A few weeks ago, Christianity Today published an article by Michael Licona titled, “I Befriended Bart Ehrman by Debating Him.” In the article, Licona recalls how he initially debated Ehrman in 2008 and how a friendly acquaintance grew out of the exchange. Reading about their casual friendship, I am reminded of the rather more famous camaraderie that developed between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew.
Licona models the winsomeness of the truly Christlike apologist in this article. While I don’t know him well, I did interview him for a podcast and he gave a very fine endorsement of my 2013 book God or Godless (with John Loftus). And I can say that Mike is a very kind and genteel person. He also is a black belt at taekwondo, so that could be at least part of the reason that Ehrman has been so friendly. (Ha ha.)
Two things strike me about this article. The first is that Licona’s degree of debate prep is stunning. For example, he writes: “Over the next five months, I dedicated no less than 50 hours a week to preparing.” Frankly, I find it hard to understand how that could be true. For five months, Licona devoted more time to debate prep than a full-time job?
Even if that is hyperbolic, there is no doubt that Licona devoted an inordinate amount of time to prepare for that debate, even to the point of getting a sparring partner in mock debate preps. It’s impressive, indeed!
The second thing that strikes me is how, presumably, a large portion of the Christianity Today audience would find the idea of being friendly with those with whom you disagree to be a surprising or perhaps even subversive notion. Think about it: being friends with people who don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. Sorry to sound like Captain Obvious here but, isn’t that just the kind of friendships that real Christians should be cultivating?
And so, the real lesson of this article might be the sad realization that it needed to be written at all.