Debate with an atheist leads to revival

By Ben Stratton

Published: August 1, 2020

Land Between the Lakes is famous for many things — fishing, wildlife, hiking and even bootlegging. Yet few people in Kentucky know that Trigg County was once a haven of atheism.

Ben Stratton

The center of it all was the community of Golden Pond, which hosted an infidel club. There members would gather together for regular meetings, criticizing the Bible and challenging local believers to discuss the truthfulness of Christianity.

In 1892, the infidel club put up $500 and invited Samuel Porter Putnam of New York City to come to Golden Pond. Putnam was the president of the Free Thought Federation of America and the son of a Congregationalist pastor. Unfortunately, a term at a liberal seminary first turned him into a Unitarian, and then an atheist.

The infidels didn’t think any Kentucky preachers would dare meet such a powerful speaker as Putnam, but J.N. Hall of Fulton rose to the occasion. A Baptist pastor, evangelist and newspa- per editor, Hall was a skilled debater himself. A public discussion between the two men was set for Oct. 14-17, 1892, at the Golden Pond Hall.

Unforeseen circumstances forced Hall to miss the first day of the debate. Putnam gave an eloquent speech on infidelity and claimed he would stay in Trigg County for four days, “Hall or no Hall!”

The Christians were greatly discouraged, but at the end of the night, a young boy arrived with a message saying Hall was in Canton and would be present the following morning.

The next day everything changed. Taking Putnam aside and learning his arguments, Hall then spoke for two hours defending the inspiration of the Bible and the deity of Christ. Putnam tried to rally, but at every point he was con- fronted with Hall’s answers and iron logic.

By the end of the second day, the atheist an- nounced that he had pressing business back in New York and left Kentucky early.

With Putnam gone, Hall took the opportunity to preach a gospel message to the large crowd which had gathered for the debate. His text was Matthew 22:42: “What think ye of Christ?” Forty-seven individuals professed faith in Christ and the power of atheism was broken in Trigg County.

The following week, the Hopkinsville Kentuckian newspaper gave this report of the debate: “This section of Trigg, between the rivers, has been for some time tinctured with infidelity, but it will be a long time before anyone will again publicly attack the Bible in that part of ‘God’s country.’

“Dr. Hall so completely overthrew his opponent and demolished his arguments that the skeptical supporters of the New York man were content to give up the fight.”

“So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).

Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a Baptist historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.