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Sticks and Stones

Sometimes the first response from people who disagree with you is to call you a name (e.g., “racist,” “homophobe,” “intolerant”) instead of dealing with the point you’re advancing. This is not a legitimate response to your ideas, yet it's a ploy getting more popular every day in our culture. The key to the Sticks and Stones tactic is to flush out the personal attack by simply asking for a definition of the name you’re being called (“What do you mean by that?”), then asking why they are choosing to attack you personally instead of addressing the issue. By getting them to define the word clearly, it’s easier to show them they are resorting to personal attacks (ad hominems), not careful thinking, to “win” the argument. This approach can sometimes have interesting results: He: "You’re intolerant.” Me: “What do you mean by that?” He: “You think you’re right and others are wrong.” Me: “Do you think I’m wrong and your own view on this issue is right?” He: “Of course.” Me: “Why is it that when I think I’m right then I’m intolerant, but when you think you’re right there’s no problem? What am I missing here?”

More from Tactics

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 1

“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 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.