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Third Republican debate: moderators steal the show

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Ted Cruz, center, talks about the mainstream media as Carly Fiorina, left, and Chris Christie look on during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Third republican debate was held Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado. CNBC moderated the debate and, to the satisfaction of both the candidates and the viewers, managed to keep it to around two hours; a marked improvement from the nearly three hours it took the last debate to conclude. Unfortunately for CNBC, that’s where the praise for their performance ends.

In a night that was supposed to be about the candidates and their policies, moderators Carl Quintanilla, John Harwood, and, to an extent, Becky Quick have been the focus for much of the post-debate response. Their questions were often combative, such as asking Donald Trump if his candidacy was “a comic book version of a presidential campaign,” and they often seemed more intent on generating conflict between the candidates than on giving the debaters a chance to share their policy views.

The perspective nominees did not shy away from calling them out on their approach, often using the moderators as a launching pad for tirades against the larger news media. Ted Cruz put a voice to many of the candidates’ frustrations when he responded “This is not a cage match…How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?”

When the candidates were given a chance to speak about such issues, Marco Rubio seemed to give the best performance according to most pundits. His handling of questions about the number of votes he has missed in the Senate while campaigning, including jabs from former mentor Jeb Bush, showed poise and many now consider him the leader of the establishment candidates. CNN‘s Buck Sexton said of Rubio: “In some moments he looked like the captain of Team GOP, bringing all the candidates under his banner. Rubio managed to strike a balance between standing his ground and maintaining an almost insouciant charm.”

Most commentators credit Bush with having the worst night among the candidates, though his supporters are quick to point out that debates are simply not his strong suit and that it is far too early to count him out of the race. To that end, he told CNN‘s Dana Bash after the debate, “I’m running for president. If they’re looking for an entertainer in chief, I’m probably not the guy.”

Still, despite being in the best situation in terms of donor support, most believe that he will have to get better in this setting if he wants to stay in the race long term. After all, while any one debate may do more to generate headlines than substantive change, taken together they form an instrumental aspect of the campaign process. And with many republican voters seemingly more concerned with keeping a democrat out of the White House than with which republican would eventually go in, the importance of these debates is not likely to diminish.

I wonder though, do we take a similar approach in how we relate to non-believers (or even our fellow believers)? Does the world know us for what we’re against more than what we’re for? Often times Christians are criticized for being homophobic, intolerant, and judgmental because we are quite capable of listing off the reasons other people are wrong while forgetting to explain and demonstrate the better way.

John 3:16 is one of the most quoted passages in all of scripture. However, we often fall short of completing the Gospel writer’s thought. John 3:17-18 follows it by explaining “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

If Jesus did not come to condemn the world then why would we ever think that is our role? Yes it is necessary for us to help people recognize their sin so that they can repent of it, but we are called to do so in love rather than judgment. After all, that is how God won us.

16th-century reformer John Bradford, when watching criminals walking to their execution, often reminded himself that “There but for the grace of God go I.” Let us take a similar approach as we attempt to help the world around us understand what we are for rather than just what we are against. The only difference between us and those we are wont to condemn is the presence of Christ’s saving grace in our lives. If we live with that perspective, then maybe we can help a few more people come to experience that grace as well.

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