"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question." Acts 15:1-2 NIV
Debates were a tactic I used to help students go from neutral to highly engaged thinking. Students are ultimately in control of their attitudes when they walk in the class, but as a teacher I prayed, researched, and thought long and hard for ways to engage my student's minds. A good debate always had students walking out of the classroom still brewing with opinions and thoughts on the topic. You will be hard pressed to find a subject that doesn't have some kind of controversy attached.
Lesson: Let's Debate
Length: 1-3 Days
Materials: Bible, Resources that provides additional information on the topic (i.e., computer with internet access).
Objective: Students learn about controversial topics in the church, and research the issue to gain a deeper understanding of their own beliefs.
Intro: Ask students to list the different Christian denominations and write them on the board. Depending your student's knowledge of denominations, have them summarize what makes each denomination different. You can discuss the history of the Christian church and their early debates. For example, the book of Acts records Paul, Barnabas, Peter and other Jewish Christian leaders arguing over the rules of salvation for a new Gentile convert.
Explain that the students will research some modern debates in the church. This will help them better understand their own position and also see why other believers in Christ have different opinions.
Lesson: Provide the structure of the debate. Depending on how many topics and students you have, split the class up accordingly. They can choose the side they want to debate, or you can put them in groups depending on certain strengths.
Provide 1-2 days of research time. One way to encourage everyone to participate is to have them turn in notes and do the work individually before they meet with their groups. Their points need to be supported by scripture.
Once in their groups have them write a brief group summary of their position. Also, have them write a list of their strongest points they will use in the debate. Tell groups everyone will need to participate at least twice while the debate is in session.
Have them list out points they believe the opposing side will bring up. Encourage them to prepare for counter arguments.
After both sides are ready, explain the rules of the debate. Each class is different, here are some suggestions:
1. One person from each side will briefly share their position on the issue.
2. We will flip a coin to decide who goes first.
3. That side will begin by sharing their first main idea.
4. They will stand up to talk, and only one person is allowed to stand at a time.
5. When there is someone talking no one else is allowed to talk, or make any other sounds.
6. Full respect is expected, and a good grade is awarded if students respect each opponent by listening well, and thinking deeply regarding their classmates' position on the issue.
7. When one side is finished sharing their main ideas, the opposing side is given 30 seconds to discuss the points with their group and can share their rebuttal. The other group is allowed to comment.
8. Repeat number 4-7 until time runs out or both sides run out of points to discuss.
9. The winners are based on the group that is the most prepared, with the strongest Bible supported ideas and rebuttals.
Feel free to tweak these rules to fit your class.
Suggested Debate Topics:
- Free will vs. Predestination
- Spiritual Gifts vs. Cessationism
- Infant Baptism vs. Believer's Baptism
- Hell vs. No Hell
- Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism
- Military Service vs. Pacifism
- Inerrant vs. Infallible (Bible)
- Tattoos vs. No Tattoos
Not every topic is the best to have students discuss. I did not discuss topics that might single a student out, or that could be inappropriate based on the class or school atmosphere.
I hope you enjoy the debates in your class. This was something we did often because it motivated the students to think deeply about the Word of God and why they believed what they did.