Does Satan Exist?

ABC Nightline Face-Off RECAP

On Friday March 20, Mars Hill Church hosted a debate filmed by ABC's Nightline. The debate topic was "Does Satan Exist?" A heavily edited version of the debate will air on Thursday March 26. Check your local listings.

On the Yes side were MHC Preaching Pastor Mark Driscoll, and Annie Lobert, a former prostitute who now runs a ministry to get prostitutes off the streets. On the No side were spiritual guru Deepak Chopra and Bishop Carlton Pearson, a former Christian* who used to cast demons out of people in his ministry. (*He still calls himself a Christian, but there are major issues with that, considering he’s so far from preaching anything close to a biblical gospel.)

I was present with an audience of about 1000 people for the filming of the event. These are simply MY thoughts and reflections on the event, and do not represent any official position of any organization or person. (Unless I quote or paraphrase a few folks from the Twitter Tweets that flowed during the debate.)

Dan Harris was the moderator. I thought he did a good job. He was witty on and off camera, and I thought he was fair. He explained the ground rules for the timing of the process: he would ask a question, the person would have 4 mins to answer, the other side would have 2 mins to respond, and then the original side would get a 1 min rebuttal. There would be time later for audience Q&A and questions submitted on the internet (we never got to those, and I’ll explain why).

Mark went first, but all the timing rules got blown out of the water with Deepak's opening remarks, and then again with Carlton's, and Dan made a joke about being able to tell we were "going to break format a lot tonight."

Overall, I thought he was respectful even when challenging a few statements made by both sides. I thought he could have been a little more forceful in moderating the time issue, but admit that I'm probably coming across sounding biased, because I believe the Non-Satan side ate up a lot of time. Wish I woulda had a notebook and stopwatch to time folks' responses. Not to be anal or legalistic about that, but that would have been telling as an example of how the Non-Satan side rambled on at times, talking in circles and minor digressions that didn't really go anywhere, starting rabbit trails they never fully went down.

I thought Pastor Mark did very well. He was poised and spoke clearly the whole time. I thought he nailed the opening statement by explaining the role of the Devil and gave a clear presentation of the Gospel, our responsibility for sin and Jesus’ saving work. Interesting that I and others held back our own impulse to applaud because he was spot on, but didn't know what the etiquette was, so we held back. After Deepak gave his (much longer) opening statement, maybe a third of the crowd applauded. That opened the floodgates for supporters of both sides to concur with agreeable statements with much applause (which contributed a bit to the length of the debate).

I think Annie Lobert will, sadly, be judged by many people for how she looked, and how little she may have contributed overall to the meaty parts of the debate, because she was reserved in not jumping in and rambling on for minutes at a time. Yet I praise God that her personal story was powerful and will minister to the people who can relate to her and identify with her struggle, and God will use her to save many people.

I thought Deepak Chopra got a bit petty and snippy at times, as if he was being attacked personally (though he wasn't). I thought he made a few good points about ‘goodness’ and how people should act with love for each other, and I agree. It's just that there are foundational disagreements in play about what that means and how people live it out, and the source of it.

I thought Bishop Carlton Pearson made a few good points as well. Overall, of course I disagree with him and think his theology is wishy-washy at best. No doubt he’s smarter than me and more well read than I, but he’s clearly (and admitted to being) in a transitional place in his faith and theology. He came across as a very intelligent and studied man, funny and personable, charming...but I still think he's missing the point of some key biblical doctrines. And his entire premise that everyone is going to Heaven totally falls apart on a few clear biblical (and simply logical) grounds. And he also came across confusing. Often he just talked in circles and drove down roads of digression that he himself paved and then forgot to finish or connect with the original highway. Confusing. I think he was trying to introduce many questions the debate didn’t have time to answer, so folks would begin to question the other side because those points were left unaddressed. One thing he said was "Don’t get upset, just think." He sure gave people a lot to think about, with all his random points and statements that were left hanging.

Deepak spoke of our "shadow self" being responsible for evil, not Satan. Basically, both Deepak and Carlton’s positions on Satan himself can be summarized that the devil is a construct of human belief, based on perception, influenced and made manifest by guilt, shame, and the evil that people commit on each other. Carlton Pearson (CP) spoke about his past of casting out demons from people: "We were prepared to meet the devil and he showed up, he always shows up when you have faith in him." He later said: "the best way to get free [of the devil] is to stop believing in him." Deepak Chopra (DC) said: "Healthy people do not have any need for Satan" and "Be done with Satan and confront your own issues."

Deepak’s opening statement dismissed everything Mark said because he said science and evolution prove it wrong, that the world is much older than the Bible claims, that it started with the Big Bang, etc. (Yet Deepak admits to some form of higher power/intelligence that could have been a Creator, so I’m guessing he might believe that Creator created the Big ball of matter that Banged.) He later showed a clear frustration and pointed irritation with the Bible’s presentation that God is a male figure, saying Christianity’s version of God is a sexist God.

Deepak: What makes you think God is a He?

Mark & Annie (almost simultaneously): Jesus.

Deepak seemed agitated at times, and at other times his slouching posture (I share it) seemed to indicate a disconnection. (My analysis, not sure if it’s fair or accurate, but that’s the impression it gave me and some others in our row.) He seemed to show hints of contempt for the process and even the debate topic. I won’t go so far as to say he didn’t want to be there, and overall, folks were civil; but for the "enlightened" dude he came across as the angriest guy onstage.

DC & CP both spoke of the shame and guilt that seems inherent in Christianity, and that people make themselves feel so shameful and guilty and disgraced and blame that on Satan or themselves. Mark finally got around to clearing up that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, and that Jesus conquered shame so we can be free from it. Strange that CP, having been preaching the gospel for so many years prior, would go there and blame Christianity for encouraging a culture of shame. Perhaps it does, but WHEN it does, it’s simply poor teaching and an example of people in conflict with the teaching of Jesus.

Considering I noted Deepak’s clear attitude of irritation, I must admit that Pastor Mark chucked out a few mocking/teasing lines, but they were softies; and on one or two occasions he threw out an incredulous question or response at some of the things Deepak or Carlton said. But overall I thought he showed a humility that he is not as publicly known for, and a poise and posture of listening and generally not interrupting.

A few other notable moments:

Off camera, early on, a seated Mark fist-bumped with Dan Harris, and then later with Annie Lobert. During one tape-changing break (there were 3 or 4) Mark stood chatting near the front of the stage with Dan Harris while Dan was Tweeting on his blackberry. We joked that they were exchanging numbers, becoming Facebook friends and Twitter page buddies.

One of the biggest applause moments of the night came during the Q&A. A guy came up and asked Deepak a pretty simple question (paraphrased):

Q: You stated that beliefs are just a way of covering up insecurity?

DC: Yes.

Q: You believe that?

DC: Yes.

The guy turned and walked away, leaving Deepak to realize how his logic just caved in on himself, while the audience roared and even the Bishop was cracking up. (Later we spoke to the questioner and he told us on his way back to his seat one of Deepak's followers got in his face, saying that he humiliated Deepak on national TV and that wasn't nice. He responded that he didn't humiliate him, he asked DC a simple question that exposed DC's own faulty thinking. If DC was humiliated, it was by his own logic. One tech-savvy tweeter described it as Deepak getting caught in a "logical feedback loop.")

Another big moment of audience reaction was when Bishop Pearson said "Jesus never said he was God" which got a huge "Whoa!" from the crowd, because that's simply not true. It's not an accurate biblical interpretation that any true Christian would believe. (And yes, I just said only true Christians believe Jesus is God. If anyone wants to go deeper on this, let me know, I'll post another note on it.) Mark challenged this by clearing up that when Jesus said (in John 10:34-38) ""Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'?" the quote came from the Psalms and meant rulers, not that people would become God.

A funny moment was when a woman asked Mark "what if there was no good and evil, how would you handle that?" (paraphrase) Pastor Mark stared dumbfounded, a blank-yet-clearly perplexed look on his face, and the audience laughed. He admitted he didn’t understand the question, joking that he went to public school (he uses that line once in a while). The woman repeated the question and had a hard time rephrasing it to actually ask a question that could be answered, since she was asking a question for which there was no concept in play. It’s kind of like asking, "What would you do if you were not human?"

Deepak said to another questioner that he (the questioner) descended from monkeys...which is not accurate about what evolution teaches. Groans from the audience on that.

Another funny moment was when Dan Harris asked a question of DC, partly addressing his attitude, partly addressing his position: "you make it sound like it's a big practical joke" and both DC & CP answered simultaneously, with conflicting "No" and "Yes". Honestly, that's okay, they can agree about Satan, and not about every other thing. But it was a chuckle-worthy moment when they crossed wires.

Deepak at one point claimed Mark Driscoll puts his faith in a book, to which MD responded: "I don't put my faith in this book, I put my faith in the man this book tells the story of." Amen!

MD at one point asked, a bit incredulous, of CP: "You believe in the resurrection but you have a problem with the devil?" Mark also explained that if a bunch of guys were going to sit around and create a religion, Christianity is not the one they would have come up with, and would not have defended it to the death as many did. He joked that if it were up to him, worship would consist of being all about eating chicken wings and beer.

When it was time to wrap up and close the Q&A period, Dan Harris asked if the panel would be willing to stay late and answer questions. Deepak responded with a great comeback: "There is no time there is only eternity." He’s wrong*, but it was funny. (*God lives in eternity, outside of time. Time is a construct created by God, within which we currently live. Time will end, eternity does not.)

Dan Harris said folks would have 60 seconds for closing statements. They went in this order: Annie, Carlton, Mark, Deepak.

Annie got emotional and spoke of her experiences, speaking mainly to women and people in the present and future viewing audience, telling them that God is real, Satan is real, and that in Jesus you can have a life that is freeing from the bondage of this life.

Carlton then closed, again blowing the time constraints, and spoke for about 2-3 minutes. It felt like 4 or 5. He summarized his position by rambling for a while and restating that we should put no faith in the devil.

Mark closed simply and timely with a scripture that just nailed our position:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:19-20 ESV)

Deepak’s closing statement included a funny phrase: "I'm going to quote something that's a paraphrase of something..." LOL And honestly, by now I’ve forgotten his summation. He went into something about the Essenes, with claims that they and other historical codes and beliefs influenced Jesus, and told people to think and keep an open mind. He too went well over his 60 seconds.

Moderator Dan Harris later Tweeted: "1000+ people tonight @MarsHill Church, debating #Satan, and challenging each other's core beliefs. Emotional, but civil. Pretty cool."

Not sure how long the edited version will be. I'm hoping an hour. I heard it will get chopped down to about 21 minutes. That's what one of our staff guys was told by Dan Harris. WOW! I hope the full version gets chopped up and put on YouTube like one of the other debates Nightline did.

To close with a quote from a Tweet from Pastor Jamie Munson, I personally am "Thankful for truth and not ambiguity."