I have benefited a lot from Greg Koukl’s books Tactics and The Story of Reality. And while I have undoubtedly forgotten much of their content, there are a number of takeaways that have stuck with me. The foremost is that when we speak to people who are not Christians, we have not failed if they make no profession of faith in Jesus Christ. While that may be our ultimate desire for them, a good and noble goal for any spiritual conversation is to simply put a proverbial pebble in their shoe—to give them something to think about, something that will challenge their worldview, something that may nag at their souls in the days or weeks to come. Where some people understand evangelism only through a “harvesting approach” in which anything less than conversion means failure, the “gardening approach” means we are content to do the planting or watering, trusting that God may give someone else the joy of harvesting.
That approach is again on display in his new book Street Smarts, which is not quite a sequel to Tactics, but is still related to it. If you haven’t read Tactics you will benefit from Street Smarts, but if you have read the former, you’ll find that the latter furthers the principles with concrete teaching related to today’s foremost challenges to believing the gospel.
“There are few things that cause more nagging guilt for Christians than sharing their faith,” he says. “They feel guilt because they don’t witness enough. They don’t witness enough because they are scared. And they’re scared for good reason. Sharing the gospel and defending it—apologetics—often feels like navigating a minefield these days. For most of us, engaging others on spiritual matters does not come easy, especially when people are hostile.” And this is the reason we tend to “stay off the streets.” Just as we avoid parts of a city where we feel unsafe, we avoid contexts and situations in which we feel especially vulnerable.
The purpose of Street Smarts is to provide training that will equip readers to address the most common contemporary challenges to their convictions. It is to give Christians a greater degree of confidence as they engage with people who do not share their Christian faith and who may be antagonistic toward it. The way Koukl does this is not to provide responses to every criticism or answers to every question. Rather, he teaches a technique that he has used for years and taught to many others. Those who have read Tactics or been to one of his seminars will recognize it as his “Colombo” technique. Where in Tactics he addresses common objections to Christianity, in Street Smarts he focuses on the larger issues that stand behind those objections—atheism, abortion, the supposed contradiction between science and faith, and so on.
His training consists of two parts. First, he explains the challenges and provides compelling answers to them. In this way, the reader comes to understand not only common concerns and appropriate responses but also the weaknesses inherent in the common positions. Second, he shows how to make use of the knowledge of those weaknesses to tactfully expose them in a precise way. This is meant to give Christians shrewd but gentle confidence in their engagements with skeptics. “Simply put, he says, I want to make a hard job easier for you—much easier. I am going to show you how to maneuver effectively and comfortably in conversations using questions to answer the challenges you face as a Christian. I will give you both the content you need and the plan necessary to employ it. By confronting the giants one by one, I will shrink them down to size for you. I will show you how to make the case that the Christian view of reality is true.”
How effectively does he do this? Quite, I would say! The book would fail if it was meant to teach a specific response to each challenge to the gospel. That would simply be too much content to remember when it was needed. The reader would have to remember a precise series of facts, know when to bring each one to bear, and be left silent when the conversation didn’t go his way—an issue we have probably all run into at one time or another in the past. But Koukl teaches a technique, a way to listen attentively and then ask questions meant to expose flaws. This simplifies the task of the evangelist or apologist and accounts for fluidity in conversation.
Those who read this book will be better equipped to have productive “pebble in the shoe” conversations with people who hold to atheism, who insist that the existence of evil disproves the existence of God (or, at least, of a God who is good and merciful), who believe science and faith contradict one another, who spurn Christianity because it denies the morality of abortion, and who are convinced that Christianity is evil because of its positions on marriage, sex, and gender. They will be equipped to understand what the Bible says about those issues and to have productive conversations about them—conversations that will use respectful questions to expose flaws and, hopefully, promote further thought, further questions, and, potentially, saving faith. For those reasons among others, it is a book well worth reading.