Good and Evil

A congregant at the church I serve (Woodland Hills Community Church) sent me a link to a sermon, and ask how she could respond to the author.  Here is a copy of the link:

There is a LOT of issues raised contained in the sermon.  A lot!!  I will respond with a few comments, and then open things up for others to share their response as well.

The first thing that was clear from reading the sermon is that there are some profound differences in assumptions made by Rev. MacArthur and myself.   Let me spell out three of those core differences.

As an Evangelical, Rev. MacArthur assumes the only thing that carries weight in the conversation regarding good and evil is Scripture.  And not just Scripture, per se, but a literal interpretation of it.

I am one of many, many Christians who come into the conversation from a different place.  I was raised in the United Methodist tradition that used something called the Quadrilateral.  The Quadrilateral – based upon the Anglican theological system – suggests there are four things that inform our Christian faith: (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience.  Therefore, like millions of Christians out there, I do not believe Scripture is the only thing that should factor into the conversation.

In addition, those of us who are members of the United Church of Christ affirm a belief in a God who is still speaking.  These means the last ounce of Divine inspiration did not stop on the last printed page of the Book of Revelation.  We believe the Holy Spirit continues to be active today and reveal further insights into God.

The conversation between Rev. MacArthur and myself would be difficult because we have such different understandings of what resources should be considered “authoritative” in the conversation.

This leads me to a second point.

Rev. MacArthur speaks as if there has always been consistent and uniform understanding of evil in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures (or what many call the Old and New Testaments).  This is not the case.  There was clearly an evolution in understanding of perspectives regarding the matter of evil.  If you want an in depth understanding of this, I would encourage you to check out Elaine Pagels’ book The Origin of Satan.  The book talks about how the Israelite’s exposure to other traditions during their exile (particularly the Zoastrian tradition) led to a shift in their theological understanding.

This leads me to a third area of difference.

I am what Rev. MacArthur would call an Arminian.  As someone who believes in the existence of free will, the consequence of this belief is that God limits Godself.  In other words, God is not directly responsible for everything that happens.  Therefore, I do not believe that God either causes or allows evil.

Rev. MacArthur rejects – on what he calls “biblical grounds” – Arminian thought.  In his use of Scripture, however, he fails to acknowledge those times in Scripture when God opens Godself to be affected (or even changed!) as a result of God’s relationship with humanity.  Think, for instance, of the story from Genesis 18 where Abraham barters with God about how many righteous lives must be found in Sodom in order for God to preserve Sodom.  This story – and many others – provide solid biblical reasons for believing God’s way of being is more complicated (more relational and less directive).

These are just a few fundamental differences that exist between Rev. MacArthur and myself that suggest a conversation would may not be productive.

I say these things to help folks realize it is not helpful to enter into all conversations.  When opportunities for dialogue arise between individuals who are open to listening and hearing one another, then conversation can be incredibly helpful in one’s attempts to learn and grown.  When opportunities for dialogue arise between individuals who are incredibly rigid in their assumptions and beliefs, then it can be incredibly helpful to honor that – and not enter into heated conversations that contribute to a larger sense of spiritual dis-ease.

So what about you?  What issues of consideration did Rev. MacArthur’s sermon raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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6 Responses to Good and Evil

  1. Sharon says:

    Well, Craig, THANKS A LOT!!! John McArthur upsets me anyway, because of his belief that God has had some people born just so He can send them to hell and some born so they can go to heaven and THEN, you publish this. I found it interesting that someone in your church would send this to you. Do they agree or were they unhappy with it and wanted your input?

    I am not really upset with you. 😊❤️🙏

    • capete67 says:

      Hi Sharon. Someone had referred the congregant to the site and the congregant wanted some ideas about how to respond. The sermon upset the congregant greatly! Rev. MacArthur’s perspective is not one we engage much. I found it challenging to even know where to begin – since so many of our fundamental assumptions differ so radically. It took me 3 weeks to try to even find a jumping off point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. thupancic says:

    I am the congregant who sent Pastor Craig this upsetting sermon, something I promise never to do again! I needed to have good responses to this, because I have a number of students (I am a college professor) who hold the evangelical position and want to talk religion with me after class. I almost never engage in these conversations, but then I hear political candidates parroting this view of the Bible, and I start wondering why this fundamentalist viewpoint is so appealing. I think that’s because it offers simple rules and definitive answers that absolves the individual from needing to engage in the difficult work of interpretation and discernment. I heartily thank you, Pastor Craig, for your lucid and practical response. What you say makes perfect sense and will serve as a guidepost for me for all future conversations on this topic!

    • capete67 says:

      I am soooooooo glad you sent this along. It helps know what other positions are being raised out there. I hope I didn’t come across as dismissive of the issues. I really admire your desire to engage folks on these issues. It is wonderfully commendable! Thanks for all you do, for all those folks that you care for, and your desire to reach across the divides in order to build bridges of understanding – when possible. Just take care of yourself in the process! Much respect and appreciation to you!

      • thupancic says:

        Thank you! That was a lovely comment, and I appreciate the advice. Yes, I’m trying to take care of myself, and kind words like yours help me to do that.

  3. Stevie says:

    Sometimes you can’t avoid those conversations, especially with young people who look up to you. It’s good to have the tools to use when the conversations arise—to express our views and respect theirs. Thanks, Craig, for the tools.

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