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,
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
· Prejudice: defence of an erroneous opinion to which one is sentimentally
· 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.