This fall I will be teaching a course on apologetics.  The question I will ask my students is this:

Why do you want to debate?

In March of this year, Richard Dawkins spoke at Washington DC “Reason Rally” which was billed as a rally for the celebration of secular ideas.  In his speech, Dawkins encouraged a crowd of up to 30,000 atheists and agnostics to mock Christians for their beliefs.  The specific example Dawkins used was an illustration of how he would mock a Roman Catholic.

For example, if they say they’re Catholic: [ask them] Do you really believe, that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?

Mock them.  Ridicule them… [applause]…  in public…  [applause / laughter]

Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all ‘too polite’ to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table.  Religion is not off limits.  Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged—and if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt[applause / cheers]

I find it ironic, that at a rally held to promote the virtue of “reason“, Dawkins’ best argument is to encourage atheists to mock people of faith rather than reason with them.

Clearly then, for some atheists, demeaning others is the path to winning the debate, but is this the right approach for the Christian apologist?  Your answer will depend on how you answer the question,

Why do you want to debate?

In his response to Dawkins’ bullying rhetoric, Ravi Zacharias offers some words of wisdom.  You can watch the video on YouTube, but here are a few quotes that stand on their own.

“In a world of civility, you do not mock a counter-perspective, you dialogue with it.” — Ravi Zacharias

“In the Christian Faith, there is an egalitarianism of people, but elitism of ideas. People are equal, ideas are unequal.  Let ideas be pitted against each other, but don’t rob the person of their dignity.”  — Ravi Zacharias

“In a world of hate, mockery will only engender more hate.”  — Ravi Zacharias

When we engage in debate, what is the end in sight?  Do we desire the winning of the person or the decimation of the person?”  — Ravi Zacharias

Why do you want to debate?

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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