Debate in Dyersburg

By Larry Ray Hafley

Dick Blackford met Paul Dabdoub, a Baptist preacher, in debate on December 8, 9, 1977. This discussion in Dyersburg, Tennessee, considered the plan of salvation. Mr. Dabdoub (pronounced, Dab-do) affirmed that salvation is solely by a penitent faith, before and without water baptism. Brother Blackford affirmed that water baptism is essential to salvation.


The debate was fairly well attended. There were several Pentecostal people present. Baptist attendance was good on the last night. The crowd was about 200 each evening. The weather was a factor. However,spiritual apathy was the biggest reason why more did not attend. Interest in the truth is not keen among denominational people. It appears that many religious folks are not stirred by a Biblical study of their doctrines. This should not be true of Christians, but is it?

Audience Behavior

The behavior was “as it becometh the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). Not a single point of order was called. Everyone was well behaved. There was no outburst of any kind, no derisive laughter, “Amen,” or anything of that kind. This shows that religious debates are not always characterized by disorder. The disputants were gentlemen. Those who oppose debating because of disgraceful deportment should continue to object to obnoxious and obscene conduct. One should not, though, condemn all debates because a few are uncivilized. This one was peaceful. If bad behavior is an argument against debates, this one was an argument for them.

The Debate Itself

Dick Blackford was well prepared. He had beautiful color charts to illustrate affirmative and negative arguments. His approach was a direct appeal to the Scriptures. What the Scriptures say is what Dick contended for. The simple, Biblical proof text presentation was profound and powerful.

Mr. Dabdoub ran the usual course pursued by Baptist preachers. He cited passages attributing salvation to faith and concluded that these eliminated baptism. He said that all one needed to do was trust, repent, and believe. He often said, “Baptism is no part of the gospel.” He alleged that the church of Christ is “a dangerous denomination,” “a false cult,” “has no Savior,” and that memebers of it “are probably not saved.” These comments are typical of those made by Baptist preachers through the years. They were mere assertions. Mr. Dabdoub made no attempt to prove his charges. Statements like these are made by Baptists, but Christians are always the ones who “condemn everyone else!”

No attempt will be made to rehash the debate. Brother Blackford did his job well. He efforts require no reinforcement. Mr. Dabdoub made no reference to many of the arguments which Dick presented. Of course, time always limits both disputants, but Mr. Dabdoub presented affirmative material when he should have been examining the evidence which Dick set forth. Again, this is typical of denominational debaters.


A debate is a means of teaching. It is not always the best medium, but it is another avenue down which one may drive truth and chase error. The efforts by the brethren of the North Side church in Dyersburg are to be commended. It is refreshing to find brethren willing to support an honorable discussion. Poor Mr. Dabdoub could not secure a single Baptist preacher to moderate for him! His wife was his moderator! This is a sad commentary and a poor reflection on Baptist convictions (Jn. 3:20, 21).

Dick Blackford is a close friend and a dear brother. Faithful Christians everywhere should rejoice for his service in the truth, especially as it was manifested in the debate in Dyersburg.

Truth Magazine XXII: 5, p. 86
February 2, 1978