An Open Critique of Chip Henderson's Sermon: "Is There a God?"

Monday, August 3, 2009

Before I get started with my critique of Chip Henderson's sermon on God, let me first provide you with directions to view said sermon.

Click here and then click on "Sermon Video" - though you may view any sermon you wish, for the purpose of this discussion you should view "The Doctrine of God: Is There a God?"

Chip Henderson is the Senior Pastor at Pinelake Church in Brandon, MS. Pinelake Church is considered not only the fastest growing church in Mississippi, but also one of the fastest growing church populations in the South East United States. Pinelake is best described as an evangelical mission. On their website, the requirements for being a member are listed as:

What are the membership requirements at Pinelake? We have three requirements for being a part of the Pinelake family as a member: 1. You must be a follower of Jesus Christ who has been spiritually reborn. Only followers of Jesus Christ can be a member of the “church”. This means that you admit that you have sinned. Then, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son and that He paid the penalty of sin by His death on the cross. And finally, that you trust Jesus Christ by accepting His forgiveness and commit to following Him. 2. You must follow Christ by being baptized by immersion after conversion. 3. You must attend a Starting Point information and membership class and have an interview with our Starting Point team. This assures that you get all the information that you need to make an informed, prayerful decision that Pinelake is the church for you.

The point in posting the requirements for being a member of this church is simply to help the reader better understand the position of the church on basic principles of membership, and thus teachings. I am in no way arguing against it's requirements to join - that is a whole other issue.

In an effort to prevent this post from being any longer than it already will be, I will not write out, in detail, excerpts from Henderson's sermon - I will only quote if needed, and paraphrase as accurately as possible when necessary. I would also like the reader to note that I am not going in order of subjects of conversation; rather, I will be addressing the issues in the order that they were presented within the sermon.

The Doctrine of God: Is There a God?

As Henderson opens his sermon, it is quite easy to see that he has a biased, ill conceived, uninformed, and over confident notion as to what non-believers actually do believe - and more. Henderson begins by stating that Atheists believe "...God is for losers." Now, part of me has to question myself, "is he joking?" or "is this guy so far off his scholarly rocker that he believes his own propaganda?" After a few more minutes of listening, I decided on the latter. Since I am just starting out on my critique of Mr. Henderson, I will spare you all the obvious reasons as to why Atheists do not believe gods are for losers.

Next, Henderson offers the usual scripture as proof of a creator, Romans chapter one. In this chapter, and in particular verse nineteen, the author makes the point that God has "...made evident within us." What this basically means, is that because we have morals a creator must be responsible and have actually given them to us. This is a very common example that is often cited as proof of a god. Christianity is not the first, nor will it be the last, or even the only current religion to use this as proof. The truth is that many religions, cults, and societies have claimed that morals of humanity are clear proof of a creator god, a managing god, or even a gathering of gods. Unfortunately, for religions, this is not ample proof. In fact, for thousands of years societies, villages, and even small groups of people have proven that people work out the morals - not gods in the sky. Morals are not as complex as some might want you to believe. It does not take long for budding groups of people to establish what will be acceptable within the group and what will not be tolerated - a form of social evolution if you will (not in the sense of Darwinism). These tolerable traits of the group are what bind the group together in a cohesive flow of action and judgment. Over the years, these morals are forced to adapt with the ever changing structure of the society. Just look to our world or even to our own country, the United States, over the past 100 years as clear evidence of evolving morals.

I can't really fault Henderson for his attempt to use morals as ample proof of his point - but when he fails at addressing even the simplest points of evolution, his "proof" begins to unravel fairly quickly. Now, before I call Henderson out on his lack of evolutionary knowledge I will concede the point that we are not all Evolutionary Biologists - I am not one, nor is Henderson. That being said, it does not take a vast degree of study to comprehend the basic points of the Evolutionary Theory. Furthermore, it does not take a Masters of Divinity to understand the God Hypothesis. I am neither, and yet I have a fairly good concept of both. This is another one of those cases where ignorance is not an excuse. Most people have a basic understanding of evolution. In fact, I am sure most of you think of the phrase "survival of the fittest" whenever you come across the term "evolution." Many of you just said "he's right" to yourself. Unfortunately - Henderson lacks this understanding and makes it blatantly clear with a story he tells his congregation. In his story, Henderson attempts to prove that the Theory of Evolution holds no water due to the simple fact that it can't account for emotion. That's right, Henderson believes that after all of these years he's about to undo the theory by invoking emotion. Even more outrageous, I fear that a great majority of his congregation actually believed what he was telling them - emotion proves that evolution is flawed, thus creationism is correct. Allow me to explain.

Henderson uses a true, but sad, story about a tragic event involving a mother, a father, and their wheelchair bound daughter. One day, while on a train, horror strikes when the train derails and falls into a body of water. People are trapped in the passenger compartment and must crawl out above the seats via a small opening; however, time is short as water begins to rush in and fill the car. The father knows that there is not enough time for all three of them to escape to safety so he does what most of us would do - he and the mother lift their daughter through the opening into the arms of other passengers before becoming casualties to this tragedy. This is a purely selfless act. Both parents were clearly strong enough to make an escape but chose to sacrifice themselves and save their handicap daughter who could not act for herself. Granted, this story is a great story for church due to its demonstration of a selfless act and a showing of ultimate love - but Henderson stretches the meaning. Henderson claims that this very proof is all that anyone needs in order to understand that evolution is false. Now why is this? Simple. Henderson takes the "survival of the fittest" and actually assumes that is all there is to the theory he is "dismantling" before the eyes of the congregation. Watching the video you can clearly see his face light up with excitement - as he believes he is disproving science. You see, the strongest members sacrificed themselves so that the weaker member could live - thus survival of the unfittest. Henderson claims that the Evolutionary Theory is false due to the fact that this story demonstrated not a survival of the fittest, but a survival of love. Unbeknownst to Henderson, that is not what the theory implies in its full context. In fact, the Evolutionary Theory actually has a term for this very act - altruism - the behavior of an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind. Another way to phrase this is the principle for unselfish concern for others. Though often times it is the strongest and most adaptive members of a species group that survives, it is also a fact that sometimes the strongest of the group must sacrifice themselves in order to assist in the survival of the species group as a whole - whether it benefits the entire group or, as in this case, a single member. Another example of this would be animals that give warning cries to the group when a predator is near - though risking their own safety by alerting the predator to their own location. Henderson, once again, has failed at his attempt for proof and has also miseducated his congregation in the process.

Next, Henderson makes several claims that offer proof to his point, I will do my best to address them in as little wording as possible unless they warrant a longer response. Our desire for something greater than ourselves and events outside our control is a clear bit of evidence for God, according to Henderson. I also have to disagree with this statement and will rely on history for a quick argument. Since the beginning of time, and only when religious belief was present, humans have often accused god(s) as the responsible party for events we were yet capable of explaining. Examples of said events are earthquakes, volcano eruptions, meteorite activity, lunar and solar eclipses - and so on. Simply put - god was often credited for events that we could either, not control, or were yet capable of explaining with evidence. Most of us now know what are the real causes of the events I just listed, we are able to find and present actual proof as to their nature; Henderson, on the other hand, has not yet proved god.

What's a good old fashioned southern sermon on the proof of god without spreading lies and hate about non-believers? Henderson's next statement blew me away because I at least thought he might have some southern charm - I was wrong. Henderson offers the claim that "Atheists seek pleasure in place of God." Is he serious? I know a few atheists and I have yet to witness them being gluttons for pleasure; in fact, I know a great deal of "bible thumpers" that seek pleasure more than anyone else I know. This statement is once again a scare tactic - it is Henderson's attempt to put fear in the hearts of his congregation. I can picture 17 year old Billy in the audience thinking "Oh no, I do a lot of things centered on pleasure and I believe in God...I'm being so bad in this life." It's been a useful tactic for ages - Christians are good, gluttons are bad; however, gluttony does not follow religious boundaries.

Henderson soon makes yet another claim about Atheists - "Atheists ignore evidence about God because it's not what they want to hear, and they are afraid of the truth." Henderson is, once again, wrong. The simple truth is that Atheists are not afraid of evidence. In fact, if they can be shown substantial proof that a god exists then they are more than willing to believe. Whereas creationists, clearly ignore evidence of evolution and do not want to be shown evidence of such, or even find ways to explain it away. This act of some creationists is evidence of a term I like to call "blinding faith." They have allowed their passion for belief to get in the way of reason and reality. Now, before many of you become offended by what I just said, please understand that you, probably, do not fall under the category of "blinding faith." There is absolutely nothing wrong with having faith and a certain set of beliefs as long as your are willing to open your eyes to substantial evidence. Churches of the world have adapted their stance on certain scientific issues for hundreds of years due to overwhelming evidence, some people have not.

Since we're on the subject of failed points of proof I'll go ahead and mention that Henderson also used the "painting must have a painter" talking point. I don't think this even needs explanation since you can clearly deduce that he meant "creation must have a creator". Instead of wasting more of my time debating this point I will direct you towards a great book titled The Blind Watchmaker. Furthermore, Henderson also says that since "nature has a rhythm and always has, there must be a creative force behind it." This too is not true, for Earth has varied in natural cycles and seasons of change for billions of years - there is nothing constant but time. Religion loves to try and explain the concept of order, but has no answer for chaos.

I WILL grant Henderson this next point in his use of the "cause and effect" argument: "No one can prove that the Big Bang is responsible for life, nor can we prove that God is." He couldn't be more correct. The plain truth is that no one can prove either case. I will admit, however, that I am confused by this since he has now spent quite a bit of time trying to prove his case. My agreement with him ends, though, when he says "Atheists have faith just as we do. They have faith that God is not real just as we have faith as believers that He is real and responsible for all." This, too, could not be further from the truth - Atheists do not use faith in the religious sense of the term. Atheists have faith that gravity is real, they can prove it. Atheists do not have faith in the non-existence of god as believers have faith in the existence of Him. This, once again, demonstrates Henderson's very poor knowledge (or lack thereof) of non-believers and their beliefs.

Towards the end of his sermon, I find myself captivated by a singular subject that Henderson brings up - the universe. Henderson goes at length in discussing how big the universe (thus God) is, yet stresses the truth of creationism and the Creationist point of view. I find this very interesting because Creationists date everything to the age of right around six thousand years old; whereas, studies of the universe, and thus the Evolutionists belief, dates some areas of the universe to 14.5 billion years old. I find it odd that Henderson would severely contradict himself with this, yet he does. Henderson quickly gets back into his routine though and sums up his sermon with one more insult for non-believers. "Atheists do not want to believe in God because there will be consequences for their actions," according to Henderson. Henderson even cites Psalms 14:1 which basically states, "the fools says 'there is no god.'" This, too, is not true - Atheists' absence of belief in a god is due to lack of evidence and agreement with reason (science) and experience. On this point, ancient Romans often wrote about their disbelief in how their enemies could not believe in their own gods... come to think of it, most if not all religions make this very point. Therefore, are all religions correct, only a few, or none? Let's look just at monotheism on a scaled down view: Muslims believe they are right and everyone else is wrong - the same holds true for Jews and Christians, but all three can't be right, not even two of them can be right - are any of them correct at all? Ask yourself this - if you were born in the mountains of Pakistan, would you currently be a Christian? Or would you, in fact, be a devout Muslim sitting on the other side of the fence thinking the very things you currently think, but about another religion?

With all due respect Chip Henderson, your sermon lacked knowledge, clear understanding of the material, reason, and humility. You would do your congregation a great deal of service if the next time you want to discuss the God Hypothesis, or even another subject... you do your research completely - and take notes.

I know I have opened a huge number of different subjects with this post - I intend to address some of these at a later date. Please understand this was a critical post on Henderson and his lack of understanding and the shame he should have for misrepresenting the beliefs of others.

Words are wisdom.