Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Greg Koukl's Tactics Blog Tour

Today we welcome Greg Koukl to interact on the blog. His new book Tactics has just been released. Today he will be answering a couple of questions and interacting with your follow-up questions in the comments.

Be sure to follow the tour throughout the week:
Today also: Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Wed. 2/18 Truthbomb Apologetics
Wed. 2/18 Apologetics.com
Thurs. 2/19 Zondervan Koinonia
Fri. 2/20 Stand to Reason

Question #1 from Brian @ Apologetics 315: What key personal disciplines, spiritual or otherwise, have played the most vital role in your development as a critical thinker, clear communicator, and effective apologist?

Greg's Response:
I have always struggled, more or less, with the classical disciplines of Christianity: prayer, fasting, meditation on the Word, etc. Consequently, I can’t say that they have had a special impact in my life, although I think my prayer life has gotten richer and more meaningful as I have gotten older in the Lord.

The thing that has made the biggest difference—that has played the most “vital role,” I think—are the mentors, near and far, who have molded me. Since the beginning I have had strong Christians around me to guide me, teach me, and especially to correct me when I needed it. For the most part, I have welcomed criticism and critique of my views, my character, and also of the way I come across to others. Even now I have people I trust looking over my shoulder giving feedback on the content and tone of these missives I am posting for Tactics. I think it is lethal to effectiveness when any Christian fails to have those in his life that can serve that role.

So, I think I have learned to be a better critical thinker, communicator, and apologist by first apprenticing myself—either directly or indirectly—to others who excel in those areas. I listen to them, watch them, hang around if I’m able, drawing from their wisdom and experience. I think about how they think, not just what they think. I listen to how they use words, illustrations, gestures, and audience interaction. I then try to imitate what I see them modeling in any of those areas. For example, I listen to Dennis Prager and pay attention to the little things he’s doing on the air that I think make him so effective, then I try to work those elements into my own style as a broadcaster.

Second, I give others close to me permission to critique all aspects of my life, and I actively seek out that information even when it’s not volunteered. We almost never see our own weaknesses, though they are frequently obvious to others. If you enlist your family, friends, and colleagues as allies in the process of becoming better in any area you’re concerned about, you will improve much faster then you thought possible providing, that is, you have the mettle for it. It is an acquired skill and I confess I haven’t always been up to it. But if you can steel yourself to hear the truth from others who care, you will greatly benefit.

Question #2 from Kyle in Plano, TX: How do you see apologetics changing in the next twenty years or so as the culture continues to change?

Greg's Response:
This is very difficult to answer since it is hard to tell what the future holds and how Christians in general will respond to the challenges to the Gospel that arise in the years to come. In one sense, nothing should change. Our basic posture at Stand to Reason—and the idea at the heart of the Tactics book—is to be God’s ambassador presenting the truth as persuasively and as graciously as we are able.

Here is how I put it in chapter one:

Jesus said that when you find yourself a sheep amidst wolves, be innocent, but be shrewd (Matthew 10:16). Even though there is real warfare going on, our engagements should look more like diplomacy than D-Day. In this book I would like to teach you how to do that. I want to suggest a method I call the Ambassador model. This approach trades more on friendly curiosity—a kind of relaxed diplomacy—than on confrontation.
I then talk specifically about what the three main elements of the ambassador model:

Representing Christ in the new millennium requires three basic skills…. These three skills—knowledge, an accurately informed mind; wisdom, an artful method; and character, an attractive manner—play a part in every effective involvement with a non-believer. The second skill, tactical wisdom, is the main focus of this book.
I see no reason why anything about the ambassador model should change regardless of what we face in the future. That’s why I think this approach is so helpful. New challenges may mean adding to our knowledge or adjusting our tactics, etc., but the basic model remains the same.

I do envision stylistic changes, though, especially adopting a tone that is more sensitive to the prevailing ethos. Narrative is playing a much bigger part in the process now than before, for example. Post-modern sensibilities are forcing us to be kinder and gentler, so to speak, and that’s a good thing. My fear is that as a church we will drift into a new wave of anti-intellectualism, and this is never a good thing, on balance.

Feel free to respond to Greg's answers and ask him follow-up questions.


Thomas said...

Hi Greg,

I've appreciated STR's ministry for awhile now and can't wait to get your new book.

What do you think is the role of an apologist within the church? In other words, do you think that churches today need to have an "Apologetics Pastor" on staff?

Obviously all pastors (and all Christians) should be apologists but do you see a need or role for a more specialized pastor in this area?


Chad said...


Thank you for taking the time to answer questions.

I am in the process of getting an apologetics ministry started at my local church.

Can you think of a few ways that I could get others interested? BTW, you are schedule to speak at our church in May, so I have that covered! :-)

Thank you again and I appreciate your work very much.

You as well Brian.

Greg Koukl said...


My first reaction is that it would be great to have apologetics pastors on the staff of every church. It would be a great resource in a number of areas serving the needs of the local church people and the rest of the pastoral staff. My conviction has always been that specialty pastors was more of an American thing, whereas the Scripture describes leaders that are fully rounded in their capabilities.

In today’s world, specialization is so engrained in the church that it’s going to be difficult to get back to the idea of all pastors on staff having a good grasp of apologetics to seamlessly integrate it into their ministries. In that case, having someone on staff that can make a contribution for the others in this area is vitally important, but I’m afraid we’re a long way off from that. Very few churches put out want ads saying “Apologist Needed.”

Another alternative, and a Biblical one I think, is for some of the so-called laypeople to develop expertise in apologetics. J.P. Moreland talks about this in his book Loving God with All Your Mind. For e.g., those whose profession is in the scientific discipline can specialize in scientific apologetic issues. Teachers and professors can spend some time dealing with their areas of specialty. You get my point. Thus they are then available to the local church to inform the pastor, when needed, but also be a resource to the congregation in their area of specialty. They can also teach Sunday School on their topics or small groups and seminars. It’s a perfect way of getting more people involved in the process. And this is fully consistent with the way the Body functions (1 Cor. 12, Romans 12).

Sounds to me like you might be a perfect candidate for this, Thomas. My own operating policy when I taught apologetics at my own local church was the simple maxim “Bloom where you’re planted.” It served me, and my church, well. And also helped not only train me in the smaller things, but gave me an opportunity to be faithful in smaller things so that God might trust me with more.

Greg Koukl said...


This is an issue that I addressed directly in the final chapter of Tactics. I think I’ll just post what I wrote there (p. 112):

“When people ask me how to get their church interested in loving God with their minds as Christians, I have a simple bit of advice these women understood: You can’t start a fire with wet wood. You must begin with dry tinder.

“In nearly every church there are brothers and sisters who share your hunger, but have yet to share your discovery. They are dissatisfied, yearning for something more substantial, but do not know where to turn. These people are your dry tinder.

“Do not make it your goal to change your church just yet. First, find these people. Gather up the dry tinder, plant your own spark, and kindle a flame. Aim to start a modest fire with a cluster of believers of kindred spirit who value using their minds in their pursuit of God. Once the fire gets ignited, don’t be surprised if some of the wet wood dries out and begins to blaze.

“Commit to meet together on a regular basis: weekly, bi-weekly, monthly—whatever fits your schedules. Individual commitments to your group may be short term for a particular study project, or part of a long-term relationship similar to C.S. Lewis’s friendships with Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others in a group they called the “Inklings.” It’s up to you.

“Meet together for a limited but definite period of time to study a particular topic. You might listen to tapes as a group or discuss a book. You might role-play differences of opinion, using the tactics you have learned from this book. Or you might work together to construct an intelligent, reasoned response to the specific points you heard on a talk show or saw in a letter to the editor. Encourage each other to step out of your comfort zones and apply what you’re learning.

“Your group could become a catalyst influencing others in your church, a vital resource that your Christian friends can turn to when they have questions. The Women of Berea soon began to have an impact beyond their own ranks, drying out the wet wood around them by being good ambassadors for the Christian faith. The key to effectiveness outside your group is to stay visible, be committed to excellence, and keep a good attitude. This is not a time for pride, but for usefulness.”

Chad said...


Thank you so much! After reading Tactics, I started a small apologetics group for the very purposes you mentioned.

I was curious if you had any other ideas; however, I suppose this is the best way to get things rolling.

Thank you and God Bless

Brian said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Here's another.

It seems to me from reading tactics that the work of Francis Schaeffer has been influential to you. You have also mentioned mentors and people to learn from in various areas (Denis Prager, for instance). What particular apologetics authors or apologists have had the most influence on you? Would you recommend particular authors for those starting out in apologetics? In addition, if you could only recommend one book (aside from Tactics), what would it be?

Greg Koukl said...


The two authors that have had the greatest influence on me are Francis Schaeffer (his Trilogy is a must read, even for a postmodern environment) and J.P. Moreland. I think J.P. is the best apologist in the country for a number of reasons partly because of his tremendous breadth and clarity. Of course, C.S. Lewis is in a class by himself not only for his insight, but also for his clever, clear, and accessible way of expressing himself. I've learned much by reflecting on Lewis' style.

I also encourage people to podcast Dennis Prager (dennisprager.com ). Dennis is extremely thoughtful on spiritual issues, though he isn't a Christian. He is especially adept tactically and treats all his callers with the kind of grace I wish were always characteristic of followers of Christ.

As for the one book recommendation, that's kind of like asking which of your children you love the best. For a general book on rigorous apologetics, I recommend Scaling the Secular City by Moreland. For a more popular treatment, I highly recommend the Lee Strobel "Case for..." series. For a single introduction to philosophy of religion (a topic vital, I think, for effective apologists) I highly recommend Thinking about God by Greg Ganssle. He has a nearly miraculous gift of taking complex ideas and making them completely accessible to the reader.

If I had to say one book and only one then I'd say the Schaeffer Trilogy. (You can find it in the STR online bookstore.)

Haecceitas said...

Hi Greg,

With regard to your commentary (on the latest STR broadcast) concerning the apparent impossibility of a Christian holding consistently to a "blind watchmaker" thesis, I understand that at least one of the problems is the seeming incompatibility of something being a result of random chance and also being a result of design at the same time. Like you put it, the watchmaker isn't blind anymore if God's purpose is involved. What do you think of the following way to reconcile "true randomness" and God's purpose, which results from the application of the concept of middle knowledge to randomness (instead of the more typical application to free choices).

1. God knows (via his middle knowledge) every possible universe that has random elements in it.

2. There is one particular universe where process involving random events take the form that suits God's purposes -- without requiring God's actual intervention in the process.

3. Therefore, God chooses to actualize that particular universe and let it run its course.

It seems to me that while the concepts of randomness and libertarian free will are certainly not the same, there's one important thing that they have in common -- the lack of causal determinism. And if God can know free choices via his middle knowledge, I see no reason why he couldn't know random events in a similar manner. This would seem to give God a considerable room for purposive planning without intervening in the actual process.

One could say that in this solution, the blind watchmaker is still blind, but the owner of the watch factory chose to hire just that one particular and uniquely qualified blind applicant for the watchmaking job, knowing that his work would achieve the desired end results.

P.S. This is not my actual view on the origins. However, it does seem to represent a genuine possibility that I've not heard you comment on when you've dealt with this issue and raised the objection that I mentioned above, so I'd appreciate your feedback.

Thomas said...


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I've often thought that an apologetics pastor would be a cool idea, but I do see your point that the church should be raising up apologists within the body and not specializing in that way.

I actually have the privilege of teaching an apologetics/ethics course for seniors in high school in the Washington, DC area. It's truly an awesome privilege and your ministry at STR is always very helpful. My students certainly know the name “Greg Koukl” and know that time spent reading at str.org is time well spent.

I wanted to know if you could comment on my basic course outline and give any suggestions about anything else that may be good to include. The following is a broad outline of the course. We’ll spend a number of weeks on each of these sections:

1. Introduction to Apologetics (What is Apologetics? Types of Apologetics, etc.)
2. Christian Theism and World Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc.)
3. Christian Theism and Secular Worldviews or Philosophies (Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, New Age, Postmodernism, etc.)
4. The Emerging Church Movement (Kind of ties in to our discussion on postmodernism!)
5. Difficulties in Christianity (Intro to Logic, Arguments for the existence of God, Reliability of the Bible, Resurrection of Jesus, Theodicy, Trinity, etc.)
6. Ethics (Intro to Ethics, Capital Punishment, Abortion, Euthanasia, Suicide, Divorce, Gender Issues, Homosexuality, War, etc.)
7. Evangelism (this is usually at the end of the year for about 2 weeks)

The seniors read the following books during the course of the year:
“But Don’t All Religions Lead to God?” by Michael Green
“The Universe Next Door” by James Sire
“The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
“Every Though Captive” by Richard Pratt
“The Post-Christian Mind” by Harry Blamires
“Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman

I also have my students write a 20 page thesis paper on a contemporary ethical or apologetic topic and how the Christian worldview should respond. And the students also have to do a two week internship at a secular workplace (related to their topic) to see how their viewpoint works in the real world. Yeah, I’m pretty mean ;)

Anyways, do you have any thoughts for anything else we could cover or anything that you think doesn’t seem necessary? Thanks so much!

Greg Koukl said...


I see two problems with your interesting proposal. There is a difference between something that is possible, something that is plausible, and something that is probable or likely, given the evidence. I clarify these distinctions in chapter 4 of Tactics. William Lane Craig also uses these first two categories in his own discussion of middle knowledge (though he may use the word “feasible” where I am using “plausible”).

Here is the point. Certainly, God knows all theoretical possibilities and all counterfactuals—all possibilities that never take place. But given the state of reality, not all possible universes are plausible (or feasible) because there are some possibilities that would never be actualized “on their own,” as it were, without God’s direct intervention. For example, given that the biological world is constructed according to explicit and detailed informational-rich language, even if a such an alternate universe were theoretically possible, why would anyone think that this would actually happen? Changes in the developing biosphere require a rich infusion of new information. Information is the product of minds, not chance. How do biological books write themselves?

God would have to actualize one of the worlds in which information produces itself. According to the middle knowledge explanation, He would simply choose to create the world in which the biological books write themselves in the way that God likes best.

Here, then, are the two problems in brief. First this approach assumes that there are feasible, plausible counterfactual worlds in which information manufactures itself. Even if theoretically possible (which I doubt) it certainly doesn’t seem feasible. Second, this would mean God couldn’t create any world He wanted, but only the ones available to Him that are plausible. It’s like the difference between an essay question (compose what you want) and a multiple choice test (pick among available options).

W.L. Craig is clear about this limitation when it comes to salvation. It may be that, though it is possible there could be a world in which everyone receives Christ, it may turn out that there is no feasible world for God to actualize in which everyone does in fact receive Christ. Whenever you have sentient creatures who can exercise even a measure of volitional freedom (and I think this is true even of animals), then you have this wild card in the mix. In strictly deterministic systems (everything a result of event causation), you can set up the initial conditions just right and all the dominoes fall as planned. However, when there is any kind of agency, it simply may not be plausible to actualize all theoretically possible outcomes.

In a word, the difficulty is with your second point. It may be that there is no plausible universe involving random events that take the form that suit God’s purposes.

There is a much simpler answer available to us: Intelligent Design. As I say in Tactics:

When it comes to weighty matters, we want to make smart choices. Why go with a long shot, especially when so much might be riding on a decision? Wisdom, careful thinking, and ordinary common sense always side with the odds-on favorite. It may seem plausible to some that monkeys banging on typewriters long enough could eventually pound out the works of Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean we’re justified in thinking a baboon wrote Hamlet. I’m still convinced Shakespeare did that.

M! said...

I just wanted to say thanks for stopping by. A blog tour is a way cool idea.


Haecceitas said...

Thanks Greg. As usual, your comments are insightful and they provide much food for thought.

I guess I will agree with you that the proposal that I made isn't anywhere near of being a probable candidate for how God created. But it's the idea that I came up with when I tried to think of how a full-blown "blind watchmaker" type of theist might try to argue. Perhaps a plausible minimum involvement would be to add the idea of so-called "front loading" (as proposed by Mike Gene) to the equation while maintaining the central role of middle knowledge. (However, in actual fact, I tend to think of God's role in creation as even more active than that.)


As a piece of background information, let me mention that I'm from Finland. It seems to me that while the rise of more sophisticated type of Christian apologetics has been significant in the last decade or two, it's been a phenomenon that's largely limited to the English speaking world. (I suppose this has a parallel in the way that the landscape of Anglo-American philosophy of religion has been totally transformed.) Can you give any advise as to what are the best ways to bring apologetics (and the Stand to Reason type of approach to the Christian faith in general) into a Christian subculture in an environment that hasn't really felt the full impact of what's happened in the English-speaking world in this regard? I suppose there are no easy answers to this, but any thoughts would be appreciated.

Greg Koukl said...


Courses like this can be organized a number of different ways. It looks like you’ve done a good job with your layout. You might consider Greg Ganssle’s book Thinking about God. The only other major oversight is no mention of Relativism or Tactics. (Or may be I should presume that’s a given!)

Greg Koukl said...


The simplest answer to your question would be to figure out the books/blogs/websites/podcasts that seem to have the most populist appeal and then begin spreading the word about them in your own circles in Finland. If they work well here among the rank and file, I see no reason to think they would not begin to have an impact catching Christians’ attention where you live.

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