As I’ve noted many times in the past, the a major purpose of The Oneness Exchange is, well, exchange. By that I mean the exchange of ideas between Oneness Pentecostals and other Christian views. Of course, one of the ways this has taken place in the past is through debates.
Now, what exactly is a debate? It is the exchange of ideas for and against a particular claim (or set of claims) in an organized fashion. This exchange of ideas (as we will see) can take place between anybody, at any time, in just about any form of media.
The exchange of ideas in debates takes place through the use of arguments. Unfortunately, people tend to think of the words “debate” and “argument” as synonymous with verbal fights, or quarrels. Let me be clear (if my definition above wasn’t): my intention is not to engage in or to promote verbal squabbles, nor will I be reviewing any “debates” that amount to this much. I’m interested in the organized exchange of ideas through substantive, respectful argumentation.
As I’ve discussed in my Logic 101 series, arguments (in the proper sense) should not be understood as quarrels either. Rather, arguments are the claims that we make in order to establish further claims. Again, I’m interested in why individuals make the claims they do in theology, and how it is that they establish those claims.
Therefore, debates (and by extension, arguments) are good. They are indispensable tools for working out what we believe and why.
An additional caveat is needed here. Just because I think debates are a good thing in general doesn’t mean that every available debate that has taken place on Oneness theology is going to receive my attention or critique. This is because (1) not every debate is worthy of my attention (e.g., if it is very quarrelsome and disrespectful) and (2) because some of them won’t present new arguments or content that are relevant for the readers of this blog. I want to review debates of good quality that are relevant for myself and my readers.
The Purpose of Debate Reviews
Why should we review debates, then? I can think of a lot of reasons. (Each of these points are brief, but deserve entire posts of their own.)
- As I noted in passing above, to come to an understanding of what people think and why they think it. This is both an intrinsic and extrinsic exercise: we should want to understand what we think and why (intrinsic) and what others think and why (extrinsic).
- Debates, whether we take part in them or analyze them, help us to shape our own ideas. If we agree with one listener and hear a substantive critique from the other, this can cause us to reexamine what we think and shape stronger positions. The corollary of this is that debates can often help spur on additional
- Examining debates is an exercise in thinking and listening well. The only way to get better at listening to, examining, and thinking through arguments is by practicing. What better way to do this than by doing it with something interesting?
I could go on, but I think you get the idea by now.
How to Evaluate a Debate
I’d like to note a couple of key points that should always be kept in mind when evaluating debates. First and foremost, as I’ve noted elsewhere, we should aim to be charitable. Speeches for these debates and dialogues aren’t always written out ahead of time. So if a person makes a mistake or argues too hastily, we should always try to interpret them in the best light possible.
Second, since the nature of debates is that they take place between participants, we should keep in mind how qualified those participants are. Some of the debates that we will hear take place between two laypeople in the church; others between two scholars. Of course, the truth of an argument doesn’t rest on the qualifications of the speaker, but their qualifications (or lack thereof) ought to spur us on to dig deeper into what they say. Really, all I’m getting is that is that we should check things out, not matter if a person is a qualified authority on, say, Greek or not.
Third, we would all do well to practice creating flowcharts for these debates. If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry. Check out the video below.
Flowcharts allow us to track the arguments and points that are made in the debate and whether or not the points were responded to. In other debate settings this is done to see who “won” the debate. For our purposes, I think the point is to see where weak points in the given arguments might be located, and what sorts of things we should study. You don’t have to follow the exact format the video presents, so create a flowchart that works best for you.
If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend going over some of basics of critical thinking and logic that I’ve covered in the Logic 101 series. (You can find a convenient Index of all of the posts in this series under the “Series Index” link in the navigation bar.) What I’ve written isn’t exactly comprehensive, but it at least details the skills I regularly use and think others should too. If you want to skip all of that, I would even more strongly recommend that you head over to Coursera and complete the first week of videos in the Think Again I: How to Understand Arguments course. It’s a great introduction to critical thinking and serves as a good introduction to a lot of things I talk about in my Logic 101 series.
What to Expect
For each debate review I will summarize the major arguments made in each section of the debate (opening statements, rebuttals, Q&A, etc.) and link to my own flowchart of the debate. You won’t be able to miss my flowchart, because I’ll have a button that looks like this:
The flowchart will be crucial here. If I say something like “Mr. X doesn’t respond to Mr. Y on such-and-such a point,” you’ll be able to see why I say that based on the flowchart I’ve created.
At the end of each summary, I will provide my evaluation of the arguments in each section. Obviously, it would be best for you to (1) listen to the whole debate first, (2) read my summary, and then (3) read my evaluation. Reading only my summary, or skipping to my evaluation, isn’t going to benefit you that much.
At the each of my summaries and evaluations, I will give a brief overall summary that will (among other things) indicate who I think did the best in the debate and why. My evaluations will not play into this judgment, but will be based solely on my flowchart for the debate.
I’ll also provide further resources and relevant links for each speaker as it seems appropriate for me to do so. I’ll also link to any further posts I make that are spawned by the debates in the Series Index.
I’ve covered a lot in this post. I’ve explained why debates and arguments are a good thing, and also why it’s a good thing to evaluate them. I’ve said a bit about how to evaluate debates, and then told you what you can expect. With that deluge of information, I want to begin this series with some concluding thoughts that will challenge and encourage everyone.
Listening to debates, much less analyzing them, takes a lot of patience. We will all hear things that we disagree with and, due to the nature of the topic(s) discussed, we will disagree very strongly. Emotions can rise all too easily, causing us to abandon the true aim for evaluation: getting at the truth. This means that the point is not to prove others wrong. The point is to come to understanding. I agree with Dallas Willard that we should make it point to never try to simply be right about something.
Since I’m going to expose you to these debates and you will then (hopefully) read what I say about them, this means that you are actually hearing three voices. I’m asking that you also be patient with me, and I will return the favor. Please read what I say carefully. I know that not every reconstruction or critique of an argument will be correct. Also recognize that, in large part, my critiques and conclusions will be tentative and therefore open for discussion and correction.
Diligence, as much as patience, is required for all of us as well. I’m using “diligence” here to refer to persistence in study. These debates are going to cover a wide variety of topics and utilize the tools of many different academic disciplines. To name a couple of things, we will see exegesis take place, historical claims being made, and philosophical concepts being used. It takes patience as laypeople, and even as scholars, to take part in these discussions. Diligence is difficult, but it has rewards that cannot compare to the difficulties.
So without further ado, let’s dig into some debates!