- Ask clarifying questions
As you ask questions and the unbeliever explains what he believes, ask questions from time to time to make sure you understand his position. If he says something unclear, such as that he couldn’t believe in such a complex God as Christianity presents, ask, “What do you mean by complex in this situation?” Sometimes people make vague or confusing arguments that are not clear at all. Be sure to ask for clarification so you don’t talk past one another. You may also ask him to define his terms, because if you both have a different understanding of an issue or concept, you will not be able to effectively communicate. Other clarifying questions include:
- Am I understanding you correctly?
- Are you saying that…?
- Is it fair to say that you are arguing X position?
- Restate his position
Once you understand what the non-Christian believes, restate his position in simple terms. This is an important step, because once he affirms that you properly understand him, you can move on to the next step. For example, if he says that he believes that evolution explains everything in the universe, clarify by saying something like, “So you are saying that everything comes about randomly through time and chance?” This helps him see that if he wants to hold to Darwin’s theory of evolution, there are intellectual consequences. This is an important step, because once he affirms that you properly understand him, you can move on to the next step.
- Force him to hold his position consistently with all its implications
Once you understand what the non-Christian believes, the next step is to take his position for the sake of argument and show him the implications. For example, he may argue that everything came about by time and chance, but we should still do good to people and not harm. Show him that if this is so, we can’t say that anything is necessarily right or wrong. Anything that develops randomly is just that—random. A sense of right or wrong that everyone ought to obey cannot come from a universe that is random. In doing this you are demonstrating that his beliefs are irrational or a contradiction.
By taking his position and holding it consistently, you are showing him that beliefs should be coherent; they should be related to one another. Some beliefs are the basis of other beliefs. Other beliefs are the necessary consequences of those basic beliefs. For example, if someone is a nihilist (someone who believes that life has no meaning), then a logical consequence of that belief is that there is nothing worth living for, no action is better than another, and suicide makes sense. If the unbeliever is a nihilist, yet wants to use his life in service of humanity, you want to point out that doing so is no better than living only for yourself, because he as already started with the idea that life has no meaning.
This step is often a moment of awakening for unbelievers as they realize that their beliefs contradict each other. By asking good questions and playing along with their worldview with all its implications, you help them see for themselves the error of their thinking.
- Call his bluff
Sometimes in his opposition to the Christian faith the unbeliever will spout “facts” and “statistics” that seem to strengthen his case for unbelief. Often these arguments will pertain to topics you may not be familiar with. This can make you feel like you have lost the case for Christianity because you don’t know how to answer him. The truth is, however, that many times the unbeliever is bluffing. He may be making up his information, or may be quoting someone else in error. This happens more often than you might think.
For example, someone who has heard a skeptic on the radio, or read an internet article that attacks Christianity will often use those “facts” in a discussion with a Christian. Many times, however, he will get the facts wrong, misquote the source, or even misunderstand the source all together. The truth is that the average Christian knows much more about the ancient Near Eastern world of the Old Testament and the first century world of the New Testament than the average unbeliever. So when the unbeliever tries to attack some aspect of the Bible or the Christian faith, he often has no idea what he is talking about.
In these cases the Christian should “call the bluff” of the unbeliever. In other words, if you hear a “fact” that supposedly proves Christianity wrong, or challenges the truth, question it. Going back to our questions above, ask, “Where did you hear that?” or “What is your source for that fact?” or “Can you prove that statistic reliably?” Often you will find that the unbeliever has no idea where his argument came from and no way to substantiate his claim. By calling his bluff you are pulling him back to real facts. And the Christian faith deals in real, historically verified facts (1 Cor. 15:1-20).
In the next post we will address the ways to carry out 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, where we are called to destroy false arguments and pull down intellectual strongholds.