Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Koukl's "Tactics"-- Simply Stellar [SK]

Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009,) 207 pp.

Have you ever been in the hot seat? Next time you hit a roadblock in a conversation with a critic of the Christian worldview, ask a good question. The results might just transform the discussion and put you back in the driver’s seat—where you belong.

That's the thesis of Koukl's newest offering, a literal training manual for engaging the toughest critics with meaningful discourse.

In part one of the book, Koukl focuses on three simple questions, which, if graciously asked, can make a world of difference in you next conversation. He calls them “Columbo Questions,” named after the famous TV detective played by actor Peter Falk.

At first glance, Columbo doesn’t impress. His wardrobe needs a definite upgrade and eloquence isn’t his strong suit. He comes across bumbling, inept, and completely harmless. The crooks are sure he’s too dumb to figure things out. They don’t realize he is dumb like a fox. He just keeps asking questions and building a case—until he nails them! Vintage Columbo soundbites include:

“I got a problem. Something about this t’ing bothers me. Maybe you can clear dis up for me.”

“I was talkin’ to da wife the other day…. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Just one more thing.”

“Hey, I’m sorry. I’m making a pest of myself. Yes, yes, I am. I know it’s because I keep asking these questions. But I’ll tell ya, I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”

Koukl says it’s a habit you should get into. He describes the key to the Columbo tactic as follows: “The Christian goes on the offensive in a disarming way with carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation.” The tactic can be used to:

1. gain information and keep you out of the hot seat
2. reverse the burden of proof
3. indirectly exploit a weakness or a flaw in someone’s views

There’s nothing dirty or tricky about it. The goal is clarity, not domination. So the next time you’re in a tight spot, ask a good Columbo question. Here are the three that are most useful:

1. What do you mean by that? This is a clarification inquiry that tells you what your opponent thinks so you don’t misrepresent his view. At the same time, it forces him to think more clearly about his own statements. Your tone should be mild and inquisitive. Consider the following objections and note the Columbo response that’s in parenthesis:

“The Bible’s been changed many times.” (Oh? How so?)

“Pro-lifers force their views on others.” (In what ways?)

“Science and faith exclude each other.” (What do you mean by science and what do you mean by faith?)

2. How did you come to that conclusion? This is the most important Columbo question and it can be asked a number of different ways. Why do you believe that? How do you know that? What are your reasons for thinking you’re right? In each case, you’re reversing the burden of proof and putting it back on the person making the claim—where it belongs:

“The Bible is full of fairy tales.” (Why would you believe a thing like that?)

“Thousands of women died from illegal abortions.” (How do you know that?)

“No one can say which beliefs are right or wrong.” (Then why should we believe you?)

“No single religion or person can see the whole truth. Each sees only a part.” (How could you possibly know that each sees only a part unless you can see the whole, something you just claimed was impossible?)

3. “Have you considered…? then finish the sentence in a way relevant to the issue at hand. Here you are offering an alternative view that gently dismantles your opponent’s case or, at the very least, exposes a serious flaw in his reasoning. It’s critically important that your tone remain gracious. Otherwise, your opponent will become defensive.

“Everything is just an illusion.” (Have you considered that if that’s true, we could never know it?”)

“Fetuses have no right to life because they are not self-aware.” (Have you considered that newborns aren’t self-aware either?)

“You shouldn’t judge people!” (Have you considered that you just did?”)

In part two, Koukl shifts to detective mode. How can Christians recognize flaws in a critic's reasoning? The good news is that you don't need a graduate degree in philosophy to get started. Koukl lists a number of common mistakes, including arguments that self-destruct, arguments that contradict one another, and assertions that disguise themselves as arguments, but have nothing supporting them.

All of this is great stuff, but what sets Tactics above other apologetics offerings is Koukl's insistence that Christians function as ambassadors--that is, gracious communicators of biblical truth. We must be winsome and attractive, not merely right, if we are to make an impact on culture.

If you buy only one apologetics book this year (and shame on you if it's only one), get this one. It will transform your thinking and your manners.


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