I recently read a book by a pointedly atheist author. This was not just someone who happened to disagree with Christians, but one who even made a false statement or two (easily enough demonstrated), falsified his source material (again, easily enough demonstrated) and misrepresented its contents in order to put together a logical "case" against Christianity. His tone was frequently mocking, his portrayals of Christians so skewed that I found myself wondering if there is some objective standard to measure and demonstrate the extent of bias in a piece of writing. (No doubt there is somewhere, if I were inclined to track it down.)
I found myself, as I read, mentally gearing up to demolish these distortions. And as I did, I saw the author as the enemy. Now, in his own mind he probably is; it would be difficult to imagine someone setting out to write and publish a book like that without first deliberately and consciously taking position as an enemy of mainstream / orthodox / traditional Christianity. But I found myself reacting to someone who is, honestly, trying to provoke a reaction. I have watched myself -- and other Christians in debate -- forget what we're working towards. Yes, it's best if we counter the lies and malicious talk. But if I let myself forget why I'm doing it, I may gain a small win at the cost of a large loss.
I read several books recently by atheists who engage in Christian baiting for sport, and had planned a series of posts. Recently I checked some of my planned posts lists. I was planning a post on baptism in the gospels and in the epistles, not to learn more about baptism, but to show "those people" how wrong they are about Paul having no interest in Christ's teachings. Worse, I was planning a post on Christ's teachings on the primacy of love and how Paul, more than anyone else in the New Testament epistles, picked up that idea and ran with it -- not planning this post to learn more about love or to ingrain the primacy of love deeper into myself, but again just to show the bias and blatant distortion of facts coming from the anti-Christian crowd when they claim that Paul taught an entirely different thing than Jesus, or had no interest in Jesus' teachings.
I could multiply examples, but I'm hoping by now my point is made: hostility and factions and discord are typical price tags of "debates", and "debates" may not be the best way to answer someone. How often are polemics productive? (Productive of what?) Even within Christianity, we find ourselves polarized, and polarization often distorts both parties from their original position. At any rate a debate format makes sure the sides remain "parties" or partisans -- it prevents union, interferes with outreach.
I do not intend to abandon the original proposed posts. But I hope to handle them differently. If I approach this in a better way, proclaiming the answer to the constant stream of misguided accusations will show Jesus at his best, not me at my worst.