NEW YORK - Believers around the United States have been voicing their concerns over a recent televised debate held between two Christian evangelists and two atheist activists.
Many have been questioning the judgment of the two Christian representatives, New Zealand evangelist Ray Comfort and 90s television star Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains), to debate over the existence of God on ABC this past Wednesday. And most have agreed that the two were not prepared well enough to be a part of the apologetics discussion.
“Now, I’m not questioning the integrity or complete ministry of Comfort, Cameron or The Way of the Master (their ministry),” responded Marty Duren, pastor of New Bethany Baptist Church of Buford, Ga. “I’ll assume that they are genuine Christ followers with pure motives. I’ll also assume that The Way of the Master is a helpful, biblical approach to sharing Christ. But, they got completely shellacked in this one.”
The debate in argument was recently posted on the ABC News website under the title “Does God Exist.” Individuals involved in the dialogue were Comfort, Cameron, and the two atheists behind the controversial “Blasphemy Challenge” – a campaign on YouTube that encourages youth to denounce the Holy Spirit and “damn themselves to hell.” The two atheists, Brian Sapient and Kelly (no surname), are part of a group they created called the Rational Response Squad.
When the debate was first announced, numerous Christians came out to show their approval, happy to see that there would be a chance for Christians to gain exposure on television and possibly convince people of the existence of God.
After seeing the representatives that would be debating on the Christian side, however, many of them expressed their frustration, feeling that other apologists would have argued God more effectively than the two evangelists, such as William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, William Dembski, or Emir Caner.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad this debate is going on,” explained Bill Latronica, a Christian blogger from California, prior to the debate. “Too many times atheists are made to look like giant intellectuals while Theists are made to look like feeble, pathetic morons. We need people who are educated in philosophy and science as well as theology to be able to represent Theists in a powerful manner.
“If I agree with all of the above, then why am I not sure that this public debate is a good idea?” he added. “I just hope we Theists do not get the rug pulled out from under us by unqualified people.”
The biggest concern that Christians cited over the debate was the preparedness that Comfort and Cameron, humorously nicknamed the “Killer C’s,” had going into the debate. They felt that the two had not done their homework on the atheists, and should have known where the nonbelievers would have attacked their models. Instead, some Christians felt that the evangelists, neither of which are known to hold theological degrees, had only used their predictable evangelistic methods and had no backup plan.
“I’ll be the first to say that I might not have done any better,” wrote Duren, “but I’m also not the one who threw down the gauntlet for a public debate.”
Several people have critiqued Cameron’s performance at the debate as well. During the discussion, the former television star tried to prove the existence of God by disproving the theory of evolution. Christians have been split in their responses to this; some saying that refuting evolution in no way shows anything while others support his position.
On a positive note, most Christian responses to the debate applauded Comfort and Cameron’s positive demeanor at the debate while the atheists were argued to be “hecklers.”
“Stylistically, Mr. Cameron knocked the ball out of the park. He came across as likable, articulate, and sincere,” commented Michael Patrick Leahy, author of Letter to an Atheist. “The atheist opponents mumbled responses, filled with ‘ums’ and ‘you knows,’ and delivered their ‘zingers’ with such obvious looks of intellectual contempt for Cameron and Comfort it was cringe inducing.”
Those that have viewed the program also have criticized the moderator of the program, Martin Bashir, as being biased towards the atheist side.
While many have disagreed with Comfort and Cameron’s appearance on the debate, they have mostly supported the two’s courage in taking on the atheists and trying to expose God to a wider population. They just wish that the two had used better judgment.
“If followers of Christ are going to be able to give an answer concerning the hope that lies within us, then we should recognize that witnessing to someone on Muscle Beach or a busy New York street might require only the use of our personal story of salvation,” concluded Duren, “but for those in the ‘professional doubter’ category, it will require more of us than a scant knowledge of the Enemy’s play book. I truly hope that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron learn that sooner rather than later, especially if they intend to do more of this.”