Preface

We at A Clear Lens stand in the tall shadows of those who have influenced us, like J.P. Moreland, Greg Koukl, and William Lane Craig. These men are excellent models for the Christian endeavor in the present age. They exhibit a thoughtful, gracious, and winsome character while fulfilling Peter’s refrain to always be prepared (1 Peter 3:16). Unfortunately, for a lot of unbelievers living in a relativistic culture, relaying the Gospel message is simply telling another story. This is why we believe apologetics is so important for us Christians to participate in. As C.S. Lewis suggested our role must now be to explain why Christianity is true in order to get folks thinking about the content of our message.[1]

Tactics

In light of this reality, I have recently been sharing condensed (what I call “Funsized”) chapter summaries of an excellent book entitled Tactics by Greg Koukl. In my opinion, this is the mother of all books on engagement; that is, this book is not geared towards formulating apologetic content (like Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview or Reasonable Faith). The goal of Tactics is to take our content and fashion it in such a manner as to engage non-believers in thought-provoking dialogues. Koukl has some clever names for the particular tactics he lists: Columbo (after the Peter Falk character), Sibling Rivalry, Taking the Roof Off, etc. These tactics very often trade on asking particular kinds of questions to get the Christian in the driver’s seat of any conversation. Once in the driver’s seat, the Christian can steer the discussion (to follow the analogy) while remaining winsome and gracious.

In Chapter Five Koukl introduces the idea of asking leading questions to “take the other person in the direction we want them to go.”[2] This is an excellent tactic; one that must be developed through reflection and practice. To help facilitate this practice, I would like to share some examples of real interactions where I have utilized leading questions and walk through how I formulated them. As a pin-wearing Stand to Reason geek, I humbly offer these examples in the hope that they can be useful to you.

Do you think Jesus’ message is insufficient?

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890My family and I recently broke bread with a very gracious Latter Day Saint (LDS) family who, after dinner, initiated a conversation on Mormon teaching. As we’ve shown here and here, there are crucial differences between historic Christian and LDS teaching. The LDS family I was in conversation with began expressing their view of the importance of appointed authority in the church; that is, they said that there must be a continuous succession of authoritative figures (i.e. apostles and prophets) in the church or else it is lost.

The first thing I had to do was reflect for a moment on what was actually being claimed here. Explicitly, the claim is that the church is lost without appointed authority figures to lead us. Implicitly, the claim suggests that the Bible is not adequate to guide Christians and the church; appointed figures (endorsed by the Mormon Church) must fill in the blanks, as it were.[3] I then remembered John 16:13 where Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. I also remembered 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Together these two passages present a picture of complete guidance (via God’s Word and Spirit) for the Christian and God’s church in contrast to what the LDS family was espousing.

I wanted to be able to convey what I was thinking without unloading a flurry of statements and risk their sidestepping my point (and possibly changing the subject). So I asked this question:

Do you think Jesus’ message is insufficient for the Christian?

I actually sidestepped their explicit claim and targeted the implicit one: that the Bible is inadequate to guide Christians and the church; more specifically, that Jesus’ teachings found in Scripture are inadequate. If they said, “No,” then we’ve opened the door to the possibility that the Book of Mormon (and other Mormon doctrines) is essentially unnecessary. If they said, “Yes,” then Jesus (and, by extension, His apostles) did not sufficiently prepare His people to thrive under the new covenant. In either possible scenario I was now in a position to cite the passages of Scripture I remembered while also getting the LDS family to engage with my challenge.

Before you were conceived did you exist?

a-universe-from-nothing1During the brouhaha surrounding Lawrence Krauss’ redefinition of “nothing”, I got into a conversation with a friend sympathetic to his position. In A Universe from Nothing Krauss wrote that, “nothing always produces something,”[4] because, “the simplest version of nothing [is] namely empty space.”[5] He then went on to challenge the philosophical definition of nothing (i.e. non-being) as vague and intellectually bankrupt.[6] Before my friend and I began our discussion, he had already absorbed Krauss’ ideas.

My friend started off the conversation with: There is no such thing as nothing. (By the way, my friend is very funny so the pun was entirely purposeful: there is no-thing as nothing.) The reasoning he offered was this: Everywhere he looks something is there. Therefore, nothing does not exist.

At this point, I reflected on the irony of his statement: nothing does not exist. Yes, that’s it exactly! No thing refers to nonexistence. I decided to point this out; that non-being (nothing) belongs in the category of not existing. But my friend was not following this point. I then explained that I could describe something that clearly does not exist in order to point out that non-being (nothing) is an appropriate term. In other words, if I pointed to the floor and said there was a tiny pink elephant taking a nap and nothing was there, then my friend would see that non-being (nothing) refers to the pink elephant that does not actually exist. My friend was not following this point either.

I knew I wanted to convey the idea that nothing (non-being) is an appropriate descriptor of non-existence but I also knew that my friend was already committed to the notion that there is no such thing as non-being. So I asked this question:

Before you were conceived did you exist?

If my friend said, “No,” then he was agreeing with me. If my friend said, “Yes,” then the burden of proof was on his shoulders to explain how that is even possible. Either way, the question immediately thrust my friend into a posture where he had to wrestle with my point of view; and that’s the goal.

Are you identical to your car?

car-driving_2504156bA while back I was in a discussion with someone who found materialism compelling and, therefore, rejected the notion of an immaterial soul. The person began to explain how advances in neuroscience proved that there can be no such thing as an immaterial soul. The reasoning behind his view was that, when there is damage to certain parts of the brain, memories disappear; therefore, the electrical activity in the brain is memories. At the time I was not very familiar with arguments from consciousness for the existence of the soul. But I did remember that correlation is not causation; that is, if a correlation can be shown between electrical activity in the brain and memories, this does not prove that electrical activity is memories. In other words we don’t conclude, given the phrase “Where there’s smoke there’s fire”, that smoke actually is fire.

I wanted to be able to convey this notion while at the same time enjoining the other person to think critically about their view. So I started thinking about other concepts that entail correlation. My hand can fit into a glove and manipulate its movement but that doesn’t mean that my glove is my hand. Then I asked this question:

Are you identical to your car?

The person would never say, “Yes,” because to do so would be absurd. And if the person said, “No,” then he’s affirming my point of view; that is, a car may move around on the freeway at high speeds but that doesn’t mean what’s causing the car to move is the car. Once the person acknowledged that he was not his car, I was able to explain how the car analogy is helpful in understanding the notion of the soul interacting with the body. And I was able to do so in a manner that got the other person engaged in my point of view.

Keep practicing

Koukl reminds us that asking questions like these do not automatically come easy. I certainly stumbled my way through these methods on the first several attempts. Nevertheless, “Interacting with others is the most effective way to improve your abilities as an ambassador.”[7] Speaking from personal experience, Koukl is absolutely correct. The best way to develop the art of asking leading questions is to do and keep doing. So study up, pray hard, and keep practicing! And may God bless you in your ministries.

 

[1] Lewis once wrote that, while the apostles could assume that everyone had “a real consciousness of deserving the Divine anger,” this intellectual honesty has disappeared in today’s culture. “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis—in itself very bad news—before it can win a hearing for the cure.”

C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 579.

[2] Greg Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 72.

[3] Their belief trades on the idea that the Bible has been incorrectly translated through the centuries. Vital elements (pertaining to things like correct baptism rituals for example) are missing from the Bible because of these corrupted translations. Prophets like Joseph Smith have restored those missing elements that the church has been lost without for 2,000 years.

[4] Krauss, 153.

[5] Ibid, 149.

[6] Ibid, xiv.

[7] Greg Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 92.