By J. Luis Dizon
The Greek philosopher Socrates was a master in exposing and correcting faulty thinking behind his opponents’ thinking. If you look into his dialogues, you will notice that his main method of engaging them was not by stating facts or making assertions, but asking questions. By asking the right questions at the right moment, he was able to take what seemed to be a strong argument from those he was in debate with, and discovering the flaws and inconsistencies behind them. The “Socratic Method,” as this came to be called, has become a staple in debates and ever since.
Asking the right questions is an important tip to remember when, in the midst of an evangelistic encounter, it becomes necessary to give an apologetic for the faith. Many Christian apologists (such as Greg Koukl, who in his book Tactics refers to this as the “Columbo Tactic”) make good use of these questions to disarm objections raised by skeptics against the Christian faith. While many Christians, when giving an apologetic to non-Christians, make numerous assertions or try to recite as many facts that support the Christian faith as they can, it is much better to make use of questions. There are a few reasons why this is the case.
First, it is less confrontational than simply pummelling the non-Christian with assertions. Of course, one must always ask questions calmly, and avoid a condescending tone in doing so. That being said, the skeptic is less likely to be turned off by a Christian who uses the Socratic Method, since it displays a willingness to listen to them and take in their ideas. It gives the non-Christian a chance to work out the answers for themselves, rather than having it forced down their throats. It also ensures that both sides understand each other, and it goes a long way towards preventing arguments where the believer and non-believer are simply talking past one another—a situation that happens way too often, and often leaves both sides angry and frustrated without any real progress.
Second, it is much more effective in showing to the non-Christian the faulty presuppositions and logical fallacies on which their arguments are based. When the non-Christian makes an objection, it is generally based one or more of the following: A leap in logic, an inconsistency in their worldview, a misunderstanding of Christian belief or a falsehood mistaken for a fact. Oftentimes, you will find that their claims are totally unsubstantiated, which comes out when asked one simple question: “How do you know that?” Many of the standard objections against Christianity are based on falsehoods that are repeated in secular culture, so often so that people take them for granted without actually checking into them to see if they’re true or not. Many of them are also based on presupposing a non-Christian worldview, which at its heart is inconsistent and cannot sustain its objection towards Christianity (something which will be explored in detail in another article). Asking them for the source of their objections also keeps the burden of proof on them, something which is always important to consider when dialoguing with a non-Christian.
Finally, it should be noted that Jesus Himself used questions as a method of exposing flaws in the thinking of those who opposed Him. “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? . . . David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Mark 12:35,37); “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36); “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” (Luke 20:24). These and myriad other questions were employed by Jesus in His teachings, as well as in His encounters with the Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious pundits of His day. Each question was tailored to the audience He was directing it to, and worked magnificently at disarming hard questions and getting His listeners to think about what it is He was trying to teach them. In this regard, we should strive to imitate Christ’s example, who embodied the very shrewdness that He advocates among His disciples (cf. Matthew 10:16), and provided the model which we are to emulate in our thought patterns and our interaction with those around us, Christian and non-Christian alike.
All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.