The Value of Debate



Should we Christians debate our beliefs amongst each other?

First, let’s define the term “debate”.

Debate – A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

synonyms: discussion, discourse, parley, dialogue; argument, counterargument, dispute, wrangle, war of words; argumentation, disputation, dissension, disagreement, contention, conflict; negotiations, talks; informal confab, powwow example: “a debate on the reforms”

Please note the usage of the word ‘formal’ in this definition. Formal would seem to indicate that a debate is congenial in nature, even if heated. While there’s nothing wrong with passion, ad hominem attacks and put downs should NOT be a part of it, correct? When we enter the debate arena at such a low level, we devalue and degrade the entire event by default.

Okay, moving on . . .

On the one hand, debates are a part of life, even for us Christians. On the other hand, they can divide Churches and even families. Debates can be entertaining, productive, and informative when carried out for the right reasons and in the right manner. Yet what of those nagging, centuries-old controversies which seem to plague Christianity? Should we continue to rehash divisive topics?

Some debates are easily laid the rest and, in retrospect, we can see that progress was made from tackling the issue(s). For example, when the early forms of anesthesia were introduced, some Christians protested. They felt that pain was simply a part of the life God gave us and that we should face it like real men and women of God. When it was pointed out that God put Adam into a deep sleep to take his rib, the purveyors of such nonsense were silenced. After all, if God Himself performed the very first surgery in this manner, who are we to say it’s the wrong method? That said, where are the ‘sane’ Christian proponents of agonizing medical procedures today? They don’t exist.

Other controversies, it would seem, will never die. Only when Jesus returns and sets all records straight will there be an end to hotly debated issues. Yet how should we deal with these matters in the interim? Many, if not most, Christians deal with debates by avoiding them entirely. They keep their positions on controversial issues to themselves as much as possible, refusing to engage in any and all potentially contentious discussions. Other believers are forever looking for a fight. Their love of debate is only surpassed by their need to be right. Still others earnestly seek the truth and are, therefore, willing to engage in helpful discussions with others to find it.

It seems agreeable that the last approach is the best of the three. We needn’t hide from spirited discussions as this unduly timid stance contributes to intellectual stagnation. It also prevents our being used of God to bring needed instructive correction or provide a useful word in due season. Neither should be unnecessarily contentious, thereby, making a nuisance of ourselves. So, while we need to hash things out to assist each other in gaining a proper understanding, we must remember the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ to engage other in discussions.

David Ragland

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