In this post, I want to describe the second leg of the stool of evangelism, wisdom. As I indicated in the previous post, I learned these concepts from Stand To Reason’s model of a Christian ambassador.
Regarding our knowledge Koukl suggests it “… must be deployed in a skillful way. There’s an element of wisdom, a tactical and artful diplomacy that makes his message persuasive.” This subject is handled in depth in Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.
As I stated in the previous post, these three elements (knowledge, wisdom, and character) are the legs of the stool of evangelism. However these topics are not subjects that can be mastered through a six-week course or even a post-graduate degree. Rather, these are placeholders for a life style of Christian discipleship. Each of these areas is unique and requires different types of effort and study. The subject of this post, wisdom, may be the most practical as it deals with how we interact with skeptics and non-believers. With the techniques Koukl describes one can enter into any conversation, regardless background knowledge, and truly engage in “diplomacy.”
The first part of Tactics focuses on the “Columbo Tactic.” The name being derived from the television show detective portrayed by Peter Falk. The tactic rests on a simple but powerful observation about arguments: whoever makes an assertion bears the burden of proof for that assertion. When confronted by an assertion against Christianity our first response should not be to give evidence contrary to the claim, rather we should start with a simple question: “what do you mean by that?” This question and others that are in the same vein are helpful and important when starting a conversation on a potentially contentious issue. The first thing you say is an invitation to dialogue not a confrontation. Also your knowledge of the objection may play a role in the kinds of clarifying questions you ask.
For example, if someone claims it is irrational to believe in God, you might ask the following questions. What do you mean by God? What makes such a belief irrational? What kind of evidence would make such a belief rational?
Once we understand the objection, the second question goes to the heart of the other person’s evidence. “How did you come to that conclusion?” This questions forces the person making the claim to give their evidence or reasons for that claim. Koukl warns that we must be on the alert for a story that is not actually an argument. Reason and evidence forming an argument, not just stories are needed for someone to answer this question.
The second part of Tactics focuses detecting and responding to various kinds of logical fallacies. The methods for addressing different fallacies have catch-phrases that help you remember them. For example, “Rhodes Scholar” refers to discerning the difference between an experts opinion and the argument an expert is capable of making. “Suicide” refers to arguments that are self-defeating, for example the claim: “There is no truth.” If this statement is applied to itself, it refutes itself.
I am tempted to continue on, but I want to close this post on the value of getting engaged. Perhaps the worst fear Christians have about standing up for the truth of Christianity is not being prepared, not knowing what to say. What you will learn from studying Tactics is that while your knowledge is important, your interactions with non-believers should be driven by how you engage other people and their beliefs. We must care enough to ask questions before we unload on them with answers to questions they aren’t asking.
As you gather experience you will make mistakes and you will also gain confidence. Further, based on your interactions you will discover the topics you need to learn more about. As you study those topics you will become more skilled at detecting the fallacies and misinformation surrounding those topics.
In the next post I will explore the nature of the knowledge component in this metaphor.