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Columbo Step Two: The Burden of Proof.

Chapter Four maintains the previous chapter’s focus on getting in the driver’s seat of a particular conversation by asking “What do you mean by that?” Here Greg Koukl sets the record straight about the Christian endeavor. “Some people think Christians are the only ones who need to answer for their beliefs… But we are not the only ones; others should be able to do this, too.”[1] Oftentimes in conversation people will disagree with the Christian message by making their own particular claims about the world. The Christian at this point can slip into a defensive posture attempting to refute the other person’s claim or he can reverse the burden of proof.[2] This is the second step of the Columbo Tactic.

Koukl writes, “Whoever makes the claim bears the burden.”[3] Consider the scenario where you begin to share your Christian convictions and someone responds with: “There is no God.” This is not a refutation of the Christian per se. This is a new claim that deserves to be defended with some good arguments. Instead of attempting to give a lecture on all the reasons one should believe in God, a far better and easier tactic is to invite the person to back up his own claim. As Koukl writes, “It’s not your job to defeat their claim. It’s their job to defend it.”[4] He also warns against just-so stories; that is, a new claim masquerading as evidence for a particular view. “An alternate explanation is not a refutation,”[5] warns Koukl. The Christian would be wise to learn the difference.

If “What do you mean by that?” is the peanut butter of the first step of Columbo, then “How did you come to that conclusion” is the jelly of the second. Some other variations of this are: “Why do you say that?” “What are your reasons for holding that view?” and “What makes you think that’s the right way to see it?”[6] If someone has given his view some thought, he should be able to answer these questions. If he hasn’t given his view some thought then hopefully the Christian has given him something to think about; or, as Koukl would say, put a stone in his shoe.

Check back next week for Chapter 5: Step Three: Using Columbo to Lead the Way.

*Greg Koukl is Founder and President of Stand to Reason. Please do yourself a favor and buy his excellent book here!


[1] Greg Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 58.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 59.

[4] Ibid, 62.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 61.