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Christian Apologetics

By Thor's Hammer ~

While I was still a Christian, I attended a Christian apologetics study through my home church. At that point in my life, I was starting to question Christianity and thought this class would give me logical reasons to believe. Unfortunately, I walked away disappointed. The pastor running the class spent most of the time presenting “evidence” against evolution. Since the pastor’s expertise was with the bible and not evolutionary biology, I was skeptical. I got the impression he was just repeating arguments he read and did not really understand them.

Columbo (TV series)Image via Wikipedia
He did share some interesting tips for debating unbelievers which I thought would be useful information to share on this site. As unbelievers, we may get hassled by believers to return to the fold. It is good for us to be aware of strategies they may try to use.

1. Be Nice. 

The pastor started by emphasizing that it is important to debate with gentleness and respect as discussed in 1 Peter 3:15b

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

The pastor asserted that most people pay more attention to your character and to how you present your claims then your actual arguments. Therefore, a Christian is more likely to win converts with their unfailing kindness.

2. Qualify the atheist.

The next topic the pastor talked about is “qualifying the atheist.” In the pastor’s opinion, you can move any atheist to agnosticism be simply asking a couple of questions:

Christian: “Have you been everywhere in the universe?”
Atheist: “No of course not.”
Christian: “Well, how he can know for sure the God does not exist if you have not been everywhere in the universe?”
Atheist: “I guess I can’t know for sure..” *Atheist becomes agnostic*

The pastor used another example to illustrate his point. Someone who wants to prove that there is gold on Mars will only have to find some, while someone who wants to disprove this will have to search the whole planet before he can say there is no gold on Mars. He claimed that in the same way the atheist has to search the whole universe before he can say he knows there is no God. According to this pastor, if you can get the atheist to concede that he does not know that God does not exist he will be more open to Christian arguments.

3. Share personal testimonies.

Many Christians recommend turning the discussion away from theological debates and onto sharing personal testimonies. Why? Personal testimonies cannot be debated. For example, if I claim that when I became a Christian my happiness level increased 10 fold a unbeliever cannot argue against that claim since he is not me. Therefore, the Christian can present “evidence” for Christianity without worrying about getting caught up in a debate.

4. Use the Columbo Tactic.

Finally, the pastor discussed the Columbo Tactic. Here is how to use it:

  1. Gain information by asking questions.
  2. Reverse the burden of proof.
  3. Exploit a weakness or flaw.

I have never seen Columbo, so I consulted Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom:

Lt. Columbo is a shambling, disheveled-looking, seemingly naive Italian American police detective who is consistently underestimated by his fellow officers and by the murderer du jour…

…[Columbo’s] personality and manners are initially disarming and non-intimidating. Columbo is unfailingly polite to a suspect as an investigation proceeds. Class tension is often apparent between Columbo — with his working class origins — and the killer — who is usually affluent, well-positioned or naturally condescending. The killer often "helps" Columbo with his investigation, with his/her level of irritation, arrogance or panic escalating as Columbo gets closer to exposing them as the killer, discovering too late that the Lieutenant is not nearly as simple-minded as he appears. When the final arrest comes, the killer always goes quietly after revealing both his/her guilt and his/her motives. Columbo usually manipulates the killer(s) into self-incrimination.

This is how a Christian can make use of this tactic: The Christian will make a truth claim and the unbeliever will disagree. Instead of the Christian presenting arguments to support his stance, he will ask questions about the unbeliever’s perspective. The Christian merely appears to be curious so the unbeliever talks freely. Like Columbo, the believer continues to ask seemingly innocent questions and quietly looks for flaws in the unbeliever’s stance. The more the unbeliever talks the more likely they are to reveal flaws in his reasoning. The believer continues to gather information and silently builds a case. When the believer finds sufficient weaknesses he will go on the attack. In this way, the Christian reverses the burden of proof and put the unbeliever on the defensive.

This is what I learned in my Christian apologetic class. I have opinions on these tactics, but I want to hear feedback from others. What do you think of these tactics? What did you/would you do if a Christian tried to use them on you? Would you ever use any of these tactics against a believer? Why or why not? Also I am curious to hear other tips for debating unbelievers that people have learned in church.