To debate or not to debate. That is the question.
What I will share is just my humble opinion. It's based on trial and error [and a lot of error], but each person may have a different experience.
Personally, I don't recommend internet conversations. The reason being is manifold and I will share some of those reasons here along with an alternative end goal for online debating.
Reason 1: Emotions Run High
The internet can be deceptively intimate as well as offer a sense of safety from immediate consequences. As a result, people can be more nasty and terse online than they normally would be in person. This isn't only with your internet infidel, but with many Christians as well. Look over any blog on apologetics and you will see comments from Christians calling people morons or other ad homenim language.
There is nothing truly intimate about the internet and a face to face conversation over a cup of coffee is always a better approach.
Reason 2: Multiple debaters
Usually, you can have a conversation with one person and it always ends up involving 70 of their 'defenders'. It's hard enough making a reasoned argument with one person, let alone the entire Richard Dawkins Facebook fan club. Often your point will get lost and a multitude of unrelated objections get slung into the thread exhausting you to the point of frustration.
Reason 3: Your grouped in with bad debaters
Let's face it, there are a lot of well meaning, but ill-informed Christians out there who make very bad arguments and use old cliche's attempting to convert the internet atheist at hand. Not only will your arguments tend to get lost, but you will be grouped in with their statements and end up having to defend or detract those statements and never getting your argument off the ground.
A Stone in Their Shoe
Now some people love this sort of thing and are very good at it. But, I would offer an alternative goal. I have found sometimes that simply asking a question to dig out why someone holds their view does more than writing a 10 page argument on the resurrection in a single comment post. It exposes some of the faulty thinking in the view for all to see. Then, you can leave the conversation as it is without moving any further. I have found this to be helpful at least in giving the other person a better sense of kindness on the part of Christians than they usually experience on the internet.
So, if you are going to debate on the internet, I recommend following some simple rules:
This can change the experience not only for you but for the person you are chatting with.
If you’ve ever read an atheistic objection to Christianity, you’ve probably heard something like “believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. You don’t believe in Santa Claus do you? So why would you believe in a different mythical being like God?”.
On the surface, this seems like a plausible question. I mean, what’s the difference between believing in a Jolly elf who flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by 8 reindeer once a year and drops presents down chimneys and believing in an all powerful, all knowing, maximally good invisible creator God?
Well, let’s examine the claims of Santa Claus to see if it is truly the same as claims for God.
1. No witnesses
The one thing that Santa lacks is a large group of eyewitnesses. You never hear of anyone claiming to see Santa Claus other than little kids sitting on the mall Santa’s lap. And there are no documented mass sightings of the red-suited fat man in history.
2. No forensic evidence
There is no real trace evidence for Santa having visited your home. Now, kids may say “but Santa always eats the cookies and drinks the milk!”. But if you ask the parents out of earshot of their child, they will tell you they did it. So unless parents all over the world are lying, it’s more likely than not they ate the goodies. Another lacking piece of evidence – perhaps the proverbial smoking gun – is the lack of mysterious presents left under the tree. No parent has ever scratched their heads and stated on Christmas morning “where did that come from?”. If you polled parents, they will never tell stories of the mysterious arrival of THE GIFT that their child wanted, but they didn’t buy.
3. No flying reindeer spotted in nature
Now, this is something akin to Bigfoot. However, unlike the North American hairy giant, there has never been a piece of purported film, photography or hoofprints related to flying venison. If Santa Claus were real, you would expect someone at a research base in the Arctic to have reported a sighting or two. Afterall, Donner has to get some exercise when not taxing St. Nick around.
4. No one dies for a belief in Santa.
There have not been any reported mass persecutions of Santa-ists in history. No one who saw Kris Kringle and took that claim to their grave despite warnings to recant their story. For such a worldwide appeal, one would expect that true believers would be dying for such a belief.
Christianity, on the other hand, does have these characteristics we mentioned above:
It seems after a closer look, the belief in Santa or any other so called ancient myth or ‘god’ is not at all the same as a belief in Christianity.
One of my hobbies is training in Martial Arts. Specifically, an Israeli system called Krav Maga.
It is a realistic system of combat developed for the Israeli military that parts of which are now being taught to civilians. The core of Krav Maga is instilling muscle memory so that students and quickly learn and develop skills necessary to survive a violent encounter.
The main way this is achieved is through what is known as Stress Training. Stress training is usually done by bringing a person close to physical exhaustion and then having them perform techniques and combative strikes repeatedly. This simulates the stress felt during an attack and helps not only to install muscle memory, but lessens the chances of freezing up during such an attack.
In Christian apologetics, such training is also needed. It’s one thing to study the arguments for Christianity, but it is another to be able to answer questions when the heat is on and you are being pressed by a non-Christian for answers. This can be achieved through role play with others studying apologetical arguments. The internet is a good source of arguments against Christianity, so people can take on the role of atheist, LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. and present those arguments and questions while you practice fielding and answering those questions.
Training is essential in learning to present an argument under pressure. Without training, we may find ourselves left flat-footed when we are presented with questions. If I simply watched my Krav Maga instructor perform the techniques or simply practiced them slowly without any pressure or resistance from my training partner, then I may not perform as well under pressure or be able to think on my feet. If I study apologetics by reading books, articles, the Bible or watching debates or my favorite apologists answer questions, I may find it difficult to respond when I feel nervous or even afraid when confronted with a difficult question or a hostile questioner.
In his book, Tactics, A Gameplan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions , Greg Koukl recommends a 3 step process in between engagements to help better prepare for each encounter:
1. Anticipate - think about what type of questions or arguments may be given and the responses that may come to your answers.
2. Reflect - Reflect on the encounter and think about how you may have answered differently or is there something you should bone up on to give a better answer in the future.
3. Practice - Get a friend to role play with you and practice giving answers that are seasoned with salt and that convey the type of Christian character we are commissioned to give.
The old saying “The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle” rings true. So get together with your training partners and sweat it out answering objections and questions so that you will be better prepared when the moment arrives.
 Koukl, Gregory. (2009). Tactics, A Gameplan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Often when I begin teaching an apologetics group at my church, one ultimate question comes up "when do we share the Gospel in these conversations?". It's a legitimate and important question. Apologetics is often seen by some in the church as unnecessary or an attempt to "argue someone into the kingdom"
While nothing could be further from the truth, it does require an explanation as to the place of Christian Case Making in the life of the believer.
Apologetics itself should never be thought of as the ultimate end. It's a means to an end. Apologetics can be rightly referred to as the "handmaiden of evangelism". But in today's culture, sharing the Gospel can be difficult if we haven't first answered questions non-believers have about Jesus, the Bible, the Origin of the Universe and a host of other objections. Being a trained, Christian Case Maker is essential to sharing the Gospel in our society.
One way to think about Christian case making is this example. Have you ever been driving and pulled up to a intersection on a red light? You need to make a right turn and so you need to make sure traffic is clear to make the turn safely. You look to your right and it's clear, but you look to your left and you can't tell if their is oncoming traffic or not because right on the corner blocking your view of traffic is a big, bushy hedge.
Sure, the hedge looks great, but given the position of the curb, the hedge and your vehicle, it's blocking your view - making it almost impossible to see clearly enough to pull out safely. And so, you must wait for the green light. You think to yourself "someone should really clear out that bush so I can see clearly enough to make my turn".
When we want to share the Gospel, often the person we are talking with cannot see Jesus clearly enough or understand the Good news that Christ offers because their "vision" is obstructed by objections they have.
Some objections may be:
- How can there be a good, all loving God with all of the evil in the world?
- How can I trust a 3,000 year old book?
- Isn't the idea of Jesus just a continuation of other God-man myths?
We can think of these objections as bushes that are blocking a person's view of Jesus. Christian Case Making clears those bushes out of the way so Christ is more clearly seen and the Gospel we share can be better understood. The Holy Spirit then draws a person to Christ as the fallacy of these objections are exposed and a person stands naked before a Holy God. We are all commanded to be able to give a defense for the good news we believe [1 Peter 3:15, Phil 1:7]. But understanding the relationship between Christian Case making and sharing the Gospel helps us to see that they work together as we share our faith with a sin-sick world.
I'm a history buff. I love to learn about how and why things occurred and how they are related to the world we see today. One of my favorite time periods to study is World War II. I think my wife and I have visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans about 4 or 5 times over the years. Inevitably, when you study World War II, you think about Nazism. And when you think about the Nazi's, what comes to mind first is the Holocaust.
Director Steven Spielberg made a film in the mid 90's called Schindler's List which portrayed the actions of Oskar Schindler who rescued over 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust. About this same time, he got involved with The Shoah Foundation. The foundation records visual eyewitness accounts of survivors of the Holocaust for the sake of preserving the living testimony of the eyewitnesses. This is important due to the many Holocaust deniers that have been active since the end of World War II.
The reason their testimony is so important is because they were there. 100 years from now, someone will watch their accounts and be confident that what they described actually happened.
So this brings us to a very important point: Can we apply the same test to the Gospel accounts and the New Testament as a whole? And is early dating important? One component to any eyewitness testimony is that the person claiming to be an eyewitness was actually present at the events they describe. If it can be reasonably shown that the New Testament was written early - that is, in the lifetime of the eyewitnesses - then that is one confirmed test to establish the reliability of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus life, ministry, death, and resurrection.
Let's look at a set of 4 quick facts that can help us determine if an early dating is reasonable.
1. Paul's Martyrdom
Most scholars place Paul's death in the late 60's AD. This is based on some historical data and some tradition. Tradition states that Paul was beheaded. Some believe this to not be likely as it was the emperor Nero's practice to burn, crucify, or feed Christians to wild animals. However, Paul being a Roman citizen afforded him the right to be beheaded. This is further corroborated by the account in Acts where Paul used his Roman citizenship status to appeal to Caesar. There is good historical evidence, however, that Paul was indeed martyred regardless of the methodology.
As Sean McDowell, PhD noted "early evidences for the martyrdom of Paul can be found in Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 12:2), Polycarp (Letter to the Philippians 9:1-2), Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.4), Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1), The Acts of Paul, and Tertullian (Scorpiace 15:5-6)".
2. James Martyrdom
James, the brother of Jesus was martyred in Jerusalem in AD 62. We have extra-biblical, corroborative evidence for this from the writings of Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews.
The strongest evidence for the writing of the book of Acts is around the early 60's AD, though some skeptical scholars place it at AD 125-30 (well outside of Luke's lifetime) while others place it at around AD 80-90. A few possible reasons that the dating of the early 60's is likely is the lack of mention of the above martyrdoms (though Acts mentions the stoning of Stephen and the beheading of James, the brother of the apostle John). Also, there is no mention of the destruction of Herod's Temple in AD 70 by General Titus or the siege of Jerusalem by his father, Vespasian. One could make a comparison to this event to that of 9/11. This was such a catastrophic event in the Judaeo world that one could argue Luke would have included it if Acts had been written after.
4. The Epistles
It would seem obvious to conclude that the epistles would have been written prior to the author's death. If we take the agreed upon Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians), these would have been written prior to his death in the late 60's. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, we have was is believed to be the earliest known creed in the church.
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
He also appeared to me.
It's easy to see the cadence in this passage. While the original was written in Greek, the pattern is the same. This means that the high Christology of the Church existed prior to Paul's being converted and was the earliest teaching of the Church. This stands in contrast to the accusations of skeptics that the teaching of Jesus being deity only came later in the 4th century.