I have recently been reading and loving the book Tactics by Greg Koukl.
Koukl is a skillful questioner and has honed his “Columbo Questions” as a way to cause people to question what they believe. His desire, he tells us, is to “put a pebble in a person’s shoe.” In other words, he just wants to get them to doubt things they hold to be true.
Basic to his strategy is adopting an attitude like Columbo. The famous TV detective appeared inept but he would constantly ask one more question to help him gain understanding and tighten the noose. Eventually Columbo got his killer.
The Columbo Questions
Similarly, Koukl’s encourages us to ask Columbo like questions. His two basic questions are:
1. “What do you mean by that?”
This question causes the person you are talking with to define their terms. For example, when a person says that “Everything is relative,” ask “What do you mean by relative. Is everything relative? Even your own statement?” People will often have a hard time defining their own terms or applying them consistently.
2. “How did you come to that conclusion?” If the first question helps us understand what they believe, this statement helps us understand why they believe it. This second question reinforces the burden of proof rule. The burden of proof rule is this: the person making the statements must defend their position. For example, if a person says “The NT is full of error,” we can ask “What research led you to this conclusion?” Or we can ask, “What are your reasons for holding this view?”
After expanding on these two questions giving numerous examples, Koukl then also gives us examples of how he handles different objections. With his sharp mind he shows us how some questions refute themselves. (“There is no truth.” “So this statement is not true?”). Other questions help the person we are talking with realize that they cannot live consistently with the position they hold.
On the positive side, this book is filled with wise advice about asking questions. And as you know I love collecting questions. Tactics shows the assumptions underneath questions and helps Christians become more skilled in responding. In particular, I think every college student ought to be required to read Chapter 2 where Koukl talks about how to put the burden of proof back on the hostile classroom professor. Reading this book, you will be better equipped to ask good questions of those who might be hostile or indifferent to the faith.
Tactics is a helpful book to round out your knowledge of sharing our faith. But on the negative side, we should realize that showing someone what they are believing is not true is very different than having them receive Christ. Winning an argument is not the same as embracing Christ. Sharing our faith and seeing someone place their faith in Christ will require a fuller explanation of the gospel and the loving witness of the church. But what Koukl sets out to do, he does well. We are equipped to guide the conversation using questions.
So Why a Review Here?
So why a review on this site? I think a number of families could be helped by reading this book.
First, parents of teens and parents of prodigals could learn a lot from Koukl. As our children grow into teens we must become better at asking question out of a genuine desire to understanding. In addition, if they have some ideas that we don’t agree with (and they will!) we can ask questions rather than lecture. We don’t want to have a “gotcha” attitude but we do want to help our teens think clearly.
A second use would be to equip our teens to live wisely. As our world becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity, we want to teach our children to be wise as serpents. Teaching them to ask questions and see the underlying assumptions is also part of our discipleship of our children. Again, I highly recommend Chapter 2 for interacting with professors. Koukl has some wise ideas about interacting with hostile teachers.
Below you can find some quotations from Tactics.
Quotations from Tactics
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 determine what is true and discard what is false. p. 33
All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. p. 38.
“I understand that many of you think Christians are stupid. Well some of them are. But many nonChristians are stupid too so I don’t know how that helps you. What I want to do this evening is to show you that Christianity is not stupid.” p. 40
There is a difference between an argument and a fight…Arguments on the other hand are good things. Indeed, arguing is a virtue because it advances clearer thinking. If done well, it helps refine our understanding of truth. p. 40
In his wonderful little book, In But Not Of, a primer for Christians on thoughtful engagement with the culture, Hewitt advises asking at least a half-dozen questions in every conversation. p 47
Sometimes the little things have the greatest impact. Using simple leading questions is an almost effortless way to introduce spiritual topics to a conversation without seeming abrupt, rude, or pushy. Questions are engaging and interactive, probing yet amicable. Most important, they keep you in the drivers seat while someone else does all the work. p. 48.
Columbo Tactic Question 1: What do you mean by that? p. 50.
The burden of proof is the responsibility someone has to defend or give evidence for his view. Generally, the rule can be summed up this way: Whoever makes the claim bears the burden. The key here is not to allow yourself to be thrust into a defensive position when the other person is make the claim. It’s not your duty to prove him wrong. It ‘s his duty to prove his view. p .59.
Our second Columbo question is, “Now, how did you come to that conclusion?” is designed to enforce the burden-of-proof rule. Remember this is our model question. You might also ask, “Why do you say that?,” “What are your reasons for holding this view.”…”How did you come to that conclusion?” p. 61, 65.
If you are placed in a situation where you suspect your convictions will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded or judgmental, use Columbo to turn the tables. When someone asks for your personal views about a controversial issue, preface your remarks with a question that sets the stage in your favor for your responses. Say, “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 is safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question: 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 convictions that differ from your own? p. 77-78.
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 about your response. Even if you were right about my character, could you explain to me exactly what that has to do with the issue.” p. 79.
One of the advantages of the Columbo tactic is not having to assert something you want someone to believe. You aren’t taking the burden of proof on yourself. Instead, you accomplish your goal in an entirely different –and more powerful—way. You use questions to make the point for you. p. 82.
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 think more carefully. If nothing else, it gives them tools to assess the bigger questions that eventually come up. p. 83.
Since my goal is usually to persuade, in most conversations I adopt a genial approach of Lieutenant Columbo himself. I soften my challenge by introducing some questions with phrases like, “I’m just curious…..,” Something about this bothers me….,” “Maybe I’m missing something…..,” or “Maybe you can clear this up for me…” p. 99.
When statements fail to meet their own criteria of validity, they are self-refuting:
There is no truth. (Is this statement true?)
There are no absolutes. (Is this an absolute?)
No one can know any truth about religion (And how, precisely, did you come to know that truth about religion?) p. 108.
Some points of view fail the pragmatic test. They simply cannot work in real-life application. There is no logical contradiction, strictly speaking, just a practical one. In this type of suicide, you can hold the view but you can’t promote it. p. 121.
“You shouldn’t force your morality on other people.” I always ask, “Why not?” What will he be able to say? He certainly can’t respond by saying, “Its wrong.” That option is no longer open to him.” p. 124.
Surprisingly, instead of evil being a good argument against God, I am convinced it is one of the best evidences for God…As C.S. Lewis notes, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call something crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” p. 137.
I first learned the tactic of Taking the Roof Off from Francis Schaeffer. The tactic itself is simple. First adopt the other person’s viewpoint for the sake of argument. Next, give his idea a test drive. Try to determine where you will end up if you follow his instruction faithfully. If you arrive at an odd destination, point it out and invite the person to reconsider his starting point. p. 143.
Why do we all feel guilty? “Maybe guilt is just a cultural construction. I guess that is possible. But there’s another possibility. Maybe you feel guilty because you are guilty….The answer to guilt is not denial. The answer to guilt is forgiveness. That is where Jesus comes in.” p. 145.
Since oppression and mayhem are neither religious duties for Christians nor logical application of the teaching of Jesus, violence done in the name of Christ cannot be laid at his door. This conduct might tell you something about people.. It tells you nothing about God or the gospel. p. 177.