Previous installment here

When C. S. Lewis helped to establish the Socratic Club of Oxford, along with a group of fellow Christians, he often heard the charge that the Club was inherently biased, prone to the temptation of setting things up to favor the Christians. Lewis freely acknowledged this bias — but went on to point out that “argument . . . has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours. . . . The arena is common to both parties and cannot finally be cheated; in it you risk nothing, and we risk all” (emphasis mine). That is, the unbeliever whose case for unbelief seems weaker at the end of the day hasn’t “lost” anything more than Plinio has when he can’t answer one of Joseph’s arguments: at worst, he or she must do further thinking about the evidence for and against Christian belief. But the believer whose case for Christianity is undermined by such debates is in a radically more vulnerable position.

Thus the warning of Sir Thomas Browne in the seventeenth century: “Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity. Many from the ignorance of these maxims, and an inconsiderate zeal unto truth, have too rashly charged the troops of error, and remain as trophies unto the enemies of truth. A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender: ’tis therefore far better to enjoy her with peace, then to hazard her on a battle.”

Some of my philosophical friends are horrified by Browne’s argument, and remind me of St. Peter’s exhortation: “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). But I would reply by noting two things: there is more than one kind of preparation, and there is more than one kind of defense. All too often Christians think of preparation for “making a defense” as a matter of gathering information and training themselves in dialectical agility: anticipating arguments and coming up with clever responses to them. But the example of Joseph Knecht suggests that prayer — and contemplative prayer even more than the petitionary variety — is at least as important a mode of preparation. Indeed, I would suggest that it’s far more important, because in my experience it’s far less common for debating Christians to be uninformed than it is for them to be angry, truculent, and uncharitable.

To be continued…