Interview with Greg Koukl: Part 1

Jun 29, 2020

Abdu’s friend and President of Stand to Reason Greg Koukl join’s him to discuss the updated edition of Greg’s book, Tactics: A Gameplan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Tactics equips Christians with the same kind of methods lawyers use to find out the facts in a case. This is part one of a two-part interview.

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Abdu Murray: All rise, and welcome to another edition of The Defense Rests. This is a podcast that takes a look at the claims for and the objections against the Christian point of view from a lawyer's point of view. We take a look at the evidence in favor of the Christian faith, but also the objections from non-Christian views, and we subject them to the scrutiny that a trial attorney would subject it to, or the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence that you would have in a trial setting to see whether the Christian faith, or its critics, actually stand up to that level of scrutiny. So, we look at the ways in which juries think, the way judges make their rulings, whether a specific rule of evidence actually applies to a specific kind of claim, or the way courts decide things and lawyers bring their cases. That makes you the jury, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we're going to have a wonderful broadcast for you today.

I'm Abdu Murray, I'm your host. And with me, we're going to have a little bit of a different podcast than we normally do, is my very first guest on the show. And I'm super excited to have this happen today and to have my very first guest be Greg Koukl. My good friend, Greg Koukl. Now, Greg is not himself, an attorney, but he could have been one very easily, judging by the way he thinks, the way he talks, the way he thinks through tactics and strategies and having effective conversations and getting at the truth.

So, Greg Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, and he founded that ministry in 1993. He's spoken on more than 85 college and university campuses in the US and abroad. He's hosted his own call-in radio show for 30 years, and has done a lot of interviews himself, and debates, and these kinds of things. He's written seven books, including The Story of Reality, an award-winning book, by the way, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. A very Greg Koukl kind of a title.

And the book we'll be discussing today, the one that I'm very excited to be talking about today is, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Now, friends, if you've heard me at any open forums before, and especially at some of the events where we're actually training Christians on apologetics, one of the most common questions I get asked is, "How do I start a spiritual conversation about...?" Or, "How do I casually bring in something?" Or, "A friend of mine and I are exchanging, and we're getting nowhere with something. Can you help me with a way to approach this?" And if you've asked me that question, nine times out of ten, most likely, you've heard me say, "You need to get a book by my friend, Greg Koukl.” Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. The subtitle really says it all.

And you've also heard me say that there are two questions you can use, and I've quoted Greg, and I've attributed this to him because he's the one who says this often. There's two questions you can use to stay in complete control of a conversation, in a good way, not in a manipulative way, but in a good way, and you've heard me say what those two questions are. Now, I'm not going to tell you what they are at this moment, I'm going to let Greg do that. But you've heard me say this, and over the years, you've heard me say it, and why I think it's great to have Greg on the show now is because, originally, Tactics came out in 2009, and it was published then, but it's been updated with the 10th anniversary edition in 2019. It's been updated with new information, some new tactics, some new insights from Greg.

So, I say that for two reasons. One, if you've heard me recommend it before 2019, and you got the book, you are in good stead, but you can't afford, and it's worth your investment to get the new one. If you haven't gotten it, well, you've got the updated version that you can get right now. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.

Greg, I'm so happy you're on the show. Thanks for being on.

Greg Koukl: Abdu, my gentle giant buddy. What a treat to be able to talk with you today about these things. And by the way, for your listeners who don't understand that comment, Abdu is a big giant guy, and you cannot take a selfie with him because his head will be out of the frame. I'm just saying. Good to talk with you.

Abdu Murray: I remember that the first time I actually physically met you was at an ETS-

Greg Koukl: Yeah, many years ago.

Abdu Murray: Yep. That's for the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Rhode Island. It was in Providence, and you were at a bookstore and we decided to take a selfie. And we weren't the best camera guys in the whole world, we had a terrible angle, and you looked about two feet tall. Yeah, right?

Greg Koukl: You look like Andre the Giant kind of thing. So anyway, what a treat to be able to talk with you on your podcast about these things and to be able to make a contribution to your group.

And let me just say something about...and this is true for your group and RZIM and also Stand to Reason. People are in a tough spot right now with all the things going on. I have really appreciated how RZIM has been there for their people through thick and through thin. And this is a time when people are asking questions, and Christians have questions, non-Christians have questions they expect the Christians to answer, and so there's all kinds of opportunities we're facing right now to enrich our understanding of the Christian worldview and why we're convinced it's actually true. And I love RZIM, and I'm thrilled that you're associated. I know you, obviously, before you went with Ravi, but just great to see the trajectory of what God has been doing in your life, and I'm so glad you're having such a great influence through this podcast and RZIM. Good work.

Abdu Murray: Thank you, Greg. I appreciate that so much. Coming from you, it's very, very meaningful because when I first met you and I shared with you...Actually, Paul Copan introduced us, who-

Greg Koukl: That's right.

Abdu Murray: ...is your friend, endorsed my first book and then I'd mentioned you to him, and he says, "Do you know Greg?" I said, "No, I don't know him yet. He is a big influence on me, even before I became a Christian." And he said, "Well, I can introduce you." And there, we had the introduction.

Greg Koukl: That's right.

Abdu Murray: And for the listeners who don't know this, I first heard Greg...and you've heard me say this too. I heard Ravi providentially on the radio, this is before iPods, where if you were in an area and I was in an area where I couldn't hear anything, but it was a Sunday morning, I was taking a long drive through mid-Michigan, and I couldn't hear anything that morning except for Christian music or country music, and I didn't want to hear either one of those two things. So, I hit the scan button and I come across an Indian-accented voice talking about Jesus. I'm like, "Oh my goodness. People actually talk with credibility about this?" And that was Ravi. Fast forward some time, and then I heard you on a show with Hank Hanegraaff, actually, and you were speaking about Relativism, the book that you wrote a while back with Frank Beckwith, I believe.

Greg Koukl: That's right.

Abdu Murray: And again, I heard another voice speaking clearly and cogently about a faith that I thought wasn't worth the time. And I thought, "My goodness, this is something else." And so it was such a pleasure to meet you and tell you that you had a hand in my journey of faith.

Greg Koukl: That's sweet.

Abdu Murray: Yeah. So, one way to round this stuff out is to have you on my show. I've been on yours and to have you on mine is just fantastic. So, let's get into it.

I want to let the listeners know because they tune in to get a lawyer's perspective on things and we're thinking, "Well, why do you have Greg on?" And the reason is, and I've told you this in private before as well, is that Tactics is the kind of thing...When I read it the first time, I thought to myself, "This is exactly what seasoned lawyers teach their mentee lawyers on how to take depositions.” On how to handle a trial, on how to think about interviewing witnesses and how to coach their own witnesses in terms of how to get the truth out without being taken advantage of, from various things, even the Columbo tactic itself, they really do that.

So, let me set this up real quick, because I want to show the listeners exactly how this whole thing fits in and then we'll get into the specifics.

Greg Koukl: Sure.

Abdu Murray: So, lawyers undergo a period, every civil case, and even criminal cases as well, but civil cases, which I was a civil trial lawyer, civil cases start off where the complaint is filed, you have to answer the complaint, and then the discovery period starts. Now, the discovery period is a fancy way of basically saying the period in which lawyers find out the facts. They depose witnesses, they interview witnesses, they collect documents, they do forensic analysis of the various hard drives, and they get the facts out. But during the discovery period, which is a lengthy period, depositions happen. And a deposition is simply a time where a lawyer sits across the table from a witness, that witness typically has another lawyer, especially if it's the other side, defended the deposition, but everything is being taken down under oath in front of a court reporter, and the court reporter is taking everything down. Now, the deposition is as much of a proceeding under oath as the trial is, which means that what the witness says, the witness is held to. So, the lawyer asks questions.

Now, where this factors in is that in the discovery period, you're not supposed to win discovery. That's not a point where you do it. You don't win discovery, you uncover facts, you gain understanding, you see what the opposing party's position is, you find out things you didn't once know. And in light of all of that, that's where I think Tactics and the bulk of what Tactics talks about comes into play and why I think this is a bit of a training on how to be a good attorney, as it were, in terms of how to find the truth out, but also, and we'll get into this little bit later, how you can be the kind of person who can understand when you're on the witness stand, how to respond to questions that are put to you. So, that's the setup, essentially, why I think this book is important for us to look at from a lawyer's perspective.

So, Greg, one of the things I wanted to ask you about, and I thought that you've always done a good job of this, is clarity of terms. So, before I get into the differences between this edition of the book and the 2009 edition, because I think the people who haven't bought this one yet would want to know, "Why should I buy the new one?" And we're getting to that in a second, but I want to give them a taste for the kind of thinking that you bring to the table. There is a distinction that is often made...people don't understand this distinction, but there is one between tactics and strategy, what a tactic is versus what a strategy actually is. Why don't you help us with that?

Greg Koukl: Sure. These terms are generally used or commonly used as military terms, and I think military metaphors are really good as long as we understand they're metaphors, because as I stated in the Tactics book, I'm trying to offer a way of engaging that looks more like friendly diplomacy than warfare. It's diplomacy, not D-Day, is what we're looking for. But with that in mind, if you think from the military metaphor, the attack on the launch of D-Day at Normandy beach in June, 6, '44, that was a strategic enterprise of taking the continent and beginning to move forward, reclaim France, take over to Germany and win the war. That's the big picture. Strategy is big picture stuff. Okay? Tactics is small picture stuff. And anybody who has read about D-Day, they know they had this great plan, but the minute our guys hit the beach, particularly at Omaha beach, well, everything changed. Now you have individual people, American allied soldiers, engaging individual access soldiers in close condition combat. Okay? So, how do you take that draw? How do you go up in this situation? How do we neutralize that pillbox? Those are all tactical considerations.

And the strategy, the big strategy, even the strategy for D-Day, kind of went sideways because of all kinds of crazy conditions, but the allies prevailed there because they were tactically capable of fighting the smaller skirmishes effectively. And think of it this way. All of these small victories tactically led up to a strategic move forward in the general D-Day operation overlord plan.

And so I want Christians to think about it this way with the Tactics book, because we certainly have a big picture, and the big picture is we want people to become Christians, right? That's part of the big picture. Another part of the big picture is we've got all kinds of good information to help them to do that. And you and the great folks at RZIM are talking about this all the time. This is the great body of knowledge that Christians have at their disposal to bring to bear on challenges and evidences in favor of Christianity, whether it's the resurrection, or the authority of the Bible, or the testimony of the apostles, or miracles, or reasons for the existence of God, or answers to the problem of evil. There are all of these things out there that are available to us. And so I kind of think of those elements as the strategic elements. Okay? The strategy of we have this big picture and these resources available to us.

Now, tactics is a little different though. Tactics is then, how do we take, with the big picture in mind and the resources that we have available to us, and a lot of us put these things on our websites, which is great, and how do we employ them in thoughtful ways, in effective ways, and in gracious ways in a face to face individual encounter with an individual? And that's the distinction that I would emphasize between strategy and tactics.

Abdu Murray: Yeah, indeed. And to put it in the legal context as well, because we can easily translate the military metaphors over into a legal context, is where you have a theory of a case. If your client comes to you and says, "Look, I need to either defend against the lawsuit or bring a lawsuit," or if you're a criminal lawyer, you're a defense attorney, and you're trying to say, "Okay, the prosecution's theory is that my client was present and did this for these reasons and these motives." How do you go about establishing all the elements of the charge that's in front of you? Let's say it's negligence, then you have to prove that they had a duty, and you had to prove that they breached that duty and that caused damages.

Well, in order to prove every single one of those charges, you have to bring out certain witnesses and you have to figure out which witnesses do I call, which witnesses actually have the information? Do I need expert witnesses, because if there's a scientific issue in play, or a forensic issue in play, or an engineering issue, you have to find out who you should bring about. And then you find out through the course of discovery, whether or not maybe that tactic is a bad tactic to take. Overall strategy is our theory of the case is X, the goal is to win, and here is how we do it.

Now, over the course of a lawsuit, 90% of them settle before they even get to trial, which means that, in a sense, "nobody wins," but everyone wins as well. Because when you settle, what you've done is you've said, "Okay, look, I've seen your position and you've heard mine. You know the strength of my case, I know the strength of yours, and based on that, we're going to come to a compromise." Now, oftentimes one party comes off better than the other party because they have a stronger case. What ends up happening is negotiation takes place. And so we might not get 100% agreement. You might walk away saying, "Okay, I settled, but I was right. Even though I settled, that I should've gone the whole way." That's not how settlements work. In fact, we don't want that all the time in trial courts because they will be clogged up. But in terms of our conversations, we do want that kind of ongoing negotiation.

And what I want to say is that you also said one other thing too, Greg, before we get into the meat of Tactics, is that I'm an evangelist at heart. I know you care a great deal about evangelism as well, but one of the parts of the evangelism is presenting the case, seeing what the Holy Spirit will do in the heart of a person, being there, being available, being a good witness, having that character, but in the end, it's not up to us to change someone's mind necessarily, it's just to get them thinking about the issues, and that's considered a win as well. So, if you don't necessarily win the case...And I think of it this way. I did a lot of business litigation, so I had a big client who was a big company and they were being sued by a supplier for their parts, so they could make their bigger parts and all this, but they wanted to keep the relationship.

And so my client, let's say, was right, the other side was wrong, and we started to go through the whole process. And my client realizes, "Look, I could win this whole thing and decimate them in court and then make an enemy out of this person and never do business with them again, or I could make the points I need to make so that the relationship can continue so that eventually they can see my side of it and you can keep the relationship together." So, you don't have to beat the person, you can just sort of when the skirmishes, as it were, and get agreement in certain areas.

Greg Koukl: I agree. If I can jump in for a moment, Abdu.

Abdu Murray: Please.

Greg Koukl: I actually never heard this way of characterizing it as you've done, but it really dovetails perfectly as an illustration or an analog to something that I emphasize strongly in the Tactics book, and it's preparatory material. What we're both talking about now is a perspective that the person goes in into the engagement with that is going to modify and hopefully make more effective, in the long run, the engagement proper.

And the way I put it as this, and I want people to think about it because for many of them, this is an absolutely new idea. And that is something that I have developed a little bit more in the 10th anniversary edition that I only hinted at a little bit in the first edition, but I found, in ten years, how critically important this concept has become, and it has to do with what you're suggesting there, is making incremental gains. Okay? And the aphorism that I used to introduce the concept, Abdu, is simply this. Before you can have any harvest, there always has to be a season of gardening. Okay? Before you can have any harvest, there's got to be a season of gardening. Of course, this is common sense. No, duh. Right? But I think most of our evangelism approaches are harvest-geared. So, we're going to go out and try to win people to Christ. Now, as an ultimate goal, strategically, big picture, that's what we want. But in the individual encounter, engagement, conversation, deposition, in your language, this is probably not a good idea.

And so the way I put it in the book is that my goal, when I use the tactical game plan as a way of gardening, a little bit here, a little bit there, moving a little bit forward, not asking too much of the other person who disagrees with me at that point of time, as I'm just looking to, as I put it, put a stone in their shoe, I'm just looking to...as I tell my non-Christian audiences, to annoy them, but in a good way. "I want you to walking out of here," I say...and I say this right up front at the very beginning of my presentation, I say, "I want you walking out of here...I'm not here to convert you. I have a more modest goal," I tell them, "I just want to put a stone in your shoe. I just want to annoy you in a good way."

When I say, "I want to annoy you," they all start laughing, because they figure, okay, they expect the Christian to annoy them. I say, "I'm your guy, all right? But I think you're going to thank me when we're done, hopefully. You'll be walking out of here with some particular thing that I've said that is bugging you, egging you on, getting at you." And incidentally, I know that your listeners who engage other people, especially who engaged smart people who raise legitimate objections against Christianity that really need to be answered, and of course, my conviction is they can be answered, but they're fair objections.

For those who haven't been able to answer it on the spot, is it not the case that when they asked the question that you couldn't answer and it sounded like a reasonable challenge, that something inside of you started to wonder, "Well, maybe that person's right and I'm wrong?” You may not have led onto that, but there's that little cold chill that goes up your spine. I know it. I've experienced it myself. What has happened is the non-Christian, to use my terminology, has just put a stone in the Christian's shoe. And this is what I'm looking at to do in reverse.

So, I think this is analogous to what you're saying, Abdu, with the deposition, where you're settling, in a certain sense, you're settling in any particular engagement for making some progress, getting some agreement, even though you're not going the whole way. Going the whole way, the harvest, that's up to God. Frankly, I do not focus on harvesting when I engage people, Abdu, I focus on gardening, because I'm convinced when the gardening is done properly, the harvesting happens very easily. You bump into a ripe fruit, it falls into the basket. So, the tactical game plan is a gardening technique, very analogous to what you're describing in taking a deposition and settling for what you can get at the moment.

Abdu Murray: Yep. And oftentimes in depositions, what happens is, is when you're done with a certain witness, let's say it's a key witness and you've done it right, what ends up happening is that you sort of adjourn and you look at the other lawyer, not the other party necessarily, but the other lawyer, and you say, "Did you hear what I heard?" And the lawyer will look at you and say, "Yeah, I heard what you heard." Then a settlement negotiation ensues, because either, A, you really got somewhere where the truth was uncovered and the other lawyer sees something and says, "Okay, this is going to be an issue. I got to talk to my client about this." Or say, "No, I heard what you heard and it went well for me. Here's why."

What's interesting about that, and this is where I think lawyers get a bit of a bad rap, because yes, we're advocates for our side, but oftentimes you're the best advocate when you actually take a realistic look at the strength of your case and then advise your client accordingly. Don't just rush in and say, "I can beat this no matter how bad our case sounds," when it's not reality. So, in this particular instance, I would say, if you took someone, a deposition in a lawyer's case, and you get a star witness there and they uncover some facts that are really helpful to your case, what a lawyer does, a good lawyer should do is... This is why you hire a lawyer and you don't represent yourself, oftentimes, in legal cases, is because you're not someone who is paid to be objective. Yes, they are your advocate, but they're also your counselor, and they say, "Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly about your case."

Now, I happen to think there's lots and lots and lots and lots of good for the Christian case. I think that there are unanswered questions this side of heaven, and there are secret things about the Lord, and there's going to be some things we're going to find out in heaven. I hope so, because otherwise, I'll get bored.

Greg Koukl: Christianity is not tidy, that's because worldviews are not tidy, and we are incomplete individuals that don't have all the information, have limited capability of figuring things out. We could do a pretty good job, but there's always going to be loose ends. And I don't think Christians should be afraid of loose ends because that's the nature of being human in a fallen world.

Abdu Murray: Indeed. And one of the things I would caution, and I did an episode on the idea of figuring out when you can detect a biased witness or a biased jury. And sometimes we become our own biased jury or our biased witness, so we have to take a realistic assessment. But it makes our faith grow stronger when we see that the scrutiny that it's held up to actually can withstand it, and we just need to be objective about it. Conversely, I would ask the other side of the discussion, the counterpart in the discussion, "Look, we're going to go through this. We're going to try to discover the truth. What is our motivation behind all this? And let's try to be as objective as possible." It's not possible to remove all bias, but as much as possible.

So, with that having been said, we're closing in on the time together we have for this episode. I'd love for you to join me for another one.

Greg Koukl: Oh, absolutely.

Abdu Murray: Great. Great. Well, what I'd like to do then is just give a teaser for what's new in this particular edition of the book, and then on a second episode, or a second part of this two parts series that we got going on here, I would love to get into the meat of it and to make the analogies to what the legal case or the legal application would be for our listeners.

So, as we wrap up this first one, and we can take a few minutes to do that, what's new in the 10th anniversary edition that wasn't in the 2009 edition? And give me some examples, if you could, and then we'll wrap it up and then we'll come back.

Greg Koukl: Sure. To put it in simple raw facts, there is 40% more material in the second edition than in the first edition. Those who have the first edition benefited from it, and I'm glad that they did, but I also appreciate your recommendation to your audience, Abdu, that if they already have the first edition, they need to get this one because they're going to miss so much.

And what has happened in the last ten years, a couple of things have happened. One, is the things that I had written about already, I learned better ways to communicate it; new illustrations, new examples, things that I encountered that I can put in, developing and expanding more on the concept of gardening and harvesting, for example, at the beginning and the introduction of the book, stretching some things out. And there were some chapters that I had so much extra I wanted to add to, I actually had to break it up into more chapters. I think that the original book was something like 14 chapters, and I'm just looking at it right now, the new book is nineteen. So, there are five new chapters, and they include all new material. There's almost twice as many tactics in the new edition as in the first edition.

And one of those tactics is called “inside out.” There's a whole chapter given to that. It is exceptionally powerful, and maybe we can talk about it in the next broadcast. I also have another chapter on what I call mini tactics. They're maneuvers that are pretty easy to describe in four or five paragraphs and get some illustrations on, so they don't take a whole chapter, but they are very, very helpful. Things like what I call, what a friend we have in Jesus. That's the name of a tactic. Or sticks and stones, or the power of so, the word S-O with a question mark. So? So, those are all new things that are added to the new edition. Plus I think I've become a better writer in ten years, so I think the overall quality of the book is better too.

So, I highly recommend people grab this because they're going to find the safest way possible for them to engage other people, even hostile critics, with the claims of Christ and with the gospel. There is no safer way to do this, and I actually think no more productive approach to get through the minefields that you often encounter when you talk about Christ with a hostile audience.

Abdu Murray: Indeed. And you talk about the raw facts at the very differences and the 40% more content, I have my first edition and then my second edition stacked up next to each other, and you can see the obvious difference. And it's not because you got more verbose, it's because there's actually a lot more good content in here.

Greg Koukl: Right.

Abdu Murray: So, when we return, I want to address content-specifically, so that we can actually apply it in a way that shows that you have these conversations in an engaging way that gets at the truth. It doesn't get at a victory in the vanquishing someone’s sense, but it gets at a victory in the sense that the truth comes out or at least-

Greg Koukl: That's a great distinction, by the way.

Abdu Murray: Yeah. Well, my guest has been Greg Koukl with Stand to Reason. He's the author of the book we're talking about today, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition. I highly recommend it.

In fact, you already know that I do, because if you've heard me live more than once, you've likely heard me say, "By the way, pick up this book," and many of you have asked me, "How do you spell Greg's last name?" And I say, "K-O-U-K-L." Get the book: Tactics. It is good training. In fact, I know that if I had a younger lawyer and I said, "If you want to know how to have a conversation with somebody, how to take a deposition, there's a lot of great books written by great lawyers." I would recommend Tactics even to a lawyer and say, "You know what? I don't necessarily need you to become a Christian to read this thing, I want to tell you this is how you ask questions. This is a way to understand the assumptions people are making, to uncover the assumptions people are making in giving their case," by the way, which is, ironically, an evangelism tactic to give your book out.

Anyway. My guest has been Greg Koukl. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I do recommend his book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. He's going to be back for another episode. We'll pick up the discussion at the specifics of what the tactics actually are, how they do analogize themselves well to a Christian lawyer's perspective and how we can actually subject things to scrutiny. So, stay tuned for the next episode. So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm Abdu Murray, and until next time, the defense rests.

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