Greg Koukl is setting out on a blog tour to support his new book Tactics (you can read my review of it right here). I agreed to participate, asking one question of my own and asking one question on behalf of another person. Here is what we asked and how Greg answered.
There are many “traditional” apologetic manuals available to us, perhaps the foremost of which is Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Such books seem to speak to a modern more than postmodern kind of mind. Do such books still have their place today?
I realize that the prevailing worldview among young people is a kind of reflexive postmodern relativism. They are very skeptical about truth claims and the kind of “rationality” that moderns have used to justify views that have led to oppression. But that is only a part of the story, the small part.
There is something else that is almost always missed with challenges like this one. Bad worldviews, even if deeply believed, cannot undo reality. God has given every human being the ability to know truth about their world. Our convictions as Christians include that God exists, that this is His world, and that man is made in His image. That’s the rest of the story. If we are right, then reality turns out to be structured in a very specific way and no unbeliever can escape it. Reality becomes our ally, even with postmoderns.
Note these comments from the Tactics chapter on “Taking the Roof Off.”
When I was a young Christian, I read Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There. Schaeffer argues that Christians have a powerful ally in the war of ideas: reality. Whenever someone tries to deny the truth, reality ultimately betrays him… Although culture shifts, human nature remains the same. Ideas change, but reality does not….
Every person who rejects the truth of “the God who is there” is caught between the way he says the world is and the way the world actually is. This dissonance, what Schaeffer called the “point of tension,” is what makes Taking the Roof Off so effective. Any person who denies the truth of God’s world lives in contradiction. He says one thing, yet deep down he knows the truth….
Regardless of our ideological impulses [e.g., postmodernism], deep inside each of us is a common-sense realist. Those who are not are either dead, in an institution, or sleeping in cardboard boxes under the freeway. Knowing this gives us a tremendous advantage. The key to dealing with moral relativism, for example, is realizing that for all the adamant affirmations, no one really believes it, and for a good reason: If you start with relativism, reality does not make sense.
Unless a person is truly pathological, he cannot escape these truths even if he tries. His language and his behavior will always betray his deepest beliefs about the world. Emotions, prejudice, and bull-headedness may cause him to deny what would otherwise be obvious except when he is defending his ideological turf. But when his guard is down, every person understands that the basic structure of the world is the way the Bible says it is., at least in the broad strokes. Simply put, reason and rationality still matter, even to the postmodernist regardless of his claims to the contrary.
Recent studies (in addition to our own anecdotal experience at STR) bears this out. For example, sociologist Christian Smith in his book Soul Searching reveals that one of the primary reasons students abandon their Christian convictions is because of “some version of intellectual skepticism or disbelief.” Some typical responses: “It didn’t make any sense anymore,” “Some stuff is too far-fetched for me to believe,” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof,” and, “Too many questions that can’t be answered.”
There is no good reason, then, to abandon our apologetics or our appeal to careful thinking. The content of the older offerings is still good, I think, especially Schaeffer, who makes a singular contribution and was remarkably prescient in anticipating the challenges of the 21st century. I would tend to favor newer books, though, because of updated scholarship and, in many cases, a tone that is more readable or more sensitive to the prevailing intellectual ethos. I’m thinking especially of something like Thinking about God (Ganssle), or anything that Lee Strobel has written in apologetics, though there is a plethora of good works now available.
What are the attitudinal and spiritual preparations one must do before using apologetic “tactics” in conversations with unbelievers? — Ryan, Littleton, CO
First, using tactics is not an advanced enterprise suitable only for trained professionals. There are no “attitudinal and spiritual preparations” one must go through before using tactics. In fact, when I do my basic talk on the Columbo tactic (the foundational tactic for the book’s game plan), I introduce it like this: “In the next 45 minutes, I am going to give you a game plan that will allow you to interact with confidence in any conversation, no matter how little you know or how aggressive or powerful or educated the other person may be.”
However, there are some “spiritual and attitudinal” perspectives it is helpful to keep in mind in order to be effective using tactics. First is this warning I include in chapter one:
There is a danger I want you to be aware of, so I need to pause and make an important clarification. Tactics are not manipulative tricks or slick ruses. They are not clever ploys to embarrass other people and force them to submit to your point of view. They are not meant to belittle or humiliate those who disagree so you can gain notches in your spiritual belt.
I offer this warning for [a reason]….These tactics are powerful and can be abused. It’s not difficult to make someone look silly when you master these techniques. A tactical approach can quickly show people how foolish some of their ideas are. Therefore, you must be careful not to use your tactics merely to assault others.
My goal, rather, is to find clever ways to exploit someone’s bad thinking for the purpose of guiding her to truth, yet remaining gracious and charitable at the same time. My aim is to manage, not manipulate; to control, not coerce; to finesse, not fight. I want the same for you.
There is another perspective that is important to keep in mind. It has to do with the role we play in the process of influencing others for the Gospel, versus the role God plays.
Note this from chapter two:
Without the work of the Spirit, no argument–no matter how persuasive–will be effective. But neither will any act of love, or any simple presentation of the Gospel. Add the Spirit, though, and the equation changes dramatically.
Here’s the key principle: Without God’s work, nothing else works. But with God’s work, many things work. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, love persuades. By the power of God, the Gospel transforms. And with Jesus at work, arguments convince. God is happy to use each of these methods.
Understanding this truth makes our job as ambassadors much easier. We can be confident that every time we engage, we have an ally. Our job is to communicate the Gospel as clearly, graciously, and persuasively as possible. God’s job is to take it from there. We may plant the seeds or water the saplings, but God causes whatever increase comes from our efforts.
We are not in this alone. Yes, each of us has an important role to play, but all the pressure is on the Lord. Sharing the Gospel is our task, but it’s God’s problem.
I like to call this principle “100% God and 100% man.” I am wholly responsible for my side of the ledger, and God is entirely responsible for His. I focus on being faithful, but I trust God to be effective. Some will respond and some will not. The results are His concern, not mine. This lifts a tremendous burden from my shoulders.