Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009; 208 pages)
Years ago, I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. I had just begun work on my Master’s degree in ministry and was still young in my Christian faith. As my friend and I were having coffee, I was explaining to him how excited I was to be getting a formal education in the Bible and Christianity. As we were talking, a man sitting next to us overheard our conversation. As I was discussing some things I was having trouble working through, this man turns around and says, “Hi. I’m an atheist. Can you explain those difficulties to me?”
What would you have done in this situation? To give some clarification, I was not talking with my friend arrogantly or boasting about knowing things I didn’t really know. That aside, this man clearly held to a different worldview than my own, and his question was not unreasonable. Again, what would you have done? Do you have the tools necessary to defend your faith? It doesn’t mean that you win the argument, but it does mean you are equipped to meet challenges head on.
Thankfully, there is a resource available to help you do just that. With his book Tactics, Greg Koukl has provided Christians with a resource like no other. I have read many books on how to effectively articulate your faith with others, but none have had the level of impact like this book. Koukl not only gives detailed explanations of each of his “tactics,” but he also gives real world examples of how he has put them into action. I don’t know about you, but I learn best when I can see how something is put into practice instead of just reading the instructions.
The title, Tactics, can seem a little misleading. It might give the idea that once we engage someone in conversation we are to charge ahead using these tips to come out on top. That is not what Koukl suggests. As he says in chapter one, “Even though there is real warfare going on, our engagements should look more like diplomacy than D-Day. In this book I would like to teach you how to be diplomatic. … This approach trades more on friendly curiosity—a kind of relaxed diplomacy—than on confrontation” (pgs. 19-20). The warfare he is referring to is that of ideas, but his approach is what will make all the difference: curiosity, not confrontation.
The first tactic we are introduced to is called the Columbo Tactic. This is the easiest and most effective tactic in the book, and well worth the price itself. Columbo is carried out with two simple questions: “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” This is meant to further the conversation and gain information. It also serves the purpose of clarification and proof. In fact, Columbo is so important to having conversations with non-believers that it occupies the first half of the book (chapters 1-6).
The second half of the book helps to employ strategies in finding flaws. While asking your questions, you may encounter someone who makes a critical mistake in their thinking or argument. These tactics derive their names from what the other person does or says. For instance, the Suicide Tactic is used when someone makes an argument that is internally inconsistent. An example would be when someone says, “There is no absolute truth.” Without realizing it, they have just made an absolute truth claim in denying absolute truth! For these tactics to be used, it is extremely important to listen to what the other person says and not jump to a reaction.
The tactics presented in this book serve a bigger purpose than giving you a couple of questions to ask; they help you and the person you are engaging to become better thinkers. It is easy to throw popular phrases and accusations at someone, knowing they won’t have a good response. It is another thing entirely to thoughtfully present your case in a calm and level-headed way. In discussing the second question of the Columbo Tactic, Koukl says, “This question does something else that’s very important. It forces the other person to think more carefully about precisely what he does mean when he tosses out a challenge. Instead of settling for statements that are ambiguous or vague, we ask him to spell out his objection clearly” (pg. 57).
My conversation in the coffee shop took place a few months before Tactics was released. Looking back, I know exactly how I would have navigated through some of the objections the atheist threw at me. The value of this resource cannot go unnoticed. It will give you confidence to face the world as a better thinker, and will help make defending your faith a lot less scary.