August 09, 2015

The Key to Successful Debating

Dear Dr. Craig,

You were the first Christian apologist I came across when I was researching a credible answer from Christianity to Atheist and Islam in 2002. Since then I have been following you through different medium on the internet. May God bless you for bringing the Christian truth with precision and clarity and with so much needed nuances.

I was re-watching your debate with Dr. Richard Carrier on the Resurrection of Jesus. I can't remember anyone really dismantling his case as you did. So I wondered how do you do to prepare for a debate? Most speakers are good at their opening speech but fair less well during the rebuttals, failure you seem immune to. Do you also prepare the rebuttals before your debates? If yes, how on earth do you do that since you can't possibly know what the opponent would say?

I would really appreciate if you could share with me some of your wisdom on how to prepare and do good debate for the sake of the Kingdom.

Thank you for your ministry to the body of Christ. May the Lord richly bless you until His blessed advent.

Yours in the master's service,



How encouraging to receive a letter from Rwanda, E.G.! Thank you for sharing with us and for your kind words!

I believe that preparation is the key to successful debating. My goal is to be so well prepared that I don’t have to think on my feet. This is accomplished by thinking in advance of all the objections to one’s arguments that one’s opponent is likely to raise and then preparing answers to them. Whichever ones he brings up you are therefore prepared to meet.

In Richard Carrier’s case, I had the advantage that he had a multitude of publications detailing his objections to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, so that I needn’t merely guess at his objections but knew what they were from reading his works. The challenge I faced in this debate was that I had far more material in response than time permitted me to share. So it was a matter of winnowing down my responses to hit as many points as I could in the brief rebuttal speeches.

One thing that became clear to me during my preparation is that while Richard is a fine bibliographer, he is just hopeless as an exegete. I love Michael Licona’s characterization of Carrier’s exegesis: “It is a torture chamber in which texts are stretched until they are made to say what Richard wants them to say.” Just as the hapless victim laid on a medieval torture rack is stretched until he says what his inquisitors want him to say, so the biblical texts are stretched until they yield Carrier’s view. His stretched interpretations of Pauline texts are so outrageous that they merit my appellation “crank exegesis.” I wanted our audience to see clearly this point and so prepared my rebuttals with this in mind.

Sometimes one has such a good idea of what one’s opponent is likely to say that one can actually prepare powerpoint slides to accompany, not only the opening speech, but also the rebuttal speeches, as I did for the debates with Bart Ehrman and Alex Rosenberg. The most difficult debate to prepare for, by contrast, is one with an opponent who has not published much on the topic, so that one is left guessing and has to be ready for anything.

In my experience, my opponents often do not prepare for our debates. Prior to one debate, in an effort to engage in a bit of small talk with my opponent, I mentioned to him that I had enjoyed reading his book in preparation for our debate. He looked at me and laughed, “You prepared for this thing?” It soon became evident that he had not.

My opponents often seem to think that the well-worn arguments from Philosophy 101 suffice to dispatch theistic arguments. They seem to have little knowledge of the revolution that has occurred in Christian philosophy over the last half century and so fail to appreciate how sophisticated the arguments of Christian philosophers have become. As a result, they are often ill-prepared to engage in a discussion of such matters.

Obviously, there are many other factors that are crucial to successful debating. But thorough preparation is the most important. Anyone who aspires to debate as a Christian ministry must be willing to put in the long hours and hard work of preparation.