Bobby Pruitt Invites Questions, But Offers No Answers… Yet

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 8, 2010 in Bible,General Atheism

hutto

Earlier, Hill Country Bible Church in Hutto, Texas, put up a website asking:

If you could ask a pastor anything, what would you ask?

What are the questions which stop your faith in its tracks?

The pastor, Bobby Pruitt, planned to answer these questions in an upcoming sermon. I invited people to submit their questions so we could see what Mr. Pruitt had to say.

On April 4th, Pruitt gave the first sermon in this series, called “Roadblocks.” You can download it here.

Pruitt says:

What are the… roadblocks that keep you from faith in Christ? I’d love to interact on those… We’ve been taking your questions over the last few weeks, and we want to bring these out into the light… [Tim Keller] says “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without antibodies in it. People go blithely through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

…The unexamined faith is not worth believing…

[We] set up a viral website, RoadBlockChallenge.com, and asked people to post their questions… But [the link] ended up on an atheist website… and these people started flooding us with questions… in two days, we racked up more than 500 new questions

We want to honor those people, because they’re asking honest questions… We want to honor them by trying to answer their doubts… Some of the questions are really humble, some of them are really kinda arrogant… Some of the questions were written by skeptics, some by believers… and some of them are just plain angry. And as a Christian, I think a lot of that is deserved… Throughout history, when you look at the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials and you look at religious bigotry… there’s a reason for all that anger.

But the question to which Pruitt responds in this sermon does not appear to be one submitted to the website, but a standard issue of Christian doctrine: “How can there be only one way? What’s so great about Jesus?”

The way I ask this is: “You mean Gandhi is burning in hell?”

I don’t have a problem with that, but I hope that in future sermons Mr. Pruitt responds to some of the really hard questions that were submitted.

Now, in case any members of Hill Country Bible Church find this page, I invite them to stay tuned, as I will be offering my atheistic perspective on Mr. Pruitt’s sermons in this series. I was once a a Christian on fire for Jesus and spreading his word, but I did some studying and lost my faith. If you want to hear what an ex-believer who is still sympathetic to Christianity (in some ways) has to say about Mr. Pruitt’s sermons, feel free to subscribe by RSS, or subscribe by email in the sidebar. You owe it to yourself to hear more than one side of the issues, for once.

What’s So Great About Jesus?

So right now I’ll give my thoughts on Mr. Pruitt’s first sermon in the ‘Roadblocks’ series.

The sermon opens with a video of someone asking people what they think of Jesus and the claim that he is the only way to God. I’m glad the video showed the wide variety of opinions that people hold, ending with this one:

CHRISTIAN: What do you think about the claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

PERSON ON STREET: I think it’s stupid.

Mr. Pruitt responds to the video:

What I’ve found is that [with these questions, it's often] not an intellectual issue. It’s an emotional issue. It’s that they’ve been wounded or hurt or angered.

Many atheists will complain this is “psychologizing” our disbelief, but, well… it’s almost certainly true. It’s a rather basic fact of sociological research that people rarely adopt a worldview because of intellectual arguments. Worldview adoption almost always has more to do with emotional or relational or moral experiences.

Of course, this cuts both ways. Very few religious believers believe because they have good intellectual reasons to do so. That’s just not what worldview choice is usually about.

Interestingly, in support of religious exclusivism (“Jesus is the only way”), Pruitt quotes C.S. Lewis’ Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma. But this is now cited as a classic example of a false dilemma. Even Christian apologist William Lane Craig lists it as one of the few Christian arguments he does not recommend, because it is logically fallacious.1 Also, I wonder if Pruitt knows that C.S. Lewis rejected exclusivism. He did not think Gandhi would burn in hell.

Pruitt appreciates when people stick to what they believe:

Somebody asked [two Muslims], “What if I don’t believe what you believe?

They just said, “Well, that’s what hell is for. Next question?”

And I [Pruitt] was thinking, “You go, bro! That was pretty good!”

Again, this may sound startling to non-believers, but the real point is that Pruitt rejects postmodern relativism. There is a truth of the matter about whether or not a cosmic Creator will eternally torture people for failing to believe he exists. That can’t be true and false at the same time. Of course I’m disturbed by Christians who think a perfectly moral God would do such a thing, but I might be just as disturbed by Christians who believe that’s true but don’t seem very motivated to save people they love from eternal torture. (That’s the subject of one of my most popular posts.)

How Do We Know Jesus is the Only Way?

So how does Pruitt defend the idea that Jesus is the only way to salvation? Does he offer evidence for this claim?

Of course not. As with so many Christian claims, there is no evidence for the claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Instead, Pruitt defends a secondary claim: that Jesus claimed to be the only way to heaven. Pruitt does not even try to show that Jesus was right about being the only way to heaven.

This is disappointing, but not all surprising. In any case, Biblical scholars are generally skeptical of the idea that Jesus claimed to be divine, the only way to heaven, for two major reasons:

  1. If Jesus went around claiming to be God and the only way to heaven, how did he for so long avoid being stoned for blasphemy? This would be like walking around Saudi Arabia today claiming to be Mohammed’s successor… not a good idea.
  2. Why does our earliest gospel, Mark, not record Jesus as claiming to be God? Wouldn’t that be too important to leave out? In later gospels Matthew and Luke, there are some vague references to Jesus’ divinity. Finally, John – a very theological gospel – explicitly has Jesus claim he is God. This seems to be a situation of theological and legendary development. Our best guess is that if we know anything about Jesus, Mark has the least corrupted account, and Mark does not present a divine Jesus. In Mark, Jesus even explicitly says that he is not God (Mark 13:32).

Pruitt does not address these rather standard concerns. Perhaps this is because he is unaware of them, or because he is preaching to keep the flock faithful rather than answer tough questions, or because it just didn’t fit into the flow of his plans for the sermon. I have no idea. But I do hope Pruitt engages the honest questions of believers and unbelievers alike in more depth with his next sermon.

Correcting Pruitt’s details

One nitpick. Pruitt mentions that Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to affirm what their view of Jesus was, not to select the books that would be included in the Bible as Dan Brown writes in The Da Vinci Code. Pruitt is correct about this.

However, he is mistaken about the “Muratorian canon.” This list of books was written near 160 A.D. at the earliest, not 115 A.D. as Pruitt claims. (The fragment mentions Pius I, who was Bishop of Rome from 142-157.) Pruitt also says this list “is the same books that we have.” But that’s not true. The Muratorian canon lists four gospels including Luke and John, but doesn’t mention Matthew or Mark. It also does not mention Hebrews, James, or 1 and 2 Peter.

  1. Reasonable Faith, 1994 edition, pages 38-39. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

justfinethanks April 8, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Pastor Pruitt: They believe what they want to believe so that they can do what they want to do.

You know, this accusation, though it may contain a grain of truth for certain deconversions, has always struck me as odd. If I really rejected Christianity and chosen my new belief system so that I could, for instance, sleep around and do drugs without fear of thinking that I am violating God’s morality, I certainly wouldn’t be an atheist, I would be a theist.

But (since I’m apparently making things up to justify my hedonistic lifestyle) instead of worshipping any of the current monotheistic Gods, I would worship Dionysus. That way, not only are my drug fueled orgies permitted, but my drug fueled orgies are morally good. In fact, then its the Christians who sinning against the One True God by refraining from drug fueled orgies.

Honestly, if someone were to choose their metaphysical beliefs based upon how they want to conduct their lifestyle, why in the world would atheism of all things be their first choice?

  (Quote)

Rosita April 8, 2010 at 9:57 pm

@Justfinethanks

Great response!

  (Quote)

Charles April 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Interesting idea for a series, Luke. I wonder if anyone from the church will find their way here.

  (Quote)

Cesar April 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

@Justfinethanks

That is a great response indeed! But I guess many religious people still confuse being an atheist with being immoral, because unfortunately they can not conceive a moral system without the observance of the symbolic figure of God. I think that is very hard doe them to conceive, that it is possible to perform acts of good will, cordiality and civility for just the sake of living good, and not to please a God (or Goddess) or gain a ticket to heaven…

  (Quote)

Steven Carr April 9, 2010 at 2:52 am

Will Pruitt be urging his congregation to ask atheists questions?

Or does he think that his congregations should not listen to what atheists have to say?

  (Quote)

Jess Harpur April 9, 2010 at 3:35 am

Hey Luke, what’s with the ‘lost my faith’ thing? I was under the impression you’d examined your reasons for believing the things you believed and, as a result, *rejected* your faith.

Maybe I’m nitpicky, but doesn’t ‘losing’ something imply it would be good to find it again? That you are missing something? Or perhaps that it was something that happened to you rather than a choice you made?

‘Lost their faith’ is how people of faith describe, with sadness, what they think happened to those of us who once believed as they did. I think their phrases creep in everywhere quite enough as it is, and using them, however innocently, only helps perpetuate their point of view as being the norm.

I learn a lot from visiting here, although I usually just lurk, but once in a while I’ll feel the need to comment :-)

  (Quote)

Edson April 9, 2010 at 4:49 am

If Jesus went around claiming to be God and the only way to heaven, how did he for so long avoid being stoned for blasphemy?

I would believe that Jesus did not spend each and every second of his ministry roaming around the streets yelling to be God.

Yet, there were so many different reasons Jesus was not executed early in his ministry. We see earlier attempts by religious authorities of his times to catch him for purely different reasons to claiming to be God. “But they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away (Mark 12: 12)” .

This makes the argument that Jesus did not claim to be God otherwise it wouldn’t have taken him long before being executed an invalid one.

The possible reason Jesus was not executed early by the mainstream religious authorities is that, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had a considerable social and religious acceptance among the average Jews. And the authorities feared the negative reaction they anticipated from those average Jews who believed what Jesus was claiming.

  (Quote)

Steven Carr April 9, 2010 at 4:54 am

‘The possible reason Jesus was not executed early by the mainstream religious authorities is that, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had a considerable social and religious acceptance among the average Jews’

Well, he would do, wouldn’t he, what with him claiming to be God….

I wonder why this ‘multitude’ that the authorities were so afraid of, bayed for Jesus to be crucified.

I wonder why Jesus family rejected him.Perhaps because they knew him better than this ‘multitude’ who supported him.

Of course , these crowds are purely imaginary. They were made up for the Novels.

http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/marks-rent-a-crowd/

  (Quote)

Steven Carr April 9, 2010 at 4:59 am

Mark 11

‘He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves….the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.’

Yes, knock over tables loaded with money and the crowd will listen to your teaching, rather than tearing the place apart to get this money that had just been sent flying….

How many jumping the shark moments are there in the Gospels?

  (Quote)

Chris Hallquist April 9, 2010 at 5:44 am

Re: “Even Christian apologist William Lane Craig lists it as one of the few Christian arguments he does not recommend, because it is logically fallacious.”

Actually, I think that may be the only argument Craig has ever explicitly not recommended. Though it would be interesting to know of other cases.

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 9, 2010 at 6:09 am

Jess,

I suppose I say I ‘lost’ my faith because I tried so hard to hang on to it but could not. It’s not like I chose atheism.

  (Quote)

Chris April 9, 2010 at 6:13 am

I have this argument I’ve been kicking around that most atheists (at least many readers of this blog) are actually saved christians. Here goes:

premise 1: Since atheists are not actually intellectual skeptical about christianity and instead just angry or rebelling against god, then they must, at some deep level, know that christianity is true. Put another way: If an atheist has rejected god of her own free will (we have to justify sending her to hell somehow!) she must know, on some level, the truth of christianity. It is her free, conscious choice to send herself to hell, not mere lack of belief, for a sincere lack of belief is surely involuntary. Paul makes a similar argument in Romans, I think, and John’s Jesus says the Jews reject him because they love the darkness over the light, etc.

premise 2: Most atheists are just as morally good as most Christians. All of the former Christians here know this. Did your church have its share of gossip? Scandal? Do many Christian teens break their chastity pledge? etc. Most of the still-Christians here will cede this.

premise 3: We all know that being morally good cannot save you. So Gandhi is in hell, along with any good atheist. Christians are good, but this does not get them into heaven. Their good works are, however, evidence of their faith. They come from God’s grace or something, since without grace we are all inclined to sin. If you are familar with protestant theology, you know this. If you are familar with any apologist’s spin of the many verses in the New Testament that imply that your works do affect your salvation, you know this.

So, most atheists have a level of deep-down belief (from 1), and a Christian-like level of good works (from 2). And we know that good works, in believers, are evidence of saving faith (from 3). Belief in Christianity + good works that are evidence of that belief = Salvation.

We’re all going to heaven, woo-hoo!

  (Quote)

Edson April 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

And another thing here is that Jesus could not have claimed to be God because the Gospel of Mark, the earliest and one considered least corrupted by skeptics, nowhere does it mention even vaguely that Jesus claimed to be such.

I have no idea what does it take to mention the divinity of Jesus “even vaguely”. But right there at the start of the Gospel of Mark it says, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, and John the Baptist, “preparing the way of Lord”. And somewhere in the middle of the same Gospel, Jesus is perceived by people to possess authority to “forgive sins”, one of the things that only God can do, and apparently Jesus seems to agree with such notion.

And later in the Gospel of Mark, Jewish high figures seems to be elated when Jesus admits he was “the Christ”. They find something to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, and Jesus insists, “…you will see the son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven…”

It kinda seems there is not much difference between the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke, when it comes to the divinity of Jesus. For someone who wants to read the explicit blasphemy statements of Jesus pertaining to equality with God, these are not his gospels.

  (Quote)

RA April 9, 2010 at 6:16 am

You left out the part about a “handful of people” sitting at their computer firing away questions.

It doesn’t seem that he had any intention of ever actually answering any questions. I guess it was just a way to provide the Ultimate Answer to all questions which is Jesus died for your sins. It was Easter after all.

There will be no compelling answers coming. The sermon Pruitt gave is the way of thinking in Texas. When you have doubts, turn to the ultimate answer which is Jesus. As he pointed out, Jesus would have had to be “crazy” to make his claims if they were not true. The Bible is the Word of God and on that you can rely.

I think this is a little over the top for a church in a tiny little town in Texas that holds its services in a junior high auditorium. This is kind of low brow stuff for a site that focuses on philosophy. That’s a long way from biblical inerrancy and Southern Baptist beliefs. They don’t know post modern relativism from the theory of relativity.

This is kind of starting to have the feel that Pruitt was right about this being more of an emotional issue than an intellectual one.

  (Quote)

Edson April 9, 2010 at 6:36 am

“I wonder why this ‘multitude’ that the authorities were so afraid of, bayed for Jesus to be crucified.”

The Jewish authorities had to find the perfect plan. “But they said not during the feast, lest be an uproar among the people (Matthew 26:5)”.

Thanks devil, they did not have to wait after the feasts. Judas Isacriot: “What are you willing to give me if I delivered Him to you?”

And Judas did it better than they would have done it themselves, far from the presence of multitude.

  (Quote)

Robert April 9, 2010 at 6:41 am

The claim of Mark’s lesser divine Jesus has puzzled me too. Where is a good and concise defense of this interpenetration?

  (Quote)

Edson April 9, 2010 at 6:51 am

“I wonder why Jesus family rejected him.Perhaps because they knew him better than this ‘multitude’ who supported him.”

Partly, I agree. “He said to them ‘You will surely say this proverb to Me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Carpenaum, do also here in your Country (insert: familly)”.

“Then he said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”

  (Quote)

Steven Carr April 9, 2010 at 7:23 am

Well, his family were bound to reject him, after Mary had been visited by an angel, had a virgin birth and they had spent 30 years watching Jesus commit not a single sin.

It all makes sense when you think about it.

  (Quote)

JMauldin April 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

“Pastor Pruitt: They believe what they want to believe so that they can do what they want to do.”

I’ve been fished for Jesus twice this month and in both cases I was told that the evidence is obvious and I just don’t want to believe because I want to sin. To which I replied, “As if everyone who denies the “evidence” of Christianity does so purely on the grounds that they want to sin. Islam is far more constrictive than Christianity and a billion people adhere to it. Is it because they have loose morals and want to sin? Would you argue that a Buddhist monk is undisciplined and chooses to be a monk because he wants to indulge in sin? Come on.”

  (Quote)

ayer April 9, 2010 at 10:25 am

The claim of Mark’s lesser divine Jesus has puzzled me too. Where is a good and concise defense of this interpenetration?  

For all the obsession with Bill Craig here, very few seem to have actually read his stuff. For this question, see Reasonable Faith (3rd ed), pp. 287 – 332 (chapter on “the Self-Understanding of Jesus”).

I would also advise Pastor Pruitt to just refer questioners to Craig’s books or website. It’s not his job to play amateur apologist in the pulpit (that’s why Rick Warren brought in Craig, Moreland, etc. to speak on apologetics at his church instead of trying to do it himself). A sermon should be exegeting scripture and applying it to life. Most people’s concerns about faith are existential, not technical and philosophical. As Craig notes on p.22 of that same book, only a “minority of a minority” care about these abstruse issues; leave that debate to the skeptical geeks and the apologetics geeks.

  (Quote)

Mathew Wilder April 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm

OT, somewhat, but I don’t think Gandhi was so great. But then I don’t think Jesus or Mother Theresa were that great either.

  (Quote)

Julian April 10, 2010 at 2:06 am

blank

  (Quote)

Julian April 10, 2010 at 2:07 am

“It’s a rather basic fact of sociological research that people rarely adopt a worldview because of intellectual arguments.” This makes a lot of sense to me, but could anyone point me in the direction of articles or resources that look at this in more depth?

BTW Luke, great blog, keep up the fantastic work.

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 3:49 am

Julian,

I’m sure I’ll eventually get to this in my ‘Intro to Religion’ series.

  (Quote)

Sean Chandler April 29, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Interesting idea for a series, Luke. I wonder if anyone from the church will find their way here.  

Yes we are aware of both this website and the atheist message board where our link was posted. I’m the student ministry pastor at the church and Bobby Pruitt passed this link onto me. I put up the website where the questions were submitted.

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 29, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Cool. Hi Sean. Nice to hear from you!

  (Quote)

Lucian December 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm

“You mean Gandhi is burning in hell?”

Well… since you asked…

  (Quote)

Rosita December 24, 2010 at 6:32 am

The doctrine that Jesus preached to people in Hell is medically and psychologically naive. People who are in intolerable pain are in no state to listen to the preaching of anyone. Someone who is in intolerable pain is in no state to preach.

Of course, there is also the problem of how someone with no body and no biological brain can feel pain at all. Theologians have never been able to give a sensible explanation of how a non-corporeal being can feel pain or, indeed, any kind of emotion. Nor have they been able to explain who such a being could even think a thought.

Doctrines of this nature would have made sense to people who lived in a scientifically ignorant age. In the light of modern medical, biological and neuro-psychological knowledge such doctrines are nonsense.

In the real world we know of no creature that can think, emote or feel pain if they do not have a highly developed fully functional biological nervous system. We know that we can stop pain or prevent pain being a negative experience by cutting specific nerve axons or destroying specific areas in the brain. The brain itself cannot feel pain. A brain disconnected from its body will not feel physical pain.

We also know that hormones, neuro-transmitters and certain drugs which mimic these natural chemicals can deaden or increase pain.

Pain is biologically dependent. “Spirits” with no biological bodies would do just fine in “hell”.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment