Friday, July 07, 2017

Should churches host interfaith debates?

From a Facebook exchange (with minor edits):

i) One of the challenges in Christian piety is that it's easier to defend the faith than live the faith. Easier to defend the faith than to be a faithful Christian. 

It's essential that we defend Christian orthodoxy. But it's very tempting to make that a substitute for cultivating sanctity. 

The advantage of virtue-signaling is that it has the appearance of virtue without the effort. Saying right is a cheap substitute for doing right. 

The detractor is striving to impress others with his "uncompromising" rhetoric. But Jesus warns us to avoid spiritual ostentation.

ii) In addition, it's ironic that in the name of doctrinal purity, he and some others are promoting bad theology. There's nothing sacrosanct about a church building. This isn't the tabernacle, which was ritually holy. A Muslim doesn't profane "the church" by his presence. It's just a physical space where Christians meet. 

As Paul explains, Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Christians aren't defiled by contact with unbelievers. If anything, it's the other way around. We can have a sanctifying influence on unbelievers.

I say that as someone who's critical of White's defense of Qadhi, as well as his refusal to address the ethical issues generated by Muslim immigration. But it's important to distinguish between legitimate concerns and bogus or scurrilous attacks.

iii) 2 Jn 10-11 is addressing a situation in which a false teacher who presents himself as a Christian spokesman is invited to speak in a 1C house-church. There's no presumption that the audience would have any idea that he's a heretic. They have little standard of comparison. For instance, they didn't own personal copies of the NT at that time. Likewise, the scenario envisions a false teacher who's allowed to speak unopposed, as a representative of the Christian faith. 

That's a completely different situation from a modern church hosting a apologetic debate or dialogue between a Christian apologist and an unambiguous enemy of the Christian faith. Where statements of the unbeliever will be critiqued by an expert. Where the Christian audience has ready access to an orthodox standard of comparison. 

To faithfully apply biblical prohibitions, they must be applied to analogous situations. 

iv) When people are exposed to false teaching, there's always a risk of defection. If, however, the only thing keeping them from apostasy is ignorance of false teaching, then their faith was an accidental faith. They were apostates just waiting to happen. 

It's a choice between inoculating people from contagion or hoping they will never be exposed to contagion. Better to acquaint Christians with falsehood in order to refute falsehood, than just hope they get lucky. 

John can't mean that Christians should never be exposed to false teaching, for you can't refute false teaching without some exposition of what the false teaching amounts to. John himself does that in his first epistle. Same thing with many NT epistles. 

v) God is present whoever Christians are present. That could be a shopping mall or baseball stadium.

Are you unable to distinguish between "knowing the facts of a situation" and faulty criteria? I don't need to know the specifics of a given situation to criticize bad generic arguments. 

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones himself clearly said…or the past Reformers is it written that this type of 'dialogue' that happened would ever be ok.

My primary objective in reading a commentary is to find out what the Bible meant, not what Luther or Calvin meant. You appeal to Gill, Lloyd-Jones, and "the past Reformers" as authority figures. That's an illicit argument from authority. The fact that they are Calvinists doesn't ipso facto mean their opinion obliges me to agree with them. Their opinions are only as good as the reasons they give in support of their opinions. We don't have popes in Calvinism. Sorry if you missed that. 

You're the mirror image of a Catholic apologist. You recast issues in terms of "authority" rather than truth and evidence. 

You don't know what an illicit argument from authority is. Let's explain it to you. That's when you attempt to back up your claim by citing someone's sheer opinion as if it's true simply because of who said it. As if their say-so makes it so.

I haven't made myself an authority. Rather, I've given reasons for my position. Try to master that elementary difference.

Godly Reformers, pastors and Seminarians but YOU sir get to be the ultimate authority on what's evidence?

You're in the wrong denomination. You're stuck in the same "authority" paradigm as Catholic apologists.

The opinion of a Protestant Reformer is no better than the explanation they present in defense of their opinion. 

And yes, we must exercise our personal judgment when assessing the evidence. That's not something we can delegate to a second party. Your objection is the mirror-image of Catholic apologists who assail the right of private judgment. 

Knowledge is cumulative. So, yes, a 21C Christian can know things that Knox didn't. Just as the Protestant Reformers had a better grasp of biblical theology than most Greek and Latin church fathers, or medieval theologians.

There's a distinction between individual prooftexts and the doctrine in question. A theologian can misinterpret one or more prooftexts, but still get the doctrine right due to the redundancy of Biblical teaching. There's a distinction between the level of the doctrine and the level of prooftexts cited in support of the doctrine. Even if a theologian misconstrues one or more prooftexts, the doctrine may still be true because that's attested by other prooftexts. 

The Gospel isn't to be dialogued or even debated, as if anything has equal ground with it. It is to be proclaimed and is a COMMAND from God.

At the risk of stating the obvious, St. Paul often defended the Gospel by presenting arguments for the veracity of the Gospel, and rebutting objections. Likewise, the Gospels and Acts present evidence for the Gospel, viz. argument from prophecy, argument from miracles.

But there's a good story that Polycarp told the contemporaries of Iranaeus, of how John was about to bathe, when he heard that the heretic Cerinthus was in the same building…

I don't share your credulity about ecclesiastical legends. The legendary encounter between Cerinthus and John is a fourth- or fifth-hand tale: Irenaeus heard about it from some anonymous sources who supposedly heard it from Polycarp who supposedly heard it from John. Sorry, but I'm not that gullible.

What do you actually know about Roman bathhouses? Are you aware of what-all went on in Roman bathhouses? If you knew, what makes you think a pious Jew like John would frequent a Roman bathhouse?

Reymond was not a patrologist. You're addicted to an illicit argument from authority. Irenaeus also said Jesus was 50 years old. Do you believe that? 

Ironically, many of White's critics are doing him a favor, albeit unwittingly. In their debate, Robert Spencer raised a number of legitimate criticisms. However, the more responsible critics like Spencer get drown out by the torch-n-pitchfork mob. That actually gives White cover. He's able to deflect attention away from reasonable criticisms by responding to the lunatic fringe. That's an argument he can win with one hand tied behind his back. By acting as if that's representative of the whole, he comes out on top. 

In addition, there's the all-or-nothing attitude, as though you can't say anything good about White unless you agree with him on everything. But reasonable people have the critical detachment to find someone useful in some respects if not in all respects.

Jesus NEVER allowed God's name to be blasphemed nor His Word to be attacked like this Muslim did

Jesus routinely allows God's name to be blasphemed and his word to be attacked. Did Jesus strike Qadhi dead? Any fatal lighting bolts? Has John Spong died in a freak accident? What about Bart Ehrman? Or Bertrand Russell? What about Muhammad himself?

Plus I posted notes from TWO modern study Bibles from scholarly evangelical exegetes which fully refuted you sir yet you ALSO rejected them offhand.

Since you evidently lack the ability to draw logical inferences from the sources you quote, let's to it for you:

and they should not be entertained in private houses, and much less caressed.

How is a church hosting the White/Qadhi event equivalent to entertaining a house guest?

Welcoming someone into your home in the ancient world often involved elaborate hospitality, including providing food and lodging. People often stayed for extended lengths of time, since travel in the ancient world was slow and difficult.

How was the church event equivalent to an extended stay at a motel? 

In addition, hospitality in the ancient world would have been perceived as an endorsement and thus confused people in the community.

Did the audience perceive the church as endorsing Qadhi's message?

This letter is written to believers in the Gospel; thus, John is prohibiting them from giving official sanction to those who deny the faith.

Did the church officially sanction Qadhi's message?

Both epistles envision the first-century situation in which teachers traveled from town to town and were dependent for housing and board on the hospitality of those in the local Christian communities (cf. Luke 10:4–9; Acts 16:15). Such hospitality implied endorsement of a teacher’s ministry and message.

Did the church endorse Qadhi's message? You need to emote less, react less, and think more.

But again, the root of all this is from you defending the blasphemy of a MUSLIM.

Aside from your mindless, rote hyperbole, the deeper problem, as I already noted, is that attacks by your ilk are counterproductive. In their debate, Spencer raised some trenchant objections to White's position. However, Spencer's objections are overwhelmed by the shrieking lynch mob on your side. White's a bright guy. So long as you give White a choice between responding to dumb objections and smart objections, he will respond to the dumb objections and ignore the smart objections. You're giving him an out.

Since you're quoting Yarbrough's commentary on 1-3 John, let's give the larger context: 

Such figures were evidently seeking entrance into already established church circles, and even personal residences, to convince the unwary of new and different teaching about Jesus and salvation (351).

Wasn't the White/Qadhi event billed as an event involving a Muslim speaker? So the audience wasn't unwary. They knew in advance the true identity and outlook of the speaker. 

While there's no call to be uncivil to them, to receive them in the sense of endorsing their teaching, giving them financial support, and personal encouragement makes no sense when their teaching clearly rejects historic Christianity (351).

Was the church that hosted the White/Qadhi event endorsing Qadhi's Islamic message or lending him financial support?

Christian greetings generally carried a recognition of the true Christian standing of those being greeted (352, Yarbrough quoting Kruse).

Did participants recognize the true Christian standing of Qadhi? 

BTW, I agree with critics who say it's wrong to tell Qadhi that "you honor us with your presence". That's obsequious. 

As for 2 Cor 6:14-17, Paul may well be alluding to participation in the civil religion of Roman Corinth. The cultic life of Romans was bound up with the commercial life of Romans. So it was difficult for 1C Christians to do business without getting embroiled in pagan rituals. That may well be the context. That's discussed by commentators like Paul Barnett and M. J. Harris.

Thompson argued that Muslims are also in that group since Muhammad stole from the Bible and claimed to follow Jesus.

Silly comparison. You think the audience at the church event mistook Qadhi for a Christian spokesman? That's hardly analogous to what John is referring to.

You think Christians need safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect their fragile faith from microaggressions. You have to wonder how the Christian movement ever survived in the hostile heathen environment of the Roman Empire. Snowflakes like Justin melt on contact with Muslims. Clearly the churchgoers traumatized to see and hear a real live Muslim need an intervention in form of teddy bears and comfort dogs.


  1. Another great blogpost on the topic!

  2. I haven't given this much thought. Maybe there is a Protestant overreaction on these things becase we get the impression that to invite a debate into one's church is like the Catholic Church with its dialgoe (such things as the notorious Assisi events).