Tom Ascol has shared his thoughts here. When the Caners asked to make this a two-on-two debate (I prefer a single debate myself, honestly, as it is easier for the audience to follow) the first person I thought of was of course Tom Ascol. Even more so since the issue of Baptist history had been mentioned, and I know Tom will be able to provide clear, concise statements regarding the topic that will stand up to post-debate examination (which, given the time frames and the presence of four speakers, will be quite important).
I would like to share a paragraph from an e-mail I sent to the Caners right at the beginning of the discussion of the debate. I am sure they would not mind my sharing this portion of my concerns:
A debate needs a thesis statement, a center that allows us to take the discussion to the only source of truth we both confess to be our final and unquestionable authority: the inspired, inerrant text of God’s holy Word, the Bible. Brothers, I am a Calvinist by conviction of the Word of God and for no other reason. I do not base my case on philosophy. I do not base my case on history. Surely, both have their place, but they are not the source, the heart, the ground, of my faith. I base my case upon the consistent, sound, thorough-going exegesis of the text of Scripture itself. And to bless the people of God…one must make one’s case from the voice of Christ in His Word, wouldn’t you agree? I am certain you would agree with me that the only way for our efforts to bear lasting fruit is if we lead our audience to a deeper faith in, trust in, and knowledge of, the Scriptures. Hence, while I will gladly address the full range of truths that make up the heart of my faith, from God’s absolute sovereignty, man’s total inability, God’s unconditional election, Christ’s perfect and perfecting atonement, the Spirit’s infallible ability to regenerate, etc., there is a danger of being so unfocused as to never get to the text of Scripture itself, or, worse, to only cite it in a surface level manner. I’m sure you have experienced this frustration in your own debates, and would join me in not wishing to dilute the topic beyond what can be handled in, say, three hours?
This is truly my desire, and I know it is Tom’s: every believer will walk out of the Thomas Road Baptist Church that night blessed and edified if God’s Word is the centerpiece of all that takes place. I want especially the young folks who will be in attendance streaming out of that place looking to find somewhere to go to open the Word and consider well what John 6 says; why Jesus taught about the inability of man in John 8 and John 10; and why reliance upon such passages as Matthew 23:37, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:4 demonstrates the bankruptcy of the synergistic system.
One other area I am especially concerned about, outside of the need for fair and adequate moderation, is the need to have cross-examination. I raised this issue from the start:
One issue I would like to raise early, however, is the need to keep this from being nothing more than competing presentations. I.e., no meaningful interaction in the form of cross-examination. There are two positions being presented, and both need to be able to show their ability to interact with the other, and only cross-examination allows this to happen. Over the past six or seven years I have been using a free-flowing form of cross-examination in my debates, and when it works, it works very, very well. It is, however, liable to abuse if the actual aim of one of the sides is not really to clarify but to obfuscate. If you would like, I could send to those interested DVD’s of recent debates where the cross-ex worked very, very well (for example, with Dr. Mitchell Pacwa, Jesuit theologian, on the topic of the priesthood, or with the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, on the historicity of the Gospels) and also where it didn’t (for example, the debate against former Protestant Tim Staples before a largely Roman Catholic crowd in Fullerton, California on Papal Infallibility, where he asked me only four or five distinct questions in, as I recall, twelve minutes of time, while I asked him, as I recall, 44 in my same time period). Nothing demonstrates whether a position is truthful, consistent, and coherent, like cross-examination. It is the heart and soul of debate for the serious minded observer.
Once again, all of these issues I don’t believe are controvertible: I would hope all involved would agree that the topic demands we expend care to make sure to show it the respect it deserves. But in this particular instance, given the location, Tom and I are the “visiting team,” in essence, so we will have to trust the Caners and the leadership of Liberty University to extend the greatest effort to ensure a fair and meaningful exchange. Of course, the debate will be audio and video taped, so a much wider audience will be able to judge not only what is said, but how it is said as well.
I would like to ask even now that God’s people will support us this coming fall in the task we are facing. Right now I have three firm debates in six weeks, with two conferences and a possible third debate in the same time period! I will be speaking in Fort Worth on apologetics, Toronto just a few days later, then going to Long Island to debate and preach; the Lynchburg debate is only two weeks later, and then almost immediately off to Orlando for the Spong debate, the Pulpit Crimes conference, and our cruise! I know, who is in charge of my schedule anyway? Me! I only have myself to blame, but who could say no to these incredible opportunities! We will need God’s people to stand with us in prayer, in support, and in your presence! I don’t mind being in the minority, but it is nice to have at least some support in the audience. I know there will be Reformed folks in Lynchburg: but I am honestly concerned about Orlando! We know already of entire blocks of Spong supporters who have signed up. I know the Caner debate may seem “big” in a certain context, and it most assuredly is. But on a macro-scale, the Spong debate is much bigger. I would be greatly encouraged to hear of more folks signing up for the conference, debate, and of course, for those able to do so, the cruise. Yes, when you participate in those things I hope you realize you are supporting A&O at the same time.