Sunday, 3 July 2016

Learn to argue like Socrates

This is a simple debating technique useful for Christian apologists, but also useful for any intellectual argument. It is more fully explained in “Tactics” by Greg Koukl, a Christian professor in the USA. In the post-Christian world, we need a new communications strategy.

'Converting people' should not be a Christian's key aim today. A complex modern culture presents many barriers to finding faith, including aggressive anti-Christian rhetoric. We need to care for people on their journey. All our interactions are 'gifts'. These may be only brief encounters in which we ourselves are forgotten, but what we share, in passing, changes lives.

The Pebble in the Shoe
You can seek to put a pebble in someone's shoe to reveal the ambiguity in their worldview without upsetting them. Most people have subscribed to a secular worldview but contradict themselves (see case study below). Identify where someone is coming from. Handle conversations using questions (avoiding statements). Jesus often used questions.

Case Study 
Statement: I think Christians are judgemental….
Question: What's wrong with being judgemental?
Statement: Being judgemental is being intolerant, short-sighted and ignorant - I believe in 'live and let live'.
Question: Aren't you judging Christians?___________________________________________________
The Colombo Approach 
The TV detective Colombo in a dirty raincoat is a deceptively clever operator, looking pained by having to think, seemingly stupid, going on asking questions to the point of someone getting annoyed (and lazy) while solving the crime. Using inoffensive questions he gets insights into the inner heart of a person - and solves the problem. Try it?

Tip1 : Never lose your temper: be at peace. Make people feel honoured and important (they are all important to God). Show interest in them as people on a journey. Ask yourself:
  • What is this person’s baggage? 
  • What has put them off faith/church/Christianity? 
  • What is giving them pain?
  • What is the 'bombshell' in their life?
Conversations can start anywhere: talk to people about anything. The conversation may turn to things of God - but it may not-  don't push it. Ask them to explain their statements using the key question: What do you mean by that? This question helps them to become more precise. Most people have never thought their way through to a holistic worldview. They have often formed their worldview from parents, feelings, the media, TV science, bits of misinformation about Christianity. Find out about the ambiguities and self-contradictions. Your question when someone states something is: What evidence do you have for that? This question tackles stereotyping and generalisations.

Tip 2: Put the Onus of Proof on Them
  • If they state something like 'Christians are no different from anyone else', put the onus of proof on them with:  'What evidence do you have for that?'
  • If they say 'Christians are people who need a crutch to get through life' ask:  'What evidence do you have for that?'.
Tip 3: Don't launch a full frontal attack on a superior force in an entrenched position. There are some very well-educated people and lawyers out there, so, like Wellington, pace the battlefield of Waterloo the night before: select where you engage. If you are feel suddenly overwhelmed, admit you do not know everything and ask for time. Then go away and think about what they have said. Put together a serious case and either answer later or learn from it.

Tip 4: Build a stock of verifiable insights (evidence) from your own life. Work out in detail your own worldview and whether you are living by it (which observers will sense). Work out your own reasons for belief - you may be challenged on it.

You could try this approach with anyone who is giving you a hard time without upsetting them further - just remember the key questions.


  1. Excellent tips. Particularly tip 1 (pain). We had an encounter recently with a mother whose adult son had died before 30. Also slow down and listen. I too often jump to answer a question that someone has not asked. We need to stay with the person as you rightly note.

    1. Hi Alison - why to buy the book. Also there are thousands of prepared answers to tricky questions are on the The key idea is that there are gardeners - which you will like and harvesters. Most of us are gardeners....

    2. Hi Alison - why to buy the book. Also there are thousands of prepared answers to tricky questions are on the The key idea is that there are gardeners - which you will like and harvesters. Most of us are gardeners....