Tactics and Tools

Apologetics Doesn’t Have to Be a Slug Fest

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/20/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for May 2008

Dear Friend,

“An argument is not argumentative,” I told a university audience of 1,200 students and faculty. “An argument is simply an opinion with evidence or reasons to back it up.” When you make an argument, you’re not bickering or being mean-spirited—you’re simply offering your view and reasons for it.

Sometimes when we talk to non-Christians, however, the conversation can turn mean and ugly. But it doesn’t have to. One simply needs to offer an argument with gentleness and respect. That’s what the apostles did. That’s what Jesus did.

So when it comes to apologetics, defending our Christian convictions, there’s no need to start a slug fest. It’s not necessary. We can graciously engage people in conversation and change minds by reasoning with them and praying for the Holy Spirit’s convicting work on their hearts and minds.

At Spring Arbor University in Michigan this past month, I taught that one of the most effective ways to do apologetics is to use the Columbo Tactic. This is the practice of asking carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation. It’s effective because when you ask a question, you come off as interested, gracious, and unassuming. That’s disarming to many people.

Yet questions can be powerful tools of persuasion. You can use them to gently challenge people’s beliefs or lead them down a line of thinking to make your point. But since questions can be disarming, they generally tone down a would-be slug fest into an engaging exchange of ideas.

Besides the tactics that enable us to engage our culture more graciously, we are also called to be winsome in our conversational character. Being an ambassador of Jesus Christ demands that the manner in which we communicate be warm, friendly, and charitable. The apostle Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 2:24–25) that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

Obviously, we can’t control the response of every individual we speak to. Some may become offended simply because the Gospel is already offensive. However, let’s not add any more offense to it by being harsh or obnoxious.

The students at Spring Arbor can thank you for this lesson. You made it possible for me to train them last month. The host of the event wrote that “Students are already using this tactic in their witnessing and [Alan’s] talk has generated a tremendous amount of high-quality conversation throughout the campus.” And the next day the school newspaper featured an article about my training, which I’ve included on the front page.

Thanks again for your partnership. It not only inspires me, but also the thousands of believers I train who strive to represent Jesus in a manner that brings honor to His name.

An Ambassador of Jesus,

Alan Shlemon