In 2018, Stand to Reason‘s Tim Barnett teamed up with Reformed Perspective, traveling to churches across Canada to speak on “Tactics in Defending our Faith.” This video and the rough transcript below, are from his March 18 presentation in the Smithers Canadian Reformed Church in Northern BC. A brightened version of the video can be found here.
Alright, let’s talk about tactics. I want you to imagine that you’re a student and you’re hanging out with your friends in the hallway outside of the classroom. One of your friends in the group – maybe they’re not a close friend – says, “I’ve never understood how anyone could believe in a good God. Look at all the evil in the world look at the shooting that took place a couple weeks ago. Some good God, right?”
Or imagine you’re at work and it’s lunch hour and you’re just hanging out with your co-workers trying to be social. You strike up a conversation and one of your co-workers says, “I can’t believe anyone would believe a Bible that’s so full of contradictions. Who would be dumb enough to believe that stuff?”
Or maybe you’re with your family at Easter and your atheist brother-in-law, or maybe it’s a sister, is sitting on the couch across from you. And they say something like: “Billy Graham was a good guy except for the fact that he was an intolerant homophobic bigot.”
Think about how you would respond in that situation. There’s a whole lot of Christians, if we’re honest with ourselves, who would say absolutely nothing. You might make a face, or you make an awkward head nod, or something. But you don’t say anything. Most of us just want to keep our mouths closed, because we want to be nice. And we’re probably thinking: “Oh, I couldn’t change their mind anyway. In the next five minutes how am I going to have an impact? Are they going to come to faith in Christ in the next couple of minutes? I can’t get them there.”
That’s a typical “religious” response: “If I can’t get them to accept Christ in the next three minutes, then what’s the point?”
Now I want to say something that may surprise. I don’t have it as my primary goal in any one of those short conversations to actually convert that person on the spot. Now, I want you to hear me out: of course, my goal is that they would come to Christ. But in that conversation I don’t put that weight on my shoulders. Because if I do – if every conversation has to lead to a Gospel presentation – it can get a little awkward. Just imagine, you’re talking with your friend, your unsaved friend, about the hockey game and you say something like: “Did you see the save that goalie made? What a shot, and then he made that awesome save. Oh, and that reminds me of how Jesus saves all of us…”
You see how awkward that is to move from the hockey game to the Gospel? A little bit forced, right? A little bit contrived going from the weather to salvation. Sometimes it’s a little bit awkward to get there.
There’s also issues that get in our way.
One of them is the culture is religiously ignorant. That’s not a put-down – I’m trying to be accurate here. In our culture, when we start talking about the Gospel, it’s like we’re speaking Greek to them. This is truly a post-Christian culture that we’re trying to witness to. They don’t understand a lot of what we’re talking about when we use words like sin and repentance, and they need to be defined.
In addition, there are these things that I want to call “gosptacles” – obstacles to the gospel. Now don’t look it up; it’s not a real word, but it’s a helpful way to remind you that apologetics what is fundamental to the gospel. Why? Because when you start sharing the gospel with this culture you’ve better believe that gosptacles are going to come up, and you’re going to have to respond to them.
For example, you go to your friend and you start talking about how Jesus died for their sins and all of a sudden they’re talking about the Big Bang. And you’re, like, “I’m talking about Jesus here; what are you talking about?” But the Big Bang is a gosptacle for them. You go to any university campus and you try and talk about the Gospel and I guarantee you one of the top five responses will be: “I can’t believe you can believe in a loving God who would send anyone to hell.” Hell is a gosptacle for our culture.
Even the Bible has become a gosptacle. I don’t know if you’re familiar with guys like Bart Ehrman. He’s responsible for more Christians walking away from their faith than any other atheists alive today – not Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion. Bart Ehrman is a New Testament textual critic who says you can’t trust your Bible. He says those words that you’re reading in the pew are nothing like what the original author recorded. And a whole lot of students are buying into it. So the Bible becomes a gosptacle. You want to talk about the Bible? How can you believe that book that is so full of contradictions?
Or all of a sudden evolution comes up you’re thinking “I’m talking about Jesus Christ.” It’s a gosptacle. Francis Schaeffer said, in our cultures, before you can do evangelism you need to do pre-evangelism. There’s people who are looking for us to tear down those strongholds before they will give you an ear to.
So, yes, there is religious ignorance – that’s something out there. But there’s also something in here that we need to get over, and it’s personal discomfort. There’s a whole lot of people, even in this room, that if you had five minutes to give someone the Gospel, a complete stranger, well that just makes you a little bit uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot of people in this room who, when they hear someone say, “Oh those Christians are intolerant” or “They’re homophobic” you just want to walk the other way. You don’t want to in on that conversation. We have to get over this idea of personal discomfort. There are obstacles out there, but there also something in here – personal discomfort – that we have to get over.
This issue of personal discomfort reminds me of this video that was put up by the Billy Graham crusade.
It doesn’t have to be hard – that’s the take-home message. And it’s not hard – we’re going to work through this.
Ambassadors model’s three skills
So I don’t consider myself in any given conversation to be the evangelist. I think there are brilliant evangelist out there – Billy Graham was one of my heroes. I’ll tell you what we all are called to be, and that is Christian ambassadors. We are ambassadors for Christ. Second Corinthians 5:20 says this:
“Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.”
So what does an ambassador look like? It’s a good question – you’re called to be an ambassador, so what does it look like? At Stand to Reason we’ve come up with this ambassador model. We think an ambassador for Christ has three essential skills.
The first is knowledge. Do you want to be a good ambassador for Christ? You’ve got to know some stuff. I think that makes sense. You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to be a Ph.D.; you don’t even have to have a master’s degree. You’ve just got to know a little bit. You’ve got to get some facts right.
The second, you also need some wisdom. This is your method and this is what we’re talking about right now – to communicate that knowledge in a persuasive and effective way, and that might involve using illustrations and analogies, and asking good questions. There’s a whole lot of ways to be winsome, and have wisdom. This is going to be our game plan.
Here’s the last thing – you can have all the knowledge in the world, and be winsome, but if you don’t have character, then just keep your mouth closed. There’s a whole lot of apologists out there who’ve filled their minds with all kinds of stuff, but they’re jerks, and they actually do a whole lot more damage than good. So character matters. If you want to talk about love with someone, you better show love. If you want to talk about respect, show respect. I like how Martin Luther King Jr. put it – he said this talking in the context of segregation and racism, and he’s trying to change people’s minds. Here’s what he said: “Whom you would change, you must first love” and here’s the catch: they must know that you love them. Oftentimes we get in these heated arguments – we’ll call them discussions– where you disagree with me, and I disagree with you, and all of a sudden your ears feel like they’re on fire. Right? We’ve all been there! Then, let’s take a step back and ask, does that person know you love them? And maybe we react “Oh, of course, they know I love them!” No, but do they really know? That’s important.
Now, most people have the impression that we’re all Christian ambassadors, but that there’s this subset of apologist – it’s like you have the police, and then there’s the SWAT team and they handle like the really difficult situations. So all you guys are ambassadors but the apologists, they’re the guys who maybe get paid to do this – Tim, you can do that but I’m good, thanks.
No, it’s not like that! Ambassadorsareapologists; that’s just the way it is – I hate to break it to you. Let me prove it to you. If we go to First Peter 3:15 – a go-to verse on this issue:
“…always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
It says this: “Always be prepared to give an answer…” An answer? What’s that? Well if you look at the Greek it’s the word apologia which is actually the word that we get “apologetics” from. So always be prepared to give an answer – some translations say “defense” – to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And then here’s the character part – it’s almost like Peter was anticipating that when people give answers they may not be nice about it and so he says “but do this with gentleness and respect.”
How about this verse; I actually like this even better:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
Destroying strongholds – we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ – that’s what an apologist does.
Or how about this one in Jude 3:
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
How about one more?
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” (Matt 22:36-37).
Now think about this. I get how we love God with all our heart and soul– that’s just like during a worship song, or during moments of meditation, or prayer. But what about loving God with our mind? What does that look like? Well I think it looks like a couple of different things. I don’t think we check our minds out when we’re worshiping, but I think it also looks like study, understanding God’s word, understanding arguments from the culture and how to respond to them. That’s all loving God with our minds. Think about that parents, grandparents – how are we training our kids and our grandchildren to love God with their minds? What are we doing intentionally to do that?
All right one more verse. I just I found this one recently and I love it Colossians 4:5-6 says:
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
“Walk in wisdom towards outsiders making the best use of your time” That’s be smart: “walk in wisdom making the best use of your time” Then it says “let your speech always be gracious seasoned with salt.” You know how salt makes things taste better? So let your speech be like that – this is be kind. And then finally, “…so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” – this is the tactical part, which is what we’re gonna talk about. So be smart, be kind, and be tactical.
Putting a stone in their shoe
What does it look like? Let’s get practical. All these verses, they’re great, and we thank God for them. But what does it look like for me when I’m sitting across at Easter with my atheist brother-in-law? When I’m at the lunch table and the person raises a challenge, what does it look like? I’ll tell you what it looks like: it’s a stone in someone’s shoe. Have you ever had a stone in your shoe before, where you’re walking along, and it’s really annoying, and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it until you take it out. You notice it don’t you? Have you ever had a stone in your sandal before, like a flip-flop, and it seems to defy physics – you’re, like, kicking it out and it stays in. You ever had that happen? That’s crazy– it’s got something to do with quantum physics or string theory or something like that.
We’re gonna put a stone in someone’s shoe – okay, not physically, this is all kind of theoretical – and we’re going to get people thinking about what we just said, walking away, kind of annoyed, but in a good way, until they deal with the thing that we just put in their minds.
Alright so, what I want to do is give you a game plan. No matter how little you think you know, or how shy you think you are, or how scared you might be, if you follow the rules of the game plan you are going to be all right, and you’re going to be effective in being an ambassador for Christ.
We’re going to go from the content – what you know – to the conversationwith the game plan. The whole game plan is in this book, Tactics. Here’s the thing: you shouldn’t be allowed to graduate high school without reading Tactics. Seriously! This is like Critical Thinking 101. I’m going to take some of this from the book and present that to you. If you’re interested in more of it you’ve got to read the book.
So here’s the thing: I used to think that when someone raised a challenge, that it was my job to answer it –be the Bible Answer Man. Maybe this is you too. So someone raised the challenge, “Christians are intolerant” or “Christians are irrational” or “All religions lead to God” or “The Bible is not true.” Of course, I thought, “Oh, you say God does not exist? Well, yes He does!” and then I go into my arguments for God’s existence. But notice what happened there – they made the claim “God does not exist” or “Christians are irrational” or whatever, and now I’m doing all the work.
No! If they make the claim they bear the burden of proof to defend the claim; it’s not my job to start defending something that I didn’t even assert. But this is what happens – Christians, we think “Oh, you said something so now I better go into Bible Answer Man mode.” I think that’s the wrong approach. And I think that’s why the Culture has been getting away saying a whole lot of ridiculous things, and they go unchecked. For far too long we’ve allowed people to make claims, statements, challenges, and fold their arms and then just say “I’m waiting Christian, answer – God doesn’t exist. Now go ahead and refute me.” That’s not our job. Our job is not to refute random statements like that.
Columbo Tactic #1 – What do you mean by that?
I want to give you the game plan. The game plan is what I’m going to call the “Columbo Approach” or the “Columbo Tactic.” Do you guys know who Lieutenant Columbo is? Raise your hand nice and high so I can see. Okay, good it’s all the older people. No, there were some young people; you’re watching the reruns.
Let me tell you about Lieutenant Columbo. Okay, Lieutenant Columbo is a bumbling, seemingly inept, TV detective who has remarkable success in catching crooks. The inspector arrives on the scene of the crime and he’s in complete disarray. I mean his hair is a mess; his trench coat looks like he slept in it; he’s got a cigar wedged between his fingers; he’s got a notepad but he’s got no pen or pencil and he’s got to bum one off somebody. I mean, this guy to all appearances looks harmless and stupid, but he’s not because Lieutenant Columbo has a game plan.
So Lieutenant Columbo, he maybe poked around at the scene of the crime, and then he’d scratch his head and do his trademark move: he turned to maybe the suspect – the killer or the robber, whoever – and he’d say “There’s something about this thing that bothers me. Then he turned to the suspect and say, “You seem like a very intelligent person. Maybe you could clear this up from me. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” And then he’d ask a few questions and he’d seem satisfied. And he’d maybe start walking away and then turn on his heel and remember something and say, “Just one more ting.” And then he’d one more “ting” them to death, with question after question after question. He’d say, “I know I know it’s annoying but this is a habit” and this is a habit I think that Christians need to get into. We need to start asking questions, instead of making so many statements. There’s going to come a time where we’re going to have to make statements, obviously. But there’s so many instances where a question would have been better than an assertion or a statement. This tactic, the key to it, is to go on the offensive but in an inoffensive way, Colombo-style, by selecting carefully crafted questions for the conversation.
There’s a book called In but not of by Hugh Hewitt. I’m not actually recommending the book because it wasn’t actually that great but there was one chapter in it that was fascinating, and it was on questions. In fact, he says in any conversation you should ask a half a dozen questions. So you meet someone, just start asking questions. Well, why ask questions? Here’s a list of reasons why we should start asking more questions.
- Questions help you understand a person’s point of view. Oftentimes I’ll have people come up to me after I give a talk and say “Tim, can you recommend a good book on Buddhism?” And I’ll say, “Why do you want a book on Buddhism?” “Well, I have this friend and they’re a Buddhist. I’d really like to be able to witness to them. So do you know a good book?” I’m thinking, “Wait, you want to learn about Buddhism. Your friend is a Buddhist. Why don’t you ask them?” Doesn’t that make sense? Instead of reading a book that may or might not be on their version of Buddhism anyways, why not just sit down at Tim Hortons and learn about Buddhism from your friend? Seems smart enough, right?
- Questions take the pressure off you. When you’re asking questions, you’re not defending anything. You ever think about that? You’re asking them; they’re doing all the work. By the way, it’s not a lot of work because, turns out, people like it when you ask them questions. You should try it sometime; it works!
- Questions keep you from distorting the person’s view – you understand where they’re coming from by getting by getting them to clarify their view
- Questions are friendly and they build relationships. This is so true. When I met my wife in university it turned out that our birthdays are one day apart – she’s born on April 28th and I’m born on the 29th. She’s two years younger than I am, but I got invited to her birthday party and I didn’t really know anybody. She had this one guy friend and we sat down and we started chatting. We were at this bowling alley and I spent the whole night asking him questions, asking him questions, because I was reading this material. We all went home and I found out that he called my wife and said “That Tim guy is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.” I don’t even think he knew my name! Okay, maybe that’s the one thing he knew. De didn’t know anything about me; I didn’t talk about me. I spent the whole night asking about him. Let me tell you something, interested is interesting. It just is. And it turns out questions show you’re interested. We’re not faking it – I wasn’t faking it; I wanted to know about him. It just so happens that I just kept asking the questions and he just kept answering.
- Questions give you an education. In many cases you don’t need to go to university for this stuff. Just learn it from people who know something you don’t.
- Questions don’t require a defense,
You put it all together, and questions get you in the game. Someone says something and you’re just caught off guard, you’re flat-footed, you don’t know what to say. Questions get you in the game, okay? You don’t have to hit home runs; you don’t have to get on base! If we had Christians that would step into the batter’s box once in a while and just start swinging, I’m telling you this Culture would look a whole lot different.
I also want to make a really important point and I think Blaise Pascal, the famous Christian mathematician and philosopher, hit it right on the head. Here what he says:
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the minds of others.”
Think about that. If you want to convince someone to be pro-life, if you want to convince someone that marriage is a certain way, you want to convince someone about God’s existence, then don’t just say “Believe God exists.” Or “Here’s this, this, and this.” No, no – if you want someone to change their mind about something people are better persuaded by the reasons which they discover. Well, how can you help them discover reasons? You can do that by asking really good questions.
I like how Francis Schaeffer puts it – this is so counterintuitive! He says,
“If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth.”
That is so counterintuitive, because I’d imagine I’m not the only one here who, if I had 60 minutes with an unbeliever, I’d preach at them for fifty five minutes and then at the end say, “Do you have any questions?” Right? That’s just what we do. But here’s the problem: So many times in our culture we will end up preaching sermons that nobody wants to hear, and answering questions that nobody was actually asking. That happens all the time.
But let’s say you don’t like Francis Schaeffer and Blaise Pascal (who were both brilliant). You’ve heard of Jesus Christ and like to follow his example. Well, Jesus knew this better than anybody. Questions were Jesus’ tool of choice; we heard that in Matthew 21 – we didn’t even plan that; that was great. They were his tool of choice for friend and foe alike in the Gospels. This may surprise you: Jesus answered 183 questions. Wow! However – and this should astonish us – Jesus asked 307!
Jesus – the smartest person who ever walked the face of the earth – asked more questions than he answered. Was that because he didn’t know a whole bunch of stuff? Not even close! The reason he was asking these questions was to get people to, like Blaise Pascal said, rethink things within their own hearts and minds. He used questions to get them to think about their own worldview. This was important for people to evaluate and reevaluate their own beliefs.
Alright, let’s get to the game plan: the first Columbo question. It’s going to be: “What do you mean by that?” Everyone say, “What do you mean by that?”
I’ll tell you what I mean by that! “What do you mean by that?” is your go-to question because this is the kind of question that gives you more information so that you can move into the conversation. I’m just going to step into the conversation. How am I going to do that? “What do you mean by that?” Someone is going to make a challenge and I’m just completely caught off guard but I do remember this question “What do you mean by that?”
Now you get more specific, as we’ll see in a second here, but this question allows you to clarify what the person is actually saying. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re saying, as we’re going to find out. So, “what do you mean by that?”
CHALLENGE #1 – Evolution disproves God
Let’s do a little exercise here. First challenge: let’s say you’re with someone, your friend who’s maybe not a believer, and they say “Evolution has proven that God isn’t necessary.” Now hold that knee down, okay, because I know your knee-jerk reaction is to do a roundhouse kick or something, right? It’s to start going into your creation mode, but you didn’t make a claim; they did! Evolution has proven that God is unnecessary? You’re going to ask “What do you mean by that?”
In fact, I would ask if I were you, “What do you mean by evolution?” because I can, off the top of my head right now, name six different definitions for evolution. I can tell you something right now, whether you are the most staunch young earth creationist in the room, you believe in evolution in some sense. That is, if we’re just talking about change over time, then of course we all believe in evolution. But if we’re talking about molecules-to-man then I’m sure – well I don’t know how many people here – but most of you I’m almost positive would say, “No I don’t believe in that.” So there you go, those two definitions shows it depends “What do you mean by evolution?” And by the way, in this discussion people do kind of the bait-and-switch. It’s like, “Of course evolution is true; it happens all the time.” Well now, it just depends “What are you talking about with evolution here?” and“What do you mean by evolution here?” Good question to ask.
CHALLENGE #2 – Christians are intolerant
How about this one?“Christians are intolerant.” You’re going to ask “What do you mean by that; what do you mean by intolerant?” because let me tell you something, the word tolerance has actually changed in our culture. Tolerance used to mean that we disagree but I’m going to respect your right to disagree – I’m going to respect you as a person. In fact, think about it: if you accept the view then you just accept it; you wouldn’t tolerate it. The fact that you tolerate it means you disagree.
But today tolerance means “all views are equal and if you think thatthey’re not all equal you’re intolerant” So the definition has changed! I would want to ask “What do you mean by intolerant?” and they say “Well, you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong; you’re intolerant.” I’d say, “Well are you saying that I’m wrong then? Do you think you’re right and I’m wrong?” You know what I’m saying?
It’s self-refuting actually, if you think about it. So you want to ask some questions. “What do you mean by intolerant?” – that’s going to get you in the game.
CHALLENGE #3 – All religions are the same
“All religions are basically the same.” What do you mean by “All religions are basically the same” what do you mean by basically the same? I was out on vacation a couple years ago with my in-laws. We’re at the table and my sister-in-law had taken a philosophy class in university and she was trained in the idea of religious pluralism that all religions are basically the same, and she said that at the table. Again I had to fight my knee-jerk reaction, and I said: “What do you mean by basically the same?” Let me tell you something: don’t be surprised when you ask a question like that and they have no idea. “Well they just are.” “No, you just said they’re all basically the same and I’m wondering okay what part about them is basically the same.” But to her credit she said, “Well, the Golden Rule – they all have the Golden Rule.
Well, that’s actually not true – they all don’t have “do unto others.” They don’t all have it…but even if it was true, that doesn’t make them all basically the same. That is a superficial similarity when there are fundamental differences. The Golden Rule is a superficial moral similarity, when there are fundamental differences: when it comes to God, when it comes to things like, for Christians, the resurrection, who Jesus was, what is the problem of sin, what is the problem of humanity, what about eternal destiny, because hell and heaven and reincarnation, annihilation and non-existence are not all the same.
CHALLENGE #4 – Irrational to believe in God
How about this? “It’s irrational to believe in the God of the Bible.” You’re gonna ask? “What do you mean by irrational?” You’re getting the hang of this. I know some of you are like, “I can’t do this anymore.” Listen, you need to practice doing this because Easter’s coming
Okay, what do you mean by “the God of the Bible?” I do not want to talk to my atheist friend until I define what they mean by God. Seriously, who is the God you don’t believe in? What do you mean by God, because it turns out, usually, the God they don’t believe in is the same God I don’t believe in. The God they don’t believe in is like some finite Zeus-like creature who, you know, maybe has a temper tantrum here and there. It’s finite so they can’t really do much, and there are created, that kind of thing. That’s not the God of the Bible, so the God they don’t believe in – I’m joining them – I don’t believe in that God either! That’s an idol; I don’t believe in those.
CHALLENGE #5 – My body; my choice
How about this one? “My body; my choice” is a very common pro-choice slogan. You see it on bumper stickers, t-shirts you name it. You’re going to ask, “What do you mean by choice?” If we’re going to talk about being pro-choice/pro-life I want to know what you mean by choice. What are the choices we’re talking about, because some choices I’m absolutely pro-choice about. I’m pro-choice about which school women go to, and who they marry, and what they want to wear, and what doctor they have, and all that, so I’m pro-choice about all that stuff. But some choices are immoral, like killing innocent defenseless human beings. They just are. And they recognize that some things we should be anti-choice about. Should we be pro-choice about drinking and driving? No, we shouldn’t be. In fact, they have laws against drinking and driving? Why? To protect people. Yeah, so most people are anti-choice about that.
What about “my body”? “What do you mean by your body?” Well, it turns out it’s a body inside your body. That’s just science. Different DNA. How many eyes does that woman have? She didn’t just get two more – those are in a different body. In fact, that body inside her body could have a different gender! So it’s definitely not the woman’s body; there’s another body in play.
CHALLENGE #6 – The Bible condones slavery
How about this: “The Bible condones slavery”? Lots of challenge go against the Bible. Someone says “the Bible condones slavery” and you may not know how to respond, but you could ask “What do you mean by slavery?” and “What do you mean by condones? Oh you’ve got to show me that – in what passage does it say ‘thou shalt own slaves?’” Because not everything the Bible describes is it prescribing. The Bible describes lots of stuff that it’s not saying “go out and do.” It’s just giving a description of history. What do you mean by slavery? What do you mean by condones?
Columbo Tactic #2: How did you come to that conclusion?
All right, don’t be surprised that if you use the first Columbo tactic (which is very powerful) “what do you mean by that?” and you get a blank stare and complete silence. Seriously. And this is not your chance to jump all over them and say “Ha! Gotcha – you’re so stupid!” or something like that. No, remember the character part? This is your chance to show grace and love. So you’re going to be patient, and you may say “You know, maybe you need to think more about that; we could talk about it again some other time,” or something like that. By the way fellas, married men, if your wife calls you an idiot don’t respond by asking her “What do you mean by that?” Just saying. I may know that from experience.
How about this one? Second Columbo question. We’re only going to give you two Colombo’s: “What do you mean by that?” and the second one is, “How did you come to that conclusion?
The first question gives you more information but eventually you’ve got to stop asking “What do you mean by that?” It’s like your kids going on, “Why, why, why?” Okay, stop it! What do you mean by that, what do you mean by that, what do you mean by that? Okay, now I’ve got enough information. You can ask it, you can ask it until you get the information. But now you’ve got to find out – here I know what you mean, but why are you saying that? Why do you believe that? How did you come to that conclusion?
This is a very generous question because it assumes people have come to a conclusion. And usually, from my own experience when I talk to people, they didn’t conclude anything. They’re just emoting and asserting, and they read it on a bumper sticker somewhere, or they heard someone on TV say it, and yeah that sounds good, and “When they accepted that award at the Oscars they said the same thing so it must be true.” This kind of thing.
Here’s the general rule: Whoever makes the claim bears the burden of proof to defend the claim. That goes for you too Christian. You say Jesus rose from the dead; I hope that you can defend that claim. But if they’re making claims, like God doesn’t exist, then we got to make sure we hold their feet to the fire a little bit and say “Okay, you just made a claim; now you need to defend it” so they bear the responsibility to give a defense for that claim. Christians are not the only ones who give defenses for things – everyone is an apologist for their view. And it turns out we just haven’t done a good job making our atheist friends, or whoever, could be another Christian who just holds a conflicting view of yours. and you want to challenge it.
Now let me give you an illustration of how this works. I was at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) when I was going through Teachers College. I went and got my degree in physics and then I went to Teachers College to get my Bachelor of Education so I could become a teacher. One of the things that we did was we went on all kinds of field trips to the zoo, and they showed us kind of behind-the-scenes, what’s going on there, so that we would bring our students when we became teachers. So we’re getting a tour and we’re walking through the ROM and I’m with my friends. You’ve got to understand when I was in Teachers College I needed Stand To Reason and these other ministries because it was like me against everyone. I went to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology with all these other future science teachers and they all held views contrary to my own. Every day I would spend more time going home and looking on apologetics websites than doing my homework – somehow I still passed – and I would come back and it would be like me, and I’m not joking against 15, 20 people. It was always gracious. In fact, some of these guys went on to get jobs, became department heads, and people who vehemently disagreed with me, are trying to offer me jobs. “Tim my physics guy is retiring; you’ve got to come work in my department.” That’s when you know you’ve got that good relationship, that they know you love them.
So I’m standing next to this thing, that’s a Brachiosaurus – it’s the largest sauropod dinosaur in Canada, actual skeleton, actual fossil – and we have myself, my atheist friend, and he’s bit shorter so he looked up at me like this, and he said “There’s no way Noah’s fitting that on the ark.” To which I had to fight my knee-jerk reaction, right, to do that roundhouse kick again. Again, I didn’t make a claim; I don’t need to defend anything here. So what I do is I ask a few questions, kind of a how-did-you-come-to-that-conclusion although they were much more specific. I said, “Okay, you don’t think Noah could get that down on the ark, then clearly you must know how big the boat was.” He said, “No, I have no idea; nobody knows how big the boat was.” I said “Actually I think it’s recorded in Genesis” so that was news to him. You’ve just got to make the conversion from cubits to meters. And then I asked, “Okay, you don’t know how big the boat was; then you must know how many animals were on the boat because obviously, you know if it wasn’t that many maybe….” And he’s like “How could anyone know how many animals were on the boat?” I think, Wait, you don’t know how many animals were on the ark, and you don’t know how big it was but you’re certain there’s no way Noah’s get that on the ark. Anyways, this right here is a baby Brachiosaurus and so long as you get a pink one and a blue one you’ll be ok.
You see the approach. You’re going to want to be the Bible Answer Man. That’s how you’ve been trained, for whatever reason. That’s just how we react as human beings, even when what you need to do is start asking questions.
This person had thrown down the gauntlet. A gauntlet is a medieval glove but in our culture today what they do is they throw down the gauntlet and then they celebrate like they just won. I’m not gonna show you my celebration dance; I almost did but I pulled back here. They throw it down and they celebrate.
No, no, that’s not how this works. In medieval times you throw down the gauntlet, someone picks it up, and then the duel happens. So we have to change our approach. We have to point this stuff out: you made a claim, now defend it.
Now the second Columbo question is actually, again, very, very generous because it assumes that a person actually came to a conclusion. Again, don’t be surprised if you say, “How did you come to that conclusion?” and they’re thinking “What are you talking about? What do you mean, what reasons do I have for believing that?” and they don’t have any good reasons. In that case, you’re gonna have to be gracious again.
So in summary, we’ve just looked at two Columbo questions. The first one tells you what the person believes, and the second one tells you why they believe it – what they believe, why they believe it – and that’s exactly what Christians should know. We’ve got to know what we believe and why we believe it.
As well, notice that these questions keep you out of the hot seat and, in a certain sense, you’re in the driver’s seat. When you’re asking questions you’re kind of steering the conversation where you would like it to go and that’s a good place to be.
When you are out of your depth
Now let me make a couple of final remarks. It turns out that you could end up asking the wrong person the right questions, but you find out this person is really smart, like they are way smarter than me. You’re thinking, oh I’m gonna try Columbo on my next airplane ride but it turns out the guy next to you is like a quantum physicist. And you’re like, Why did I open my big fat mouth? That kind of situation. Well, what happens when you’re outgunned like that and you feel like you’re in over your depth? I’ll tell you what you do. You stick to the game plan. Here’s what you do – and this works online too by the way – let’s say you’re messaging with someone and you’re in a conversation you can’t end. That’s the problem with Facebook conversations; they never end because it’s just comment, comment, comment. How do I get out of this? It’s a black hole!
So here’s what you do. You say. “You obviously are very smart; you’ve done a lot of reading on this. Maybe you’ve got a Ph.D. in philosophy and you’re an atheist and you debate people for a living. Okay, great. Tell me what you believe and I’m going to write it down. Or I’m going to memorize. Okay, this is what you believe? And why is it you believe that?” Those are the two questions. And here’s the magic words – you ready for the magic words? – “Now let me think about it.”
You see how that works? “Let me think about it,” because that’s exactly what they want you to do, and that’s exactly what you’re going to do. You’re going to think about what they’ve just told you, when the pressure is off, because I’m telling you, maybe you’re like me, but my neurons don’t fire as well when I’m in the heat, in the middle of a conversation. Tensions are a running high. Sometimes actually I think they shut right down. So you want to take that information, and now I’m sitting in front of my computer I’m going to Stand To Reasons website STR.org and hey, “Maybe Tim has an article about that” and then you can find out more information. Or you’re going to go to ReformedPerspective.ca and you’re going to say “Hey they just wrote about that last week and look it there’s – all the information I need.” That’s why we exist: trying to get that information so that you can do something with it. Strengthen your own faith and then go and have an impact on the Culture.
Flashlight, not a hammer
Here’s this – I’ve got just two more slides, so hang on here. Questions are not meant to be used as a hammer to beat people up. I’m telling you, you start doing this (and you need to start doing this) and you’re going to see that you can hurt people. You just can; you may not even mean to but you can, because you’re going to find out people are not as smart as they think they are. They just haven’t thought things through. They don’t even know how to think critically; they just don’t. I used to teach high school – I taught in the Christian school system and I taught in the public school system. Let me tell you something: a lot of the kids that are out there just cannot think critically because they were never taught to think critically. They’re taught to memorize a whole bunch of information but never how to think.
Questions are not a hammer to beat people up. I’ll tell you what they are: it’s how Jesus used them. They’re a flashlight to guide people towards the truth. They’re a flashlight to point people towards the truth.
Last thing: the Marines have a slogan in the States and it’s translated from Latin into English and here’s what it is:
The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle
Why am I telling you this? Because something like sixty to seventy-five percent of young people in our congregations go off to university, many to secular universities and they end up walking away from the church.
Why do they do that? The number one reason, the most popular response is intellectual doubt and skepticism. They do not know how to interact with the aggressive professor or the friend or whoever. So what I’m telling you is the more you sweat in training nowt hen when you get into those conversations you’re not going to bleed out on the battlefield. And we have a whole lot of students that are bleeding it on the battlefield. And even at the workplace or wherever.
I want to encourage you that we need to practice what I’m preaching here. That may mean tomorrow morning at breakfast, start asking these questions. That may mean before we go to bed, or on the drive home, “Oh so do you guys want to stop at Wendy’s?” “What do you mean by that?” you know this kind of thing.
Just do it. Because now it’s second nature for me. I just kept doing this and kept doing it, and now my wife asks me “Do you want chicken for dinner?” and this is what happens: she gets kind of angry “Don’t use that stuff on me.” But when it becomes second nature, then when the pressure is on three weeks from now, a month from now, six months from now, and you find oh my, now I’m face to face with that opponent, that person who disagrees with me, you’re going to want this to come to mind. And it won’t come to mind, it just won’t, if you haven’t been practicing it.