Last week I had the chance to go to the MSU campus and watch Cliffe Knechtle from Give Me An Answer debate Jeremy Beahan, who does the Reasonable Doubts podcast. Looks like the audio is at Jeremy's website.
This Cliffe Knechtle guy is somewhere between funny and impressive. His presentation is animated and somewhat dramatic. His voice tone comes off with exaggerated inflections. His hands move a lot. He's pacing, sometimes getting himself into a horse stance. It's kind of strange, but on the other hand I think it's effective. In other words, nobody is going to fall asleep listening to him. What he says sticks. Also he doesn't need any notes. The whole thing is memorized. Every dramatic pause is planned. The guy is polished.
Jeremy was the opposite. He isn't a professional debater so he's not able to just wing the presentation. He relied on his notes, especially early. I thought he started out at a little bit of a deficit because of that, but the content was very good. And as the debate wore on I could see that he was relaxing more and more, and this made his presentation better and better. So I thought he did great.
After the talk I approached Cliffe and debated with him a little. He had said that the disciples all died for the belief that Jesus rose, so I asked him how he knows that. For instance how does he know that someone like Andrew was martyred for his claim that he had seen Jesus physically raised. "Church tradition." What tradition. "It's in the church fathers." OK, where? Give me a document. (Slight pause). "I Clement." No. "Origen, Papias." No they don't. "This was the policy of the Roman Empire. You deny the emperor worship and you die."
And off we went from there. It was good fun. Cliffe was sort of being reasonable, but I sensed as a few students started to gather around and listen he was starting to get animated and dramatic. It was time to put on a show again. And the discussion started to get a little less productive. For instance I asked if there are any critical scholars that think Matthew wrote Matthew. F.F. Bruce. I said no, Bruce is a conservative scholar. "Oh, so you think if they are conservative they aren't real scholars. That's extremely arrogant and absurd." I tried to explain to him over and over that I simply defined "critical" in such a way that conservative was excluded and I wasn't saying conservatives are not legitimate scholars. But he held on to this caricature of my position like a pit bull. It was like a life line.
I bumped into him in the hall way and spoke again with him, with no students around. I explained my points a little further and he seemed to listen very attentively and said that I was making very interesting points that are worth thinking about. With the spectators gone there was no need to go into an act again.
Then again maybe the later warmness and attentiveness was an act. Cliffe is pretty good at creating a show.