How can Christians navigate the difficult ethical issues that plague this generation? How can followers of Jesus stand for truth in a way that is loving to their neighbors? Scott interviews Sean about his latest book: A Rebel’s Manifesto. They discuss how Christians can rebel against certain cultural expectations and live in the bold and gracious fashion that Jesus calls us to.
Scott Rae: How do we address issues that are tearing the church and the culture apart? Like transgender, marriage and sexuality, immigration, gun control, race and racism. Sean, your book, "A Rebel’s Manifesto," addresses many of those questions. And we want to get into that, but you don't strike me as a rebel. So why did you title it this, and how do you justify a title like this?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, so recently I was studying the history of rock and roll, and how you can understand rebellion through rock and roll music. So you go back to the 50s, and some rock and roll was pushing back against racial injustice at that time. You go in the 60s, and it was pushing back against the establishment. You go in the 70s, some rock and roll was pushing back against the war and fighting for freedom. You go in the 80s, punk rock, et cetera. The history of rock and roll, is the history of kind of rebellion in the sound, in the lyrics, in the dress. What recently I was thinking, gosh, with social media today, everybody has the ability to scream and protest against the system, in the way that rock and roll music kind of did in the past. So I started thinking, what does it mean to be a rebel today? What does it mean to be a contrarian? And in a sense, a contrarian now as somebody who says, you know what? I'm gonna understand you, I'm gonna see the world through your lens, I'm not gonna cancel you, I'm gonna extend kindness, that's actually the rebel today. Which in many ways we see in the life of Jesus. So I'm trying to flip the script for people of what it means to be a rebel, and kind of challenge a new generation of young people to say, "You can stand against the system, but that looks very different today."
Scott Rae: So you can be a rebel, but you do it with kindness, understanding, listening, respect, things that I think maybe virtues that we're losing in the broader culture today.
Sean McDowell: I think we've lost those. So if a rebel is somebody who's a contrarian, that's what it means to be a contrarian today. Now those attributes are found in scripture, and at the heart of what it means to be a Christian to love our neighbors.
Scott Rae: Now this is a second edition essentially
Sean McDowell: It is, yeah.
Scott Rae: of your previous book written probably 15 or so years ago called "Ethix." Living in a whatever world. How is this book different? 'Cause you've had a lot of time to update it, a lot of things have gone on. How's it different? How's the culture different?
Sean McDowell: What's amazing about that first book, it was called "Ethix", E-T-H-I-X. It was written in 2005, came out in 2006. That's around the time social media is starting to hit America. So I didn't have a single chapter in the original book about social media. So that's not only changed the way people interact, but it's brought new issues to the forefront as well. So it's also written for a new generation, and that was written for kind of younger gen-Xers and millennials. This is written more for gen-Zers, but the topics have shifted. Things like immigration have always been an issue, but have precipitated more recently. Things like gun control have really increased. Issues like race are really at the forefront of conversation, but also issues like artificial intelligence weren't so much on the map at that time even affecting students, but now they all get affected by things like artificial intelligence on their smartphones. And I think the other thing is, we've also especially coming out of COVID, there was already a hockey stick increase we were starting to see, in terms of things like anxiety, and stress, and loneliness, suicidality, and COVID just in many ways exacerbated those. So we haven't increasingly, I would say hurting generation than we even did when I first wrote it.
Scott Rae: So it's not just about the issues that are facing today's culture, it's also about some of the mental health things, some of the way we approach these issues to begin with.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, I have a chapter on loneliness that's in there. And I talk about depression and suicidality. So, for me, it's a combination of cultural worldview issues and relational issues. Because they always intersect, it's not one or the other. And that's why the subtitle is about standing for truth and justice, but doing it with love, so I combine the two of those in the book.
Scott Rae: Okay, but you deal with a lot of different topics. Each of which could be a book in itself. And one thing I appreciate about this is that you've given us the cut to the chase version of this.
Sean McDowell: It is.
Scott Rae: And that's so helpful. But what's the theme? There's a theme that runs all the way through this, that connects all these disparate issues together. What is that golden thread?
Sean McDowell: So the theme is to go back to scripture, how do we think biblically about these different topics? And some topics the Bible speaks directly to them, certain issues about sexuality. Other topics like gun control or politics, it doesn't speak directly, but gives us principles to apply. So in every single one of these topics, we're starting with a question, what does scripture say? But then also how do we live this out in love, and relationship, and kindness with our neighbor? Whether they're fellow Christians or whether they're non-Christians? So any one of these topics let's think Christianly about it, but let's find a way that we can live out this truth practically and love our neighbors according to the greatest commandment. So that thread goes through the whole book.
Scott Rae: So what you're trying to do in essence is not just give good answers to the issues that people are bringing, but to model actually the way we ought to do this in the first place.
Sean McDowell: I hope so. Yeah, and by the way, I'm not telling the chapter on politics, you're not gonna find, be a Democrat, be a Republican. I ask more questions and draw biblical principles out, then I tell people exactly where to stand on all of these issues. Now some issues I think are a little more black and white than others, but I'm trying to create a conversation, trying to go back to scripture, and ask questions, so students can say, what does it look like to stand for truth in a way that's loving to my neighbor?
Scott Rae: Well, I think that's the right approach too, because in lots of places, all scripture gives us are broader general principles, not specific policy prescriptions. And I think there we can have differences of views about how those are applicable, and how we ought to weight those principles. So there's room for discussion, which I appreciate the how to do this. How to do this with grace, and civility, and with humility, is also a really important part of this.
Sean McDowell: Well, if somebody's looking for a culture warrior book, that's gonna tell them exactly what to think and how to win in the political atmosphere, this is not that book. But if you wanna talk about the most controversial issues of our day, and I pulled back from none of 'em, and you just wanna say, what does scripture say? How do I live this out? Then that's a book that's gonna help you do so.
Scott Rae: Okay, so how exactly do you want your readers to use this?
Sean McDowell: Great question. So I hope students would just read it and think about it, and just examine how to engage people in the classroom, how to write papers, how to engage people online, how to have confidence in their own faith. I'm also hoping a lot of parents and gatekeepers will use it in their conversations with students. So the data has shown, going back to the 1970s, this is from Christian Smith, professor of sociology at University of Notre Dame, his recent book called "Handing Down the Faith." And he said, going back to their early 70s, the data is clear that the most significant way for parents to influence kids, actually, parents are the most significant influence on kids. Not media, not university, not the church, it's parents. And the way parents do this is through meaningful conversations with their kids about spiritual and cultural issues. So bottom line, I wrote this book, now that I'm a parent. When I wrote the first one, it's kind of funny to look back. I had 10 chapters in it. And the only reason was 'cause I thought, well, I guess books have 10 chapters. Like I didn't give it anymore thought than that. But then when I was writing this, I'm like, wait a minute, I have two high school students, what book would be helpful for me? I was like, oh, shorter, more concise chapters, 30 topics that you could read at the dinner table, you could read before bed. It's just meant in relationships to have conversations with kids. And by the way, I wanna give parents permission. They're probably thinking, I'm gonna talk with my kids about these tough topics? Your kids don't expect you to have all the answers. Just having that conversation is a win within itself.
Scott Rae: That's so important.
Sean McDowell: Which is why a lot of the studies show that kids don't leave the faith because of doubt, they leave the faith because of unexpressed doubt. So just talking with these issues about our kids, says, "Okay, our faith applies to all these issues. We have space to agree to disagree, I'm not threatened by your perspective, let's figure this out together," that's how I hope people will use the book.
Scott Rae: Now I know some of these issues are more personal to you than others. And I think we would expect that because there's such a broad spectrum of issues that some of these have followed you home in ways that others have not. Were there certain chapters that were really hard for you to write because of that?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, gosh. Probably two of the chapters were the hardest for me. One was the chapter on suicide. Now, not because I have somebody close to me in my immediate family that took their own life. I gotta be honest with you, I've never had a genuine suicidal thought in my life. You remember my senior year in basketball right before we went to the national tournament, I was a captain, literally broke my hand before we were leaving to the tournament. And I made this offhand comment to one of my friends, I was like, "You know what? I might as well take my own life." And he kinda looked at me, he's like, "Are you serious?" And I was like, "You know what? I am not serious at all." So I've never had-
Scott Rae: Wrong figure of speech to use.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, exactly, it was like, I gotta be more careful in terms of what I say, but I've never had that, but I know a lot of people do. So I had to get a lot of help with that chapter, just asking people, "Do I have the right tone? What does scripture say?" I had people review it, my friend, John Noy and Stan Reese gave me a lot of content. So that is so sensitive knowing parents are gonna read this, who've had kids who've gone through this. So that was tough. I think the other one is when I went to update this. I started looking at what chapters I included and what chapters I didn't include. And this is in 2005 when I wrote it. There was no chapter in that on race. Now you just think about that. Would any minority who had written this book any time in the history of America not had a
chapter on race? Of course not. Because if you're in the minority, you can't help but navigate life through being a minority. And I look back and the word
“privilege” is so just loaded and misunderstood, but I start to think that's a kind of advantage or kind of privilege I have, to not even see the world through the lens of race. Now of course, coming through the death of George Floyd, where we've been the past few years, this issue has skyrocketed to the front. So that made me think, "Okay, if I had that blind spot then, what blind spots do I still have right now?" So I had a bunch of my friends, white and black, just read it and say, “What do you think? What am I missing? Is this fair? Is this balanced?” So that was just hard because people get offended on all sides of this so quickly. I didn't wanna compromise, I wanted to speak something that's biblically and true and just felt like I needed help to get that chapter right. But honestly I'd say it's actually probably my favorite chapter now, 'cause it took so much work.
Scott Rae: Yeah, don't feel bad. My book "Moral Choices" didn't include a chapter on race until the fourth edition.
Sean McDowell: Wow I didn't realize that.
Scott Rae: So I had a very similar blind spot.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Scott Rae: And it comes just because the lenses through which I would see in the world, were white ones. And I don't use the term privilege, I would call it white normativity, I just considered my experience to be the normative one. And I think you're right, no minority person would've written Sean McDowell: No way.
Scott Rae: any of those additions without addressing some of those issues. Now one thing I appreciate about this is, it's obvious you're not an ivory tower academic only. You can be if you need to be, but you're in touch with real life. This has a really wonderful, and this would be a good word for parents. This has a wonderful pastoral tone to it that is so helpful, 'cause it's good on the issues, but it just has the feel of a real person who's been interacting with other real people on these issues. Particularly the chapter on bullying, I think is a really good example of this. You've got a great story that goes with that, tell us a little bit more about that.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, the opening lines of that chapter are, "Should I jump?" And it's a story of a friend of mine, Jonathan, when he was 16 years old, bullied. And I mean severely bullied. And this is mid nineties or so, he's about my age, and he just tells a story of people mercilessly calling him names, threatening him, and he's standing above a cliff saying, "Is my life even worth living?" I have almost rarely been bullied in my life, I could probably count it on my hands. And as I look back, if I'm honest, I found ways to just avoid that and protect myself, whether it was sports or other ways to be cool, to not be. It was a defense mechanism. But in that chapter I say there's really three parties involved in bullying. There's the bully, there's those who are bullied, and there's the bystander. And when I was talking to Jonathan about this, he's written a whole book on it, it hit me, I was like, "Wow, the bystander." I started reflecting back upon a personal experience in high school. I think I was a sophomore, and a kid who's a year younger than I am, he was a soccer teammate of mine, just classic, easy kid to bully. And this football player was bullying him. And I sat there and I watched it and I did nothing, when it was done I went over to make sure he was okay. And that really bothered me. And I remember reflecting on that thinking, "I don't ever wanna sit there and be a bystander." I don't know what I would've done, but today I literally would've done, I think most bullies back down, if you just say, "Knock it off," and stand up to him, but I'd rather take one in the grill for the team and have the pain rather than watch this kid get bullied the way that he was, who was a friend of mine. So that chapter is very personal, somebody who was bullied, somebody who's a bystander, and says, there's a way to think about this Christianly. And I think frankly, one of the points I make is a lot of bullies, if you don't know how to love somebody, you're gonna bully somebody because it makes you feel good. So how do you love somebody who's a bully? That's an interesting question. And so that chapter was also very personal to share stories like that.
Scott Rae: Yeah, sometimes you love a bully by standing up to 'em.
Sean McDowell: That's exactly right.
Scott Rae: But I think you also recognize that most people who are bullies don't do so because they're evil, they do so because they're insecure and they're broken themselves.
Sean McDowell: I think that's right.
Scott Rae: This is the way it tends to manifest itself. Now you go from bullying to politics.
Sean McDowell: Yeah. [laughing]
Scott Rae: Which is quite a transition. And you make the claim that Jesus had really just a handful of things to say about politics, one of which was, "Give to Caesar what's Caesar and to God what is God's." And there's been, as you know, a whole host of ways that that's been interpreted and applied over the years, and I think today we may be ignoring the giving to Caesar part, then Sean McDowell: Sure.
Scott Rae: Jesus never says how much to give to Caesar and how much to give to God, those I think are left open. But how do you approach politics and how do you encourage believers who wanna be faithful to scripture to approach the political arena?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, I think that passage in Matthew is frequently misunderstood. It's often interpreted to say, we should keep our faith out of politics, and our faith has nothing to say to politics, they're different realms. But when Jesus gets the coin, he says, "Whose image is on that coin?" Caesar. So he's acknowledging that Caesar has a certain role and realm and authority. But that begs the question a lot of people miss; if Caesar's image is on the coin, where is God's image? It's on every single human being. In other words, God has realm over all. So we can't siphon our faith from politics, and we should. Now I'll make points in the chapter, like when we're going to engage the wider culture, we can't just say, "Matthew or Romans or the book of Exodus says this," we've gotta make secular arguments from natural law. So I'm trying to step back and say a few things, like let's not get our identity in our political party. Let's not put, for example, a politician on either side of the aisle becoming a savior more than Christ is savior is unhealthy. Let's avoid errors like one of the biggest ones, we see this with socialism, we see this with welfare, we see this with gun control, it's that good intentions are not enough if our good intentions are not rooted in human nature and objective data. So after certain things like gun control, people say, "We just gotta do something," and I go, "Yes." But we gotta make sure what we do actually helps and moves the ball forward. So I'm just trying to avoid some errors, give biblical principles. And ultimately, why do we do politics? Well, you see in scripture this call to be good citizens, you see it in Jeremiah, you see it in First Peter, and ultimately it's a way of loving our neighbors. But we also have to avoid the error of just taking political positions that only benefit us rather than what really benefit our neighbors. So sometimes Christians wanna defend religious liberty for Christians. Well, that's not a way of loving our neighbor, you gotta defend religious liberty for everybody. So I'm not telling kids to be Democrats or Republicans, I'm saying, "Here's some errors, here's some biblical principles to avoid, here's how we approach this," trying to frame the issue for them, so to speak.
Scott Rae: So when you say you have to make secular arguments for this, you're not claiming that the Bible's not sufficient. What are you actually claiming when you say we have to make a secular argument? Because Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: I suspect some of our folks may not be familiar with a natural law approach, so maybe spell that out just a bit.
Sean McDowell: A friend of ours, Kirby Anderson, said to me one time, he said, "I don't reason from the Bible with my non-believing friends, I reason to it." Now it doesn't mean he doesn't assume the biblical story is true. Of course we know that's the case. But how we reason with others, it's gonna have no more force to say to my non-Christian friend, Matthew 6 says this, then a Muslim saying to me, Surah 10 says that. So it's a way of effectively making an argument in line with biblical principles. So the issue of life, we both have said, you can make a case for life without appealing to scripture. So a very simple case would be like humans get human rights, the unborn is human, a human right is the right to life, therefore the unborn has a right to life. That's a case for life. You can do that for marriage. You could do that for gun control. You could do that for immigration, that's in line with broader biblical principles without using chapter and verse to try to convince people.
Scott Rae: So it's derived from scripture, consistent with scripture, but not entirely dependent on scripture.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that's an interesting way to put it. The way I think about it is, everybody lives in God's world and everybody's made in God's image. So Romans two says we have a moral conscience. We all agree on so many issues. We have so much more in common than we do difference. Like on gun control, people are on all sides as far as I'm hearing, except extremists, actually want to reduce school shootings and gun violence and value life, but they differ radically about how to get there. And of course both can make idols outta their position and make mistakes, I'm not saying everybody's faultless, but we have in common, life should be protected. How do we get there, and what reasonable policies are going to be effective. We don't need chapter inverse to do that, we have that common ground with our neighbors.
Scott Rae: And the Bible most often doesn't give us chapter and verse for what those specific policy prescriptions might look like because Sean McDowell: Right.
Scott Rae: the culture in biblical times are so different than the culture today. So making that application, I think directly from scripture on some of those issues that it doesn't directly address or is under determinative, can be pretty challenging to do.
Sean McDowell: It can be. And that's why we also need to have grace with other believers, 'cause a lot of conflict comes from people having common values, but weighing some values more than others and assessing the data differently. So it can help us have charity with how people see the world differently.
Scott Rae: Yeah, and that reservoir of shared values, I think is what we mean by the concept of natural law.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Scott Rae: God's revealed his moral values within the pages of scripture, but also outside of them. And we would expect that people of goodwill and good faith would be able to discern those. And I think part of the evidence that we have this deep reservoir of shared values is that if we didn't, our culture would fall apart. For example, if we didn't have a high value on truth telling, meaningful communication would stop. If I can't assume that you're telling me the truth, it's not long before we lose all ability to communicate with each other. Same for something like respect for life and property. If we didn't have that, then people would be driving on the wrong side of the road and we'd look like what driving could be in other parts of the world where traffic laws are not that well established. So I think that we can see that culture falls apart if we don't have a deep reservoir of shared moral values.
Sean McDowell: I think that's right, and we do. And we need to learn how to stay faithful to scripture, but make that case in the wider culture.
Scott Rae: Now, when it comes to the political arena, there are a handful of characters in the scripture that did have pretty significant political roles. Joseph, for example, Daniel is one that you highlight, particularly as a model for believers, although Daniel sort of came to that in kind of a roundabout way, Sean McDowell: He did, yeah.
Scott Rae: not exactly a straight line.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Scott Rae: Why do you highlight Daniel as a model for the kind of a rebel’s manifesto that you're describing?
Sean McDowell: You're right, we do see a lot of characters, like for example, Paul appealing to his Roman citizenship and the government for protection. But what I love about Daniel, is Daniel's brought into a foreign land, and his beliefs are at odds with the wider culture. And Nebuchadnezzar wants to bring in, this is Daniel chapter one, he wants to bring in a few of kinda the select, they describe him as smart, good looking, all these characteristics, the best of the best, so to speak from the Israelites, and Daniel gets selected. So he has every incentive to want to please the king. He's got protection, he's gonna get money, he's gonna get honor, his family's gonna be cared for, he has a job, on and on, in a foreign land. This is the deal, but all he has to do is eat the king's food and drink the king's wine. That's it. Now what's the big deal? It wasn't kosher. This violated his covenant before the Lord. Now imagine how easy it would've been for Daniel to compromise. My freshman English teacher here at Biola said the justification of sin is just as bad as the original sin. And that has stuck with me, 'cause I'm like, "Wow, I'm really good at justifying sin." Think how Daniel could have been like, "Well it's just food. Well, I'm gonna be a light from the inside, God will forgive me anyways." He could have had justification. But Daniel 1:8 says, "He determined in his heart that he was not going to defile himself." But then he comes up with this very creative solution where he thinks, "What does the king want? It's not really about the food and the drink for the king. How do I honor the king and give him what he wants while keeping my conscience intact?" And of course he comes up with a vegetable diet and it works. So there's this sense of Daniel where there's this conviction, but there's also this wisdom that we so lack as Christians today. We die on the wrong hills, we get defensive, we make it us versus them. And I just look at Daniel and there's just this God given confidence that he's ultimately going to die, we see that with the lion's den, he's got deep convictions, but he also just has wisdom and wants to honor the king. And I love his example 'cause I tell students, he went and learned Babylonian language and history for three years, he basically went to Babylon University and maintained his faith and made a difference. I just loved the example of Daniel. And I wouldn't say we're being persecuted today, I don't think that's fair, but there are certain elements in our culture that are increasingly hostile to Christian convictions, that in some ways you could say mirror Daniel's experience.
Scott Rae: Yeah, so Daniel, I think is a really helpful model for a number of things like you've pointed out. But I think there's a lesson that,I am interested to see what you think of this. That in light of Daniel chapter one, he not only stood for what he believed was right, but he offered a solution.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Scott Rae: Because he didn't just say, "Look, I have a problem, you fix it." He said, "I have a problem, it's on me to help bring a creative solution to this." Now, sometimes you can't do that, sometimes it really is Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: black and white.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Scott Rae: But I think there are a lot of times where there is a good solution Sean McDowell: I think that’s right.
Scott Rae: that may not give everybody everything they want, but it's certainly better than saying, "I'm standing for this, I'm digging in my heels, I'm not
compromising and I'm not proposing solutions either."
Sean McDowell: I think that's exactly right. But the way he came up with a solution was asking himself, "Why is the king giving me his food and drink? What does the king really want? How can I honor the king?" Scott Rae: It wasn't just a matter of food and drink.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that was secondary. He understood there's a deeper issue. So there's a time that we will die on certain convictions, but let's use wisdom and try to take other steps first. Sometimes there might not be, but many times there might be.
Scott Rae: And you don't get to die very many times [laughing]. That's the issue. Now throughout the book, one of the things that parents, I think will find really helpful is you use movies a lot to illustrate your primary point. And I know from our discussion together, you watch a lot of movies with your kids.
Sean McDowell: I do.
Scott Rae: And bring out talking points. But what is it about movies that is so helpful, and why should parents be using that more to engage their kids on these issues?
Sean McDowell: Jesus told stories for a reason. We remember stories, we identify with stories, we're moved by stories. We remember them. Well, what are the storytellers today? Well, TikTok are quick stories, Netflix is stories, a lot of podcasts are stories, but movies tell stories. And especially some of these superhero movies have just captured a generation, and they are embedded with ethical themes. The kind we talk about in this book, and you and I talk about all the time. Worldview themes, ideas about God. So number one, my kids are already interested in movies and wanna go. So there's a difference in sitting down and saying, "Hey, let's talk about the existence of God," versus seeing a movie with a multiverse and saying, "Hey, you notice even in the multiverse, they need a God-type figure and mind to navigate this." Does that tell us anything? Even if there were a multiverse, it points towards God. Like those are the kinds of questions I'll just ask my kids. And sometimes they respond, we have great conversation, other times they're like, "Dad, can we just watch the movie?” And that's okay. But I fill that book up with stories, because we remember it, we enjoy it, and there's so many natural hooks to ethical issues that people miss. So like a big question is, I hint at this in the book. But like, why does God allow evil? And one response is when God allows evil, it motivates us to do good. Well, the beginning story of Spiderman, is the death of his uncle. And that motivates Spiderman, ultimately, Peter Parker to become Spiderman and fight to prevent others from experiencing the kind of injustice that he did. So it's not like God causes that, but maybe God allows things to happen for a greater good, that's a memorable way for a student. The next time they see Spider-Man, they might think about it differently.
Scott Rae: You know Sean, one of the things that I think comes, is another thread that runs throughout the book. Is this idea that morality's objective. And morality is not fundamentally a matter of personal opinion. And I know it, we hear it a lot where students are designed to be their authentic self, or to live out their truth.
Sean McDowell: Live your truth.
Scott Rae: However you conceive that to be. Which suggests that morality is actually subjective, not objective. Tell us a little bit about the difference between those two, and how you communicate today that morality is actually something that's objective and not a matter of opinion.
Sean McDowell: This is another interesting cultural shifts since which I first wrote the book in the early 2000s. It was much more live and let live to each's own. Well, nobody has a problem making moral condemnations now, especially with social media, about race, about gun control, about abortion on all sides of these issues. So really what I just have to point out to people when they kind of default into this relativistic mantra, is that you don't really believe that, and you don't actually live that way. So I'll say to my kids and I still teach a high school class part-time on Bible, I'll say, "If somebody says to you there's no such thing as right and wrong, cut in front of them in line." And very quickly, they're gonna say, "That's not fair, that's not right, I was here first." As if there's a moral standard outside of them that they expect you to follow. And of course, this is what C. S. Lewis point out in “Mere Christianity”. Which is why somebody's view about morality, not by their actions, but by their reactions is the way my dad said it to me. He said, "Someone believes about morality, not by what they say, not by what they do, but by how they wanna be treated." Why do people believe in objective reality? Because Romans 2 says, "Even people who don't believe in God, live in God's universe and are made in God's image." So in a sense, I'm just bringing to the surface and showing them, you're not really a relativist, you believe genocide is wrong, you believe racism is wrong, you believe sexism is wrong. But what happens, is when you make an argument they disagree with, then people default and say, "Well, that's just your moral truth." And that's where I say, okay, time out. Why on an issue we disagree on, do you all of a sudden shift to this relativistic stance when it's one that you agree on, all of a sudden it's subjective moral truth. And people do that by default without realizing it. But we need to just be aware of this and have good questions to ask them to push back. We all know there's subjective morality and live our lives as if that's the case.
Scott Rae: And God help us if there's not.
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: Because I think if we think about it, if we all had to live in a culture where morality was entirely subjective, it would soon resemble something like “Lord of the Flies”. Where it would be my might is what would make right. I
remember Dallas Willard saying that, "You can tell that there is such a thing as moral knowledge, just by people watching people's body language." Because the way people get shamed just by a look or by body language, is often very revealing about what people actually believe about morality." And I think we're entering a new age of absolutism. Where I would call it a preachy absolutism. Where we've become... I think we're not relativistic. I think we're recognizing that, that doesn't work, but the absolutism on the other side has become more pedantic and more preachy. And as a result, we cancel people, Sean McDowell: We do.
Scott Rae: with whom we disagree. Because, we actually think that they're doing something morally evil or wrong. That's ultimately the reason we cancel people. Now, whether they're actually doing something morally wrong or not is of course, up for grabs.
Sean McDowell: Right.
Scott Rae: But the reason I think we get such a vociferous reaction on certain things, is because we're so committed to those being objectively wrong. And I think to say that shame is no longer something that we do to people, I think that's no longer true. We shame people right and left.
Sean McDowell: We do.
Scott Rae: And the consequences are much more catastrophic than they've ever been before. Sorry, I know this is your book Sean McDowell: No, that's okay.
Scott Rae: and you know it, so-
Sean McDowell: No, you're the expert on this, but really quick take the issue of Pro-life, both sides think they're on the side of justice, both sides think they're on the side of life, they just calculate it differently.
Scott Rae: So here's one of the questions that falls out of this. Is usually, anyone who plays a moral card for a position that you disagree with, is often accused of as being arrogant, overbearing, intrusive, judgmental, things like that. And to be fair, in some cases they are, Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Scott Rae: those things. But I think it's increasingly we're saying that, if you take a moral position with which I disagree, you are necessarily being arrogant, judgmental and so on. How do you respond to that?
Sean McDowell: Well, I've had people tell me in conversation, "Gosh, that's arrogant, that's so judgemental.” And I try in my better moments, I'll say, you know what? "If I was being judgemental or arrogant towards you, I apologize." Humility is a Christian virtue, and I don't want to treat you that way. Now with that said, help me understand why if I'm being arrogant, that would undermine the point that I'm making about when life begins, or about assisted suicide, or about immigration. How does my attitude make me right or wrong? 'Cause it seems to me, you can be arrogant and right, you can be arrogant and wrong. Seems to me you can be humble and right, you can be humble and wrong. Really what this is, is an ad hominem where you attack the person rather than the issue. And I don't wanna shame the person and be like, "This is ridiculous, you're committing to ad hominem." Like that's not gonna do any good. I wanna, "Hey, I will show some humility here. Hopefully, if I was arrogant, gosh, my bad, but I don't understand why my arrogance or lack thereof has anything to do with whether I'm right or wrong, help me make that connection." And really the key to a lot of conversations I say, is just learning to keep the main thing the main thing, instead of taking side issues, respond to it and bring it back to the issue at hand.
Scott Rae: I think we need to treat disagreement for actually what it is, is disagreement. There's nothing hateful about the fact that I disagree with you, necessarily. Now I may be expressing that in a way that's hateful and which I repent of if necessary. But today I think our culture so equates disagreement with arrogance, hatefulness, things like that, particularly in the area of marriage and sexuality, for example.
Sean McDowell: But it's often a certain kind of disagreement, right?
Scott Rae: That's also true.
Sean McDowell: It's not just any disagreement, it's the disagreement on certain issues, and if you take a certain side. So it's really, if you disagree with this position, maybe about marriage or whatever it is, then you're by definition hateful.
Scott Rae: Right. Although I do think it's important to recognize that how we communicate these issues is just as important as the what that we communicate. Because some people will never get beyond the how to get to the what, because of how we've said it. And if that's the case, then I think we need to say, "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't intend to come across this way." But I think it doesn't invalidate my point, so what do you say to the point that I'm making?
Sean McDowell: Exactly.
Scott Rae: Like it’s still a fair question.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, and I'm working on that Scott. Yesterday, somebody
[laughing] insulted me on social media and I just ignored it. And I said, "Hey, help me understand why even if that is true, I missed this point." Like I tried to respond that way and just let it go. But I'm a work in progress and just encouraging other people to join me in that.
Scott Rae: Yeah, and I think that the people we talk to are works in progress too.
Sean McDowell: That's for sure.
Scott Rae: And so I think we need to recognize that. What do you say to the person who says, "You shouldn't be forcing your morals on somebody else."
Sean McDowell: I would ask him a question. So one of the strategies, again, that I suggest is asking questions. They're far more powerful than making statements. Jesus told stories and he asked questions. By the way, Paul, there's a few hundred questions attributed to Paul in his letters too. I would just simply say, is that your morality? If somebody says you shouldn't force your morals on other people, I'm gonna say, is that your morality? They're gonna have to say yes. Then I'd simply say, "If we shouldn't force our morals on others and that's your morality, why are you trying to force it on me?" There's no way outside of it, we all have moral values. And by the way, making an argument for something and advancing a viewpoint, is not forcing that on somebody else. Now the law forces and legislates a kind of morality, but in conversation, I can't force anything. So really this person is silencing conversation by saying, you're forcing this and I'll say, "No, I'm not, I'm advancing an argument. Let's talk about this, if I'm wrong, I'll change my mind. If you're wrong, maybe you'll consider changing your mind."
Scott Rae: Yeah, I mean if I were forcing it on you, I'd have you arrested for disagreeing with me?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, or tie you up and try to force you to do it.
Scott Rae: Something like that. Now, one area of this that I think hits really close to home, is how some experiences in your life have affected your view on abortion and the sanctity of life. Tell us a little bit about your adopted sister.
Sean McDowell: Sure. So my pro-life convictions were in play before I discovered this about my sister, and she gave me permission to share this in the book. She went to Biola like I did 10 years behind me. She's Hispanic adopted, probably when I was, well, I was 10 years old and she was maybe a month. And when she was a student here, wanted to find her birth mom. So my dad he hired a private investigator and tracked down her birth mom. Turns out she's a pastor, interestingly enough, just fascinating story, and conceived at 14 years old by rape, and heroically chose life at 14 years old. When I found that out, I just got goosebumps. Because you start to think through some of the arguments of, yeah, rape is horrific and it's terrible, and we should mourn with those and care for women who have been jarred this way, the PTSD. You and I know when we interviewed Rachael Denhollander, she's like, "War is the top and then number two is sexual trauma." So we have to respond with grace and with kindness. But my sister was and is a full member of the human race, since the time that she was conceived. Did she or does she have any less right to life because of how she was brought into this world? That really personalizes an issue. I've actually met three people in person who've told me that they were conceived in rape. One guy was a Bible teacher. This is probably 12 or 15 years ago, and at that time I was teaching high school Bible. And I just remember, this is just something to think about, I'm not saying this is an argument. But he said to me, he goes, "You know what, Sean?" He goes, "I hear many Christians say I'm pro-life except in cases of rape, makes me feel like I have to justify my existence." That thought has just been with me for years since he said that, and discovering that about my sister, really personalizes this issue.
Scott Rae: Yeah, I think having to justify your continued existence, is inconsistent with having the right to life. And I appreciate you sharing that, that's a really powerful story. I suspect that most of our viewers and listeners on our podcast are not aware of that about you having not read this. But it makes sense that you have such strong feelings about abortion and about the sanctity of life.
Sean McDowell: Absolutely.
Scott Rae: Given that experience and given your view of that quote exception clause, that's often put into the law for rape and incest.
Sean McDowell: That's exactly right.
Scott Rae: And I think if anything, the way we value people who are marginalized and who are vulnerable, it's the person who is conceived through rape or incest, who I think could be considered even more vulnerable and even more marginalized.
Sean McDowell: I think that's right.
Scott Rae: Because we so easily consider them as dispensable people.
Sean McDowell: I agree a hundred percent. You and I have interviewed even like abortion survivors, who've talked about how just the woman who's at a point of considering abortion, really is a victim in this. And we can lose that in our pro-life rhetoric sometimes. And that's really important to recover.
Scott Rae: You're here. Hey, one final question, Sean McDowell: Sure.
Scott Rae: before we wrap up. You've got a lot of different purposes for writing this. What's your overriding hope for how this is gonna be used?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, I just would hope that it could be used by students who wanna go deeper and understand themselves. High school students even into college. The chapters are pretty short and succinct and I pack a lot in there. So there's a ton of stories, but it's not cheesy youth group kind of stuff, I think a lot of adults will benefit from. So I hope a lot of students will pick it up and just gain the confidence that Christianity makes sense of some of the biggest issues of our day, and just the confidence to engage their friends, engage their classmates in conversations about these topics, there's a way to do that. And then I just hope for gatekeepers of students, youth pastors, parents, Christian school teachers, that this could be a resource that they could use to talk with students. And part of the good thing is, when I wrote the first book, chapters were like 4,000 words or something like that. These chapters are like 1500 words, so they're a lot easier and quicker to read with somebody or to assign. That it's just a tool to help pass on the faith and help younger people think Christianly about the thorniest issues of our day. We have nothing to be afraid of by these topics. We should jump in, because Christianity's a holistic worldview that speaks to everything.
Scott Rae: And I say, jump in as a rebel [laughing], as a contrarian.
Sean McDowell: There you go.
Scott Rae: With kindness, and humility, and gentleness. As Peter says, always being ready to give a defense,
Sean McDowell: Amen.
Scott Rae: for the hope that we have within us.
Sean McDowell: Amen.
Scott Rae: That's really the point of “A Rebel’s Manifesto”. So I commend this to all of our viewers. I wanna remind you that we were glad that you were able to see this on video today. We also do an audio podcast, same title, Think Biblically out of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Thanks for joining us today, we hope you enjoyed the conversation. [upbeat music]