3 Tips on Debating Unbelievers

By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
3 Tips on Debating Unbelievers

1) Stay Committed to your Christian Convictions:

Recognizing that there is no neutrality between the believer and unbeliever is extremely important. Indeed, we see and understand the world in a completely different way than the unbeliever. We see and understand all things as created by God and hence all things are given their proper meaning and interpretation by God Himself. We do not engage with the unbeliever as though this is not true. For the believer, all things have the meaning and connections that they have because God has made it that way. The unbeliever rejects this truth. The unbeliever thinks he is independent of God. He does not need God to makes sense out of the world around him. When debating the unbeliever, we must not for a moment, compromise our commitments for the sake of the unbeliever.

If we are standing on the truth of God’s Word, then God’s Word is correct when describing the mind of the unbeliever: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them , due to the hardness of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Notice that the Bible teaches that the unbeliever walks in “futility” of mind. The text describes the unbeliever as being “darkened” in their understanding and alienated from the life of God due to the “ignorance” within them. If this is the case, then why do so many Christians feel the need to adopt unbelieving philosophical constructs? We must confront the unbeliever with the interpretation of his mind as God has revealed it, and not adopt his mind-set. Rather, the mind of the apologist should be rooted in Christ at the out-set. When debating unbelievers, your commitment to Christ in your thinking should be brought out, just as the unbeliever has his own commitments, commitments that we should be able to demonstrate are foolishness because they are not grounded in sound thinking based upon the foundation of God’s revelation.

2) Listen to Your Opponent:

This piece of advice seems simple enough but many would be apologists often fail in this task. How are we to expect the unbeliever with whom we are debating to listen to our perspective if we fail to listen to theirs? It is in keeping with Christian conduct that we listen to people when they are talking. We want to understand where they are coming from and allow them to explain their position. This shows respect for the person with whom we speak. If you are engaged in a more formalized debate, perhaps with someone who has published material or video content online, it shows a level of respect to one’s opponent to do a little research so as to better understand the position you are critiquing.

3) Admit Ignorance:

The Christian apologist should conduct themselves with honestly and integrity. If the unbeliever makes a good point or valid critique of your assertions, or perhaps they ask a question that you do not know the answer to, we are morally obligated to admit our ignorance lest we deceptively give the impression that we know the answer and hence engage in lying or misleading the person with whom we are speaking. It is a great burden lifter to admit that you do not know the answer to a question. Admitting ignorance shows integrity and respect to our opponent, and it provides areas of growth as we study some more and look into the issues.

There are many more helpful things to remember when engaging in debates and discussions with unbelievers, but hopefully these three points are something the reader can learn to put into practice.

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