Biblical Worldview in Value Debate

As we’ve begun this season of debate competition, there have been numerous questions regarding the use of the Bible and biblically-based arguments in Lincoln-Douglas Value debate. This year’s resolution uniquely gives rise to these issues as it asks debaters the question: How do we discover truth?

The NCFCA debate rules do not prohibit using the Bible in debate rounds, and we have encouraged competitors to approach this resolution (and all resolutions) from a Christian worldview. However, there is a difference between approaching a debate topic from a biblical worldview and using the Bible as a weapon to attack one’s opponent.

To approach a debate topic from a biblical worldview means to begin the debate with Christian presuppositions in place. In a Christian debate league, this approach should establish a common ground upon which two Christian competitors can have a discussion without either side compromising their faith.

Applying this principle to this year’s resolution, all parties can unequivocally affirm that God exists and that He created all things with intention, order, and purpose (Acts 17:24). This orderly universe is knowable, whether through a priori deduction or a posteriori inference from sense perception. Even our knowledge of the invisible God is possible because God has made Himself known to us directly (1 Corinthians 2:10-12) and through the testimony of creation (Romans 1:19-20). By agreeing to these presuppositions, we can avoid digressions into atheistic arguments and focus the debate on topics that are fruitful and meaningful to a Christian league. 

Using the Bible as a weapon, on the other hand, is to accuse one’s fellow Christian competitor of violating God’s Word simply by taking a position on a debatable philosophical question. Yet the Bible does not settle the question of whether rationalism or empiricism is more valuable. Both sides can find support in Scripture, and both of these topics come from deeply Christian perspectives and persons. Decartes explicitly involves God in all his writings, as do many early empiricists including Locke and Kant. They recognized that, like every inquiry of man, we inquire into the creations of God in epistemology as an act of worship.

Applying biblical principles to topics such as whether rationalism or empiricism is more valuable will always be inherently debatable. Although the biblical principles themselves are not debatable, the application of these principles to secondary questions is debatable. One can be a Christian and agree on the truth of all biblical principles and still debate how those principles apply to philosophical questions.

It is also important to recall that one of the fundamental principles of learning value debate is to identify, understand, and communicate what is important in conflict and conversations in real life. It is with this mindset that we become effective communicators for Christ. When debaters weaponize and manipulate scripture, they derail themselves and their competitors from opportunities to learn important concepts.

In order to avoid these pitfalls, debaters should consider the following principles:

  • First, competitors should be mindful that they are debating in the public square. The judge may not be a Christian and therefore will not necessarily be inclined to think that whoever was “most biblical” should win the round. Although Christians should not shy away from standing on biblical truth in the public square, they should also be aware that for the general public, arguing about who is the most biblical is often irrelevant.
  • Second, the focus of the value resolution is primarily philosophy, not theology. Although theology will influence philosophy, debaters should stay focused on the philosophical question at hand and not get sidetracked into a theological debate. Therefore, we suggest careful counsel with parents and coaches regarding what the justification would be for using scripture as a warrant or in support of a claim, and we suggest that parents and coaches counsel young people to carefully consider the impact on everyone in the round.
  • Third, debaters should not make arguments that characterize one side of the resolution as unbiblical. This approach is not only disrespectful to the viewpoints involved, but it is disingenuous given the fact that debaters will all be arguing with conviction, passion, and the hope of winning from both sides of the resolution in each tournament.

Several questions addressed to the Debate Committee this season have asked for practical help that can be used in a round when scripture comes up. Here are some possible options:

  • To establish or reestablish common ground, debaters might say things like, “I’m sure my opponent agrees that God created all things” or “Because my opponent and I agree that the world that God created is real, we can set aside questions about whether or not this world actually exists.”
  • If an opponent attempts to characterize an argument as unbiblical, they can say something like, “We both share a commitment to Scripture. That's not up for debate. I believe there is a biblical basis for both rationalism and empiricism, and questions of applying Scripture to something like which type of knowledge should be valued above another will always be debatable among Christians. Although the Bible supports both views, it does not say which one should be valued above another. That's for us to debate while we both remain committed to our faith.”

The Debate Committee welcomes any further questions that affiliates and judges may have about this topic. Please write to [email protected] with comments or concerns.