Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Frustrating Debate

Hope you all had a nice fourth of July! God bless America -- and all other countries!!

To be honest, I have a little bit of trouble really getting into this particular holiday. Should I as a Kingdom person celebrate one "Christian" nation violently rsing up against a ruling "Christian" nation simply because I happen to be born in the nation that ended up winning?

As an aside, the other day our science and theology group visited Concord, where the American Revolution began. At the bridge where the first British soldiers were killed, the tour guide referred to them as "the invading army" and talked about how our valiant freedom fighters pushed them back. Now, if memory serves me correctly, America was at this time a British colony, which means the British army wasn't "invading" anyone. Rather, they were coming to Concord to check out rumors that insurrectionists were stockpiling weapons.

This wasn't really a preemptive "strike," on their part. But it was a preemptive "checking out."
Isn't history full of ironies? And it just goes to show how history is always revisioned by the victors. Kind of like Columbus "discovering" America, and many other quaint American tales we teach our children. But don't get me started! Let's move on.

Last night our conference hosted a debate between Dr. John Sanders, defending the Openness position, and Dr. John Jefferson Davies, from Gordon Conwell, defending the classical view of foreknowledge. John Sanders did an excellent job, though John Davies was clearly the more polished debator. He controlled the flow of the debate. More often than not he had John back on his heals trying to answer questions thrown at him. Dr. Sanders is in a sense just too much of a gentleman to be really good at this sort of thing -- especially when coming up against someone like Davies. To everyone's chagrin, Davies was pretty rude, and Sanders had a hard time getting a word in edgewise, because he just refused to be rude back.

If you judge who "won" or "lost" a debate by who had the most impact on the crowd, I think most people in the lecture hall would say that Davies lost by a country mile. Not so much because of the content of what he said (though this wasn't spectacular) but because of his demeanor. While John always comes across as courteous and polite, Davies somehow managed to alienate, aggravate, and pretty much insult everyone in the room who had any sympathy for openness. It was positively amazing - and more than a little frustrating.

Davies also had a very irritating way of answering questions with questions -- which is how he managed to control the debate so thoroughly. For example, Davies argued that God transcends time and that we Open Theists who view God as being in time (I'd rather say "in sequence") are guilty of "wagging the biblical dog with the philosophical tail" (meaning our philosophical presuppositions about time supposedly control our biblical interpretation). When they took questions from the floor, I asked Dr. Davies:

"I certainly don't want to wag the biblical dog with a philosophical tail. So can you please help me out? I'm sure you're aware of the several hundred passages where God looks back to the past and forward to the future. And we're all aware that the whole biblical narrative depicts God as acting in time. But I for one am not aware of the wealth of biblical material that depicts God transcending time. So, aside from the Septuagint mistranslation of Ex. 3:14, can you share with us some of the many biblical passages that show this?"

There are, of course, none. So, after a brief but rather awkward pause, Davies responded, "Do you believe in creation ex nihilo?


Of course, I do believe in creation ex nihilo, but I certainly wasn't going to let Davies change the topic by supplying him with an answer. So I just sat there smiling. It was kind of weird actually. Finally, the moderator said to him, "The question was directed to you. Could you please respond?"

Dr. Davies then blurted out "John 1:1 and Ephesians 1.4!"

I encourage bloggers to check out these two passages to discern whether either of these passages reveal what Dr. Davies claims they reveal.

Well, God bless him. He was certainly frustrating, but he has unsurpassable worth and is sincerely trying to do the Lord's work as he understands it.

As one who on occasion does public debates, I'm thankful for being reminded of the easy-to-forget truth that how you conduct yourself in a debate is actually more important than what you say in a debate.

Blessings on you all,