I was directed to the March 5, 2010 issue of “Point of Inquiry,” a program wherein Robert Price interviewed fellow Jesus Seminar participant Robert J. Miller. Toward the end of the program I encountered the following material, which explains Dr. Price’s acceptance of the CRI invitation to debate in May. I think those gathered that evening should be aware of Dr. Price’s views on the issue of debates. Price asked Miller what he thought of debates, and then commented himself:
Miller: I think that the net effect of these is to lend legitimacy to fundamentalist scholars because it looks like we are taking them seriously as colleagues and peers, whereas in fact their assumptions are so fundamentally different from what I would think of as true and honest critical scholarship…I mean, all of their decisions and all of their positions are pre-dictated by their conservative theology. And I am really worried that the net effect of people like you and me debating with them is to lend them a credibility that they really don’t deserve. So I have a lot of reservations about these debates. What do you think, Bob?
Price: Well I believe you’re correct, but on the other hand it enhances their credibility in the eyes of their own constituency anyway. They are believing the same thing they would about the legitimacy of their scholars and their viewpoint no matter what I might say. And I feel like there probably is a thin edge of questioning or unconvinced people that may hope the apologetics are true and fear they are not and if I have a chance to get in there and say, “Well, you know, your fears are well founded, these people, sadly, do not know whereof they speak,” I think I might be doing a favor to those people. And the other ones, if it is just entertainment to them, well, so be it. I think you are right, it’s just I’m kind of aiming at a very thin slice of the audience, and the questions I usually get when the exchange is over tends to kind of confirm my hope that a surprising number of them have genuine questions and are not just trying to put me in my place, which I thought they would all be doing. Surprisingly, a lot them really do seem to want to hear another side. So I keep it up when I’m asked to do it; I never initiate them. And you are right, though, the one bad by-product, like Dawkins says about evolution, there is the risk of making people think we are taking them more seriously than we are (the last portion being said with laughter).
Drs. Miller and Price then went on to talk about how they became “intellectually unshackled” from fundamentalism, a common theme in Dr. Price’s talks, especially with atheists.
I am thankful I am not overly concerned about whether my debate opponents take me seriously or not—that is beyond my control. It speaks more to the individual debater and how he views his task and his responsibility to the audience than anything else. I have taken Bob Price quite seriously, as evidence by how many hours I have spent listening to him teach and lecture so far. But this does point out a fundamental difference between the two sides. The radical left (which Price represents) dismisses anyone who would believe the Christian message as a mere fundamentalist, one who unthinkingly accepts what he is told to believe without thought or reflection, and as such, does not believe we are worthy of any kind of “credibility” at all. This is why such liberals often exhibit incredible ignorance of the rich variety of viewpoints expressed on “our side” of the divide, because they simply do not invest their time in listening to what we have to say (Price, to his credit, has not forgotten his conservative training, and is more accurate in his representations than most in his camp). We are irrelevant. We see the exact same attitude on the part of true, down-home style “fundamentalists” who have no interest in knowing about any other viewpoints than their own. But in sound, conservative, believing seminaries, you will always find discussion of a wide spectrum of beliefs, even when there is strong disagreement. I listen to the Crossans and Ehrmans and Prices of the world not because I enjoy the exercise (I would much rather be listening to something uplifting and edifying), but because I seek to honor the truth, and the only way to do that is to do the work necessary to accurately represent your opponent in debate, for the benefit of the widest possible audience. So while Dr. Price will be seeking to “reach” only a small sliver of the audience in an attempt to push them over into agnosticism, I will be seeking to reach a much wider group: I wish to reach the unbelievers by demonstrating that the faith can stand in the presence of radical unbelief without compromise; I wish to reach the believers by modeling how they may provide an answer to those attacking their faith. And of course, another major difference between us is that Dr. Price has only the weapon of his own doubt to use. I have the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, to make the truth to come alive in the hearts of His people.