Gregory Koukl is no stranger to the world of apologetics (defending the Christian faith). His ministry, Stand to Reason, has proven invaluable to much of my dialogue with philosophical unbelievers. In Tactics, Dr. Koukl offers his experienced wisdom in dealing with other worldviews—especially New Atheism—by offering tips on how to show, with their own words, how their arguments are often times self-defeating and illogical.
Summary of Tactics
The book is divided into two parts. The first part introduces the game plan-the importance of having and being familiar with a tactic when engaging in a dialogue involving Christianity. The second part teaches the reader how to find the flaws in the argument. You must master the first part in order to better deploy the second part in discussion.
The tactics used in this book are designed to help one control the conversation when discussing matters of Christian faith. It is so easy to be put on the defensive and then remain there. The tactics are used to gain a footing in the conversation and are not meant to humiliate the other person. We must use these carefully and remember that we are representing the Kingdom whenever we engage in a battle like this. While our goal is always to be able to share the gospel, in some cases, especially in these types of dialogues, we may just want to plant a seed. Keep in mind that His Word does not return void!
Using what he calls “The Columbo” tactic, Dr. Koukl offers up advice on how to best use the 10-second window to respond to standard challenges to the faith. Basically, you have 10-seconds to answer the objection and move from the defensive to the offensive without being harsh. While using this tactic, you are gaining information for future reference—this helps to clarify any misunderstandings. It also forces the other person to think more critically about his or her beliefs which is always a good thing—even for Christians.
Once you have moved to the offensive and have gathered some information, you can now lead the conversation in a completely new direction. This is seen with the use of “leading questions” which enables the Christian to make his point more effectively. This particular element of the Columbo tactic requires some basic knowledge on your part. You need to be able to spot fallacies (illogical arguments) and gently show those weaknesses to the other person.
After you conversation has taken place, reflect back on what was said. You will begin to learn to anticipate future challenges as well as sharpening your own skills in simple discussions. You also learn how to defend against the Columbo tactic as well to recognize assertions disguised as questions.
Part two begins with teaching the reader how to recognize those views that self-destruct. A common statement heard today is that “there is no absolute truth.” If that statement is true, then there is absolute truth and therefore the statement defeats itself. Here, one must be conversant with logic and the fundamental law of logic: the Law of non-contradiction.
Chapter eight teaches you how to see when a statement, though not self-defeating, is practically untenable. The statement used here is “it is wrong to say people are wrong.” While not self-defeating per se, it cannot be spoken because it automatically violates the person’s own belief. This is especially helpful when dealing with moral relativists.
In concluding the section on recognizing fallacies, Dr. Koukl shows how some arguments cannot co-exist. For example, the statement that because evil exists God cannot is an illogical argument. Since the existence of God is necessary for evil to be a problem, you cannot use it as a proof that God does not exist. If anything, they are merely proving the point that God does exist.
The final few chapters offer other tactics when discussing matters of Christian faith. Chapter ten shows you how to “take the roof off” by reducing a point of view to its basic argument and then thinking it through to some absurd conclusions. Chapter eleven shows how to sidestep emotional reasons for resisting truth claims. Finally, chapter twelve teaches how to avoid the “fallacy of the expert witness” while chapter thirteen concludes the methods section by showing how many who argue against Christianity are doing so based upon ignorance or false information.
As I have said in other reviews on apologetic books, it is important to note that you cannot argue anyone into the kingdom. However, that does not mean you cannot be prepared to have an answer to those who do not believe for the hope you have in Jesus Christ. Dr. Koukl offers some very sound wisdom and draws immensely from his own experiences. There really is nothing to critique as it were unless you wanted to argue against a particular style of apologetics, but that is not the purview of this review. Suffice it to say that if you become conversant with this book, you will be able to better defend your faith as well as understand why you were at a loss for words when involved in a discussion.
I really like what Hank Hanegraaff had to say in his blurb when he compared this book to that of military training on tactics. The truth of the matter is that we are in a war and if we are to win the war (I am referring to the war of words we usually find ourselves in), we must be trained in the art of warfare both spiritual and mental while always relying on the Spirit of God to enable us to speak the Gospel with gentleness and love.
As one whose first love in academic Christianity was apologetics (it bothered me that while I was an unbeliever, no one who claimed to be a Christian could really tell me what they believed and why they believed it), I highly recommend this book. While much of it may be “over the head” of some, reading this book will better prepare the believer to engage in the war of words that often takes place in living rooms and classrooms and coffee houses. This book would make a perfect gift for a young Christian who is leaving for college.
Tactics offers an excellent and strategic battle plan to effectively engage the world where they are and on their terms. The only difference is that you do not get into a shouting match or a war of words. Rather, you ably show the other person the holes in his or her argument and that there is a worldview that holds together with the consistency and clarity they long for.