Debating Jesus

Imagine having the opportunity to talk about the claims of Jesus from the Bible for nearly an hour to a packed room of Muslim students. Imagine many of them taking away gospels at the end to read more. Imagine 15,000 people then watching the recording of the debate online. Well that’s exactly what happened at Manchester Metropolitan University earlier this year.

During the very successful citywide mission week in Manchester this year the CU there had organised a public debate in conjunction with the Islamic Society. It ended up being the largest event that the CU had ever organised. After a free lunch the packed room settled down for an hour and a half discussion about the person of Jesus. My opponent, Shabir Yusuf, was a well-known Islamic speaker from the North West. After initial statements and rebuttals it was then opened up to the floor for questions.

The topic of the debate was ‘Who was Jesus?’ Unsurprisingly Shabir made the claim that Jesus was a prophet but nothing more, where as I wanted to show that he was indeed far more than that! The debate was robust but good natured and well led by the presidents of both societies. Long after the formal end to the debate, many were still discussing together about what they had heard and looking further at the claims of Jesus in the Uncover gospels.

Some people can be skeptical about the effectiveness of public debates feeling that they generate more heat than light and increase hostility. However, I don’t think this is the case. Indeed it would be great to see many more CUs engaging in this way with Muslims on campus. Debates can have many benefits:

  • Debates attract people to come who would not otherwise attend a talk organized by the Christian Union. It may be more likely to be advertised by the university and of course the other side will want to invite people to come to support them!
  • Debates demonstrate the truth of the gospel by putting it out there for scrutiny and questioning. People are often surprised by the reasonable case that can be made for Christian faith. Those who are not yet Christians can be intrigued, but Christians too can grow in their confidence.
  • Debates spark conversations that can develop into relationships. It was great to see members of the CU engaging in conversation with members of the Islamic Society. They are now in a good position to keep those conversations going.
  • Debates rarely bring people to faith on their own but can be a spring bard to people coming to other events. By organizing the debate as part of the mission week we were able to invite those who were interested to come back and here more the very next day.

Are you part of Christian Union? Why not consider organising a debate with the Islamic Society or Atheist Society at your university?

If so please do get in touch!

N.B. The recording of the debate was published by Shabir Yusuf’s team and includes on screen comments that in some cases are not accurate. At 22:52 the comment contradicts my claim that the Quran itself states that God appeared in the burning bush. This is indeed the case in Surah 27:9-10. 

The format worked well though if we had more time for the whole debate it would have been good to give each speaker slightly longer for opening remarks and rebuttals. The one area that would have been better would have been if each speaker could have had 10-15 minutes each to question the other speaker. By questioning each other back and forth it became slightly disjointed and made it harder to press a home a particular point or issue. 






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