Preachers, Philosopher Square Off in ABC Debate on Satan

When Annie Lobert was being abused, raped and constantly facing death during her years as a Las Vegas escort, she knew the devil was real. And he almost got her life.

Only then when she realized Satan and his legion of demons existed, she was able to cry out to God and be saved.

"[God] exists and the devil exists. I know that God's in my heart and the only way I could see God was to know that the devil was real," Lobert, who founded Hookers for Jesus, said in an ABC Nightline debate, which aired Thursday.

The anticipated debate was around the existence of Satan and was the third installment of Nightline's "Face-Off" series. Moderated by Dan Harris, the Face-Off was hosted at Mars Hill Church in Seattle where hundreds from both sides of the debate came out to watch and participate.

While some Christians were disappointed that no apologists were on stage to argue that Satan does exist, Lobert and Mars Hill preaching pastor Mark Driscoll provided heart-felt testimonies and rebuttals that garnered much applause.

So "why would a loving God create Satan?" Harris posed.

"I think He created angels and people and He gave us the capacity to have free will," Driscoll responded. "For there to be virtue, there must be the possibility of vice and that's (having free will) what distinguishes those of us – people and angels – from other forms of creation (trees, animals)."

"God didn't create evil ... He created free will. And Satan and the demons and human beings have chosen to disobey, to rebel and that's the source of the trouble, according to the teaching of the Bible," said Driscoll who argued that Satan was an angel but walked away from God's intention for him.

Then why did God create choice? Harris followed up.

"If you don't allow choice, the theologians will say you don't have love," Driscoll stated. "Love requires volition and that God does not want automatons; He wants persons. The argument is made that if God were not allowing choice, you wouldn't have evil but you also would not have love."

Driscoll's argument opened debate to other widely contentious issues. Arguing against the existence of Satan, philosopher Deepak Chopra, author of Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment, said he found it difficult to respond to Driscoll because "everything he says is in contradiction to what we know about the physical universe that began about 13.8 billion years ago in something called the Big Bang."

"The Bible that he quotes as authority is totally in contradiction with everything that we know about cosmology, about evolution, about biology, mathematics, physics and about everything that allows us to understand who we are," Chopra said, adding that he doesn't deny that there may be a "divine intelligence."

Back on the main topic, Chopra said he doesn't believe there is an external Satan figure, or what he described as the "boogie man." He argued that people unnecessarily project their shame and guilt onto a mythical figure they call Satan when they should be confronting their own "shadows" (fear, shame, guilt, sin) and moving toward enlightenment (understanding, revelation, insight).

"Healthy people do not have any need for Satan," Chopra argued. "I don't need the devil because I don't have the guilt and shame that you people have."

"We are part of an ineffable mystery that the moment we label that mystery as 'good and evil,' 'right and wrong' then we create conflict in the world and ... all the trouble in the world today is between religious ideologies," he added.

"So I'd say be done with Satan and confront your own issues."

Bishop Carlton Pearson, who is often labeled as a heretic for his Gospel of Inclusion preaching, once believed in the devil and even cast out demons, he said. But now, after "reassessing" himself, he believes that the devil and demons are merely manifestations of what people believe.

"You become what you think about. If you're thinking about devil you'll have him," said Pearson, who chooses to focus more on a loving God than a judgmental one.

He further argued, "Scripture says that God created everything and everything God created is good ... so if everything that is created, God created ... and it is good ... then what is evil but some aspect of good, possibly perverted or contorted or inaccurate or misunderstood."

"So it's confusing to see God with two faces. One, He's loving and then he has this customized torture chamber where he's going to send all your relatives who aren't saved and you if you smoke," Pearson said to some laughter from the audience.

Pearson admitted that his beliefs are still evolving and that he's going through a "spiritual renaissance."

"I'm just trying to re-present the Christ consciousness, culture that's not so violent," he highlighted. "I dismiss this monster that we call the devil that has so pervaded the thinking of people."

While Pearson believes the demons he cast out of people in the past were demons that he and other believers invented, to Lobert of Hookers for Jesus, demons are very real.

"I saw demons," she said in the debate. Like many other girls in the industry, she said she was held down by demons and raped. There wasn't anyone there physically but she said she could not move.

"They're spirits," she explained.

Pearson and Chopra could not deny Lobert her experience especially since it led her to a better place, but they did not accept it.

Driscoll later clarified that people cannot blame the devil for everything. While Satan may tempt or influence, it is the people who ultimately make the decision and thus "we're morally responsible for that action."

But the good news is, "God sends Jesus to die for our sins, sends God the holy spirit to tell us the truth so we don't believe in his (Satan's) lies, to give us the strength to say no to his temptations and He allows and enables us to win in the battle that we are in spiritually," he said.

Why doesn't God just stop Satan? Harris posed.

Driscoll replied, saying history is still being made.

"The point of Jesus on the cross in dying for our sins, Jesus canceled the right that Satan had to rule over us, influence our thoughts to have an effect on our eternity and that ultimately Jesus is coming back to put a final end to Satan and his works," the Mars Hill pastor stated.

"We're in the middle of history and ...ultimately Satan we be ultimately, finally defeated. Sin and all of its effects will be lifted and the earth and humanity will return back to the state that God intended - which was very good."

Following the taping last Friday, Mars Hill lead pastor Jamie Munson wrote in the church blog that many in the audience – Christians and non-Christians – were engaging in conversations about Jesus.

Originally, self-proclaimed former Christian Bart Ehrman was scheduled to debate on the side of Satan does not exist, according to Driscoll, but backed out.

Only segments of the nearly two-hour long debate aired on TV Thursday. The more complete debate can be found on ABC's website.

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