Interview with Greg Koukl: Part 2

Jul 13, 2020

In part two of this two-part interview, 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.

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Abdu Murray: All rise and welcome to another edition of Defense Rests. This is a podcast where we take a look at the claims for and the objections against the Christian faith from a legal perspective. That is to say that we take a look at what is the evidence and the arguments in favor of Christianity and subject those arguments and that evidence to the codes of the scrutiny that they would get in a trial situation. Looking at the rules of evidence, looking at the rules of trial procedure, the way judges think and the way they rule on objections, the way juries think and the way they are called upon whether it's through jury instructions or just the way juries think to decide the cases that they decide. How do they look and see if a witness is credible or not? But we don't just subject Christianity to that kind of scrutiny, we subject to the objections and the other non-Christian worldviews to that same level of scrutiny because we're in a search for truth. And ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a jury is about getting at the truth. It's not about having a predetermined look and say, "I'm going to only admit in my mind certain kinds of evidence or certain kinds of conclusions." A good jury is a jury that is open to all the evidence and all of the arguments.

Now, I'm a Christian and I wasn't always a Christian. I subjected the Christian faith to an unhealthy, maybe even an unfair, level of scrutiny during my journey. But at some point I began to see that I was being biased and I needed to take a look at it from an objective standpoint. I did want to scrutinize it. I thought it was the kind of worldview that could take the scrutiny. It was worth scrutinizing. And if it was true, it would come out on the other side as more probable than not, or even bearing the burden of being beyond reasonable doubt of being true. And I found that to be the case.

And so this podcast is an effort to do the same thing, to take a look at the Christian claims and the non-Christian claims, put it to the kind of scrutiny that I put it to and see what comes out the other side. Now, my guest for part two of this series I have with Greg Koukl...My guest is Greg Koukl from Stand To Reason. Greg is not a lawyer himself, but he thinks like one. And in fact in an offline discussion we had, he had spent some time at a pre law program at Michigan State University. I think it was where he did some studying in this area.

And he would have made a fine lawyer because we are discussing today, during the course of our episode here with you, Tactics, his book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. It is an updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition. The first edition came out in 2009. It has 40% more content now with updated illustrations, some polished up pros to use Greg's own analysis and some great stuff, including more tactics. Now, the reason why, folks, if you haven't heard the first part of the series we have with Greg, I urge you to go and look at the previous episode, well, give it a listen so that you get the context of what we're talking about. The reason why I wanted to have Greg on the show and speak about tactics is, this is the kind of book that is, in a Christian context, almost a play by play kind of a thing you would give to a new young lawyer on how to take depositions, how to interview witnesses, how to get at the truth during conversations.

And that's the bulk of how lawyers come to the conclusions they come to, or how they prepare their cases to present to a jury, or even when they present the case to the jury through witnesses at the actual trial is you use certain tactics, try to get at the truth, try to understand what the case actually is. A good scrupulous lawyer doesn't just try to bend the truth to their story but conforms their story to the truth and then presents it in the most compelling way possible. And this book, Tactics, is a good example of how to do this. I said it in the previous episode, but I think it's worth saying again, is that I recommended this book, Greg's book, numerous times at open forums that I've been a part of where people have asked me, how do I have a discussion with my agnostic friend, my atheist friend, my Muslim friend, my deist friend, whatever it might be. How do I have a conversation with somebody?

Or even more importantly, people have asked me, how do I have a conversation with a friend of mine who knows so much more about X, whether it's science or literature or history than I do. And they're running me in circles. Should I stop the conversation? What should I do? And I always say, "Go pick up Greg Koukl's book, Tactics, because it helps you to have meaningful conversations in a way that edifies you and the person you're talking with." Thanks for coming back, Greg, for the second installment.

Greg Koukl: Well, Abdu, I'm really glad to be back because the last one was too short.

Abdu Murray: They always are, aren't they?

Greg Koukl: Yeah, there was so much more we could have said. And I'm looking forward to getting back into it with you.

Abdu Murray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I am too. And to set the context, I want to get right into it because there's so many tactics that you teach us how to employ in our conversations. I don't want to get right into it, but let me just for the listeners once again just remind those who heard the last episode if you didn't go back and do so, but if you're here listening to the first time, the context with our discussion was the discovery process. In any case, at the civil case, you engage in the criminal cases too, but you engage in the discovery process, which is a time in which the parties in the lawsuit try to find out from each other, looking at documents, interviewing witnesses, and taking depositions what the facts actually are, what the arguments of the other side actually are, how you can test those, you can prod, you can poke, you can see where the weaknesses are, where the strengths actually are.

And then you formulate your strategy of the case all along the ways. But in order to get there, you have to use certain tactics. So a deposition is a setting where you sit down, one lawyer sits down across the table from a witness, and there's sometimes another lawyer on the other side who defends that deposition and the lawyer presents documents, asks the witness about those documents, asks the witness what they saw, what they heard, what their conclusions are, how they came to those conclusions, tests the assumptions, those conclusions, especially if the witness is an expert, and tries to find out the truth. And Tactics is a good way for us to actually get there.

I want to go right into it because one of your most well-known tactics is the Columbo tactic. Describe to us what the Columbo tactic is, why you called it that. Then we'll put it in the context of a deposition.

Greg Koukl: Well, Columbo was a TV guy from about four decades ago. But I have not been in a country where I have to talk the Tactics material and there haven't been people who knew who Columbo was. Now, I know the younger generation isn't so hipped to Columbo nowadays, but still a lot of them know who he is because he's so iconic. He's the guy who shows up at the crime scene and he's a murder detective. So there's always a body there at the crime scene. He shows up in this rumpled trench coat and a stump of a cigar, and he's all disheveled, and he's mumbling to himself and walking around scratching his head. And this guy doesn't look like he can think his way out of a wet paper bag. He's stupid. But he's stupid like a fox because he has a plan.

And at some point, he's going to pause and scratches for a bow and say something like this, "I don't know. There's something about this thing that bothers me," in his own way. Peter Falk is the actor. Actually, I don't do a very good voice, but it's very convincing if I'm on a stage with my trench coat and a cigar, or I still have a cigar by hand, but you get the point. And he asks, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" And he asks a very simple question. And then..."Well, you're very intelligent. Thank you. One more thing..." And then one more thing turns to death with question, after question, after question now. Now, the key to the Columbo tactic is that the Christian goes on the offensive in an inoffensive way. There's a really important part here. In an inoffensive way with carefully selected questions that advanced the conversation.

Now, notice I'm not saying that wins your point. Long-term, you're looking for something like that. But we talked last time how we're just going to do some gardening, to use one metaphor. We're not going to do the harvesting. We're going to worry about gardening. And to mix the metaphors, we're going to try to put a stone in somebody's shoe. We're just going to try to get them thinking. What I like about Columbo is that Columbo seems harmless. People don't take him seriously because he doesn't come across overly aggressive. And we're going to use a game plan that is the absolute safest way to engage anyone in a conversation about controversial issues. I'm just saying that because I've looked at lots of ways and there is nothing comes close to the amount of safety you get using this approach. And it's a question-asking approach, and it has three steps to it.

And the first step is part of what you've described, especially in the last episode, as part of the essential part of the discovery process. You'll want to figure out the lay of the land, what the witness knows, what actually took place. The way I label that in the game plan is I say the first step of the game plan is simply to gather information. Now, let me make a clarification here, Abdu, because I want to drive home a point that gets missed. That is, we are not thinking about the end game. We are not thinking about winning that person to Christ. Just like a sports team goes on the field to play the Super Bowl, they're not thinking about what's going to happen when the clock runs out. They're thinking about executing the play in front of them well.

And if they do that, then they execute the next play, and the next play. And if you keep executing plays well, the end takes care of itself. So I don't want Christians to worry about leading this person to Christ. I want them, when they start out, simply to get in an attitude of discovery. What's the lay of the land. In most cases when we're talking to people, we have almost no idea about where that person is, what that person believes, why they believe it, what their convictions happen to be, what experiences good or bad they've had with Christians or the gospel. This is all really important information that we need to have in place for us to decide where to go next. You've explained in your process of discovery that when you get this information, you might get information that you didn't know was out there. Okay. Well, that's valuable for you. You might get information that maybe shows a misunderstanding that somebody hears you or the person you're deposing.

Now you've...Okay. Now you know this is something that's got to be corrected. You may get information that reveals a weakness or a flaw in the other person's view. And I guarantee as an attorney, you're making a mental note of that. All the while you are not making your case. You're not trying to make your point...That's the time for the trial. You're not just getting all the information on the table. Now, let me emphasize how important this is for a Christian in an engagement with a nonbeliever, somebody who doesn't share their convictions. That is already a potentially hostile circumstance, which is why a lot of Christians don't want to do this. They said, "I'm not going to get in a fight. I'm going to sit on the bench. I'm not going to do what really we need to do as followers of Christ, and that's proclaim the gospel in some sense."

Since they're frightened of this, this is why I want them to see that the approach I'm suggesting takes a lot of the angst out of it. First of all, we're not going to try to win this person to Christ. I know for some people this sounds like an earth mat. Think about Jesus in the gospels. He didn't try to win everybody to Christ in the moment. He was doing a lot of what I call “gardening.” He was plowing. He's tilling, he's watering, he's pulling weeds, he's annoying people, he's given him the bad news without the good news, many times. So the bad news sits there and does its work on the people before the good news can really seem good.

This is what I'm suggesting that we think about out of the gate. We're just going to get the lay of the land. We're going to find out what a person believes, what they mean by what they say. And in fact, that's the opening question. Some form of the question, what do you mean by that? And it can be very all kinds of different ways that this could be used, and I described different ways in the book. But this is particularly true and you would ask me about some clarity on terms in the first broadcast about the difference between strategy and tactics. And the clarity on terms applies in our conversations with other people. And then here's the key that I think a lot of Christians don't understand. It is very easy for us to think that the person who's challenging us has got all the goods. They've got all the understanding on their side. They're convinced to their view for good reasons. Now they are convinced of their view much of the time, but not for good reasons as you know.

Abdu Murray: You've engaged enough to see this.

Greg Koukl: And so when you start asking for more clarity, and that's what we're here in the very first stage, we're getting the lay of the land. Well, what do you mean by that? Help me understand this. You say everything's relative. What do you mean by relative? What do you mean by everything? You say you're an atheist. What kind of atheist are you? Are you a materialist atheist? Are you a more of relativist atheist? Are you a more of objectivist atheist? There's different ways to go with it. And we don't know what their view is. Let them talk, biggest thing, which is why this is a safe thing for us because we're letting them talk. And every time they offer a statement with more ambiguity or some ambiguity, we're going to ask for more clarification.

This provides us with tremendous safety. This means that we aren't doing the preaching. They're doing the talking. They like that. There's no pressure on us. It gives us time to think about where we might go in the future, or maybe we realized, well, this isn't going anywhere. I personally don't think I'll do that. Every conversation is a divine appointment. Some are, some aren't. And as you probe a little bit with some questions without creating any trouble, just getting some more information, you're not bruising the fruit. You may realize this isn't good timing for this and then simply let it go, let the conversation die a natural death.

But one thing you may find out, and this is what is so sweet about this approach, Christians, especially the aggressive ones saying, "Wow, and I move on and really pound this guy and show him where he's wrong or whatever," you will be amazed at how much progress you can make just by asking a person to clarify his view. And I know you stood in front of a lot of college audiences, Abdu, and I know you'd take questions. And I know that you've used this technique because people say things that sound convincing because of ambiguities. And the minute they are asked, requested, to clarify some aspects, "Oh, well, I'm a little confused about this. And so you mean what about this particular thing? Help me out here." And then they try to clarify it. They realize they haven't thought very carefully about their own view. And that alone could be a stone in their shoe.

Abdu Murray: Well, it's interesting you say this because one of the first things that I think rookie lawyers do and make a mistake about is when they're taking a deposition, for example, they want to get at certain...they have their outline, they have their documents, and they just stick to what's in front of them unlike, "Okay, I want to get through these questions. I want to get him to say this and this. And if he says this, is it helps my case. If he doesn't say it, it hurts my case." And what they try to do is that you interrupt a witness in the middle of them saying something. Like they can say, "We only have seven hours to be sitting here," or whatever it might be. And there are time limits sometimes in certain cases where depositions are what they are.

But the reality is that the surest way to lose a deposition is to try to win one. Because you're not letting the facts come out. You're just interrupting the witness. And then they end up seeing where you're going and they start to play this chess game with you. And before you know it, four hours have gone by and you haven't gotten to the heart of anything, whereas what a good lawyer will tell you is oftentimes just let them talk. And it's interesting because I remember there was one specific instance where I had an expert witness on the other side of a deposition and I had gotten informed first. I had my own expert witness in that field who told me here's the terminology they're going to use, here's the kind of thing that this is their assessment, I think here are the assumptions they've made. And I said, "Okay, I'm going to ask them these questions. What do you think?"

Greg Koukl: You did your homework, in other words?

Abdu Murray: Absolutely. And you have to do that. You really do. You can use questions even when you're cornered and you haven't done every last T crossed and I dotted, but it's a good idea to cross as many T’s and as many I’s as you can. Well, it was more of a not play stupid, but asking the guy to give me an entire, I think it was an appraisal, a professional appraisal of a certain kind of item of property. And I didn't know much about it to begin with, but my expert had helped me out. And I was asking him how he goes about his process to get him to basically tell me I wanted to know how he came to his conclusions and what he meant by this phrase or this phrase.

But at one point, his lawyer objected and said, "This is not a lesson for you. You're not supposed to get educated on this issue." Like, "Actually, this is exactly what this is. It's that exact time for me to get educated on what your witness thinks of these issues. It's exactly that time. Let me keep asking my questions, if you don't mind." Well, I knew what he was talking about. At one point, though, I was seeing if what he was saying was going to allow me to ask the next question, which was going to be my, "If all you said is true, well, wouldn't this also be true?" But if he didn't give me the information, I wasn't going to force that question into the conversation because it would be counterproductive. But I think that' the heart of what Columbo was about, is getting information so you know how to continue the conversation.

One of the things that I heard and I thought was such a wonderful way to put it is that the biggest myth about communication is the belief that it has occurred. And the other thing that I thought about was, oftentimes Christians, and anybody, human beings, we listen to respond, but not to understand. And I think if we'd listen to understand and then informatively and winsomely respond, that's the harder of it.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. And this is so key to the first question, listening to understand. And I want to emphasize that this will take pressure off of Christians, because if you're listening to respond, it presumes that you think you know how to respond. So you have some information that you're going to employ in this circumstance. A lot of what I'm trying to do is encourage Christians who are not adept at this stuff. They're not philosophers or theologians or apologists. They have maybe a little bit here, a little bit there, and they're on the bench. And I want them to get into play by using the game plan, which at least initially doesn't require that they know a lot of information. Now, I wanted to go back to something you said about your expert witness. And I said, so you were prepared. You said, you got to be prepared. And I want to clarify, I think you have to be prepared when you're dealing with a specialist like an expert witness. Okay?

Abdu Murray: Yeah.

Greg Koukl: But generally speaking, when you're getting into initial conversations, you don't know what you're dealing with. And general questions are part of the process of getting the lay of the land. So we have an idea where to go. Now, if you find out you're out of your depth with the expert witness, well, then you can ask your questions to get the information and say, "Okay, I want to think about that." Then you can go home and get prepared on that issue that was discussed there. And I have a whole section in the book on what I call “getting out of the hot seat.” When you find that you're a newbie and you're out of your depth with regards to the content, then you go back, now you know what you have to follow up on. And I tell some very simple techniques in the conversation to allow you to get the information you need to from the person who knows a thing or two, and then how you can go back and resolve that.

But in a certain sense, your first question is attempting to gather that critical information that you need to know. You're actually doing your homework in the process of asking your initial questions. To give you an idea about how important this is, Abdu, in not jumping in for the kill, so to speak. I was sitting next to a guy on an airplane. His name was John. And I can't remember to be honest how we got into a conversation of spiritual things. I was reading my Bible as we were taking off, kind of thing. And maybe he saw that, maybe he asked me where I was going. But at some point he told me, he says, "Well, I'm not a Christian and I don't know anybody who is."

Now, I think that' that a valuable piece of information? Yeah, that's valuable. Okay. But that might be the cue for some people to jump, "Oh, great. Well, let me tell you how you can become a Christian and why you need to become one. Okay?" But I didn't do that. I listened as he continued to talk. And then he said, "I used to be a Christian, but I'm not anymore." Oh, is that important information?

Abdu Murray: Of course.

Greg Koukl: Yes. And then he said, "Well, actually I used to be a preacher's kid." Huh? I said, "How did you used to be a preacher's kid? Did your dad die?" He said, "No, no, my dad didn't die. Just my dad's no longer a preacher anymore. In fact, my dad's not even a Christian anymore."

Abdu Murray: Valuable information.

Greg Koukl: Wow. Holy smokes. Do you think there's any baggage sitting here next to me on the airplane? Can you imagine if I had jumped into my simple gospel presentation and tried to move towards the close when I just had the first bit of information that he wasn't a believer? He would have said, "Yeah, been there, done that and it hurt." But as it turned out, because I simply listened and asked appropriate information-gathering questions as he talked, I was able to get his whole story and it changed the whole dynamic of the conversation. And at one point he said, "People like you." "People like me. Why?" Like, "You Christians. People like you would be really angry at what I have said so far, but you're not angry at me. And I appreciate that." Now, let me ask you, do you think that just the fact that I was a polite Christians, not defensive, reasonably intelligent-sounding that is listening to this person express his woes, it is experienced with Christians. Do you think that all by itself might have put a small stone in his shoe?

Abdu Murray: It's small and maybe even large, because I've had the exact same experience where someone has told me something similar too. "I was expecting a lot more fire and brimstone in response to what I just said." And if you just listen, oftentimes just the sheer fact of listening is so critical and key. I won't give the details of this conversation, but I was channeling my inner, Greg, when I was having this conversation with these people. It was a couple, and they said that they believed in God, but they didn't necessarily believe in Jesus. And the woman said, basically, "Why do we need Jesus on the cross? Can't I be good enough on my own?" I asked her some questions like, "What do you mean good enough? For what exactly?"

And we were talking about that and it was interesting because over the course of asking some questions, without even making a statement, her husband looked at her and said, "I once heard a pastor say that our relationship with our earthly father has a lot to do with our relationship with our heavenly Father. And your father never told you he loved you unless you accomplished some major feat." And I simply use that and I said, "Well, wait a second. Can I ask you a question? Is it possible that the reason you don't want to rely on what Jesus did for you and rely on yourself is that you've always felt you had to earn your earthly father's love and therefore you deserve your heavenly Father's love?" Her words exactly, and I hate to say it this way, but this is what she said, "Oh my God, that's it."

And then what was the beauty of...the beauty of it, Greg, was her husband said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. My dad was such a good provider, but he never hugged me. And he never told me he loved me. Maybe that's why I think of God as this impersonal being like the New Agers or like the Hindus believe. Maybe that's why. May God deliver us eventually."

Greg Koukl: Yeah. There's a temptation that they care. Guys like you and I, Abdu, we like to talk. It's like, "Wait a minute. You guys are going too far without my help. Let me check in here." But of course that's the beauty of this approach. And that's why I call it a safer approach. Because as you're probing graciously and genuinely inquisitively about the circumstances of the other person, all kinds of things are going to happen. I've never heard the story you just told, but I have similar ones myself. And I tried to convince my audience of Christians that even, if you just stick with the very first opening move of the game plan, using questions, especially “what do you mean by that?”, to gather information, you will be amazed at how the Holy spirit will move in the lives of the people and make a difference. And I've seen it time and time again. Yours is just a classic illustration of that kind of thing.

Abdu Murray: Well, they're eventually evangelizing themselves and I got to watch it. I have no further questions, your honor. Well, I want to move on to the second steps of Columbo. Because obviously the “what do you mean,” and getting clarity, is super important. But the next tactic, or the next part I should say, of this tactic, of the game plan, right, is it involves...the third part involves some burden shifting and getting at the heart of why someone knows what they know. Go ahead and explain that for us.

Greg Koukl: I suspect you addressed this in general in the past on your podcast, but also I'll give it the short trip because it's easy to understand. What happens frequently in conversations between Christians and non-Christians is the non-Christian makes a claim there is no God, for example. And then the Christian thinks it's his or her job to refute the challenge instead of first it being the challenger's job to defend it. This is the issue of burden of proof, who bears the burden of proof in that situation. And the rule is the person who makes the claim bears the burden. Of course, we understand this in American jurisprudence, or maybe all jurisprudence, that characteristically, the burden of proof is on the accuser.

So if the attorney general or the local prosecute attorney knocks on your door and says, "You robbed a bank," you get to say to them, "Prove it." It's not your job to prove that you didn't, it's their job to prove that you did. And the way this worked out in conversations, Abdu, is that we don't want to let the other person have a free ride. The minute we absorb the burden of proof for the claim that they've made, we've given them a free ride. And a lot of times what others will do, and this is by the way completely understandable, they'll say, well, with regards to a concern or some issue at stake in the spiritual discussion, they might say, "Well, I could explain that." For example, we might point to the design features of the universe as evidence of a designer. And there are lots of variations of this argument. And I'm sure many of your listeners aren't aware of it.

And somebody who's an atheist might say, "Well, I could explain that." And then there's this multi-verse theory. And he might offer that. The temptation then when they say, "I explain that," and then they give the alternative is to try to disprove the alternative instead of once we get clear on the details of the alternative. And that's where our first question comes in, “Can you help me understand. What do you mean by that?” That's, “spell it out for me.” The temptation is for us to disprove it instead of asking this question, “How did you come to that conclusion? Or why do you think that is a better explanation than the one that I've given you? Or something like that? These are model questions. There's lots of ways to use them.

Notice in the first step, we are gathering information, particularly what their view happens to be with some clarity, then we're not challenging yet. Now we get a different kind of information. We are trying to figure out why it is that they believe what they just said they believe. What are the reasons for it. Now I'll tell you a secret about this, both questions, by the way. And you're going to...I've frequently noted that when I ask people, “What do you mean by that,” or “How did you come to that conclusion,” or some variation of those questions, I get, what I call it, here's a 60s alert, “a warning.” I'm an old guy, right? I get what I called the Simon and Garfunkel response. Remember, those guys wrote this song back to 1966 called “The Sounds of Silence?”

You could ask them what they mean by that or how they came to that conclusion and you get dead air. They don't know what to say. They don't know how to explain what they mean. And they don't know the reason. They can't say. It's amazing how often that happens, because it's clear they have not thought through their view enough to speak it clearly, explain it clearly, or to give reasons for it. They have absorbed the view from their culture. They have been socialized to say these things.

And it's our job as Christians just to get them to clarify. And when they stand there mute, it's not our purpose or desire to embarrass them, even though it may be a little embarrassing. It's our desire to get more information and maybe show them that they don't have a view that's very clear or that they could defend. And that's another opportunity for a stone in the shoe. And notice, by the way, these first two steps, what am I doing? I'm relaxed. I'm just listening. I'm not talking, I'm not preaching, I'm listening so I can ask more questions to get more clarification. And the other person is doing all the work. And that's exactly the way I like it. No fighting either. No fighting, no arguments. Nobody's got their lines drawn in the sand. No defending turf. We're not fighting. That's great.

Abdu Murray: Yeah. It's funny because I used to have an objection when I wasn't a Christian. And now that I get it, now that I am a Christian, it's oftentimes you have to resist the temptation to want to respond in a certain way. And I had a whole show on burdens of proof. And some of the nuances because in the legal sphere too, burdens of proof do shift in the middle of a case. The overall burden still exists. For example, for the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Or in a civil case, if you're the plaintiff, it's your burden to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence or whatever it might be. But sometimes with affirmative defenses or other things, burdens do shift, but the ultimate burden still weighs on the one making the claim. Because people do make claims in their defense and they have to prove that.

But the classic example that I have is when a Muslim, for example, or even an atheist would say, "Well, the Bible has been changed. It's been changed over time so many different times in so many different ways. It's been translated and retranslated that we can't trust it today." Well, the instinct the Christian has is to go into there because if they know their stuff to land into the Bibliographical test, and the archeological evidence, and all these various things. It is, and it's got its place. But oftentimes we can just sit back and say exactly what you said, “What do you mean by changed? How does translation mean corruption? And by the way, if it's been changed, when? Where? Who did it?”

Greg Koukl: It's so funny you use this illustration, because I was thinking of the same thing of our mutual friends, David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi, who's not with us anymore. But David was a principle in bringing Nabeel, the Muslim, to Christ. And when Nabeel said to him, and they're kind of their opening shot across the bow of their two or three year conversation about this, and Nabeel saw David reading the Bible, he said, "You know that book has been corrupted."

And according to David, the first thing he said was, "Go on. All right, tell me more." And then as he gave this standard objection of Muslims to the Bible, he said, "Okay, what parts were corrupted? When were they corrupted? Is there any parts that are not corrupted?" These kinds of questions. And Nabeel told me, he said he was stopped in his tracks because nobody had ever asked him those clarification questions that are completely consistent with the game plan I'm describing. Now, David at the time didn't know the game plan. I hadn't even written the book I think, when that happened. But he was using the same technique and it's an excellent example of what we're talking about.

Abdu Murray: Absolutely. And it goes back to that burden shifting, or actually burdened placing. It's the right place, put it on the right place. And it also gets, like you said, gets people to realize whether they have or have not asked you thought through their view, whether it is parroting something somebody else said. And I've found this to be the case of various worldviews, whether it's atheist, whether it's Muslims, whether it' name it. People will often just tell you what they've heard other people say. And then when you ask them, "Well, how do you know that?”, they're embarrassed to say, "Well, I heard someone say it." Which by the way, it's also a wakeup call to us, to Christians, as well, is don't just parrot what you hear people say. If you make a claim, please make sure that you can back it up. Because if they asked you the question, how do you know? You'd better be able to answer that.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. These questions could be asked from the other side too. And I have a whole section in the book called “turnabout.” That's one of the new chapters where I expand some paragraphs I wrote in the first book into a whole chapter because the tactic of using questions can be used against the Christian as well. And in fact, there's an atheist in Portland, Oregon at Portland State University, Peter Boghossian, who has written A Manual for Creating Atheists. I'm looking over my shoulder here. I think the...Yeah, A Manual for Creating... I'm looking at my bookshelf here, A Manual for Creating Atheists. And basically he uses the same approach I'm suggesting to upend the confidence that Christians have and their own convictions about the existence of God. It's amazing. It's like a tactics manual for atheists.

But the same principles apply. And so we need to look at, if people...I don't think we should be afraid if people ask us, “What do you mean by that, or how did you come to that conclusion,” which is the first two steps of the game plan, because we ought to know what we mean by it. And we ought to know the reasons why we believe what we believe. And that's why if somebody ever asks me those questions, I'll say, "Hey, sit down, let's talk. I got a lot to say." But there are other ways questions can be used in an abusive fashion that we need to guard against, but I'm just underscoring your point that we need to know the answers to our own view.

Abdu Murray: Absolutely. Let me go on that real quick because part of the role of a lawyer in a deposition is when you're defending a deposition, which means that you're have your witness there. They have to answer the questions, but it's your job as a lawyer to make sure unfair questions aren't asked. But also to guide your witness into the tactics some other lawyer will use and being careful, making sure you say, "Okay. I want you to say the truth.” You don't have to volunteer a thousand bits of information, answer the question I have to ask to be asked of you. Don't volunteer more than you have to, but understand that this is not the kind of person who wants to find out everything. Just sometimes they do want to get you in a “gotcha." Because part of the deposition is to lock in a witness so you can use their words against them.

But one of the things I tell my witnesses...I've told them in the past is, "Look, a lawyer is going to ask you a question and answer his questions, truthfully, honestly, in the best of your knowledge. However, sometimes they'll ask you a question like this, and they'll ask you a series of yes or no questions, or fact based questions like, well, what happened? What did you say? What did she say? What happened when this happened? And all that." And then they're going to ask you a summarization question. And they're going to say, "So, Mr. Witness, is it fair to say..." Then they're going to summarize everything they did that you just said in a way that's more favorable to them than it is to you.

Now, my caution to you is answer it as you deem fit, except to say this. Understand he's not asking that in a way that's friendly to you. He's asking it in a way that's trying to trap you so that you will be forced to agree with him later at trial. You can do is say, "How I would put it is," and then say it the way you would say it. Don't say, "Yes, that's fair." Because then they're going to use that question in a way you didn't mean to say. Say, "No, I would say it this way." Now, a question I would have for you though, Greg, is that that's an adversarial situation. In this kind of conversational situation, we have a similar dynamic, but would it be fair for a Christian to use leading questions as part of the Columbo but then try to ward them off when they ask them as well? How do you respond?

Greg Koukl: I do think it is fair. Usually leading questions in a legal context are not legitimate because you are suggesting to the witness what they are supposed to say. And you're going to get cut off with an objection there if that person's counsel's good.

Abdu Murray: Maybe in certain circumstances, but on our circumstance it's not.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. But it's not as strict here on our situation. And as long as we're good-hearted about it, and really on our side trying to get to the truth of the matter, then I think that's legitimate. And there's the sense in which we can...And this is the third use of Columbo. And that is you'll use...first, you use questions to gather information. Second step is use a question to reverse the burden of proof. Now the third one, you're going to go in a little sense on the offensive, and you're going to try to make a point. And you're going to make...Maybe the point is that there's something wrong with their point of view or that there's an error, or a flaw, or something like that. Or maybe the point you're going to make is your own point of view, but you're going to try to use questions to do it.

Now, there are lots of ways to do what I describe in the book. But what you're asking about right now is what happens when they try to do that to us, I think. And how do we protect ourselves from that? And here's a real important principle. There's three different ways I talk about in the book, that people can illicitly use questions against you. But here's the principle overriding it that I want your listeners to hear. You are in charge and in complete control of your own side of the conversation. Let me just say that again. You are in charge and in complete control of your own side of the conversation.

Now, that's not entirely true in a deposition case because you're under oath and there's other legal considerations. You can't just say, "I'm not going to answer that or whatever." But you can do that in a conversation. And when you sense that a question is being asked to you in a elicit fashion, then you have the right to pause and even to say, "Well, okay. I'm going to have to think about that question before I answer it because there's a lot of things that may be involved in that." And that's all. You can beg off if you want.

I want to give Christians the confidence to be able to say to the non-Christian who is pressing them with what they might think as a manipulative, inappropriately leading question to simply say, "I'm just going to have to think about that," or, "I'm not going to answer that question right now," because I think it's secure. However you want to say it, you can just say no in a polite way.

But here are three kinds of questions you want to beware of. One of them is a loaded question. I'm just going to call it a loaded question. And I talk about when I was on a national TV debate with Deepak Chopra who's the leading New Age guru in the world and we had already talked about the gospel a little bit and that issue came up. And what Deepak said to me is he said, "You're saying that people who don't believe just like you are going to hell?" So there's a question.

Now, what am I going to say? Okay. If I answer his question straight out, and we do believe that Jesus is the only way, then I'm going to sound like a narrow-minded nasty person. And that's because of the way he put his question. So this is a loaded question. Now, what I might have done, I took a different tack in this case. I parried the question. I said, "Look it, I'm not talking about that right now. Right now I'm making a different point." So he brought up the question to get off of a line of reasoning that I was pursuing that was not favorable to him. And right away, he's playing the rhetoric. He's playing the gamesmanship. He's trying to make me look bad before his audience. And I just parried that.

And like I said earlier, we're in complete control of our side of the conversation. I said, "That's not the point I'm making right now, Dr. Chopra. I'm making a different point." Notice I didn't deny it. And I didn't agree with it. I just parried it. Because it was a loaded question. I might've said, well, when you say believe just like you do, what do you mean by that particular phrase? Now that would be the first step of the Columbo clarifying because it a lot more makes it sound like if you don't believe everything just like I do, I'm right, you're wrong and everything I believe, and you're going to hell and I'm glad you're going there. That's what I do.

Now, the second type of a question is a manipulative question. I'll just call it a manipulative question. And oftentimes these are what is known in logic as complex questions. That is, they're asked two questions at the same time, or maybe deal with two things. Somebody says to you, "Are you still be beating your wife?" Well, that assumes you're beating your wife and then ask you, are you still doing it? Now you're stuck. And this is the case where, oh, that's a trick question. And an abusive one. It's...

Abdu Murray: It's more argumentative. In court you'll say “Objection! Argumentative.”

Greg Koukl: Yes. They're argumentative, or maybe unclear, or...For example, when people say, "Who created God?" That is actually a complex question because the question presumes God was created, which isn't our view and then asked us who did that thing. And a lot of Christians are stumped by that. Especially if they're arguing for the existence of God based on the existence of the universe, a cosmological kind of argument, they get hit with that. And really smart people ask that question. People who ought to know better. People who have PhDs in philosophy ask that kind of question. But that's when you say, "Well, wait a minute. Hold on. There's two things going on here." When you...Here's the question I would ask that person. What are you assuming when you ask that question?

And a lot of times they don't even know what they're assuming, but notice how I'm stopping the process. I'm stopping the flow and I'm asking for clarification so the momentum doesn't keep going. That's what they're trying to create, momentum against me. I'm pausing it. And by the way, this is all described in the book, in the chapter “Turnabout.” Sometimes there are hypotheticals that, well, what if this? If there were no hell would you still be a Christian? An atheist asked me that on the radio. Hypotheticals, these are like objection speculative kind of thing. And what they're trying to point out is that you are just a Christian to avoid and escape hell. And that's not our view, but you're forced down that road against your will by the way the question is being asked. That's the second kind of question to be careful of.

The third one very simply is where statements are put into question form. “Who are you to stay? Who are you to judge?” Well, that's a question form, but it's really a statement. You're not the person to judge. You don't get to say is what they're really saying.

Abdu Murray: I would say “Objection!” to the form of the question because it is not a question. It's a statement in form of a question. And that lawyers are not allowed to testify.

Greg Koukl: Yes. Right. Okay. That's great. That's right. What I always say there at that point, and this is all in the chapter is, “I'm confused by your question because it doesn't sound like you're asking a question. It sounds like you're making a point. What is the point you're trying to make?” Notice that's another question back to them and I'm controlling my contribution. I'm not going to answer that until they clear up for me what it is they're getting at. Now, if they put it in a statement form, well, no one gets to say, or no one knows the truth of that matter. Well, now I've got a claim that they first made that I can deal with because I'm going to ask them, "Well, why would you think nobody has the truth of that point?" Notice how we just changed the dynamic. I got back in the driver's seat by pairing an unfair question and making a legitimate request. Why don't you put your statement in the form of a statement rather than hiding it behind a question mark?

Abdu Murray: Absolutely. That goes right back to once they make this statement, now it goes back to the part two where it's putting the burden back on the person who makes the claim. Because oftentimes we're going to hide our burdens by not actually making claims but making questions, but they really are clear. In the few minutes we have remaining, I think we'll talk about some of the new stuff that's in the book. Let me go to one specific line. And there's so many good ones too. The power of so is sort of we've alluded to it a little bit here. It's like you make a claim and I really agree with you and that kind of thing. But obviously you mentioned in the first broadcast another one of the tactics, which is the “Inside Out.” But what I want to go to, and that one's valuable because that one speaks to you, and again it's briefly mentioned it. And then I want to ask you about one specifically, because it pertains to illegal way to think about things.

The Inside Out one often talks about the things we all know, the things we have in common. And what this goes to is a method of actually asking people questions and getting into conversation that really gets to the heart of why people either avoid the issues or they object or whatever it might be. And it appeals to a common ground as it were. But it understands the person. It really takes stock of the person. When the apostle Paul says to us to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time, Paul was Middle Eastern, he was anything but efficient in his conversations. I know my people and we are not inefficient people when it comes to conversations. But what he means is, one, answer the questions they're actually asking. But two, find out the humanity of the person you're talking to and what it is they have in common with you.

So there's value in that. And they'll get that. It's not just a game plan book. It's actually a getting at people, getting to the heart of people book. And there's a personal element to it. But here's what I want to go with, if we can, for the next few minutes. There is a tactic in Tactics as part of the game plan where it is moving toward the objection, one thing lawyers do all of the time. And it is extremely important. It's one of the mini tactics you have in the book in a whole chapter called “Mini Tactics.” Describe what moving toward the objection is and why it's powerful.

Greg Koukl: Well, I actually got this from a movie. And it was, I think, Clear and Present Danger. Some might remember the movie. It's a Jack Ryan movie, basically. And Harrison Ford played that role and he was giving counsel to the president. And apparently there had been a drug deal that had gone bad and there were dead people on a boat. And it turned out that these dead people were people that the president knew. And everybody's telling him to distance himself from the circumstances. And Harrison Ford said, "No, I think it's better to move towards it rather than against them." And he says, "If they ask you, were you friends?" He said, "No, we were good friends." If they ask whether you're good friends say, "No, we were lifelong friends." And the point here is, you give them no place to go, nothing to report, no story. That was a line from the movie.

Basically the way this works is that there are a lot of challenges that come up to Christianity that turns out to be things that instead of running from them or try to defend against them, we could embrace them and turn what appears to be an enemy into an ally in terms of the point that's being made. For example, people would say, and they're doing it now, COVID-19, how can you reconcile this with your view of God, powerful and good and all that other stuff? I said, and my response is, instead of running from it, I say, "Yes, this is exactly the kind of world you'd expect us to have if the Christian worldview is true. It would be a world filled with violence, and with disease, and brokenness and evil."

That's our story. Our whole story is about the problem of evil. It starts in chapter three. It doesn't end until 66 books later when it gets resolved. Without the problem of evil, we'd have no story. Now notice how I moved towards the objection. I embraced it. And I showed the virtue of the point they were making for how it played on our side. And I think this is something a lot of people have never thought about doing, but we at Stand to Reason are making use of it more and more lately. People say the church is just filled with hypocrites. And I say, actually the church is filled with the worst people than that. It's filled with liars, and swindlers, and fornicators, and adulterers, and drunks, and self-centered egotists, and centers of all sorts. This is exactly why they need to be in the church. Notice I took a negative and I embraced it. I didn't run from it.

Or there are ways to respond to churches filled with hypocrites. We talked about the power of so, and I way to say is, yep, it is so. So what? That doesn't prove that God doesn't exist, Jesus wasn't Messiah, the Bible is not reliable, et cetera, et cetera. That's anthropology. It's not theology kind of thing. But this is just another angle on that. There's a way of embracing that thing and making a positive out of it.

I remember many years ago, this is an example of this in a secular world where there was a Volvo or somebody had a vehicle that at 70 miles or 80 miles an hour ran a little rough. It just wasn't a smooth riding vehicle. And when this came out, here's what they said. They said, "Listen, when you're going 80 miles an hour, you don't want to feel like you're going 30 miles an hour. That's dangerous. You want to be aware you're going fast and you have to take care and be careful of things." So what did they do? They moved towards the objection, they embraced it, and they reinterpreted it in a way that was favorable to them. And that's the notion here about moving toward the objection as a new mini tactic in the book.

Abdu Murray: Well, it's full of other great new tactics, both mini and major in the book as well. And we do that oftentimes. In trials, a version of that is where you have a bad factor. You have something that's very challenging and very tough. And it seems like a bombshell against your case, but we call it diffusing the bomb where you bring it up, you have your witness talk about it and then say, "Okay, this is the issue. And this is exactly where I see their point. But here's the thing if you understand it correctly." We do it in legal cases all the time as well. We're glad for time we have for our time together. I'm so thrilled to have spent this time with you.

Friends, the book is Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. It's updated and expanded. If you have the 2009 version, you will be benefited from getting the 10th anniversary edition that came out late last year by Greg Koukl, K-O-U-K-L. He's been my guest. I hope you've had as much fun as I have on this conversation just listening in.

Greg Koukl: Absolutely.

Abdu Murray: I'm so glad to have been with you. And I know our listeners will be blessed that a lot of pressure would be relieved. And I'm glad of one thing. We didn't give the store away in this, but we give a lot away, but there's so much more-

Greg Koukl: Yeah, it really is. And people can get the book at our website, And we're a little slow in getting books out right now because we're going to only have one person in the office at a time because of the current restrictions, but Amazon gets it out pretty quickly. That's another place to go. And at our own website,, our blog is there, STR's blog. My radio shows are there. We've got lots of things there because just like RZIM, we are here for you during this time. We are running full-bore with no vacations right now. We're getting the job done because we know that so many Christians need us right now. And we're available. When you guys think about the book Tactics, and you're considering it, I want you to think of one word, safety. Safety. This book, this approach will give you more safety in engaging others than any other method available. That's my promise to you.

Abdu Murray: Amen. Well, thanks so much, Greg, for being on. Let me just part with this last thought is that sometimes, friends, when we think of tactics and we think of lawyers and trials, and we don't think about people, we think about cases and winning and presenting and arguing. The reality is whether you read this book and you see the heart that's behind it and you will, or you know the heart that's behind, a lot of what RZIM does is that when the apostle Paul says to “let our speech be gracious seasoned with salt so we may know how to answer each person, we're not interested in answering questions. We're not interested in answering issues or controversies. We're interested in answering people who use their questions and use their issues and have their controversies in order to find the answers that they need. Questions that don't need answers. People do. And Tactics will be a resource that will help you to answer people through their questions and through your own questions, to get people to think in a great way.

My guest has been Greg Koukl. This is Abdu Murray with another episode of The Defense Rests. And friends, until next time, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defense rests.

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