The beginning

If I were to sit down across from you today and ask you about your life, your dreams, your worries, and the things you think about at night, would it be a pleasant conversation? I hope so, and it probably would be, if you and I were both pleasant, reasonable people. As long as I was a patient listener and asked gently, and you were a kind, fairly open person, even a conversation about personal matters could be relaxed and pleasant. During our time together, opportunities would probably naturally arise for me to respond to your remarks by sharing some of my own life details and thoughts. At the end of the exchange, we would both part having enjoyed a nice time together.

Apologetics can be like that. Just a conversation. It doesn’t have to be some formal, heated debate–it doesn’t have to have an audience. I want to show you that apologetics is accessible to you. You don’t have to be some academic scholar or pastor. You just have to be willing to think, ask questions, and share your thoughts. In other words, you have to be able to carry on a thoughtful conversation.

This is the beginning. I want to walk you through this new life. For that is exactly what this is–a new way of life. Not that it’s “Christianity deluxe” or anything, but it’s a new way of using and growing tools you already have. It’s a new mindset. So here we are–the beginning. Welcome aboard.


We’ll begin with conversation.

I’m going to give you some principles for productive conversations, in four areas. Hopefully these will be both beneficial immediately and lay the groundwork for future areas. But before we begin, here is your first assignment:

Assignment 1: Notice things.

This is borrowed from a series of books called the Gallagher Girls, which is about the girls of a spy academy and their adventures. I absolutely adored reading these as a young teenager. The first assignment in covert operations their teacher gave was “notice things.” His point was you cannot be a good agent if you don’t notice things around you–lots of things. Details, movements, facial expressions, motives. The same is the case for the art of good conversations and good apologetics. You must be observant before, during, and after the conversation. In fact, you must get into the habit of noticing people and things all the time. What must you notice? Their thoughts, their mannerisms, their prejudices, things that annoy them, things they avoid, things they love. You must learn their stories–what made them who they are today. If you fail to notice these things, you will have a hard time getting across to them, because you will have missed who they are as a person.

Now, keeping this in mind, let’s begin the principles for good conversation.


In any conversation, there are several components. First, at least two participants. (Unless you’re talking to yourself, which does have its place. But anyway.)

Second, a topic. Although this may naturally or purposefully shift, and may be spoken on unspoken.

Third, active listening. If everyone talks at once and no one listens, what’s the point? The purpose of conversation is communication.

Fourth, good questions. I suppose hypothetically you could have a conversation without one, but miscommunications would likely abound and it would be difficult for the listener to participate and for the conversation to move forward.

Principles in the four areas of good conversation

  1. Find your participant. This can either be planned or spontaneous. You may decide you want to talk to a certain person and be the one who starts the conversation. Or someone around you may strike up a chat. It doesn’t matter. You can have a good conversation with just about anyone around you: your taxi driver, your coworker, your neighbor, your sibling, your cashier, or your friend.
  2. Discern the topic–and possibly guide it toward your own. Oftentimes, the topic related to apologetics will come up in the course of natural conversation and you will just make the effort to take it further. Other times, a current topic will allow for a nice segwey. Occasionally, you may specifically meet with someone to discuss a certain topic.
  3. Listen actively and sympathetically. Listen carefully to the other person, with a genuine desire to understand. Show concern and sympathy for them, and agree whenever possible. Make eye contact and use body language to express engagement.
  4. Ask good questions. This is a topic you’ll find coming up a lot later on. But for now, here are some suggestions: Ask for clarification of something they said, by repeating back what you understood. This helps avoid miscommunication. Ask “what if” questions about their ideas, specifically in the context of beliefs/worldviews. For example, if they say they believe abortion is an issue of personal choice, ask if the mother should be able to choose to end her child’s life once he is born as well. Use questions to lead them to another topic or to introduce a discussion you want to have. I call those “thinky questions.” For example, “If you could choose your last words, what would they be and why?” or “What’s the difference between living and existing?” Ask for definitions. As John Stonestreet has said, “The battle of ideas is a battle of definitions.” For example, “What do you mean by ‘poor’?”

So, try it! Take these principles and try to apply them to a conversation. Find your participant, establish the topic or ask a question to start off the discussion, listen carefully, and ask follow-up questions to help you learn more about them and their position. Share your own side only as applicable or when asked. For this first attempt, really focus on listening and asking questions. You shouldn’t get whacked over the head for your opinions if you aren’t stating them yet, if that makes sense. Have fun with it and don’t forget to notice things. Let me know how it goes. Remember, I’m here to help.

Tactics – A review

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I first heard about this book several years ago at the teen program of a homeschool conference I attended when I was 13. It was the second part of my introduction to apologetics at that time, and this book was recommended in one of the seminars. I wrote down the title and promptly forgot about it for years. It wasn’t until I took my first college class, which was about worldviews and apologetics, that this book came up again and I thought “I really have to read this.” Fast forward a year later and I finally got around to reading it…and I am so glad I did!

This book is incredible. It’s really unique for its genre–as explained in the book’s introduction, instead of one more apologetics book about facts and evidence (although those are good too!), this one is more of a how-to. As given by the title, this book is about tactics. How to navigate conversations with others of opposing views. How to use questions to expose flaws in their reasoning and keep them answering, rather than you. Ever noticed how a lot of conversations with people of other beliefs seem to end up with you being in the hot seat? Tactics shows you how to reverse the question arrow so it’s pointing toward your conversation mate. It includes lots of real-life examples related to current issues, and is immensely practical. One chapter even gives you tips for dealing with a “steamroller” who is trying to run over you in the conversation.

I also love how at the beginning of the book, Koukl explains the importance of having good arguments. Not quarrels or strife-causing spats, but good arguments designed to seek the truth. I felt like he’d taken the words right out of my mouth. Seriously, this book is everything I have been trying to tell people for a year now!

One of the greatest takeaways from this book is a goal Koukl has adopted and recommends to the reader as well. Rather than focusing on trying to get the person “to the cross” in every conversation, simply try to put a stone in their shoe. Unsettle something in their mind. Give them something to take home and mull over, something that will stick with them and nag them a bit. Don’t make it your goal to change their mind completely–just plant a seed of doubt in their own ideas and trust God to use it in their life.

To those who wonder “why apologetics?”

To those who find themselves awed at “the masters” but have no clue where to begin.

To those who genuinely want to seek truth.

To those who want to know how to ask great questions.

To those who want to engage better with those around them.

To those who want to better understand and articulate what they believe and why.

This is the book for you!

Belief is not the death of intelligence

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This post is taken from my main blog, To Dwell and Never Leave. It opens with an essay I wrote during practice for an exam, then expands upon it. I chose to duplicate the post here because I believe it provides a good foundation for what we’re going to cover here.

“Belief is the death of intelligence,” Robert Anton Wilson claims. Since he is making this statement, Wilson presumably considers himself to be an intelligent person. In fact, the audience would quite likely agree that he seems to believe what he is saying. Although this quote sounds witty and clever to the casual ear, intelligent people quickly point out that Wilson himself has neatly contradicted his own statement. Beliefs are inescapable, but belief and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Together, belief and intelligence provide the foundation of any argument. Using intelligent reasoning, a prepared person can defend his beliefs excellently. Belief is not the death of intelligence; rather, they benefit each other.

Beliefs surround us at every moment, but so does intelligence. From “personal” beliefs and opinions, such as which flavor of ice cream is best, to beliefs upon which we build our lives, beliefs are part of life. To escape belief would be to cease breathing. However, intelligent people also exist. Numerous scientists, mathematicians, and inventors fascinate the general population. Ask any person from the street if the world contains anyone more intelligent than him, and he will either quickly affirm the statement or proclaim himself to be the most intelligent of all humans. Either way, he has demonstrated belief in intelligence. Obviously, both belief and intelligence exist, and it is possible to possess intelligent, informed belief.

Since belief and intelligence are both present in the world, they can work hand in hand to allow a person to make a decision. Using his intelligence, one may seek out reasons to either believe or disbelieve something presented to him. During a politician’s speech, any listener may take note of claims the speaker makes and research them later on. Rather than taking the speaker at his word, this intelligent listener chooses to seek out the facts. When he has done this, the listener is better equipped to make an intelligent decision about what he will believe. Instead of intelligence and belief being opposites, when used properly, they compliment each other.

Actively using intelligence, a well-informed person can defend her beliefs. Belief cannot be defended with more belief, but logical reason provides excellent support for one’s belief. If someone claims that ereaders like the Kindle are forcing hard copy books into extinction, she must be able to defend her statement. If she merely states this belief without any intelligent argument to back it up, no one would have any reason to change their beliefs to align with hers. If, however, she cites scientific studies which provide graphs of sales figures from the ebook and physical book markets, she competently defends her belief and provides a reason for others to believe the same. Armed with intelligence, people are equipped to defend their beliefs.

Certainly, belief is not the death of intelligence. Instead, intelligence benefits belief. The world is full of fine examples of intelligent people who themselves hold myriad beliefs. Because belief and intelligence are both in existence, they can cooperate to form solid arguments. Putting intelligence into practice, well-prepared people can carefully defend and proclaim their beliefs. Without belief, the world would have no subjectivity. Without intelligence, there would be no reason to believe any one person over another. Indeed, belief and intelligence interlock in everyday life.

***

When you first read the quote I opened this essay with (the quote I was told to either support or defend), what did you think? If you’re like me, your first reaction was to think “Well, that’s a low-down thing to say” and get a little riled up, because you believe things and you consider yourself to be at least a semi-intelligent person. You probably didn’t actually see the self-defeating statement for what it was, though. I didn’t at first, either. However, within thirty seconds of my first thought, I saw the flaw in reasoning contained in this short sentence. Probably by the time you got a few sentences into reading my essay, you saw it too, and were smiling ruefully. How did I not see this before?

Don’t beat yourself up too hard. At the beginning of this year, I wouldn’t have seen it either.

So much of apologetics is learning how to think. It’s not just learning all the right arguments or being able to cite the most scientific sources. In fact, you could have every Answers in Genesis magazine memorized in its entirety, and you still wouldn’t be able to have a very good discussion of what you believe. Why? Because knowing a boatload of facts won’t teach you how to have a discussion with someone. Being able to point out the holes and assumptions that radiometric dating relies on won’t do you any good if you can’t see through to the core of what someone is saying and where they’re coming from.

How did I quickly spot the underlying error in the quote? The answer is simple: Practice. Throughout my entire course on worldviews/apologetics, I was given example after example of something someone might say that would sound good, but actually turned on itself. Ever heard the one about absolute truth? It goes something like this:

Person A: There’s no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you.

Person B: Are you absolutely sure? I believe in absolute truth.

Did you see how that statement contradicted itself? If there was no such thing as absolute truth, how could Person A say with certainty that there was no such thing as absolute truth? It just doesn’t work.

In upcoming posts, I’m going to be working through with y’all more of how to do this sort of thinking. But as I close this introduction, let me drive this point home: Belief is not the death of intelligence. Don’t let anyone tell you that by believing the Bible, you’re “against science” or believing “a bunch of fairytales.” You are perfectly capable of having intelligent belief–of having intelligent faith.

Your faith is reasonable. Know it, believe it, defend it.