— how to respond to a challenge?

Dear readers,

Shortly after midnight last night, the following was posted over at GraceConversation

I find it very interesting that boastful statements have been posted on this website, concerning the lack of willingness of those who disagree with you to discuss these matters. I also find it interesting that “discussion” is only on your terms.

Paul was willing to “dispute” publicly with the Pharisees and Jews who opposed him. Formal debates are the best forums in which to discuss these issues. A carefully worded proposition, with ground rules set beforehand, keeps the discussion on a high plane.

I myself am willing to publicly discuss these issues. I have written two books addressing current problems in churches of Christ: Among The Scholars (1994) and Tampering With Truth (2007). I also teach undergraduate Bible, part-time, at Amridge University. Please let me know if you are willing to do this.

David W. Hester

Minister, Springville Road church of Christ

How do you think I should respond?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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25 Responses to — how to respond to a challenge?

  1. Jack Exum Jr says:

    I would think this web site is rather public. How many thousands view this and the grace covesation web site anyway.
    I would immagine if Paul had the internet, he wold have used it.
    If not why not?
    On grace conversation, you have some very acceptable standards for communicating. So my opinion Jay is that David might try this first and see how it goes. More people can view it there.

  2. David Himes says:

    Formal debates test something different from the strength of a position. It tests the ability to "think on your feet."

    This forum, on the other hand, allows both sides to thoughtfully, thoroughly and carefully construct and present their positions.

    So, I guess I disagree with Mr. Hester's assumption that "Formal debates are the best forums in which to discuss these issues."

    You began the Grace Conversation with "a carefully worded proposition, with ground rules set beforehand," — so it's hard to see how a formal debate improves on Grace Conversation.

  3. Alan says:

    I doubt many people were persuaded by the debates of the 19th century. Instead, those tended to reinforce the beliefs on both sides. The net result was a more calcified, entrenched division.

    Here is an approach that might be better. I can't remember where I read of this approach. It could be called the anti-debate. In this approach, each side takes turns attempting to make statements which the other side would fully agree with, and iterating until they succeed. It takes the dialogue out of the realm of caricature and ridicule. I think an approach like that would be far more likely to build greater mutual understanding and respect.

  4. youlackmadmen says:

    This guy obviously has no respect for what you've been trying to do, Jay. Anything vaguely resembling "grace" has been shouted down as deepest, darkest heresy since at least the 30s. And yet now, out of the blue, someone wants to have a "discussion" ? Really? And a public debate will "keep things on a high plane" as if you've been insulting his mother since '07 or something? But Alan's suggestion is good, and a Biblical one at that. We have no idea what Paul said at the synogogues, but we know that at Athens he began by pointing out what they all had in common rather than with what separated them. There was no "debate" on Mars Hill, Paul simply revealed to them their own unknown God. And that's exactly what needs to happen here as well.

  5. Gary Cummings says:

    I think debates do no good. The gut who challenged you just wants to strut his stuff. I am sure you would have no problem handling him, since you are a Southern lawyer.
    I think the time comes when we need to shake the dust off our feet with the old legalist COC bunch and let them continue their way to hell. Sincere questions are one thing, prideful debates are another.

  6. James says:

    An advantage that comes with the internet discussion over public debate is, ironically, the same thing that is a disadvantage at times: eloquence, inflection, and body language. In this case, that is a good thing, as these can leave the impression at times that the man with the greater presence can be most persuasive even when his argument is less so. It is easier to discern the content's merit apart from personal impression, or so it seems to me.

  7. Jerry Starling says:

    More people can read the "debate" on the internet than would be able to attend an oral debate. Several comments above have already made the point that written discussion allows more time for reflection.

    Perhaps you might turn off the comment feature during a certain portion of the exchange. I enjoy the comments and participate in them, but they do tend to get off the main point of the propositions. (We commentators want to get to specific examples instead of first establishing principles!) After a set number of exchanges, in which each party will have had opportunity to set forth his arguments fully, then open it up to comments.

    It might also be worth putting a limit on the number of words in each post. That would sharpen the focus and enable the discussion to be more to the point. Presenting fifteen to twenty "questions" at a time can also get a discussion side-tracked.

    One disadvantage of the internet is that there are still a large number of people who do not use it – but still more people would have direct access to the discussion than if they had to travel to another city and stay there for several days for an oral debate spectacle.

    Just my humble opinion.

  8. bradstanford says:

    "I enjoy the comments and participate in them, but they do tend to get off the main point of the propositions."
    I don't know what you're talking about. And also, what are you having for lunch today? :^)

    "It might also be worth putting a limit on the number of words in each post."
    You made me think of Twitter's 140-character limit, and how a debate would read if each comment was composed within that limit! Made me smile. I bet it's been done many times over as people argue about stuff day-to-day…

  9. nick gill says:


    I think you addressed this very well during some of your closing remarks to Brother Deaver, Todd's father. He, too, seemed to hold to the assumption that the internet is not public and that there are no ground rules to an internet discussion.

    I do agree, though, that comments need to be turned off or heavily monitored on the actual discussion site — perhaps commenters could host their own sub-discussions on their own sites, and just leave a comment suggesting that *such and such discussion will be happening at this address*?

    Written discussion in the most public of forums has far more potential for peaceful effectiveness than oral debate that cannot be rewound for thoughtfulness, edited for kindness, or made open to the entire world.

    in HIS love,

    PS – Jay, I also think your health makes it dangerous to try and add oral debate prep onto your already serious workload.

  10. Todd Collier says:

    I find it interesting that this would not be considered a public forum for debating issues. For the better part of the past four centuries local news papers were used for just such a purpose. Each proponent submitting questions and answers in print for a mass discussion. How is what has been happening here any different?

  11. Alan S. says:

    I concur with those who emphasize that the Internet and forums such ARE the public marketplace and forums of the 21st century. Debates such as those demanded of you are neither of the 1st century or the present. They are a remnant of a time passed, and not effective in encouraging good Bible study and interactive participation by the "audience.". As a previous commentator observed, they do not effectively test the propositions, but instead test the effectiveness of the speaker.

    Alan S.
    Sugar Land, TX

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think a study on debates written or oral needs to be done first. Do they bring glory to the Lord or to the people debating? At the end has either party renounced their former opinions they stood by? Are the debaters from one certain church denomination or are there several spokesmen from different denominations involved?

  13. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Hey Jay,
    I want to thank you for the kind spirit and attitude you have shown in this matter. This web site has been a huge blessing to me and to all I have shared it with.
    I think the heading for the other site, "Grace Conversation" really says alot as to your intent. Debating, clashing "spiritual swords", has a place, however, I fail to see why putting beliefs on a public forum like this site would not be considered much better than a debate where time is limited, and arguments cannot be really given proper consideration.
    I am sure with your background, that you would have no problem at all debating as the 'challenger' desires. However, my opinion is, I get more from a more relaxed presentation like on G.C… I can sit and read and think. Also it is better to do it this way for the two who are 'debating' because arguments can be more carefully presented when writing, than when speaking. There is a reason for James' advice to be slow to speak and swift to hear.
    Bottom line, I believe the better way is to 'debate' in the forum you have set up. This way, many thousands can be in your audience as the debate unfolds.

    Love you brother,

  14. Royce says:


    I would tell the good preacher to either do it here, in the most public and the platform with the greatest on lookers or, take a hike.

    There are many men who in an oral debate are good enough to make the majority of a crowd think the earth is flat. It is much harder to do in a format like your blog.

    As one who has broken commenter's rules, I too say turn comments off until the whole series is finished. Most of us are smart enough to know what has been said without someone else telling us.

    As for the preachers two books… They say you can't tell a book by it's cover….you can from it's title can't you?


  15. Randy Lucas says:

    If you want, go ahead and have an oral debate. Just turn on the tape recorder and debate with NO audience. Neither participant is affected by cheers and jeers from the audience and this eliminates grandstanding and playing up to the crowds' hot button. Maybe more attention would be paid to the actual topic and not which guy got in a particular zinger. Transcripts and/or cd's could be made available at a later time. Just a spontaneous thought.

  16. For what it's worth (nuthin!), it's my perception that scripture frowns on arguing and disputing between/among believers … while between believers and unbelievers (when the gospel is the subject), it's accepted as a matter of course.

    For what it's worth.

  17. Larry Short says:

    Maxey often has traded email debates on his website and I think they are OK. You can post Hester's email and your reply, and continue for a while. I would skip comments just to avoid one side ganging up on the other.

  18. Dan Harris says:

    Dear Jay; Concerning the request for a debate from David Hester;

    I am inclined to agree with those who have said that a deeper discussion could probably be accomplished through a written debate. However, there is something to be said for personal contact between brethren that differ if there can be a spirit of communication and fellowship. How's this for an "out of the box" idea?; an agreement to meet together with each of you giving a 45 to 50 minute lesson on some topic of mutual agreement—like 'why the gospel is important today' or 'is it possible to understand the Bible alike?' or 'is the gospel really from God?'.

    Each of these lessons would be like a preamble to the affirmative that each of you would present in the online written debate. The in person discussion would have no back and forth; just an introduction or preamble to what will be discussed on line. Ministers and elders from both sides of the discussion would be invited to attend. There should be a meal time for people to get to know one another a little. Perhaps the meeting place could be in a public venue like a large restaurant meeting room….if it is held at a church building perhaps the host church could provide the food (I would donate $200 or $300 toward some barbecue, maybe others would do the same.)

    My concern about an entirely on line discussion is that each side would already have decided their opinion beforehand. But if there is an in person "preamble" and maybe even an in person "epilogue" after the on line debate then the emotional/personal connections made would cause each side to be more open minded because of their new friends to what the Scriptures teach and people would be more likely to realize that these discussions effect real people who love the Lord….

    OK, Ok, I know it is a crazy idea, but you asked!

  19. Stan says:

    This is "veddy intarresting". It depends on the ground rules that are made and the character of the participants. It should not be dismissed outright.

    And note: this is important indeed. One may be able to craft their thoughts for public display on sites such as these without really showing who they are. But in a public debate, one's character cannot be veiled. Things become apparent. Things like . . . loving Jesus, discipleship, brotherly love, sincerety of heart, honor, godliness . . . boastfulness, haughty spirit, unkindness, hatred, ungodliness.

    Those whose character are made up of godly attributes have nothing to fear. They should stand up and be heard…even before those whose characters are of a lesser kind. You may teach more with the way you handle yourself…and the way you handle the brother who "may" be looking for a fight…than by anything you say. It isn't just about the truth. There are relationships between groups…the progs and the cons. Are you afraid that your character will take away from the truths you stand for? No you're not.

    And let me be clear. I do not judge David Hester. His character may be wonderful. And he may not be looking for a fight. Maybe he just has a competitive spirit…like Peter. I don't know David Hester…but I like him. He is in the church of Christ, and as such should be treated with consideration. If he reveals a character of the lesser kind, then…you can dust off your sandals.

    Paul would use the internet. You can count on it. He would not have missed a chance to speak for the Lord in public places either. Neither did Steven…even when it was an ugly crowd. Didn't Paul have to run for his life after speaking in certain cities?

    Jay, you have mastered the keyboard to be sure. Are you gonna hide behind it? No you are not. Consider the proposal. He talks of a debate but then also describes it as a public discussion. That is actually what we need more of. Find out more about David Hester and his character. And before you have the public discussion, have the Hesters over for dinner.

  20. Rachel says:

    If the Springville Road CoC is the one I'm thinking of, it's not, to my knowledge, one of the "conservatives." I personally hate the labels "conservative" and "progressives/liberals," and wish there could be more dialogue between the two.

  21. Jay Guin says:


    It's an interesting thought. In fact, when Todd and I started GC, we met with Phil and Greg for lunch in Nashville, had an enjoyable meal, and shared ideas, shared disagreements, and put together the plan for the discussion to follow.

    When Greg had to bow out and Mac agreed to take over, I think I made a mistake in not meeting with him. I figured his relationship with Todd would serve the same purpose, but I was wrong. I think it might have gone better had we formed a personal relationship first.

    And so, yes, I agree, it really helps with the conversationalists meet first or know each other well already. And that meeting needs to consider the broad outline of the disagreement, so the parties can be sure they understand each other's views.

  22. Jay Guin says:

    It's the one in Pinson, AL.

    Is this the one you were thinking of?

  23. Jay Guin says:


    I agree on eating together first.

    Really not up for a debate. It's not about hiding behind the keyboard (I'm a lawyer and have no problem with oral argument). A debate's just more than this body God gave me can handle. And nowadays, debates generate very small audiences — esp among the progressives. You see, many of the 20th Century debates were so acrimonious and, well, un-Christian that many progressives (and conservatives) have a very bad impression of the method.

    It's my impression that many schools of preaching study debates as part of their curricula, and this seems to result is reproducing the acrimonious style in many pulpits.

    And so, debates have lost much of their effectiveness (besides being physically impossible). On the other hand, online exchanges can attract substantial audiences.

    Better yet, debates get typed up and sold as books, but internet exchanges are instantly available in full-text around the world for free.

  24. Jay Guin says:


    It's interesting — and a little surprising — how many commenters want the comment feature turned off.

    Phil, Greg, Todd, and I actually discussed the question before we started, and went with comments. I have to say, the comments were sometimes a distraction — but I'm a big believer in letting everyone have his say.

    So I'm thinking about it.

  25. Stan says:

    It doesn't have to be a live debate. It doesn't have to be a debate at all.

    Choose a format that is more condusive to our times. It can be like a "Nightline " interview. You both sit in chairs near each other Someone acts as a moderator and sits in the middle. It could be kind of a round table. A question is asked. The questions can be agreed upon before hand. No surprises…because it's not about who can think on their feet the fastest. It's about truth. Agree on the brotherly love that should be displayed…no name calling…no hatred…nothing negative. Agree up front that it is all about truth…and that should drive the session. Agree on who will do the taping and how that will be handled. Agree on what media it will be broadcast. Maybe on your sight and a sight that he chooses. It doesn't have to be open to the public.

    This can work. You are right…a traditional debate is out. But there are good options for our times that involve face to face meetings that we can all participate in. Make the beauty of on line video work.

    It could be a series. It could involve more than the two of you. This could be really fun. I think videos would be watched on the internet by lots of people. More people thatn those who read blogs. Reading blogs is time consuming…There are those of us who do it…but it is time consuming.

    Keep thinking about it.

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