As we were packing our things there were lots of discussions as to which would be the first rides to get on. “I am definitely going to get on Supreme Scream first.” “Oh, I can’t wait to get on Ghostrider.” These were the exchanges taking place between my daughters Angelique and Abigail and their close friend Summer White. They were anxiously waiting our 3 day “get away” which included a trip to the Knotts Berry Farm Theme Park. Little did they know that they were about to go on a “ride” long before their Saturday at Camp Snoopy.
I am speaking of course of the James White vs. Tim Staples debate that took place on Friday evening July 7th. It was an event that had been marked on our calendars for months, an event that we (Kelli White, my wife Jody and myself) had eagerly awaited. For our kids, however, it was perhaps the “long night” before the “big adventure,” the “bump” in the road before we get to the “fast track.” I guess debates and lectures are not the kind of things most young people look forward to. After all, my daughters Angelique (14) and Abigail (12), had never even been to a debate, and while Summer (11) and Joshua (14) had seen their dad in action before, they no doubt had their eyes set on Saturday and Supreme Scream.
The evening began as expected with Tim Staples beginning with a 30 minute opening argument followed by a 30 minute opening by James White. Sitting next to me was Angelique and sitting right in front of us in the first row (known as the “spit pit” to young people) sat Abigail and Summer. The beginning argument, by Tim Staples, brought some yawns amongst our young people. That is, until Angelique whispered to me, “what is he talking about?” “I have no idea,” I responded, “but I am sure he will make his point soon.” Sadly, after 30 minutes, I was proven wrong because no such “point” was made.
Some more yawns and obvious distraction had set in. No doubt they were beginning to wonder if this was going to be a long evening after all. It was now James White’s turn. He was very quick to point out that he, unlike Mr. Staples, was focused on staying on the debate topic for the evening. Hence he wasted no time in getting to the issues. This relieved my daughter because evidently James had shared the same “frustration” she had in Mr. Staples’ opening. It was encouraging to see that Dr. White’s opening argument had managed to recapture the kid’s attention. Now to be sure, there is no getting around the obvious bias the kids had for James. After all, to Angelique and Abigail, James is a dear friend as well as one of their pastors, and there simply was no missing the obvious twinkle in Summer’s eye that lovingly expressed that “this is daddy.”
After the opening arguments things got a little more intense. It became increasingly evident to the kids that we were in the minority that night. They began to look around as the large Roman Catholic crowd began to cheer their champion, while expressing their displeasure (that is putting it mildly) at their Mr. White. Emotion and intensity were definitely in the air and it was during the 15 minute rebuttals that I began to notice a definite change in the kid’s attention and in their body language.
They began to follow the arguments. Oh, I am not suggesting that they understood everything that was said, but one thing is for sure, they were working hard at trying. No longer was there “Knotts on the mind” (pardon the pun) but they were, in the fullest sense of the word, into the debate. They began to scoot up on their seats. They began to nod their heads in approval as well as shake their heads in disapproval. They began to listen with a measure of discernment as they heard and saw Dr. White address issues that Mr. Staples failed to answer. They were also given a brief history lesson as they heard of popes Honorius, Sixtus, Liberius, and Zosimus. Unlike other history lessons they had received, this one was most interesting yet it became evident, however, that Mr. Staples did not share their interest in history as he desperately sought to get as far away from it as possible.
As Mr. Staples attempted to answer charges against Honorius, my daughter whispered, “He looks nervous,” and if I am not mistaken my younger daughter turned and said, “his hands are shaking.” Summer just kept nodding her head in frustration as Mr. Staples chased convenient rabbits and seemingly “forgot” about Honorius. “How come he doesn’t answer the question?” my daughter asked, to which I responded, “because he can’t.” “Oh”, she said looking at me with a smile. I mean, how would you like to defend Honorius while seeking to defend papal infallibility? Such would make even the most eloquent of men stutter, as Mr. Staples repeatedly did that evening.
Well what more could I say? Like the children clapping after Mr. White had silenced the roaring crowd by reminding them that Sixtus died in August after his Vulgate was put out in April (you had to be there). Or how about the unanswerable and devastating question posed to Mr. Staples before the break regarding Alexander IV? Alexander put forth a decree that forbid laymen from debating a heretic in any public forum. Mr. Staples, a laymen himself, was posed this dilemma. If he believed in papal infallibility then he would end the debate in accordance with Alexander’s decree. If he continued the debate then he had to prove that the decree had been rescinded and if so, when and why? Finally, if it did change then how could it have been true once and not anymore?
During the intermission Abigail leaned over her chair and said to me, “He told Summer and I that he was going to ask that question dad.” “What do you think he will say, dad?” responded Angelique. Well it wasn’t too long before their questions were answered. Unfortunately, Dr. White and the rest of us saw once again that Mr. Staples had no answer.
The cross examination was where I observed my most amusing situation. The children were expecting the apologists to ask questions of each other. Unfortunately Mr. Staples had forgotten this and was more comfortable preaching than he was in asking questions. Maybe it was because he was somewhat concerned about Dr.White’s answers. At any rate, Mr. Staples had 12 minutes to ask some questions. I believe he asked two. They were couched in what seemed like 5 minute diatribes. After he finally asked his first question he began his second diatribe. Midway through Mr. Staple’s “preaching” my attention was stolen by an exclamation that was made: “Just ask the question!!!” My eyes surprisingly focused on my usually reserved daughter sitting next to me. “Did she actually say that?” I thought. Incredible!
As Mr. Staples concluded his closing argument the kids watched as the Roman Catholic crowd stood in a thunderous ovation. The kids looked a bit confused. “Didn’t they hear the debate?” they must have thought. “Why are they applauding?” their expressions said. They soon recognized that it really didn’t matter what Mr. Staples said or didn’t say, seemingly he could have simply said “You’re wrong Mr. White” (which is about as much as he said) and the crowd would have roared. The kids learned that these folks were loyal to their traditions, sadly, at the expense of truth. No one but God could change the hearts of those Roman Catholic people, and now more then ever the kids had learned this lesson.
As Dr. White began to conclude his closing argument there was no getting around the fact that the kids were not going to be outdone. They anxiously sat on their seats as James White closed his presentation with passion and conviction. They were so filled with emotion that they quickly erupted with an ovation of their own. “We may be outnumbered,” I thought, “but we are not silenced.” Our young people had led the way in showing their appreciation to the masterful job that James White had done.
As we left the building there was much discussion. Each of the children were talking as if they had just seen an NBA game. “I can’t wait till the next debate!” “Did you hear when James?” “How about when Tim couldn’t?” Well you get the point. It had become clearly evident to me that the children were treated to a most memorable occasion. They had their minds challenged. They had learned to listen with discernment. They had demonstrated a passionate interest in the defense of the truth. Finally, they had shown tremendous love and loyalty to James White. Little did they know, as I heard them talking, that at least for a little while they had forgotten all about Knotts Berry Farm.