Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 has just posted a telephone interview we did together recently. Brian’s website is one of the best for an abundance of resources and training in apologetics. I really appreciate his taking time to do this interview.
One of our main topics was strategies for apologetics. It seems to me that the apologetics enterprise (the apologetics industry, so to speak) is well advanced in its answers to questions about the faith, but that when it comes to connecting that to everyday needs of church and culture, it has some catching up to do. We have good answers, but we’re not delivering them effectively. I’ve been working on this with pastors and worldview ministry leaders for the past year or so, and what we’re hearing from pastors confirms what I’ve been sensing.
There are exceptions. The Truth Project is the finest example I’ve seen. William Lane Craig, though one of the most academic of all apologists, has nevertheless set up a structure for groups to study and learn together in local communities. BreakPoint has its Centurions program. Summit Ministries and Wheatstone Academy have excellent conferences for young people. Ratio Christi, out of Southern Evangelical Seminary, is on an excellent track.
There are others like these, more than I could list here. I want to focus on one of my favorites, though: Gregory Koukl and Stand to Reason. Koukl hosts a weekly talk show on KBRT radio in Los Angeles, reaching nationwide through the AFR network and by podcast (all accessible from that last link). The show is about current issues in philosophy, theology, and ethics; but there’s a subtext. Listening to Stand to Reason, you don’t just learn answers; you learn how to answer. Rush Limbaugh famously warns his listeners, “Don’t try this at home!” Greg Koukl says, “Do try this at home—and in your workplace, the restaurants you visit, in fact, everywhere you go!”
Better than that, he has published a very strategic book on how to do it. It’s titled Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Now, I admit to a bit of awkwardness saying Tactics is strategic; the terms are supposed to mean different things. Here’s how it makes sense: the tactics in the book are tactical; the book itself is strategic.
It’s also highly entertaining, readable, and informative. Wait—scratch all that; too many syllables. The book is fun. It’s filled with stories—both successes and failures—from the author’s own experience. I’m making the book required reading for my teenagers this summer. I have no doubt they’ll enjoy it.
Tactics is strategic in that it makes practical apologetics accessible to any Christian. It isn’t primarily about the answers. If you’re old enough to remember the TV detective Columbo you’ll instantly connect to Koukl’s main model: you don’t have to know all the answers if you know how to ask the right questions. There are just three kinds of questions, two of which are easy: What do you mean by that? and How did you come to that conclusion? The third category of question, the kind that can lead a person toward a logical conclusion, takes a bit more study and practice, but it’s an accessible sort of study and practice, as Koukl presents it.
His advice is intensely practical for real-life situations. One example: what do you do if you’re a college student and the professor puts you on the hot seat to defend your faith? Koukl’s first rule is as strategic as you could ask for:
Never make a frontal assault on a superior force in an entrenched position…. The man with the microphone wins. The professor always has the strategic advantage. It’s foolish to get into a power struggle when you are out-gunned.
So what do you do? Cower? Duck and run? Pray for the bell to ring and end class? Not much hope there; I’ve never heard of a college with bells. No, you turn the question back to the professor. How do you do that? I’d rather let the author answer that question; he can do it much better than I. Register on the Stand to Reason website, then go here and look for the January 29, 2006 podcast. Better yet, buy the book.
What I’ve been talking about so far is the first half of the book. The second half is a guide to logic. Maybe that sounds rather academic. Not the way Greg Koukl handles it, though. There’s just one tiny trace of Latin in there: “reductio ad absurdum.” He explains it in English, though, even giving it a new name: “Taking the Roof Off.” It goes like this:
Some points of view, if taken seriously, don’t actually commit suicide [his term for internally contradictory positions—another example of his speaking English when he discusses logic], but they work against themselves in a different way. When played out consistently, they lead to unusual—even absurd—conclusions….
This tactic makes it clear that certain arguments prove too much. It forces people to ask if they can really live with the kind of worldview they are affirming. Those who are intellectually honest will think twice about embracing a view that ultimately leads to irrationality….
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. It is significant that those who want to practice relativism never want relativism practiced toward them.
The “roof” he refers to is a cover the person erects “to protect himself from considering the consequences” of contradictory attitudes within. Do you think you could learn how to take the roof off? I think you can, with guidance from a book like Tactics. It will take practice, of course; the author is honest about his own fumbles and stumbles along the way. It will take some study, too. Koukl’s “Ambassador Model” includes knowledge, wisdom, and character. Though this book (quite appropriately) focuses on just one of these—handling interactions wisely—his overall message includes all three.
There’s a DVD/CD-based training series available to go along with Tactics. I haven’t obtained a copy yet, so I can’t comment on its quality or effectiveness. I certainly support the concept, though: making apologetics accessible. Tactics is good strategy.
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