Debate Preparation: Atheism v. Christianity

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TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Greetings PB!

I have recently been scheduled to participate in a live debate with a professing atheist. The topic for the debate, or question to be debated, is:

"Is God's Existence Coherent and Congruent with Reality?"

I already see that the phrasing of the question places "Reality" as the standard by which all other things must be measured; where "God" is the dependent clause to the independent "Reality"...whatever that may mean to this particular atheist. I suppose time shall reveal his definition. I strongly suspect it will have something to do with empiricism and naturalistic materialism. Personally, I am a big fan of the presuppositional apologetic method, and plan to use this approach during the debate.

Anyway, I am here looking for suggestions, pointers, and resource recommendations that will aid me in defending our glorious faith; while reducing the negative perspective of this question to absurdity. Thanks in advance, brethren!
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
I hope it goes really well and that your words, in conjunction with your temperament, demonstrate your faith-- how God works in what we call "reality."

Overall, I think Ravi Zacharias's genius relates particularly to his interaction with atheists. He might be worth listening to if you haven't already.

Blessings!
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Greetings PB!

I have recently been scheduled to participate in a live debate with a professing atheist. The topic for the debate, or question to be debated, is:

"Is God's Existence Coherent and Congruent with Reality?"

I already see that the phrasing of the question places "Reality" as the standard by which all other things must be measured; where "God" is the dependent clause to the independent "Reality"...whatever that may mean to this particular atheist. I suppose time shall reveal his definition. I strongly suspect it will have something to do with empiricism and naturalistic materialism. Personally, I am a big fan of the presuppositional apologetic method, and plan to use this approach during the debate.

Anyway, I am here looking for suggestions, pointers, and resource recommendations that will aid me in defending our glorious faith; while reducing the negative perspective of this question to absurdity. Thanks in advance, brethren!
It sounds like you already have a good sense of where the debate will go, the term God is being replaced with reality as if they're equal. let us know how it goes. I second Zacharias as a resource. But it's hard to know what to recommend without knowing who you are debating, what the rules are, etc.
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Overall, I think Ravi Zacharias's genius relates particularly to his interaction with atheists. He might be worth listening to if you haven't already.
He is excellent! I'll definitely take a little time and revisit some of his work. Thanks!
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
It sounds like you already have a good sense of where the debate will go, the term God is being replaced with reality as if they're equal. let us know how it goes. I second Zacharias as a resource. But it's hard to know what to recommend without knowing who you are debating, what the rules are, etc.
Thank you for your reply. The opposition could be described as "laity". He seems to be a typical young man who is angry at the God he knows exists. I mean no disrespect to my opponent, just simply stating the facts. I will treat him with nothing but respect and love, as he is a fellow image-bearer of God.

And the debate will be ten minute opening and closing statements with a one-hour conversation in the middle. Informal, but it should give plenty of room to "move around".
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Definitely a fan of Bahnsen. His debate against Stein was cordial, yet brutal. Thank you!
At 18 I was saved out of agnosticism. I felt Bahnsen was personally answering ME in some of his debates. I was profoundly moved and influenced by some of his lines of argument. Then I met some of his presup fanbois and wished I never heard the name Bahnsen for awhile. But now I am able to fully appreciate him once more.

I agree with the tip to stay cordial and gentle and even amicable/affable if possible. Pray for all and even thank your opponent and genuinely "out nice" him - not as a debate tactic, but because he is made in God's image and you love him. There are several apologists out there ( I won't name names) that - even though their arguments are good - I always want to punch in the face when I see them after seeing their snark in some exchanges and I haven't liked them since (I am petty like that).
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
At 18 I was saved out of agnosticism. I felt Bahnsen was personally answering ME in some of his debates. I was profoundly moved and influenced by some of his lines of argument. Then I met some of his presup fanbois and wished I never heard the name Bahnsen for awhile. But now I am able to fully appreciate him once more.
I have definitely encountered some presuppositionalists that can be a good deal less than graceful.

"You know there's a God, and you're a liar and an idiot."

Debate "won."
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I have definitely encountered some presuppositionalists that can be a good deal less than graceful.

"You know there's a God, and you're a liar and an idiot."

Debate "won."
Yes, pretty much. Don't be that guy. You are to show the love of God. Include an invitation to believe in Christ. Most people are not argued or logic'd into the kingdom, but it is rather a work of the heart rather than the mere mind. Many in the audience will need Jesus, and Jesus is the kindest and most tender person who ever lived, and so show that.
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Yes, pretty much. Don't be that guy. You are to show the love of God. Include an invitation to believe in Christ. Most people are not argued or logic'd into the kingdom, but it is rather a work of the heart rather than the mere mind. Many in the audience will need Jesus, and Jesus is the kindest and most tender person who ever lived, and so show that.
That guy is the last person I want to be!
There will be a great deal about the debate that I cannot control. But one thing is for certain, the Gospel will be shared clearly and boldly in my closing remarks. Lord willing, I can work it into the regular conversation a few times as well!
 

Minh

Puritan Board Freshman
You may wish to check out Dr. James White debate with Dan Barker, David Silverman, and other atheists. As his fan, I appreciate so much his apologetic works against false teachings. His personal channel is worth checking out:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClHqErbKgkAcwU-Ij0w5Epw

As a former atheist, I think the best way to be convince about God and His truth is simply to remove your own presupposition. And that can only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Yes, pretty much. Don't be that guy. You are to show the love of God. Include an invitation to believe in Christ. Most people are not argued or logic'd into the kingdom, but it is rather a work of the heart rather than the mere mind. Many in the audience will need Jesus, and Jesus is the kindest and most tender person who ever lived, and so show that.
Please indulge me one more comment for awhile.

I said that Jesus was the kindest and most tender person who ever lived. To know about him truly is to love him. How can we not worship Him after hearing about him.

BUT....not all of his followers are nice. I am 44 and have come to realize that I am not really all that nice when it comes to confrontation. Poor women and children I am very gentle towards; but strident men make my blood boil and I want to punch them. Therefore I stay away from debate formats and try to focus on works of mercy and simple prayer. I am not cut out to debate.

It is important to know yourself. You must be a kind and gentle person. Sometimes debating formats draw contentious people, and then reward that polemic nature and reinforce it and makes it grow, just like street preaching draws a certain type of unhelpful person.

This is not to say debate or street preaching is wrong; this is only to say, please know who you are and know your weaknesses and strengths. Not all of us have to be the same part of the body of Christ. We can fail at one area and excel at another.
 

Saxon

Puritan Board Freshman
Greetings PB!

I have recently been scheduled to participate in a live debate with a professing atheist. The topic for the debate, or question to be debated, is:

"Is God's Existence Coherent and Congruent with Reality?"
Who is your audience, brother? Are they there to listen and learn...or merely to confirm their own presuppositions?
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I also appreciated that Bahnsen vs Stein debate. I think one point that later Reformed apologists understand better than Bahnsen is how the Trinity solves the one and many problem in metaphysics. I found Oliphant's book "Covenantal Apologetics" helpful on this. See also "The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox" (Bosserman)
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Oh yes, I really enjoy James White. I don't see eye-to-eye with him on everything...(I'm Presbyterian), but he's truly a masterful speaker!

I do wonder what you mean by this though:
I think the best way to be convince about God and His truth is simply to remove your own presupposition.
Can you elaborate?
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Please indulge me one more comment for awhile.

I said that Jesus was the kindest and most tender person who ever lived. To know about him truly is to love him. How can we not worship Him after hearing about him.

BUT....not all of his followers are nice. I am 44 and have come to realize that I am not really all that nice when it comes to confrontation. Poor women and children I am very gentle towards; but strident men make my blood boil and I want to punch them. Therefore I stay away from debate formats and try to focus on works of mercy and simple prayer. I am not cut out to debate.

It is important to know yourself. You must be a kind and gentle person. Sometimes debating formats draw contentious people, and then reward that polemic nature and reinforce it and makes it grow, just like street preaching draws a certain type of unhelpful person.

This is not to say debate or street preaching is wrong; this is only to say, please know who you are and know your weaknesses and strengths. Not all of us have to be the same part of the body of Christ. We can fail at one area and excel at another.
A hearty Amen to this, brother. What wisdom!
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
Who is your audience, brother? Are they there to listen and learn...or merely to confirm their own presuppositions?
It's difficult to say. It's going to be a live webcast sort of thing. So, I pray it is more of the former than the latter!
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
I also appreciated that Bahnsen vs Stein debate. I think one point that later Reformed apologists understand better than Bahnsen is how the Trinity solves the one and many problem in metaphysics. I found Oliphant's book "Covenantal Apologetics" helpful on this. See also "The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox" (Bosserman)
Excellent! Two more added to the list. Thanks, brother.
 

Minh

Puritan Board Freshman
Oh yes, I really enjoy James White. I don't see eye-to-eye with him on everything...(I'm Presbyterian), but he's truly a masterful speaker!

I do wonder what you mean by this though:

Can you elaborate?
Apologize for not enough clarity. From my experience, I came to Christ through the enlightenment of the Spirit in reading the Scripture. When I was not a Christian, I was not convinced by my theist friend argument about God existence because of my presumption. So my opinion is, while we should try to have an intellectual discussion with atheists to reveal their flaws from logical and Scriptural arguments, I don't think we can ever convince them of anything about God unless He enlightens them. That would depend on your motive. Are you trying to reveal the logical flaws and inconsistency of the atheist arguments or are you seeking to evangelize them through intellectual discussion?

You must be a kind and gentle person.
In agreeing with you, I must add that we should always be loving toward sinners as Christ did. Every area in life is an opportunity for evangelism. Unlike Christ, we, having being saved by grace through Christ by faith, can have a contemptuous attitude toward those who disagree with us fundamentally. So we must be courteous toward atheists as Christ did to us when we hate Him.
 

TheBruisedReed

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't think we can ever convince them of anything about God unless He enlightens them. That would depend on your motive. Are you trying to reveal the logical flaws and inconsistency of the atheist arguments or are you seeking to evangelize them through intellectual discussion?
This made it crystal clear! And, I wholeheartedly agree!
As far as motives go, I think our end-state should always, and I mean always, be evangelism.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Excellent! Two more added to the list. Thanks, brother.
My pleasure. Those two books will give sound theological/philosophical grounding.

I think an important aspect of the Bahnsen debate mentioned above is to understand the theology/philosophy behind this. Some books I have found tremendously helpful.
  1. Always ready: directions for defending the faith. Bahnsen. This is very practical, that is its strength. When an atheist wrote an article mocking Christianity in a newspaper in my country, a friend of mine used this book to write an excellent response to his arguments.
  2. Van Tils Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. Bahnsen
  3. Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended. Bahnsen. Van Tils Apologetic is known as the Biblical Theology of Presuppositional Apologetics. Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended is known as the Systematic theology of Presuppositional Apologetics. Both are important and both nicely supplement each other.
  4. In Defense of the Eschaton: Essays in Reformed Apologetics. Dennison. This is a very good 'overall' book on apologetics, but its particular strength is showing how Geerhardus Vos had a big impact in shaping Van Til's thought in developing a consistently Reformed approach to apologetics.
  5. The Absurdity of Unbelief. Johnson. This is a helpful book in showing how unbelief cannot account for reality, truth, morals etc. It draws from a rich Reformed tradition, including many of the books I mention above.
The two books I mentioned in the above post, by Oliphant and Bosserman, draw on the rich legacy of the above books and in a number of respects assume them. In short, I think it is important to bring together a number of important Reformed themes together in your apologetic - Revelational epistemology, the Triune God, Covenant; Historic-Redemptive theology etc. All of this is relevant I think and it is encouraging how later Reformed books on apologetics bring this together.

A couple of other important points. I believe it is important to proclaim the gospel where you can. As the scripture says be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. One of the very best books on this is Martyn lloyd-Jones "The plight of man and the power of God". There are many commendable features about this book. It is short and to the point. The book is based on sermons that were preached at the height of WW2. MLJ convincingly showed that man without God could not account for the evil of WW2. More to the point, he could not account for the evil of his own heart. MLJ was a medical doctor and said that to cure the patient you need the correct diagnosis first. Likewise to deal with mans plight, you need the correct diagnosis, namely the disease of sin. MLJ gives a wonderful statement of the gospel and of the power of God. Very appropriate for dealing with atheists.

Also very important - rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in the debate. A clever debate cannot win souls. That is the work of the Spirit. 1 Thess 1:5. See also John 16:8-10 and 1 Cor 2:4-5.

May God mightily bless you as you serve Him in this way.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am unsure if this book is consistent in its Reformed approach though I acknowledge I am not an expert in the particular debate.
Read a chapter of the book at a time and consult the Reformed sources that he cites - most of whom you probably own and the rest are more than likely available online somewhere - and draw your own conclusions. If his approach is not Reformed, then neither was that of an awful lot of Reformed scholastics.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Read a chapter of the book at a time and consult the Reformed sources that he cites - most of whom you probably own and the rest are more than likely available online somewhere - and draw your own conclusions.
Daniel, I do not own the book and the reviews by Waldron and Anderson made me think the book was not worth getting because the road trod by Van Til etc was a solid Reformed path.

That said I think a Reformed dialogue is always good where it forces people to clarify terms better, think through more clearly Reformed presuppositions etc.
 
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