The Table Podcast

Approaching Spiritual Conversations

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Greg Koukl, and Amy Hall discuss helping Christians have meaningful spiritual conversations with people who see Christianity differently.

Timecodes
00:15
The ministry of Stand to Reason
06:29
Applying ambassador model to spiritual conversations
14:43
Christlike character in spiritual conversations
21:07
The importance of using questions
25:05
The first question in the Columbo tactic
31:04
The personal nature of the Columbo tactic
34:22
Using the first question in conversation
38:18
Using the first question on social media
40:51
The second question in the Columbo tactic
44:04
The third question in the Columbo tactic
47:57
Encouraging believers to have spiritual conversations
Resources Stand To Reason Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything in Between by Greg Koukl
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager here at the Hendricks Center. And today’s topic is Conversational Apologetics. We’re gonna take a look at how we can defend the faith, explaining our faith to our skeptical friends or skeptical relatives and neighbors. And I have two guests in the studio today. First is Greg Koukl. Greg is the President of Stand to Reason. Thanks for being on the show.
Greg Koukl
Mikel, it’s a treat to be here. Thank you.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well thanks. We’re so happy you’re here. And we also have Amy Hall, who is a staff apologist, who does writing, editing, podcasting, blogging, and a whole bunch of other stuff for Stand to Reason. Welcome.
Amy Hall
I’m really looking forward to it.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, this is awesome. So Greg, just to start out, tell us a little bit about the ministry of Stand to Reason.
Greg Koukl
Well, we started … we just had our 25th anniversary. And now that’s about a year ago, so we’re pushing 26 years. And we started 25, 26 years ago because of a couple of reasons. One of them is, the conversation between Christians and the community was shallow and shrill, to put it simply. We had the best things to think about, we have the best message to communicate, but it turns out that we, I think characteristically were not thinking deeply about our ideas, and communicating our ideas in a profound way to a world that desperately needs what we have to say. And we weren’t do it in a very gracious way, characteristically. There were exceptions, but it was just … it just wasn’t good.

And so when we started Stand to Reason a quarter of a century ago now, the goal was to try to change that. The goal was to try to provide substantive responses to the many challenges for Christianity, but also in training Christians to think more carefully about their convictions, help them to know how to engage others in a winsome and an attractive and effective way. And so our efforts for the last 25 years have been geared at developing ways for people to do that, increasing our knowledge, increasing our base of information, trying to throw the ball so people could catch it.

So the people who listen to the show are … or watch it or read our stuff or attend our sessions or any of that … I say show, because I’ve been on the radio for almost 30 years, and that’s a chief part of what we do … that they can get the understanding of the information, and then also get a way of communicating that that’s going to be effective and powerful and attractive to the people with whom we’re speaking.

So those were motivating desires, designs if you will, for Stand to Reason. And I think we’ve been pretty good at fulfilling that enterprise for as long as we’ve been around. And we’ve found a lot of ways, of course, to develop that and to parlay that into different means of communication. But it’s been pretty exciting to see what God has done.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Your show’s been very helpful. I know you were on the radio, gosh, for a very long time. When I was a missionary in the Philippines I used to listen to the show in the Philippines.
Greg Koukl
Oh, really? Great. I didn’t know that.
Mikel Del Rosario
So I’m driving around the streets of Manila and you’re like, “Come on out to Hermosa Beach.” Then like, “Ah. California.”
Greg Koukl
Yeah, right, right, right. So pretty awesome.
Mikel Del Rosario
And you were in radio before all this, right?
Greg Koukl
Well, I started radio in 1990, in commercial radio in a Christian station. And in 1993 we started Stand to Reason. So I’d been … I was in my fourth year of commercial radio at the time. And so it allowed me then to switch my topic on the radio to more emphasize the things that we were doing at Stand to Reason. So it became a … we dovetailed there. And then after about eight years of doing that we ended up … I ended up leaving my commercial job on radio, and then going back to the same place and purchasing the time back from the station as Stand to Reason. So now we own the radio product. And so that was right when … actually it wasn’t podcasts at that time. They had real audio. And so we were able to take advantage of that and put it on a bulletin board, right when the Internet was getting rolling. And then podcasts came later on. But we had a radio presence, podcast, essential presence online very early on. And that really helped us tremendously.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Well the ethos that you have at Stand to Reason is something we really resonate with here at the Hendricks Center, ’cause we talk about courageous, compassionate leaders, marrying truth and tone, and following Jesus’ example of teaching truth, but also loving people well. And that’s our seminary motto here.
Greg Koukl
You know, that’s great that you say that, because I’m just thinking of our three lines of our vision. And they are confidence for every Christian, courage, let’s see, clear thinking for every challenge, and courage and grace for every encounter. So we really have kindred spirits there. We want Christians to be confident, and we think that if they are trained well, they are going to be more confident, and therefore more courageous. They have good answers, but we want them to be gracious in the process. So we’re kindred spirits in that regard, Mikel.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, yeah. Well Amy, tell us a little bit about your role at Stand to Reason.
Amy Hall
I do a lot of writing for the blog. I write and manage the blog. I also do a podcast with Greg called #STRask. And on that podcast we take three or four questions and we answer them pretty quickly a couple times a week. And then I also do a lot of editing. I used to do a lot of managing blog comments, but we’ve actually ended our blog comments. But that was a huge part of what I used to do, also.
Greg Koukl
Amy, tell them about #STRask, just briefly how people could participate in that.
Amy Hall
Oh, yeah. All you do is send a question through Twitter with the #STRask. And then we choose from that and answer the question.
Mikel Del Rosario
And so you field questions from honest Christians and honest seekers. But I’m sure you have a lot of trolls to deal with, as well. Is that true?
Amy Hall
Some. [Laughs]
Mikel Del Rosario
Well we’ll talk about that later. How can we be good ambassadors online, as well as do conversational apologetics live. But tell us a little bit about the model that you guys teach for engagement.
Greg Koukl
Sure. Generally speaking, people would consider us an apologetics organization. And there are a number of them out now. In fact, very few when we started, but now there’s lots. And we’re thrilled about that. We work together with lots of them. But most of them are focused on giving information. Great. We need that. And, as you know, our bench is really deep. We’ve got lots of answers for the challenges that people are going to face. When I say we, I mean the larger community of apologetics organizations.

But we are looking to do something different than give information. That’s part of what we do. But we’re trying to build a certain kind of a person. So ours is an incarnational approach. And the kind of person that we’re trying to build, we call it ambassador, after 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 in verse 20 where Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were speaking through us, we beg of you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

So we’re in the reconciliation business, broadly, but we are focusing not so much on evangelism, but on discipleship. That is, we train Christians. That’s the first three words of our mission statement. We want to disciple people to be more effective in the community with the kinds of things that we can give them. And so there are three elements to being a good ambassador, when you think about it. If you were going choose somebody to represent you as an ambassador, if you were a sovereign of some sort, you’d want somebody who had a knowledge base that was important for the task. So to communicate the information that you wanted to communicate, they’d need to know that, understand it. Okay, first thing.

Second thing, you’d want somebody that could maneuver effectively in conversation. So another word for an ambassador is a diplomat. So you’d want them to be diplomatic, kind of thing, have that kind of shrewdness or cleverness in communication and maneuvering. But there’s something else, because if they knew your message and they were also pretty good at maneuvering in conversations, but turned out to be an alcoholic, a drunk, a womanizer, or just plain rude, now their character is going to undermine the enterprise. And so all three things are really necessary for a good ambassador, knowledge, wisdom is what we call the second thing, kind of a right use of knowledge, maneuvering, tactical wisdom. Probably we’ll talk about that more in a little bit. And character. And the way we characterize that at Stand to Reason is knowledge is an accurately informed mind. Wisdom is an artful method. And character is an attractive manner.

That’s what we’re trying to produce in the people that we try to influence through all the means that we do, whether it’s radio or public speaking or blogging or writing in books that we do … all of these things we’re really trying to build a particular kind of person, an ambassador.

Mikel Del Rosario
And ambassadors don’t just hang out at the embassy. Ambassadors get out to where the people are.
Greg Koukl
What they do is they connect with the people who need the message. Sometimes they’re at the embassy. Sometimes they’re out here and there. In our case, in a certain sense, as Christians, the embassy is the marketplace. It’s the agora. It’s where people would congregate, wherever, to discuss the things of the day, and to participate in the daily activities. The marketplace in the old days, the agora, was where people did their shopping and connected with other people. Now the marketplace is Starbucks. It’s your university. It’s the schools that your kids go to. It’s the PTA. It’s a whole host of different ways that ambassadors can penetrate in the culture and get the message of Christ out to them.
Mikel Del Rosario
When we were in the Philippines, doing missions, there as an ambassador from the United States who would go and patronize McDonald’s, American businesses. There was something congruent there about what she was doing. It’s something you would expect for an American ambassador to patronize American businesses. There wasn’t a disconnect. And we don’t want a disconnect there when we’re talking to people about Jesus, but then acting like a jerk or something like that.

On the show, either on the live, call-in show, or on the podcast and in your interactions, how do you model this kind of ambassadorship in direct dialog with people? And then also online.

Amy Hall
Well, what’s interesting about this … and I’ll put this in a way that apologists can appreciate. When we think about our character, it’s actually a way, it’s actually an apologetic. Because what we’re doing is we are representing Christ to people. So in I Peter, when it says, “We were called so that we could proclaim the excellencies of him who called us,” that passage is actually sandwiched among a lot of behavioral commands and saying, prove yourself to be someone with good behavior so that they’ll glorify God.

So it’s actually the case that our character is representing Christ to other people. I think that’s the biggest thing we have to keep in mind, that whatever we do, we can show the gospel to them by responding to them in ways that they don’t deserve. Because that’s how God responded to us. So every time they’re rude to us and we respond with grace, we’re actually giving an apologetic for Jesus’ character that people need to see.

And, as it happens, even the big verse that apologists use, “Give a defense with gentleness and respect,” it actually begins with saying, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” And that’s your obedience to Christ. That’s your character that begins this whole process. So when we respond to them, characterization is part. We want to represent Christ. We want to be truthful, we want to be humble, we want to show all the things that make Christ great so they can see who he is.

Greg Koukl
Let me add to that, too, because to show the power of that as a significant part of our conversations. And the reason we’re emphasizing this is because this is something that Christians forget about lots of times when they’re in the heat of a discussion. And if there’s heat at all, this is not gonna work well for them. There is an atheist named Peter Boghossian over at Portland State University who has written a book called A Manual for Creating Atheists. And that is a tactics book for atheists that is meant to train other atheists to make atheists out of people like you and I and your listeners. And one of the things he emphasizes in there is he says basically, don’t get in fights with people. Don’t try to tell other people they’re wrong. Be nice. Don’t fulfill the caricature of an angry atheist. That will not get you anywhere.

Now what’s interesting is I think that Peter Boghossian has a sense of virtue. He’d like to be virtuous. But there’s no grounding for that in atheism. We care about being honorable to the God we represent. He’s not representing anybody but himself and his ideas. But he still understands the tactical significance of being gracious. And he is really aggressively teaching his people to do that. And if you watch on YouTube, you can see them, these nice atheists asking lots and lots of questions, ’cause they got their GoPro on, and they are very nice, and they are not threatening, and they are very effective, partly because of that element in their communication.

Mikel Del Rosario
So Amy, what are some of the differences between live and online in terms of displaying that character?
Amy Hall
I think you’re gonna find a lot more incivility online. There are so many people out there who their whole approach is just rudeness. So that’s … I think you’re gonna … You’re gonna have to learn a whole set of skills just for that, just for dealing with them. One of them is Greg has a tactic called steamroller that maybe he can share after I’m done talking, that’s really helpful with dealing with people like this. But one thing …
Greg Koukl
It’s a defensive tactic, by the way. You don’t want to be a steamroller, you want to defend against one.
Amy Hall
Right. [Laughter] Exactly. But I think the key thing you have to remember, whether you’re talking to someone online or in person, is the dignity of the human being you’re talking to. And this is what I think makes this different from Boghossian also is the idea that we’re speaking to someone who’s made in the image of God, no matter how rude they’re being, no matter how difficult they’re being. We have to protect that, and we have to keep that in mind. And that will keep us from getting a response back that maybe they deserve, maybe they don’t, but it’s tempting. It’s always tempting.
Greg Koukl
Proverbs says a harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath. And this is a principle that we try to employ, not only in our verbal communication when we’re, for example online, but … I mean, on the air … but when in our writing as well. You don’t want to be poking people in the eye in the way you communicate, cause they’re gonna react. And when … Here’s the deal. If anybody in the conversation gets mad, if I get mad, I’m gonna lose. What if I don’t get mad and they get mad? Well, then I’m still gonna lose. If anybody gets mad, then we’re going to lose. That is we are not gonna be able to have the positive impact as ambassadors for Christ we want to have. So sometimes, it’s not our fault the get mad, it’s the message’s fault, and we live with that. But we want to try to avoid anything that makes them unnecessarily angry. We want to maneuver in a way, with the kind of grace that’s appropriate to the message of grace that we’re communicating.
Mikel Del Rosario
And I think a lot of this has to do with listening in the beginning. You mentioned steamroller. Let’s transition to talk a little about some of the strategies that Stand to Reason explains.
Amy Hall
I’ll let Greg take this …
Greg Koukl
Well, steamroller’s a defensive strategy, and it’s the kind of thing that you employ when you’re in a conversation with somebody who interrupts a lot. And this actually just happened on the air last week with actually a Christian who disagreed with me on something theological. And three or four weeks ago, when I was dealing with an atheist who is actually a Peter Boghossian disciple, but a bit aggressive even for his style. And that is when you’re trying to respond because people offer a challenge, you’re trying to respond and they’re cutting in. When I say cutting in, I mean cutting you off. And so you can’t get your answer out. And so there’s a technique that I describe in a book that I’ve written on this issue, Tactics, is the title of the book. And that’s called steamroller. How you deal with a steamroller. And there’s three steps involved. And just briefly, you pause them.

So if you and I were talking, Mikel, and you started right now, jumped right in as I’m trying to answer, I’d just put my hand up gently and I’d say, “Hold on just a second, I’m not quite finished. You want an answer, right?” “Sure.” “Okay. Give me a second to answer, and then I’ll let you back in. Would that be all right?” So notice how there’s … I’m acknowledging the problem. I’m not trying to talk over that person. I’m acknowledging the problem, but I’m maneuvering around it and I’m saying, “Well, hold on just a second.” A lot of people are just … sometimes they’re just over excitable. And so they’re just jumping in. “Hold on just a second.”

Mikel Del Rosario
And for those who are listening, see, I’m jumping in. I’m stepping on you right now, right? But for those who are listening, Greg is holding his hand up. It’s just slightly in the air.
Greg Koukl
Oh, yeah. Just a little body English there. And there is a sense, by the way, in which there are interruptions that are not hostile, because that’s the way they’re … I don’t know what they call them. They’re not interruptions, they are interjections that are a normal part of conversation. I think that’s kind of what you did. But I’m talking about, most of our listeners understand this. They’ve been in a conversation and bang, bang, bang. They get cut off. And they don’t even get going. And so then they follow a new rabbit trail, and bang, the get cut off again. And it’s so frustrating. This is the kind of thing that gets me really angry. One of the few things that I get really … I gotta really be careful, because that bothers me. But this, putting the hand up a little bit. And I negotiate. And 90 percent of the time that’s all that’s required to take appropriate control of the conversation once again.

Now there are further steps if things get out of line and they don’t listen. Basically I say stop them. That’s what I just did. Second step is to shame them. That is to do the same thing you do in the first step but a little bit more aggressiveness. Like, “Mikel, I want to answer your questions, but you know, it’s really difficult to do it because you keep interrupting me. So I need to know, do you want an answer? Because if you do, you’re gonna have to listen.” Now I can probably tell, even as I’m role playing this, it’s … you’re starting to feel a little uncomfortable, with me chastising you in a nice way, but an appropriate way. And that’s what I mean, shame them. You’re not being nasty, but you’re really directly addressing the interruption, the bad, rude behavior.

So, and look, 99 percent of the time that’s it. That’s all it takes. And then you can have a gracious conversation with the other person. The other one percent, stop them, shame them, leave them. Not everybody deserves an answer. Not everybody can you have a discussion with that’s going to be productive. And there are times you just have to walk away. You say, “Well, look. I’m not gonna have this conversation anymore. It’s not productive, and I’ll let you finish. You can have the last word if you want,” I have said that to people, even on the air, and then we will be done with it. “so give me your final shot.”

Amy Hall
I don’t want people to get discouraged either, because this … most of the time people want to have conversations. I think people will be surprised, once they start talking to people, how interested people are in having conversations. I worked in the film industry for ten years. And I had fantastic conversations. I miss having those conversations with people. So that’s one example. You’d think the film industry would be a place where people would be really hostile. But they weren’t, one on one.

The same thing … our former employee, Brett Kunkle, took people on mission trips to Berkeley. And they also had great conversations. And so, in the film industry …

Greg Koukl
And in Salt Lake City with the LDS crowd.
Amy Hall
You can have great conversations. But there are certain things that can just help you when things do come up that are more difficult.
Greg Koukl
Yeah. You mentioned our former employee. Brett was one of our speakers. Now he’s got his own organization called Maven, M-A-V-E-N, where he is really focusing on what he does best, and that’s with youth. So. But the steamroller tactic is not one we have to employ very often, for the reason that Amy just suggested. But it’s really handy when you need it. And people listen to radio show can see how I employ that tactic and other tactics as I’m engaging with more hostile challengers. But the foundational approach that we teach in the Tactics book … and the subtitle of that is, A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. And I think that’s most relevant to the topic that we’re talking today, how do you navigate? is that our core tactic …

I call the Columbo tactic after Lt. Columbo from now four decades ago on TV, but people still remember him, because he was able to solve crimes in hostile circumstances. There’s the bad guy. We know who it is they way the show develops. You know who the bad guy is, who the killer is, but of course Lt. Columbo doesn’t. But he comes in in a very unassuming way, non threatening way, scratching his head, muttering to himself. And then he starts asking these questions. And this is the way he gets his killer.

And so in a certain sense, this is the same way we want to navigate ourselves in conversations. So what we as an organization do, as part of our specialty, I think, and this goes to the wisdom feature of being a good ambassador, the tactical wisdom, is we teach them how to use questions to carefully navigate in conversations, not only to be effective in moving the conversation forward for the gospel’s sake, but also to create a tremendous amount of safety for the individual Christian. ‘Cause think of it, Mikel. You’re doing it right now. You asked our questions, we’re doing all the talking. You got the easy job. We’re doing the heavy lifting here, right?

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah.
Greg Koukl
But if the Christian who thinks he’s gotta do most of the talking, or she’s gotta do most of the talking to get the message out and answer the challenge … well, a lot of Christians think about that that way, and they they think, “I can’t do that.” And then they’re sitting on the bench the whole time. But if they learn a couple of ways to maneuver with questions, they’re putting questions out, and the other person, now, has to do the heavy lifting. Which, by the way, they don’t mind to do because, as Amy said, they like to converse with us about these issues. The there’s no pressure on the Christian. And in fact, when you’re asking questions, you’re not even advancing your own view at the moment, so there’s no grounds for the other person attacking the Christian. This gives a tremendous margin of safety for the Christian, and that’s why what we’ve seen when people, believers, have started to use these tactics, is they’ve gotten off of the bench and they’ve gotten into play in a way that they’ve never been able to do so before.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, why don’t you go ahead and describe the Columbo tactic in terms of the questions that people would ask.
Greg Koukl
Okay. So think about the notion of questions, why questions. For one reason, questions are friendly. Okay, you’re being friendly to us, you’re drawing us out, you’re getting our opinion, we like sharing our opinion. Most people do. So when we start drawing people out, that’s good manners. The second thing about good questions is that they’re going to give you good information. All right? Wow. A lot of folks don’t realize, they get into conversations, they make presumptions about the other person and where they’re at maybe spiritually or whatever. But they don’t know. We need to get the lay of the land a little bit. And so while we’re asking questions, then we’re getting information, and it gives us the perspective we didn’t have before that allows us to navigate. I’ll get into more of that in just a moment.

But one of the most important things about questions, Mikel, is that questions put you in the driver’s seat of the conversation, just like you are right now. You are directing this entire conversation. You have it all planned out, the direction you want to go. We’re unwittingly, in a sense, following you because of the kinds of questions that you ask. And that’s where the Christian wants to be, in the driver’s seat. Not controlling inappropriately, not overwhelming people, but just, as much as possible, getting the conversation to go in the direction that is most profitable for the Christian’s purposes. So there’s the general reasons why questions are so powerful.

Now our game plan has three different parts. And when I speak to audiences like I will later this afternoon at our big rethink conference here in Dallas … we’ve got, it looks like more than 1500 young people are gonna be there tonight … I’m gonna give them the first two steps. Because I make them a promise. I say, “I’m gonna give you a game plan that will allow you to converse with confidence in any situation, no matter how little you know, or how knowledgeable or aggressive or even obnoxious the other person happens to be.” Well, that’s a big order, to make that promise. But I fulfill it every time. I know this ’cause people tell me that, and I see how they use it, even though I’m only giving the first two steps.

The first step of the game plan is simply to gather information. So I made a reference to that a few moments ago. When I meet somebody in an airplane, or in Uber, like I did yesterday coming from the airport, or anyplace that I want to have a spiritual impact, I hope maybe that will happen. I don’t know if it’s gonna happen. We’ll see. My first job … I don’t want to think about winning them to Christ. I’m not even thinking about getting to the gospel. All I’m thinking about is getting the lay of the land. So my first step is to gather information.

How do I do that?

Mikel Del Rosario
You ask questions.
Greg Koukl
I ask questions. Right. So I’m just being friendly, making small talk, whatever, at first, drawing the other person out. And, of course, I’m asking those questions, I am being friendly. This is what Amy was talking about before. That’s a good start. But I’m listening. I’m paying attention. I’m looking for an opening. And then, if I hear something that looks like an opportunity, I’m gonna use my key question for this part of the game plan. And that key question is, what do you mean by that? Or some version. What do you mean by that? So once I saw a woman wearing a pentagram. It’s a five pointed star. It’s often an occultic symbol. In this case it actually was. But I found out, because I asked her. Does that jewelry have religious significance? Turned out she was a witch. But she was happy to talk about her jewelry and her Wiccan convictions.

How did I find out about that? I just asked a pleasant question about what do you mean by that jewelry basically. What do you mean by that sticker on your car? What do you mean by that book that you’re reading? What do you mean by that tattoo that you have? What do you mean by the tee shirt thing? You’re showing interest in people. And then they start talking. And what’s happening now as they’re talking, is I’m starting to get a picture, a lay of the land, a kind of a topography. It may be even a spiritual topography, or a cultural topography. I’m starting to get a little picture of where in the culture this person fits. And now I have a map, in a certain sense, based on what they’ve been telling me.

And now I’m in a better position to decide first, whether there’s an opportunity here, because I don’t think that every discussion is a spiritual appointment, a divine appointment. Sometimes, we’re just ships passing in the night. That’s okay. But if there is an opportunity, now I have an idea of where I might go with my next question.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Here at the center we call that getting a spiritual GPS on someone. So you get this map, where they are. And the challenging thing for many people is turning down the truth meter. ‘Cause a lot of Christians will feel like, “Okay. They just said something that is something I disagree with. Now I have to defend the entire contents of the Christian world view, because they have an opinion different than mine.”
Greg Koukl
Well this is where that first question comes in so well, especially when somebody says something I disagree with. “Oh, well everything’s relative.” They know you’re a Christian. “Oh, well everything’s relative.” And so they throw this little line out. And this is meant to stop you in your tracks. You think you have the truth, but everything’s relative. And so then the Christian thinks, “Well, it’s my job to, ‘No it’s not. Here’s why. The Bible’s the word of God. That’s not …'” now they’re off on the wrong foot. They’re saying something that’s true, but they’re not getting anywhere. So what’s my first question when I hear somebody say, “Everything’s relative?” What do I do?
Mikel Del Rosario
What do you mean by that?
Greg Koukl
What do you mean by that? What do you mean by relative? And then now it’s their turn to explain their view. That’s what I want to hear.
Amy Hall
Greg, before you go on to the second question, I just want to point out something. Because a lot of people, they see Greg’s book. It’s called Tactics, and they think, “Oh, this is gonna be some sort of impersonal, forced situation that you’re creating.
Greg Koukl
Conflict.
Amy Hall
Yeah. But what Greg is describing is the tactics make your conversation more personal, because it allows you to tailor what you’re talking about to the person. A lot of people go into witnessing situations, and they have set things they want to say. And it does not necessarily connect with the person they’re talking to. But the tactics enable you to connect with someone as a person, as an individual. And it’s not something that just forces people into the same mold.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah …
Greg Koukl
I’m so glad you mentioned that.
Mikel Del Rosario
In many ways it’s kind of a check on you, first.
Greg Koukl
Yeah.
Amy Hall
Yeah.
Greg Koukl
Well, what it does is it gives you … I used the phrase already … but I want to emphasize the importance. It’s a game plan. I do this first. If this is successful, then I think about the second step. If that is successful, I think about the third step. I’m not going … At a kickoff in a football game, you get the ball way down in the other person’s zone. And then you don’t think, “Okay, I’m gonna get a touchdown the next play.” No, you work down the field one play at a time. You’re focusing at those plays. If you do your individual plays well, the touchdown is going to be … hopefully … an inevitability. But that’s down there. I don’t want people to think about the end game, getting somebody to sign on the dotted line, leading them to Christ, even getting to the gospel. Not yet. That’s down the way. That’s one step at a time. And this first step is very genial, very …

Every step is genial in my plan. And I’m glad Amy pointed it out, ’cause people think, “Well, tactics. That’s like military terminology.” I want … and I say this in the first chapter … I want people’s engagements to look more like diplomacy than D-Day. And so I’m gather that information, what do you mean by that? And every single time them bring up an objection, they bring up a challenge, I’m asking the same question. Am I avoiding it? No. I’m trying to get clarity on their own view.

Now I’m gonna tell you something that people have a hard time believing until they start doing this. It is amazing how often you ask somebody, “What do you mean by that?” Or some variation. You mix it up for the conversation. But you’re trying to get that information to. It’s amazing how often they don’t know what to say. And they come in with their sails full. And the minute you ask for more information, they’re sails go four sheets to the wind, because they have not thought about it. They’re repeating slogans. And so what this does is, this first question forces the other person to clarify their own view for you. And a lot of times, those views get a purchase in conversation because they’re never clarified. What do you mean by relative?

Now I wrote a book on relativism. I know what that means. But I don’t know that they know what it means.

Mikel Del Rosario
And you’re talking about the idea that there’s no such thing as objective truth, that right and wrong are just up to you and mean the society made it up.
Greg Koukl
What you’re doing is answering the question. So if you had said everything is relative and I said, “What do you mean by that?” That might be an answer you give. But that’s what I mean. Relativism is the idea that whatever truth claims you’re making, moral, spiritual, or otherwise, are things that are simply inside of you and have nothing to do with the outside world. They’re not objective. They’re about your own feelings, and that’s all you can say about them. And so. But I don’t know that the other person understands that. And I don’t know what they mean. They probably don’t even know what they mean.

And so this is why a lot of times when you ask people, what do you mean by that, you get what I call the Simon and Garfunkel response. So this is ’60s reference, ’cause those are my years. But they wrote a song in 1966 called The Sounds of Silence. And that’s what you get. You get the sounds of silence. But here’s the key about that. That is productive. I mentioned earlier I don’t want people to think about the end game. My view, I’m just trying to do something very simple. I’m not trying to win them to Christ. That’s not gonna happen in one conversation anymore. It’s just not. I call it gardening as opposed to harvesting. If you don’t have good gardening, you’re not gonna have a harvest. So I’m gonna go out and garden.

All I’m trying to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I tell the audience … I’m gonna be at the University of Alaska next week, Veritas Forum. And I’m gonna tell them, “I’m not here to convert you. I just want to annoy you in a good way.” [Laughter] And they all laugh when I say that, because they expect a Christian to annoy them. I say, “Okay. I’m your guy. But, I want to give you something to think about. I want you walking out of here like you have a stone in your shoe, hobbling away.”

So, the point that I’m making here, the application of that concept is, sometimes when you ask people what do you mean by that, and they can’t answer, and they’re thinking about what they mean about that, that itself can be a stone in their shoe. That can cause a seed of doubt in their own mind. I have watch video tapes of Boghossian disciples, the atheist guy, with what he calls street epistemology, and how they ask questions, ’cause they use lots and lots of …

The atheists are being taught to do this to Christians, and how the Christians are dumbfounded. They are struck silent. They don’t know what to say. And you can just sense that a cold chill is going up the spine of that believer, because he doesn’t know what to say. And now he’s wondering, maybe I’m mistaken about my view. I want the non-believer to feel the same thing, not with a cleverly worded question to make them doubt their faith, but with a properly worded question that goes to the facts of the matter and the issue. And that’s our tactical approach as opposed to Boghossian’s. And the power of those kinds of questions, though … and I’m just talking about the first step right now … it can be amazing, even again, if you don’t know anything, you’re just trying to find out their view. Minimally you’re gonna get an education about what people think about things. And that is a big plus in any conversation.

Mikel Del Rosario
There’s a lot of patience that’s involved in that. Rather than thinking about what you’re gonna say next, you’re actually listening to understand.
Greg Koukl
Yeah. But you know what? In this case, it doesn’t require the virtue of patience for most people. Now some people are running and gunning, and they want to do all the talking, the Christians. All it requires is for you just to relax, and not let the other person talk, and that actually is a virtue for most Christians who are a little nervous about getting in, ’cause they don’t know what to say. Well it’s easy if you ask the questions. You don’t have to say anything. This makes them more comfortable about getting into conversations.
Mikel Del Rosario
Amy, do you think there is a little more patience required when you’re doing this on Twitter, or you’re doing this on … I don’t know if Instagram, if people do this on Instagram. It doesn’t seem like the best platform
Amy Hall
I’m not on Instagram. Yes, I do. It’s harder to use these questions in a situation like Twitter, or even Facebook, because you don’t get the back and forth as easily. So, it’s a little bit harder to do that. But you can still do it. You can still do it. One thing that I think is kind of the interplay between the knowledge and the character part is when you have enough knowledge, you have a lot more confidence. And that is a huge way to help you keep from striking back at people. Because when you feel confident, and someone comes at you with a challenge, you don’t get riled up, because you already know the answer in your mind. You already know how to answer them. So you can stay calm. And it’s a lot easier to keep from jumping in and arguing with them, and just to keep asking the questions.
Mikel Del Rosario
There’s some kind of an apologetic benefit, or even an evidential value I think to a Christian who is confident, and is able to remain calm under fire, ’cause the other person’s like …
Greg Koukl
Also, in a written situation, you have more time to craft your response. And so even if you’re really animated, if we’re talking together, and I get bugged at you, you can see it, and you can see me give off these vibes. But you can’t … when you’re writing back and forth, people can’t see that you’re really mad.
Amy Hall
Thank goodness.
Greg Koukl
So they … So what you could do, if you’re wise … harsh word stirs up anger. So you don’t want to respond in kind with them. If you’re wise you slow down, take a deep breath, and then you craft your response that’s more evenhanded. So that’s an advantage that you have in writing that you don’t have in communication. It takes a while to build that virtue, that patience you’re talking about, in conversation. But it’s easier to do in writing. So you’re not as likely to respond emotionally. But you’re also able to … you don’t have to be so quick on your feet, like you do in a conversation situation, particularly a more of an ideologically hostile circumstance. You can craft your response more carefully in that situation.

But using the question, even for clarification’s sake, what do you mean by that, or some form of that, in a challenge situation online is really effective.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Let’s move on to the second question now in Columbo.
Greg Koukl
Sure. Yeah. Okay. So the first question is meant for the Christian to find out what a person means. But now we’re not done with our questions, because what the mean … you’re gonna have clarification on their point of view. We also want to know why they hold their point of view. So the first step is to gather information with the question what do you mean by that. The second question is to, what I call reversing the burden of proof. And I know you’re really familiar with this concept, that is the responsibility somebody has in a conversation to give a reason or a defense for a view.

And the basic rule is, the person who makes the claim bears the burden of proof. So if a person says something that’s so, “Here, this is so,” especially that’s controversial, well, it’s that person’s responsibility to tell us why we should take that idea seriously. It is not our responsibility first to try to refute it. This is where Christians, especially the more aggressive ones, sometimes mess up. Somebody says, “Well that’s relative.” Okay, everything’s relative. “Okay,” they think, “I’m gonna show you why everything’s not relative.” Well wait a minute, you just jumped the gun. You gave that person a free ride, because you haven’t asked them to defend their own view. They made the claim that’s controversial, everything is relative. Now I want to ask another question. And that other question is some form of, how did you come to that conclusion? Or why would you think that’s the way it is? Or why do you think that’s true? Or what’s your evidence for that?

Now we gotta be careful that we don’t ask that question in a snotty way. “Oh, really? How’d you come to that conclusion,” like you idiot subtext. No, we really want to know the rationale, and so we want to communicate that with the tone of voice, and we want them to offer it. So now we’re getting two pieces of information before we have to do anything. The first piece is their point of view, and the second piece is the reasons for their point of view, if they have any. And this is another occasion where the Christian who follows this methodology, uses the game plan, is going to encounter Simon and Garfunkel again, the sounds of silence, because most people don’t have reasons for their views.

By the way, this is true on both sides of the aisle, non-Christians and Christians. So most people do not have reasons for their views, and now they’re confronted with holding a view dogmatically that they have no good reasons for. So what does the Christian do at this point? Ask two questions. Has the Christian offered his view, or her view? No. Has the Christian had to defend their view? No. Have then needed no philosophy and apologetics and theology? No. They just asked two simple questions that are friendly questions showing an interest in the other person. That’s why I say, this is a game plan, even with those first two steps, Mikel, that will allow a person to converse with confidence in any situation, no matter how little they know, or how knowledgeable or aggressive or even obnoxious the other person happens to be.

Mikel Del Rosario
Let’s move on to the third question in Columbo.
Greg Koukl
Well, the third use is a little bit more advanced. So first we’re gathering information, what do you mean by that. Secondly we’re reversing the burden of proof, how did you come to that conclusion. Now, in the third use of Columbo, is you use your questions to make a point. Now sometimes people say, “When do I get to say my stuff?” This is where you get to say your stuff. But you want to say your stuff with questions.
Mikel Del Rosario
In the form of a question.
Greg Koukl
You want to use questions to lead up to either the point you’re making, and that could be a point about the truth of Christianity or some evidence for Christianity. Or it could be that you notice a flaw in much of the later tactics in the book, like suicide and taking the roof off and just the facts man, and Rhodes scholar. These are all tactics, or inside out. These are tactics to work with a flaw. But you want to exploit the flaw that you think you see by using a question. And instead of just, “Oh, see, there you go.” Like for example, somebody says, “Well you Christians are so judgmental.” Okay, that’s a charge. I say, “What do you mean by that?” “Well, you’re always finding fault with other people’s views.” “Is that wrong?” “Yeah, it’s wrong to judge.”

Now three questions. Now I’m ready for Columbo number three. “If it’s wrong to judge, then why are you judging me right now?” See, I knew there was a judgment all the time in each of those. But I’m asking a couple of questions to get it really clear. And then, instead of saying, “Well, you’re judging me right now. You’re doing the same thing you say I shouldn’t be doing, which is true. And that would be a way of doing it. But that would be inelegant. I’d lose a tactical advantage. The minute I put it in the form of a question, “If you think it’s wrong to judge, then why are you judging me right now?” I promise you … ’cause I’ve seen it happen … this stops absolutely cold in their tracks, legitimately. And they do not know what to say, because it has never occurred to them that they are being just as judgmental in that moment, or intolerant … there’s another example of it … as the Christian that they’re charging with that vice. And they have to think about it.

So now I’ve noticed the flaw. This is called the suicide tactic, by the way, because their view commits suicide. I’m just using a question to point it out. So, but this is a little more difficult, though. Because the third use of Columbo, you gotta know something. You have to know the point you’re trying to make, whether your own point, working up to questions … and in the book I have lots and lots of example of this … or you have to know the flaw that’s just been committed that you can exploit with another question. And again, more examples in the book.

So the book is just absolutely chock full with I’ve had at university campuses, on airplanes, on the radio, all the different venues in the 35 or 40 years that I’ve been actually doing this kind of thing. And then I put them there as devices to help teach how the tactic works, and give substance to individual challenges, answers to the individual challenges that Christians might face.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. You’ve really put a lot of what you do on your radio show in this book. And I wish I had this book earlier. I wish it was written earlier. [Laughter] But as soon as it came out I got it, and I began requiring it, actually, for my students at William Jessup University.
Greg Koukl
Oh, it warms the hackles of my heart when I find out that any professor has required his students to buy the book. But though you required, I’m sure they’re happy that they …
Mikel Del Rosario
It’s really been helpful for me, and it’s been helpful for my students, as well.
Greg Koukl
Thank you.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well Amy, we’ve found out recently that Barna came up with this study that actually some Christians, and many millennials will feel like it’s actually wrong to share their faith. What advice would you give to pastors, to new pastors, or people working with young Christians and working with millennials on how we can encourage people to get out there and have those spiritual conversations?
Amy Hall
So they actually think it’s wrong, they’re not just afraid to do it?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Because they don’t want to feel like they’re being judgmental or intolerant toward people, they’re afraid to make objective kinds of claims.
Amy Hall
There are so many things behind that. First of all, they’re obviously affected by the culture in terms of relativism and pluralism, and not understanding … I think what could be at the very bottom of this is that they don’t really understand what the gospel is. Why is Jesus the only way? Why do people need to know Jesus? It could be that these students have no idea what the answer to that question is. Because once you know the answer to that question, why would anyone say it’s a bad idea?

Because they have to hear it. They have to hear it if they want to be saved. So, I think there could be some real theological problems behind this. There’s also the philosophical problem of relativism. Those, I think, are the deepest level of this. But there’s also … they’re not knowledgeable about the Bible, because the Bible clearly … What is our charge from Jesus? We’re supposed to go out and make disciples. So I think all the way along that line there are a lot of things that could be covered.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, in just talking with unbelievers, we have lost that Judeo-Christian net in most ministry contexts, where people even know Bible stories, where people even know of the very basics of Christianity. And Greg, you wrote another book called The Story of Reality, where you describe Christianity in this way.
Greg Koukl
Yeah. Let me segue into that by picking up on something both you and Amy said here. I think that at the core of the problem here is confidence in the truth of Christianity, and the Christian world view. Think about it for a moment. Who would say, “I don’t want to be doctor?” What millennial will say, “You know what? I was thinking about med school, but I don’t want to go to med school.” “Why not?” “Well, because then I’m gonna have to tell people they’re sick, and that’s not good news. And so then they’re not gonna like me.” No. If you go to med school it’s because there are people that actually are sick, and you’re convinced they are. And even if they don’t like the idea, you have a remedy for them.

Many Christians, people who identify with Christianity in some fashion, do not believe the gospel and the Christian world view in a deep, profound sense. They don’t think that it represents reality. They think it represents their religion. They don’t realize that there’s reality to the things that scripture says. And so I’ve written a book that’s called, The Story of Reality. And the sub title is, How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. In other words, it starts with God and it ends with the final resurrection. Now it’s not … it’s theological, but it’s not really a theology book so much. It’s … I’m a little hesitant to make this comparison, because there’s only one C.S. Lewis and one Mere Christianity. But nowadays a lot of people won’t read Mere Christianity because it’s too hard for them, which really surprises me.

However, what I tried to do is to try to cover similar ground that Lewis did in a similar style that is very accessible to the people in the population. And when he wrote Mere Christianity, that was accessible to people 50, 60 years ago. Now I think it takes a little different approach. And so I’ve tried to wordsmith, and I had tremendous help from Amy. I just have to acknowledge. She’s a fabulous editor. We worked very closely on the things I write, in a way that makes it very accessible to people. And we cover five major points. God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection. And here I mean the final resurrection.

So God made everything, including human beings to be, man, to human beings to be in friendship with him. But they got themselves in a heap of trouble. So God initiates a rescue operation by becoming a man in the person of Jesus … God-man, Jesus … and he does something on the cross that will determine what happens to everyone in the final resurrection. God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection. So now you’ve got … you probably recognize it … a type of systematic theology going there, but very accessible. But you also have the plot of the story line in the order that things took place. And you have a five-point outline that my daughter, when she was six years old knew. So it’s easy to keep track of if you want to explain the whole story.

And a huge part of what we’re explaining with the whole story is not just our religious view. But this is the story of reality. Bible stories, they’re not just stories. They don’t start once upon a time. They start ours in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Because it does not mean to be understood as a myth or a fairy tale, it’s meant to be understood as an accounting of what has actually happened and will happen. And so part of our task as apologists is to defend that accounting. But in here I want to give a clear characterization of the accounting, and I have what I call soft apologetics, kind of built in so that it gives us good reason to take the account seriously.

It is very reader friendly. It is very non-Christian friendly. I always had the non-Christian in mind when I’m writing this book, because I want any Christian to be able to give The Story of Reality to any of their non-Christian friends, and not be embarrassed. And I think it’s fulfilled that. And also, from what I’ve seen online, like at Amazon in the comments, it’s got a 4.8 rating out of 5. That’s the average rating of almost 300 people weighing in now. Wow. I’m pretty happy with that.

So, and the same thing for Tactics, by the way, though a different audience, more Christians there, and this is a mixture. But in any event, I think this is going to be key to solving this problem that we’re talking about, the confidence level. If Christians are more confident that their story, their account is actually the story of reality, the accurate one, it is going to give them more confidence to step out. The Tactics book will give them a game plan. And all the rest of the team, you and all the rest of our colleagues, are gonna be giving the information base that will help them to answer the particular challenges that they’re facing.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Well, our time has flown by. Thank you so much for being here, and just for the ministry that you do, helping equip Christians with knowledge, wisdom, and character to be ambassadors of Jesus. And thank you, Amy, for being on the show.
Greg Koukl
Can we give the website, by the way?
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry. How can people connect with you guys?
Greg Koukl
It’s str, Stand to Reason, str.org. That’s the easiest way. They want the podcasts, of course the can go to iTunes and look up Stand to Reason. They get podcasts there, or they can just go to our website and sign up there. I want to makes sure, I want to encourage people to put the Stand to Reason blog, which Amy is in charge of … we have a number of bloggers, but that’s one of her main contributions to Stand to Reason … to put that on their daily shopping list, or watering hole, basically. So every day they’re checking that out, ’cause we have postings every single day. And this is the kind of thing that will allow them to stay up with the current developments in our culture, with thinking that will allow them to see this from the context of the true story of reality.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well thank you, Greg.
Greg Koukl
You’re welcome, Mikel. What a fun time we’ve had together with you.
Mikel Del Rosario
And we thank you so much for joining us on The Table Podcast. If you have a topic you would like us to consider for …. [inaudible comment/ 00:56:22], please email us at dts.edu/thetable and stay with us next week on the table where we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Amy Hall
Amy worked in the film industry for ten years before joining Stand to Reason ministries. Now she’s a writer, editer, and podcaster with Stand to Reason. Amy has a B.A. in mass communication and journalism from CSU Fresno and an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola. Her work has been published in the Apologetics Study Bible for Students.
Greg Koukl
Greg started out thinking he was too smart to become a Christian and ended up giving his life for the defense of the Christian faith. A central theme of Greg's speaking and writing is that Christianity—if it's properly understood and properly communicated—makes the most sense of the world as we find it. Greg has spoken on more than 70 college and university campuses both in the U.S. and abroad and has hosted his own call-in radio show for 27 years advocating “Christianity worth thinking about.”  An award-winning writer and best-selling author, Greg has written seven books, including The Story of Reality—How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between; Tactics—A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, and Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Greg received his Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, graduating with high honors, and his Masters in Christian Apologetics with honors from Simon Greenleaf University. He is an adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion though his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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