Over the last few years a storm has been brewing. This storm that rumbles throughout public forums of debate, social media, gymnasiums, church parking lots, school lunchrooms, and barber shops across the globe comes in the form of a question. One question has captivated the hearts and minds of the people—Who is the Greatest of All Time? Lebron James or Michael Jordan. Indeed some of my readers are probably irate because in asking that question I didn’t put Michael Jordan’s name first. With every NBA Finals Lebron appears in and every record Lebron breaks, the battle between MJ fans and LJ fans intensifies—the struggle is real.
There is no public arena that showcases the utter mastery of apologetics as much as the local barber shop. When I was growing up a trip to the barber shop often meant that one would have the opportunity to witness a skillful display of rhetoric, whit, logic, and presentation of evidence as men discussed such weighty matters as, “Who was the better running back between Jim Brown and Walter Payton?”, or “Who would have had the better career between Penny or Grant Hill?” In a simple sports debate many of us are already using all the basics of what one needs to know about being an effective apologist. Let’s take a different angle on this LJ versus MJ debate and I’ll prove it to you.
What is the GOAT?
As basketball fans wrestle with the question of who is the GOAT, I think we all instinctively know what the discussion is NOT about. When talking about the greatest player of all time we are not dealing with what a person’s favorite player of all time is. Conversations about who your favorite player is may be interesting to a degree but that’s not where the action is; favorites is a matter of opinion. If two individuals are going back and forth about Lebron versus MJ and a third person jumps in and says, “Well, all I know is I like Lebron’s style of play better that MJ’s, he’s my favorite player.” The two gentlemen who were initially involved in the debate may appreciate the third party giving their opinion but that opinion hasn’t resolved the matter at hand. Why? When we argue about who the GOAT is we are interested in something more than merely someone’s subjective opinion on the topic; we are seeking an answer to the question that is objectively true. Subjective opinions are by definition relative to the person that holds them. For example, some people like vanilla ice cream and others prefer chocolate. Some like watching Kyrie Irving break ankles others would prefer to bring back the days of true Centers and Shaq breaking backboards. Expressing one’s subjective opinion may tell us about the personal tastes of an individual but generally not so much about objective truth of reality beyond the individual. For that reason expressions of subjectivity aren’t all that persuasive when you are trying to convince someone else that you are actually right about something. Whether we realize it or not, we understand the difference between subjectivity and objectivity; we apply it all the time. In the context of our LJ and MJ discussion, I can remember how hype I was watching MJ being helped off the court by Scottie Pippen after dropping 28 points on the Utah Jazz while he had the flu! I can’t say I’ve had that same feeling watching Lebron play but I wouldn’t expect my feelings alone to persuade someone that Jordan was a better player. Perhaps giving my testimony about watching Jordan fight through the flu might persuade some folks but for the hardened Lebron fan I will probably need more ammunition than that alone; I need objective evidence in order to make a solid case for Jordanism. Likewise, telling people our story of what God has done in our lives and how He has changed us from the inside out can be a very effective way to share the gospel, however, in today’s culture it is often helpful to incorporate evidences for Christianity that demonstrate the Christian worldview is grounded in objective truth. The mission of the church isn’t to tell the world that we like God. The purpose of Christian apologetics is to fulfill the Great Commission by helping people to come to the objective truth about who God is, what God is like, what He has done through the cross, what needs to happen for us to be right with Him, what His plan is for His people, and how we go about aligning ourselves with His plan.
Where is the evidence?
Now let’s get back to the LJ versus MJ debate. We’ve established that determining who the GOAT is isn’t about favorites but rather it’s a matter of using facts to arrive at the objective truth of who the greatest is. Inevitably one of the first things that comes up in this discussion is rings. We all know that at the end of the day, in order to be in the GOAT conversation you’ve got to be a winner. As a matter of fact you’ve got to bring at least a few championship rings to the table. Now when it comes to who has more jewelry we all know how Air Jordan shut it down back in the day. Once Jordan got on a roll he gave y’all a 3-peat, took a breather to play baseball and make Space Jam, and then came back to snatch up 3 more rings! In that legendary run, MJ and the Bulls snagged six championships in 8 years. Some people would say the GOAT conversation is over right there: MJ’s 6 rings wins out over Lebron’s 3 rings—‘Nuff said. But can you really determine who is the greatest on rings alone? If so then that would mean Robert Horry is greater than both His Airness and LeBron, right? In how many of those seven NBA Finals wins did Big Shot Bob show up in the fourth quarter and give his squad the edge? Does that make him better than LeBron and Jordan? Of course, not. We all know that’s ridiculous and it takes more than just rings to be the man. Therefore you have to have other arguments to go along with the rings if you really want to make a strong case for who is the greatest. In Christian apologetics it’s the same thing. There are some really good arguments out there that we can use to defend the Christian worldview. Examples would be the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Contingency Argument, Free Thinking Argument, Moral Argument, Ontological Argument, Fine Tuning Argument, Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism, Evidence for the Resurrection, and even the Black Lives Matter Argument against Naturalism. Individually, each of these arguments are solid evidences for the Christian worldview and highlight something particular about God or Christianity that we might want to convey to someone we are sharing the gospel with. However, these arguments become even more persuasive when you can couple a few of them together in a cumulative case for Christianity. One argument may not do the trick just like the MJ-has-more-rings approach. However, string a couple arguments together and next thing you know you’ll find yourself having a powerful framework to present the gospel.
Usually talk of how many championships Jordan has over Lebron is immediately followed by a battle of statistics and accolades. Over the course of his career, Jordan averaged 30ppg, 6rbs, and 5 ast while shooting 50% from the field. So far Lebron is averaging 27ppg, 7rbs, and 7ast while shooting 47% from the field. Though Lebron’s averages are lower by the end of his career he will far surpass Jordan in totals for each of these areas. Jordan was a Rookie of the Year, 14 time All Star, 11 time All NBA, 9 time defensive team, 5 time MVP, 6 time Finals MVP, Dunk Contest Champion, and Dream Team legend. Lebron has been a Rookie of the Year, 13 time All Star,13 time All NBA, 4 time MVP, and 6 time all defensive team honoree. Plus, after watching Lebron average 33ppg, 12 boards, and 10 dimes in the Finals, I think it’s safe to say he is far from finished in the league.
For the seasoned sports apologist, basic stats and accolades are entry-level argumentation. I know guys who sound smarter than Neil Degrasse Tyson when it comes to breaking down efficiency ratings and all sorts of advanced metrics. Context even comes into play as fans examine what players these legends played with and who they played against to win their titles. The question of which one played in the overall more competitive era must be taken into account as well. This Lebron versus Jordan debate is as real as it gets. Now, I’d like to point out here that no one accidently retains all this information about the careers of these two sports giants. One might pick up on some of the basic facts and figures by watching the game but for the real meaty arguments supporting Jordan or Lebron a fan has to dig a little deeper than that. There is some degree of research and experience with the game of basketball involved here. With Christian apologetics it is no different. It’s all about gathering reliable information and putting that information to use for making disciples. When you’re in a dog fight about Lebron and MJ you want to make sure you’ve based your arguments on accurate information. If you know you got your information from reliable sources it helps you to feel confident as make your case. My advice for anyone who is interested in Christian apologetics is to try and pace yourself as you work your way through a few solid resources such as the ones I’ve listed below. In this information age, what we know is often just a matter of what we choose to take time to learn. Secondly, begin your apologetics journey by studying the topics that interest you most or questions you yourself have been seeking answers to. You’ll be more likely to stick with it for the long haul if you’re engaging information you are personally invested in learning. In addition, gradually getting in the game by actually using what you’ve learned while sharing the gospel with others is crucial to becoming a more effective representative of Christ. Unlike professional basketball going into all the world and making disciples is not a spectator sport.
Logic and Argumentation
One of the most helpful things a Christian apologist can have in his or her tool belt is a firm grasp of the laws of logic. Would you be surprised if I told you that you’ve been applying the laws of logic when debating about Lebron versus MJ? The truth is we employ the basic laws of logic all the time so really you shouldn’t be. Just think about it for a second. We aren’t asking Who are the GOATs? (plural) The question at hand is Who is the GOAT? (singular). The NBA has seen lots of great players come and go; several players can be tossed into the conversation of who the greats are. But in regard to “Who is the GOAT?”, that’s a much more exclusive club of candidates. It is taken as a given that when it comes to sports there can only be one greatest of all time. With that said, suppose I made this comment:
“The fact of the matter is Lebron James is the single greatest NBA player of all time and Michael Jordan is the single greatest NBA player of all time.”
Immediately you see a problem there. It can’t be true that both Lebron and Mike are each the single greatest player in NBA history. If Lebron is the single greatest NBA player ever then logically that means MJ must not be. If Mike is the single greatest NBA player ever then logically that means LJ must not be. It is logically impossible for two different people to each be the single greatest NBA player ever at the same time. To suggest that each of them is the GOAT violates the Law of Non-Contradiction which is one of the fundamental laws of logic. The law of non-contradiction says that something cannot be both true and false in the same sense at the same time. If that is the case then when we have a situation like my comment above–wherein one part of a claim directly negates the possibility of the other part being true–we know that the claim is logically impossible and therefore must be false. To avoid violating the Law of Non-Contradiction I might modify my statement and say something like, “Lebron James is the greatest All Around Player in NBA History and Michael Jordan is the greatest winner in NBA history.” That statement would still be debatable on other grounds but at least I wouldn’t be suggesting a logical contradiction since I wouldn’t be saying both Lebron and Mike are the single greatest in the same sense at the same time. Of course if I wanted to be an illogical super fan I could throw out a bunch of statements like, “Well, you’re just a band wagon Golden State Warrior fan so I don’t care what you think about Lebron”, (Ad Hominem Fallacy). Or maybe, “If you were born in LA instead of Chicago you would say Magic Johnson is the GOAT.” (Genetic Fallacy). Such statements would probably be a good sign that I don’t have anything of substance contribute to the debate.
For believers, Christian apologetics is nothing to be afraid of. The fact of the matter is engaging people who hold different views than we do and giving reasons for why we believe this or do that is a normal aspect of social interactions in general. Whether you realize it or not you’ve been doing apologetics your whole life. Even in things as simple as sports dialogue we regularly employ many of the same the tools and tactics that one would need in order to be an effective Christian apologist. Right here at Free Thinking Ministries there is a wealth of information to help you get started in equipping yourself for defending the faith and maturing in your personal walk with Christ. Don’t be scurred. Dive in.