A Friendly Response to Jordan Standridge’s “A platform for porn and a dialogue with the devil”

Over at The Cripplegate there is a post by Jordan Standridge titled, “A platform for porn and a dialogue with the devil.” Jordan starts off with a story that sheds a little light on that title.

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to what was being called “The Great Porn Debate.” A Christian man who was anti-porn was going around the country with a famous porn actor and they were debating the question: Is porn harmful or helpful? They were debating this on college campuses, but the meeting we were invited to was in a church—a large church in San Diego where thousands of Christians would be exposed to a man who was going to try to convince the crowd that porn can be good for you and your marriage. Needless to say, we declined — a decision for which I was subject to ridicule. I was called a Pharisee, and also I was mocked for being “afraid” to hear inappropriate language.

If the post ended here, it probably would not generate much discussion. But the post does not end here. There is more, and the title gives us a hint of what is to come. Obviously, nobody wants to give porn a “platform,” and we know a “dialogue with the devil” is not exactly kid friendly or mother approved, so whatever Jordan is getting ready to describe must be really, really bad, right?

It did make me wonder, though: Should Christians allow debates like these to occur in our churches? Should we expose our congregations to worldly thinking and allow people to come in and attempt to convince our loved ones that the Bible is wrong, or that God is hateful and is holding back good things from us? As I thought about that day, I’ve concluded that it’s never wise to allow false religions and worldly thinking onto our stages. And I have at least four reasons for saying that.

Before we get started, we need some clarity here. When Jordan uses the phrase “debates like these,” is he speaking only of debates with pornographic content and inappropriate language, or does he really believe that all debates involve at least one party that defends the sensuous equivalent of pornographic material?

In response to this question, Jordan might argue that at least one party in many debates – particularly debates of the religious kind – are actually presenting material that is even more dangerous than pornography. If so, good for him, although the nature of the two things is still quite different. One appeals to the mind or emotions, and the other appeals to the senses, and particularly to ungodly sexual desire. In any event, if we just outright dismiss all debates as essentially pornographic, well then, of course debate is a bad thing, but we should not grant that all debates are of the aforementioned nature.

Do Debates Treat Unbelievers Unbiblically?

Now, there is still another point that needs to be clarified before moving on. Jordan asks if debates should take place in “churches.” He then asks about whether “congregations” should be exposed to worldly thinking. Then, he speaks of people who would “come in,” before stating his thesis that false religions should not be brought to our “stages.” The difficulty here is understanding what Jordan means in speaking of the “church.” At first, he could be talking about a people or a building (“churches”). Then, he is clearly referring to people (“congregations”). Next, he refers to a building, or possibly a people (“come in”). Finally, he mentions something often found in church buildings (“stages”). I would argue that a church building, a congregation, and a stage are all very different from one another. I was so unclear about what Jordan meant that I wrote to ask him about it. He replied, “I believe the church is only the people.”

Perhaps, but Jordan’s post does not bear this out, as he also writes about a stage and a platform. Moreover, Jordan’s actual argument, insofar as I can understand it, is inconsistent with the idea that he is addressing people, rather than buildings. In fact, in our discussion Jordan went on to say, “The place where the church gathers is an important place like a home.” So, the church is people, and the church gathers in a place. But now we are not on the subject of people, we are on the subject of place. Jordan makes this clear in the next line of his (gracious) response to me, “I wouldn’t let false teachers in my home, so I wouldn’t in my church.” Now Jordan is using “church” to refer, not to people, but to a place, otherwise his analogy with a home does not work, and that analogy is very important to his argument.

You see, Jordan went on to explain, “The Bible warns us not to let false teachers in our homes.” My guess is that Jordan has a passage from 2 John in mind.

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. (2 John)

Now, I would submit that Jordan is very much missing the point of this text, assuming this is the one he has in mind. This text is not telling us that unbelievers are not allowed in our homes (Scripture teaches the opposite), nor is it telling us we cannot speak to unbelievers (Scripture teaches the opposite!). Rather, the text is addressing a very specific situation with the recipients of John’s letter where people were claiming to be among the believers and yet were deceptive antichrists. These false teachers moved past abiding in the teaching of Christ and thus revealed that they did not have God.

Churches met in homes. Leaders went to homes. Missionaries stayed in homes. False teachers were not to be supported in these ministries, nor greeted like the brothers and sisters, because they were not truly of the believing group of 2 John.

Jordan may choose not to witness to Mormons at his front door or ever invite them in (there is a Twilight joke here somewhere). Very well, but that is not what this text is talking about.

Churches may wish to avoid speaking to nominal Christians, or having any unbelievers ever enter their buildings (although I do not see how they are faithful in doing so). That is certainly not what this text is addressing.

Moreover, the text of 2 John implies that the community to which John writes may not be aware that some among them do not actually believe the same thing they do, and that is a radically different situation than when someone enters a church building as a known practitioner of non-Christian faith.

So, I am just not seeing a real explicit biblical argument from Jordan here. The church building is a place. Our houses are places. But neither is physically sacred in some sense where unbelievers cannot come under their roofs. And if Jordan really is using “church” as “people,” then he does not believe in conducting debates at any time or any place where Christians may be present.

If Jordan’s contention is with allowing a false teacher unopposed into a pulpit during corporate worship, then good for him, and I agree. Or if Jordan is opposed to hosting a debate in lieu of the preaching of the word during corporate worship, then I will happily join him. However, that does not appear to be the issue.

Do Debates Necessitate an Unbiblical Apologetic Methodology?

Jordan explains he has a methodological concern with debates as well.

Many of these so-called debates are supposed to be evangelistic, but my apologetic objects because God should never be put on trial. I don’t care if you are talking to an atheist, an imam, or a Buddhist monk: the God of the Bible does not need us to defend His existence. He is the I Am who has declared Himself in His Word and in every heart of man. The reason why non-believers neglect Him or replace Him with other religions is because they love their sin. Most of the time these dialogues and debates are done in order to defend God and to convince the other people of His existence through reasoning. But a God I can reason to is not a God worth worshiping.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the current popularity of presuppositional apologetic methodology is that it is misunderstood on a much grander scale than was once the case. Many budding apologists are learning little bits and pieces of presuppositionalism and taking those bits and pieces for the sum and substance of the overall method. Some of that may be happening here.

For example, Jordan is right to say that “God should never be put on trial;” indeed, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, we are the ones on trial. But defending the existence of God in debate does not mean that God is being put on trial. Defending the existence of God in debate assumes God exists and has us on trial. The evangelistic and apologetic fervor that lead us as believers to debate nonbelievers stems from wholehearted belief that God exists and unbelievers need to hear the gospel, not some false notion that we are in a position to judge whether or not God exists.

Does God need us to defend his existence? Certainly not. But then again God does not need us to sing, or write blog posts, or preach the gospel. He does, however, use us to preach and defend the gospel. Granting that we cannot reason our way “to” God, it does not follow that debate requires us to even try and do so. Indeed, we should reason from or about God, using the wonderful faculty of reason God has set in every human being alongside the sensus divinitatis.

Do Debates Force Elders to Act Unbiblically?

The next set of objections pertain to pastors and their congregations. Jordan claims that a pastor’s congregation is weaker than that pastor thinks. (Why does Jordan believe he knows other pastors’ congregations better than they do?) Jordan’s claim entails that no matter how weak a pastor believes his congregation to be, they are even weaker than that, which, when the pastor recognizes that supposed fact, leads to an infinite regress of sorts. (In like manner, Jordan later contends that he personally is weaker than he thinks he is.) Of course, people do need to be shepherded carefully. One of the ways we might work to protect sheep from wolves is to teach them how to spot and defeat wolves.

Jordan goes on to note his propensity (shared by every believer who has ever walked the face of the earth), to question his faith, get discouraged, and sin.

I used to go alone to do evangelism but I do so less frequently now. I need the encouragement of others as I talk to unbelievers mainly because I am prone to get discouraged and doubt as much as anyone else in my church. Any debator or pastor must not be so prideful as to think, “I can expose my people to these wolves, because I’m able to argue in such a way that will be able to keep my sheep safe.” This is the height of arrogance and something we should repent of.

This passage is somewhat troubling to me. On the one hand, Jordan is a fallen human being and does need the loving encouragement of others. Pastors are not spiritual supermen, and so of course Jordan gets discouraged and doubts “as much as anyone else.”

On the other hand, Jordan accuses elders of being exceedingly arrogant for thinking they can take on wolves and argue in such a way as to keep the sheep. On first glance, Jordan’s view seems right. There is some truth to taking care of both yourself and the sheep when it comes to this topic. (1 Timothy 4:16)

However, what at first appears pious is grossly unbiblical. As an elder, Jordan “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) Not only are we not arrogant for thinking God can use our words to protect the sheep and rebuke the wolves, Scripture requires that we do so.

There’s a tendency in pastors, like in parents, to be control freaks and try to shelter others from the bad things of this world. That’s good, to some extent, but the world is full of sin, and people are exposed to these things anyway. We can’t shelter the sheep from everything, but should work to teach truth and discernment. Biblically speaking, we do not fight false teaching through physical restraint and legalistic sheltering, but by exposing and refuting it with the word of God.

Do Debates Unbiblically Privilege the Place of Dialogue?

Jordan’s final point is, frankly, hyper-Calvinistic. Jordan plainly states that people “don’t get saved through dialogues.”

Jordan assures me he is not a hyper-Calvinist. He is very evangelistic, as is plain from this and other posts he has written. I agree. I did not say he is a hyper-Calvinist. I said his final point is hyper-Calvinistic. He starts by writing about compromise.

Over the course of church history many people have compromised in order to win skeptics. From seminary scholars who compromise on the miracles in the Bible or the dating of books, to the various coalitions between Roman Catholics and evangelicals, compromise has often beguiled the church. Today it looks like friendly dialogues between Islamic leaders and Christians, but remember: none of these dialogues bring about what we want.

So…when a Christian sits down and speaks civilly with an unbeliever, the church is tricked into compromise? I do not think so. He continues.

Complimenting wolves in sheep’s clothing on how great their clothes look is not being winsome. It’s being unwise. We must remember that salvation comes through hearing and hearing through God’s word, therefore we must defend it and declare it without holding back or compromising it at all. We mustn’t let the wolves in, and we must expose them for what they are.

Amen, but this comment blatantly contradicts the earlier statement about God not needing us to defend him. There, Jordan wrote that God does not need us to defend him. Here, Jordan writes that we must defend him. The comment also appears to contradict the earlier statement about the supposed lofty arrogance of elders who think themselves able to defend the truth.

Of course, it must be said that those who do choose to expose their people to these men and women don’t become apostates upon doing so. If a pastor held a dialogue with a Muslim leader at his church, I wouldn’t question his salvation or his motives (unless he has proven himself to be a false teacher over time). It is possible to be a faithful man of God and faithful evangelist and choose to do the opposite of what is said in this blog post, remembering that one day we will all stand before God and give an account of what we’ve done.

Well, it certainly is comforting to know I am not going to hell for my previous debates with unbelievers! However, it is extremely difficult to make sense of what is being said.

Either the debates in question are sinful or they are not. If debates are sinful, then it is not possible to be a faithful, godly evangelist and have debates.

If debates are not sinful, then why did Jordan argue that they are? Remember what he wrote about the supposed biblical commands not to let false teachers into the church or home? Remember what he wrote about supposed inherent compromise? Remember what he wrote about the supposed arrogance of debaters? Are those not sins? Then how can faithful men engage in them?

Jordan believes debates with unbelievers are spiritually dangerous. They are! In one sense, they are not for everyone. In another sense, we should all be prepared for them. (1 Peter 3:15)

We can shore up our faith, keep the sheep, and see the folly of the world on display through debates that contrast it with the wisdom of God. We pray our ‘opponents’ might see the contrast and understand their deep need for Jesus Christ crucified and raised for the forgiveness of sins.

God grants life to undeserving, dangerous sinners, and he does so through persuasive preaching, teaching, application, and defense of his Word.


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