Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Productive Discussion and Arena-Man

John Lennox at Stanford, April 4, 2011
I’ve been reflecting on modes of discussion and the need for discussion recently. It occurred to me, after nearly seeing the government shutdown, that we really don’t know how to argue anymore. A classmate made a political argument, and then apologized for making the argument when he realized that someone disagreed with him. In many realms, from the political to the religious, we’re incredibly insulated in our own worldview.

The best way to get un-insulated is to hear the views of others. Of course, you could always listen to lectures of people talk about their ideas, but I’ve found lectures on a topic far less interesting than a conversation. In particular, I’ve long enjoyed debate as a means of hearing out other people. It’s high-adrenaline, and it forces both sides to be concise, a thing that a long speech does not require.

The prototype debater on Christianity is William Lane Craig. Sam Harris in his debate with Craig on Friday, explained that Craig can “put the fear of God” into Atheists (Apologetics315 – Sam Harris v William Lane Craig Debate). And of course, seeing a fair-won intellectual victory gives heart to allies. Strategically, from a Christian perspective, both of these are very useful. I have long enjoyed watching him debate because he is a master at the craft: his rigorous logic, quick mind, and exhaustive practice make him a force to be reckoned with.

A second strategy is characterized by John Lennox. Lennox, unlike Craig, does not use arguments that are hard-hitting; he is not ruthless. Instead, he is a master at having real, meaningful conversation. He had a wonderful conversation a while ago with Richard Dawkins and last week with Daniel Lowenstein at UCLA (Veritas – “Christianity or the Tooth Fairy”). In these conversations, Lennox is able to listen to his discussant, and to engage the person in a way that I have never seen before.

Both of these strategies are instructive. A good debate is very valuable; a good discussion is priceless. And I this is where Arena-Man (the blog) comes in. I have always enjoyed the image of Roosevelt’s man in the arena (as you may have guessed from the Blog title). But it has recently occurred to me that though I like the image, this blog is not like an arena at all; it’s a pulpit. And though pulpits have their place, they’re not as good when they’re hogged. So that being said, I will start inviting people who disagree with me to present their views on Arena-Man, hoping to foster online debate, and God willing, even discussion.

We desperately need to recapture the spirit of collegiality and scholasticism; we must re-learn how to entertain and evaluate diverse views. I hope that this process can begin here.


  1. The photo on this page would be perfect to publicise John Lennox speaking in Australia in August. Is it possible to get permission to use it?

  2. Sure thing. Email me ( and I'll send you the full resolution version of this picture.