In conversing with others on the concerning topics of apologetics, there are times we do not know how to conduct those conversation successfully. Sometimes, these conversations turn into cordial debates and other times turn into dumpster fires. In Tactics, Greg Koukl goes over many different strategies for turning any conversation to go your way and to turn into the healthy, cordial debates we all want to participate in. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how to respond to each person (Colossians 4:6). This is the selected theme verse from Saint Paul to set the course of Tactics.
This article will be a top five selection review of strategies that Koukl gives us to use. The main goal in debate is to get in the driver’s seat and at minimum, be given the wheel at some point. It must be noted that these selected strategies will not always work but will help you stay out of unproductive conversation while still giving others the principle of charity. The principle of charity is rationally interpreting someone’s point as much as you can while not sacrificing your points. There are always arguments and there are always fights.
One prerequisite that must be addressed, is the claim that people are not argued into the kingdom. Christians who say people are not argued into the kingdom clearly mean fought into. People most certainly can be rationally persuaded to believe something as true, but the decision of the heart is ultimately on their end. “Imagine living in a world in which you couldn’t distinguish between truth and error (31).”
Let us push this thought experiment even further, imagine a world in which we could not advance in knowledge and correction? Point being that without healthy disagreements through argumentation and conversation, we get nowhere with others or ourselves, there would not be advancement in human understanding. Without the right understanding of God being displayed eloquently to the non-believer, how can you even expect them to accept Christ as Lord?
Strategy #1: The Columbo Tactic
When having these conversations, many claims and assertions will be made. As the people pleaser I use to be, I felt the need to always try and refute every claim thrown at me. When this is done, you are taking on all the shots at once and giving none in return. Koukl gives us a brilliant tactic to use when dealing with shot gun blasting assertions. It consists of three simple questions and gives you the driver seat.
What do you mean by that? This question will help catch equivocation fallacies, known as using the same word but two different meanings. It also helps you fire back by just getting people to define what they are saying. Much of the time, people do not know what they mean. They will just throw out nice words with no definitions. One time, I was in a google hangout call with some Christians friends and an atheist. The atheist was saying that Christianity defies logic and all of this. I asked him to define logic, he could not give me a definition. Logician Patrick Hurley’s definition of Logic consists of “Logic may be defined as the organized body of knowledge, or science, that evaluates arguments (A Concise Introduction to Logic, 1).”
The point being, that I did not have to unpack every claim made of Christianity, but rather took control over the conversation rather fast. The gentleman then proceeded to attack me personally by calling me petty and that he never wanted to talk to me again. I get that a lot when just applying this tactic because people sometimes do not like their share of the burden of proof, which at minimum requires you to know what your own claim means. This also helps with time management since if someone does not want to define their terms, they have forfeited the principle of charity and our time of dialogue.
How did you come to that conclusion? If one has their terms defined, then that is a step further into the conversation. “Never make a frontal assault on a superior force in an entrenched position (66)?” If someone is making conclusions that either confuse you or may even be advanced for you to follow, step back and ask them to explain how they got to that state of belief. Explanation is the bedding to good conclusion, being able to connect your evidence with what you conclude.
Three things could happen next. First, you will get a good explanation that you will be able to follow. Second, they may have chicken scratch reasoning with what was concluded so ad hoc reasoning will take place. If this is the case, you can just start asking this second question to new drawn conclusions that come from this ad hoc reasoning. Finally, you will catch them during a mere assertion since they are not able to explain the rational to their conclusion.
“Instead of having our critics have a free ride, we make them defend their own beliefs or unbelief, as the case may be (70).” Literally, the best defense is to step back, let them make the move and make them reinforce that move. Questions help catch weak moves and to help not repeat that move. Make them have the burden since they have all these conclusions, land in the driver’s seat by just trying to understand first.
Have you considered…? You will most likely only get to this step if you are dealing with a rationally minded person. Allegedly Aristotle claimed: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This is what the third step of the Columbo tactic strives to do. Consider a question or idea that can challenge your view without the need to fleet it out of your stream of thought. At least, to see if you can even engage with someone to consider themselves wrong or accept something new.
“Have you ever considered…that the existence of evil is actually evidence for the existence of God, not against it (84).” What is done here is to suggest the common notion that evil is reason to doubt God’s existence, but to at least ask could it be evidence for God’s existence? Then this allows the opportunity to present your flavor of a moral argument that fits appropriately to the conversation.
Another key point to achieve is to point out a weakness in someone’s position or argument. Here’s a model of the tactic to show this: “Let me suggest an alternative and tell me if you think it’s an improvement. If not, you can tell me why you think your option is better (86).” This also allows you to practice the principle of charity, which states to adopt the most rational view of your opponent’s position. This is also a way for you personally, to help avoid childish banter in these conversations. Once you point out the weakness and consideration has been considered, correction comes next if it is on your side and then puts you in the driver’s seat.
Tactic #2 & 3: Point out Practical Suicide and Just The Facts Ma’am
I was at the waiting line at Walmart and noticed a shirt. It said on the back: “imagination is better than knowledge”. I instantly went up to the guy wearing it and asked him: Don’t you need knowledge to imagine”? He had no option but to agree and we both laughed about it. Not going to lie, I felt satisfied that day. This is what it means to point out practical suicide.
This is such a common tactic that is not applied enough, sometimes we let people say what they want without correction. True is truth no matter what we say, but people can be fooled into believing very contradictory statements. Do it with sense and honor but push people towards to seeing their inconsistencies so they may be consistent. It is a lover of wisdom’s job to point these things out. Other examples like “there is no truth”, “true for you true for me” are good references to understand this tactic more.
One thing that must be pointed out by using one tactic, is “just the facts ma’am”. Koukl claims: “The first is a desire to affirm the Bible. The second is a suspicion Darwinism might have merit. Thus, they declare both (117).” This is claimed about Theistic Evolutionists, but here is one simple fact. There is a new view not just affirmed by Christians, but rather even biologists. This is called process structuralism that questions much of Darwinian assumptions about Evolution. Christians will take this as evidence for intelligent design, meaning the evolution needed fine-tuning to get speciation to where it is today. Not having all the facts is practical suicide.
People who have confidence in todays’ world are those who hold the “facts”. If something is said with high confidence, it is either because it’s a true/rational belief, or someone is full of themselves. Either way, confidence can be intimidating since that will control and guide the conversation. This is where it is important to just state what the facts are when you know you are right. A bold assertion by many people with confidence is the idea that Christianity was not a core belief among the founding fathers.
Koukl shreds this to pieces with literally just the facts, the claim was only significant because the person’s confidence gave the claim more merit. “Among the delegates were twenty-eight Episcopalians, eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Romans Catholics, one unknown, and only three deists-Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin (178-179).” 51 out of 55 of the Constitutional Convention were Christian, not so-called Deists as many people with confidence want to claim. State the facts with confidence and you will come out on top.
Tactic #4: Handling Steamrollers
The terrorists of conversations are these kind, those who emotionally and aggressively take charge. This is where Koukl describes “rational reasons can be a barrier to belief”. Some people must be aggressive and make others submit to their bully like tactics. All it takes is for someone to be put into the people pleaser position for them to lose any ground in the conversation. It is not your duty to satisfy everyone’s’ needs in these conversations. It is your duty to answer peoples’ questions with the truth, with gentleness and respect, not with weakness.
The steamrollers are not looking to have their questions answered, they are looking to control a conversation to feel more confident in their beliefs. Do not figure out their motives, that plays into their hand and their playing field. Believe it to be so, when someone treats you like that, they are acting as if they are your enemy with such aggression. Koukl describes such people well but how he asserts we should respond on page 161 is the wrong approach.
His tactics presuppose that such people are willing to do the right thing. With such aggression, do not expect but rather expect the opposite. We are talking about truth not just opinions so there must be shrewdness and fortitude deployed. He also suggests the tactic to shame them, do not. Such people will be even more aggressive when you make them think they are doing something wrong. These set of scriptures in their context show this:
So don’t even bother to correct a mocker, for he’ll only hate you for it. But go ahead and correct the wise; they’ll love you even more. Teach a wise man what is right and he’ll grow even wiser. Instruct the lovers of God and they’ll learn even more (Proverbs 9:8-9).”
"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6).”
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet (Matthew 10:4).”
Tactic #5: Tacking Off The Roof
Taking off the roof is simply taking a claim or worldview to where it leads.
1. First, reduce the person’s point of view to its basic argument, assertion, principle, or moral point.
2. Second, mentally give the idea a “test drive” to see where it leads.
3. Third, if you find a problem, point it out. (146)
What must be taken into consideration is that some views can be either vague and ultimately meaningless, or complex and thought out. For both, you must get terms and definitions, or you will not be able to map out what they are saying. What should be a goal to accomplish is to pull a steelman with this tactic. That is where you make your opponent’s position stronger and take off the roof on that proposition.
The problem of evil is asserted quite often from a naturalist worldview. Evil is more likely on a naturalist model of reality than a theistic one. However, lead to where naturalism suggests about good and evil. On theism you have these categories so well defined in ontological discussion, yet on naturalism, there really is no such thing ontologically or even categorically evil. What is not being claimed here that the naturalist has no standard of good to call something evil, rather these categories cannot even be assessed in meaningful conversation. If a naturalist even offers evil as an internal critique, they have no truth markers for such propositions.
A stronger naturalist position is a defense of moral realism, however, there usually is not a metaphysical explanation for why we know moral facts and duties. Ethics without metaphysics may not be psychologically useless, but it is consistently useless for inserting into a naturalist model of reality. The real absurdity that takes off the roof, is that the very thing you claim cannot exist on theism, cannot exist on the worldview you adopt in replacement of. A way of escape is to be an agnostic, not a naturalist. If you become an agnostic yet think evil categorically exists, why not become a skeptical theist, one who asserts we just don’t know why evil exists.
These five tactics employed currently are what one truly needs to rule a conversation if necessary and have healthy dialogue. Use the columbo tactic to flush out what terms mean in order to suggest new thoughts to your opponent. Point out the practical suicide that leads to contradictions or just the facts ma’am to avoid practical suicide. Avoid steamrollers and lead people to where the map of their worldview leads. Master these five tactics instead of mastering thirty. As a Bruce Lee once said: “I am not scared of a man who throws thousands of kicks, but rather a man who throws one kick a thousand times”.
Let wisdom, reason, & Integrity guide your thinking,