Monday, August 20, 2007

Don't be a walking debate

What i'm writing has been on my heart for quite some time, but most notably in the past few weeks. In a way i'm speaking to myself just as much as I am to all others that this might apply to. What am I referring to? I'm referring to those that we might call a walking debate. "Mike.e, what in the world is a walking debate?" Glad you asked :-)

A "walking debate" is a person who eats and breathes theological debate. All this person wants to do is fight. He loves to flex his theological muscles. The best thing anyone could ever tell him is, "wow, thats a great point. I'll have to look into it and get back to you." The "walking debate" sees this not as a sign of humility but a sign as defeat; "He's looking into it! That means I stumped him!!"

You see, the "walking debate" isn't concerned with truth or saving souls. He wants to win arguments. Now, he may claim that he is doing this for the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we all know that actions speak louder than words. He spends hours upon hours in chat rooms and message boards. Saying "I'm not sure, i'll have to look into that" is not an option. To him, that is a sign of weakness. Again, its all about winning.

Why am I even bringing all of this up? Because as one who is regularly involved in apologetics, who regularly is engaged in theological discussion and debate, I need to be careful that I don't become a "walking debate." Back in my early days of studying apologetics I found myself spending hours upon hours in chat rooms and discussion boards. Why? Was it my true intention to see the unbelievers that I was debating come to know the Jesus Christ that I knew; the one who saved me from my sins? Maybe to some degree. But I knew in my heart of hearts that there was a debater inside of me that wanted nothing more to simply win the debate.

But think about this for a moment. What happens if you do "win" the debate? What then? Let's say, for instance, that you convinced your evolutionist friend that archeoptryx isn't really a transitional fossil. What then? All you've done is impressed on his mind doubt that one out of thousands of so-called transitional fossils isn't all that its made out to be. Are you going to be able to do the same for the other fossils?

What i'm trying to say is let's not "debate" for the sake of debating. Let's debate for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And let us do so in accordance with the Scriptures in 2 Timothy 2:23-26,

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels." (v. 23)

Before we jump the gun here and say that Paul is here saying that we should no longer engage in theological debate, let's think about what Paul is saying. First, there are a few different ways to translate "speculations." (Greek, zētēsis) Thayer's Greek provides the following definitions:

a seeking, enquiry, a questioning, debate, a subject of questioning or debate, matter of controversy.

So we see that "speculation" is one of many possible translations. But the point is, whether it should be translated "speculation" or "debate," we should heed to the Apostle Paul's command to avoid foolish debate. And how do we know what is and isn't a foolish debate? Fortunately, this passage is quite specific. Paul identifies a "foolish" debate as one that produces quarrels. But doesn't all debate produce quarrels? In a sense they do. But we all know that Paul, and ultimately Jesus Christ (who inspired Scripture), would be hypocrites if they were commanding all Christians to avoid anything and everything that caused "quarrels." And the reason I say this because the Apostle Paul was constantly in the the temple preaching and debating the Jews. Do you think that Paul caused a few Jews to get a little bit upset? You bet he did. In fact, they got so upset that they often wanted to kill Paul. So do you really think that Paul was really commanding Timothy to not engage in theological debate when he himself was doing it? I don't think so. What I believe Paul is emphasizing is not so much the debate itself, or even the results. Instead, I think that he is emphasizing the intent or desire.

"The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (v. 24-26)

First, Paul tells us that we should be "kind to all." As one who engages in debate, are you being kind? Are you respecting the person, but at the same time strongly disagreeing with his beliefs? I think that the moment we engage in personal attack, name calling (Ad-hominem), or anything else that would distract from the actual issue at hand, then you are violating this command of Scripture.

Second, Paul tells us to be able to teach. Are you able to teach? Or are you only able to debate? As I mentioned before, if you "win the debate," then you have actually accomplished very little unless that person shows any sign of spiritual activity (that they Holy Spirit may be at work within them). But let's say that you spent 2 years attempting to convince your Jehovah's Witness friend that the Watchtower is a false prophet and shouldn't be trusted. Finally he realized this and removed himself from the bondage of the organization. What then? Because you're so used to trying to win arguments, you've forgotten how to clearly present the gospel when someone finally shows signs of vulnerability.

Thirdly, we are told to be "patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition." Why are we told this? I think there are many reasons we could come up with. But what comes to mind is that Paul is trying to keep us honest. If we aren't able to display Christian virtues such as patience and gentleness, then I think we need to examin our motives.

Lastly, we are told in verses 25-26 that if we follow these commands, then God may lead this person to repentance. This is where reformed theology comes in. If it is God who saves and draws men to Himself apart from their will, then why are we getting frustrated and angry when unbelievers don't accept the gospel? As Calvinists, we believe that all men apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit are absolutely incapable of accepting the gospel message. They must first be born again.

I think the reason many of us are prone to become "walking debates" is because we, as Calvinists (that is, if you are one), have a hard time accepting that God can actually save apart from our arguments. Yes, we will debate predestination until the cows come home, but when it comes to actually applying or theology to the real world, we become inconsistent and our sinful natures become apparent. But why get upset at our failed arguments when, in our heart of hearts, we know that no argument can convince them in the first place? Why not trust that God is glorified when His truth is proclaimed, whether someone gets saved or not?

As I mentioned before, this blog was written for myself just as much as it was for those who struggle as I do. I can be just as weak as anyone else when it comes to getting frustrated when those don't accept the truth when it is staring at them in the face. And even worse, I am just as weak when it comes to spending hours in debate forums and chats and trying to win debates. Such behavior is unbiblical and should cause us to humble ourselves before our sovereign Creator who saved us apart from anyone's "good arguments."

So in conclusion, i'd like to encourage all who obsess with debate and arguing to really examin your motives. Ask your Creator to give you a more gentle attitude and a heart for the lost. Ask Him to show you the depravity of your own heart so that you'll see more clearly that you really are no different from anyone else. And praise Him for having mercy on you, a sinner with no hope or chance for heaven, and giving His Son as a sacrifice.


Anonymous said...

Interesing comments. Do you think that taking a presuppositional approach to apologetics helps in this regard?

Mike-e said...

Thanks for your comment Brad! I'd have to think about that one. I would say that it would simply because it is the most God-honoring apologetic method. But i'm sure some evidentialists would disagree. But then again, my blog was written from a reformed perspective. And because evidentialism is very non-reformed it might be safe to say that it would detract from the purpose. But I couldn't say why at this point.