Tactics and Tools

#STRask: February 2, 2017

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Published on 02/02/2017

Greg’s on a timer and answers questions about engaging people who are a bit difficult to talk with and whether God can change the past.


  • With the shift in thinking based more on subjective personal feelings than objective facts, what would be effective way of engaging in conversations?
  • What are some tips to maneuver toward deeper, more meaningful conversation with those who only want to talk superficially?
  • Is it possible in theory for God to change a past event or does that enter into incoherence?


Melinda: Hi there folks. This is the STRask Podcast and I’m Melinda the Enforcer here with Greg Koukl.

Greg: Hi there.

Melinda: Hi there. You didn’t answer last time so I was just going to keep going.

Greg: I know I’m just jumping right in.

Melinda: Well, good. This is our short podcast. We post two episodes every week. We get our questions on Twitter and Greg’s on a timer. He gives a short answer, I guarantee it, and Greg has an invitation for you.

Greg: Oh yeah, I wanted to mention a special invitation to you if you’re within striking distance of Southern California. On Saturday, February 11th, 9:30 AM, we are having a book release party. Did I mention I’ve written a book recently? We’re really excited about The Story of Reality and how people are responding to it and we thought we’d get together and have a little fest about it. It’s going to be 9:30 in the morning. There’s going to be a light breakfast there. We’ll be mingling together, talking a bit. We’ll have a couple of the fellows that endorse the book. Michael Horton, for example, and also Craig Hazen will be offering a few words. We’re actually going to do a podcast there as well, an STRask podcast.

Melinda: Yeah. People there and people online will be able to submit their questions. Obviously we won’t be able to answer all of them, but yeah.

Greg: Oh there we go. We’ll have that kind of personal interaction kind of thing going on.

Melinda: Greg’s going to personally inscribe books. We’ll have a book table there and we’ll have some special pricing if you buy multiple copies to give to people and that kind of thing. Then for people that aren’t in Southern California or if you can’t attend, we’re going to stream a lot of it on Facebook live.

Greg: Yeah it’s going to be fun. I’m just looking forward to it and though you can watch it on Facebook live, it’s so much more fun just face to face. I hope you can make it. That will be the 11th of February, 9:30 AM. If you want to get more details, actually you have to RSVP because that’s the only way you find out where this is going to be held.

Melinda: Space is limited.

Greg: Space is limited so here’s where you email your RSVP. Ocean@str.org. Ocean is somebody’s name but it’s just like Pacific or Atlantic.

Melinda: Right.

Greg: Ocean@str.org. Look forward to seeing you there.

Melinda: She’s a girl, not a boy. For some reason, people who haven’t met her assume ocean is a boy’s name which I have no idea. I’ve never met anybody else named Ocean.

Greg: That’s true.

Melinda: All right so let’s get going with the questions. First question comes from Twitter: With the shift in public discourse from dialectic to rhetoric, based more on subjective personal feelings than objective facts, what would be effective rhetorical apologetic arguments that address the shift? People don’t so much reason through things anymore. They come to believe things based on their personal feelings. Not to say that wasn’t the case in the past but this is much more common now and Rosario Butterfield I remember in her book talked with us a little bit. It’s very feelings-based so how do you address people that are thinking that way?

Greg: The dialectic is just the back and forth and feelings are no back and forth. It’s this is the way it is because this is the way I feel and then it just lays there and then if you try to take exception with it, it’s kind of hard to argue against somebody’s feelings and this is the curse of the subjectivistic environment that we live in. It strikes me. I haven’t really thought so much about this...how do you tactically maneuver in that. I think I’ve just done it and my impulse is if people used to be dialectic back and forth and now they’re just emotive and tossing their feelings out and that’s the end of it, maybe we could return to the back and forth and the best way to go back to the dialectic, what do you think? Is to...

Melinda: I don’t know. I was barely paying attention.

Greg: Oh gosh. I thought this was an easy question. Is to ask questions. There it is. I know the rest of the audience is screaming it out and here’s Melinda falling asleep at the microphone.

Melinda: It’s been a busy day. I’m thinking of all the things I still need to do actually.

Greg: Listen, it was an honest response and so we appreciate that integrity here.

Melinda: My eyes were just glazing over here.

Greg: Let’s restore the dialectic then by asking questions.

Melinda: Hold on.

Greg: Somebody’s calling in.

Melinda: Hi, this is Stand to Reason. Are you calling to talk with Greg? Nope. Hung up.

Greg: Oh okay.

Melinda: Go ahead.

Greg: We’re doing a lot of things. We’re multi-

Melinda: As soon as I said your name, they hung up.

Greg: This is multi-tasking. Return to the dialectic. In other words, in a certain sense, you can force it back into conversation mode by the questions that you ask and this is what we do all the time at Stand to Reason and it is a lot easier than people think it is. If you have in your mind the first step to gather information, and you ask some form of the question, what do you mean by that, you’re going to toss the ball back in the other person’s court and then they’re going to have to start making sense of the point of view they just offered that is driven almost completely emotively. For example, somebody’s got feelings, convictions about the sexual state of affairs in our culture, they’re all in favor of the way things are going and when you take exception, they call you a bigot. That’s not a substantive response because name calling is not an argument. Ridicule is not an argument. It’s just nonsense. You can say that and still get nowhere, just insult them back but that’s not a good idea or you could say, “What do you mean by bigot?” What is bigotry? I promise you there is not one in 50 probably that can give you an accurate definition of what a bigot is. That is somebody with an unreasonable hatred towards a particular group. They’re using it not for it’s definition but rather for it’s emotive force. When you ask the question, then what? You’re going to get a little silence and a little bumbling back and forth but what you’re doing is you’re returning the environment here back to a dialectic, interactive kind of thing which I think helps us to much better get at the truth of the matter.

Melinda: Okay. Next question. What are some tips to maneuver toward deeper meaningful conversation with those who only want to talk superficially? Different kind of question than the last one but people who just kind of want to give you simplistic answers or don’t want to really think through the assertions they’re making or the things that they think.

Greg: There are two different types of superficial answers I think. One of those kinds are people who are socialized to certain views and therefore, when the issues come up, then they just repeat what they’ve heard, thinking they’ve given a substantive response. Their response identifying them as an appropriate, card-carrying member of their culture. Thinking there’s really no discussion about the matter. That there is nothing else to say. Here it is. Bang. This is what everybody in our group believes so this is the common sense right point of view and so it may be a shallow response. Doesn’t give much content or substance to it but it’s motivated by being socialized into a certain view. With people like that, I think it’s certainly helpful and to risk sounding like a broken record here, to ask a question. What do you mean by that? By asking questions and drawing them out and getting clarification about different aspects of what they said once they clarify, if there’s any ambiguities, ask for clarity on that as well, then you’re going to start getting into something substantial. Of course, you might always run into what I call the Simon and Garfunkel response, the sounds of silence because people haven’t thought about these things but there is a group of people who haven’t thought because they’ve been socialized and they just repeat it and they don’t even know there’s something to think about. When you ask the question, then they’re caught up short and then they’ll work at it a little bit. The second group of people who just talk in shallow ways about things are people who are shallow people it seems. At least when it comes to issues of substance and they don’t care.

Melinda: Shallow people can become Christians.

Greg: That’s true but you have to get beyond the shallowness to consider the deep things, at least a couple of them to qualify in a sense, but some people are just jibber jabber people and they never want to get into anything deep and meaningful and the minute you try to press them on it, they just jibber jabber off to some other topic. I have a sense that these people are not the people you want to spend your time with. They don’t want to get deep, at least not at the moment or maybe not with you. They just want to talk about things that don’t matter and that’s the way they like it. I suspect if you run into a person like that, there’s probably not much headway you’re going to make with them, at least not in the moment. With the other kind, you can ask the Columbo questions and then generate some interaction. I guess the way you know the difference between the two is when you ask your Columbo questions whether you get a thoughtful interaction from them or a dismissive response and then off to some other things. Why don’t we start with your game plan and then see where people are willing to take it?

Melinda: Sometimes, don’t you think, people might be embarrassed that they actually haven’t thought through their view any further so they can’t answer your question or they’re simply resistant to admitting that they might be wrong. Sometimes when you ask these questions, if you don’t get much of a response, it could be, though, that you’re sowing seeds and that the person’s going to...As we’re working through apparently all the tactics, putting a stone in their shoe so they may walk away thinking about some of these things even if they don’t answer you.

Greg: Exactly. They might. I suspect, though, if you’re asking as the first step of the game plan, some version of the question what do you mean by that and they are caught up short because they haven’t thought about it. That I think can be a really good stone in the shoe and it gets them thinking about it. On the other hand, some people are just going to blather right on and right past that and whatever. They’re going to say something dismissive and then move right on. That I think would be a signal that this is the kind of person that it’s not going to do well to spend much time with. At least at the moment.

Melinda: Okay. Last question comes from Timothy Turner. Is it possible in theory for God to change a past event or does that enter in to incoherence logic or otherwise?

Greg: I think that enters into incoherence. The times arrow runs one way. The past is the past.

Melinda: God’s out of time. Don’t put him in a box.

Greg: That’s not my view. I know some people might say that but by the way, think about this for a moment. If God, this is one of the conundrums of time travel and talking about time like this. If there was some past event that went awry or didn’t go the way God wanted or He just decided He wanted to change it, which now this creates problem with the character of God, omniscience, omnipotence and stuff like that, but let’s just say in principal He decided He wanted to change it, then for us now, in the future, it would have been changed. It would be over with.

Melinda: But if it did get changed we wouldn’t know.

Greg: That’s right, we wouldn’t know. This is one of those conundrums of time travel. I think it is incoherent because the past no longer exists for it to be changed. It’s gone. Even though all the facts of the past are fixed in God’s mind on my view at least, he’s not in the past like some might suggest and the present and the future all at the same time. That would be an atemporal God. He’s not in the past in order to alter something that happened in the past. I don’t see it as any restriction on God at all and it does seem borderline incoherent to me as a concept.

Melinda: That answer sounds very coherent.

Greg: Thank you.

Melinda: All right. That’s it for this episode, folks. STRask, use the hashtag on Twitter to give us your question. New episodes every Monday and Thursday and make sure if you can to RSVP to the book release party. February 11th, 9:30 AM. Email ocean@str.org. That’s it for this week folks. See you next week. Bye Greg.

Greg: Bye bye.