• Mike

Tactics by Greg Koukl - An Overview

Our current culture is becoming increasingly opposed to Christian beliefs and values, and many Christians do not feel equipped to share their faith with unbelievers. Author Greg Koukl, founder and president of a ministry called Stand to Reason has recently published a 10th anniversary version of his book TacticsA Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. This book shows Christians how to initiate conversations effortlessly, handle objections from challengers, and present the truth of Christianity in a way that is gracious and engaging.

The best way to benefit from what Mr. Koukl has written is to purchase and read the book in its entirety. You can find it at places like Amazon.com or Stand to Reason’s website, www.str.org.

However, in this blog post I want to whet your appetite by offering what I would call an “appetizer” on the tactical approach. My hope is that you will desire the full meal and purchase the more than 250-page book that I know will help you in your efforts as a Christian ambassador seeking to make a difference for Jesus.

In an attempt to accurately represent the contents of the Tactics book, much of what is written here is taken from the Quick Reference Guide produced by Stand to Reason and available anywhere apps can be found. I highly recommend the app! It contains articles, audio and video – all of which are completely free!


The goal of the tactical approach is to stay in the driver’s seat of any conversation without being pushy, uptight, or unpleasant, but also without having to be especially clever or knowledgeable.

You can do that by learning a handful of simple techniques to help you deal with objections, manage aggressive challengers, and even turn the tables by exploiting the bad thinking found in many of the objections against Christianity.

The theme verse is Colossians 4:5-6: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

Simply put, Paul says we are to be wise, gracious, and tactical when talking with others about the things we believe.

Pick up a copy of Greg Koukl’s book, Tactics, and you'll learn these techniques in order to be a more faithful, and effective ambassador for Christ.

Tactics has personally revolutionized the way I engage with others, and it can do the same for you too! You can have the confidence you desire for any encounter, and not only that, your conversations can look more like diplomacy rather than D-day.

The First Tactic – Columbo


This first tactic is central to the game plan. Lt. Columbo (of 70s TV fame) came across as a bumbling, inept, and harmless detective, but he had a trademark approach that always helped him get his man. He’d furrow his brow, scratch his head, then turn to his suspect and say, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Asking carefully selected questions is the key to creating a convenient bridge from the content you know about Christianity to the conversation you want to have with a non-Christian. It’s a friendly way to draw people out while keeping the pressure off you.

As a general rule,

never make a statement

when a question will get the job done.

The Columbo game plan has three key components which can be utilized as you engage with people in conversation.

1. Gather information by asking, “What do you mean by that?”

Sometimes you need more information to know how to proceed further. This first question encourages the other person to clarify his view so you don’t misunderstand or misrepresent it. It also forces him to think more carefully about his view instead of just repeating what he heard from others.

2. Shift the burden of proof by asking, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

Don’t give your challenger a free ride by letting him make claims without having to give reasons for his view. If he thinks there are many ways to God, it’s his job to explain why, not yours to show otherwise.

When you’re up against a tough challenger you can’t handle, go immediately into fact-finding mode. Ask your first two Columbo questions, listen carefully to the answers, then dodge the heat by saying, “I need to think about that.” Later, when the pressure is off, study up and work out a response.

3. Lead the person to some important insight.

Questions can be used to indirectly make your point, explain your view, or point out a weakness or a flaw in a challenge. When asking questions using Columbo the third way, always have a goal in mind. Have a target you're shooting for and use questions as the arrows to hit that target.

Sample Conversation from Greg Koukl, author of Tactics:

Once a waitress said to me, “All religions are basically the same.” (Notice that she made the claim here.)

“Really?” I asked. “In what way?” (Columbo #1)

Remarkably, my question stunned her into silence. She didn’t know what to say. Apparently, she’d thought so little about it she wasn’t able to clarify her own claim “Well, no one can ever know the truth about religion,” she finally said (another claim).

“Why would you think that?” I asked (Columbo #2).

This turn-about also caught her by surprise. She was used to asking this question, not answering it. “Well the Bible’s been changed and retranslated so many times over the centuries, you can’t trust it,” was all she could come up with (yet another claim). “Oh? How do you know the Bible’s been changed?” (Columbo again)

Finally, in frustration she said, “I feel like you’re backing me into a corner.” I wasn’t trying to be unkind or bully her intellectually. However, I was trying to challenge her politely with fair questions she couldn’t answer, so she felt trapped.

Critics rarely are prepared to defend their own “faith” and rely more on generalizations and slogans than careful reflection. Expose their error by asking questions that get them thinking.

You can direct conversations in a non-offensive way by using these three carefully selected questions:

1. To learn more about what the person believes, ask: What do you mean by that?

  • It clarifies the claims the person is making.

  • It elicits what the person thinks.

  • It provides a good conversation starter.

2. To make them defend their own views ask: How did you come to that conclusion?

  • It clarifies the reasons for the person's ideas.

  • It tells how the person thinks.

  • It makes him bear the "burden of proof" for his own claims.

3. To uncover a flaw, begin your question with: Can you clear this up for me?

  • Use this when reasons don't properly support the person's claim.

  • It challenges a weakness or contradiction in their view.

  • It uncovers a flaw with a question rather than a statement.

  • It encourages them to think through what they believe.

Also use the Columbo tactic to get out of the "hot seat." Shift from an argument to a fact-finding mode in the conversation. Take the pressure off yourself by using the first two Columbo questions. Close with "Let me think about that" and then research the issue before continuing the conversation.

Remember, there's no need for home runs each time you engage someone in conversation. You can be effective and respectful by learning more about the other person's views and do that without being argumentative - you're simply asking a few questions.

The Second Tactic – Suicide

The Suicide tactic takes advantage of the tendency of many false views which are not only invalid, in fact they ultimately self-destruct. These are called self-refuting views.

They collide with themselves and quickly expire. Your job is to notice when this happens and simply point it out.

Though self-refuting statements take different forms, all suicidal views involve contradictions.

“There is no truth.”

(Is this statement true?)

“There are no absolutes.”

(Is this an absolute?)

“No one can know any truth about religion.”

(How do you know this religious truth?)

"You can’t know anything for sure.”

(Are you sure about that?)

Sometimes the suicide is subtler. For example, someone might say, "Science is the only legitimate way of finding truth." This sounds good at first. That is until someone asks, “What scientific evidence proves this statement is true?” Since no scientific evidence proves science is the only way to know truth, the view self-destructs.

In the same way, assertions like this one – “It’s not wrong to think you’re right, but it’s not right to think others are wrong” – are dead on arrival.

Some points of view simply cannot work in real-life application. There is no logical problem, just a practical one. You can hold the view, but when you promote it, you enter into a contradiction.

The challenge, “You shouldn’t force your morality on me” self-destructs because it’s actually an example of that person “forcing” his morality on you (notice the phrase “you shouldn’t”).

It’s like saying, “You shouldn’t be telling people what they shouldn’t be doing.”

This doesn't violate any laws of logic, but it is self-refuting in practice.

Our job as good tacticians is to spot these self-refutations and graciously point them out to the objector to inform them that their argument has self-destructed.

The Third Tactic – Taking the Roof Off

This tactic helps you test the accuracy of someone’s worldview by showing that his position leads to absurdity. This is also known as reductio ad absurdum, or reducing an argument to its absurd conclusion.

Here's how it works. First, for the sake of argument, adopt the other person’s viewpoint. Next, give the idea a test drive. Where will you end up if you follow his rationale faithfully to its logical end? Then, using well-placed questions (utilizing the Columbo Tactic), help him see where things went awry.

Consider these examples:

Some Christians oppose capital punishment because they say that Jesus would always forgive. On this reasoning, though, any punishment for criminals would be wrong because one could always argue, “Jesus would forgive them.” This seems absurd, especially when Scripture states that one of the roles of government is to punish evildoers, not forgive them (1 Peter 2:14).

The Pharisees claimed Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus “took the roof off” by showing where such reasoning led: If Satan is the source of Jesus’ power in exorcism, then Satan is casting out Satan, destroying his own kingdom. This is an absurd conclusion.

Some people believe abortion is wrong for them because they believe it kills a baby, but think it’s wrong to “impose” this personal belief on others (the politician’s favorite go-to move). Counter by taking the roof off. “So, you personally believe that abortion kills an innocent baby, but you think mothers should be legally allowed to do this to their own children?” As you can see, this view is morally absurd.

In homosexuality, it is currently popular to say, "I was born this way." The basic argument is that since homosexuality feels natural it must be moral. What if someone said, "I was born with a tendency to inflict violence upon others. It just feels right to me because I have had feelings of anger and hostility towards others from an early age."

Would the same people who reason that homosexuality is natural, allow for someone to inflict violence upon others simply because they were "born that way"? Probably not. Instead, they would argue that they should fight that feeling, because just because an impulse feels natural does not mean that it's moral.

Husbands, ask your wife if she is okay with your very natural tendency to look upon other women in a lustful manner. This comes very natural to us. One, that doesn't make it right. And two, Jesus said, "Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:28 Notice that He doesn't say, "I know you have that propensity and it feels very natural to you, therefore it's morally okay."

How about this claim? “A thing is okay to do as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.” A very minimalist ethic indeed. Adopt the view for the sake of argument to see where it leads and then ask, "What if there is a doctor who molested women who were under sedation? According to your view, since they did not feel pain, how could it be wrong for him to have molested them?" Of course, we know that it's wrong to molest anyone under any circumstances. Therefore, their viewpoint leads to an erroneous conclusion.

This tactic is very simple because it simply asks the question, “If I follow your view to its logical destination, does it lead to truth or absurdity?"

Want More?

Read more about these and other tactics in Greg Koukl's book Tactics - A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.

Grace and peace to you, and as Greg says, "Go out there and give 'em heaven!"