Darkness and Light in Brazil
Dr. Craig recently visited Brazil and found in that beautiful country a disturbing mix of Christianity and the occult, atheistic philosophies in the universities, and a sincere hunger for truth among the people.
Darkness and Light in Brazil
We had never visited South America before, and the chance to go to Brazil, and especially to Rio de Janeiro, was really a treat.
It is disturbingly often syncretistic. They told us very often evangelical Christianity is blended in with African spiritism.
Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Today, a journey to Brazil. Dr. Craig, you've been quite the jet setter this past spring. Three different countries, along with Brazil, the Nordic speaking tours, and Hungary. Today, all about Brazil. Let's go!
Dr. Craig: This has been a remarkable spring for Jan and me. I haven't done very much domestic speaking here in the United States because we've been abroad so much on these major speaking tours which has taken us to quite a number of different countries. And the first was to Brazil, which was our first South American trip. We had never visited South America before and the chance to go to Brazil, and especially to Rio de Janeiro, was really a treat.
Kevin Harris: These countries couldn't be more different, that you've been visiting. [laughter] You've got Brazil, Scandinavia – the Nordic speaking tour – and then the European Leadership Forum that you did.
Dr. Craig: Right, the difference between the Brazilian, Latin culture and then Sweden and Finland couldn't be more pronounced, so it was a wonderful variety. And yet, you know, Kevin, it's interesting: Christians have that common bond everywhere. You sense the same warmth, the same common love of the Lord, same sort of values, no matter where you go there is that common bond in Christ that transcends culture.
Kevin Harris: I'm excited that there actually is an organization, in fact several, in Brazil in particular, Vida Nova is a publishing house that wants to bring philosophy and apologetics to the Brazilian church and they sponsored this tour.
Dr. Craig: They did. I was really delighted to meet the people with Vida Nova. It is a publishing house in Brazil that specializes in bringing the top English materials in Portuguese translation to Brazilian readers. So they really have a very enviable line of books that they put out because they're able to cull from the very top authors that are published by a variety of publishers in the English speaking world, and they so to speak cherry pick the very best of the best, and then publish them in Portuguese translation to help build up the Brazilian church in it's understanding of theology and fortunately apologetics. Vida Nova is very committed to seeing that the Brazilian church is equipped in the defense of the faith, and so they have translated five of my own works, including Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, which is a massive textbook, into Portuguese. And while we were there they were releasing the third edition of Reasonable Faith in Portuguese. They had actually published the first edition earlier on, but, again, it's a measure of their commitment to quality, that when the third edition came out they weren't content to rest with the first edition, they wanted the third edition as well in Portuguese. And so they were releasing it during the time of the tour and sponsored me to come and speak at various locations in Sao Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro in connection with this book release.
Kevin Harris: We often have the notion of Brazil as being a hotbed of religious diversity, and also the occult, the cults, and evangelicalism that is there is growing. It tends to be very emotional, more charismatic perhaps is a way to describe that. Was that verified when you went? Did you find that?
Dr. Craig: Yes it was. This is what they told us as well, and it's one of the challenges that Vida Nova faces. The Brazilian evangelical church is surging and growing but it is very emotional. It tends to be personality driven. You have these megachurch pastors who build this organization around themselves. And as you said, Kevin, it is disturbingly often syncretistic. They told us that very often evangelical Christianity is blended in with African spiritism. And they said many of these so-called evangelical churches really are not Christian at all. They deny the deity of Christ; they deny the Trinity, of course; they're in to health and wealth preaching. So some of these groups can be extremely bizarre doctrinally and do strange things. For example, in Sao Paulo one of these megachurches is building the temple of Herod in Sao Paulo. They're rebuilding the second temple that was destroyed in Jerusalem in Sao Paulo. We drove by it and it's in the most squalid, ghetto area of Sao Paulo. Every building is just covered with graffiti, it's filthy, it's poor. And there in the midst of this slum is rising this enormous structure with these huge columns where they're building the temple.
Kevin Harris: Wow, in hopes, I guess, that Christ will return.
Dr. Craig: Well, I wondered that. I asked them, “Why are they doing this?” Was it to usher in the Messianic age? And they said they weren't sure if that was the motive. They said that they think that they'll actually hold church services in this. So they'll actually use the temple as a place to hold their meetings. But that kind of gives you a flavor of some of the edginess of the Brazilian Protestant church, which is growing at a great rate, but also experiencing tremendous attrition and backsliding as people fall out of this as well once the claims or promises of health and wealth don't pan out.
Kevin Harris: Is this due, you think, Bill – speculate a little bit – to a lot of the poverty that is in Brazil? In one sense you've got areas of Brazil that are growing economically, in the other sense you've got squalid, very poor areas.
Dr. Craig: Yes, they call these the favelaswhich are sort of squatter communities or squatter districts. They're not incorporated as legal towns but there will be just gigantic populations of people who are just squatting, in a sense, on land, building these dilapidated buildings. And they're controlled by organized crime. They are crime-ridden. We were told in many cases the police are afraid to go into these favelas because they are armed with all kinds of heavy weaponry that could take on the best the police could bring. And they're controlled by drug rings which supply to these slum communities electricity, television, cable service. They run the communities in effect and supply all of the things that they need for municipal services, but they're not really legal. So there is a lot of that in Brazil along with tremendous wealth and growth of business and entrepreneurship and so forth. So it's very much a sort of have/have-not culture in certain ways.
Kevin Harris: Well, to clarify what I meant – I know we jumped from Herod's temple straight into that, but the health and wealth, the prosperity type doctrines, generally appeal to those who are struggling financially and everything. It's very deceptive. They are hoping that if they come in and do the right formula before God that he's going to guarantee them health and wealth and so on.
Dr. Craig: Yes, which is what they so desperately need, some of them, being so poor.
Kevin Harris: Got an issue there. And then you've got an issue of course with this syncretistic mixture of the occult and the Christian faith, which couldn't be at more odds.
Dr. Craig: That's exactly right. So there's great need there. The church desperately needs training in sound doctrine and apologetics, and that's part of the vision that Vida Nova has for why it exists, and it was a great privilege to see this first hand and to be a part of this equipping of the church in a small way.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, and I would see your audience here in education, in leadership, that you were training – you weren't speaking directly to the people, you were speaking to the leadership.
Dr. Craig: By and large. Well, there were two groups of people. I very much wanted to do some evangelistic speaking in university contexts because I was told that in Brazil philosophy departments are dominated by French thought and Marxism, and they're very hostile to Christianity even though this is a Catholic country nominally. The philosophy departments are Marxist and French Continental philosophy. And Christian philosophy is just unheard of; they have been untouched by the revolution in Christian philosophy that's gone on in the Anglophone realm over the last fifty years. So I was very anxious to have some input into university campus speaking. And I did two events of that nature that were the bookends of the tour, so to speak. We began with that in Sao Paulo and then we finished, as well, at another university in Sao Paulo with that.
In between were conferences that were aimed, as you say, at leaders. In the one case a theologian's conference that was attended by about four hundred and fifty people who would be pastors, other people in ministry, seminary professors, and so forth; we spent several days with them at a retreat center outside of Sao Paulo. And then at a smaller conference in Rio de Janeiro that was also supposed to be for pastors, though judging by the look of the audience it looked more like a young people's conference. It was amazing all of the young twenty-somethings that were in that audience. And so we spoke to them as well.
We also did an outreach at the largest bookstore in Soa Paulo called FNAC, it's a French company which has an enormous multi-story bookstore in the city. I did a book signing and taught there in the public way right in the bookstore, which was a wonderful way to gather a crowd. It was really very, very fun. I then took questions from the audience. I then did a lot of media interviews with the magazine that is the sort of Time magazine of Brazil, as well as a number of Christian magazines and other news organizations.
So it was a trip full of variety in terms of the sort of audiences we reached out to primarily with academics – folks who were seminary professors themselves, or teaching, or who would be training pastors. We were able to speak with them to a degree. Though you have to remember, since we don't speak Portuguese and they typically didn't speak English, the amount of interaction we could have would be only through a translator. And so that would be fairly minimal in terms of that direct conversational contact.
Kevin Harris: By the way, I wanted to back up just a moment, Bill, and ask you to recount some highlights or just some earmarks of French philosophy and Marxism.
Dr. Craig: Well, of course the overwhelming presupposition would be atheism. It would be that there is no God, there is no supernatural, so a naturalistic view. And it would also tend to be materialistic, as well; that the material universe or physical universe is all there is. And to a certain extent – now this would differ whether it was French or Marxist – whether it would be postmodern or not, whether it would reject traditional canons of logic and rationality, or whether it would hold to a kind of scientism. In either case it would be hostile to Christianity’s claim to have theological truth. In either case the notion that theology is a source of knowledge would be rejected.
Kevin Harris: I suspect, Bill, that the average Brazilian university student is going to be caught between two extremes. You've got the extreme emotionalism and syncretism of a common people and the mish-mash of religious ritual and the occult. And then on the other end you've got their professors saying this is all just crazy nonsense, and all you have to do is look at it to be able to tell. So they're caught in between these two extremes, and it sounds like to me that you brought in some middle knowledge. [laughter]
Dr. Craig: And it was to that group that we were primarily speaking. I did not speak in any churches, so I didn't speak in any situations where we would be addressing those sort of laypersons. It was pretty much in these academic environments where we were talking with students or adults who have come under the influence of those who would be more secular and who would depreciate Christianity by pointing to the follies and excesses of evangelicalism in Brazil and, as you say, ridicule it and reject it.
Kevin Harris: Again, this is part of the vision of Reasonable Faith to go in and make known that there are answers to these big questions, but also to set in motion a change in the culture where the Christian faith can be considered, because if you've got these two extremes, then – boom – it's just written out of court.
Dr. Craig: That's exactly right. One of the reasons I was so eager to go to Brazil is because great numbers of Brazilians have been coming to the Reasonable Faith website. After the principal English speaking countries – like Canada, the UK, and Australia – the number four country visiting our website is Brazil, surprisingly enough. And so I was very eager to go there to have some sort of input into the Brazilian church because they have already shown tremendous interest in the kind of ministry we have to offer. And when we were there it was so encouraging to meet some of these young Christian students who are coming up and who have been helped by the material and are excited about making a difference in their culture.
Kevin Harris: Thanks for joining us on Reasonable Faith with Dr. Craig. In the next couple of podcasts we'll explore the countries in which Bill has traveled. Lots of behind the scenes things and some real insights into what's going on around the world. Be sure and check out our website in the meantime at ReasonableFaith.org and get great resources for you, your friends, and your family, to take you deeper in your walk with God, and hear about his refreshing rain falling all over the world through Reasonable Faith. That's ReasonableFaith.org. We'll see you next time.
 Total Running Time: 16:48 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)