There was a time, not long ago, when a debate was a big deal. Much time and effort went into arranging it, preparing for it, setting up, etc. Of course, those doing the debates, if they were serious minded people with long-range goals, would spend hours and hours and hours preparing, studying, reading, listening. I can honestly say that for major debates I spent as much as six months pouring over my opponent’s position, listening to his lectures, reading his books, longer, in the case of someone like Bart Ehrman or John Dominic Crossan. They were a big deal.
Over the past few years, things have changed. “Debate,” as it is being referred to today, has gone on-line. Today, guys can sit in their pajamas in a poorly lit room with a 64 ounce Big Gulp prominently taking up part of the screen, an occasional dog making an appearance in the background, possibly even the ubiquitous ceiling fan spinning away above, opining on a topic that they might have taken all of half an hour to review before firing up Skype. Yes, that’s the worst-case scenario, but we’ve all seen it, and some folks seem to think that’s really “cool.”
Then came the pandemic, and now everything has been thrown online. Most schools will not even rent space for an actual in-person meeting with fellow human beings, or if they do, you will all have to put on the Face Diaper Sign of Submission and leave empty rows and all that utter nonsense. Very few have the stomach for it right now, and the future looks bleak for that changing.
So where does that leave us? Let me repeat what I’ve said for years. We do debate for clear, identifiable purposes. We want to edify the saints. We want to evangelize the lost. And we want to produce a body of material that will continue to be relevant and helpful for literally decades. To that end, we have invested a large portion of what had been my travel fund into creating a studio for serious, high-quality, on-line interactions. The room will feature three high-tech, remote-controllable cameras, multiple super size high-resolution screens, and a teaching board that I can only liken to those used on sports programs (which I no longer even see) where you can grab items and drag them around and draw and write, etc. (which should be just awesome for doing textual critical discussions, for example). There will be no ceiling fans, and my cat, Cobra, is banned (he is LOUD). We even have a really nice podium to work with.
So as the studio comes together and becomes functional, we will probably do some live teaching sessions to shake things out, find out how the live streaming works, etc. Then we will probably arrange some kind of live discussion with a guest (I have someone in mind) so as to work out bugs in what a guest would see, hear, etc., and how interaction would work, maybe with a third guest to emulate having a remote moderator. Once we are confident that the final product will be worthwhile, professional, and lasting, then we can start scheduling debates, not weekly, or even monthly, but on a regular enough basis to be profitable and allow proper preparation. This includes responding to some of the recent spate of challenges or invitations.
Of course, I should note that at some point, Lord willing, soon, a log-jam in publication will break, and I will have to dedicate a very major portion of my time to my doctoral program, which has been on pause, waiting for the publication of key data, delayed by the Panic of 2020 even further. I will simply point out that anyone pretending I am “dodging” this or that, having done 175 such debates over the course of thirty years now, should probably reflect upon just how serious they really are.
I am personally looking forward to the completion of the studio and the opportunities it will represent, but, at the same time, I mourn the possible passing of an era wherein we were able to freely gather and engage in serious debate at churches, university campuses, etc.