“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” The first tactic is central to our game plan. Lt. Columbo (of 70s TV fame) came across as bumbling, inept, and harmless, 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 elements, each launched with a different question. 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 than he may have about precisely what he does mean.
Columbo Part 1
Goal of Tactics
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. Our 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.
Columbo Part 2
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. If your professor attacks Christianity and then invites you to prove him wrong, don’t take the bait. The person who makes the claim bears the burden of proof. If the professor is doing all the talking, and you’re listening, you have nothing to defend. He does. 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.
Columbo Part 3
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 I ask questions using Columbo the third way, I always have a goal in mind. I have a target I’m shooting for and my questions are the arrows. Sample Conversation: 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.