In this piece a reader of Apprising Ministries writes with a question based on a Washington Post article carried by Christian Research Net called Sparring Over Things Unseen, which concerns a debate between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian Alister McGrath:
I am curious of your opinion on these so called “debates” that Christians feel they must get into with blatant, rebellious, mockers of God. I understand presenting them the truth as Paul did on Mars Hill, but Paul came at their invite because they had heard what he said in the past and wanted to hear more:
17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were 1conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?”
Paul didn’t say, “Let’s meet up on Mars Hill so I can debate you on the issue of “my God is bigger than your god” or “God verses No God”. It just seems like the way we handle this today, is to fall into Satan’s trap that the Gospel is just one of “many” truths and we fall into giving lies equal footing with the word of God. We debate the Gospel, but we don’t proclaim it, as we are commanded. It also seems to show a lack of belief in the fact that it is God who changes the stony hearts of men (and not our clever arguments).
In answer to your question; yes, this would be a bit of a controversial thing to do especially for the reason you mention: engaging “blatant, rebellious, mockers of God.” Although this kind of thing was very common in the 1800’s even with those who were Calvinists and believed in the doctrines of grace. As a matter of fact a man who influenced me quite a bit, Dr. Walter Martin, was known to have these kinds of debates.
The idea of this kind of apologetic is kind of based on 1 Corinthians 9:19 – For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. As in if someone is academic, then be academic. Make sense?
Also Jesus Himself is on record “arguing” as in debate – One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer,… (Mark 12:28). The real problem is people like Rick Warren ought not to do this kind of thing.
In the case of Dr. Alister McGrath we have a man who is a trained academic and a very good apologist in the area of science. Being that he is “professor of historical theology at Oxford University…and microbiologist, Christian and author of several books rebutting atheism.”
Sadly, many who try and do this kind of thing – such as Ray Comfort and especially Kirk Cameron – are just not trained for it and are way out of their league. Which is where “the way we handle this today, is to fall into Satan’s trap that the Gospel is just one of ‘many’ truths and we fall into giving lies equal footing with the word of God. We debate the Gospel, but we don’t proclaim it, as we are commanded.”
So in our generation there needs to be a better balance between – but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) and what you say below concerning the actual result of so many of these so-called debates: “It also seems to show a lack of belief in the fact that it is God who changes the stony hearts of men (and not our clever arguments).”
I pray this helps a bit.
Blessings in Christ,
Ken Silva, pastor-teacher