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.

Taking the Roof off

Francis Schaeffer uses the illustration of “taking the roof off” in reference to dismantling intellectual safety structures which we build to protect ourselves from reality itself. We convince ourself that a lie is true. We ignore the facts which make us uncomfortable. We do this in order to live a life of our choosing, namely one where God does not occupy his rightful place. Reality has a way of coming crashing down on us, so we build a roof to shelter us. We protect ourselves.

If it is true that we believe lies or ignore parts of God’s reality, then the most loving thing that someone can do is to take that roof off and allow us to feel reality as it really is, to experience the rain as well as the sun. Until that roof is gone we live with a false security.

But taking the metaphor a bit further, we can critique our own flawed methodology. If someone arrived at my home and began yelling and mocking me for my roof, I would not sit and listen to them. If they began punching holes in my roof without permission, I would be inclined to call the authorities.

Yet that is often what we think of when it comes to apologetics. The loving act of providing a reasonable critique of the world’s lies and defense of the gospel is not done through one liners, angry shouting, or in televised debates with skilled orators. It is done with boldness and grace, fervor and love. It is done when some level of trust has been built.

If someone were to come to my home and point out rotten spots in my roof, showing where the structure was compromised and the materials disintegrated, I would begin to listen to their solutions. I wouldn’t expect less from an inspector, and I for sure wouldn’t expect less when it comes to my worldview.

He died…

“He died, and no one cried.” (2 Chron 21:20)

I cannot think of many epitaphs which bring more sadness than the ones revealing the stark reality that no one was sad. There is a real horror to contemplate dying and not being missed.

From one perspective, it seems to be no big deal. If this life is all there is; if all is nothing but an accident; if life and death are only two sides of the same insignificant coin; then it should not matter. I should not be sad when I think that one day I will die and no one will care. I should not feel an uneasiness in my conscience for living a live worthy of others hating me, or worse yet, ignoring me. It is what it is. There is life, and there is death, blessed be the name of materialistic nihilism.

But who can live that out consistently? Who among the angry horseman could close their mouth and stop their pen? Who could systematically begin to wipe of the face of the earth every remembrance of themselves? Who could find peace in the face of indifference? There is something that cries out within us. Is it only an evolutionary incentive for the further reproduction of genes? A wishful thinking of a false meaning so as to make a more stable society for my offspring? I think not.

But from another perspective, it is fearful. If life has meaning; if death is a door; if there really is a purpose behind all that I see and a Being over all there is; then living a life where no other divine image bearers take notice when I am gone is a serious business. For if I was created to reflect the love of the eternal Triune God, but no one ever saw that love, what was the point? If a watch cannot tell time or a pitcher hold water, what worth does it hold?

There is more to life and death than the fading memory in the mind of humanity, regardless of what the secular humanists may preach. They grip a vapor. They grasp at the wind. There is life and there is death, and then the Judgment. And perhaps one small step toward living a life in light of that judgement is considering those who ought to cry when I die.

Closed Fist and Open Hand

We recently finished reading Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness in a book group and the following was one major lesson for me.

“In the earlier days of the church there were two symbols for the art of Christian advocacy, which had come down from ancient practices in law and rhetoric. One was a closed fist. This represented the dissuasoria, the negative side of apologetics that used all the highest strengths of human reason in defense of truth. Mustering all the powers of reason, logic, evidence and argument, closed-fist apologetics had the task of answering every question, countering every objection, and dismantling false objections to the faith and to knowing God. In the words of St. Paul, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The other symbol was the open hand. This represented the persuasoria, the positive side of apologetics that used all the highest strengths of human creativity in the defense of truth. Expressing the love and compassion of Jesus, and using eloquence, creativity, imagination, humor and irony, open-hand apologetics had the task of helping to pry open hearts and minds that, for a thousand reasons, had long grown resistant to God’s great grace, so that it could shine in like the sun.”

(Guinness, Fools Talk, 253)

This is probably one of the most helpful metaphors for me to keep in mind during my conversations. So often when thinking of apologetics I think of only one, and most often the closed fist. And then I think that the closed fist is characterized by the quick answers, the sure fire responses, the “stingers” that bring the skeptic to their knees. That is unhelpful on two counts. Without the open hand, the individual leaves with a warped view of Christ. Secondly, a “closed fist” comprised of witty snippets and catchy slogans is more of a weak, open-handed slap than a closed fist. It is more likely to leave the hearer questioning my logic than questioning their worldview.

But I also can err on the other side, that of having only the open hand, prone to think that I can “preach the gospel constantly, and if necessary use words” (a quote from St. Francis needs to be scoured from all social media platforms and popular level books on the Christian faith). We use words to communicate ideas from a mind that must think logically in order to best understand the reality in which God has placed us. And when minds, and logic, and ideas, and words do not faithfully represent this God-given reality, they must be challenged. And this challenge must be met with equal force as the counter-challenge, which often comes in the form of a closed fist from the world, attempting to displace its Creator. So an open hand without the fist, as the fist without the open hand, is unbalanced.

These two pictures, that of the closed fist and open hand, must be taken together, never farther apart than my left from my right. And if I am able to maintain this balance, wisely choosing which one to utilize at which time during my conversations, I just might be accused of acting like Jesus.

The Law of Nature

First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 8). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Right and Wrong

But the most remarkable thing is this. Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson.

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 6). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Top Shelf Book: Making Sense of God

Book: Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. Viking, 2016.

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Point: Every single individual lives a life based on a complex tangle of “experiences, faith, reasoning, and intuition.” Although the materialist or secularist can claim that belief in a God outside of space and time is unreasonable, that position is only tenable if the presupposition “God cannot exist” is there prior.

Path: In three main parts, Keller patiently and systematically guides the reader through the reasonability of faith in God, and not just any God, but the God of the Bible. Those parts are titled “Why does anyone need religion?”; “Religion is more than you think it is”; and “Christianity makes sense”. The middle part is by far the largest and most comprehensive, dealing with meaning, satisfaction, freedom, self, identity, hope, morals, and justice. His purpose is not to give a definitive argument for God, but demonstrate that arguments against a God are unfounded and fail repeatedly.

Sources: Keller does his normal deep digging and provides the reader with a lifetime of supplementary reading ranging from early church fathers to reformers, philosophers to militant atheists.

Agreement: After reading nearly every chapter I thought, “I just had this conversation last week!” This book both opened my eyes to a greater understanding of the problems and a greater appreciation to how Jesus solves them.

Personal App: The greatest compliment one of my unbelieving friends can pay me is “you understand and state my belief better than I could!” I feel as though this book helps me do this.

Favorite Quote: There is no way to pick a favorite, but one which points to a strength of the book is this one: “The point is rather that science alone cannot serve as a guide for human society.”

Stars: 5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • Believes science has all the answers.
  • Is struggling to believe in the God of the Bible while surrounded by “real life”.
  • Wants to better understand their neighbor, coworker, or family member who thinks “faith” is a crutch.
  • Anyone trying to engage the modern and postmodern man.

Other books along this theme would be:

Anderson, James N. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions. Crossway Books, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. New. David C. Cook, 2010.

Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.

Koukl, Gregory. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Zondervan, 2009.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Science and Truth

The next time someone dismisses you with the “Only science gives reliable truth” canard, ask if he wants you to take his statement as fact or simply as unsubstantiated opinion. If fact, ask what testable scientific evidence led him to his conclusion. As it turns out, this claim is not a fact of science. It is a philosophical assertion about science that itself cannot be proven by the scientific method and would therefore be unreliable, according to this approach.

– Koukl, Tactics

A terrible burden

In his book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller has two excellent chapters on identity. He makes the point that when our identity is received from God we are relieved from finding it in others, in our work, or in our own shifting views. He says:

Your work is still part of your identity, as are your family, your nationality, and so on. But they are all relieved of the terrible burden of being the ultimate source of your self and value. They no longer can distort your life as they do when they are forced into that role. They are, as it were, demoted to being just good things. Work is no longer something you use desperately to feel good about yourself. It becomes just another good gift from God that you can use to serve others.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller