Larry Hurtado wrote this in his blog:
Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed. It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters[…]
I’ve often been frustrated with debates as a tool for advancing knowledge and understanding. Many times, maybe even most often, both sides claim a victory, but wins and losses are hard measured in debates. Debates are seen as win/lose propositions, but they rarely deliver that kind of satisfaction.
Listen to any political debate, and both sides will claim victory. Listen to any debate of atheist and theist, and both sides will claim victory. The after debate responses are continuations in kind of the debate – both sides trying to convince the other and the world of their victory. The claims usually fall flat and ring hollow to anyone who makes an effort at remaining objective.
If we want to get at truth and understanding, debates are not the way to do it. Respectful discussion and dialogue are much better platforms for truth and understanding.
Since this is a faith-based blog, a little reference to Jesus is in order. Jesus didn’t debate people, ever. He often asked questions. He spoke in parables. He connected with people where they were – healing them, addressing them at a personal level, touching on their psychological, emotional and physical and spiritual issues.
Jesus treated everyone with respect, even the spiritually high-minded Pharisees. He took everyone seriously.
We can not get “inside” other people’s heads like Jesus could – knowing the thoughts and intents of their hearts – , but we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We should attempt to be more led by the Spirit than by our capacity to debate when we engage with non-believers. Like Jesus did.