Public debates, perhaps ironically, are not the best way to resolve debates. They do not contribute to academic progress, and obviously the outcome is influenced by the rhetoric, clarity, and time-management of the participants. Moreover, a serious intellectual investigation into questions like “Does God exist?” will take more than two hours. That said, from a Christian perspective, debates are good in other ways.
• Debates help show Christianity is not absurd. For some, especially so-called New Atheists, Christianity has been portrayed by their iconic leaders as “obviously” false, and demonstrably foolish. However, in a debate, able Christian defenders can publicly shatter this illusion.
• Debates help answer objections. Some intellectual challenges to Christian theism are worth thinking about. Through public debate, doubters can encounter new ways to escape these objections, which can help to open Christianity back up as an intellectual option. At the same time, a skilled debater can also quickly expose the various incompetent slogan-like arguments against Christianity that so many critics fall for.
• Debates inspire Christians to learn and pursue apologetics. To see an able Christian defender stand toe-to-toe with the most able and/or outspoken critics of Christianity, and to perform well, or even extraordinarily well, can inspire a great deal of new confidence in Christians. It sometimes leads to a new-found boldness in defending Christ in their own lives, and at other times even inspires a love of apologetics. Truly, debates have resulted in producing no shortage of the apologetics enthusiasts active today on the world wide web and elsewhere.
• Debates equip Christians with basic answers and evidences. Whether the Christian listener has no experience with apologetics, or is a seasoned enthusiast, good debates will arm both with answers that can be called upon in discussions they might run into out in the wild. Moreover, the vehicle can be extremely entertaining, which encourages learning both of the arguments/answers, but also alternative worldviews.
• Debates are shared with friends and family. They are one of the easiest ways to get a non-believer to consider your viewpoint. After all, watching/listening are obviously more exciting than reading, and it is only about two hours. Any would-be potential for bias is mitigated by the fact that both sides get equal time, and the nature of the debate adds a certain friendly competitive drama to the mix.
• Debates get people talking about Jesus. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:17,
“the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, … What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”
Truly, what better way to get people talking and thinking about our Lord!? In fact, at the end of debates, the best Christian defenders commonly find a way to present the gospel, even if indirectly.
In this vein, I'm happy to announce a new page on the site: The Trove of Apologetics Debates at treesearch.org/debate. Enjoy!