Tactics Read Through: Chapter 9

TURNABOUT Defending against Columbo

Summary: When others ask questions, determine what the purpose is before you fall into a trap that they might be laying. This is done by seeking clarification and by being willing to think about it.

“There should be no risk when someone asks us either of the first two Columbo questions. We welcome the opportunity to clarify our views and then give our reasons for what we believe. The danger we need to guard against is the misuse of the third application of Columbo—leading questions meant to make a point against us.” (Location: 1,957)

Note:Clarifying questions are good. We should accept and encourage them. The difference between leading questions meant to trap and clarifying questions meant to make a point is the intent behind it. Are you trying to encourage a thoughtful consideration of one’s beliefs, or are you trying to confuse and belittle?

“Someone once said if you word the question right, you can win any debate. Dr. Chopra’s challenge was a classic case in point. A simple yes would have been the correct answer (properly qualified1) but would have sent a distorted message, as you’ll see in a moment. Further, Chopra’s words subtly suggested that I thought hell was the punishment people deserved for disagreeing with me.” (Location: 1,977)

Note:In cases when a short, truthful answer will confuse even more, it is better to not answer the question until it is clarified.

“The moment you feel like the questions might be designed to manipulate you, stop the conversation and ask for clarification before you go any further.” (Location: 2,028)

“For example, “What gives you the right to say someone else’s religion is wrong?” can be restated as, “No one is justified in saying one religious view is better than another.” “Who’s to say?” means, “No one could ever know the truth about that,” or, “One answer is just as good as another.” “Who are you to say?” usually means, “You’re wrong for saying someone else is wrong.” This last one is obviously contradictory, but you might not notice that problem if the claim remains hidden behind a question mark.” (Location: 2,113)

Note:Answering a statement as though it were a question isn’t helpful to either party.

“If you remember only one thing from part 1 of this book, remember this: whenever you get in a tough spot, always ask questions.” (Location: 2,187)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 8


Summary:Being thoughtful and reasonable in dialogue with others over differing views is not something that comes naturally, but we can practice! And that practice will move our discussions along in a better direction.

“In any encounter, there are two times when the pressure is off: before the conversation begins and after it’s over. Those are perfect times to focus on improving your technique. Peter reminds us to always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). There are three things you can do to ready yourself to respond. You can anticipate beforehand what might come up. You can reflect afterward on what took place. And in both cases, you can practice the responses you think of during these reflective moments so you’ll be prepared for the next opportunity.” (Location: 1,773)

Note:If I want to love my neighbor to the best of my ability, it is worth my time to think about our conversation after the fact in order to evaluate how I might be more clear in my questions or comments in our next interaction.

“When I ask myself about the three skills of an ambassador—knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method), and character (an attractive manner)—I have something specific to focus on. Did I know enough about the issue, or do I need to brush up on something for next time? Could I have maneuvered with more tactical wisdom in the conversation? Was my manner attractive? Did I act with grace, kindness, and patience?” (Location: 1,802)

Note:Good review of the first chapter.

“Sometimes I practice this way when I’m alone in the car, listening to talk radio. After hearing a few comments by the host or a caller, I turn the volume down and then pretend it’s my job to respond to what was said. It’s almost like being on live radio, except if I say something foolish, no one hears.” (Location: 1,814)

Note:Or with books. If we take time to stop and try to respond to an author, we can begin to think for ourselves.

“As a general rule, go out of your way to establish common ground. Whenever possible, affirm points of agreement. Take the most charitable read on the other person’s motives, not the most cynical one. Treat them the way you would like others to treat you if you were the one in the hot seat.” (Location: 1,912)

Note:This is all part of loving the other person, which is extremely hard to view when we feel as though we are being attacked, not our views. One of the reasons we have gotten to such a point as unable to have reasonable dialogue in our current situation is because we have not enabled a culture of interacting with ideas. We need to offer this to others, explaining that we can disagree with them and their ideas but not hate them.

“In this chapter, we focused on refining your tactical effectiveness as a Christian ambassador by exploring three ways you can improve your skill at Columbo. First, try to anticipate objections you might face, and then think of questions in advance. This allows you to formulate responses before the pressure is on. Second, take some time for self-assessment after each encounter. Ask how you could have phrased questions more effectively or conducted yourself differently in the conversation. Enlist a friend in the process, especially if he was with you during the dialogue. Finally, if you think of anything new, work out the details in advance. Write your ideas down, construct a tactically sound dialogue, then role-play your response—and potential pushbacks from the other side—out loud, by yourself or with a friend.” (Location: 1,936)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 COLUMBO STEP 3 Using Questions to Make a Point

Summary:With a target in mind, we can ask questions which will help both parties understand the issues at stake and realize the truth about our own beliefs.

“In the third step of our game plan, you are going to use questions to make a point. Think of yourself like an archer shooting at a target. Your questions are your arrows. The point you want to make is the target you want to hit. The target is key. If you’re going to use questions to make a point, then you must be clear in your mind on what point you want to make.” (Location: 1,431)

“In each of these situations, every time you ask a question and get a favorable response, your question accomplishes two things that a mere statement cannot. First, the person is telling you he understands the point. Second, he’s telling you he agrees with it, at least provisionally, and is taking a step forward with you in the thinking process.” (Location: 1,438)

Note:Getting agreement along the way will help us deal with the real issue (the target at which we are aiming). Thinking far enough ahead to ask the right questions is hard though!

“There are different ways this third use of Columbo works out in application. Generally, your leading questions will be used to inform, persuade, refute, or set up the terms of the discussion.” (Location: 1,447)

Here they are:






“If you are placed in a situation in which you suspect your convictions will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, or judgmental, use Columbo to turn the tables.” (Location: 1,488)

“You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking. I don’t mind answering, but before I do, I want to know if it’s safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question first: do you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person on issues like this? Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for having convictions that differ from your own?” (Location: 1,492)

Note:I absolutely love this preface to a response. I need to use this more often because it helps both of us be honest.

“You’re intolerant.”

“Can you tell me what you mean by that? Why would you think I’m an intolerant person?”

“Because it’s clear you think you’re right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. That’s intolerant.”

“Well, you’re right, I do think my views are correct. Of course, it’s always possible I’m mistaken, and we could talk about that if you like. But what about you? You seem to be disagreeing with me. Do you think your views are right?”2

“Yes, of course I think I’m right. But I’m not intolerant like you.”

“That’s the part that confuses me. Why is it when I think I’m right, I’m intolerant, but when you think you’re right, you’re just right? What am I missing here?”

Note:The intolerance of “tolerance” on display.

“The quickest way to deal with a personal attack is to simply point it out with a question. When someone goes after you rather than your argument, ask, “I’m a little confused at your response. Why did you change the subject? Even if you’re right about my character, could you explain to me what that has to do with this issue?”” (Location: 1,531)

“Since science only measures natural causes and effects, it’s not capable of ruling out supernatural causes, even in principle.” (Location: 1,582)

Note:As he will state later, you cannot prove that invisible men do not exist merely because you haven’t seen any. This is different than the Burden of Proof fallacy. That fallacy is when I say, “Invisible men do exist! You can’t prove they don’t exist, so they must!” Putting science in its rightful place is not the same. We are merely saying that science cannot measure what it cannot observe. The supernatural is, by definition, beyond nature and therefore not able to be measure within it. We need other tools in order to do that.


Note:The story that follows is a good example of asking questions instead of making assertions.

“Remember, an argument is like a house whose roof is supported by walls. In this step of Columbo, you want to find out whether the walls (the reasons or evidence) are strong enough to hold up the roof (the person’s point of view). Look, observe, reflect. Maybe your friend’s comments have tipped you off to some problem with his view. Is there a misstep, a non sequitur,14 a fallacy, or a failing of some sort? Can you challenge any underlying assumptions that might be faulty? Whatever flaw you discover, be sure to address the problem with a question, not a statement.” (Location: 1,659)

Note:This, for me, needs time. I need to listen, think, and then much later respond.

“We may spend hours helping someone carefully work through an issue without ever mentioning God, Jesus, or the Bible. This does not mean we aren’t advancing the kingdom. It is always a step in the right direction when we help others to think more carefully. If nothing else, it gives them tools to assess the bigger questions that eventually come up.” (Location: 1,679)

Note:This is loving our neighbor.

“One of the reasons this approach is so attractive is that it shows respect for the person you disagree with. First, you make an effort (with your first two Columbo questions) to understand her viewpoint. Next, you ask, “Do you mind if I ask a couple of questions about what you’ve told me?” or, “Would you consider an alternative or be willing to look at another angle if there were good reasons for it?” By soliciting permission to disagree, you make the encounter more amicable. You also stay in the driver’s seat.” (Location: 1,719)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 6


Summary:When we get into conversations with others where we feel overwhelmed or manipulated, there are some tactics we can use which will help us have a more profitable conversation and charitable ending.

“The approach rarely works, because it violates a fundamental rule of engagement: never make a frontal assault on a superior force in an entrenched position. An unwritten law of nature seems to govern exchanges like these: the man with the microphone wins.” (Location: 1,285)

Note:The Professor’s Ploy is to switch the burden of proof on the student and demand a defense before the student has even voiced an opinion.

“There’s a better way. Don’t disengage. Instead use your tactics. Raise your hand and ask a question. For starters, you might ask, “Professor, can you give us a little more detail on what you mean? What kind of fable are you talking about? Do you think nothing in the biblical documents has any historical value? Is everything in the book a fanciful invention of some sort? What’s your opinion?” Notice that these are all creative variations of our first Columbo question, “What do you mean by that?”” (Location: 1,288)

“Instead when you find yourself facing any form of the you-prove-me-wrong challenge, politely shift the burden back where it belongs—on the person who made the claim.” (Location: 1,309)

Note:Again going back to, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“The Professor’s Ploy is the attempt any person makes to shift the burden of proof for his claim onto someone else. The professor (in this case) demands that students defend views they have not expressed, sidestepping his own responsibility to give an account of his beliefs.” (Location: 1,316)

“Do not be afraid to question your professors. Challenge them on your terms, though, not theirs. And do it with grace, respect, and tact. You don’t have to be the expert on every subject. You don’t have to have all the answers. You can still be effective even when you know very little, if you ask the right questions.” (Location: 1,318)

“When you feel overmatched and overwhelmed in a conversation, immediately shift from persuasion mode to fact-finding mode. Don’t continue to argue your case. Instead, using your first two Columbo questions, become a student of the other person’s view by asking for clarification and for reasons.” (Location: 1,342)

Note:This is how we “Get out of the hot seat”

“Many people you talk to will struggle when you turn the tables by asking them to give evidence for their claims or by using questions to expose their bad thinking. When a person has not thought much about his assertions, avoiding your questions may be his only recourse. He may try to change the subject or reassert his point in other ways. When this happens, it may be helpful for you to narrate the debate. Take a moment to step outside of the conversation, in a sense, and describe to your friend the turn the discussion has just taken. This will help him (and others listening) to see how he’s gotten off course.” (Location: 1,380)

Note:Narrating the debate both helps me and the others remain honest.

“When you’re dealing with an evasive or intellectually dishonest person, don’t let him get off the hook by dodging the issues or distorting the argument. Narrating the debate keeps the other person honest while keeping the conversation cordial. Encourage him to clarify himself. Call him on any false moves he’s made. Forcing him to face the music may be the first step toward a change of mind, either his or that of others listening.” (Location: 1,404)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 5

Chapter 5 COLUMBO STEP 2 Reversing the Burden of Proof

Summary:An argument needs reasons, otherwise it is just an opinion. Giving the other individual the benefit of the doubt, we should ask what reasons they have for making their argument. “How did you come to that conclusion?” Is a way to both understand better someone’s argument, but also to free myself from being burdened to respond to every opinion that someone makes.

“There is a difference between an opinion and an argument. An opinion is just a point of view. An argument, by contrast, is a point of view supported by reasons” (Location: 1,094)

“It’s not your job to refute every story a skeptic can spin or every claim he can manufacture. If he makes the claim, then it’s his responsibility to give reasons why anyone should take his claim seriously. Don’t allow yourself to be thrust into a defensive position if you’re not advancing a view.” (Location: 1,107)

Note:I get caught in this all the time. It isn’t my job, and it isn’t loving either. I need to be willing to listen to their reasoning, or let them see that they have no reasons.

“These stories often have great rhetorical power. They have the ability to psychologically unsettle you and undermine your confidence in your point of view. But every story has to be put to the test. Critics need to have more than a good imagination. They need reasons. That’s the way arguments work.” (Location: 1,136)

“An argument is a specific kind of thing. Think of an argument like a simple house, a roof supported by walls. The roof is the conclusion, and the walls are the supporting ideas. By testing the walls, we can see whether they are strong enough to keep the roof from tumbling down. If the walls are solid, the conclusion (the roof) rests securely on its supporting structure. If the walls collapse, the roof goes flat and the argument is defeated.” (Location: 1,139)

Note:This is an excellent metaphor, and might be helpful even drawing it out in my mind while I am listening or evaluating an argument.

“I frequently get calls on my radio show/podcast from people who think they are giving me an argument, when all they are doing is forcefully stating a view. This move may sound compelling at first, and their story may even seem plausible. But there is a difference between giving an explanation and giving evidence why the explanation is a good one. Your job is to recognize when the roof is lying flat on the ground and simply point it out.” (Location: 1,151)

“How do you reverse the burden of proof when the other person is making the claim? You do it Columbo style—with a question. Here it is: “How did you come to that conclusion?”4 This question effectively shifts the burden of proof onto the challenger, where it belongs.” (Location: 1,156)

Note:Such a simple question, but so helpful!

“The first Columbo question helps you know what a person thinks. The second question helps you know why he thinks the way he does. It charitably assumes he has actually come to a conclusion, that he has reasons for his view and not merely strong feelings about it.” (Location: 1,165)

“There are three questions you should always ask whenever someone offers an alternate explanation: Is it possible? Is it plausible? Is it probable?” (Location: 1,202)

Note:These are good to keep in mind. Just because I disagree with something, does not mean it isn’t possible. I can grant that position without having to change mine.

“Reversing the burden of proof is not a trick to avoid defending our ideas. When we give opinions, we have to answer for them, just like anyone else. We have a responsibility, but so do they.” (Location: 1,224)

Note:This is convicting. If I am not able to demonstrate the reasons for my belief, why would I expect that from others?

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 4

Summary: Being a student of other’s views is one of the best ways you can love your neighbor, learn more, and share Christ. We can start by asking a simple question, “What do you mean by that?”

“Your initial goal is to gather as much information from the other person as you can before you move on. You want him to talk as much as possible about his own convictions first. This approach gives you the best chance of “making the most of the opportunity,” as Paul put it in Colossians 4:5.” (Location: 867)

Note:There is a second side to this as well. Most people have very few opportunities where another individual is genuinely interested in them. Even with social media, many people are pumping out information for everyone to see because they don’t have anyone specific asking them about it, or showing real interest. What a gift we could give to someone else, the chance to be heard and understood.

“Would you like a model question that will help you get going? Here’s the one I use: ‘What do you mean by that?’” (Location: 893)

Note:There is a reason this is the first question. It is so crucial. But many times I just assume I know what they mean and have formulated an argument even before they have finished.

“When someone says to me, ‘Reincarnation was originally part of Christian teaching but was taken out of the Bible in the fourth century,’ I ask them to explain how that works (a variation of our first Columbo question). The devil, as they say, is in the details of such a challenge.” (Location: 913)

Note:There are so many of these textual statements made from individuals who have no idea what “textual criticism” even is. Taking a moment and listening to what they think happened is a good opportunity for someone to see they don’t know what they are talking about. It is also a challenge to me, how many things am I repeating which I have no idea of?

“There are three reasons why gathering information is important. First, you don’t want to misunderstand the person you’re talking with. Second, you don’t want to misrepresent him. Third, you don’t want him to misunderstand himself.” (Location: 921)

“Sometimes the reason you are confused about another person’s meaning is because she is confused too. She objects to Christianity for reasons she hasn’t carefully thought through, and her objection flourishes because no one has challenged the lack of clarity that led to her muddled thinking in the first place. Your first question compels her—maybe for the first time—to be more precise.” (Location: 952)

Note:We often don’t really know what we believe until we say it. And once this person has said it, they need to own it.

“I know that sounds surprising, but it’s true. Even though people have strong opinions, they rarely reflect on their views. Often they’re merely repeating slogans. When you ask them to flesh out their concern, opinion, or point of view, they’re struck mute. They’re forced to think about what they do mean, so be patient with the pause in the dialogue. You’re doing them a favor by requesting clarification.” (Location: 961)

“And be forewarned. When someone says there’s no proof of God’s existence, it’s sometimes a trick. It may be a reasonable request for evidence, but often it’s not. Unless you know in advance what kind of evidence would count (scientific data? historical documentation? philosophical arguments? revelation?) or what kind of proof would be satisfying (absolute proof? proof beyond a reasonable doubt? proof based on the preponderance of evidence? proof that’s a reasonable inference to the best explanation?), you’ll probably be wasting your time. If you’re not clear on his criteria for proof, it will be too easy for an intellectually dishonest person to dismiss anything you offer. ‘Not good enough,’ is all he needs to say. ‘That’s not proof.’” (Location: 988)

“Believing in leprechauns is irrational. Believing in God, by contrast, is like believing in atoms. The process is exactly the same. You follow the evidence of what you can see to conclude the existence of something you cannot see. The effect needs a cause adequate to explain it.” (Location: 997)

Note:There are those who would belittle others for believing in God, stating that they are “weak minded”, “ignorant”, “deniers of science”, etc. The questionis, though, who is more open minded: the one who disregards any possibility of God before considering the evidence, or the one who believes that their own senses and scientific method could be missing something, and thus there could be a God? I think Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, is a great resource for this.

“If you want skeptics to believe in the Bible, don’t get into a tug-of-war with them about inspiration. Instead, invite them to engage Jesus’ words firsthand, then let the Spirit do the heavy lifting for you.” (Location: 1,045)

Note:Yes! Read “One to One Bible Reading” for an excellent example of this.

“As to legislating morality, Aristotle famously observed that all law rests on a necessary foundation of morality. If the government’s use of force is not in the service of the common good, then its actions are illicit. Put simply, morality is the only thing you can legislate. Anything else is simply a raw exercise of power.” (Location: 1,058)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 3

Summary: Questions are the key to meaningful conversations, and meaningful conversations should be a key goal of every Christ follower.

“Let’s start this chapter by putting you in a tough spot. I want you to imagine yourself in the following situations…” (Location: 682)

Note:If you don’t already have the book, buy it. The situations which follow are very common. I would guess every single one of us would have been in something similar.

“In each of these cases you have an opportunity, but there are obstacles. First, you must speak up quickly because the opportunity will not last long. You have only about ten seconds before the door closes. Second, you’re conflicted. You want to say something, but you’re also concerned about being sensitive, keeping the peace, preserving friendships, and not looking extreme.” (Location: 701)

Note:These are very real battles within each one of us. I would also add, “guilt.” I often feel guilty if I don’t say something.

“I want you to notice several things about these responses. First, each is a question. My initial response in a situation like this is not to preach about my view or even disagree with theirs. Rather, I want to draw them out, to invite them to talk more about what they think. This takes a lot of pressure off me because when I ask a question, the ball is back in their court. It also protects me from jumping to conclusions and unwittingly distorting their meaning…” (Location: 733)

Note:There are many reasons why we don’t ask questions. It could be because we are angry and our first response is not a calm question, but a response. We have been taught to attack false ideas, so we respond in attack. It might seem easier to just build a wall and hurl arguments over it. Maybe those tendencies help to explain how we have gotten to this place in our society.

“Second, each of these questions is an invitation to thoughtful dialogue. Each is an encouragement to participate in conversation in a reflective way.” (Location: 740)

Note:If I am truthful, I would have to say that I am more interested in “winning an argument” than in conversing with an individual. Part of the reason is I want my beliefs to be right, and if I win the argument I have another assurance that they are. But that idea reveals that I am not all that confident in my faith, which is to say, in my God.

Third, these are not idle queries. I have a particular purpose for each question. With some, I’m simply gathering information (“Do you vote?”). Others, you might have noticed, are subtly leading; the questions are meant to make a point by indicating a problem with the other person’s thinking.” (Location: 743)

Note:The point isn’t to simply ask questions. The point is to ask good questions.

“The key to the Columbo tactic is to go on the offensive in an inoffensive way with carefully selected questions that advance the conversation. Never make a statement, at least at first, when a question will do the job.” (Location: 774)

Note:This first tactic, the Colombo tactic, is what enables us to step out from our normal fighting stance and actually make some headway in the conversation.

“Your sincere questions, though, provide a number of benefits and will move you forward without risking a direct confrontation. For one thing, sincere questions are friendly and flattering. They invite genial interaction by focusing on something the other person cares a lot about: herself and her ideas…Second, you’ll get an education. You’ll leave a conversation knowing more than when you arrived…Third, questions allow you to make progress on a point without being pushy…Questions buy you valuable time when you’re not quite sure what to do next…Finally, and most important, carefully placed questions put you in the driver’s seat of the conversation. ‘Being an asker allows you control of situations that statement-makers rarely achieve,’ Hewitt notes. ‘An alert questioner can judge when someone grows uneasy. But don’t stop. Just change directions. . . . Once you learn how to guide a conversation, you have also learned how to control it.’ (Location: 809)

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 2


Summary: Arguments are not bad things, rather necessary interactions. But the arguing, or reasoning, of the ideas we have is not done in a way to anger others intentionally, but to place a pebble in the shoe of another.

“Always make it a goal to keep your conversations cordial. Sometimes that will not be possible. If a principled, charitable expression of your ideas makes someone mad, there’s little you can do about it. Jesus’ teaching made some people furious. Just make sure it’s your ideas that offend and not you, that your beliefs cause the disruption and not your behavior.” (Location: 469)

“We cannot grasp the authoritative teaching of God’s Word unless we use our minds properly. Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is the very first line of defense God has given us against error.” (Location: 487)

Note:This is why the author can make the statement, “Arguing is a Virtue”.

“The ability to argue well is vital for clear thinking. That’s why arguments are good things. Arguing is a virtue because it helps us hold to what is true and discard what is false.” (Location: 503)

Note:Viewed this way, one of the most loving things we can do for our neighbor is reason with them. And one of the most loving thing our neighbor can do for us, is reason with us. I am not immune to faulty thinking! I need others to argue with me.

“Arguments are good, and dispute is healthy. They clarify the truth and protect us from error and religious despotism. When the church discourages principled debates and a free flow of ideas, the result is shallow Christianity and a false sense of unity. No one gets any practice at learning how to field contrary views in a gracious and productive way. The oneness shared is contrived, not genuine. Worse, the ability to separate wheat from chaff is lost. When arguments are few, error abounds.” (Location: 535)

Note:Read the previous paragraphs for the reasoning which led to this. In a church, or a relationship (!),where there are no arguments, the unity is most likely surface level.

“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. With Jesus’ help, arguments convince. By the power of God, the gospel transforms through each of these methods. Why do you think God is just as pleased to use a good argument as a warm expression of love? Because both love and reason are consistent with God’s character. The same God who is the essence of love (1 John 4:8) also gave the invitation, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). Therefore both approaches honor him.” (Location: 570)

Note:This is in response to the statement that “you cannot argue anyone into the kingdom.”

“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.” (Location: 582)

Note:This is a great relief!

“It may surprise you to hear this, but I never set out to convert anyone. My aim is never to win someone to Christ. I have a more modest goal, one you might consider adopting as your own. All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give that person something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.” (Location: 598)

Note:I love this metaphor and have adopted it as well. Placing a stone in a shoe is so much easier than trying to convince someone.

“I encourage you to consider the strategy I use when God opens a door of opportunity for me. I pray quickly for wisdom, then ask myself, What one thing can I say in this circumstance, what one question can I ask, what single idea can I offer that will get the other person thinking? Then I simply try to put a stone in the person’s shoe.” (Location: 656)

This is an excellent prayer to make while I’m in a conversation with anyone.

Tactics Read Through: Chapter 1


Summary:Tactics enable me to thoughtfully and charitably maneuver a conversation with someone ignorant of, or opposed to, the reasonable faith of Christianity.

“Even though there is real warfare going on,1 I think our engagements should look more like diplomacy than D-Day.” (Location: 247)

Note:If we consider it D-Day, the fighters in our midst get a smile on their faces and those who don’t feel prepared, shy back. Neither of those attitudes are what we need for the majority of our interactions. I think there are relatively few moments where a direct frontal attack are necessary, and even in fewer instances are they spontaneous.

“I want to suggest a method I call the Ambassador Model. This approach trades more on friendly curiosity—a kind of relaxed diplomacy—than on confrontation.” (Location: 250)

Note:This might seem anti-biblical to some, pointing back at the Old Testament prophets, the apostles in Acts, etc. However, I think that Jesus himself engages in a variety of tactics, and only in very important conflicts with specific individuals or groups, does he engage in a direct attack.


Note:This is a great example. If you haven’t read through it, this interaction highlights how our conversations and apologetic encounters could go.

“This happens all the time, of course, on both sides of the aisle. We trot out our pet slogans—whether secular ones or Christian ones—letting our catchphrases do the work that careful, thoughtful conversation should be doing instead. The habit often obscures the full significance (or ramifications, in this case) of our words.” (Location: 312)

Note:Very true. This is a double-edged sword. Once we start questioning the slogans of others, we have to realize that we use them all the time!

“True, I hadn’t gotten to the gospel, but that was not the direction this conversation was going. This wasn’t a gospel moment but a gardening moment that involved a vital moral issue. It was time to abandon the pursuit, entrust her to the Lord, and move on.” (Location: 325)

Note:There is an incredible relief in this realization. God doesn’t intent for me to say everything to everybody. He is doing something that I will never see. I am not the sum total of his work in their life, but I can be part of it!

“This is the power of the tactical approach: staying in the driver’s seat in conversations so you can direct the discussion, exposing faulty thinking and suggesting more fruitful alternatives along the way.” (Location: 350)

Note:This is in contrast to being defensive, responding to every hydra-headed question, speaking of what I don’t know, and pushing for a decision.

“Our knowledge must be tempered with the wisdom that makes our message clear and persuasive. This requires the tools of a diplomat, not the weapons of a warrior, tactical skill rather than brute force…These three skills—knowledge, an accurately informed mind; wisdom, an artful method; and character, an attractive manner—play a part in every effective encounter with a nonbeliever. The second skill, tactical wisdom, is the main focus of this book.” (Location: 361)

Note:I have often failed here, believing that memorizing quick and snappy responses to popular beliefs will win an argument.

“Keep in mind that strategy and tactics are different. Strategy involves the big picture, the large-scale operation, one’s positioning prior to engagement. Here’s how this concept applies to our situation as Christian ambassadors. As followers of Jesus, we have a tremendous strategic advantage. We are well positioned on the field, because our worldview holds up well under serious scrutiny, especially considering the alternatives. Our strategic advantage includes two areas. The first, called offensive apologetics, makes a positive case for Christianity by offering reasons that support our view—giving evidence for the existence of God or for the resurrection of Christ or for the inspiration of the Bible, for example. The second area, often called defensive apologetics, answers specific challenges meant to undermine or disprove Christianity—responding to attacks on the authority and historical reliability of the Bible or tackling the problem of evil or addressing the challenge of Darwinian macroevolution, to name a few.4 Notice that in the way I am using the term, the strategic element focuses on content. Virtually every book ever written on defending Christianity takes this approach. Faithful Christian authors have filled bookshelves with enough information to deal decisively with every imaginable challenge to classical Christianity. Still, many Christians have an inferiority complex. Why? It might be because they have never been exposed to such excellent information. As a result, they are lacking the first skill of a good ambassador: knowledge. But I think there is another reason. Something is still missing. A sharp lawyer needs more than facts to make his case in court. He needs to know how to use his knowledge well. In the same way, we need a plan to artfully manage the details of our dialogues with others. This is where the tactical game plan comes in.” (Location: 367)

Note:If I keep this in mind I can start to see the other individual, not as an enemy to be defeated, but someone who needs to hear a better way.

“The tactical approach requires as much careful listening as thoughtful response.” (Location: 397)

Note:Not normally what you think of when it comes to apologetics! But it is the truth.

“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.” (Location: 405)

Note:A very necessary caution.

“It is axiomatic that these learned and intelligent people—academics of all sorts and professionals of every stripe—often make foolish and fundamental mistakes in thinking when it comes to spiritual things.” (Location: 428)

Note:Christianity is a reasonable faith. I must remember that.

Tactics Read Through: Foreword and Preface

If you are like me, you are most likely feeling some level of discouragement or resignation in light of the political environment. The atmosphere is abismal and I don’t think it is necessary to convince you of that fact. Rather, I am assuming you are already frustrated. We can skip all the facts and rehashing of what is going on in the USA and around the world.

But you may also be discouraged about the religious environment. You see evil winning. You see the canceling of the freedom of speech and belief. You perhaps have had frustrating conversations with others of different religious beliefs. There seems to be a darkening of the moral order.

So where do we go from here? Do we hole up? Do we circle the wagons? Do we close down communications and simply hurl statements through social media at the opposing side, at least until we are kicked off? Is there any hope?

Enter Greg Koukl and his book, Tactics: a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions. This book has changed me over the years (here is a review I wrote 9 years ago). I don’t know how many times I have read it and been challenged. But here on the blog I will be reading through it again over the coming weeks. I need to hear this again. You need to hear this. Believe me. Please buy the book and read through it with me. Leave comments, talk through it with others, learn with me. Koukl points us to a better way. A hope.

Below is from the foreword and preface.

“There are plenty of resources that help Christians understand what they believe and why they believe it, and certainly those are vital. But it’s equally crucial to know how to engage in a meaningful dialogue with a skeptic or a person from another religious viewpoint.”(Location: 141)

Note:This is the heart and hope of this book. We do not need to have all the answers within reach. We do not have to have the perfect argument or be able to shut down someone who has a different belief system.

“I am going to give you a game plan that will allow you to converse with confidence in any situation, no matter how little you know or how knowledgeable or aggressive or even obnoxious the other person might be.” (Location: 181)

Note:This is a high claim, but I have seen it in my own life. I don’t always do it, but I could if I kept myself from trying to appear smart.

“My plan follows Paul’s pattern found in Colossians 4:5–6. Here’s what he says: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Notice three elements in Paul’s injunction. First, he says, “Be smart.” Make the most of the moment, but watch your steps. Come in slowly, under the radar. Be shrewd, not blunt. Next, he says, “Be nice.” Show warmth. Probe gently. Be calm and patient. Remember, if anyone gets mad, you’ll lose. Finally, he says, “Be tactical.” Adjust to the individual. Tailor your comments to his special situation. Each circumstance is different. Each person is unique. Treat them that way.” (Location: 200)

Note:So often I just want to follow the plan, “prove them wrong”. They might be wrong, but they will never agree with me that they are wrong if I belittle them. And then again, I may be wrong as well, or be right but for the wrong reasons. That is a dangerous place to be!

“When I talk with people about spiritual matters, I’m not looking to close the deal with them. I’m just looking to do a little gardening in their lives. That’s all. I want to get them thinking. If I can do that, then I’m satisfied, since I know they are ultimately in God’s hands.” (Location: 211)

Note:This is so much better than the misconception often found in evangelism – that of pushing for a decision. We don’t want that done to us in other areas of life. Why would I want to be pushed into a decision about marrying someone, purchasing a house, children, job, etc? And then to push someone to make a “decision” in following Jesus Christ…that is dangerous.