In the course of many years discussing and debating the Biblical understanding of the Gospel, a fair amount of material has been built up. This book seeks to bring much previously published material together under one cover. All true Christians are preachers, but very few are public debaters. The purpose of this material is not so much to train public debaters as to give a window on the thinking of other religious groups, and to inspire all of us in their own personal witness to God’s truth in a world of confusion and darkness. It seems to me that we should strive to know the mind and spiritual background of ones’ audience. One has to listen rather than simply seek to impart our understanding onto an open mind: for there are few open minds in this world today. We must seek to understand people and lead them on from where they are. It is not difficult to identify the misinterpretations of Bible passages which many religious people base their beliefs upon. I submit that we need to not merely have the reasons why their interpretations are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture; we need to also more positively have a personal idea what the passages they quote do mean. For it is far more powerful and helpful in the work of conversion to leave someone with a new and positive understanding of what something does mean, than to leave them with their earlier beliefs demolished or questioned, but with nothing in its place. In any case, it's rare that argument ever really changes anyone's mind. Reason is used to justify ourselves, and contrary to what we may think, reason rarely directs people in their religious beliefs. Because of this I have included after most of the debate transcripts some examples of how to positively approach people over the matter in hand, as well as some more negative comment on the difficulties which their beliefs have when compared with the rest of Scripture.
I feel particularly for young people 'raised in the truth'. They want to find their own faith, and not dumbly follow the faith of their fathers. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend they go and visit every church in their neighbourhood in their struggle to compare their understandings against the views of others. The ‘traditional Christian’ perspectives on most of the main doctrinal areas are found well represented in this present volume. Why not read through what they have said in this transcript, and think how better I might have responded to them. And if you (or, indeed, anyone) conclude I’m just plain wrong, or made a totally inadequate response- let me know, and with open minds searching for God’s Truth, let’s discuss it.
Reading through the transcripts of the public debates, I realise how difficult it is to show the wisdom, understanding and grace of the Lord Jesus when placed ‘on the spot’ and having to give immediate responses to Biblical issues. It makes one marvel the more at His spiritual, intellectual and dialectical skill in responding so powerfully, so quickly. For me, probably for us all, after every encounter there is so much one would like to have phrased better, or reasoned the more incisively. So from my inadequacies as a debater, indeed as a preacher altogether, I dare to hope if nothing else that a lesson and encouragement can be taken. An encouraging lesson that you, too, with all your inadequacies of knowledge and personality, can go out there into your world and make a difference, make a witness for God’s Truth, and by His grace, bring others to the Hope of the Kingdom. And of course there are some things I would express differently, even think about differently, as the years have gone by. But my commitment to the essential doctrines of the Gospel remains, of course.
All too easily we can define 'preaching' as merely debating and combating theological ideas opposed to our own- with no significance placed upon the value of the person with whom we are in discussion. That person on the other side of the fence to you has, just like you, their inner traumas and struggles, their secret conflicts and dramas... and yet all this becomes hidden behind the facade of doctrinal debate and argument. It is to the person we must appeal if we are to win them for Christ, or win them closer to Him as we seek. Paul Tournier wrote eloquently of the huge gap "between intellectual relationship and personal relationship". Whenever we start to debate doctrine, impersonal ideas, this gap becomes significant. Ideas become so easily mere ammunition in a subconscious battle for self preservation. If we are to convert and help others to Jesus, rather than to ourselves, we need to find "another mode of relationship" than mere intellectual argument. Such argument alone will not convert or persuade towards the cause of Christ. And yet sadly so much of our collective preaching effort has been taken up with exactly this kind of fruitless debate. Doctrinal argument tends to divide; whereas it is the common areas of experience which tend to unite. And so a woman reaching out to other women, perhaps other young mothers, will be a far more likely cause of conversion than knocking on the doors and engaging all and sundry in doctrinal debate. But that woman, if she is to bring about an authentic conversion, must all the same convert her fellow-woman to something. And she likely will have to talk around all the host of misunderstandings and wrong ideas which her friend has been exposed to in this sadly confused and lost world. Hence this book.
I believe in all seriousness that we worldwide are God’s cutting edge for this generation. But remember, in all your debating, in all your discussions, in all your faithful upholding of the Biblical position. That it isn’t to prove you right and another wrong. Many of us wasted far too much of our time and effort in this kind of “theological gladiatorship”, to quote the words of John Thomas in later life. See the value of persons, the meaning of persons; perceive that every person matters to God. Witness to them, seek their salvation and present relationship with their creator, from the motive of a heart that bleeds for this world. If this truly is your motive, you will succeed- in glorifying our Father in Heaven and His Son and their word. For this ultimately must be our sole aim.
The Sources of Error
There are four chief obstacles in grasping truth which hinder every man, however learned, and which scarcely allow anyone to overcome them; to whit:
· Submission to faulty or unworthy authority.
· Influence of custom; the common belief, therefore it must be correct.
· Prejudice: defence of an erroneous opinion to which one is sentimentally attached.
· Concealment of one’s own ignorance.
Every man is entangled in these difficulties Even should the first three obstacles be refuted by the convincing force of reason, the fourth is always ready as an excuse for a man’s own ignorance. Although he has no real knowledge of a matter worthy of the name, he may yet shamelessly magnify it, so that at least to the wretched satisfaction of his own folly, he suppresses and evades the truth.
Men blinded in the fog of these four errors do not perceive their own ignorance. They take every precaution to cloak and defend it so as not to find a remedy. Worst of all, although they are in the deepest shadow of error, they believe that they are in the full light of truth.