The Hitchens Brothers Debate

UPDATE: NPRs Religion Correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty was a panelist at the Hitchens Brothers debate. She was my guest on Wednesday, October 12 at 5:05 pm ET.

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Yesterday in Washington, DC a lunchtime “debate” (billed as a “conversation”) was held between noted Atheist Christopher Hitchens and his Evangelical Christian brother, Peter. The question on the table was whether or not civilization could survive without God. The debate was sponsored by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Christopher argued,

There used to be a word which could be used unironically. People meant what they said when they said the word Christendom. There was a Christian world. Partly evolved, partly carved out by the sword, partly defended by the sword, giving way and expanding at times. But it was a meaningful name for a community of belief and value that endured for many, many centuries. It had many splendors to its name, but it’s all gone now.

[In] huge parts of what we might call the industrialized modern world, tens of millions of people live in a post-religious society. It’s hard to argue that they lead conspicuously less civilized lives than their predecessor generations. I don’t think it’s really true to say that we live less civilized a life than those of our predecessors, who believed there was a genuine religious authority who spoke with power.

His brother,Peter, responded:

The behavior of human beings towards one another has sunk to levels not far from the Stone Age. How has this decline come about in civilization?

Well I think it has come about, a least partly, and I’m not a single-cause type of person, but at least partly there is no longer in the hearts of the English people the restraints of the Christian religion that used to prevent this type of behavior. I think it would be completely idle to image the two things are not related.

The extraordinary combination which you in this country and I in mine used to enjoy, and may for some time continue, of liberty and order, seem to me to only occur where people take into their hearts the very, very, powerful messages of self-restraint without mutual advantage, which is central to the Christian religion.

“Under the Radar” interviews Stone Director John Curran

The interviewer, Chris Tinkham, asks Curran about the radio show the DeNiro character is listening to throughout the film:

Throughout the film there’s radio commentary. Was that part of the original screenplay?

No, that wasn’t even indicated in the screenplay. That was an idea that was borne out of desire to kind of place it in a time, give it some sense of a news aspect but not go heavy on it. But more to the point was to keep a faith-based discussion going throughout that I didn’t have to put into Bob’s mouth, into the character’s mouth. I didn’t want the characters overly discussing these notions of God and redemption and faith, and I felt it as as an almost soundtrack to his character. I started putting music in there for when he’s listening to the radio or whatever, and it just didn’t work, [he] didn’t seem to me like the kind of guy who would listen to music unless it was going to be ’40s swing or something, which is kind of lame and dumb, typical for some reason. Once I hit on that, I started listening to local guys, and that’s a local Detroit radio host.

So were those archival tapes?

Oh yeah, a lot of it is. It’s Paul Edwards. He’s got a radio show called God and Culture. Some of it’s archival, some of it he recorded with actors in a studio. He kind of did like a show that we recorded. They were free to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, and I just grabbed stuff.    

Read the full interview here.

‘Dearborn Four’ Acquitted; Paul Talks to Their Lawyer

Four street evangelists were arrested in Dearborn this past summer during an Arab-American Festival. They were charged with disobeying a police office and disturbing the peace for continuing to exercise their First Amendment right to distribute evangelistic literature on a public street in an American city.

The four were acquitted recently by a jury. I spoke with the attorney from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor who is representing them, Robert Muise.

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NY Times Reviews “Stone”

UPDATE: Paul talks to the Director of Stone, John Curran

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I’m privileged to have my voice appearing alongside Robert De Niro and Edward Norton in the new John Curran film, Stone which opens nationwide today and in Detroit on October 22.

The New York Times has just posted their review of the film. The reviewer opens his review:

As far as Stone can tell, or as far as the movie initially suggests, the only thing standing between him and the outside world is an unsmiling parole officer, Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro), who, when he’s not shuffling papers, listens — in his car and at home — to Christian talk radio.

STONE: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro

Discovering the Gospel before Rediscovering Values

Rediscovering Values is Jim Wallis’ latest book. It is a prescription for economic recovery: applying (out of context) social justice texts from the Torah, together with selective texts from the Gospels (primarily the Sermon on the Mount), while advocating the application of some aspects of Shariah law to the United States banking system (see page 128 of his book).  The result is an over emphasis on social justice and zero emphasis on the necessity of the gospel to fundamentally transform the fallen nature of corrupt sinners before values can have any meaning at all.

Wallis makes the error of applying theocratic texts from the Old Testment, together with admonitions of Jesus from the Gospels (which are limited in their application to those who have forsaken all, denied themselves, and taken up their cross to follow Him)  to the economic and political realities of secular America.

This is a fatal flaw. To quote the Apostle Paul, “the law is good if a man uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). There is no better illustration of a man using God’s law unlawfully than Wallis’ Rediscovering Values. Wallis is counting on the law (the Torah, the social justice texts of the Gospels) to do what only the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ can do – make a man righteous so that he actually desires to “do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with his God.” Man by nature – and by the law – is incapable of pursuing these things outside of his own self-interest.

Wallis is either ignorant of or intentionally ignoring gospel realities, including man’s fallen nature and the remedy for sin accomplished through the incarnation, humiliation, suffering, death (vicarious atonement) and exaltation of Jesus Christ.  He wants to generalize Gospel principles for people who have not been transformed by the Gospel, the end result of which is a kind of humanistic salvation that cleans the outside of the cup but leaves the inside of the cup corrupt.

Bottom line, Mr. Wallis: You can’t apply the words of Jesus to people who have no use for Jesus as Lord. Jesus didn’t come to give general principles for economic recovery or moral values. He came to revolutionize the economy by demanding that we recognize him as Lord – which is why he was ultimately crucified. Wallis is attempting to get the people who crucified Jesus to live by Jesus’ rules without Jesus as Lord.

Wallis’ out of context use of Scripture is too numerous to catalog here, but one of the most egregious is his use of Leveticus 25 (the year of jubilee) to justify forced governmental wealth redistribution. Kevin DeYoung, while not specifically responding to Wallis, offers a proper exegesis of Leveticus 25 in its historical context, which Wallis would do well to consider. You can read DeYoung’s exegesis here:

Social Justice and the Poor (Part 3)