Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Followup Response to Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister Mcgrath

    In a previous post, I summarized Hitchen's Arguments with Christianity (in his debate with Alister McGrath) in the following way.

    In his opening statement of the debate, Hitchens declares Christianity to be false, irrational, insulting, and harmful for the following reasons (my summary):

    1. Christianity's establishment and strength has resulted and depends upon man's ignorance.
    2. Christianity's doctrine of vicarious atonement and redemption is immoral and unethical
    3. Christianity's rule is totalitarian and brings the greatest burden and shame on our species.
    4. Christianity's ethics undermine man's basic integrity
    5. Christianity's love is dictatorial (/compulsory)
    6. Christianity's message (i.e., revelation of delay & method of God)is immoral.
    7. Christianity's message (i.e., "man is blood, mud, etc., but God has a plan for you")is sadomasochism.

    Here, I will provide a quick response to his arguments.
    (Sorry, but time restraits prevent a better form and development)

    I. Christianity’s Establishment & Strength has Resulted & Depends on Man’s Ignorance
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    “We have better claims -- excuse me, better explanations for the origins and birth of our cosmos and our species now, so much better so, in fact, that had they been available to begin with, religion would never have taken root. No one would now go back to the stage when we didn't have any real philosophy, we only had mythology, when we thought we lived on a flat planet or when we thought that our planet was circulated by the sun instead of the other way around, when we didn't know that there were micro-organisms as part of creation and that they were more powerful than us and had dominion…. We wouldn't have taken up Theism if we'd known then what we do now.


    1. What are those “BETTER EXPLANATIONS for the ORIGINS & BIRTH of our COSMOS?

    - Organic goo on bottom of ocean (Never been discovered)?
    - Eternal matter and eternal evolutionary forces (forces which remain unidentified, but when pressed for an answer about them begin to look alot like the God of the Bible). Simple to complex development, but how long would such a process take? Has the universe existed anywhere near that long?
    - Life from no life, intelligence from no intelligence, etc.
    - Has not Science concluded that the Universe had a Beginning.
    - Interesting scienties continue to try to find life elsewhere and if life (forms) could travel from Space” (so far, not found or feasible)

    2. Examine the foundations of his argument.

    a. Hitchens seems to suggest: Scientific Rationalism & Secular Humanism Not Only Meets All Man’s Needs but Provides Satisfying Answers
    i. Has/Can Science explain/define the purpose of man?
    ii. Has Science & Secularism solved the problem of Evil, Sin, Death?
    iii. Does Science & Secularism explain /provide a foundation for law, ethics, etc.?
    iv. Has Science & Secularism created Life, & Life Eternal (Not Just Physical, but in All it’s Manifestation

    b. Hitchens seems to suggest: Religion Has Only Served as a Substitute (Weak & Faulty One at that) until Philosophy & Science developed.
    i. False Assumption is that Religion seeks to be a Philosophy or Science
    ii. Religion has not been replaced by science and philosophy but undergirds and serves alongside them.

    c. Hitchens seems to suggest: Now that Science & Secularism have developed, Evidence Shows there’s No Need for Religion
    i. Really?
    ii. Are there more today who are Religious, or Non Religious?
    iii. Are there not Intellectuals, Scientists, Doctors, Lawyers, etc., who still look to religion & consider it of inestimable value today?

    d. The God of the Bible and the gosple proclaimed in the Bible have NOT CHANGED, but have been the abiding comfort, hope, security,& love of God's people throughout ALL generations (regardless of the state of science and philosophy)!

    Gen 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”

    Summary: Hitchen’s Assertion is weak and archaic

    II. Christianity's doctrine of vicarious atonement and redemption is immoral and unethical
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    “I would submit that the doctrine of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice is utterly
    immoral. I might, if I wished, if I knew any of you, you were my friend or even if I didn't know you but I just loved the idea of you … but suppose I could say, “look, you're in debt, I've just made a lot of money out of a God-bashing book, I'll pay your debts for you, maybe you'll pay me back some day, but for now I can get you out of trouble.”

    I could say if I really loved someone who had been sentenced to prison if I can find a way of saying I'd serve your sentence, I'd try and do it. I could do what Sydney Carton does in a Tale of Two Cities, if you like, I'm very unlikely to do this unless you've been incredibly sweet to me, I'll take your place on the scaffold, but I can't take away your responsibilities. I can't forgive what you did, I can't say you didn't do it, I can't make you washed clean. The name for that in primitive middle eastern society was scapegoating. You pile the sins of the tribe on a goat, you drive that goat into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. And you think you've taken away the sins of the tribe. This is a positively immoral doctrine that abolishes the concept of personal responsibility on which all ethics and all morality must depend. “

    Hitchen’s Argument is Put More Succinctly in Other Places where He Claims
    It’s IMMORAL for God to Punish Jesus for Sins He Did Not Commit, & Call Believers Righteous when we are Sinners.

    Note… the Bible does Not Skirt this Issue (but addresses in what some call the Heart of the Heart of the Bible)

    Rom 3:25 “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

    Hitchens Arguments Fails in the Following Areas:
    1. Hitchens Fails to Account for the Roles & Authority of God… as Creator, Governor, & Judge (in addition to His Being the Offended Party & One who determines what he will accept in regard to appeasement for sin)
    2. Hitchens Fails to Take Into Account the Federal Relationships of Humanity (1st & 2nd Adam)
    3. Hitchens puts himself in the place of God as the one who determines what is moral/immoral.
    4. Hitchens Fails to understand Salvation by Grace (“maybe you’ll pay me back some day”)
    5. Hitchens Fails to Distinguish between his own nature & the Nature/Plans of God (God provides “freely”, not on basis of man being “incredibly sweet” to him
    6. Hitchens Fails to Understand the Doctrine of Justification (God does not say “man did not sin”, but provides in light of man’s sin!)
    7. Hitchens Fails to Take Into Account the Sanctifying Power of God (He is able to wash & cleanse us)
    8. *** Hitchens Mistakenly Asserts that the Doctrine of Vicarious Atonement & Justification abolishes the concept of Personal Responsibility!

    The truth is that only the biblical worldview and that which is illustrated through the vicarious atonement and justification of Christ provides a consistent basis, grounds, motivation, etc. for human resposibility and accountability, and calls man to personal responsibility, not only for our actions, but to the Law Giver Himself!

    Rom 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely wil anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

    Rom 6:1ff “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

    III. Christianity's rule is totalitarian and brings the greatest burden and shame on our species.
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    “Well it's here that we find something very sinister about Monotheism and about religious practice in general. It is incipiently at least and I think often explicitly totalitarian,b/c I have no say in this. I am born under a celestial dictatorship which I could not have had any hand in choosing. I don't put myself under its Government. I am told that it can watch me while I sleep. I'm told that it can convict me of, here's the definition of totalitarianism, thought crime, for what I think I may be convicted and condemned.
    And that if I commit a right action, it's only to evade this punishment and if I commit a wrong action, I'm going to be caught up not just with punishment in life for what I've done which often follows action systematically, but, no, even after I'm dead. In the Old Testament, gruesome as it is, recommending as it is of genocide, racism, tribalism, slavery, genitalia mutilation, in the displacement and destruction of others, terrible as the Old Testament Gods are, they don't promise to punish the dead. There's no talk of torturing you after the earth has closed over the Amalekites. Only toward when gentle Jesus, meek and mild, makes his appearance are those who won't accept the message told they must depart into everlasting fire. Is this morality, is this ethics?

    ...I submit not only is it not, not only does it come with the false promise of vicarious redemption, but it is the origin of the totalitarian principle which has been such a burden and shame to our species for so long.”

    Hitchens Errs in the follow ways:
    1. Hitchens fails to take into Account Creator/Creature Distinctives.
    2. Hitchens “groundlessly” suggests His Own Self-Governance is the basis of Truth/Reality.
    3. Hitchens slanders the Nature of God & His Rule (“dictatorship” … vs. Creater, Governor, Merciful Savior, etc.)
    4. Hitchens Mischaracterizes the Motivation for the Works of Man; & the Grounds & Nature of God’s Judgment

    What we discover is that it's Hitchen’s own self centeredness and self-exaltation and desire for self-rule which not only distorts, but keeps him from acknowledging, and submitting to the truth!

    The denial of God’s rightful place & man’s exaltation of self (& self-rule) which resulted in God needing to provide salvation & light to begin with!

    IV. Christianity's ethics undermine man's basic integrityHitchen’s Argument:
    “I further think that it undermines us in our most essential integrity. It dissolves our obligation to live and witness in truth. Which of us would say that we would believe something because it might cheer us up or tell our children that something was true because it might dry their eyes? Which of us indulges in wishful thinking, who really cares about the pursuit of truth at all costs and at all hazards?

    Can it not be said, do you not, in fact, hear it said repeatedly about religion and by the
    religions themselves that, well it may not be really true, the stories may be fairy tales. The history may be dubious, but it provides consolation. Can anyone hear themselves saying this or have it said of them without some kind of embarrassment, without the concession that thinking here is directly wishful, that, yes, it would be nice if you could throw your sins and your responsibilities on someone else and have them dissolved, but it's not true and it's not morally sound and that's the second ground of my indictment.

    On our integrity, basic integrity, knowing right from wrong and being able to choose a right action over a wrong one, I think one must repudiate the claim that one doesn't have this moral discrimination innately, that, no, rather it must come only from the agency of a celestial dictatorship which one must love and simultaneously fear.
    And that we don't have an innate sense of right and wrong, children don't have an innate sense of fairness and decency, which of course they do. What is it like? I can personalize it to this extent, my mother's Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sianai, they'd been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and they get to Mount Sinai only to be told that's not kosher after all.

    I'm sorry, excuse me, you must have more self-respect than that for yourself and for others. Of course the stories are fiction. .. It's an insult, it's an insult to us, it's an insult to our deepest integrity.

    No, if we believed that perjury, murder and theft were all right, we wouldn't have got as far as the foot of Mount Sinai or anywhere else.

    I have a challenge which I have now put in print on the Christianity Today Website and in many other places. It's this: if it's to be argued that our morality or ethics can be derived from the supernatural, then name me an action, a moral action taken by a believer or a moral statement uttered by one, that could not have been made or uttered by an infidel, a non-believer. “


    1. Hitchens clearly misunderstands the unfolding of the covenant & the role of covenant law in the Old Testament.
    a. God does authorize his people to kill, etc., but what is the context, and on whose authority is the command based? Hitchens fails to take the context and God's authority and right to use his people as instruments of his just judgments. (Note: one must understand differences in the dispensations of God's covenant workings or one will fail and err by falsely assigning certain authority and commands to dispensations or peoples where it does not belong)
    b. Who determines morality? Was God ever UNJUST in his accusations/judgments? Is the punishment for sin not “death”? Can God not use man to carry out his just will?

    2. Hitchens presupposes universal absolutes without a Law Giver
    a. Where do ethics & morality come from? What is the standard?
    b. What is the standard? Whose right … those who declare abortion right or wrong… How do we know?

    3. Hitchens fails to take into account “common grace” & the need for the conscience to be trained.

    4. Hitchens mischaracterizes the biblical position on “perjury, murder, theft" etc by failing to take context into account.

    5. Hitchens fails to take into account the influence of God’s Word/Law in history. (Affect other peoples / values)
    a. Note: Cannibalism is deemed okay in some people groups

    6. Hitchens gives credit to hmself (& oher hmanity) with no basis for how man has gotten (& judges) the way he does.

    Atheism & Secular Humanism has YET to provide Grounds & Answers in regard to the origin, existence, standards, & authority of Morals and/or Ethics

    V. Christianity's love is dictatorial (/compulsory)
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    “…compulsory love is another sickly element of Christianity, by the way

    It has a further implication. I'm told that I have to have a share in this human sacrifice even though it took place long before I was born. I have no say in it happening, I wasn't consulted about it, had I been present I would have been bound to do my best to stop the public torture and execution of an eccentric preacher. I would do the same even now.
    No, no, I'm implicated in it, I, myself, drove in the nails, I was present at Calvary, it confirms the original filthy sin in which I was conceived and born, the sin of Adam in Genesis. Again, this may sound a mad belief, but it is the Christian belief.”

    I. Hitchens mischaracterizes nature & motivation of love for God (& hence the nature of God Himself)
    a. Nowhere in the Bible is love “compulsory” in the sense Hitchens states
    i. God is WORTHY of Love
    ii. God’s people who having first been loved by God… freely desire to love God.
    iii. It’s a SAD STATEMENT when one falsely assumes there must be a "compulsory nature” for man to love that which is good & lovable!

    II. Hitchens fails to take into account the Federal Relationship of Mankind

    “before I was born”

    This points to the Hitchens being influenced by the “Individualism” of the 21st century, rather than the evidence of the oneness of humanity.

    VI. Christianity's message (i.e., revelation of delay & method of God)is immoral.
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    For 100,000 years Homo sapiens were born, …very often dying in the process or killing its mother in the process at life expectancy probably not much more than 20, 25 years. Dying probably of hunger or of micro-organisms that they didn't know existed or of events such as volcanic or tsunami or earthquake types that would have been wholly terrifying and mysterious as well as some turf wars over women, land, property, food, other matters. You can fill them in, imagine it for yourself what the first few tens of thousands of years were like.

    And we like to think learning a little bit in the process and certainly having Gods all the
    way, worshipping bears fairly early on, I can sort of see why, sometimes worshipping other human being, (big mistake, I'm coming back to that if I have time), this and that and the other thing, but exponentially perhaps improving, though in some areas of the world very nearly completely dying out. And a bitter struggle all along.

    According to the Christian faith, heaven watches this with folded arms for 98,000 years and then decides, whew, it's time to intervene and the best way of doing that would be a human sacrifice in primitive Palestine where the news would take so long to spread that it still hasn't penetrated very large parts of the world and that would be our redemption of human species.

    Now I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that that is, what I've just said which you must believe to believe the Christian revelation is not possible to believe, as well as not decent to believe. Why is it not possible? Because a virgin birth is more likely than that. A resurrection is more likely than that and because if it was true, it would have two further implications. It would have to mean that the designer of this plan was unbelievably lazy and inept or unbelievably callous and cruel and indifferent and capricious.


    Is this the biblical picture of God’s involvement?
    Ans: No. Hitchens could not be further from the truth. God has been involved from the beginning.

    1. God was immediately on the scene with Adam and Eve presenting salvation (protoeuvangelion).

    2. The cross has application to both those who came before and after.

    3. God has always be faithful and there for his people.

    4. Because God has not redeemed all and because God has not consumated his plan does not mean he has been absent or uncaring!

    VII. Christianity's message (i.e., "man is blood, mud, etc., but God has a plan for you")is sadomasochism.
    Hitchen’s Argument:
    And here's my final point, the final insult that religion delivers to us, the final poison it injects into our system. It appeals both to our meanness, our self-centeredness and our solecism and to massochism. In other words, it's sadomasochistic.
    I'll put it like this: you're a clot of blood, you're a piece of mud, you're lucky to be
    alive, God fashioned you for his convenience, even though you're born in filth and sin and even though every religion that's ever been is distinguished principally by the idea that we should be disgusted by our own sexuality. Name me a religion that does not play upon that fact. So you're lucky to be here, originally sinful and covered in shame and filth as you are, you're a wretched creature, but take heart, the Universe is designed with you in mind and heaven has a plan for you.

    1. Hitchens fails to take into account the docrine of creation and man's being created in the “image of God”

    2. Compare the Atheist view of man: mass of chemicals, no purpose, to decopose and exist no more, etc., worse than mud…

    3. Hitchens denies the dignity, purpose and glory of man

    4. Hitchens slanders the goodness and purposes of God.

    1 comment:

    SkyHill2000 said...

    Just one extra comment on the Hitchen's last point. He says that all religions, and Christianity in particular, encourage the believers to be disgusted at their own sexuality. I wonder if he mostly means the Abrahamic religions, I've never heard anything about Buddhism or Hinduism addressing this issue quite the same way. I could be wrong there though. But as for Christianity, it is really the only one with an extremely high and exalted view of human sexuality! This can be most easily seen when reading the Song of Solomon, and the special mention in Genesis 1 and 2 about having created people & animals "male and female". In the New Testament, we have Paul's admonition that the marriage bed should be undefiled, that is, that the sexual relationship in marriage is set apart and special, and there is no defilement to it. Paul also writes that each partner should not neglect their sexual duty to the other partner. But the most astounding statement about sexuality in the New Testament is that marriage itself (presumably including it's sexuality) is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. This means that it is lifted up to the highest ideal of love and beauty. That's a high calling for sexuality! I think what Hitchens and others are really objecting to is that the bible places strict limits around the proper use and place for sexuality - that is, within the bounds of marriage only. But the reality is that the restriction is there because sexuality was created to be so powerful and important by God, that it was necessary to put into place powerful protections and limitations to prevent it's abuse.