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Episode Transcript

Scott: Welcome to the Think Biblically weekly cultural update where we look at current events with cultural significance through the lenses of a Christian worldview. And, we'll answer some of the questions that you've sent in. This is in addition to, not a substitute, for our regular Think Biblically podcast. We'll post this one every Friday on our regular ThinkBiblically podcasts we'll post on Monday or Tuesday. I'm your host, Scott Rae.

Sean: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell.

Scott: And this is the weekly cultural update from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

Sean, story number one here came out just today as the entire issue of New York magazine. And here's the title, "Polyamory, a Practical Guide for the Curious Couple." And let me read some of the specific articles that are in this issue. The entire issue is devoted to this. "Is there only one way to do this?,” “How do I broach this with my partner?,” “Should we come up with some rules?,” “Where do I meet people?,” “Does my wife want to hear about my night?,” “Should we sleep with them on the first date?,” “How much time does all this take?,” “Am I being nice enough to my boyfriend's girlfriend?” “Should we tell our kids, what about our coworkers and what can go wrong?" I find it ironic that they left the “what can go wrong” until the very end, instead of leading with that. But Sean, tell me, what do you make of this? This seems to be getting a little bit more into the mainstream of conversation of things that maybe five years ago would have been looked at as a really a fringe element by only people who were sort of way out there.

Sean: Well, I got a bunch of thoughts on this, along with teaching at Biola: Talbot, I still teach at a private Christian school in Southern California, one Bible class, and my daughter's in that class. And so when this story popped up this morning, when I was checking the news, I thought, "I've got to get their perspective on this." And a few things jumped out to me. Number one, I said, "These are 17 high school students at a Christian school." I said, "How many of you are surprised by this?" And they kind of looked at me like I'm a little crazy. They're like, "We're not surprised." And I thought growing up in the nineties, this would have been absolutely shocking. There's nothing really surprising to this generation here. Now it's grown since Obergefell, obviously, which was nine years ago, that ruling same sex ruling. And I would actually argue that part of that ruling was a lot of, "You said this, I said this." If we take marriage and we remove the built-in sexed component of marriage, that it's male and female, now we remove the idea of two. The only built-in reason for two is because male and female together produce a child and a third male or female adds nothing. And so, I don't think we should be surprised by this. This generation is not surprised by this. Logically, it makes sense that we would be here. Now I did talk to these students on what the New York magazine put on Twitter—really, really interesting is there's a cover story of cats, four cats kind of cuddling together. And it says, "A practical guide for the curious couple." And so I asked these students, they said, "Why do you think there's cats?" And at first they're like, "Well, cats are cute. We all like cats." I was like, "Why else are there cats?" And they're like, "Well, cats are beloved for the most part. They're cute. They draw attention to us. They live in homes. They're trying to break down our defenses to this and make it seem somewhat normal." So, right away in their tweet about this article you described, it says, "It's not just you. Everyone is talking about being open." So, this article is not just describing this phenomenon that's happened. It's kind of making you feel like, "Wait a minute. Everybody's talking about this. If I'm not talking about this, I'm the one who's left out." And by the way, the way it's framed is talking about being open. So, I said to these students, "That means if you're not on board with this, what does that by definition make you?"

Scott: Close-minded.

Sean: That makes you—exactly, close-minded. And then one other point I'll make and throw it back. And then the next part of the tweet says, "But even though it's become more discussed, it isn't such a simple thing to do well." And so I asked these students, I said, "Okay, in their minds, what's the barrier to successful polyamorous relationships?" And they said, "In the New York Magazine secular mindset, the barrier is that it's just complicated and we don't talk about it enough. So, if we talk about it more and read the New York Magazine practical guide to polyamorous relationships, then we can have success." I said to these students, I said, "From our worldview, which we clearly teach a bio, if there's a creator who's designed the world and created our bodies and made us to function in a certain way, then what is the barrier?" And one girl said, "It's God's design. There's a truth about the way the world works. So, it's not going to fit any more than taking a spark plug and trying to use it as a carburetor." So, this is not surprising; huge worldview implications about it. And just another important topic to ask, how do we think Christianly about it? And frankly, since people are talking about it, how are we going to care for? I had a kid in my class who said he had a baseball teammate whose parents are in an open relationship. So, we also need to think through how to engage people around us. I have a friend, not going to mention his name here, who told me a few years ago, he goes, "We're thinking about adding a third." And this is an atheist friend, by the way. So, this is cropping up. We need to be prepared to engage in thoughtful, winsome, but truthful conversations about this.

Scott: I think this will be very interesting to see how the kids respond to this. Because I think that, you know, the, what do we tell the kids? I think the better question is, you know, how do we deal with whatever collateral damage this does to the kids? Because I think that, as you know, kids that are in those formative years, they need a secure, stable household with a mom and a dad under the same roof. And I think you're right to go back to the Obergefell decision, which I think was the thing that sort of unlocked a lot of this and gave it respectability, because at the foundation of the Obergefell decision was the emphasis on individual autonomy, that I should be free to love and marry and have sex with whoever I choose. And I think this is another manifestation of our autonomy-driven culture. And once you open the door to somebody being able to love whoever they choose, there's no reason to limit it to one person. So, I'd be very interested to see where this goes. And I say, keep in touch and let's watch for how it affects the stability of the existing marriage or the existing, you know, sort of semi-monogamous relationship and how it affects any kids that are involved. I think Robert George and a colleague wrote a response to this. I think they saw this coming. And the subtitle for this was “How to Wreck a Marriage by Saving It.”

Sean: Wow.

Scott: So, it was really, really significant. And under the guise of saving marriage, we're actually going to wreck them. And so he was pretty clear about it disrupting the security and the stability that's required for couples to flourish.

Sean: Well, we've seen that. Every advance of the sexual revolution, we're told that divorce is good and better for the kids. Well, damage has come from that. We're told that free sex and not repressing will create a more just and equitable and joyous society. Now, downstream, we have STDs from that. The further we move away from God's design, the more people are going to get hurt. This isn't something to celebrate. It's something to mourn and to try to lovingly warn people from. Now, I'll just, a couple of things that really jump out about this article that's really fascinating to me. One is, in this section, it's on how do you broach this with your partner, which is interesting, which kind of implies that it's a topic that I'm not sure that I should go there. I don't know; there's natural resistance built in. But this one person describes their partner. Hey, I'm finding myself attracted to somebody else. This is somebody they dub as Julia and says to the partner, are you open to exploring the marriage? And he says, I don't want to hold you back from being yourself.

Scott: Interesting.

Sean: Isn't that interesting? So, it's not just feelings. There's no sense we should resist these feelings and be faithful to the marriage that I'm in. Rather, I should express and follow my heart like we've seen in other conversations around sexuality, my urges and my attractions kind of define who I am. And I resist that if I resist this, I'm not even close minded—I'm bigoted. The other thing that I just asked the students, I think the person would also say—

Scott: I think the person would also say I’m inauthentic if I don’t allow myself to be myself.

Sean: Which is the word of the year: authenticity, be yourself. And we don't necessarily have to go into it, but question to ask are, is this going to increase jealousy if there's three people together? I mean, one of the kids in the class was like, wait a minute. If I look over and I see the other two that I'm in this polyamorous relationship with kissing, I'm not going to think good for them, that's excellent! I'm going to automatically think, why am I being left out here when you introduce kids? Is one kid biologically connected to a parent, but not biologically connected to another parent? What kind of inequalities does that bring in a relationship? There's so many questions like this that to me, it's just going to compound problems, not solve it because of God's design for marriage.

Scott: I'll say the last word on this subject. I think this is a psychologist's dream because it's just going to be so interesting to watch how the dynamics of these things work out.

Sea: Well said. That's a very, very interesting point. There'll be a lot of studies and we'll track it and we'll bring it back. Now, Scott, you sent me a link to this article, which fascinated me. I want to make sure I understand it correctly. I know this is your lane. It says “Lab Grown Human Eggs, New Reproductive Possibilities Raise Societal Questions.” Now, tell us what on earth is going on with this trend.

Scott: Well, for one, our listeners should know this has not been done in human beings yet. It certainly will be. It has been successfully done with rats and mice, which is one of the experimental levels before—not quite until we get to human beings, but it's on the road to getting to human beings. Basically what was done, they took a mouse and harvested stem cells from the mouse's skin. And these semi-like embryonic stem cells, which are what are called pluripotent, which means that they can be engineered under the right conditions to do just about anything, were engineered in order to become human eggs. And they were successfully done and then a successful fertilization took place. So, what this suggests is that in human beings, this could mean the day where we have reproduction without either men or women being needed. So, only one or the other would be necessary. So, a woman, for example, could take stem cells from her own skin, it would automatically be biologically compatible. Then have them be engineered into eggs. They could be fertilized in vitro and implanted, and she could conceive and bear a child without a partner being involved at all. Men could do this as well, but they would need someone to carry the child to term. So, they would need a surrogate or someone else to do that. So, the big benefit, I think, beneficiaries of this are going to be same-sex couples who can now do this without recourse to any opposite-sex assistance. So, for a same-sex couple, the procreate, they would need either a woman's eggs and a surrogate to go with the sperm that the men would provide. And same for a lesbian couple, they would need the sperm from a man to provide. Now, they would still need that in order to fertilize the egg, but they could do this entirely without a partner that's contributing genetic material to the production of the eggs. So, anyway, what this could do, I think, is it could further sever the bond between procreation and parenting and that continuity, although it wouldn't necessarily do that. And I think the main element is that we would further turn procreation into something that looks more like reproduction.

Sean: Okay. So, this has been done on mice successfully, as I understand. Correct? It's been done. So, the question is, could it be done on human beings? The barrier of holding back is that we don't have a fully artificial womb right now. So, you need a woman, whether a part of the marriage or a surrogate, to still carry this fertilized egg and be developed to mature into a child.

Scott: Well, not always. That would be true if it were a man doing this by himself or a same-sex couple. But if a woman did this with her stem cells and created an egg, she would need sperm to fertilize it, but then there's no reason she couldn't be implanted and carry the pregnancy to term. So, it's not entirely without the opposite sex, but it's getting a whole lot closer to what Hank Greeley at Stanford called “the end of sex for procreation.”

Sean: Okay. So does this have to be a woman's stem cell for this to work or can a man, because he obviously came through a woman?

Scott: Yeah, it can be either one. Because the stem cells, pluripotent stem cells, can in theory be engineered to just about any end you want.

Sean: Wow. So it's probably only a matter of time before somebody, if not in the US, in the world does this. And it, so it seems to me it can become two problems. It further makes children into products that we kind of use and create as we want, severs it from the mom and the dad parent that'll be involved and makes procreation unisex in a sense.

Scott: In a sense, yes. Not entirely, but we're getting a lot closer to that. We're getting closer to it. Now, combine this with another technology, the CRISPR gene editing technology that works on human embryos. And you have the possibility of now designer children coming out of these arrangements as well. Because if you don't like some of the genetic components, they can be, in theory, they can be snipped and replaced, you know, sort of cut and paste with the CRISPR method, which is a very basic pair of genetic scissors that allows you to do that. And so, we're getting, with that, the combination of this, I think, brings us a bit closer to the kind of designer children that I used to tell my students 10 years ago would probably never happen in our lifetime.

Sean: Really?

Scott: And I was wrong.

Sean: Oh my goodness.

Scott: Because we're getting a whole lot closer to that day.

Sean: Wow. Interesting.

Scott: Alright. Anything else you want to add on that?

Sean: No, that's good. You're the pro. Let's keep going.

Scott: Okay. Here's one, Sean, I want to throw back to you. We just saw this this week, and it's a new movement that is growing and becoming something, I think, to be dealt with. And it's called Atheist Churches. I think what most of our listeners might react to this initially is saying, "That's just an oxymoron. How do you have church without God? How is it that you have secular congregations?" But the title of this article is “Church Without God, How Secular Congregations Fill a Need for Non-Religious Americans.” And they cite the great de-churching and that people are giving up on church as it's associated with a transcendent God. But they still find benefit to the kinds of things that churches provide for people's mental health, for their relational health, and for their stability. So, what do you make of this emerging phenomenon?

Sean: Yeah. It surprised me about this article. One, is the article claims that these churches in this movement is growing. Now, I'm not sure it provided the evidence to really support that, but the article makes that claim. And if so, I think that's an interesting phenomenon. But there's so few atheists in the culture today that what would growing actually mean compared to other churches is a fair question. But it also surprised me because it's not really a new story. I mean, really with the new atheists, at least to me, we started to see culturally 12, 15 years ago, these atheist churches kind of coming to the fore. Now, at that time, they were a little bit more marginal and it was kind of shocking. Now it's almost becoming normalized and mainstream because the nones, N-O-N-E-S, have grown so significantly over the last 12 to 15 years that this is kind of something we should expect. Now, about a dozen years ago, I went with my wife and my pastor to kind of a secular, free thinking group. They would not have called themselves a church for a lot of reasons, but they had fellowship beforehand. They had coffee and refreshments. They had announcements. They had testimonies of people sharing significant work they had done as a movement. They actually passed around a hat and took donations. And then I was kind of the guest speaker and then we had a conversation about it afterwards. The only thing lacking was music and songs, which by the way, in this article, they describe how oftentimes there are songs that people sing, like in what's described as the Sunday assembly where they had a message about NASA's mission to Pluto. The congregation sang “Across the Universe” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles. And I remember another atheist church, years ago, I was watching kind of a documentary on this and they described how they would sing "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi and "I Did It My Way," these kinds of music. So really, this article says many of these atheists kind of unashamedly borrow kind of the church script because there's something about us needing community, needing relationship, having a purpose that this fulfills.

Scott: Yeah, Ryan Burge has been really clear in the times we've had him on the podcast about how important church is or assemblies like this to people's mental health, to their ongoing relationships. And that's why when we pose the question to him, what do we do with people who say, "Well, I want to love Jesus, but I got no place for the church." And I remember saying, he said, "That is some of the worst advice you would give people is because that assembling together provides something significant." And I think what that illustrates, even for these atheist "churches" that God made us for relationships. God made us for community. And you ignore that at your mental health peril. And that's why I think so many of these things, they're described as sort of sacralizing the secular, but without a transcendent. Because there's something that people know that they were made for community, they were made for relationships. And I don't see how you get that ultimately without appeal to a transcendent God.

Sean: I think that's right. It's worth asking a few questions about this. Number one, how should Christians respond to this? And, one, not all atheist churches from what they describe in this are the same, just like not all Christian churches are the same. Some of these—

Scott: The article does point out that some of these use psychedelic drugs to enhance their spirituality.

Sean: Some use psychedelic drugs, fair enough. And they also said some are not evangelistic at all. They're just trying to create secular ceremonies, relationship, meaning, purpose. This is better sociologically, of course, than people retreating from COVID and not being out in relationship. So, there's a positive thing here. As far as loving our neighbors, we should say, "Great. If you want to get together with people who see the world like you do, like Christians do in church, then go for it. Relationships can be a positive thing." But I think you're right, to me, I don't think these churches are going to work near to the level that a Christian church would work, partly because it's missing the transcendence and the deeper purpose, the deeper calling, the deeper meaning that's built in. So it gets—I'm just making this number up, but it gets like 60% of the way of what it takes to have a successful church really grow and expand. But missing that transcendent responsibility, accountability, purpose, I think is going to prevent it from becoming larger. Now, they describe one mega atheist church in here where a few hundreds of people come. I'm like, "Okay, that's interesting." Just because the numbers of atheists, and I think the nature of the movement, it's never going to remotely rival the Christian church that we see today or even other strictly religious movements.

Scott: I think one major takeaway from this came right at the end of this article that really got my attention. They said the atheist church is still fairly new. They can bring social and emotional benefits. In particular, it can help atheists buffer the negative effects of experiencing stigma or discrimination. And I thought that's a wake up call for how the community of God's people treat people who are atheists. And I wonder if we treated atheists with more respect and had respectful conversations, that the need for this might not be quite as significant as it is.

Sean: I would encourage people if you hear of an atheist church, if it's near you and you're a Christian, go! Don't go picket. Don't go make a big deal about it. Just go listen, go learn, maybe meet some folks, ask if they'll go out for coffee and talk about this, build a relationship, have a conversation with them. I've gone to many meetings like these from atheists. I visited a mosque recently. Christians just need to go and be present. When I met at this atheist group, one of the head guys said to me, he goes, "Man, kudos, you've overcome and you're the first Christians that ever even come to our group." And I thought, "How sad. Why aren't Christians just showing up out of curiosity, love for their neighbors?" So, if you hear of something like this, go check it out, ask questions, lean in and build relationships with folks.

Scott: All right. One more story. This came out in the New York Times earlier this week. In the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, which were the Republican caucuses, which Donald Trump won handily, and it's a response. It's an editorial page in the New York Times. And I think it says something about both the New York Times, but it's a good jumping off place for us to talk about how we connect our Christian faith with our political affiliations. So, since the title of the responsibility of Republican voters, and essentially the story says, if you are a responsible Republican, you can't vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances because he's unfit for office. And they're saying courageous Republicans have got to find their moral backbone and opt for some other alternative besides this person who has no respect for the rule of law, according to the New York Times, and is unfit for office. Now this raises... And Sean, I know you want to comment a bit on what this says about the New York Times, but I think it also is a good jumping off place for us to talk about what is the responsibility, not just of Republican vote, but of Christian voters in this presidential season. Let me make a couple of comments on this, just more generally, at the 35,000 foot level for followers of Christ, how they connect their Christian faith with their political views and preferences. One is, I think, as a follower of Christ, our primary allegiance is first to the kingdom of God, and then to our country, and then to any political allegiance. But the kingdom of God is primary over any political allegiance. And I'm troubled by the anecdotal accounts that I hear of people who are leaving their church because it doesn't agree with their political convictions, as opposed to thinking about how maybe they might need to change some of their political convictions to fit what the demands of their faith are. So, I think we need to make sure we get our primary allegiances right.

But second, I think we've said this several times on our podcast before, that all political platforms are going to have flaws and holes in them. The reason for that is two-fold. One is that they were written by fallen, flawed human beings who have huge self-interest things involved. But the reason for that is because no political platform was written with biblical fidelity as its goal. And, so, every political platform is going to have places where they comport well with Scripture and not so well. And I think it's up to the discerning follower of Christ to discern which parts are consistent with a biblical worldview and which parts are not. So, I think we need to be very careful that our allegiance to the kingdom of God is higher than any political allegiance that we might have.

Sean: That's really well said, putting those priorities, I think, in place. And what I did like about this article is it suggested we do have responsibilities as voters, whether Republican or Democrat, but especially as Christians. So, given that we're entering into what may be one of the most divisive presidential candidates we've certainly seen in my lifetime, what is our responsibility as Christians? Task number one is just to ask that question. Don't take cues from the New York Times. Don't take cues from anywhere else. Simply start by saying, when it's all said and done, like you said, favoring the kingdom, what's my responsibility? Well, I think one is to be in prayer. We are to be prayerful, and that's to change us. I think, second, is to consider both sides. That's one reason I regularly read the New York Times and I listen to podcasts on all sides of this. What you suggested earlier that we just take one side and don't really ask, could I be wrong? Could I be mistaken here? It's important to consider all sides. I think third, to make sure we don't turn politics into idolatry, where we look for a secular savior over our ultimate savior, that's really important. We have the responsibility to be ambassadors for Christ. So, however we vote, we ought to think about our rhetoric and the way we carry ourselves and engage in conversations. If we have differing opinions, are we reflecting the love and truth of Christ in our conversations? When it's all said and done, our duty is to love God and to love others. And so I might differ with some people about how they vote, and I might differ strongly and make my case over it. But when it's all said and done, I'm going to have to give an account to God for how I vote. So, you and I live in California, and I had some people say, "Well, your vote doesn't matter." And I thought, "You know what? My friends in Texas, their vote matters." So, I don't get a pass. I got to think before the Lord at both candidates, their positions and their flaws, and do my best before the Lord to vote, knowing I'll be held accountable for that. My big takeaway for listeners here is just to say, "What is our primary responsibility before God as we approach this election season?" Let's make sure we keep that in mind.

Scott: Yeah, I think that's the main thing here when we approach this political season. That's really well said, Sean. Okay, let's answer a couple of questions.

Sean: Cool.

Scott: We got a couple minutes left here. One of these we've already talked about, we had a really interesting comment from a listener. “The day is coming about the normalization of polyamorous and minor attracted relationships. Could you please offer your perspectives on what's called the Throuple Dating Show from an apologetics and ethics standpoint?” Well, I think we've already done that with our discussion on polyamory, but I thought it was really interesting how timely this question is, given what came out of the New York Magazine today. Sean, here's one. He says, "When outlining the unique position of Jesus among the founders of religions, you mentioned Joseph Smith as one of those who were claiming a role or status of Christ, even though only Jesus claims to be the Son of God. Could you please let me know where, when, and how Joseph Smith claimed a role of status like Jesus by claiming to be the founder of religion, like you mentioned?"

Sean: Okay, so for clarity, sometimes I'll simply make a point, and we've talked about this on the show, that there are founders of major religions, Mohammed, obviously, Jesus in this case. Now, Joseph Smith didn't claim to be founding a new religion. In fact, in his original vision that he had, the claim was that he was told that all the different sects, S-E-C-T-S, of his time, were wrong, and the true church would be restored through him. So, he's claiming to be a prophet in the line of other prophets going back to the Old Testament to restore the true church of Jesus Christ. But even though he claims that, he actually founded a very different religion. There's different scriptures in Mormonism. There's different authority in Mormonism. There's a different view of Jesus in Mormonism. There's a different nature of salvation within Mormonism, and a means by which you are saved. So, he might not have claimed that he was founding a new religion, fair enough, but functionally that's exactly what he did.

Scott: Thank you. Here's another one. This will be the last one we have time for today. This is more a theological question, it's not something we've taken up in the podcast, but I think this listener thinks that we are both professional theologians. [Sean laughs] My question is, “are Old Testament saints like Abel, Seth, Isaac, Jacob born again? Are those who are forgiven of their sins in the Old Testament through the temple sacrifices born again? Is Abraham born again when righteousness was reckoned to him?” So he's sort of asking about salvation in the Old Testament. What do you make of that?

Sean: So, my quick thought is people are saved now by faith. People are saved in the Old Testament by faith. Genesis 15, I believe, verse 6, it says, "Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness." If you buy something on credit, you get to take it home and benefit from it, but you really haven't paid for it yet until it comes out of your account. So, Old Testament saints are saved by faith through what Jesus would accomplish in the future. So, I'm not sure I would use the term born again to describe somebody in the Old Testament, but ultimately they're saved through the same means of Jesus and by faith as we are in the New Testament, Jesus just hadn't come yet in the incarnation.

Scott: Yeah, and when in John 3, when Jesus used the term born again, it's associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, too. And it's not clear that people who believe, who trust, exercise, saving faith based on what they knew given the progress of revelation at that point were actually indwelt or filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way that all New Testament believers are today. I think the role of the Spirit was more specific to specific people for specific tasks in the Old Testament, but not, as far as I can understand, I could be wrong about this, but as far as I understand, not given widely to everyone like the Spirit is given in the New Testament era.

Scott: I think that's right. Very fair.

Sean: Well, we really appreciate the questions and we hope you'll keep them coming. These are good questions. This is all we have time for today. So, we're delighted that you've been with us on this. This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture, the weekly cultural update. If you want to submit comments or questions or make suggestions on issues you'd like us to cover or guesses you'd like to consider or news stories that you'd like us to comment on, please email us at That's This podcast, the weekly cultural update, is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology and Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including our fully online bachelor's in Bible theology and apologetics. Visit in order to learn more. Thanks so much for listening. Give us a rating on your podcast app if you can, and remember, think biblically about everything.