Question of the Week: Why Do We Debate?

Regarding in-house debates, to what end do we debate? Is the goal to agree to disagree? Debate but not divide? Sproul and MacArthur are good modern examples. They don’t agree on baptism. One’s covenant theology, the other’s dispensational. Yet friends. Whitefield said he would see Wesley in heaven, is that our view? Warfield found good in Miley’s writing. Can we have anything good to say about Arminians? And vice versa? There maybe irreconcilable differences but can we get along? Do we even want to?

Donald Hightower
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Comments 5
  1. Don’t do back flips over in house debate. When I graduated from an Anabaptist Seminary the president came up to me and shock my hand and said “Congratulations, The war between the Lutherans and the Anabaptist is over, you graduated.” A few months earlier my Lutheran Candidacy Committee told me I was not Lutheran enough. In reality I am a Lutheran/Reformist in a white alb. In debate there has to be a winner, yet in discussion there is learning.

  2. I love debates. It gives me quick 1 liners to throw in Arminian or Calvinist face. Depending on who I want to annoy on which day

    Only about 3% of in house debates do I find edifing. But I do enjoy watching Dr White carve ppl up.

  3. I agree with Jeremy and Eric that debates must be respectful. In fact, I’ve found friendly debates to be very productive. The debates atheist philospher C.E.M. Joad and theologian Arnold Lunn created not only a friendship between the two, but the transformation of the atheist into a Christian.

    I love the story about Lunn. He was the son of a Methodist lay preacher, but his inadequate Sunday school instruction drove him toward agnosticism. “I found myself defenceless — thanks to the miserable deficiency of Anglican education — against his onslaughts,” he says of reading Leslie Stephen’s, “An Agnostic’s Apology.”

    In 1924, Lunn wrote a book called, “Roman Converts,” basically bashing the five prominent converts to Catholicism—John Henry Newman, Henry Edward Manning, George Tyrell, G.K. Chesterton, and Ronald Knox.

    In 1930, Lunn published The Flight from Reason and asked to dialogue with Knox regarding RC. Knox agreed. Lunn pushed forth all his objections against RC, and Knox refuted them. This dialogue was carried on for more than a year, writing letters to each other. End result: Lunn changed his mind and converted to Catholicism. You can find these great exchanges in a book called, “Difficulties: A Correspondence About the Catholic Religion,” published in 1932.

    In 1932, now Lunn, now a Christian, accepts a challenge from philosopher C.E.M. Joad to dialogue about Christianity. Joad begins the attack on Christian faith, Lunn responds, and breaks down all of Joad’s arguments. Their correspondence is found in the book, “Is Christianity True? A Correspondence between Arnold Lunn and C.E.M. Joad.”

    In all their arguments, they maintained a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s intellects. Lunn says of his debates, “I can imagine no better training for the Church than to spend, as I did, a year arguing the case against Catholicism with a Catholic, and a second year in defending the Catholic position against an agnostic.”

    In recent years, we find the same story with atheistic philosopher Anthony Flew who moved toward theism following a series of dialogues and discussions with his friend and philosophical opponent Gary Habermas.

    In short, there has always been a positive function to Spirit-led debate. We just need to focus on tearing down false arguments and doctrines, without tearing down the person.

  4. I absolutely HATE debates! Rarely have I ever walked away from a debate feeling as if God’s been glorified.

    I confess, most of the time I decide to debate someone is because I feel that their point of view is absolutely incorrect & that it needs correcting.

    In house, I do believe that there are times when it is necessary and that debates can be healthy & productive! Public debates, however, usually end up being a disaster. It’s usually the public who witnessed the debate that ends up suffering.

    The nature of debates is confrontational. I agree with Jeremy, that debates, “…particularly among believers, needs to be done with a heart of humility and a desire to understand those who we may disagree with.”

    This is actually what I would call a discussion. To be honest that’s what I would rather have!

  5. One of the most interesting things I ever read relates to an interaction between Spurgeon and Moody. Spurgeon had invited Moody to preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle to which Moody responded,

    “In regard to coming to your Tabernacle, I consider a great honour to be invited; and, in fact, I should consider it an honour to black your boots; but to preach to your people would be out of the question. If they will not turn to God under your preaching, ‘neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”

    I think debate, particularly among believers, needs to be done with a heart of humility and a desire to understand those who we may disagree with. Even if we are wildly confident in our views we also need to be sensitive to the fact that we don’t know everything, and our confidence may be in error.

    I have often said in my preaching that if you don’t like an aspect of the sermon then go home, open your Bible, and prove me wrong. If you do, and you happily remain confident in your view, then at least I have succeeded in driving you to search the Scriptures more deeply and wrestle with the deep truths of God again.

    If we go into debate with nothing more than a desire to prove ourselves right, we’ve already lost before we’ve ever begun.

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