In Profiles of Faith & Courage, I asked the twenty-four gospel preachers who make up the subject matter of this book, about their debating experience, and thoughts as to why debating is so rare these days. It is interesting that many of them admitted to never having conducted a debate, and were not of the debating spirit. I still smile when I read Frank Pack saying that I had him confused with Guy N. Woods!
Religious debates are very rare these days. In the old days debating was common among brethren and denominations. It was taken for granted that if you were going to preach that you would also be of the spirit to defend the truth of God publicly against all opponents. One of the very interesting features of the fascinating book Arkansas Angels, by Boyd E. Morgan (1967) is that it relates how the old-time Arkansas gospel preachers “debated the cause.” By 1953, at the age of 77, Joe H. Blue said he had conducted 107 debates (p. 80). It is noteworthy, however, that not all of the preachers whose stories are told in Morgan’s book were of the debating spirit, yet they were nonetheless able defenders of the faith. For example, W. A. Goodwin (1857-1939) “never pressed any views peculiar to himself.” Boyd E. Morgan said of him, “He showed no disposition to be a dictator. It was enough for him to be a humble servant of the Lord. I believe that he would have been the last man in Arkansas to have endorsed error, yet he never presented himself as a champion or a hero in such problems as may come out of bold agitations relative to erroneous matters. He rather placed himself back of the Cross of Christ and then extended the helping hand of love, peace and love” (p. 11). Then there was William Hopper (1862-1941) of whom Morgan wrote, “His friends who knew him remember him as a good old gospel preacher. Not designing to be a debator (sic) his preaching was by appointment and mostly confined to Greene county and Southeast Missouri” (p. 24). Also, J. M. Hunt (1870-1963) preached “along the east bottoms of Arkansas and along Crowley’s Ridge.” Of him, Boyd Morgan said, “He never aspired to be a debater, but his was a calming disposition bearing the force of love in his tone, attitude, and speech” (p. 48). Finally, L. M. Goings (1883-1966) “was quietly mannered and very sincere in his exhortations…Brother Goings was not a debater by design but firmly believed that a gospel preacher ought to defend what he preached when called upon. This conviction led him into the only debate of his career. He met a Baptist preacher in the Bettistown church house and to his credit, the truth did not suffer in his hands” (p. 133).
Then, as now, not everyone can or should debate. The late Earl West once told me that he had never held a debate. He did not feel that he had “the instantaneous presence of mind” to debate. Not everyone is of the ability, nor are they able emotionally to debate. That is not a negative reflection upon them, but it is simply to say that not all are equipped for the task. Some are better suited for other areas of work.
by Dennis Gulledge