Other Worldviews

Making an Impact without Knowing Anything

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/19/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for July 2007

Dear Friend,

When I heard the knock on the door I knew it was probably the Mormons. It was Saturday afternoon and I had seen a pair of finely dressed people walking around my neighborhood. I guess it was my turn. I answered the door with a bit of trepidation. Sure I know a lot of apologetics, but I don’t know that much about Mormonism. So I decided to use my tactics.

Tactics aren’t about having mega doses of arguments at your disposal. You don’t have to be, like my pastor often says, a brain-on-a-stick. It’s more about knowing how to proceed, what questions to ask, and how to navigate even in uncharted waters. Ultimately, tactics put you in control of the conversation. When I say “control” I don’t mean it in an illegitimate way, but in a productive way that helps you guide people to the truth.

After a brief greeting and a question from my visitor I knew I had to get him off his agenda and onto mine. I had seen this go down all too often: the very knowledgeable and prepared Mormon asks a question and the Christian attempts to respond only to be served another question. The Christian spends most of his time defending his view and back peddling. Or, if the Christian knows a few things, the encounter ends up in a back and forth argument.

My goal from the start was to direct the encounter and prevent my visitor from dragging me onto his turf. So, before answering any questions, I kindly made him aware of the circumstances of our encounter. I pointed out he had just come onto my property, interrupted my day, and was encroaching on my privacy. And he wanted to ask me questions? No. I told him I will ask the questions and he will give the answers.

So I asked him two important questions. You can ask these questions too (or some variation of them).

  1. If you discovered you were mistaken about your faith (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.), would you be willing to change your religion?

    This question is critical because it exposes their heart. They are presumably there to show you you’re mistaken about your faith and should change it after they show you the truth. They should also be willing to extend you the same courtesy. If not, then I point out their unreasonable stance and thank them for coming to visit. Believe me, I’ve had many people answer “no” to this question. I try to avoid spending my time with people who are not genuine truth seekers and are not willing to follow the evidence where it leads.

  2. Can you offer me three objective reasons or evidences for why you believe Mormonism is true?

    Notice this question immediately shifts the burden of proof on them, where it belongs. It takes the pressure off you and puts you in the driver’s seat. Remember, they’ve come to you. You’re under no obligation to jump through their hoops and answer their questions. Just be sure to keep them on track and not let them deviate from the question at hand. Mormons often ask you to pray and ask God to reveal the truth to you. This is not an objective reason or evidence. So don’t let them get away with offering it as an answer.

Notice I said nothing that afternoon that required even a modest education of Mormon beliefs or apologetics. I simply used my tactics. As a result, I was never in a defensive mode. I was able to draw my visitor onto my turf by making them answer the tough questions and shoulder the burden of proof.

Another way I make an impact without knowing anything is by engaging in fact-finding. I ask dozens of questions all related to the theme: what do you believe and why? At Stand to Reason, we call this the Columbo Tactic. This line of questioning serves many valuable purposes:

  • It educates me about a religion I know little about.
  • It allows me to know and understand the person’s unique beliefs about their faith. Remember, not every Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, etc. believes the same thing about their faith as other adherents. Instead of reading a book, I can simply ask them. I’m now less likely to misrepresent their beliefs, especially if they differ from the religion’s established teachings.
  • It keeps me in the driver’s seat and out of the hot seat.
  • It engages the visitor in meaningful dialog, showing genuine interest in their beliefs.

Having shown you how to make an impact without knowing anything, this is not a license to live in ignorance. You can multiply your impact as an ambassador if you know a few key things about different religions or worldviews.

Last month I had the privilege of training 700 high school and junior high students at Santa Fe Christian School in Solana Beach, California. By training these young minds in tactics, I know that they’ll be able to apply these principles in any conversation, with anyone, on any topic, and make a difference for the Kingdom.

It’s what our partnership is all about and I’m grateful to be a part of it with you.

Grateful for your support,

Alan Shlemon