At their recent live show, Sean & Scott discuss some of the thornier issues and questions they've run up against during their five years of recording the Think Biblically podcast.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: What does it mean to think biblically about the most pressing issues of the day? What are some of the most challenging, apologetic questions that our culture puts in front of us today? What do we say about the recent surveys that have been released about the state of the Bible, and about the state of theology? We answer these questions and a few more in this conversation with Sean and me in this episode of Think Biblically, a podcast of Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. Sean, let's start with this, where does the Bible tell us to think biblically about the issues of the day? We take that as an assumption, but what are some of the key biblical texts that demand that we think biblically about the issues of the day, about the questions that our culture has for us in the church?

Sean McDowell: In one sense, it's like a drum beat or a golden thread through all of the scriptures. Not only does the scripture model this, but it teaches it in the Old Testament. We see it in the New Testament, so of course, we go back to the creation story. We have obviously the great commandment later on, but there's this cultural mandate as well that we see early on. We can unpack that. One of the favorite passages I just go to is, Jesus talks about loving God with your heart and your soul and with your mind and with your strength. In other words, love God with everything. Well, how do we love God with everything?

Well, first off, we've got to recognize that God is a creator of everything. There's a great Dutch philosopher and theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper who said, "There's not a square inch of creation out of which God does not cry out, its mine." So if God is a creator of everything, he tells us to love him with everything, that's with our passions, but that's also with our mind, so how do we think Christianly about the different topics that we could work through? So look in the Old Testament and you have God and Isaiah saying, "Come, let us reason together. Let's use our minds," so it always has been and hopefully always will be a part of the Christian task, not just to do evangelism and discipleship, but to think Christianly or as our podcast says, think biblically about everything.

Scott Rae: And when the Bible says to love God with all your heart and all your soul, those are actually figures of speech to refer to the whole person.

Sean McDowell: That's right.

Scott Rae: Your mind included. I think of texts like when Peter put it in 1Peter 3, to always be ready to give a defense, an apologia, which from we've got our term apologetic, give a defense for the hope that's within you. Or Paul's goal in 2Corinthians 10 when he says, his goal of his ministry is to enable the culture that he's ministering and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, so I think there's ample biblical mandate for us to think biblically, to think clearly and to think rational. That's not all there is to it.

Sean McDowell: Sure.

Scott Rae: We have to be passionate about it. We have to love God with our emotions as well, but there's a significant place for the life of the mind in what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ.

Sean McDowell: And we also see in the history of the church, this is what Christians have done consistently, is think about the cultural challenges, the theological challenges, the political challenges of the day through the lens of their Christian faith. Now, our society doesn't love this. Our society which is increasingly secular would say, it's fine to have religious convictions, but keep them in your church, keep them in your home, and the Bible runs right up against that. In fact, you can even think of Deuteronomy6:4 he quotes, "Love your Lord God with your heart, soul, mind and your strength. Talk about these with your kids when you lie down and when you get up, when you walk along the road." In other words, make God a natural part of the rhythm of life. Everything that you do is shaped by this. So our secular culture is going to push back and say, no, but as Christians, we can't. We bring our faith to everything.

Scott Rae: And I would suggest for our secular culture to say, it's fine to have your religious convictions, but keep them to yourself. That's the equivalent of saying you're the salt of the earth, but you got to stay in the shaker, and you can't go out and have an influence. Or you are the light of the world, but keep it under a bushel basket.

Sean McDowell: Did you make up that salt shaker line yourself?

Scott Rae: No, I wish I had.

Sean McDowell: I like that. That's pretty good.

Scott Rae: [inaudible 00:04:24].

Sean McDowell: Hey, let me ask you a question, apply this in your field of expertise. There was the recent post Dobbs decision coming around the time of the 50th anniversary of Roe versus Wade which is coming up actually in January of this year. You've been studying this, writing on this, debating on this for a long time. Where do you see the abortion issue headed?

Scott Rae: I think the impact of the Supreme Court decision and Dobbs in Mississippi was to essentially send the issue back to the states which is what a lot of legal scholars have argued, it should have been done in 1973 when Roe v Wade was passed. And what the Supreme Court actually did when they ruled on assisted suicide in the late 1990s they said, States can prohibit it. They can allow it, but it's up to the will of the voters in that particular state. And so you'll see things on the ballot like our Proposition 1 that's on the ballot in California now, which will legalize abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason and particularly of any method of partial birth abortions in the last few weeks of pregnancy. There are virtually no limits, and even if I were pro-choice, I would have huge reservations about voting for Proposition 1 in California.

And a number of states have chosen to put various restrictions on abortion rights. Some I think will be scaled back a bit, but I think legally, it will be left to the states. I think increasingly the task for those of us who hold more to a pro-life view, and to see this as part of our biblical convictions will see, I think, a greater need to pay attention to the plight of pregnant women, especially poor pregnant women with unwanted pregnancies who are, I think today, feeling and understandably feeling increasingly desperate, and this is where the community of God's people has to step in a really meaningful way, and we have got to put our money where our mouth is on the church. We can't simply say, "Well this is a great day for the unborn," and ignore the pregnant women who are now in various stages of distress because they may live in a state where their right to in their pregnancy is more limited.

Sean McDowell: Now, you've been a big supporter, myself included, of pregnancy resource centers. So you're not saying the church hasn't done this at least decently well?

Scott Rae: No. I think there are hundreds and hundreds of crisis pregnancy centers around the country with free medical care and the equivalent of social workers to walk through a pregnancy with a person to enable a woman to put a baby up for adoption. I think it's important that we recognize that just because a woman's pregnant it doesn't commit her to raising the child. There are lots of families, the demand for adoptable newborn children far exceeds the supply today, and part of the reason for that is the 900,000 or so abortions that are performed annually in the US every year. So I think that's where the focus of ministry is going to shift into more of an emphasis on, how do we care for these women who... I think we are obligated to care for and to take good care of them.

Sean McDowell: Fair enough, good. So in other words, the pro-life movement must make an argument better than we ever have before. Unapologetic, a defense, think Christianly and care for the unborn, it's both.

Scott Rae: That's right.

Sean McDowell: That's essentially what we have to do. So this is pushed back to the states, but in many ways I've said this and I think you have as well, the abortion issue has just begun. [inaudible 00:08:14]-

Scott Rae: Right. So the argument's been pushed back to the states too, and it's pretty much more on a grassroots level.

Sean McDowell: ... let's shift to another ethical issue that you told me when I was taking a class from you, this is back early two thousands, the MA Field program. I asked you what's the toughest ethical issue to face? And you said it's end of life issues, euthanasia, assisted suicide. Where do you see issues of the legalization of assisted suicide heading?

Scott Rae: I think short-term, gradually gaining more and more momentum. It's interesting how the argument in favor of assisted suicide has changed over the years. It used to be when this first got started in the late '80s, early '90s, the argument was all about mercy to a suffering patient. That argument, you don't hear much anymore, and the reason for that is because the science of palliative care has gotten so much better today than it's ever been, and access to adequate pain control at the end of life has increased exponentially. And when we began this discussion 25, 30 years ago, I've heard physicians tell me repeatedly that there's virtually no pain for a dying patient, that cannot be adequately controlled without a need to end their lives. Now, doing that in some cases can be really challenging and requires a specialist to do that.

And there are some places in the country that have lesser access to this than others, but I think the more we get access to this kind of first rate pain control, the demand, I think, for assisted suicide is going to decrease. In fact, that's why the argument has changed from mercy to autonomy, and it's now what your dad was talking about, subjectivity. That the argument is that, it's my life if I want to off myself that's nobody's business but my own. But for a follower of Christ, that really is God's business as well because the Bible's really clear that we are not our own. Our bodies don't ultimately belong to us, they belong to God. We've been bought with a price, as Paul says in 1Corinthians 6, and therefore we're to honor God with our bodies, I think particularly in the way we go home to meet him at the end of our lives.

And we spend a lot of our time modeling how to live well. I think there's also a place for people who are in the last stages of life to model dying well, and to recognize that assisted suicide robs family members of ushering their loved ones right up to the doorstep of eternity, and we had this privilege with my dad. It was such a privilege to see him right before he died, he crossed his arms and looked up because he knew where he was going just as he took his last breath, and assisted suicide robs us of those sacred moments.

So I think, I'll give you an example. In the State of Oregon, that was the first state in the United States to legalize assisted suicide. They have far fewer participants in this than they envisioned, and the reason for that is because palliative care, pain control, hospice care is so well established in the State of Oregon that the demand for assisted suicide has been far less than what they'd anticipated because what people want at the end of life is some semblance of control, and for their pain to be controlled. And funny thing, surprise, surprise, when a person's pain is controlled, they actually want to live. They don't want to die. What they don't want is to die in unrelievable pain, and that's in increasingly just simply not the case today in lots of places around the country.

Sean McDowell: So how concerned are you in the states? Because there's been some recent cases in Canada that have raised some red flags of concern that the argument was made early on, what we're saying is voluntary will become involuntary. What was an immediate death sense that you're going to die naturally within six months will become not so much immediate, that you'll become a burden to those and other people will start making decisions. And if I'm not mistaken, soon in Canada they are meeting to talk about euthanizing even kids and potentially babies if I'm not mistaken, but it has moved that direction.

Scott Rae: [inaudible 00:12:59].

Sean McDowell: Canada aside, do you have concern that the US is going to head that direction or do you think there's certain defenses pending?

Scott Rae: No. I have big concerns about that, and that's a slippery slope that we definitely don't want to go down. For example, in the Netherlands today, the age of eligibility for assisted suicide is 12 with the child himself or herself giving consent to that. That and the right to end of pregnancy, those are the only two medical procedures that a child can give consent for on their own without the parents being involved, they're the only two things. And here's why that voluntary assistance or voluntary euthanasia will slide invariably toward non-voluntary euthanasia, the reason for that is because nobody has access to those private conversations between family members where we could gently but persistently twist our 95 year old mother's arm that she needs to have assisted suicide done, not because she's tired living, but because we are tired of her living and being a burden on us, and because the state is tired of her living and being a financial burden. You may not be aware, but fully 50% of all of the money you will spend on your healthcare occurs in the last 12 months of your life, statistically.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Scott Rae: When it does, you [inaudible 00:14:30] least amount of good. And I had a state university colleague tell me, she said, the reason assisted suicide will always be popular is because there's nothing cheaper than dead. So on that happy thought, but I think the reason is because nobody has access to those private conversations. And you and I could coerce our 95 year old mother to do assisted suicide under compulsion, non-voluntary and nobody will ever know that we've coerced her into doing that. And so any law that says assisted suicide has to always be completely voluntary is also completely unenforceable because those are private conversations.

Sean McDowell: How do you prove that?

Scott Rae: You don't even know that it went on. That's a huge problem.

Sean McDowell: What bioethics issues do you see coming in the future? And I ask because I think one of the things we've seen with the gender issue is this idea that, I should not be limited by my body whether it comes to the way I identify. And then I think, well, what's going to follow after that? And you look at artificial intelligence and some of these issues is a desire to not be limited by the body in even further ways. Is that where biotechnology is headed?

Scott Rae: I think in general, yes. But I think there's a more pressing issue with us right now today. And I told my philosophy students years ago that designer children will probably never be on the table in our lifetime, and I was wrong because five years ago scientists at UC Berkeley figured out how to do essentially take scissors and paste to your genetic code to where you can snip out a defective gene and replace it with a corrected one, I mean, literally with a genetic pair of scissors. And what that does is, it enables us to cure genetic disease once and for all, and it's a trait that's passed on to succeeding generations. What that also enables us to do is to select other traits that don't have anything to do with disease, and enable us to literally design our children in the laboratory today, to have all sorts of specifications that we want which I think undermines the notion of children being a gift from God that we receive open handedly and without specifications.

And already, it's been in practice for probably 10, 15 years now, we can choose the sex of our child fairly reliably, and people wonder, is that necessarily a good thing? I'm not so sure it is because the places around the world, what's been widely practiced has been a disastrous demographic consequence because you have way more boys than girls, and the gender imbalance is profound in some parts of the developing world that went whole speed ahead with this.

Sean McDowell: Which can contribute to things like sexual trafficking, et cetera, when there's a massive imbalance-

Scott Rae: You would think-

Sean McDowell: ... between men and women.

Scott Rae: ... you would think if women were in short supply, their value would go up, but in reality their value has been cheapened, and they've become more victims of human trafficking than ever before in our history. So my turn to put some questions to you.

Sean McDowell: Oh yeah. I thought you were just-

Scott Rae: I was on a roll here, but-

Sean McDowell: ... let's do it.

Scott Rae: ... but one of the things I've appreciated, Sean, about watching you work not only with this podcast, but some of the other things that you do... You may not be aware, Sean has a YouTube channel that has over a hundred thousand subscribers to it, and is just going like gangbusters, and he'll tell you in just a minute how you can get access to that. But hey, I can do that. I can shamelessly self promote you. It's okay. But you do a lot with social media. I, on the other hand, am totally old school, and I do virtually nothing on social media, and my kids think I'm absolutely nuts for not doing anything on social media. How have you learned to use social media wisely and in a manner that exhibits Christ-like humility and gentleness which is definitely not the norm?

Sean McDowell: Well, let me just say, my social media use doesn't always reflect that. There's a lot of tweets I've had to delete. There's a couple of videos I'm like, "You know what? I'm going to take that down." So I'd honestly say a lot of that comes from trial and error, making mistakes, owning it and realizing, "You know what? I was hungry when I sent that tweet. I was angry when I sent that tweet," whatever it is. So I figured out if you're on social media you're going to make mistakes. The question is, are you going to own it and are you going to move on? I just try to ask myself a few questions. What's the purpose of social media? What's the end goal for a Christian to use this tool? It's not just to get followers and subscribers, it's not to make money. I want to either encourage Christians in their faith or challenge non-Christians to consider the Christian faith, that's my goal.

So I've thought through what mediums do I use, why do I use them? What's my goal? What's my lane? And then that helps to me weed out certain things that don't fit that lane. The other thing I often asked with social media is, how are things going to land? I mean, you and I did a whole show on this, but when you look at how Christians comment on social media, it's the exception to find somebody who comments well and thoughtfully because we're thinking about, "I just want to win the argument. I want to prove this person wrong," rather than, "How is this going to land? Is this honoring to the Lord? Is this a loving thing to post?" I'm not going to sit there and pretend I've always done that. I'm just telling you the principles that I try to do because sometimes social media pulls out the worst in us.

But I just look at it, I say it's a tool to advance the gospel. It's a tool to minister to people, and I wrote a whole blog on how would Jesus comment on social media? And I really tried to think through if he'd use social media, how would he comment? I think he'd tell stories, and he'd ask a lot more questions than make statements. I think he wouldn't just gauge people by the amount of followers they had. He clearly didn't use that metric to value people, but would reach out to people who don't have a big following.

That's just the way I look at this, so I would love Christians to think through, what does it mean to use social media in a Christian fashion that sets us apart from the audience. When I look at how a lot of Christians use social media, I mean, you and I even on this podcast, if we wanted to just grow and have more followers, there's a way we could manipulate this, say shocking things, have on certain guests, but I feel like we would compromise our integrity before the Lord in doing so. And when it's all said and done, that's all I have, social media or not, it's my integrity and I really don't want to compromise that.

Scott Rae: So on your YouTube channel, just for example, what would you say are the most challenging, apologetic questions that you've had to answer?

Sean McDowell: On my YouTube channel?

Scott Rae: Because you have a very interesting following on that channel. You have a lot of people from a lot of different-

Sean McDowell: [inaudible 00:22:33]-

Scott Rae: ... super interesting backgrounds.

Sean McDowell: Gosh. So I think in general, the hardest question to answer anywhere are the problems of evil and suffering, and that manifests itself in different ways. I think the reason it's so hard is, it's not just an intellectual question, it's personal. We've experienced evil, we've experienced pain, we've suffered, and so how do you answer somebody intellectually but existentially? So that's probably the broad question. So conversations I've had, a lot of conversations about race, at the heart of that is people have been mistreated and they've been hurt, and they've suffered, why would God allow this? Issues like LGBTQ. At the heart of a lot of LGBTQs, "Why do I suffer? Did God make me this way? Am I going to love somebody and be loved back?" These are versions of the problem of evil, so I think lurking behind most of the questions are the seeming absence of God, suffering in the world that is hard for people, Christians and non-Christians.

Scott Rae: ... I know on your channel you also had a conversation with a fairly well known atheist, the writer for the New York Times.

Sean McDowell: Yeah.

Scott Rae: Tell our group about that conversation.

Sean McDowell: Yeah. This is really fun. In fact, I just emailed him this week and asked him if he'd come back on and do a live Q&A. What's interesting about this is, this fellow's name is Adam Davidson. He's written for The New Yorker. He's written for Slate Magazine, MSNBC, I think made into the New York Times. He's done some really popular episodes on this American life, and described himself to me... This was his terminology, an atheist New York media elite, that's how he described himself. This is an example. He actually reached out to me. Usually, I'm reaching out, trying to get people to come on. He reached out to me and he said, "Hey, I've been following your channel for a while."

Scott Rae: That's good.

Sean McDowell: "I watch almost all of your stuff," and I thought, "Wow, you never know who's watching." "If you're open to it, I'd love to have a conversation." Well, I played it off for a while because I thought, I just have a certain view of the media, right or wrong. I've been set up, I've been misquoted. Finally, I was like, "I'm going to look into this guy's stuff," and thought, "Wow, he's not only super thoughtful, I think he's really sincere." So I asked him I said, "Can I just bring you on my channel and ask you about your life spiritually, how you view Christians?" He agreed, and I'll tell you one thing that stood out to me is I asked him, "How many evangelical Christians do you know growing up?" The answer was, none. He said, "Sean, 40% of the men that I knew were gay," 40%, so Christians were people depicted in the media. He's like, "Sometimes a Christian would try to give me a track, but Christians were the enemies. They were stealing our rights."

I mean, we can at least understand if that's somebody's experience, why they would view us at Biola and the evangelical world through that lens. Great conversation, and I followed up and I said, "Hey, do you want to flip the script? Now, what do you think about interviewing me?" It was actually originally his idea, and he was just asking me questions about my family. At one point, it was so interesting, he's like, "I don't understand the idea of God, can you explain it to me?" I was like, "Wow, what a fascinating thing." That one got over a hundred thousand views which tells me people are hungry for conversations like that.

When I started on YouTube, a few YouTubers who have bigger channels than I do, they're like, "Sean, you try to be conversational and kind with people, it's not going to work on YouTube. You need to be controversial. You've got to be edgy." And I think, "I could create a bigger following. There's plenty of shocking things I could say and get a big following, but they're wrong. There's a lot of people who want thoughtful conversations." So he's coming back on soon, we're going to do a live Q&A together. I think I'm going to call it an atheist journalist and a Christian professor, and I don't even know what people are going to ask, but it's cool. There's a lot of people willing to engage like that if we reach out.

Scott Rae: And if we're gentle, kind and caring about them-

Sean McDowell: I think so.

Scott Rae: ... and caring about their lives as well as the arguments that they make back and forth.

Sean McDowell: And I'll tell you, it was super interesting. You can go listen to it and make up your own mind, but I think it was pretty clear that I would not be welcome in a lot of circles. In his kids' private school it wouldn't be okay to come and speak there. He's like, "I would like you as a friend, but professionally you wouldn't really be welcome." He just owned that, and we're often told the right is closed-minded, not willing to engage, and he's like, "Yeah." It's just so interesting when we just step outside of our comfort zone, listen to people, ask them their experiences, find common ground, one of my favorite conversations, and I think we're going to have many more.

Scott Rae: That's great. Too much fun you're having on that channel.

Sean McDowell: I am.

Scott Rae: Hey, one last question. Where do you think the Think Biblically Podcast is headed in the future? What are some of the things that you're looking forward to? What are we envisioning for future episodes?

Sean McDowell: You should tell me because I'd like to know this myself. I don't know that we've talked this through which is interesting, but so many people are looking for that breakthrough video that goes viral, a podcast that goes viral, a YouTube video. And it was William Lane Craig, who's a research professor here, that helped start, be a part of the MA Field Program that we had going back, a huge influence in my life. He goes, "I look at my life like the tortoise. Just each day plug away and try to advance the ball and be faithful. Look back over five years, five decades, and you've made a significant difference." So it's not like in the next six months there's these mega, incredible breakthrough things. I hope we're going to continue to up our game and improve and learn and grow, but I hope we're sitting here in five years and we go, "You know what? We've had good content. We've been faithful to what God calls us to. We've innovated," and maybe if the numbers grow, who knows where we would be.

When it's all said and down, numbers are cool, but when I look at that number it's like 2.6 million, I'm like, wow. I want to get an email from a father who says, "Sean, each week we listen to the Think Biblically Podcast. My son and I, we get on the phone and we talk about it." That means more to me than a hundred thousand downloads of somebody I don't know. It really does, so I just hope we keep learning and keep bettering, and stay faithful to this as long as God allows us to do it, I'd be pleased.

Scott Rae: Well, I've got to tell you, the last five years have been such a treat.

Sean McDowell: Yeah. It has been.

Scott Rae: For me, just to work together with you has been such a joy, to combine our gifts and our experience and our different fields into something that we think is going to last for a while. We're certainly hopeful that it will by the grace of God.

Sean McDowell: Well, I've got to tell you, it was Scott's idea, not mine. So thanks for asking me to be a partner on this. I pinch myself every time we go in... And by the way, we go in and we'll record, it's about six now. When we first started, we were doing them every 45 minutes. We would start, we'd be on and we'd do eight a day, and at the end of the day we're looking at each other like spent. Like. Why are we killing ourselves?

Scott Rae: [inaudible 00:30:12] about halfway through.

Sean McDowell: What are we doing? Someone's five minutes later to the call messes up the whole day. Now, we do it on the hour about six, maybe seven at most a day. And now, we've been filming them which is cool, putting them online, just trying to reach a new audience. We have a Biola student shout out. Amaya, if you're out there, I know you're here tonight-

Scott Rae: She out there's.

Sean McDowell: ... she is helping us doing some creative stuff online. So I think because we've had some success, it's more and more of the university's attention, us starts growing which I think is great and positive, but I just want to stay the course to what we're doing. I think we've found something that works.

Scott Rae: Well, if anything, I think the numbers tell us that. And I'm grateful for our audience here in person tonight, also live streaming. It's just been so fun to get a chance to do this with you over these last five years.

Sean McDowell: Amen to that.

Scott Rae: Well, this has been an episode of Think Biblically, a podcast from Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. If you've enjoyed the podcast, feel free to share it with a friend, encourage them to subscribe. And remember, think biblically about everything.