Archive | May, 2012

Challenging an assertion using questions…

29 May

Note: Earlier I posted on using two questions to ask in spiritual conversations to help you make progress without having to know every single detail about defending Christianity.

To continue down the path of evangelistic question asking we must shift the nature of our questions. If we have been in “discovery” mode, now is the time to turn on “challenge” mode. Remember, it is ok to question or challenge our friend’s point of view: people do it all the time. We just happen to be challenging his point of view on something that is very fundamental which can feel uncomfortable for both parties. The reason we use questions is to keep the exchange amicable so that we can stay at the table longer.

Once you have been in discovery mode for a while (asking “what do you mean?” and “how do you know?”) there should be something worth challenging.* Initially it may be difficult to find the best place to raise an objection or test the strength of a worldview. The best way to get better is to practice, i.e. have more conversations! Your friend’s view will falter in one of two broad ways.

Errors of Fact

Jesus’ divinity wasn’t asserted until the 4th century. The Bible has been translated and changed so many times over the years that no one knows what it really said originally. These objections to Christianity are based on information that is factually incorrect. Most of the time asking “how do you know?” will expose these claims as baseless, however it occasionally becomes necessary to go further. You don’t need to be tricky about your challenge in cases like this (more on that below) so introduce your objection by appealing to contradictory information “Have you considered some of Jesus’ claims to divinity from the Bible, which is universally agreed to have been completed before the end of the 2nd century?” or by proposing an alternative solution “well, modern versions of the Bible are all translated from Hebrew and Greek – the original languages – into whatever language they will be read in…do you agree that a one step translation process doesn’t destroy our understanding?”

In these examples the errors of fact are elementary, mostly the product of Dan Brown. If the facts become more sophisticated you may not know how to respond, and that is fine. Tell your friend that you’re not sure you agree but would like some time to think about it, and ask if you can get together at a later time.

Logical Errors

All truth is relative to the context. You shouldn’t push your morality on other people. Sound premises and necessary conclusions are the basis of good logic. Factual errors are ultimately logical errors because they ruin the viability of an argument’s premise. In the above examples of logical errors an impossible conclusion has been reached. We can challenge these conclusions by using questions to point this out.

To our friend pontificating about truth we can respond “Is that always true?” If so, then at least some truth is objective and his statement fails, or his statement fails because he must admit that it isn’t always true. Similarly with the morality statement, we can respond by asking “Why not?” Her assertion is a universal moral claim, so it will be impossible to defend.

You may remember in an earlier post I was speaking with someone who said “everyone should be allowed to believe what they want.” I challenged this by asking her opinion of a very detestable belief. Instead of saying “I disagree” or “you dumb idiot!” (which I wasn’t thinking, although sometimes people can interpret disagreement in this way) I asked a question.

Being clever

It is not your job to be clever. Asking “why not” to someone who has just asserted that you shouldn’t push your morality on others is a clever response though, so what gives? What I want to emphasize is that we shouldn’t be looking to score points, or “win” or anything like that. We are dealing with people who have feelings, opinions, beliefs that they actually hold to be true and which matter to them. Our job is to be gentle and honest and caring. It can (and will) still feel painful to be challenged, but the spirit and nature of the challenge make all the difference.

Here are a few examples of phrases to include that can help defuse the hostility of a challenging question:

“Can you help me out, I’m confused by what you said….”

“I’m trying to understand what you’re saying…”

“Correct me if I’m wrong…”

“Would it be ok if I asked a few questions about what you just said?”

Over time as you practice having conversations, and listen closely for errors of logic and fact you will become more astute at recognizing them. Often people hold similar opinions (check out The Reason for God for some of the most common) so you may even be asking a lot of the same challenging questions. If you remember that an attitude of humility is infinitely more important than a clever response then you can’t get into too much trouble with your conversation partner.

*Again – the truth of this depends on the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the divine Son of God and the claims of the early church about his resurrection. If true, then challenging an opposing view is the most loving thing you could ever do for someone.


The two most important questions an evangelist can ask (part 2)…

17 May

See part 1 here.

“How do you know” is an oft overlooked question that serves us on a number of levels. When I first began studying apologetics, my response to some sort of objection or untruth was to disagree and then give reasons. In our running example (the claim that all roads lead to God) I might have said “I disagree, I think that there are good reasons to believe Jesus’ claim of divinity – and that would mean His claim about being the only way is true.”

There is nothing wrong with this approach, except that it never works. Entering into a spiritual/theological debate does not appeal to most people (especially if you initiated the conversation!). However, just chatting about spiritual things interests almost everyone. Their interest intensifies if they get to share their own opinions of spiritual things. Additionally, Christians frequently let people off the hook in these types of conversations by allowing them to make bald assertions that are not supported by evidence (Jesus’ divinity wasn’t established until the 4th century, evolution disproves God, the Bible is racist/homophobic/misogynistic, e.g.) Enter question number two.

It’s worth pointing out that “How do you know” is the gist of the question, not the question itself. Just asking “How do you know?” can sound a bit combative. Cross your arms, close your eyes and you can almost see your second grade self on the playground after a friend has made some outrageous claim. I usually phrase it by asking “What makes you say that?” This is still a request for reasons, but it comes across as more palatable. My friend has now been politely asked to convince me that their claim makes sense and is more believable than an alternative explanation. Instead of disagreeing and going into defense/attack mode, I’ve basically said “Oh, interesting. Tell me more!”

At this point your friend’s response can range from sophisticated to silly depending on how much thought they have allocated to the topic and how reasonable their sources are. Your job is to listen closely, pay attention and ask yourself if their reasons are good ones. Sometimes asking for reasons takes you the whole way; a person hasn’t thought about it much and realizes they have no reasons for their belief. More often, you need to make some sort of response that challenges the truth or logic of your friends reasoning. (Remember, If Jesus is Lord then exposing false beliefs as such is the most loving thing you can do for your friend, even though it can be slightly painful in real time.)

How should you respond? My favorite way, the way we often see Jesus operating, and the way that will keep your friend “at the table” is to keep asking questions. I don’t have the space to appropriately address what types of questions or how to ask them in this post, so I’ll turn this into a longer series. Tune in next week for part 3.

The two most important questions an evangelist can ask…

15 May

I have reservations about the accuracy of this post’s title, but I’m pressing on. (The most important question of all is Who is Jesus? but I believe that ultimately He asks it, even if He uses our mouths.) Assuming that Jesus asks folks who they think He is, the two most important questions WE can ask in conversation are “What do you mean” and “How do you know.”

These two simple questions will deliver you from having to know everything about apologetics just to have a conversation with a non-christian. They will help you to frame the context of your conversation so that you can steer it in a productive direction. They will literally do the heavy lifting for you. These two questions are the foundation for virtually every spiritual conversation I have.

Asking “what do you mean” accomplishes so many different things for us as we dive into spiritual conversation. It makes our friend feel cared for because we are seeking clarity rather than just refuting whatever they have previously said. It also prevents us from responding to a claim that was never made in the first place. Most importantly it forces our friends to make an assertion. This matters because the person who makes the assertion is the one who must argue for it (see our second question). This takes the heat off of us, and puts it on them. (Not that we want “the heat” on our friends – but we also don’t want to have to respond to speculative, ungrounded claims). An example will help:

“Don’t you think it’s a bit arrogant to say Jesus is the only way to God?”

I could launch into a defense of Jesus’ divinity, but instead I’d rather have them make the defense. So I ask my question (what do you mean?)and get something like this:

“There are many roads to God.”**

All of a sudden their accusative question transforms into a statement of belief. Now instead of me defending “Jesus is Lord” my friend will be defending “All/many roads lead to God.” It isn’t that I don’t think Jesus is Lord or that I have no good reasons for my belief but rather the notion that this belief will be more attractive once we address the false one in its place. In other words, I won’t consider “Jesus is the only way” until I have reason to doubt “All roads lead to God.”

The next step is to ask “How do you know?” (Post coming later this week!)

**You might not get there immediately…click here for an example of the winding road. The bottom line is that the person who asks about arrogance is operating under the assumption that all/many roads lead to God.

Out of town. In the meantime…

5 May

I am currently in Jasper, GA at InterVarsity’s annual chapter camp leadership conference. I am teaching college students how to study the bible and lead their peers in missional small groups on campus. Its been an amazing week and I have one more to go. Due to the nature of the conference however, I haven’t had much time for evangelistic conversations. To tide you over, I’m providing links to some of my favorite online resources for apologetics.

Apologetics 315

This site has a regularly updated blog as well as a huge list of reviews for books on christian apologetics arranged by topic. My favorite thing about them is their list of weekly bonus links. These are collected from around the web and range widely in content but I always find a few things that I can’t resist clicking on.

No blog, but audio and TONS of articles on pretty much every major apologetic issue. Not to be missed and a good place to start if you’re just exploring a new topic.

Stand to Reason

The ministry started by Greg Koukel, str has great content and a regularly updated blog. The gem of this site is Greg’s weekly podcast which is posted here (and in itunes I think).

I hope to have a normal post up next week and then resume posting regularly the following week. Until then, go check out these sites!

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