The Dangers of Debate

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, in his book Preaching and Preachers, says that Christians should never allow God to become the subject of debate. God is who He is, says Lloyd-Jones, and does not submit to the intellectual speculations of man. The Bible says that God has revealed Himself to all mankind, and man’s refusal to acknowledge the God of the Bible is simple rebellion. If we debate about God, then we are saying that man’s problem is intellectual, rather than moral. But the carnal man is not able to understand spiritual things, so that the Christian has no meeting point, no place to start the discussion, since there is literally nothing that we truly agree on.

I’m not sure if I agree. Obviously I’ve been debating about God a lot lately, so I haven’t been true to Lloyd-Jones’ position. But Lloyd-Jones’ position might be supported by my recent experiences in debating, which have not been very satisfying.

Ed Brayton from Dispatches from the Culture Wars is a very intelligent person. He debated me fiercely, refused to see any of my points, and had lengthy refutations for every one of my posts. After a certain point, I’d give up, at which point Ed would goad me into another confrontation where he would do the same thing. He tied me up in knots and deflected what I felt were the real issues with sidetracks and tangents. At the end of it, I felt like I’d been wrestling with a pig, with the only result being that we both got really muddy. His supporters on his site were naturally unanimous in declaring his victory and pronouncing me to be deluded, moronic, silly, and uninformed. And I became like the thing I criticized, becoming arrogant myself and making the argument about me, instead of about God, by the end of the discussion. At the end, I just felt vaguely soiled, and not just from all the personal abuse and name-calling I received. I have this vague feeling of having somehow demeaned the name of God, although it’s difficult for me to pin down why. Perhaps Lloyd-Jones is right. Perhaps the act of engaging in debate about the righteousness of God’s actions is itself unworthy of who God is. Who are we to question him? And as Van Til would have said, by even engaging in the debate, perhaps I justify the unbeliever’s belief that God is subject to his judgment.

What was accomplished by all of this? I spent two weeks and thousands of words and got nowhere. As far as I know, nobody on either side of the debate learned a thing or moved in their positions at all. At best, I suppose I could say I learned from my mistakes. But what did I learn, exactly? Better debating techniques? Or the foolishness of getting into those kinds of debates at all? Those who already agreed with me said my arguments were bulletproof. Those who disagreed with me said my arguments were ridiculous and without any merit at all.

I think I need to just take a break from these debates for a while at least, and ponder these lessons. I’m just not sure what to take from all of this.

Proverbs 26:

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.

According to Scripture, anyone who refuses to see the truth of the Bible is a fool. Therefore, when dealing with unbelievers, you are always on one side or the other of those two verses. How do you know? And how can you avoid both errors? Was I preventing Ed from being wise in his own eyes? If that’s the goal, I failed miserably. Or, was I becoming like him? That alternative seems more likely.

This post may earn me the honor of being one of Ed’s “Idiots of the Week”. But if I suffer shame for Christ, it should be a glory to me. If the worst thing that happens to me is that a guy like that ridicules me, it’s a small price to pay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *