I would like to propose an alternative to debate: discussion.
With this, I clearly mark myself as a postmodern Christian. I think that “debating” someone (aka “winning” by “proving” your point) is pointless – never once have I seen anyone leave a debate having changed their mind about the issue, from either side. The only way it works is if that person actively looked for the debate to see if the beliefs they held were correct (say, for example, Lee Strobel). In which case, the debate is no longer a debate: it is a discussion, a place where both sides of the issue come to the table to honestly and non-hostily present their opinions and, over time, come to an understanding. This does not mean they will agree.
And that is the solution. Simple, elegant, and somehow, impossible for anyone with any grain of humanity within them. Now why is that?
As it turns out, people don’t like to be humble, and that’s what this requires: humility. People are stupid, as a general rule (and yes, I include myself in that broad, sweeping statement), and stupid things don’t tend to learn too quickly, especially stupid things that don’t think they’re stupid, i.e. the human race. I mean, come on, I’m writing about it, and yet I still probably don’t do much of it at all. I’m sure that, because of the rather amusing laws of probability, I might occasionally stumble into a humble moment (and I’m pretty sure this isn’t one of them), but it’s rare.
Anyway, so the idea is to talk about things with the humility to know that you’re probably not quite right, and that you should listen to the other person who is also probably not quite right. And so we’ll end up with a lot of people who are probably not quite right, but it makes for a much nicer place to live. At least, I think it would …