part of God’s solution in our culture.
A PLEA FOR EVANGELICALS TO MAJOR ON THE MAJOR’S
By David P. Craig
The recent John MacArthur “Strange Fire” Conference compelled me to write this article. I don’t want to address Cessationism vs. Non-Cessationism so much, as to wrestle with why major on issues of disagreement in the Body of Christ when we have larger fish to fry? What would happen if evangelicals were known more for our love, cooperation, and unity than for our disagreements? What would happen if we worked more on understanding one another than attacking each other? What would be the results of a Church that is known by our love rather than our animosity towards those who believe differently than we do? What if we were characterized by civility and humility rather than pride and arrogance?
It’s been awhile since I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity – but its basic thesis is something I long for in the Evangelical Community around the globe today. Lewis was trying to get at the core or essence of Christianity. To this day perhaps few thinkers or writers have built as many bridges as Lewis in pointing people to Christ for both believers and non-believers.
In my own journey I have been a follower and lover of Jesus Christ since I was six years old. I have three degrees in theology and have been involved in church ministry since I was seventeen: in Brethren Churches, Baptist Churches, Evangelical Free Churches, Reformed Churches, Charismatic Churches, and various non-denominational churches. I have wrestled mightily, agonizingly, emotionally, subjectively, and objectively with issues of theology and methodology. Here are some of the positions I’ve wrestled with over the years:
Theology Proper – Process Theology? Open Theism? Augustinian-Calvinist? Modified Calvinist? Simple-Foreknowledge? Classical Free Will? Middle-Knowledge? Molinism?
Creation – 7 Literal Days? Young Earth? Old Earth? Day-Age View? Theistic Evolution? Framework Hypothesis? Gap Theory? Restoration View?
Bibliology – Infallibilist? Inerrantist?
Anthropology – Monism? Dichotomy? Trichotomy?
Soteriolgy – Pelagianism? Semi-Pelagianism? Augustinianism? Arminianism? Calvinism?
Predestination and Free Will - God Limits His Power? God Limits His Knowledge? God Ordains All Things? God Knows All Things?
Atonement – Christus Victor? Moral Government? Penal Substitution? Healing? Kaleidoscopic?
Justification – Deification? Traditional Reformed? Progressive Reformed? New Perspective?
Eternal Security – Classical Calvinist? Moderate Calvinist? Reformed Arminian? Wesleyan Arminian?
Sanctification – Wesleyan? Reformed? Pentecostal? Keswick? Augustinian-Dispensational?
Christology – Classical View? Kenotic View?
Eschatology – Amillennialism? Postmillennialism? Dispensational Premilillennialsm? Historic Premillennialism?
Hell – Annihilationism? Purgatory? Metaphorical? Conditional? Literal?
Pneumatology – Reformed? Dimensional Charismatic? Wesleyan? Catholic? Pentecostal?
Baptism – Symbol of Christ’s Saving Work? Sacrament of the Covenant? God’s Baptismal Act as Regenerative? Believer’s Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation?
Lord’s Supper – Christ’s True, Real, and Substantial Presence? Spiritual Presence of Christ? Christ’s Presence as Memorial?
Apologetics – Classical? Evidential? Cumulative Case? Presuppositional? Reformed Epistemology?
Law and Gospel – Non-Theonomic? Theonomic Reformed? God’s Gracious Guidance? Dispensational? Modified Lutheran?
Biblical Theology – Principalizing? Redemptive-Historical? Drama of Redemption? Redemptive-Movement?
Systematic Theology – Charismatic? Pentecostal? Dispensational? Progressive Dispensationalism? Covenant? Epangelical?
Destiny of the Unevangelized - Pluralism? Inclusivism? Particularism?
Women in Ministry – Egalitarian? Complementarian? Plural Ministry? Male Leadership?
Church Government – Episcopalianism? Presbyterianism? Single-Elder Congregationalism? Plural-Elder Congregationalism?
Counseling – Levels of Explanation? Integration? Christian Psychology? Transformational Psychology? Biblical?
Charismatic Gifts – Cessationism? Open but Cautious? Charismatic? Pentecostal? Third Wave?
I actually have 75 books in my library that have 2-5 views held by professing Christians on these and many more issues. What troubles me about the Strange Fire Conference and forthcoming book by John MacArthur is the time and effort into issues that divide rather than unite the body of Christ. This is a time for bridge building among Christians, not blowing them up! With the onslaught of immorality, relativism, and persecution on Christians around the world it’s more important than perhaps any other time in history that Christians unite and major on the majors and learn to minor on the minors.
The reality is no two theologians will agree on everything. I have a Jewish friend that jokingly says, “If you get three Rabbi’s in a room to debate an issue there will be four opinions.” I think the same can be said among any three random Protestant Pastors. The reality is that when we all get to Heaven we will find out we erred in many of our views. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek the truth and give up on finding the truth, but it does mean that we should humbly pursue truth and be patient with those who disagree with us. It’s a good thing the thief on the cross didn’t have to pass a theological exam to get into Heaven. He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner, deserved to be punished for his sin, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to save him – and we’ll see that guy in Heaven one day!
We need to rally around “Mere Christianity” and work towards being united with those who love Christ, His Word, and pursue His truth in humble and prayerful discussion together. Let’s not shoot our own wounded, but take care of one another’s wounds. Let’s patiently and lovingly pursue the truth together and agree to disagree on minor issues. Let’s unite on the greatness of God, and the glorious gospel, and the return of His Son. Let’s be more concerned about our own sins than the sins of others. Let’s become grace bound, grace oriented, and err on the side of grace. Let’s exalt Jesus and make Him our King, Lord, Savior, and find our satisfaction, joy, and delight in Him.
There’s only one man who had it all down perfectly and that was Jesus. He is and ever will be the lone perfect theologian who has perfect theology. Until He returns or takes us home we need to learn to submit to Him, point others to Him, seek Him, pursue His truth, and learn to get along by majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors. Let’s pursue the big ideas and big doctrines in the Bible and unite around those. There’s too much against us in the world for us to turn on one another.
As a Dodger fan, when I go to the baseball games I don’t focus on the guys political shirt next to me – I don’t argue with him over our differences. There’s simply one goal – cheer for our team to win. When Puig hits a home run – I high-five the guy next to me and we are full of joy because we are focused on what we agree on. Let’s stop arguing about what we’re wearing, how we’re worshipping, what style of music we’re listening to, and work together to win! We have one great commission; one great Book; one great Savior; one great King; one powerful Spirit; one powerful message; and one calling to bring glory to God; and as Paul said, “This one thing I do!” Let’s get out there and do it…together!
The strangest thing about the Strange Fire conference is that it represents a strange Christianity. Christians according to Jesus Himself are to be known by their love, not by burning each other down, but by building each other up. I am grateful for the fellowship, friendships, and learning that I have received from continuationists and non-continuationists. I know that we can’t all be right about everything, but I do know that we can do more together for the sake of Christ and His glory than we can apart. I also know that the fruit of the Spirit never burns but soothes – He is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. As believers, let’s build each other up, not burn each other, let’s be controlled by the Spirit not grieve the Spirit, and let’s proclaim the glory of Christ by the power of the Spirit for our own good and God’s glory. Ironically the closer we get to the Son – the less likely we are to get burned, or burn others.
What biblical principles should guide Christian bloggers? I am increasingly thinking about this question because maintaining the mission and reputation of the institution I lead increasingly requires me to respond quickly and frequently to questions, assertions, and criticisms from the unjuried world of the blogosphere.
- I do not think I have always responded well. Defending truth may well require correction and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2). Still, I confess discomfort with the ready sarcasm and flip accusations that seem so prevalent in the world of blogs and but so foreign to the biblical ethic of esteeming others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4).
Listening to the “ouch” from others about things I have written, and feeling the “ouch” from what others have written, have convicted me of the need to think more seriously about the biblical benefits and boundaries of such words—a task also urged by leaders with similar concerns at a recent meeting of The Gospel Coalition’s Council.
I am particularly concerned about two issues: What general principles should guide Christians in distributed communication, and what special principles should guide Christians when they address issues about and to the church in such communication?
Some may shrug off the question of what is proper Christian communication on the internet, saying it is hardly likely that all internet dialogue will honor the rule of Christ. Even Christians may argue that internet sites and social media create something of a digital lunchroom where participants not only expect the conversation to be free flowing but also less accountable to the standards of traditional media.
Of course, the context and genre of communication properly influence our judgment of what Christians can or should say. We do not expect a stage play to sound like a Sunday sermon, or a website to be as careful as a catechism. But if Christians are to be salt and light in every sphere of life, then they must also consider what should characterize internet communication that honors Christ.
The present era is not the first in which Christians have considered whether the Bible’s standards apply to new forms of communication. Gutenberg, Marconi, Coughlin, Hearst, Limbaugh, Drudge, Huffington, and Zuckerberg represent waves of new communication approaches that have changed the shoreline of expectations regarding what utterances can or should be distributed. Still, we limit our God if we presume that he cannot establish transcendent standards of truth and love that supersede changing communication expectations.
As a Christian who believes in the lordship of Christ over the whole of life, I know that I have a responsibility to discern what the Bible requires of me in all aspects of life—even those of the web.  I also know that I cannot here address all possible issues (such as those faced by bloggers in lands of persecution). Still, I hope the following discussion of biblical principles will make all of us who engage in internet communication more conscious of applicable biblical principles—and also a bit more reflective before hitting the “post” button.
I. Christian Communication Must Be True
Christian communication that purports to be true, should be. That’s obvious, but some additional specificity may be helpful—and challenging. The third commandment (which requires care for God’s name, particularly in taking oaths and vows in support of the truth) and the ninth commandment (which is more narrowly concerned with malicious slander) plainly forbid spreading falsehoods in either personal or public communication. 
The Bible repeats the requirement of guarding the truth many times and in many ways in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g.,Ex 23:1; Lv 19:11-16, 35-36; Ps 82:2-3; Prv 23:10; 31:8-9; Rom 12:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20; Eph 4:25; 2 Tm 3:3; Jas 3:17; 1 Jn 4:20). The judgment of charity binds us not only to tell the truth but also to seek to interpret other’s statements and actions in the best light (Mt 7:12; 1 Cor 13:6-7). We are also obligated to protect the reputations of others against slander, innuendo, false implication, and even the damage to truth caused by inappropriate silence (Zech 8:16; Prv 17:15; 1 Tm 6:4; 2 Tm 4:16).
These standards of truth are high, but they merely form the ground floor of the biblical architecture for communication that honors God. Simply telling the truth is not enough.
II. Christian Communication Must Be Provable
The Bible does not allow us to publish what we think is true if we cannot prove it. Before we disseminate favorable or unfavorable information we are required to ensure and evidence its accuracy.
This means first that we must have dependable sources. Where facts are not plain, we may not receive or act upon accusations without the confirmation of multiple witnesses (e.g., Nm 35:30; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tm 5:19). Unproven suspicions, idle speculation, quarrelsome suppositions, and malicious rumors have no place in Christian communication (Prv 16:28; 26:20; 1 Tm 6:20; 2 Tm 2:16, 23, 24; Ti 3:9). The Bible admonishes us not to accept reports from foolish, undependable, or malicious sources (e.g. Prv 10:14; 26:24-5; 28:26; Eccl 10:3)—an important standard for the readers, as well as the writers, of blogs.
Righteous judgment also requires getting the perspective of the accused (Dt 1:16-17; 17:2-13; 25:1; Matt 18:15-17). The Bible will not allow us to act as though we have the whole story, when we have heard only from one side of a dispute (Prv 18:17).
Biblical mandates to assess the reliability of sources and perspectives ordinarily make it wrong to receive or distribute anonymous accusations. Allowing “unidentified sources” to make controversial claims not only denies readers the ability to judge the reliability of the source, but may also jeopardize the biblical right of those being accused not to have their reputations stolen or unfairly damaged (1 Pet 2:1).
The biblical requirements of dependable sources and provable information mean that some matters will always be unpublishable for Christians. For example, if we cannot prove the motive for an action, then we cannot publish speculations or assertions about motive without being guilty of spreading unsubstantiated gossip.
In faith-related publications and blogs the attribution of motive where it cannot be confirmed is, sadly, one of the most common breaches of biblical principle. With regularity I read reports that individuals or institution are doing something that a blog or publication disapproves because:
“They desire to lead the church to the right” (or “to the left”).
“They just want the approval of their friends.”
“They fear the reaction of their supporters.”
The Bible says only God “knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps 44:21; cf. 1 Sm 16:7; 1 Cor 4:5; Jas 4:11). Impugning motives without proof violates the ethics of biblical communication.
Years ago a report claimed that in the face of declining attendance, mainline Protestant church leaders “seem reluctant to talk boldly about justice issues for fear of making members uncomfortable.” While non-mainline church leaders may find such statements credible and may even take delight in them, without further substantiation this statement fails to meet the standards of biblical communication. This report claims that thousands of ministers in numerous denominations are cowards who willingly compromise their ethics in order to gain approval. Even if the writer believes this story is true, such sweeping and disparaging claims about motives should never be published without corroborating evidence or credible testimony.
Any medium that exhibits a pattern of unproven accusation becomes a threat to all groups who would be jeopardized by falling into public disapproval—including religious groups. While Christians may be sorely tempted to assign motives they suspect are true, what cannot be proven should not be published.
Christian bloggers (and other publishers) sometimes adopt secular practices to justify attributions of motive or to make accusations without proof. For example, a blog may not name a person being disparaged, but may provide not-so-subtle hints of the accused’s identity.
Another way of sidestepping responsibility for attributing motives involves using some form of the word “allege”—as in, “He did this awful thing because he wants to promote a gay, feminist, liberal, fundamentalist, postmodern, secular, humanist, evolutionist agenda—allegedly.”
In secular journalism, the word allegedly may be used to shield those legally accused from conclusions about their guilt. However, the word can also protect publications from libel suits where accusations are being made without adequate proof. The publication can always protest, “We did not actually accuse the person of wrongdoing, we only alleged it.” Such a defense, however, while being within legal fences, transgresses the biblical commands against spreading gossip and against stealing another’s reputation. Christian bloggers may not escape scriptural injunctions against impugning motives by padding accusations with “allegedly” language.
It may, of course, be newsworthy to report that a significant individual or group has impugned the motives of another person. When well-known Pastor Jacobs says that well-known Pastor Wells began this ministry in order to “line his own pocket,” then the fact that one of such stature has made such an accusation becomes a story in itself. But a journalist or blogger who relates such information must also hold Pastor Jacobs accountable to prove that what he has said is true. Further, if the one making the accusation does not have stature, nor significant proof that the claim is credible, then biblical mandates against the spread of gossip forbid repeating the allegation (Ex 23:1; Prv 10:18; 1 Cor 6:10; 2 Cor 12:20; 2 Tm 3:3; Eph 4:31).
So if we honor the biblical requirements to distribute only what is true and only what is provable, then have we fulfilled all of the obligations of Christian communication? The answer is still no. We cannot distribute information or commentary simply because we believe it is true. And even if we can prove what we are reporting is true, that is still not enough. What else could possibly be required of Christians before they distribute news about others?
III. Christian Communication Must Be Edifying
The further biblical obligations of Christian communicators may initially be grasped by considering a secular journalism distinction. In the minds of most non-journalists “libel” and “slander” are synonymous, relating to the spread of false information that damages someone’s reputation. But there is a legal distinction between the two terms. Slander spreads falsehood; libel occurs when a person is “held up to public ridicule or contempt,” even if what is said is true.
In a classic example of libel, a story may reveal that a homemaker with four children in a sleepy suburb was a drug addict 15 years ago. Without a compelling public interest (and special rules of law apply to public figures and issues of public interest) the law will not allow journalists to publish such facts—even if they are true.
Secular law will not allow the distributing information (even if it can be proven true) that damages without purpose—and neither will Scripture. Christians are biblically obligated only to say what will edify (i.e., build up; see Eph. 4:12, 16). This means that, in addition to being careful about judging the motives of others, Christians must also consider their own motives when assessing the appropriateness of news they distribute or characterizations they make.
Journalists are trained to consider whether there is “a compelling public interest” for their story. Christians (whether writers, bloggers, broadcasters, or good neighbors) are under the further obligation to consider how their words fulfill their calling to “give grace to those who hear” and to redeem all things for the glory of the Savior (Eph. 4:29; 1 Cor. 10:31).
I recognize that, for some people, saying blogs should be edifying is a little like advocating a polite hockey game. When our society’s web tastes are accustomed to bruising rhetoric, we do not relish commentary unless it bashes somebody. Christian bloggers face the dilemma of knowing the Bible requires edifying speech, but also realizing that a blog that does not rip or ridicule may not attract the traffic that justifies its existence.
By identifying this dilemma, I do not want to suggest that there is never biblical cause to criticize or challenge. We edify not only by saying encouraging things, but by identifying injustice, dishonesty, irresponsibility, and evil that threaten a church, community, or orthodoxy. We do not further Christ’s purposes by ignoring wrongs that perpetuate heresy, corruption, or oppression. To edify we may need to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tm 4:2).
Biblical edification may also include declining to report what damages others for no purpose honoring to God or furthering his priorities (Prv 11:13; 17:9; Jas 1:26; 1 Pt 4:8). Thus, when I met with an organizational committee designing the mission statement for a web magazine, we recognized that it was not enough to say the publication would engage in “accurate reporting.” A commitment only to accuracy may simply allow a publication to gather facts that, while true, result in cynical, destructive, and self-absorbed journalism.
Truthful and accurate reporting remains essential, but without a higher, spiritual purpose the facts alone will not keep our reports edifying and biblical. As a consequence, our web magazine added to its mission statement a clause committing us to engage in accurate reporting “for the welfare of the church.”
If criticism must be leveled, Christians must understand that their reporting and commentary cannot simply be driven by pageviews, the satisfaction of embarrassing opponents, or leverage in the latest church power struggle.
If Christians do not recognize the need for a higher standard than bare truth, then we may not see anything wrong with reporting the true and provable positions of U.S. troops in a time of war (as a well-known television reporter did years ago), or vilifying a brother or sister in Christ simply because we have the facts and find it fun to do so.
Without the higher goal of edification, truth can be employed for evil as effectively as can lies. Thus, in addition to being true and provable, edifying communication must also be respectful, fair, and responsible.
Communication guided by Scripture advocates priorities that promote the kingdom of God on earth. At times, this mission will require us to expose and counter unbiblical influences and worldviews to which peers may be blind (e.g., materialism, consumerism, escapism, authoritarianism, secularism, humanism, racism, and cynicism). Advancing Christ’s purposes also requires holding the church, its members, and its leaders accountable to kingdom priorities of compassion, integrity, purity, humility, and sacrifice. But in order for such communication to contribute faithfully to Christ’s purposes, it must also be respectful.
Respectful communication is driven by the awareness that our comments and critiques are always directed toward those made in the image of God (Gn 1:26-27; Jas 3:9). We are stewards of his glory even amid the “glorious ruins” of humanity, to borrow from Francis Schaeffer. The golden rule applies not because others always deserve such regard, but because the divine image in them—marred as it may be—requires our regard. Those guilty of gross misconduct are, yet, to be treated as a believer would wish to be treated (Lk 6:31).
The Christian responsibility to address wrongdoing accurately and vigorously does not annul the law of love toward neighbors or enemies (Lv 19:17-18; Mt 5:44; Lk 10:36-37; Rom 12:9-10; Jas 2:8; 1 Jn 4:20-21). We do not approve of evil, but we speak of evildoers with prayer that the exposure of their sin will lead to their correction and repentance. We never cease to be responsible to communicate in a manner best for others’ eternal good. Thus, we must regard all, always, with “proper respect” (1 Pt 2:17).
If such respect is demanded for persons in general, then it is even more necessary for the leaders of God’s appointment in both the secular and church realms (2 Sm 1:14-16; Rom 13:1; Heb 13:17). Sadly these two classes of individuals often receive the most disrespectful commentary in “Christian” publications and web posts. Christians who write critically of leaders are never excluded from the apostles’ commands to pray for those in authority and to treat them with respect (Rom 13:7; 1 Tm 2:1-4; and 1 Pt 2:13-14,17). Yet, despite these clear scriptural imperatives, the demeaning of leaders is blood sport made frequent on religious blogs, especially in their feedback comments. There the most provocative seem convinced that the righteousness of their perspective permits them to ignore Scripture about honoring leaders.
Proper respect for secular authorities established by God may actually be less difficult for us than respect for fellow believers. We often save our worst slurs for those we consider enemies within the camp. Critique of, and disagreement with, church leaders can create ethical challenges for believers that secular commentators do not face. For example, how do we deal with leaders among the covenant people whom an apostle would label as dried up springs or muddy pigs (2 Pt 2:17, 22)?
Before we would attach such labels, we must be very sure that we can also speak with an apostle’s certainty about the character of those we are describing. Additionally, if we are not sure that we are describing unbelievers, then we also have an obligation to remember that we are speaking of those united to Christ and indwelt by his Spirit (Gal 2:20).
Such persons are as precious to God as Jesus himself and are to be honored by us (Rom. 12:10). They are his covenant people, his treasured possession, and citizens of heaven with all of its rights, privileges, and protections (Eph 2:19). With such persons we are required to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace as much as we are able (Eph 4:2-3; Rom 12:18).
Finally, we are biblically required to treat fellow believers—especially leaders—as members of our eternal family (Gal 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:17-20; Heb. 13:17).
Some time ago, a blog posted an article implying that a professor at our seminary had taken a position contrary to principles he has defended all of his life. I phoned the author to say that, while he had written nothing factually untrue, his insinuation breached biblical obligations. “The Bible says that you are to ‘treat older men as fathers’ (1 Tm 5:1),” I said, “and, until you have proof of his error, you are bound to defend the reputation of this man as though he were your own father.” The writer simply replied that he did not feel that these principles applied in this situation. But he had no basis for excusing himself from his family obligations to a father in the faith.
The compartmentalization of life that excuses living by differing ethics in differing spheres is a betrayal of Scripture. Christ is Lord over the whole of life (Phil 2:9-11). As the psalmist writes, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps 24:1).
The principles that govern how we treat fellow believers in the church and in our homes do not disappear simply because we are alone, posting a blog comment late at night. We are always obligated to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), honor others as we would wish to be honored (Phil 2:3-4; 1 Pet 2:17), and defend the reputations of fellow believers from false, unproven, or uncharitable characterizations (cf. Prv 31:8-9; 2 Tim 4:16).
So how do we deal with a fellow believer whom we believe is wrong and whose misdeeds need to be brought to light? We must deal with such a person fairly.
We do not show partiality simply because one is weak or powerful, unlovely or attractive, wealthy or destitute (Lv 19:15; Rom 12:7;1 Tm 5:21; Jas 2:1-9). We represent others’ thoughts, ideas, and explanations as accurately and credibly as possible.
As a rule of thumb, our arguments should represent our opponents in a way they would approve or make their case even better than they could. Straw man caricatures of others’ positions are not fair, because incomplete representations of others’ ideas do not reveal the full truth of another believer’s convictions. In other words, straw man arguments are a form of lying about a person, because they misrepresent what that person actually believes.
In order to represent other persons fully and fairly, Christian are obligated to obtain their views directly from them (not relying on hearsay or gossip). Especially if the report contains an accusation, it is important to allow them to interact with what will be reported. In essence, the principles of Matthew 18, giving a person direct opportunity to respond to personal accusation, do not disappear from our Christian obligations simply because we are engaged in internet chatter.
If someone has intentionally said or published a matter available for public scrutiny, then the initial obligations of Matthew 18 are already met for critics. Scripture intends for accusations to be proven by witnesses so that false claims or misunderstanding do not become the basis of judgment. But if someone has made views or actions available to others (in publications, internet, or other media outlets), then he or she self-attests to the concerns that others may wish to critique. In other words, we are not obligated personally to contact an author or speaker about published views before critiquing those views.
When critiquing published views, the obligations of truthfulness, charity, and respect remain. If the potential for misunderstanding is significant, critics must make a reasonable effort to clarify the original author or speaker’s intentions before distributing judgments that could needlessly distort, create conflict, or damage reputations. Often this can be done by giving the original author or speaker a preview of the article, entry, or comment that a critic has prepared to publish. The instant postings that internet readers may expect from a blogger do not remove the Christian’s obligation fairly to represent others’ views or actions.
When clarification from the original source is not feasible, and the intentions of that source are unclear, we may not assume the worst possible reading to be the only possible meaning. In such a situation, a critic is obligated to provide an alternative interpretation to readers in addition to the critique—even if the alternative interpretation could blunt the critique. The rule of charity requires us not to make a malicious reading of another’s words the only interpretation we consider.
A Christian blogger is also biblically bound to judge whether those making critique or comment have the expertise and character to make fair comment. To give platform to what is uninformed or ungodly, unfairly exposes the body of Christ and its members to wrong impressions and consequent damage.
I recognize that the ethics of the internet favor the democratization and equalization of all commentary. A wiki-mindset assumes that the larger the universe of opinion, the greater the likelihood that truth will bubble up. But the Bible does not judge truth by consensus or establish morality by popularity.
We are called to make our evaluations with righteous judgment, requiring adequate knowledge and applying biblical principles (Deut 16:18; Ps 87:2-3; Prv 3:30; Jn 7:24). In order to enable readers to maintain these priorities, we should at least require commenters claiming special knowledge or expertise to identify their relevant credentials, qualifications, or associations.
In addition, we are commanded to keep our tongues from expressions of malice, slander, and obscene talk (Col 3:8) and to ensure our “speech always be gracious” (Col 4:6). Giving platform to those who will not follow these standards makes us complicit in their sin.
Responsibilities for Bloggers
A blogger may contend that he or she is not responsible for what others say in such open forums. But this defense can be compromised by the blogger’s self-interests. At sites known for their edginess, shutting down or refereeing incendiary comments may damage the popularity of the blog.
The “cock-fight fascination” that draws visitors to religious controversy creates ethical pressures for Christian bloggers who believe they best fulfill their mission by garnering more attention for their point of view. The Bible calls them to seek peace, but they have to multiply controversy (or allow commenters to do so) in order to keep their blog visitable and viable (Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14-15).
We will not have means to navigate these issues unless we again agree that the Bible applies in the blogosphere (Ps 24:1). With that agreement, we can examine biblical responsibilities that we personally assume when we post on the internet.
The biblical ethic that primarily should bind us is not maximizing pageviews but faithfulness. If faithfulness should require our failure to succeed in worldly terms, then loyalty to heaven’s priorities demands that we fail rather than disregard Scripture.
As a consequence, principles of Christian speech stated previously in this article regulate believers’ internet communication:
Christians are not permitted to voice idle speculation or echo damaging rumors.
Our speech (spoken, printed or digitized) must be gracious, respectful, free of malice, and without obscenity.
Our judgments must be fair, impartial, and based on adequate information.
We may not demean for personal gratification or gain.
We may not slander.
Still, the question remains regarding what bloggers should allow others to say in comment forums. Here is the key principle: A publisher (site, blog, or other media outlet) that has the ability to referee others’ comments has the responsibility for the righteousness, if not the rightness, of what others say in that forum.
In other words, a blogger may well provide for expression of a variety of views without expecting that they all be correct or agreeable. But the variety of views should all be expressed righteously; i.e., without transgression of biblical standards of godly and ethical speech.
When making determinations about what blog comments to allow, we should remember that the Bible says it is as wrong to pass unsubstantiated reports, unfair statements, and gossip as it is to originate them (Ex. 23:1; Prov. 10:18; 17:4; 20:19; Rom 1:29-32;2 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:31; 5:11). As stated previously, the Bible also prohibits receiving unproven accusations or publishing reports from foolish, undependable, or malicious sources.
Responsibilities for Readers
Note this principle about ungodly reports not only means that bloggers should reject unbiblical comments; it also means that believers should avoid reading them. By keeping the pageviews high, readers imbibe evil and contribute to the viability of sites promoting ungodliness.
Much ungodliness in the Christian blogosphere would disappear if responsible Christians steered clear of the scandal sites and watchblogs. All believers are obligated to promote only what builds up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12, 16). Thus, we cannot excuse ourselves from responsibility for what others say, if we have provided, or supported, their platform.
Responsibility for Comments
But what if the blogger cannot monitor the comments of others for practical reasons (e.g., posts are too numerous or time is too short), or principled convictions (e.g., the purpose of the forum is to provide uncensored expression of opinion)? Is it ever right to provide platform to unrestricted commentary, knowing that ungodly or unethical speech will result?
The answer to these questions must be a qualified yes. The need for free expression may on occasion and for a time outweigh the need to guard Christian expression. In times of crisis, repression, or breaking news, it may be more important to allow comments to fountain than to impose monitoring that may restrict information or create distrust of open access to the site. If it is apparent that everyone can say anything, then readers will hopefully adopt a caveat emptor (“buyer beware!”) mindset regarding all comments—and hopefully more principled standards will guide the site when the crisis has passed.
Still, open channel commentary of an unbiblical nature should not be the practice of Christian bloggers on sites representing themselves as dependable sources of information and Christian dialogue. Giving platform to comments that demean or defame disregards too much Scripture. Captivating, funny, or titillating as it may be to read a clever put-down or an impassioned rant, ungodly communication should not be promoted by God’s people.
Though seminary students are busy, every now and then a student newspaper or webzine gets started on our campus. I always encourage it—on two conditions.
The first condition is that all characterizations of persons or positions must be respectful. The second condition is that, before anything critical is published, the writer of the article must make sure the person or group being criticized has been allowed to comment whether the piece is accurate and fair—particularly if it involves citing private matters or could have been misunderstood.
Not surprisingly the requirements to be respectful, fair, and responsible often kill the incentive of those interested in the publication. The internet has made students today so accustomed to a person or idea being flamed for fun that they see no reason for a publication unless it allows them similar pleasure.
A student said to me, “But we want controversy.” I had to ask, “At whose expense and to what end?” The answer was only that controversy would boost readership. That is certainly true. Controversy and insult will get attention just as surely as a fight behind the gym will gather a crowd. But the apostle Paul wrote, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the pagans do. . . . Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:17, 29). Those whose faith differs from that of the world must have communication principles that differ from the world.
IV. Christian Communication Must Be Redemptive
No set of words—such as respectful, fair, and responsible—will ultimately provide all the criteria active bloggers need for the complex and quick decisions needed for their frequent posts. I do not anticipate that any blogger (or I) will remember all of the Bible verses that apply to each day’s writing or comment editing.
Like so many other aspects of the Christian life, we develop habits and instincts that guide us through most of life’s ethical issues. As a consequence of how biblical instincts develop and control those in whom the Spirit dwells, I write now with great hope for Christians active in the blogosphere. For though Bible memory and text application may fail us, there remains an overriding ethic that will guide committed Christians: we are stewards of Christ’s name on earth.
Fundamental to our Christian calling is the joy that we each participate in the redemption of creation for the glory of our Savior. The splendid gift of Christian communication, in whatever media or form it takes, is that Christ can use our thoughts, words, and images to further his purposes on earth and for eternity.
Our communication is not simply about staying within the bounds of biblical propriety—it is about being champions of truth, beauty, justice, and mercy. The heart and mind set upon such things are not consumed by petty arguments, not enthralled with personal banter, and not distracted by personal acclaim.
Those led by the Spirit know deep down at the soul level what speech and attitudes are redemptive, and these become the guiding passions of each day’s campaign for the glory of Christ. These passions are not simply about vanilla smiles and sweet sentiment. They are the wellspring of instincts that can identify the most subtle evil; they are the lifeblood of the will to endure lifelong battles; and they are the backbone of the character to stand alone if need be to speak for Christ.
We are advocates for the advance of the kingdom of God. Such advocacy under the banner of our Savior is truly noble and will be full of enough controversy for anyone willing to fight on his terms. You will find, however, that even fellow believers will often resist fighting on Christ’s terms because of the discipline and charity such redemptive battles require. They always obligate us to consider the heart and soul of those we are fighting, as well as those we are defending. Our most rigorous critiques still require us to desire the good of those we are correcting and, if they are believers, to engage them in such a way that the Spirit will lead them to repentance and reconciliation in the church (Rom 12:21; 15:2; Eph 4:29, 32; 1 Thes 5:15; 2 Tm 2:25; 1 Pt 2:1).
Our published words should seek to safeguard the opportunity for unity that is the church’s unique testimony and power. Name calling, the desire to shame, and the demand to take scalps for the camp we represent will not redeem. Our communication must honor Christ in manner as well as in message until the whole body is united under its Head for his worldwide purposes (Eph. 1:21-11; 4:15-16).
The Bible forbids any action motivated by malice (Lv 19:17; Eph 4:31; Col 3:8; Jas 1:20). Yet, because the lust for victory and retaliation is so strong—even in the church—respectful, fair, and responsible communication will cause its champions to suffer attack and abuse. But such suffering for the sake of the kingdom is the redemptive pattern that the Master left us to follow and will produce the fruit he desires (Jn 15:5; 1 Pt 2:21).
Even those who are not called to write blogs or publish other forms of Christian communication have responsibilities. First, we should use Christian principles to evaluate the communication that pervades our internet browsing. Consistently imbibing contemporary media without biblical discretion tempts us to consider what is pervasive as being acceptable and imitable.
The reason some of today’s advocacy journalism and web commentary are so dangerous to Christians is not because we are blind to their biases. Rather, the danger lies in our tendency to think that, since we agree with the viewpoints of certain commentators, therefore their digs at, and disrespect of, opponents are acceptable among us.
Blocs of Christians grow to appreciate certain commentators because they seem willing to say what we would like to say but our biblical instincts have made us hesitant to express. At first, we chortle at the sarcasm and scorn with guilty pleasure that our enemies have been made to squirm. But, over time, we no longer feel guilty, and then the real damage is done. Christ’s testimony erodes when his people grow so accustomed to verbal disdain that we begin to believe such speech is permissible for us. When the church fills with people holding so little regard for her spoken witness, then her redemptive purposes are far removed from her daily priorities.
We must determine whether our web tastes have been cultivated by the world or by its Creator. Returning evil for evil is not a Christian option. When the speech habits of the world become the unexamined practices of the redeemed, then it is time for correction and repentance. We correct by letting those in our own camps know when their commentary has moved beyond the bounds of biblical ethics and Christian love. We repent by, first, confessing that we are as wrong to receive gossip and slander as to spread it, and, second, by refusing to consume or visit the publications and sites that claim to be Christian and do not honor Christ’s commands.
Words have power to defend the helpless, repulse evil, inspire beauty, promote mercy, and further justice. Words also have the power to counter each of these kingdom goals. The believer’s calling, whether on the internet or in neighborhood conversation, is to communicate in ways that extend Christ’s rule over all. When we provide and support communication that is true, substantiated, edifying, and redemptive, then Christians will simultaneously counter and transform our culture. This generation’s communication trajectories have clearly been claimed by the internet; this generation’s calling is now to claim the internet for Christ.
 A few years ago, I gathered many of these thoughts for a journalism essay [published as "A Christian Journalism," in Speaking the Truth, ed. Kimberly Collins (New York: World Journalism Institute, 2008)], but new challenges have led to some fresh edits and adds that will hopefully advance this conversation.
 See expositions of these commandments in Westminster Larger Catechism 111-113, 145; Westminster Shorter Catechism 76-78, 53-55). The answer to Question 145 of the Westminster Larger Catechism is particularly instructive: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond [i.e., infatuated or doting] admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
*Article origin: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/entry/the_bible_for_bloggers August 27, 2012
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Chapell has served as President of Covenant Seminary since 1994. He began teaching at Covenant Seminary in 1984 after ten years in pastoral ministry. Before becoming President, he served for six years as Vice President for Academics and Dean of Faculty. He is much sought after as a speaker in churches and conferences around the country. Christ-Centered Preaching has established him as one of the nation’s most recognized teachers of homiletics. Dr. Chapell teaches the introductory homiletics courses and several practicums, giving every MDiv student the opportunity to study under him.
Truth Starts With God Himself: Review by David P. Craig
There is a crisis of truth in our postmodern times. However, as Phillips points out, “our society dogmatically rejects truth in theory but cannot live that way in practice…The crisis of the postmodern position is that it cannot believe or live out its own claims. Postmodernity has nothing to believe, including its own unbelief, despite the aching need of humans to know and believe.”
Phillips proceeds to give several practical examples of how modernism defined and developed its own epistemology (theory of knowledge), and how postmoderns struggled with modernistic thought and what has resulted from that is a full-blown relativism where “we can’t know truth.” Instead of downright playing down the postmodern critique of truth, Phillips argues that Christians can apply some of the strengths of postmodernism in four ways:
First, Christians should acknowledge the role that context plays in anyone’s understanding and belief. “Truth” is always held by actual persons, and those persons are deeply shaped by culture, language, heritage, and community.
Second, we should share postmodernity’s concern that truth may become more an object of power than a mans for enlightenment.
Third, if postmodern critiques cause Christians (among others) to challenge doctrines and views that have become traditional, we can be thankful for the opportunity to reconsider, reformulate, and restate teachings that may have become stale in our practice.
Fourth, Christians may be cobelligerent with postmodernity’s assaults against modernism.
The problems with both modernism and postmodernism essentially boils down to the same thing: they both deny the existence of God – Who is truth, reveals the truth, and is the way to truth through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Phillips writes, “Evangelical Christians, in particular, believe that truth derives from and is revealed by God. Thus, truth is authoritative. Here is where postmodernity parts company with historic Christianity, for the postmodern view rejects the reality of truth, positing an implicit (and in some cases, explicit) relativism in which nothing is really and finally true.” The author gives several examples of how this theory does not work in actual practice. Here is one example from the book:
“One professor made this point after his college class had united against him in insisting that nothing is ultimately true or morally wrong in an objective sense. The next day the professor informed the students that regardless of their performance on the exam they were all going to receive an F. The students objected in unison, ‘But that’s wrong!’ and the professor’s point against relativism was made. No one can live it, and therefore no one really believes it.”
The author articulates and expands on a third way of understanding truth based on what God has revealed to us in the Bible that is consistent with our experience – i.e., it corresponds to reality. He writes, “Christianity presents a legitimate third way over against the modern and the postmodern. With the moderns we believe that truth exists and is accessible, though we steadfastly reject that we can exhaustively know truth by our unaided reason. With the postmoderns we are skeptical that finite, fallible humans are the agents of truth, though we insist that truth is real and that we can know it. A successful Christian epistemology, then, not only responds to evangelical Christian belief but also enables us to communicate our doctrine of knowing to a world that both doubts and greatly desires to know truth.”
In this essay Phillips has brilliantly and cogently argued for the reality of truth, how one can know the truth, defend truth, and live by and for the truth. You will find many examples of how modernism and postmodernism fall short in their theories of epistemology, and how a Christian epistemology is simply the most logical way of discovering the truth – because our belief and practice emanates from the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the Lord Jesus Christ. The salient point is made by Phillips, “Love divorced from truth is not love, and truth divorced from love is not truth.” As Jesus perfectly modeled, spoke, and loved in truth, so must we. We are called to “speak the truth in love” just as we have heard it and experienced it in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.
Most persons face this issue only in a time of crisis. A senseless accident, a wasting disease, or an awful crime demands some explanation. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as a giant tornado brought death and destruction to Moore, Oklahoma.
For the atheist, this is no great problem. Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.
For the Christian Scientist, the material world and the experience of suffering and death are illusory. In other religions suffering is part of a great circle of life or recurring incarnations of spirit.
Some Christians simply explain suffering as the consequence of sins, known or unknown. Some suffering can be directly traced to sin. What we sow, so shall we reap, and multiple millions of persons can testify to this reality. Some persons suffer innocently by the sinful acts of others.
But Jesus rejected this as a blanket explanation for suffering, instructing His disciples in John 9 and Luke 13 that they could not always trace suffering back to sin. We should note that the problem of evil and suffering, the theological issue of theodicy, is customarily divided into evil of two kinds, moral and natural. Both are included in these passages. In Luke 13, the murder of the Galileans is clearly moral evil, a premeditated crime–just like the terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In John 9, a man is blind from birth, and Jesus tells the Twelve that this blindness cannot be traced back to this man’s sin, or that of his parents.
Natural evil comes without a moral agent. A tower falls, an earthquake shakes, a tornado destroys, a hurricane ravages, a spider bites, a disease debilitates and kills. The world is filled with wonders mixed with dangers. Gravity can save you or gravity can kill you. When a tower falls, it kills.
People all over the world are demanding an answer to the question of evil. It comes only to those who claim that God is mighty and that God is good. How could a good God allow these things to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace?
No superficial answer will do. Our quandary is well known, and the atheists think they have our number. As a character in Archibald MacLeish’s play, J.B. asserts, “If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not God; take the even, take the odd . . . .” As he sees it, God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.
We will either take our stand with God’s self-revelation in the Bible, or we are left to invent a deity of our own imagination. The Bible quickly excludes two false understandings.
First, the Bible reveals that God is omnipotent and omniscient. These are unconditional and categorical attributes. The sovereignty of God is the bedrock affirmation of biblical theism. The Creator rules over all creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He knows the number of hairs upon our heads. God rules and reigns over all nations and principalities. Not one atom or molecule of the universe is outside His active rule.
The sovereignty of God was affirmed by King Nebuchadnezzar, who confessed that God “does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” [Daniel 4:36]. Process theologians have attempted to cut God’s power down to size, rendering the Creator as one power among others. The evangelical revisionists pushing open theism have attempted to cut God’s omniscience down to size, rendering Him as one mind among others.
Rabbi Harold Kushner argues that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances, but He lacks the power to either kill or cure. The openness theists argue that God is always ready with Plan B when Plan A fails. He is infinitely resourceful, they stress, just not really sovereign.
These are roads we dare not take, for the God of the Bible causes the rising and falling of nations and empires, and His rule is active and universal. Limited sovereignty is no sovereignty at all.
The second great error is to ascribe evil to God. But the Bible does not allow this argument. God is absolute righteousness, love, goodness, and justice. Most errors related to this issue occur because of our human tendency to impose an external standard–a human construction of goodness–upon God. But good does not so much define God as God defines good.
How then do we speak of God’s rule and reconcile this with the reality of evil? Between these two errors the Bible points us to the radical affirmation of God’s sovereignty as the ground of our salvation and the assurance of our own good. We cannot explain why God has allowed sin, but we understand that God’s glory is more perfectly demonstrated through the victory of Christ over sin. We cannot understand why God would allow sickness and suffering, but we must affirm that even these realities are rooted in sin and its cosmic effects.
How does God exercise His rule? Does He order all events by decree, or does He allow some evil acts by His mere permission? This much we know–we cannot speak of God’s decree in a way that would imply Him to be the author of evil, and we cannot fall back to speak of His mere permission, as if this allows a denial of His sovereignty and active will.
A venerable confession of faith states it rightly: “God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs, and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any way to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”
God is God, and God is good. As Paul affirms for the church, God’s sovereignty is the ground of our hope, the assurance of God’s justice as the last word, and God’s loving rule in the very events of our lives: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]
We dare not speak on God’s behalf to explain why He allowed these particular acts of evil to happen at this time to these persons and in this manner. Yet, at the same time, we dare not be silent when we should testify to the God of righteousness and love and justice who rules over all in omnipotence. Humility requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches, and go no further. There is much we do not understand. As Charles Spurgeon explained, when we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.
And so, we weep with those who weep, and we reach out with acts of care and compassion. We pray for those who are grieving and have experienced such loss. We cry for the children lost in this storm, even as we are so thankful for brave people who did their best to save lives as the winds raged. And, we pray: Even so, Lord come quickly.
Article originally appeared on August 20, 2005 and reposted again @ http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/05/21/the-goodness-of-god-and-the-reality-of-evil-4/
About Dr. Albert Mohler:
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.
Dr. Mohler has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, Time.com called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”
In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts two programs: “The Briefing,” a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview; and “Thinking in Public,” a series of conversations with the day’s leading thinkers. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural and theological issues. All of these can be accessed through Dr. Mohler’s website, http://www.AlbertMohler.com. Called “an articulate voice for conservative Christianity at large” by The Chicago Tribune, Dr. Mohler’s mission is to address contemporary issues from a consistent and explicit Christian worldview.
Widely sought as a columnist and commentator, Dr. Mohler has been quoted in the nation’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution and The Dallas Morning News. He has also appeared on such national news programs as CNN’s “Larry King Live,” NBC’s “Today Show” and “Dateline NBC,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” and Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Dr. Mohler is a theologian and an ordained minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches. He came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from service as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.
A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England).
Dr. Mohler also serves as the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His writings have been published throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to contributing to a number of collected volumes, he is the author of several books, including Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Multnomah); Desire & Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance (Multnomah); Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists (Crossway); He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Moody); The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness (Multnomah); and Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the Ten Commandments (Moody). From 1985 to 1993, he served as associate editor of Preaching, a journal for evangelical preachers, and is currently editor-in-chief of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
A leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler has served in several offices including a term as Chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, which is responsible for the denomination’s official statements on moral and doctrinal issues. He also served on the seven-person Program and Structure Study Committee, which recommended the 1995 restructuring of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In 2000, Dr. Mohler served on a blue-ribbon panel that made recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention for revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith most widely held among Southern Baptists. Most recently, he served on the Great Commission Task Force, a denominational committee that studied the effectiveness of SBC efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. He currently serves as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council of Seminary Presidents.
Dr. Mohler has presented lectures or addresses at institutions including Columbia University, the University of Virginia, Wheaton College, Samford University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the University of Richmond, Mercer University, Cedarville University, Beeson Divinity School, Reformed Theological Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, Geneva College, Biola University, Covenant Theological Seminary, The Cumberland School of Law, The Regent University School of Law, Grove City College, Vanderbilt University and the historic Chautauqua Institution, among many others.
Dr. Mohler is listed in Who’s Who in America and other biographical reference works and serves on the boards of several organizations including Focus on the Family. He is a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and serves as a council member for The Gospel Coalition.
He is married to Mary, and they have two children, Katie and Christopher.
A small item I read in the news twenty years ago has stuck in my mind ever since. The Rockdale County High School Bulldogs basketball team of Conyers, Georgia, won their first-ever state championship in March of 1987, rolling over all their opponents. After eighteen years of coaching the team without a championship, coach Cleveland Stroud was ecstatic.
But a few weeks after the championship game, Coach Stroud was doing a routine review of his players’ grades when he discovered that one of his third‑string players had failed some courses, rendering the player academically ineligible for the basketball team.
The struggling student was by no means a factor in the team’s victory. He was an underclassman who suited up for games but hadn’t actually seen any playing time all season. During one of the semifinal matches, however, with the team leading by more than 20 points, Coach Stroud wanted to give every player an opportunity to participate. He had put that player in the game for less than 45 seconds. The ineligible man had scored no points. His participation had in no way affected the outcome of the game. But it was, technically, a violation of state eligibility standards.
Coach Stroud was in a distressing predicament. If he revealed the infraction, his team would be disqualified and stripped of their championship. If he kept quiet, it was highly unlikely anyone outside the school would ever discover the offense.
Yet the coach realized that at the very least, the player involved was aware of the breach of rules. It was also possible that other students on the team knew and thought their coach had purposely ignored the eligibility guidelines. But more important still, Coach Stroud himself knew, and if he deliberately tried to keep the facts from coming to light, his greatest coaching victory would be forever tainted with an ugly secret.
Coach Stroud said from the moment he discovered the violation, he knew what he had to do. He never even pondered any alternatives. His priorities had been set long before this. He realized that his team’s championship was not as important as their character. “People forget the scores of basketball games,” he said. “They don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”
He reported the infraction and forfeited the only state championship his team had ever won.
But both coach and team won a far more important kind of honor than they forfeited. They kept their integrity intact and gained an immeasurable amount of trust and respect. The coach was recognized with numerous teacher-of-the-year, coach-of-the-year, and citizen-of-the-year awards, as well as a formal commendation from the Georgia State Legislature. A few years later he was elected to Conyers City council, where he still serves. He was right. People who would have long ago forgotten about the Bulldogs’ victory in the state championship have never forgotten about this coach’s integrity.
Ethical integrity is one of the indispensable attributes of Christlike character. As vital as it is to be sound in doctrine and faithful in teaching the truth of Scripture, it is by no means less crucial for Christians to be upright in heart and consistent in our obedience to the moral and ethical principles of God’s law.
That is no simple duty, by the way. The moral standard God’s people are supposed to live by far surpasses even the highest principles of normal human ethics.
This was one of the main points of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The whole sermon was an exposition of the Law’s moral meaning. The heart of Jesus’ message was an extended discourse against the notion that the Law’s moral principles apply only to behavior that others can see.
Jesus taught, for example, that the sixth commandment forbids not only acts of killing, but a murderous heart as well (vv. 21–22). The seventh commandment, which forbids adultery, also implicitly condemns even adulterous desires (vv. 27–28). And the command to love our neighbors applies even to those who are our enemies (vv. 43–44).
How high is the moral and ethical standard set by God’s law? Unimaginably high. Jesus equates it with God’s own perfection: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).
That sets an unattainable standard, of course. But it is our duty to pursue integrity relentlessly nonetheless. Perfect ethical consistency is a vital aspect of that consummate goal — absolute Christlikeness — toward which every Christian should continually be striving (Phil. 3:12–14). No believer, therefore, should ever knowingly sacrifice his or her ethical integrity.
Here are three powerful reasons why:
First, for the sake of our reputation. Of course, Christians should not be concerned with issues like status, class, caste, or economic prestige. In that sense, we need to be like Christ, who made Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).
There is a true sense, however, in which we do need to be concerned about maintaining a good reputation — and that is especially true in the matter of ethical integrity. One of the basic requirements for an elder is this: “He must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7 nasb).
Nothing will ruin a good reputation faster or more permanently than a deliberate breach of ethical integrity. People will forgive practically any other kind of error, negligence, or failure — but ethical bankruptcy carries a stigma that is almost impossible to rise above.
Several years ago, a parishioner told me something no pastor ever wants to hear. He had invited a business acquaintance to our church. The man replied, “You go to that church? I wouldn’t go to that church. The most corrupt lawyer in town goes to that church.”
I didn’t — and still don’t — have any idea whom he was talking about. There are dozens of attorneys in our church. My hope is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the person he had in mind was not a member of our church. But the following Sunday I recounted the incident from the pulpit and said, “If the lawyer that man described is here this morning, please take a lesson from Zaccheus: repent and do whatever you can to restore your reputation in the community. In the meantime, stop representing yourself as a Christian. You’re destroying the whole church’s reputation.”
According to Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” You don’t have a good name at all unless your ethical integrity is intact and above reproach.
Second, for the sake of our character. More important still is the issue of personal character. There’s a good reason why Jesus’ exposition of the moral law in Matthew 5 focused so much on uprightness of heart as opposed to external behavior. That’s because the real barometer of who we are is reflected in what we do when no one else is looking, how we think in the privacy of our own thoughts, and how we respond to the promptings of our own consciences. Those things are the true measure of your moral and ethical fiber.
As important as it is to keep a good reputation in the community, it is a thousand times more important to safeguard our own personal character. That is why Jesus dealt with the issues of morality and ethics beginning with the innermost thoughts of our hearts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).
It’s probably not overstating the case at all to say that the single most important battlefield in the struggle for integrity is your own mind. That’s where everything will actually be won or lost. And if you lose there, you have already ruined your character. A corrupt character inevitably spoils the reputation, too, because a bad tree can’t bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18).
That brings to mind a third reason why it is so vital to guard our moral and ethical integrity: for the sake of our testimony. Your reputation reflects what people say about you. Your testimony is what your character, your behavior, and your words say about God.
Consider what is being communicated when a Christian lacks ethical integrity. That person is saying he doesn’t truly believe what Scripture plainly says is true of God: That “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3). That “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him” (15:8). And that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” (Ps. 51:6).
In other words, the person who neglects ethical integrity is telling a lie about God with his life and his attitude. If he calls himself a Christian and professes to be a child of God, he is in fact taking God’s name in vain at the most fundamental level. That puts the issue of ethical integrity in perspective, doesn’t it?
That’s what we need to call to mind whenever we are tempted to adapt our ethical principles for convenience’ sake. It isn’t worth the high cost to our reputation, our character, or our testimony.
About the Author:
Dr. John MacArthur is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. He is also the featured teacher for the Grace to You media ministry.
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The Pursuit of Happiness
When Thomas Jefferson selected the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” to describe one of the unalienable rights of man, he was appropriating an idea with a very long history. Since the time of Aristotle and before, happiness was understood as a condition to which all people properly aspire. But for the Greeks, as for the biblical writers, happiness was an objective reality, not just a feeling or an emotional state. The phrase “whatever makes you happy,” so commonly uttered today, would have been nonsense to Hebrews, Greeks, and Christians alike, since it implies no fixed moral order in which happiness resides.
Happiness is roughly synonymous with the biblical idea of “blessedness.” In classical and medieval Christian ethics happiness referred to a state of human flourishing or well-being that aligned the life of a person with the truest good. Actions, thoughts, desires, and ambitions had to be ordered in light of the proper end of mankind for a person to be truly happy. Happiness was thus an ethical, not a psychological project. To pursue happiness was to pursue the whole reason for one’s being, but that meant recognizing that one’s desires and actions were in need of correction. It meant accounting for the fact that human beings did not instinctively pursue the truest good, that some very attractive pleasures were not truly in keeping with the most essential contours of our nature. In Christian terms, the pursuit of happiness meant recognizing that God had created us to flourish in the context of obedience to Him so that our image-bearing nature might display His glory. Since our sin and consequent waywardness alienated us from our deepest, truest identity, the pursuit of happiness was only possible by grace, since we cannot by our own strength resist the disordering effects of sin in our lives.
So happiness on this historic account is really a function of sanctification, of growth in holy obedience. That formulation would no doubt come as a shock to most of our contemporaries, perhaps even to many Christians, though it would have probably caused a nod of affirmation from most pagan philosophers. How has it come about that a nation often assumed to be Christian, a nation also obsessed with pursuing happiness, has acquired such an anti-Christian understanding of what it means to be happy?
Part of the answer is tied up with the radical innovations in ethical thought that took shape during the eighteenth-century, the Enlightenment culture in which Jefferson was at home. It was a time in which philosophers were abandoning the idea of an essential human nature that defined human ends. It was, in a sense, an abandonment of the idea of sin, since these Enlightenment thinkers were quite willing to talk about (in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words) “untutored-human-nature-as-it-is,” and base their understanding of ethics and politics on a picture of an intrinsically innocent human nature. This was a time in which the freedom of the individual was becoming the ultimate good, for individuals and societies. The philosophies of the time when our nation was founded were committed to the idea of the individual as sovereign in his moral authority (see MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 62).
In such a context, the venerable idea of the pursuit of happiness took on a whole new meaning. Happiness came to be understood as whatever any individual conceives it to be. Since it could no longer be objectively defined in terms of a fixed purpose for human nature, the pursuit of happiness soon came to mean the pursuit of pleasure, the relentless quest for fun, for an emotional state of carefree bliss. And this state need have no correlation to the ethical choices one has made, to the way one has ordered one’s life. In fact, many Americans seem committed to pursuing this kind of happiness by means of making bad ethical choices: committing adultery, dishonoring their parents, killing their unborn children, abusing their own bodies. When happiness becomes merely a mood, the sustaining of which is the highest good, rules tend to get broken, like eggs in Lenin’s omelet.
In the twentieth century, aided by the rise of mass media and ubiquitous forms of entertainment, the pursuit of happiness-as-fun came to be felt as a kind of moral imperative. Writing in the mid-1950s, psychologist Martha Wolfenstein noted the emergence of what she called “fun morality,” an ethic that displaced the old-fashioned goodness morality “which stressed interference with impulses. Not having fun is an occasion for self-examination: ‘What is wrong with me?’ …Whereas gratification of forbidden impulses traditionally aroused guilt, failure to have fun now lowers one’s self-esteem.” Not only has happiness been detached from objective human ends and identified uncritically with personal pleasure, the pleasures assumed to be the source of happiness are increasingly the most trivial and fleeting. Submitting to the dictates of fun morality makes the passive consumption of entertainment a more plausible road to happiness than subtler, more demanding pleasures like learning to play the violin, acquiring a love of literature, or cultivating a beautiful garden.
As it happens, the dominant assumption that happiness is a custom-built project with potentially instant payoffs does not seem to have made most people that much happier. In a recent essay entitled “The Pursuit of Emptiness,” John Perry Barlow observes: “Of my legion friends and acquaintances who have become citizens of Prozac Nation, I have never heard any of them claim that these drugs bring them any closer to actual happiness. Rather, they murmur with listless gratitude, anti-depressants have pulled them back from The Abyss. They are not pursuing happiness. They are fleeing suicide.” Barlow reports on an experiment in looking for smiles on the faces of people in the “upscale organic supermarket” in San Francisco in which he regularly shops. In eleven months, seeing thousands of faces, “nearly all of them healthy, beautiful, and very expensively groomed,” he counted seven smiles, three of which he judged insincere. Instead, in supermarkets and elsewhere, he sees a characteristic “expression of troubled self-absorption [which] has become a nearly universal mask.” Trying to find happiness on our own terms, rather than on the terms our Creator has built into our nature, is an exhausting and disappointing undertaking.
Carl Elliott, author of the book Better than Well, perceptively documents how many Americans use various “enhancement technologies” in the effort to feel better about themselves (which may be the working definition of happiness for many of our contemporaries). Elliot senses that the American project of pursuing happiness has become so desperate that it now seems to require “not only that I pursue happiness, but that I pursue it aggressively, club it into unconsciousness, and drag it back bound and gagged to my basement.” The lengths to which people go to nab happiness are astonishing: the drugs they take; the fantasies they sustain; the money they spend; the relationships they poison.
There is something of a backlash against this militant happiness-seeking, this regime of relentless perkiness. Earlier this year, Eric Wilson’s slim manifesto, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, was greeted by a chorus of sympathy. Wilson questioned the virtue of striving to be perpetually upbeat, reminding readers that it is sometimes quite emotionally healthy to respond to the tragedies of life with darker sentiments. Other recent books have questioned the tendency to treat sadness as a mental illness. These protests are fine as far as they go, but they are still working with the assumption that happiness is a subjective state.
The recovery of a richer vision for human happiness is a project for which Christians are uniquely situated. We believe, unlike most of our contemporaries, that we are made to delight in the knowledge and love of God, to find our fulfillment as creatures only as we walk in His ways. Knowing also that we live in a world disordered by sin, we recognize that true blessedness will often, until Christ returns, involve suffering, persecution, and sacrifice. Our happiness is not a right, but a gift from one who was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. To the best of our knowledge, Jesus never asked the disciples: “Are we having fun yet?” But He did teach them that faithful servants would enter into the joy of their master. Happiness is the fruit of aligning our lives with God’s purposes for us. “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus promised, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10–11). The pursuit of such single-minded faithfulness, not simple-minded fun, is the true road to human happiness.
About Ken Myers: is host and producer of Mars Hill Audio in Quinque, Virginia. He is author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture.
© Tabletalk magazine – September 1st, 2008. Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.
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(The interview below is “heady” stuff – but very important. There is a huge movement of “scientism” in our culture that denies the reality and existence of the soul. One of my favorite teachers when I was at Talbot School of Theology was Dr. J.P. Moreland. What I love about Moreland is that he is a deep thinker and yet he has the ability to explain complex truths in a way that lay people can understand. Like anything Moreland writes or says, this interview will be challenging, enlightening, and clarifying – I hope that you will be able to better understand the reality of the soul and the overwhelming evidence for the existence of God as you read this interview with former atheist – turned Christian – Lee Strobel. Reading this article will exercise your mind and bring joy to your soul, and will be well worth your serious attention – enjoy! David P. Craig)
The Evidence of Consciousness: The Enigma of the Mind
When I pulled up to J. P. Moreland’s house on a cool and foggy morning, he was outside with a cup of coffee in his hand, having just walked home from a chat with some neighbors. His graying hair was close-cropped, his mustache neatly trimmed, and he was looking natty in a red tie, blue shirt, and dark slacks. “Good to see you again,” he said as we shook hands. “Come on in.” We walked into his living room, where he settled into a floral-patterned chair and I eased into an adjacent couch. The setting was familiar to me, since I had previously interviewed him on other challenging topics for The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith (See: “The Circumstantial Evidence” in: Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, 244–57, and “Objection #6: A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell,” in: Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, 169–94).
Both times I found him to have an uncanny ability to discuss abstract issues and technical matters in understandable but accurate language. That’s unusual for a scientist, uncommon for a theologian, and downright rare for a philosopher! Moreland’s science training came at the University of Missouri, where he received a degree in chemistry. He was subsequently awarded the top fellowship for a doctorate in nuclear chemistry at the University of Colorado but declined the honor to pursue a different career path. He then earned a master’s degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Southern California. Moreland developed an early interest in issues relating to human consciousness, returning to that theme time after time in his various books. He has written, edited, or coauthored Christianity and the Nature of Science, Body and Soul, The Life and Death Debate, Beyond Death, Does God Exist? Christian Perspectives on Being Human, The Creation Hypothesis, Scaling the Secular City, Love Your God with All Your Mind, Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, and many other books.
Also, he has authored more than fifty technical articles for Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of Psychology and Theology, Metaphilosophy, and a host of other journals. Moreland’s memberships include national scientific, philosophical, and theological societies. Currently, he’s a professor in the highly respected philosophy program at the Talbot School of Theology, where he teaches on numerous topics, including philosophy of mind. As we began our interview, I thought it would be a good idea to get straight on some key definitions—something that’s not always easy when discussing consciousness.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said it may be difficult to define pornography, “but I know it when I see it” (Justice Potter Stewart [concurring], Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 198,1964). Similarly, consciousness can be a challenging concept to describe, even though our own conscious thoughts are quite tangible to ourselves. As J. R. Smythies of the University of Edinburgh put it: “The consciousness of other people may be for me an abstraction, but my own consciousness is for me a reality” (J. R. Smythies, “Some Aspects of Consciousness,” in Arthur Koestler and J. R. Smythies, editors, Beyond Reductionism. London: Hutchinson, 1969, 235, quoted in Arthur C. Custance, The Mysterious Matter of Mind, 35).
“What is consciousness?” Moreland said, echoing the opening question that I had just posed to him. “Well, a simple definition is that consciousness is what you’re aware of when you introspect. When you pay attention to what’s going on inside of you, that’s consciousness.” He looked at me and apparently could see from my expression that I needed a fuller description. “Think of it like this,” he continued. “Suppose you were having an operation on your leg, and suddenly you begin to be aware of people talking about you. Someone says, ‘I think he’s recovering.’ You start to feel an ache in your knee. You say to yourself, ‘Where am I? What’s going on?’ And you start to remember you were operated on. What you’re doing is regaining consciousness. In short, consciousness consists of sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and free choices that make us alive and aware.”
“What if consciousness didn’t exist in the world?” I asked. “I’ll give you an example,” Moreland replied. “Apples would still be red, but there would be no awareness of red or any sensations of red.” “What about the soul?” I asked. “How would you define that?” “The soul is the ego, the ‘I,’ or the self, and it contains our consciousness. It also animates our body. That’s why when the soul leaves the body, the body becomes a corpse. The soul is immaterial and distinct from the body.” “At least,” I observed, “that’s what the Bible teaches.” “Yes, Christians have understood this for twenty centuries,” he said. “For example, when Jesus was on the cross, he told the thief being crucified next to him that he would be with Jesus immediately after his death and before the final resurrection of his body (Luke 23:43: “Today you will be with me in paradise”).
Jesus described the body and soul as being separate entities when he said, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’ (Matthew 10:28). The apostle Paul says that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
I was curious about whether belief in the soul is a universal phenomenon. “What about beyond Christianity?” I asked. “Is this concept present in other cultures as well?” “We know that dualism was taught by the ancient Greeks, although, unlike Christians, they believed the body and soul were alien toward each other,” he explained. “In contemporary terms, I’d agree with physicalist Jaegwon Kim, who acknowledged that ‘something like this dualism of personhood, I believe, is common lore shared across most cultures and religious traditions’” (Jaegwon Kim, “Lonely Souls: Causality and Substance Dualism,” in Kevin Corcoran, editor, Soul, Body, and Survival. Ithica, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2001).
Still, there are those who deny dualism and instead believe we are solely physical beings who are, as geneticist Francis Crick said, “no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules” (Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis. New York: Scribner’s, 1994, 3). To explore this issue, I decided to take an unusual approach in my interview with Moreland by asking him to imagine—for just a few minutes—that these physicalists are right.
WHAT IF PHYSICALISM IS TRUE?
“Let’s face it,” I said, “some people flatly deny that we have an immaterial soul. John Searle said, ‘In my worldview, consciousness is caused by brain processes’ (“What Is Consciousness?” in Closer to Truth). In other words, they believe consciousness is purely a product of biology. As brain scientist Barry Beyerstein said, just as the kidneys produce urine, the brain produces consciousness” (“Do Brains Make Minds?” on Closer to Truth).
Moreland was listening carefully as I spoke, his head slightly cocked. I continued by saying, “Do me a favor, J. P. —assume for a moment that the physicalists are right. What are the logical implications if physicalism is true?” His eyes widened. “Oh, there would be several key ones,” he replied.
“Give me three,” I said. Moreland was more than willing. “First, if physicalism is true, then consciousness doesn’t really exist, because there would be no such thing as conscious states that must be described from a first-person point of view,” he said. “You see, if everything were matter, then you could capture the entire universe on a graph—you could locate each star, the moon, every mountain, Lee Strobel’s brain, Lee Strobel’s kidneys, and so forth. That’s because if everything is physical, it could be described entirely from a third-person point of view. And yet we know that we have first-person, subjective points of view—so physicalism can’t be true.” Clearly, Moreland was warming up to this exercise.
“The second implication,” he continued, “is that there would be no free will. That’s because matter is completely governed by the laws of nature. Take any physical object,” he said as he glanced out the window, where the fog was breaking up. “For instance, a cloud,” he said. “It’s just a material object, and its movement is completely governed by the laws of air pressure, wind movement, and the like. So if I’m a material object, all of the things I do are fixed by my environment, my genetics, and so forth. “That would mean I’m not really free to make choices. Whatever’s going to happen is already rigged by my makeup and environment. So how could you hold me responsible for my behavior if I wasn’t free to choose how I would act? This is one of the reasons we lost the Vietnam War.” I was following him until that last statement, which seemed oddly incongruous to me. “What has this got to do with Vietnam?” I asked. Moreland explained: “I heard a former advisor to the president say that B. F. Skinner’s behaviorism influenced the Pentagon’s strategy. Skinner believed that we’re just physical objects, so you can condition people, just like you can condition a laboratory animal by applying electric shocks. Keep doing certain things over and over, and you can change behavior. So in Vietnam, we bombed, we came back, we bombed, we came back, we bombed, and so forth. We assumed that after we gave the North Vietnamese shock after shock, pretty soon we could manipulate their behavior. After all, they’re just physical objects responding to stimuli. Eventually they had to give in.” “But they didn’t,” I said. “That’s right. It didn’t work.” “Why?” “Because there was more to the Vietnamese than their physical brains responding to stimuli. They have souls, desires, feelings, and beliefs, and they could make free choices to suffer and to stand firm for their convictions despite our attempt to condition them by our bombing.
“So if the materialists are right, kiss free will good-bye. In their view, we’re just very complicated computers that behave according to the laws of nature and the programming we receive. But, Lee, obviously they’re wrong—we do have free will. We all know that deep down inside. We’re more than just a physical brain.
“Third, if physicalism were true, there would be no disembodied intermediate state. According to Christianity, when we die, our souls leave our bodies and await the later resurrection of our bodies from the dead. We don’t cease to exist when we die. Our souls are living on. “This happens in near-death experiences. People are clinically dead, but sometimes they have a vantage point from above, where they look down at the operating table that their body is on. Sometimes they gain information they couldn’t have known if this were just an illusion happening in their brain. One woman died and she saw a tennis shoe that was on the roof of the hospital. How could she have known this? “If I am just my brain, then existing outside the body is utterly impossible. When people hear of near-death experiences, they don’t think that if they looked up at the hospital ceiling, they’d see a pulsating brain with a couple of eyeballs dangling down, right? When people hear near-death stories, Lee, they are intuitively attributing to that person a soul that could leave the body. And clearly these stories make sense, even if we’re not sure they’re true. We’ve got to be more than our bodies or else these stories would be ludicrous to us.” Moreland seemed to be sidestepping this issue a bit. “How about you personally?” I asked. “Do you think near-death experiences are true?” “We have to be careful with the data and not overstate things, but I do think they provide at least a minimalist case for consciousness surviving death,” he said. “In fact, as far back as 1965, psychologist John Beloff wrote in The Humanist that the evidence of near-death experiences already indicates ‘a dualistic world where mind or spirit has an existence separate from the world of material things.’ He conceded that this could ‘present a challenge to humanism as profound in its own way as that which Darwinian evolution did to Christianity a century ago.’ ” (Cited in David Winter, Hereafter: What Happens after Death? Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1972, 33–34).
Moreland paused before adding one other comment. “Regardless of what anyone thinks about near-death experiences, we do have confirmation that Jesus was put to death and was later seen alive by credible eyewitnesses,” he said. “Not only does this provide powerful historical corroboration that it’s possible to survive after the death of our physical body, but it also gives Jesus great credibility when he teaches that we have both a body and an immaterial spirit” (For a short description of the evidence for the Resurrection, see Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland, Beyond Death, 111–54).
THE INNER AND PRIVATE MIND
At this point, having considered Moreland’s critique of physicalism, I wanted to hear his affirmative case that consciousness and the soul are immaterial entities. “What positive evidence is there that consciousness and the self are not merely a physical process of the brain?” I asked. “We have experimental data, for one thing,” he replied. “For example, neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield electrically stimulated the brains of epilepsy patients and found he could cause them to move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk, or swallow. Invariably the patient would respond by saying, ‘I didn’t do that. You did.’ (See: Wilder Penfield, The Mystery of the Mind, 76–77).
According to Penfield, ‘the patient thinks of himself as having an existence separate from his body.’ (Wilder Penfield, “Control of the Mind” Symposium at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, 1961, quoted in Arthur Koestler, Ghost in the Machine. London: Hutchinson, 1967, 203).
“No matter how much Penfield probed the cerebral cortex, he said, ‘There is no place . . . where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.’ (Wilder Penfield, The Mystery of the Mind, 77–78).
That’s because those functions originate in the conscious self, not the brain. “A lot of subsequent research has validated this. When Roger Sperry and his team studied the differences between the brain’s right and left hemispheres, they discovered the mind has a causal power independent of the brain’s activities. This led Sperry to conclude materialism was false (See: Roger W. Sperry, “Changed Concepts of Brain and Consciousness: Some Value Implications,” Zygon, March 1985).
“Another study showed a delay between the time an electric shock was applied to the skin, its reaching the cerebral cortex, and the self-conscious perception of it by the person (Laurence W. Wood, “Recent Brain Research and the Mind-Body Dilemma,” The Asbury Theological Journal, vol. 41, no. 1,1986). This suggests the self is more than just a machine that reacts to stimuli as it receives them. In fact, the data from various research projects are so remarkable that Laurence C. Wood said, ‘many brain scientists have been compelled to postulate the existence of an immaterial mind, even though they may not embrace a belief in an after-life.’””(Ibid).
“What about beyond the laboratory?” I asked. “There are valid philosophical arguments as well,” he said. “For instance, I know that consciousness isn’t a physical phenomenon because there are things that are true of my consciousness that aren’t true of anything physical.” “For instance . . . ,” I said, prompting him further. “For example, some of my thoughts have the attribute of being true. Tragically, some of my thoughts have the attribute of being false—like the Chicago Bears are going to go to the Super Bowl,” he said with a chuckle. “However, none of my brain states are true or false. No scientist can look at the state of my brain and say, ‘Oh, that particular brain state is true and that one’s false.’ So there’s something true of my conscious states that are not true of any of my brain states, and consequently they can’t be the same thing. “Nothing in my brain is about anything. You can’t open up my head and say, ‘You see this electrical pattern in the left hemisphere of J. P. Moreland’s brain? That’s about the Bears.’ Your brain states aren’t about anything, but some of my mental states are. So they’re different.
“Furthermore, my consciousness is inner and private to me. By simply introspecting, I have a way of knowing about what’s happening in my mind that is not available to you, my doctor, or a neuroscientist. A scientist could know more about what’s happening in my brain than I do, but he couldn’t know more about what’s happening in my mind than I do. He has to ask me.” When I asked Moreland for an illustration of this, he said, “Have you heard of Rapid Eye Movement?” “Sure,” I replied. “What does it indicate?” “Dreaming.” “Exactly. How do scientists know that when there is a certain eye movement that people are dreaming? They’ve had to wake people and ask them. Scientists could watch the eyes move and read a printout of what was physically happening in the brain, so they could correlate brain states with eye movements. But they didn’t know what was happening in the mind. Why? Because that’s inner and private. “So the scientist can know about the brain by studying it, but he can’t know about the mind without asking the person to reveal it, because conscious states have the feature of being inner and private, but the brain’s states don’t.”
THE REALITY OF THE SOUL
For centuries, the human soul has enchanted poets, intrigued theologians, challenged philosophers, and dumbfounded scientists. Mystics, like Teresa of Åvila in the sixteenth century, have described it eloquently: “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions” (Mark Water, compiler, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations.Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 972. Teresa’s reference to mansions is an allusion to John 14:2).
Moreland was understandably more precise in analyzing the soul, though unfortunately less poetic. He had already clarified that the soul contains our consciousness. Still, he hadn’t offered any reason to believe that the soul is an actual entity. It was time, I felt, to press him on this
issue. “What makes you think that the soul is real?” I asked.
Moreland replied by saying, “First, we’re aware that we’re different from our consciousness and our body. We know that we’re beings who have consciousness and a body, but we’re not merely the same thing as our conscious life or our physical life. “Let me give you an illustration of how we’re not the same thing as our personality traits, our memories, and our consciousness. I had a student a few years ago whose sister had a terrible accident on her honeymoon. She was knocked unconscious and lost all of her memories and a good bit of her personality. She did not believe she had been married. As she began to recover, they showed her videos of the wedding to convince her that she had actually married her husband. She eventually got to the point where she believed it, and she got remarried to him.
“Now, we all knew this was the same person all along.” This was Jamie’s sister. She was not a different person, though she was behaving differently. But she had totally different memories. She had lost her old memories and she didn’t even have the same personality. What that proves is you can be the same person even if you lose old memories and gain new memories, or you lose some of your old personality traits and gain new personality traits. “Now, if I were just my consciousness, when my consciousness was different, I’d be a different person. But we know that I can be the same person even though my consciousness changes, so I can’t be the same thing as my consciousness. I’ve got to be the ‘self,’ or soul, that contains my consciousness.
“Same with my body. I can’t be the same thing as my body or brain. There was a story on television about an epileptic who underwent an operation in which surgeons removed fifty-three percent of her brain. When she woke up, nobody said, ‘We have forty-seven percent of a person here.’ A person can’t be divided into pieces. You are either a person or you’re not. But your brain and your body can be divided. So that means I can’t be the same thing as my body.”
Those illustrations helped, though I said, “The fact that the soul and consciousness are invisible makes it difficult to conceptualize them.” “Sure, that’s true,” he replied. “My soul and my consciousness are invisible, though my body is visible. That’s another distinction. In fact, I remember the time when my daughter was in the fifth grade and we were having family prayers. She said, ‘Dad, if I could see God, it would help me believe in him.’ I said, ‘Well, honey, the problem isn’t that you’ve never seen God. The problem is that you’ve never seen your mother.’ And her mother was sitting right next to her! “My daughter said, ‘What do you mean, Dad?’ I said, ‘Suppose without hurting your mom, we were able to take her apart cell by cell and peek
inside each one of them. We would never come to a moment where we would say, ‘Look—here’s what Mommy’s thinking about doing the rest of the day.’ Or ‘Hey, this cell contains Mommy’s feelings.’ Or ‘So this is what Mom believes about pro football.’ We couldn’t find Mommy’s thoughts, beliefs, desires, or her feelings. “‘Guess what else we would never find? We’d never find Mommy’s ego or her self. We would never say, ‘Finally, in this particular brain cell, there’s Mommy. There’s her ego, or self.’ That’s because Mommy is a person, and persons are invisible. Mommy’s ego and her conscious life are invisible. Now, she’s small enough to have a body, while God is too big to have a body—so let’s pray!’ “The point is this, Lee: I am a soul, and I have a body. We don’t learn about people by studying their bodies. We learn about people by finding out how they feel, what they think, what they’re passionate about, what their worldview is, and so forth. Staring at their body might tell us whether they like exercise, but that’s not very helpful. That’s why we want to get ‘inside’ people to learn about them. “So my conclusion is that there’s more to me than my conscious life and my body. In fact, I am a ‘self,’ or an ‘I,’ that cannot be seen or touched unless I manifest myself through my behavior or my talk. I have free will because I’m a ‘self,’ or a soul, and I’m not just a brain.”
OF COMPUTERS AND BATS
Moreland’s denial that the brain produces consciousness made me think of the debate over whether future computers can become sentient. I decided to ask him to weigh in on the issue—although his ultimate conclusion was never in doubt. “If a machine can achieve equal or greater brain power as human beings, then some physicalists say the computer would become conscious,” I said. “I assume you would disagree with that.” Moreland chuckled. “One atheist said that when computers reach the point of imitating human behavior, only a racist would deny them full human rights. But of course that’s absurd.
Nobel-winner John Eccles said he’s ‘appalled by the naiveté’ of those who foresee computer sentience. He said there’s ‘no evidence whatsoever for the statement made that, at an adequate level of complexity, computers also would achieve self-consciousness’ (Quoted in Robert W. Augros and George N. Stanciu, The New Story of Science, 170).
“Look, we have to remember that computers have artificial intelligence, not intelligence. And there’s a huge difference. There’s no ‘what it’s like to be a computer.’ A computer has no ‘insides,’ no awareness, no first-person point of view, no insights into problems. A computer doesn’t think, ‘You know what? I now see what this multiplication problem is really like.’ A computer can engage in behavior if it’s wired properly, but you’ve got to remember that consciousness is not the same as behavior. Consciousness is being alive; it’s what causes behavior in really conscious beings. But what causes behavior in a computer is electric circuitry.
“Let me illustrate my point. Suppose we had a computerized bat that we knew absolutely everything about from a physical point of view. We would have exhaustive knowledge of all its circuitry so that we could predict everything this bat would do when it was released into the environment. “Contrast that with a real bat. Suppose we knew everything about the organs inside the bat—its blood system, nervous system, brain, heart, lungs. And suppose that we could predict everything this bat would do when released into the environment. There would still be one thing that we would have no idea about: what it’s like to be a bat. What it’s like to hear, to feel, to experience sound and color. That stuff involves the ‘insides’ of the bat, its point of view. That’s the difference between a conscious, sentient bat and a computerized bat. “So in general, computers might be able to imitate intelligence, but they won’t ever have consciousness. We can’t confuse behavior with what it’s like to be alive, awake, and sentient. A future superintelligent computer might be programmed to say it’s conscious or even behave as if it were conscious, but it can never truly become conscious, because consciousness is an immaterial entity apart from the brain.” Moreland’s choice of a bat for his illustration was an oblique reference to New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel’s famous 1974 essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?” (See: Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review 83, October, 1974).
Thinking about life from a bat’s perspective prompted me to briefly pursue another line of inquiry on a tangential topic. “What about animals—do they have souls or consciousness?” I asked. “Absolutely,” came his quick answer. “In several places the Bible uses the word ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ when discussing animals. For example:
Genesis 1:30, “And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Leviticus 24:18, “Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life.”
Ecclesiastes 3:19, “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.”
Revelation 8:9, “A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Animals are not simply machines. They have consciousness and points of view. But the animal soul is much simpler than the human soul. For example, the human soul is capable of free moral action, but I think the animal soul is determined. Also, Augustine said animals have thoughts, but they don’t think about their thinking. And while we have beliefs about our beliefs, animals don’t. “You see, the human soul is vastly more complicated because it’s made in the image of God. So we have self-reflection and self-thinking. And while the human soul survives the death of its body, I don’t think the animal soul outlives its body. I could be wrong, but I think the animal soul ceases to exist at death.” Bad news, it seems, for the bat.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND EVOLUTION
Moreland had made a cogent case for consciousness and the soul being independent of our brain and body. “How does this present a problem for Darwinists?” I asked. Moreland glanced down at some notes he had brought along. “As philosopher Geoffrey Medell said, ‘The emergence of consciousness, then, is a mystery, and one to which materialism fails to provide an answer.’ Atheist Colin McGinn agrees. He asks, ‘How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the aftereffects of the Big Bang. So how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?’ ”
Moreland looked squarely at me. “Here’s the point: you can’t get something from nothing,” he declared. “It’s as simple as that. If there were no God, then the history of the entire universe, up until the appearance of living creatures, would be a history of dead matter with no consciousness. You would not have any thoughts, beliefs, feelings, sensations, free actions, choices, or purposes. There would be simply one physical event after another physical event, behaving according to the laws of physics and chemistry.”
Moreland stopped for a moment to make sure this picture was vivid in my mind. Then he leaned forward and asked pointedly: “How, then, do you get something totally different—conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures—from materials that don’t have that? That’s getting something from nothing! And that’s the main problem. “If you apply a physical process to physical matter, you’re going to get a different arrangement of physical materials. For example, if you apply the physical process of heating to a bowl of water, you’re going to get a new product—steam—which is just a more complicated form of water, but it’s still physical. And if the history of the universe is just a story of physical processes being applied to physical materials, you’d end up with increasingly complicated arrangements of physical materials, but you’re not going to get something that’s completely nonphysical. That is a jump of a totally different kind. “At the end of the day, as Phillip Johnson put it, you either have ‘In the beginning were the particles,’ or ‘In the beginning was the Logos,’ which means ‘divine mind.’ If you start with particles, and the history of the universe is just a story about the rearrangement of particles, you may end up with a more complicated arrangement of particles, but you’re still going to have particles. You’re not going to have minds or consciousness.
“However—and this is really important—if you begin with an infinite mind, then you can explain how finite minds could come into existence. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense—and which many atheistic evolutionists are conceding—is the idea of getting a mind to squirt into existence by starting with brute, dead, mindless matter. That’s why some of them are trying to get rid of consciousness by saying it’s not real and that we’re just computers.” He smiled after that last statement, then added: “However, that’s a pretty difficult position to maintain while you’re conscious!”
THE EMERGENCE OF THE MIND
“Still,” I protested, “some scientists maintain that consciousness is just something that happens as a natural byproduct of our brain’s complexity. They believe that once evolution gave us sufficient brain capacity, consciousness inexorably emerges as a biological process.”
“Let me mention four problems with that,” Moreland insisted. “First, they are no longer treating matter as atheists and naturalists treat matter—namely, as brute stuff that can be completely described by the laws of chemistry and physics. Now they’re attributing spooky, soulish, or mental potentials to matter.” “What do you mean by ‘potentials’?” “They’re saying that prior to this level of complexity, matter contained the potential for mind to emerge—and at the right moment, guess what happened? These potentials were activated and consciousness was sparked into existence.” “What’s wrong with that theory?” “That is no longer naturalism,” he said. “That’s panpsychism.” That was a new term to me. “Pan what?” “Panpsychism,” he repeated. “It’s the view that matter is not just inert physical stuff, but that it also contains proto-mental states in it. Suddenly, they’ve abandoned a strict scientific view of matter and adopted a view that’s closer to theism than to atheism. Now they’re saying that the world began not just with matter, but with stuff that’s mental and physical at the same time. Yet they can’t explain where these pre-emergent mental properties came from in the first place. And this also makes it hard for them to argue against the emergence of God.”
“The emergence of God?” I asked. “What do you mean by that?” “If a finite mind can emerge when matter reaches a certain level of complexity, why couldn’t a far greater mind—God—emerge when millions of brain states reach a greater level of consciousness? You see, they want to stop the process where they want it to stop—at themselves—but you can’t logically draw that line. How can they know that a very large God hasn’t emerged from matter, because, after all, haven’t a lot of people had religious experiences with God?” “That wouldn’t be the God of Christianity,” I pointed out. “Granted,” he replied. “But this is still a problem for atheists.
And there’s a second problem: they would still be stuck with determinism, because if consciousness is just a function of the brain, then I’m my brain, and my brain functions according to the laws of chemistry and physics. To them, the mind is to the brain as smoke is to fire. Fire causes smoke, but smoke doesn’t cause anything. It’s just a byproduct. Thus, they’re locked into determinism.
“Third, if mind emerged from matter without the direction of a superior Intelligence, why should we trust anything from the mind as being rational or true, especially in the area of theoretical thinking? “Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you had a computer that was programmed by random forces or by nonrational laws without a mind being behind it. Would you trust a printout from that machine? Of course not. Well, same with the mind—and that’s a problem for Darwinists. And by the way, you can’t use evolution as an explanation for why the mind should be considered trustworthy, because theoretical thinking does not contribute to survival value.”
Moreland’s comments reminded me of the famous quote from British evolutionist J. B. S. Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of the atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms” (J. B. S. Haldane, “When I am Dead,” in Possible Worlds and Other Essays. London: Chatto and Winduw, 1927, 209, quoted in C. S. Lewis, Miracles. London: Fontana, 1947, 19).
“Here’s the fourth problem,” Moreland went on, “If my mind were just a function of the brain, there would be no unified self. Remember, brain function is spread throughout the brain, so if you cut the brain in half, like the girl who lost fifty-three percent of her brain, then some of that function is lost. Now you’ve got forty-seven percent of a person. Well, nobody believes that. We all know she’s a unified self, because we all know her consciousness and soul are separate entities from her brain.
“There’s one other aspect of this, called the ‘binding problem.’ When you look around the room, you see many things at the same time,” he said, gesturing around at various objects in our field of vision. “You see a table, a couch, a wall, a painting in a frame. Every individual thing has light waves bouncing off of it and they’re striking a different location in your eyeball and sparking electrical activity in a different region of the brain. That means there is no single part of the brain that is activated by all of these experiences. Consequently, if I were simply my physical brain, I would be a crowd of different parts, each having its own awareness of a different piece of my visual field. “But that’s not what happens. I’m a unified ‘I’ that has all of these experiences at the same time. There is something that binds all of these experiences and unifies them into the experience of oneself—me—even though there is no region of the brain that has all these activation sites. That’s because my consciousness and my ‘self’ are separate entities from the brain.”
Moreland was on a roll, but I jumped in anyway. “What about recent brain studies that have shown activity in certain areas of the brain during meditation and prayer?” I asked. “Don’t those demonstrate that there’s a physical basis for these religious experiences, as opposed to an immaterial basis through the soul?” “No, it doesn’t. All it shows is a physical correlation with religious experiences,” he replied. “You’ll have to explain that,” I said. “Well, there’s no question that when I’m praying, smelling a rose, or thinking about something, my brain still exists. It doesn’t pop out of existence when I’m having a conscious life, including prayer. And I would be perfectly happy if scientists were to measure what was going on in my brain while I’m praying, feeling forgiveness, or even thinking about lunch. But remember: just because there is a correlation between two things, that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. Just because there’s a correlation between fire and smoke, this doesn’t mean smoke is the same as fire.
“Now, sometimes your brain states can cause your conscious states. For example, if you lose brain functioning due to Alzheimer’s disease, or you get hit over the head, you lose some of your mental conscious life. But there’s also evidence that this goes the other way as well. There are data showing that your conscious life can actually reconfigure your brain. “For example, scientists have done studies of the brains of people who worried a lot, and they found that this mental state of worry changed their brain chemistry. They’ve done studies of the brain patterns of little children who were not nurtured and loved, and their patterns are different than children who have warm experiences of love and nurture. So it’s not just the brain that causes things to happen in our conscious life; conscious states can also cause things to happen to the brain. “Consequently, I wouldn’t want to say there’s a physical basis for religious experiences, even though they might be correlated. Sometimes it
could be cause-and-effect from brain to mind, but it could also be cause-and-effect from mind to brain. How do the scientists know it isn’t actually my prayer life that’s causing something to happen in my brain, rather than the other way around?” (For a further critique of “neurotheology,” the idea that the brain is wired for religious experiences, see: Kenneth L. Woodward, “Faith Is More Than a Feeling,” Newsweek, May 7, 2001).
THE RETURN OF OCKHAM’S RAZOR
As we talked about the human mind, mine was drifting back to my first interview with William Lane Craig, during which he brought up a scientific principle called Ockham’s razor. As I listened to Moreland defend the concept of dualism, it dawned on me that Ockham’s razor would argue in the opposite direction—toward the view that only the brain exists—because it says science prefers simpler explanations where possible. It was a challenge I decided to pose to Moreland. “You’re familiar with the scientific principle called Ockham’s razor,” I said to him. As soon as the question left my mouth, Moreland knew where I was headed.
“Yes, it says that we shouldn’t multiply entities beyond what’s needed to explain something. And I assume your objection is that Ockham’s razor would favor a simple alternative, such as the brain accounting for everything, rather than more complicated explanation like the two entities of dualism.” “That’s right,” I said. “Surely this undercuts the case for dualism.” He was ready with an answer. “No, it really doesn’t. Actually, Ockham’s razor favors dualism, and here’s why,” he said. “What’s the intent of Ockham’s razor? The thrust of this principle is that when you’re trying to explain a phenomenon, you should only include the elements that are necessary to explain the phenomenon. And as I’ve demonstrated through scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning, dualism is necessary to explain the phenomenon of consciousness.
Only dualism can account for all of the evidence—and, hence, it does not violate Ockham’s razor.” I wasn’t ready to give up. “But maybe we just don’t have all the evidence yet,” I said. “Maybe your conclusions are premature. Physicalists are confident that the day will come when they’ll be able to explain consciousness solely in physical terms.” Moreland’s reply was adamant: “There will never, ever be a scientific explanation for mind and consciousness.”
His forceful and unequivocal statement startled me. “Why not?” I asked. “Think about how scientists go about explaining things: they show that something had to happen due to antecedent conditions. For example,
when scientists explain why gases behave the way they do, they show that if you hold the volume constant and increase the temperature, the pressure has to increase. That is, when we heat a pressure cooker, the pressure goes up. “When scientists explain that, they don’t just correlate temperature and pressure. They don’t just say that temperature and pressure tend to go together. They try to show why the pressure has got to increase, why it couldn’t have done anything other than that, given the temperature increase. Scientists want to show why something has to happen given the cause; they’re not content simply to correlate things and leave it at that. “And this will never work with consciousness, because the relationship between the mind and the brain is contingent, or dependent.
In other words, the mind is not something that had to happen. One atheist asked, ‘How could a series of physical events, little particles jostling against one another, electric currents rushing to and fro, blossom into conscious experience? Why shouldn’t pain and itches be switched around? Why should any experience emerge when these neurons fire in the brain?’ He’s pointing out that there’s no necessary connection between conscious states and the brain. “So in the future scientists will be able to develop more correlations between conscious states and states of the brain, and that’s wonderful. But my point is this: correlation is not explanation. To explain something scientifically, you’ve got to show why the phenomenon had to happen given the causes. And scientists cannot explain the ‘why’ behind consciousness, because there’s no necessary connection between the brain and consciousness. It didn’t have to happen this way.”
DEDUCTIONS ABOUT GOD
It’s no wonder that Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame University, a dualist who is frequently called the greatest living American philosopher, surveyed the current body/mind debate and concluded: “Things don’t look hopeful for Darwinian naturalists” (Quoted in Larry Witham, By Design, 211).
Faced with data and logic that support dualism, and unable to offer a plausible theory for how consciousness could have erupted from mindless matter, atheists are pinning their hopes on some as-yet-undetermined scientific discovery to justify their faith in physicalism. And some aren’t even so sure about that—physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg said scientists may have to “bypass the problem of human consciousness” altogether, because “it may just be too hard for us” (Ibid.,192).
In other words, it’s failing to give them the answers they want. As for Moreland, he agrees with Plantinga’s bleak assessment for atheists. “Darwinian evolution will never be able to explain the origin of consciousness,” he told me. “Perhaps Darwinists can explain how consciousness was shaped in a certain way over time, because the behavior that consciousness caused had survival value. But it can’t explain the origin of consciousness, because it can’t explain how you can get something from nothing.
“In Darwin’s notebooks, he said if there was anything his theory can’t explain, then there would have to be another explanation—a creationist explanation. Well, he can’t explain the origin of mind. He tried to reduce consciousness down to the brain, because he could tell a story about how the brain evolved. But as we’ve discussed, Lee, consciousness cannot be reduced merely to the physical brain. This means the atheist creation story is inadequate and false.
And yet there is an alternative explanation that makes sense of all the evidence: our consciousness came from a greater Consciousness. “You see, the Christian worldview begins with thought and feeling and belief and desire and choice. That is, God is conscious. God has thoughts. He has beliefs, he has desires, he has awareness, he’s alive, he acts with purpose. We start there. And because we start with the mind of God, we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.” I asked, “What, then, can we deduce about God from this?” “That he’s rational, that he’s intelligent, that he’s creative, that he’s sentient. And that he’s invisible, because that’s the way conscious beings are. I have no inclination to doubt that this very room is teeming with the presence of God, just because I can’t see or touch or smell or hear him. As I explained earlier, I can’t even see my own wife! I can’t touch, see, smell, or hear the real her.
“One more thing. The existence of my soul gives me a new way to understand how God can be everywhere. That’s because my soul occupies my body without being located in any one part of it. There’s no place in my body where you can say, ‘Here I am.’ My soul is not in the left part of my brain, it’s not in my nose, it’s not in my lungs. My soul is fully present everywhere throughout my body. That’s why if I lose part of my body, I don’t lose part of my soul. “In a similar way, God is fully present everywhere. He isn’t located, say, right outside the planet Mars. God occupies space in the same way the soul occupies the body. If space were somehow cut in half, God wouldn‘t lose half his being. So now I have a new model, based on my own self, for God’s omnipresence. And shouldn’t we expect this? If we were made in the image of God, wouldn’t we expect there to be some parallels between us and God?” I asked, “Do you foresee more scientists coming to the conclusion that the soul, though immaterial, is very real?”
“The answer is yes—if they are willing to open themselves up to nonscientific knowledge,” he replied. “I believe in science; it’s wonderful and gives us some very important information. But there are other ways of knowing things as well. Because, remember, most of the evidence for the reality of consciousness and the soul is from our own first-person awareness of ourselves and has nothing to do with the study of the brain. The study of the brain allows us to correlate the brain with conscious states, but it tells us nothing about what consciousness itself is.”
“But, J. P., aren’t you asking scientists to do the unthinkable—to ignore scientific knowledge?” “No, not at all,” he insisted. “I’m only asking that they become willing to listen to all the evidence and see where it leads—which is what the quest for truth should be about.” “And if they do that?” “They will come to believe in the reality of the soul and the immaterial nature of consciousness. And this could open them up personally to something even more important—to a much larger Mind and a much bigger Consciousness, who in the beginning was the Logos, and who made us in his image.”
COGITO ERGO SUM
A ringing telephone ended our conversation, although I was wrapping up the interview anyway. A colleague was calling to remind Moreland of a faculty meeting. I thanked Moreland for his time and insights, gathered my things, and strolled out to my car. I was just about to start the engine, but instead I let go of the key, leaned back in my seat, and took a few moments (as Moreland would say) to introspect. Interestingly, this very act of introspection intuitively affirmed to me what Moreland’s facts and logic had already established—my ability to ponder, to reason, to speculate, to imagine, and to feel the emotional brunt of the interview showed that my mind surely could not have been the evolutionary byproduct of brute, mindless matter. “Selfhood . . . is not explicable in material or physical terms,” said philosopher Stuart C. Hackett. “The essential spiritual selfhood of man has its only adequate ground in the transcendent spiritual Selfhood of God as Absolute Mind” (Stuart C. Hackett, The Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1984, 111).
In other words, I am more than just the sum total of a physical brain and body parts. Rather, I am a soul, and I have a body. I think—therefore, I am. Or as Hackett said: “With modest apology to Descartes: Cogito, ergo Deus est! I think, therefore God is” (Ibid). I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with philosopher Robert Augros and physicist George Stanciu, who explored the depths of the mind/body controversy and concluded that “physics, neuroscience, and humanistic psychology all converge on the same principle: mind is not reducible to matter.” They added: “The vain expectation that matter might someday account for mind . . . is like the alchemist’s dream of producing gold from lead (Robert W. Augros and George N. Stanciu, The New Story of Science, 168, 171).
I leaned forward and started the car. After months of investigating scientific evidence for God—traveling a total of 26,884 miles, which is the equivalent of making one lap around the Earth at the equator—I had finally reached a critical mass of information. It was time to synthesize and digest what I had learned—and ultimately to come to a conclusion that would have vast and life-changing implications.
The interview of Lee Strobel (mini-bio below) with Dr. J. P. Moreland (mini-bio below) above is adapted from Chapter 10 in Lee Strobel. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
FOR FURTHER EVIDENCE
More Resources on This Topic
Cooper, John W. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989.
Habermas, Gary and J. P. Moreland. Beyond Death. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998.
Moreland, J. P. “God and the Argument from Mind.” In Scaling the Secular City. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1987.
——. What Is the Soul? Norcross, Ga.: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, 2002.
——. and Scott B. Rae. Body and Soul. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000.
Taliaferro, Charles. Consciousness and the Mind of God. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Witham, Larry. “Mind and Brain.” In By Design: Science and the Search for God. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003.
About Lee Strobel
Atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel, the former award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune, is a New York Times best-selling author of more than twenty books and has been interviewed on numerous national TV programs, including ABC, Fox, PBS, and CNN.
Described in the Washington Post as “one of the evangelical community’s most popular apologists,” Lee shared the Christian Book of the Year award in 2005 for a curriculum he co-authored with Garry Poole about the movie The Passion of the Christ. He also won Gold Medallions for his books The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and the The Case for a Creator, all of which have been made into documentaries distributed by Lionsgate.
His latest books include The Case for the Real Jesus, The Unexpected Adventure (co-authored with Mark Mittelberg) and The Case for Christ Study Bible, which includes hundreds of notes and articles on why Christians believe what they believe. His first novel, a legal thriller called The Ambition, came out in the Spring of 2011.
Lee was educated at the University of Missouri (Bachelor of Journalism degree, 1974) and Yale Law School (Master of Studies in Law degree, 1979). He was a professional journalist for 14 years at The Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, winning Illinois’ top honors for investigative reporting (which he shared with a team he led) and public service journalism from United Press International.
After a nearly two-year investigation of the evidence for Jesus, Lee became a Christian in 1981. He joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, in 1987, and later became a teaching pastor there. He joined Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, CA, as a teaching pastor in 2000. He left Saddleback’s staff to focus on writing.
Lee’s other books include God’s Outrageous Claims, The Case for Christmas, The Case for Easter, and Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage, which he wrote with his wife, Leslie.
For two seasons, Lee was executive producer and host of the weekly national TV program Faith Under Fire.
Lee also is co-author of the Becoming a Contagious Christian course, which has trained more than a million Christians on how to naturally and effectively talk with others about Jesus. His articles have been published in a variety of magazines, including Discipleship Journal, Marriage Partnership, The Christian Research Journal, and Decision. He has appeared on such national radio programs as The Bible Answer Man and Focus on the Family. In addition, he has taught First Amendment law at Roosevelt University.
In recognition of his extensive research for his books, Southern Evangelical Seminary honored Lee with the conferring of a Doctor of Divinity degree in 2007.
Lee and Leslie have been married for 38 years and live in Colorado. Their daughter, Alison, is a novelist and co-author, with her husband Dan, of the children’s book, That’s Where God Is. Lee’s son, Kyle, holds two master’s degrees from the Talbot School of Theology and a PhD in theology from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. His first book was Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life.
About Dr. J.P. Moreland (in his own words: http://www.jpmoreland.com/about/bio/)
I am the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California. I have four earned degrees: a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri, a Th.M. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M. A. in philosophy from the University of California-Riverside, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California.
During the course of my life, I have co-planted three churches, spoken and debated on over 175 college campuses around the country, and served with Campus Crusade for Christ for 10 years. For eight years, I served as a bioethicist for PersonaCare Nursing Homes, Inc. headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.
My ideas have been covered by both popular religious and non-religious outlets, including the New Scientist and PBS’s “Closer to Truth,” Christianity TodayandWORLD magazine. I have authored or co-authored 30 books, including Kingdom Triangle, Scaling the Secular City, Consciousness and the Existence of God, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, Love Your God With All Your Mind, The God Question, and Body and Soul. I have also published over 70 articles in journals, which include Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch,American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Metaphilosophy, Philosophia Christi, andFaith and Philosophy.
My hobbies are exercising, following the Kansas City Chiefs, and being fixated by really great TV dramas like 24 and Lost. With my dear wife and ministry partner, Hope, we have two married daughters, Ashley and Allison, and as of 2010, four grandchildren! We attend Vineyard Anaheim church and are deeply committed to the body of believers there.
On Who Has Influenced Me
Besides my family and close friends, three people have had the greatest impact on me during my journey with Jesus: Bill Bright, Howard Hendricks, and Dallas Willard. I first came to Christ in 1968, and joined Campus Crusade staff from 1970-75, and 1979-84. I will never forget being in Dr. Bright’s presence during those years. He exuded intimacy with the Lord, he was full of faith, and he lived a holy life. These values were clearly put in place in my life due to his influence. He set a high bar in these areas, and his life gave me a living hope that significant progress in these areas was clearly within reach. Dr. Bright also died a vibrant, victorious death, and as I age, I very much want to do the same in a Christ-honoring way.
I have the honor of studying under Dr. Hendricks during my years at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) from 1975-79. I took several courses from him and was in a small discipleship group with Hendricks my last year at DTS. The values I saw in him were radical commitment to Christ, to reading in general and studying scripture in particular, and to the priority of marriage and family. He also had a commitment not to bore people while teaching the Bible and to exhibiting a keen sense of humor. These have all become my values, due in no small measure to Dr. Hendricks.
However as much as Bright and Hendricks have impacted me, the influence of Dallas Willard towers over everyone else. I was honored to have him as my dissertation supervisor at the University of Southern California and Hope and I have counted Dallas and his wife Jane as dear friends and mentors for twenty-five years. Dallas impacted me in his combination of a rigorous intellect with a vibrant walk with Jesus, his fresh, penetrating ideas about the kingdom and how to live in it, and by the reality of God that pours out of his life. I cannot overstate my debt to him. All three were full of humility. It was and is clear that they are about something much bigger than they.
My Dearest Partner, My Wife
My wife, Hope, has been my friend and partner for now 33 years. We were married in 1977. She has the gifts of evangelism, encouragement, helps/mercy. I have never met someone who is consistently happier than she, who loves to care for and serve others, and who exhibits the warmth and kindness of the Holy Spirit. It may sound canned to say this, but it is the truth, namely, that my life and work simply are inconceivable without her love and care all these years. She simply makes my life possible. Or, as I wrote of her in my 1985 book dedication (Universals, Qualities, and Quality-Instances) to her:
Her gracious life truly fits her name and her soul exemplifies that range of qualities that truly wise persons everywhere know as the moral virtues
Well said, I might add! For I experience her unconditional love in an ongoing way. And God made her to be a mother and grandmother par excellence. It is a joy to see how her children honor, respect and love her. My daughters, Ashley and Allison, have turned out to be good, solid people. What impresses me most about both of them is their genuine concern for others and their ability to be good listeners. It isn’t all about them, and this is refreshing these days. Our girls not only love Hope and me, but they actually like us!! They, and their dear husbands, actually like being around us!! As of this writing, I have two grandchildren around three years old (a girl and a boy), a one-month old grandson, and a granddaughter due to be born October 2010. Does it get any better than this?
My love for the local church was not something that characterized me for much of my Christian life. I was primarily a parachurch guy and I wanted to get the job done, whether or not the local church was part of the solution. I was always committed to a sense of team, but my friendships were the primary source of fellowship for me and Hope within the body of Christ. But the last several years has been transforming.
My relationship with my local church—the Vineyard Anaheim—has shown me how short-sighted my previous vision was. I am fully committed to my local church’s well-being and absolutely love being a part of the fellowship. I have never been a “Lone Ranger Christian”—quite the opposite—but I now see more than ever the centrality of the local church to my intellectual, affective, and relational maturation. I thank God that He brought me to my senses.