A Truly Christian College Would Teach Biblical Defense Of The Faith Not “Debate” As A Game
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” – Romans 12:2.
“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;…” – II Corinthians 10:4-5.
By John Lofton, Editor
Many years ago, in the late 1980s, I spoke in Chapel to the entire student body at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. When I was picked up at the airport by two ministerial students, we had some time to talk in the car. What they told me was distressing. What they said, simply put, was that at L.U. the jockstrap had replaced the Cross.
They told me that while the school was originally founded to train and graduate preachers, this was no longer the case. They said that the Big Men On Campus were the football players. They said that the only thing Falwell talked passionately about was his hope that in football the school would become the Notre Dame of Protestantism. They said that the football budget was huge and dwarfed any truly Christian/Biblical studies.
I thought about this conversation when I read recently an article in the Sunday “New York Times” magazine about Liberty University’s award-winning debate team. This article, titled “Ministers Of Debate,” said, in part:
“The rules of college debate require teams to argue at each tournament both sides of an annual, nationally chosen topic. This year’s is ”Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the People’s Republic of China in one or more of the following areas: trade, human rights, weapons nonproliferation, Taiwan.’
“This is not a topic that presents ideological or religious problems to the Liberty squad, but that has not always been the case. ‘A few years ago,’ [head debate coach Brett] O’Donnell recalls, ‘the topic dealt with the right of privacy. That means, among other things, abortion. The question arose, can we let our students argue the pro side of the case? Some conservative Christian schools decided that they couldn’t argue both sides of certain issues. Bob Jones University wound up dropping policy debating.’
“O’Donnell took the matter to Falwell. ‘Doc decided that if we wanted to compete, we’d need to accept the rules,” O’Donnell says. That season, by special dispensation, Liberty’s debate practice rooms became the only place on campus where students were free to argue in favor of Roe v. Wade.
“‘Not all the Liberty debaters are all that pious,” says the George Mason coach, Warren Decker. Decker was raised in a Christian home in Kansas, but he has long since traded his Sunday-school innocence for a marked skepticism. ‘Besides,’ he says, ‘debate is a liberalizing activity. I doubt that Falwell is producing a lot of people who, when they finish at Liberty, are going out to spread the Word.’
“O’Donnell disagrees, mostly because he says he doesn’t fear the power of secular ideology. ‘If there’s a challenge to belief, it’s better that the kids face it now,’ he says. ‘We don’t need to shelter them. We want them to know the best arguments they will be up against. What determines how they ultimately fall out on this is their relationship with God.’…
“But coaching also involves instilling O’Donnell’s debate theory. ‘The trick is to persuade the audience,’ he explained. ‘It’s psychological, and it rests in Aristotle’s theory of enthymeme. Aristotle saw that pure logic can’t carry a public argument. You need to make the audience go along with you. You do that by leaving out a premise the audience will add itself.
“‘For example, if you are trying to convince senior citizens to invest in something, you emphasize the stability of the investment. You don’t have to convince seniors that stability is in their interest. They already know that. When they connect what you are proposing to what they already know, you have them arguing with you instead of against you. That’s what we teach our kids.’…
“O’Donnell wouldn’t mind working for Democratic candidates who share his values. (He has a signed photo of Zell Miller in his office.) On the other hand, there are some Republican clients he wouldn’t take. ‘It would be very hard for me to work with a pro-choice candidate like Rudy Giuliani,’ he said. ‘Or someone lukewarm on the war in Iraq, like Chuck Hagel. I believe in a preemptive strategy, in fighting over there and not over here. I don’t want to be just a hired gun. I have an agenda. I’m an ideologue.’
“A Christian ideologue? ‘Absolutely. But would I work for a candidate who isn’t a Christian, somebody with the same core principles as mine? Sure. Mitt Romney, for example; he’s a Mormon, but our beliefs are similar. I’d work for an atheist if he shared my values.’”
Well, now. Where to start in analyzing – from a Biblical/Christian perspective — what’s wrong with what is said here? For openers, the “rules of college debate” which O’Donnell, obviously, sees as no problem, are a big problem. Why? Because these “rules” are the rules of the world, the rules of anti-Christian, secular colleges.
No true Christian could abide by such “rules.”
Such argue-both-positions-pro-and-con “rules” may teach technical debating skills. But they teach as if truth is – well, as if there really is no such thing as absolute truth. They teach debating as if it is merely a Godless game.
As for Falwell – for the sake of competition — approving his debate students being allowed to argue “in favor of Roe v. Wade,” this is appalling. Abortion is murder. What, pray tell, on a supposedly Christian campus, would be an argument “in favor of” murder? Is it possible that such a pro-Roe argument could be made to the glory of God without being in conformity to the world? No way. Never. (see Bible on idle words!)
As for O’Donnell’s “debate theory,” I have no idea – nor do I care — what, exactly, Aristotle’s “theory of enthymeme” is. It sounds sneaky and dishonest. But, I do know that Aristotle was a heathen, a pagan, and, probably, a homosexual. This is someone whose “theory” should govern Christian debaters? I think not.
And what is one to make of O’Donnell’s statement that it would be “very hard” for him to work for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani? It would be just “very hard” for him to do this? That’s all? Just “very hard?” Why not impossible since Giuliani is not just “pro-choice” – which is bad enough. He is also for the legalization of partial-birth abortion, which is infanticide. He is for homosexual “rights.” And his wife divorced him because he committed adultery.
And why does O’Donnell have a problem with working for someone who is “lukewarm” on the war in Iraq? Does being a Christian mean you must be “hot” for this un-Biblical, un-Constitutional war? Not at all.
And how could a real Christian work for a Presidential candidate who is not a Christian, who is a Mormon? Answer: A real Christian could not do this. And do Mormons and Christians really have the “same core principles?” No they do not. And if O’Donnell really believes there are atheists who share his “values,” then O’Donnell’s “values” are not worth sharing.
A truly Christian college must and would teach not “debating” as a game but rather apologetics, how to defend the Biblical/Christian faith.