Getting Tough

I have this concern that too many apologists are way too nice to their opponents. I am more sure of this after listening to a debate that Alister McGrath had with Christopher Hitchens. I recently wrote a blog on an article Hitchen wrote and when I saw this debate, I wanted to see how McGrath did against him. The debate cand here.

 Now when I read McGrath, I am impressed, especially with how he handles Dawkins. I think in his writings, he does go toe to toe with Dawkins and he’s very blunt and outright. His book, “The Dawkins Delusion” is an excellent response to the comedy book of Richard Dawkins which has also been reviewed on this blog.

We didn’t see that with Hitchens though.

Hitchens is the kind of debater that I don’t see any reason to believe is interested in truth as there is a constant outpouring of vitrol for anything that is religious. Now I know a lot of people will say “We’re supposed to win the person and not the argument.” In your day to day one-on-one evangelism, I think that’s true. In the sense of a professional debate though, it is not done for the sake of the other debater. It is done for the audience and in that case, your goal is to win the argument.

Hitchens is the type of debater that will bowl someone over if he gets shown any hesitancy whatsoever and one of the hesitancies he’s looking for is the inability to call a spade a spade. If he’s seeing the opponent is willing to bend over backwards to avoid doing such, then he will take advantage of that.

Sometime during the debate, I think Hitchens really needed someone to tell him the direct truth and be as blunt as possible about it. Now let me be clear. I prefer friendly dialogue. I have a very good friend who is a skeptic, and I will be as courteous as I can to him, but if I need to tell him he’s wrong, I’ll also say he’s wrong.

We do this in many of our day to day relationships in fact. There have been times the people who are closest to me have told me things that I considered quite cold at the time, but they were things I needed to hear. When they were told to me, they stung to no end. However, as I looked back on them I realized that they were just what I needed to hear at the time. 

Let’s also remember that in the public forum, this was the style of Jesus. When we read Luke 11, Jesus speaks about the unrighteousness of his opponents, the scribes come and say “Teacher. When you say these things, you insult us also.” Did Jesus come and offer apologies? No. Instead, he turned on the scribes and gave them the some sort of accusations that he had given to the Pharisees. I recommend the reader to go to Matthew 23 and see if that fits our profile we’ve created of “Jesus, meek and mild.”

But wasn’t Jesus kind and gracious to sinners? Oh yes he was! He was to those who knew the depravity of their sin and were seeking truth. To those who had made up their minds already, he was their toughest opponent. He challenged them so much that they crucified him, and as someone has said, you didn’t get crucified in those days for being Mr. Nice Guy.

What would I like to see more? I’d like to see some courage and confidence. I’d like to see the apologists standing up and saying “This is the truth.” Those of us who are Christians believe it is of course. We should be able to live accordingly not only in our actions but in our debates. Even if we have the facts, which we do, we need to be confident and strong in our presentation of said facts.


3 Responses to “Getting Tough”

  1. MichelleMu Says:

    Nick, I commented on this earlier on another site where I asked how it is that “nice” is equated with “weak.” You said there that the two words were not being equated. With all due respect, Nick, I still believe that is exactly what you’re getting at. Perhaps it’s some regional use of the term “nice” that’s throwing me off, or perhaps it’s a gender thing.

    For me being nice means being kind, slow to anger, displaying a pleasant demeanor. Niceness has nothing to do with whether or not you provide critical feedback or, as you say it, call a spade a spade. Actually allowing someone to continue in their folly; whether it be mistaken perceptions, fallacious arguments, or, worst of all, pernicious sin; is NOT nice, it’s unloving, it’s unChristlike.

    Providing such response, however, does not require the opposite of “nice,” which my thesaurus lists as: rough, nasty, unrefined, unpleasant. Calling a spade a spade does not have to mean calling it a moronic, drooling, twit. I don’t for a minute believe that’s what you’re trying to say here, but that’s the inference I make when you start out by saying, “I have this concern that too many apologists are way too nice to their opponents.”

    There you go; the thoughts of a lady who is often called a nice lady, but seldom referred to as weak.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Thanks for linking to this debate. I found it very interesting.

    You said: “Sometime during the debate, I think Hitchens really needed someone to tell him the direct truth and be as blunt as possible about it.”

    Could you give an example of something McGrath could/should have said that would have demonstrated the necessary directness and bluntness that you feel was lacking, and hazard a guess at how the debate might have played out differently as a result?

    I thought that McGrath did a good job on the whole but that he let some of Hitchens’ observations and assumptions go unchallenged. I think this was in part a conscious decision so as to prevent the scope of the discussion from getting too big, but as it was, this felt more like a discussion that would introduce a debate series than an actual debate, because quite a few subjects came up and there wasn’t really time to deal with them adequately.

  3. apologianick Says:

    Sure Jeff. I think the first question if I recall correctly that Hitchens got is an example. Hitchens was asked how he differentiates between good and evil, the moral standard question, which is a question I’ve never seen him answer. Hitchens rambled and never answered and then said the questioner never answered his question.

    McGrath should have pushed Hitchens for an answer first off, since that is the fatal flaw in Hitchens’s whole argument. Second, he should have said, “Chris. It’s not his job to answer your questions in the debate. It’s your job to answer his.”

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