This is the title of a book by Greg Koukl. The author suggests a number of ways in which the Christian, in seeking to commend her or her faith to others, might guide the conversation. In other words, the book covers not the ‘what’ of Christian apologetics, but rather the ‘how’. Recognising that the person who seeks to commend Jesus to others needs (a) knowledge, (b) wisdom, and (c) character, Koukl focuses mainly on the second of these.
The aim, of course, is not to manipulate the other person, or to humiliate him or her, but rather to keep yourself in the ‘driving seat’, thus making sure that the conversation doesn’t get driven off the road.
Two ideas in particular appealed to me.
1. ‘Possible’, ‘plausible’, or ‘probable’?
When dealing with questions of factual truth (for example, did Jesus really rise from the dead?) it can be helpful to move the discussion along by asking, in order, ‘Is it possible?’ (we can probably agree on that), ‘Is it plausible?’ (is it at least a contender among the competing interpretations of the known data?), and then, ‘Is it probable?’ (is it the best explanation for the available data?).
‘Columbo’, it may be recalled, was a bumbling but effective detective in the US TV series of the same name. His effectiveness in solving crime was due to his ability to ask disarming, but probing, questions.
‘Never make a statement,’ suggests Koukl, ‘when you can ask a question.’
For Koukl, the ‘Columbo’ tactic has three main variations:-
(a) “What do you mean by that?” For example, in response to a person who says, “Everything is relative.” This demonstrates interest, buys some thinking time, and opens up the conversation.
(b) “How did you come to that conclusion?” This shifts the burden of proof back to the other person. It helps you both to work out if s/he is merely voicing an opinion, or whether s/he thinks there is any evidence or reasoning so support their assertion.
(c) “Have you considered…?” This line of questioning allows you to point out flaws in the other person’s reasoning, or to invite them to think about an alternative point of view, without becoming confrontational.