Tactics and Tools

No More Free Rides: Enforcing the Burden of Proof Rule

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/19/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for May 2007

Dear Friend,

Everyone likes a free ride. It might even feel right to give one. There’s one free ride, however, we need to stop giving.

Here’s the scenario. You’re having a conversation with a friend. They offer a critique or objection to your faith. Instead of them backing up their critique with evidence or reasons, you begin a defensive discourse explaining why their objection is not accurate. And now you’ve done it—you’ve just given someone a free ride.

The problem of free rides can be resolved with a simple, yet powerful concept known as the burden of proof rule. The burden of proof is the responsibility one has to defend their belief, opinion, or view. The rule goes like this: The person that makes the claim bears the burden. In other words, if someone offers a critique, it’s their job to defend their view, not your job to defend against it.

Too often I see Christians bear the burden of proof when they’re not supposed to. This keeps the Christian in the hot seat as they hopelessly try to respond to every crazy objection and story someone can spin. They neglect holding the other person responsible to defend their view. It’s time to stop giving free rides and begin enforcing the burden of proof rule.

For example, a friend might tell you they think all religions are the same. They’ve made the claim so it’s their job to back it up. Ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” or something akin to that. Then sit back and listen to them defend their view. It’s their job. This is not only a good tactic, it’s also the next proper step in the conversation.

Notice the many benefits of enforcing the burden of proof. First, it puts the burden of proof back where it belongs—on the person making the claim. Second, it makes your job much easier. It keeps you out of the hot seat so you can relax. Third, it shows interest in the other person’s view, which is what a good ambassador should do. Fourth, it gives you valuable insight into their rationale so you know how to respond to their reasons. Fifth, it keeps you in control of the conversation, not in a manipulative way, but in a way that helps productively advance the conversation towards discovering the truth.

I continue to be thankful for the faithful monthly support you give. Each day that I enter a church and train new workers, I see the impact of your help. Let me assure you, people are grateful that we partner together to train hearts and minds to serve Christ. I am humbled to serve with you. Thank you.

In His Service,

Alan Shlemon