written by William Thaw
I have read many books, motivated to use what I learn to convince others that the gospel is true. I have found no book that is more universally effective for discussing Christ than Tactics written by Greg Koukl.
But there is an irony about its gospel effectiveness: while Tactics was written to help Christians engage our secular culture, it’s methods are effective in all conversations, not only biblical ones. These methods can be practiced by anyone, and for Christians, it is a helpful tool for everyone from the least knowledgeable to the well-studied apologist. I consider it an essential reading for all American Christians.
If you read the title “Tactics” and immediately thought it sounds complicated, you aren’t alone. But the reality is that Tactics is simple, and it makes conversation easier. I taught this book to some reluctant hearers in a small community group. At least two of the group members would get flustered and shut down any time when their faith was challenged. Either they couldn’t remember some “proof”, argument or evidence in their favor, or they knew if they responded, there would be a fight for which they would be blamed.
After only a couple lessons in, the same folks had very natural conversations about spiritual matters with coworkers, family and friends. They felt like they had made progress with these individuals, had given them something to think about, and that future amiable conversations were likely. But what did they do? Why did the fearful become brave? How did someone repulsed by argument express a disagreement that left both parties feeling good about the conversation?
The Columbo Tactic: Asking Two Simple Questions
At its core, Tactics is nothing new. It involves the timeless method of asking questions. But it does an excellent job keeping those questions simple, and the goals of conversation realistic. Two simple questions do most of the work for us, and are almost universally adaptable: “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?”. These are known as the “Columbo Tactic”.
The goal is simply to “put a stone in their shoe”, a metaphor to symbolize a question that the unbeliever must deal with, because it stays in his mind until he answers it for himself. This advances the conversation so that through relationship, you can progress through a series of similar conversations until the unbeliever begins to contemplate the truthfulness of the gospel. You do not have to convince anyone of the gospel in one shot! Rarely do we find lasting believers to be converted in a single conversation with no progression of thought along the way. Most of us remember steps along the way to our own acceptance of the truth.
Suicide Arguments that Self–Destruct
Tactics also offers strategies and anecdotes for seeing the errors in others’ thinking, and asking a question in response. We are not trying to win an argument. We are trying to help others to think more carefully about spiritual things. To equip us to help people, Tactics addresses self-destructing arguments, dubbed a “suicide” argument, such as “Its wrong to judge! You shouldn’t do that!” (are you saying I’m wrong? then why are you judging me?) Or “You shouldn’t offer advice unless someone asks for it!” (then why did you offer me unsolicited advice?) It addresses a fallacy known in Latin as reductio ad absurdum, but renames it “taking the roof off” for easier understanding and accessibility. In this fallacy, an opponent makes a point that can’t be true, because using the same logic, something ridiculous must also be true. Because the logic also promotes something ridiculous, it can’t work to make the intended point either.
For example, (this is a real life example I recently encountered) “There should be half the people there are on this planet, so to end abortion would exacerbate the problem! We are fighting against nature and nature always wins.” (can’t you make the same logic to argue in favor of genocide?)
Steamrollers and Invalid Arguments
Also, if you’ve ever been talked over, shouted down or ignored during a conversation, Greg has some ideas to stop that in its tracks before you get “steamrolled”. And perhaps best of all, Tactics shows you how to avoid the burden of proof. Everyone else has an opinion; it isn’t just you. Instead of arguing for your view, make them prove their own view for a change. This makes discussions with unbelievers much easier… for YOU, not them.
Sometimes only one question can make them realize they don’t have a good reason for their view. And Tactics teaches you to identify when someone merely restates what they believe rather than giving reasons for their belief. Often people just restate their belief and think they’ve made a good argument, but all they’ve done is rephrase what they think, providing nothing to support their view, and now you will be able to say “You just restated your position. But what are your REASONS for your position?” And you are always free to walk away when you run out of questions. Let the seed you planted remain, and let the conversation die a natural death.
Apologetics and Evangelism
The first purpose of Tactics is defense. Skeptics have been doing damage to the Church through their criticisms, even if unfounded. We need to stalemate their advance to protect one another in the Church.
The second purpose of Tactics is evangelism. It is our job to “plant seed”, and Tactics gives the average Christian a voice at the table. If there is no seed, there can be no watering of the seed. We all depend on one another to do our part in defending the faith. It is our call to “Give an answer for the hope that is within you”. All of us are called upon to do our part. Tactics makes this calling easier, even for the shy and timid.
In Tactics, you sense the heart of the book is compassion for others, trying to help them think through difficult ideas that keep people from the knowledge of the truth. It has a diplomatic tone, while unapologetic about taking on hard topics like abortion, same sex marriage, and atheism. It is also an introduction into a more stringent training and resources available at Stand to Reason which may interest some who want to go further into reaching others for Christ.