As Christians who intend to engage in online discussion, debate, comments, feedback, criticism, etc., we owe it to ourselves and each other to uphold the principles of Christian ethics. When we don’t, we disgrace the name of our Lord, His Word, His Body, and we diminish His witness in society.
And there is far too much of this going on.
In the Christian-versus-atheist DVD debate Collision, atheist Christopher Hitchens is caught making some rather blunt comments about a certain Christian audience. While in the bathroom of the CBN studios, he seems to be pondering what kind of audience that station has. He remarks, “I wonder what kind of book buyers they are? These are the sort of people who would buy the Left Behind series aren’t they? It means that they can’t be reading for pleasure”; he pauses, and then adds, “or instruction.”
In other words, the atheist views a large portion of the evangelical public—particularly those engaging a particular end-times-driven theology—as largely fanatical and deluded. I think he would have explained that such people read only things that restate, exalt and reinforce their own views, and then embrace that view so confidently that they never read anything other than their view.
Such people become so emotionally invested in their beliefs that for someone else to question or examine those beliefs spurs an automatic defensive reaction. Since the person, often, has never done much beyond accept what they’ve been taught as officially true and authoritative, they are in no position to engage in discussions of differing viewpoints. The knee-jerk defensiveness comes as a result of prejudice and insecurity. Further, since they have never read and studied broadly (or at all) outside of their view of things, they have little knowledge and wisdom from which to draw in making rebuttals. Further yet, since they have little more than a working knowledge of one narrow view of things, and have little if any genuine, first-hand knowledge of anything outside of that, then they can respond only by repeating themselves and hurling insults from behind the walls of their own ignorance.
Now, the last thing I want to do is agree with Christopher Hitchens’ view of my brethren, but there is unfortunately much to his point on this score. A large part of the Christian populace simply refuses to engage in reasonable thinking. The way many Christians respond to biblical, reasoned criticism is simply shameful. Disagree with another position if you like, but please, point to Scripture and be consistent. This, apparently, is too much to expect of a broad swath of the evangelical community.
I want to spend a few moments reviewing some of the comments to my recent article “The AntiChrist Hoax.” I do this to offer illustrations of what I am talking about, not particularly to single out or embarrass any of the individuals, even though this may occur. Nearly all of these comments are little more than emotional outbursts, few refer to any actual claims in my article, few if any address Scripture directly, some claim to know my heart and motives, some commenters contradict others, and some even contradict themselves in the space of a couple sentences.
I am gong to cover quite a bunch of these, so if at any point you get tired of them, simply skip on down to my section “Lessons to Be Learned.”
Examine these commenters and their complaints [comments inserted in brackets like this are my intermittent comments. I have also done some editing only for brevity or relevance]:
“T. G.” read (I assume) my article, and did not like it. But rather than respond to anything it said, he (or she?) decided to deny me salvation:
“You are one antichrist! [An antichrist, as my article reviewed clearly, is someone who denies Jesus came in the flesh. I do not. This is a baseless outburst (note the exclamation point) it is clear to say.] You might be a worldly brilliant figure, but no match to the Holy Biblical God. [True, but I never claimed to be in a contest with God.]
You are just a little speck… [I never claimed to be big, and don’t wish to] with no supernatural power that can heal the sick. [True. I have no supernatural abilities aside from my God-given faith, and I never claimed any. My natural abilities, however, include writing and biblical study, and this commenter would do well to deal with that.] Your jealously spirit does not allow you to see the truth… [T.G., apparently, does have supernatural abilities: to discern my heart and motives, and what I can “see”] you only speak out your little mind! [Now he confuses me: am I “brilliant” as he said before, or do I have a “little mind”? Which is it?]
[…] You are like it is written in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
Commenter “robert williams” agreed with T.G., I am a false teacher, and even bound for hell. His communication methods, however, leave much to be desired. I think he may have been “texting while driving,” and perhaps tying his shoe at the same time. Rather than editorialize this one, I will let it bask in its own glory:
calvert and joel your both liyers and fooles to beleave your false teachings you are some of the falce teachers the bible talks abought keep teaching the stories like jim jones did and find yourselves in hell with all the other false teachers and the scalfers or acceot the trouth as it is taught by the holly bible
The diversion tactics never end. The commenter “Esther” criticizes my denomination, and consequently me, as unknowledgeable and ignorant:
This guys brief auto-bio tells it all [No, actually, the article itself tells it all, which she conspicuously avoids mentioning]. Reformed Episcopal. They have not in recent years been known for their biblical knowledge. They change take from the Bible what pleases them and their lifestyle and dump the rest. [Any Christian can make this claim against any other denomination or non-denomination. It’s mere prejudice without backing it up with evidence. I have provided the biblical data, reasons, and evidence for my view in my article. She has done nothing of the sort.] I have now assigned this website to my “spam” [the email version of purgatory]. […] [I] see no reason to overload my mind with this type of ignorance. [What, exactly, in my article constitutes “ignorance”? Why? Perhaps I am ignorant of a few things; I am willing and in fact eager to be shown what. Esther has not shown anything to justify her insult. It is unfounded and seems reactionary.]
“Faith Morphis” contends over several issues:
Oi! What a dissertation. Anyone schooled in Bible prophecy understands that AntiChrist means just that..against Christ. [It can also mean “instead of Christ,” technically.] According to prophecy, if you are using Daniel as a point of reference, Daniel received a “vision” for many days ahead which made him physically ill (Dan. 8). Interestingly, this vision is explained by Gabriel Himself…(Dan. 8:13 on…). Medes/Persians, Greece (Alexander the Great and nephews)..(vs. 23-26). A time long after Herod. [I’m not sure what Scripture or history Faith Morphis has been schooled in. Herod arrived on the scene about 250 years after Alexander died. While her reference to Gabriel’s explanation is right on, this did not occur “a time long after Herod.” Herod fits the prophecy of the fierce king perfectly.]
As a modern seminary graduate you cannot be expected to do other than what you are doing. [Again, my education is the problem. Of necessity, seminary means I am in league with antichrist.] It is so clear why Jesus chose ordinary people as his disciples… [ordinary people like Paul, the scholar?] Unfortunately, it is more and more clear everyday what college under the influence of antiChrists as professors, does to a person. [While formal education is not necessary for understanding, and can indeed be a detriment in many cases, it also does not corrupt the student of necessity. There are some of us who made it out alive, and who may have even been improved by it, and have used parts of our learning and skills to glorify God. For example, with a little skill in Hebrew, I can properly translate Daniel 8. And with a tiny ounce of skill in a history book, one can know that Herod came after Alexander. Even the Bible itself tells you this much. And now, brace yourself for this one:] Ted Bundy is a classic example as the conversation he recorded between himself and his 89th victim, Laura prior to her death.
[She provides a lengthy quotation from Bundy which I have omitted. So first I’m like Jim Jones; Now I’m like Ted Bundy! Is he (she?) honestly saying that education has corrupted me like a serial rapist and murderer!?]
When one is taught such utter nonsense and it is nothing new, Socrates speaks of it as “Man is the Measure of all things”…he did not, of course adhere to that thinking. But it was rampant at the time. [So I am to be considered like Ted Bundy because of my education, but she is allowed to quote long sections from transcripts of Ted Bundy, and to quote Socrates! It appears she has quite some extra-biblical education herself. So should we seek education or not? By the way, “Man is the Measure of all things” comes from Protagoras, not Socrates, yet one could debate that Socrates did hold to that thinking.]
Commenter “rich” is another who discerns my motives as jealousy and fame. He decries my “sniping,” and then does his own fair share of snipe hunting:
I gave up reading about halfway through. Whoever this guy is, and I honestly I am not concerned on that either, comes across to me as someone who for whatever is the real motive, singles out a couple of other writers and takes up as much time for mocking and taking ‘digs’ rather than impart his teaching (whatever the point is of the article I didn’t care to finish it as the seemingly bitter jealousy portion of it was a turn-off). Using a modern colloquialism I would venture to suggest the author to “grow-up.” Make your points as your own points rather than stoop to kindergarten tactics of “picking on the more popular guy” to make a name for yourself. [The reason you pick the big name in theological debate is because he or she best represents the position. It would make little sense to find some person in the shadows of the fringes and use his claims as a representative sample, now wouldn’t it? Likewise, if you think someone’s teachings are in error and have led millions astray, wouldn’t you seek the avenue that would reach those millions and that error with the truth most readily? Thus you find the clearest, most well-known proponent of the position who has published (made their views a matter of public record) and respond to them.] I’m more than happy to entertain other christian teachings and make up my own mind but this kind of sniping is so unnecessary, if not childish that the point was lost on jealousy.
Scripture does tells us to be gracious even in our rebuttals, but too many Christians seem to think this means either don’t debate at all, or use feather-pillows when doing so. Some Christians are so oversensitive to debate rhetoric that they would use it as an excuse to dismiss the truth of what you say because they personally did not like the way you said it. “Joel McDurmon may be right, but he sure looked at me funny!” And who’s being childish?
“LadyGreenEyes” commented after the article was posted on the Zionica site. She said, “This article is appalling.” Her reason? Because it
Denies more than one hundred Bible verses that support the reality of this person, the AntiChrist.” [Like so many others, she does not mention what was clearly addressed in the article. I don’t deny any of those 100 scripture passages that LaHaye and others claim refer to “The” Antichrist. Rather, I simply deny their interpretation of them. And I show why in the article.] Denies Scripture while accusing others of adding to it. [Again, I don’t deny any Scripture. I just differ with the dispies on what those passages mean. LadyGreenEyes apparently thinks that denying one narrow system of theology is equivalent to denying Scripture. My article proves why this is hardly the case.] All in all, it reads like many atheistic pieces that deny the deity of Christ. Horrible piece, and an embarrassment to the website. [No one here at AV is embarrassed over this piece; we are only embarrassed for Christ over the dozens of Christians who criticized it so poorly.]
“Bud” had several criticisms, but proves little besides his own shortcomings in expressing them. Like others, he attacks my denomination, but he doesn’t even get this right. He says, “Yeah, like I would trust someone from the Episcopal church, the church that ordains and sanctions gay ministers and marriage!” [I am a member, for now, of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which broke off from the mainline Episcopals in 1873. There is a big difference. The REC has never sanctioned ordaining homosexuals, and in fact, does not even ordain women. If Bud had paid any attention at all reading my bio—or wherever he got this info—he should have known better. He has either not paid attention, or has been misinformed, in which case he has failed to do his homework. I wonder if he studies his Bible with the same type of attention.]
Like others, Bud condemns my education as well:
So let me think who would I believe – you a pharisee from the seminary or someone who shows love and passion for their fellow man? [Despite being a false dichotomy (“either . . . or . . .”), this also seems to assume that all seminary education turns one into a Pharisee. Perhaps Bud did not mean it this way, but he did call me a Pharisee. So, on what grounds? Is education itself bad? If avoiding education leaves one arguing like Bud, then perhaps Pharisaism has some merits after all. Truthfully, there is a third way: that of faithful Christian scholarship and debate. Sometimes, you can even find this in seminaries.] While there were a few pharisees who believed Jesus the vast majority did not. Most of them tried the “I have a degree….therefore I know more than you….” attack upon Jesus and they all failed [Pharisees did not have “a degree” nor did they claim to, though they did claim to be teachers—“rabbi.” Is Bud, however, insinuating that since I’m allegedly a Pharisee then I have also claimed intellectual superiority due to my degree? If so, he should include a quotation or link to where I have said this. If he cannot do so, then he is bearing false witness. He should then read John 8:12–59 and find out what kind of person is really in league with the Pharisees]. One of them, Paul, finally saw the light after he was knocked to the ground and blinded and became maybe the greatest Christian ever [If anyone could have boasted a “degree” it was Paul. And while he considered all his credentials as “dung” in comparison to the knowledge of Christ (Phil. 3), his broad education certainly served him well in Acts 17 among other places. He never renounced his education in itself, and certainly not biblical education like I have attempted in The Antichrist Hoax.]
Despite being askew already, Bud continues down his errant path of criticism:
If you want to convince others that you are right how about using some REAL facts from the Bible (I use the 1599 Bible and the KJV mostly.) [Again, this exposes nothing but his own failure. What is my article except an examination of the only “REAL facts from the Bible” in regard to the term “antichrist”? That’s the beginning point and central focus of the article. Bud seems unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that I have already presented exactly what he demands. Perhaps he doesn’t like they way I have done it. If so, he should say so and then show why.] I think you have an envy problem with the writers you continue to put down. Grow up and be a Christian and make sure you do not deceive others [Like others above, he pretends to discern my heart. It’s so easy (in the way a prostitute is easy) to try to discredit one’s opponent by calling him envious, jealous, proud, mean. Anyone, however, who falls for name-calling as actual refutation would probably also spurn education as Pharisaical as well. But, if you actually accept Bud’s insight into my heart (or anyone else’s) then be aware that you have just invested him with omniscience, or at least special revelation. Enough of that. This is the kind of catty back-talk one would expect in a Desperate Housewives episode (so I’m told), or in the comments section of a Lady GaGa exposé from sycophants defending her profundity and courage. It is vain, empty, shallow, and lazy. It is the type of argument one puts forth when they can’t respond to the actual arguments. It is a declaration of both spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy.] […]
Come on Joel, do try to do better than the next time you write an article vehemently criticizing others. [I love challenges, and will always attempt to do better next time, even when not asked. But I have yet to see what’s so bad about this time.] I am not a Bible scholar, but I can take every item you listed and show how erroneous your thinking and conclusions are. [Wonderful to hear. But if this is true, why did Bud not actually do this for the last several paragraphs, instead of hurling insults at the author and piling straw men on top of each other? “Every item” he says, but addresses none. Finally, he tries one:] For example when you try to show Herod was the “fierce” king your words “3)- he certainly engaged in battle against the prince of Princes by trying to murder Him as an infant (Matt. 2:16–18).” How silly this sounds coming from a grown man and a seminary graduate! Is this your definition of a BATTLE? A solitary infant against a king with an army behind him? So a child molester kills a child and you call it a “BATTLE”???? This could be murder or some other crime, but it is not a BATTLE!!! [Now this is a profound rebuttal requiring careful response. Firstly, note that Bud is exercised over my words (“your words”) not God’s Word. I chose the word “battle” as he emphasizes, and to him this sounds silly. I admit, I could have chosen a better word had I intended it to be understood literally. But the text of Daniel in question did not require this: “And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand” (Dan. 8:25). The Hebrew simply indicates that the fierce king will “stand up against” the prince of princes, not “engage in battle.” I was speaking metaphorically and that confused Bud. Perhaps it was confusing to others, too. But since this was my choice of words and not the words of Scripture, then it is easily amendable. We could, I suppose, get into a hermeneutical contest over whether Joel McDurmon’s words should always be interpreted literally except when not possible, but that really would be silly, wouldn’t it? Since the text does not require a literal “BATTLE,” as Bud extracts from me, it now even more clearly fits with Herod’s attack on Jesus, and I thank Bud for helping solidify my case. Herod’s “stand,” by the way, I would argue continued through Jesus’ life and culminated at His death. Herod once again stood up with his “soldiers” (KJV says “men of war”) against Christ in the end, and this reinvigorated the friendship between Herod (the fierce king) and Pilate (Rome, Herod’s power): “And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other” (Luke 23:11–12). My argument for Herod as the fierce king of Daniel 8 stands.]
Joel, I asked you to try to do better the next time, but after looking your article over again the best thing for you to do is to be quiet and talk with LaHaye and some other real Bible Scholars. [I understand this as saying, “What I said earlier left a door open for you to respond. But since I have reviewed how you actually do follow biblical facts, and I really don’t have any response other than unfounded insults, please, please don’t say anything about this. I prefer to exalt the faulty system of LaHaye, despite its fanciful lack of substance. Christopher Hitchens was right about me.” By the way, Bud, did you know that Tim LaHaye refuses to debate with us, too? And he has higher “degrees” than I do!]
And finally, “PAUL” criticizes my education also. Although instead of criticizing me for having education, he wants it me to have more education:
You are way off base, [Why? On What?] give proof about what you talk about. [The article is nothing but proof of what I talk about. It is all Scriptural proof. What more proof do you want?] Jesus had discussed end times with the disciples. [Yes He did. And John seems to take the “many antichrists” (1 Jo. 2:18) that arose among them as absolute proof that he and his readers were in the “last hour.” It is very likely he believed this because of Jesus’ prediction that false prophets and false christs would come in the “end” (Matt. 24:5, 11, 24). This fact about Jesus and His disciples confirms rather than weakens my case.] Where did you get your degree? Sears? or Kmart? [This would be a good rhetorical bit if it was founded on something more substantial than what preceded it. As it is, it is disarmed. It also unfortunately commits a false dichotomy: I may, for example, have gotten my degree neither at Sears nor Kart, but Hobby Lobby. After all, they have a much better selection of frames. Or, my degree may have nothing at all to do with the issue!]
Lessons to Be Learned
The great problem with arguments like these is that, even if true, they can prove nothing in the actual case. Let us just suppose for a moment that, God forbid it, all of the things they say about your beloved author are in fact true. Let us suppose I am an antichrist, false teacher, pea-brained, self-absorbed, jealous, blind, liar, fool, like Jim Jones, pigeon-toed, a pipsqueak, a high-talker, Spock-eared, a poor husband and father, a terrible cook, a drunkard, convicted felon, atheist, Maoist, communist, gutter-sparrow, have bad breath, live on welfare, and am bound for hell. Ok, now that that’s out of the way, can we move on to the arguments themselves? What about those?
At what point can we get past the person who wrote the arguments and actually deal with the argument. It is, after all, quite possible that despite being a decrepit sinner and degenerate, I might actually be right—just as the atheist Hitchens can be correct about the intellectual state of many Christians. Proving him right is the fact that so many Christians consistently ignore the actual issues and texts and instead engage in ad hominem nonsense—which is bearing false witness. Proving me right could very well be the fact that the Bible actually teaches what I wrote about it and not what the dispensationalists wrote about it.
People who responded to “The AntiChrist Hoax” in the ways exemplified above prove that they would rather try to win an argument by tearing down the other person than by addressing the issue. This indicates a current of fear—fear of having a cherished belief proven unbiblical. They would, therefore, rather lash out irrationally, emotionally, than even take the risk of exposing their deeply-held viewpoint to biblical scrutiny. In order to avoid facing even the possibility they’ve been Hoaxed, they divert the argument away and attack the person rather than the proposition. See no evil, hear no evil. . . .
Too many Christians who allow themselves to think like this, or who may not even be aware that they do, get trapped in a web of their own spinning. They hold their own position to be the one true biblical interpretation, and castigate everything else as demonic. Once at this point, they cannot accept any questioning of their views because to do so would be de facto to give into Satan. Thus the number of times I was condemned to perdition and to hell by such people.
These people then wall themselves into their own little doctrinal fortress and wage war with anyone who gets close enough to point out its cracks. But this mindset is surely not glorifying to God. God has never expected that we, as fallen and finite human beings recovering only by His grace, would have perfect knowledge of all things. Those who get stuck in the “fortress” mindset have not walled themselves off from the enemy, they have simply painted themselves in a corner. They live in prideful doctrinal isolation, and can’t move because of it. Their paradigm has paralyzed them. In short, they think like a cult, and not like a Christian.
The lesson to be learned, then, is that of how a Christian should think, reason, and debate. The lesson is often counterintuitive. Christians are indeed called to reason and debate, but to do so in a faithful way. Ethics before intellect. We are called to be faithful witnesses of truth in all its forms. This requires a commitment to Christian ethics, spirituality, and learning all at once.
Ethics and Debate
Many Christians perhaps have not yet realized that debate and discussion is far more ethical than it is intellectual. God is honored far more when we are honest than when we argue loudest. The whole reason I wrote my book Biblical Logic was to place the endeavor of Christian scholarship and debate within its biblical context and on a biblical foundation. The most important biblical pillar for the practice of logic is the ninth commandment: you shall not bear false witness. We must represent each other’s statements and positions faithfully first of all. I wrote,
Never forget that intellectual endeavors always involve at least two parties: each one involves at least you and God, but more often than not they involve you, God, and other people. Either way, this means that your claims, arguments, and propositions will always fall under scrutiny—the judgment of God and of others. As the proverb says, The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him (Prov. 18:17). We should, therefore, endeavor to present a case so impeccably clear and unassailable that our cross-examiners (whether they be casual listeners, or critical analysts) can do nothing but submit to our reasoning or fall into fallacy themselves.
This means presenting our opponents’ arguments in their fullest, strongest, and most positive light possible. The Reformed scholar Loraine Boettner speaks strongly to this point. As he criticizes some enthusiastic prophecy writers for presenting their own theories with an authoritative air while they ignore competing views, Boettner writes, “True scholars do not hesitate to state the position of an opponent, and then expose the errors, if there are any.” In fact, he adds, “It has often been said that a person really does not know either side of a question until he knows both sides.” Many have noted of the influential medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas that he presented his opponents’ arguments better than they themselves did. Part of his success and fame certainly derives from this fact, and no doubt he earned the respect of many of his opponents for it, even if they disagreed with his conclusions.
Part of achieving the ability to represent others fairly requires us to overcome fears and dysfunctions in our own souls. Fallacies arise quite often from the hidden sins and prejudices of the heart, and chief among these prejudices—perhaps subsuming them all—lurks pride. As C. S. Lewis explains, the great sin of all sins is that of spiritual pride or self-conceit: unduly exalting ourselves above others, even before God himself. He writes, “[I]t was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Pride will move us to miss truth simply because we already dearly hold certain perceptions and will not open up to other possibilities. Proud Naaman almost missed being healed of leprosy because he did not like the way the truth came to him. Through the suggestion of a servant girl he traveled to Elisha’s house. Instead of meeting the soldier directly, Elisha sent a messenger to tell him what to do: go dip in the muddy Jordan river. Naaman grew angry. “I thought the prophet would speak to important me directly! And why the Jordan? Why not one of the clean rivers in Syria?!” Were it not for the persuading efforts of his servants, he would have missed God’s blessing (2 Kings 5:1–14). Were it not for a servant girl, a prophet’s messenger servant, and Naaman’s personal servants, the truth would not have prevailed. Like Naaman, if we let our preconceptions about the world and our own sense of importance about ourselves drive our worldview and view of God, then we risk missing the truth altogether. We must listen to everyone, and enter the muddy trenches of intellectual discourse in faith that God’s truth will prevail.1
But here’s the worst part of this endeavor: by evading thorough biblical reasoning, Christians have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Consider what I have written in, Biblical Logic:
[I]n the end, the Christian intellectual position and your personal faith can only grow stronger through your practice of patient, humble honesty. If we set up our opponents’ arguments as weak (as Straw Men) and then defeat them, what have we accomplished? Not much. If we aim at the weakest parts of our opponent’s case, and bring that part down, how far have we progressed? On the contrary, if we present our opponent in his best light, and allow him his strongest case, and then defeat that case, we have not only made much progress, but we have dealt the other side the greatest possible blow. If we aim at the most impenetrable part of his armor and still break through, then we have achieved a triumph, and we leave the enemy with little defense, if any.2
So, next time you plan to give that internet author a piece of your mind, stop and rehearse this lesson. Remember the examples above of what not to do. Remember that we stand in God’s courtroom, and in that courtroom, the quality of argumentation means more than quantity or passion. Integrity means more than intellect. Reasoned response is rooted in God’s revelation, not our emotions. We should make our statements and responses reflect His glory.
Be aware that the “Send” button could be the most damaging weapon you own—damaging to your target and to you. Once pressed, the deed is done, and it’s almost impossible to undo. “Send” could be the most embarrassing or regretful thing you ever do. Before you press, be your own critic. Criticize your own words first as harshly as you plan to criticize that other guy’s. Pray before you press. Be sure before you send.