What is the best method for regularly engaging people in thoughtful conversations about their beliefs? Must Christians be able to answer every concievable interrogation to their faith before they may answer any? How should Christians respond when someone makes an assertion for their own beliefs or against the Bible’s teachings? These are the types of questions that Greg Koukl tackles in his quick and lively read, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.
Koukl is a thoughtful Christian who has given his life to defending the Christian faith and teaching others to do the same. He travels the country and the world giving talks and lectures, engaging and debating whom he may, and writing books along his merry way. Koukl also hosts a radio show on his website (www.str.org) that is devoted to “Equipping Christian Ambassadors with Knowledge, Wisdom, and Character.” Tactics is the fruit of the years of his labor in an easily digestable book form.
One may summarize Koukl’s book Tactics by comparing it to a modernized version of the classical art of argumentation, trimmed with requisite logic and rhetoric and having a special emphasis on Socratic questioning. Koukl’s “tactic” is for the Christian to be able to talk to anyone, anywhere, and at anytime about their beliefs for the purpose of winning others to Christ. To do this, Koukl teaches his readers how to gain control of and steer any conversation by asking questions that cause the other person to see the inconsistency of his or her worldview. Koukl explains that questions can be better than statements in arguing because they steer the conversation by causing the other person to give answers for their position, rather than allowing their assertions to go unfounded. By using questions as a rhetorical tool, the Christian not only steers the conversation but also appears more caring and less offensive. This method runs rightly on the presupposition that all worldviews which do not start by assuming the God of the Bible are grossly inconsistent.
Koukl defines“tactics” as the hand-to-hand maneuvers of argumentation, being different from a “strategy” which is the big picture of the Christian worldview (eg., Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) and the goal of winning someone to Christ. Yet, Koukl makes clear that Christians should view themselves as ambassadors, instead of combatants, who engage people in thoughtful diplomacy, rather than overt combat. The goal is not always conversion but planting seeds of thought in people’s minds, which the Lord will cause to growin his own time. The different tactics offered include unique titles such as “Columbo”, “Suicide”, “Taking the Roof Off”, and “Steamroller.”
The Columbo method sets the stage for the rest and is largely a rhetoical tactic as it asks the other person(s) to define their terms and then asks for proof for their position. If, for instance, someone claims they do not believe in God, one should respond with a series of questions asking, “Why?”, “Which God do you mean?”, or “What do you mean by that?”; instead of coming back at them with immediate proofs. Columbo’s goals are to gather information, clarify positions, and steer the conversation. The Suicide tactic(s) is largely a logical tactic and seeks to uncover how one’s view violates the law of contradiction. Koukl highlights different suicide fallacies which are logical fallacies as found on the street. Infanticide, for instance, is the exposing of axiomatic presuppositions in others’ worldviews. Thus, the range of Koukl’s tactics for proper argumentation include everything within logic and rhetoric.
Others have written similar books about the art of intellectual self defense, yet Koukl’s book is unique in that it seeks to explain and expound more of the rhetoric of argumentation. Logos and ethos are necessary, but pathos or persuasion is of no less importance. The reason Koukl pushes the use of questioning, thus, is not merely because it does a better job of uncovering and deconstructing fallacies, nor that it buys time and removes the heavy, awkward pressures that cling to religious conversations, but because questions show that the questioner really cares for the other person, that he/she desires to know more about him or her, and is genuinely interested in his or her well-being. This rhetorical value can be of great worth in conversations for today’s postmodern generations who are tired of what they consider to be impersonal logic. Narrative, story, dialogue, sincerity, authenticity, and conversation are increasingly held as more valuable and can more easliy win an audience with people today than proposing naked facts. The twain must not always be separated, but starting with questions can provide a warm acceptance and a good lead into the logic of the argument.
Speaking of narrative, a wonderfully livening feature of the book is the inclusion of Koukl’s own personal examples from which he teaches and reinforces his points. Logic, debate, rhetoric, and argumentation have an accurate reputation of being dry subjects. A is not non-A. If P, then Q. He said, she said. Koukl’s recorded dialogues with other real people keep an otherwise normally baron subject alive and interesting. The reader is invited into real life situations, where real people confront one another, get hung up, trip over their words, and think through their beliefs. Many apologetic books usually offer “thought experiments” or contrived scenarios that favorably go the way the author intends for the experiment. Koukl’s examples stick in the mind and teach the readers how to argue in a memorably shadowing fashion.
Koukl’s recorded conversations come from his method of taking down an after-action report—a practice that he recommends for anyone who engages people in conversations. This practice seems wise and healthy since it allows one to accurately replay conversations in order to learn from them at a later, calmer time. King Solomon likewise takes time to reflect in his mind in order to glean what he can from a situation (Proverbs 24:30-34). The practice of replaying converstaions in the mind or on paper will provide compounded learning opportunities from one’s real life experiences that will not easily be forgotten the next time such an encoutner occurs. Reviewing questions and answers also builds confidence and squelches fear of engaging more people on the same topics.
As for negative remarks, Kouk admits that his aim is not to hit home-runs; that is, he is not out to win converts to Christ. Rather, Koukl sets out to put rocks in people’s shoes, to get people thinking, and to infer ideas through series of warm, genial questions. Several problems arise from this approach. Firstly, one wonders what Paul meant when he said that he became all things to all men so that by all means he might win some. Given that there is a time to sow and a time to reap, how does Koukl reconcile his view with Pual’s, not least Jesus’ own rhetoric which very often included confrontation and proclamation? And secondly, more information would be helpful on how to transition from questions and merely “stepping up to bat” toward a full proclamation (or at least a sharing) of the good news of Jesus, repentance and forgiveness of sins, and heaven and hell.
However, Koukl is commendable since he lives this side of postmodernia, which has some merit, although human nature doesn’t change. He also deserves respect and immulation for effectively getting Christians out there who are en massé sheepishly shy, fearful, nervous, and unskilled. Koukl reminds the reader that he doesn’t have to save the world, or even make one convert. Ultimately these are God’s jobs. Providing the ability to speak where there is no speech is desirable and commendable. Yet, having as one’s methods those of Jesus and his followers—who were killed for their assertions—is also desirable. Jesus did not say, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and put rocks in people’s shoes, asking them questions in the name of dialogue, thought, and sincerity.”
Another critique is that, although Koukl casts most classical and philosophical terms into new clothes for his audience, it is necessary to explain even to Christians why all systems of thought other than Christianity fail. Koukl assumes this is true, which it is, and the reader may as well, but if we are to go out into the field, engage people, and deconstruct to absurdity other worldviews, we must know why our worldview withstands the same tests. Furthermore, a more systematic tactical approach of each worldview (there are only a few) is also crucial. A smattering of examples leaves one’s view of the field slightly disoriented. Koukl’s section on self-defense against Columbo, for example, was not very heartening. It seemed more of an escape hatch from a burning plane than a solid defense of a challenged view. Granted, the book is about “tactics” and not “strategy”, nevertheless at least a small section should deal with why the tactics always work (which they do) on others and don’t backfire on oneself.
Koukl’s book overall provides a shotgun course in logic, rhetoric, and argumentation for an updated, postmodernized generation. It is a well written, simple guide for how to “discuss one’s Christian convictions” with anyone and at anytime. Koukl’s policy of viewing oneself as a diplomat, instead of a combatant, is helpful and repositions the overall stance one takes when engaging unbelievers. If Christians today seem to be afraid or awkward in talking with unbelievers, the idea of gaining control of the conversation by asking questions is a welcomed tactical maneuver on an otherwise dangerous battlefield. Anyone can do this at any stage of their life—children begin begin asking questions when they first learn to speak and usually increase their questioning through adulthood. Learning to question well is a mark of maturity. Koukl has shown us that questioning is also a rhetorical form of engaging with unbelievers and hopefully bringing them to an understanding of the errors of their ways and the truth of God’s Word.