How would you respond if someone presented a challenge to the truth claims of Christianity? Would you be nervous? Feel ill-equipped? What if you could eliminate your anxiety, take control of intimidating conversations, and help others think more clearly about their views and the truth of Scripture?
The key to all of this? Asking good questions.
That’s what Greg Koukl’s latest book, Street Smarts, is all about. Greg is back on the podcast to talk about how questions can help answer Christianity’s toughest challenges.
Koukl has hosted his call-in radio show Stand to Reason for over 30 years, has written many helpful books including Tactics: A Gameplan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.
Street Smarts picks up where Tactics left off, providing model questions and example conversations to effectively discuss your Christian beliefs, even on hot-button issues such as moral relativism, the authenticity of Scripture, the gospel, abortion, marriage, gender, and more.
In this discussion we’ll talk about:
- How Greg became involved in apologetics
- How Street Smarts expands on the book Tactics
- The difference between harvesting and gardening when it comes to evangelism
- The benefits of asking questions in difficult conversations
- How we can be better equipped to engage with others on difficult, controversial issues
Watch or listen to our conversation below and learn how you can utilize good questions to answer difficult challenges.
Watch the Conversation
Listen to the Conversation
Meet Our Guest
Greg Koukl has hosted his call-in radio talk show for more than 33 years defending “Christianity worth thinking about.” He is founder and president of Stand to Reason and serves as adjunct professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University. He is the author of many books including Tactics, which we talked about back on Episode 29, and the new book Street Smarts: Using Questions to Answer Christianity’s Toughest Challenges.
Enjoy this episode?
Be sure to subscribe & Leave a Review!
- Learn more about Stand To Reason
- More on the Columbo Tactic (Video)
- Listen to my conversation with Greg about Tactics
- Pick up a copy of Tactics
- Pick up a copy of Street Smarts
- Mater Lectures: Street Smarts Video Series
Using Questions to Answer Christianity’s Toughest Challenges
Street Smarts offers model questions and sample dialogues to help guide believers in persuasive conversations about hot-button issues
Read the Transcript
Clay Kraby: Well, Greg Koukl, welcome back to the Reasonable Theology podcast.
Greg Koukl: Well, Clay, it’s really good to be back with you again. We did this, a few years ago, and it’s nice to revisit, our relationship and our conversation. Thanks.
Clay Kraby: Absolutely. And I’ll be sure to link to that. If folks didn’t hear it, we had a chance to talk about your very well-known, best-selling book, Tactics, which I’m sure will come up once or twice in our conversation. Now, as we talk about this new book, Street Smarts.
Clay Kraby: Before we get into that, though, could you share if someone hasn’t come across you, hasn’t come across Stand to Reason, could you tell a little bit about what Stand to Reason is and how you got started in apologetics ministry?
Greg Koukl: Yeah, well, those are two different things. I got started in apologetics when, 50 years ago, I became a Christian. I had my spiritual birthday about a month ago, half a century ago, and I was 23 years old…
Read Full Transcript
Greg Koukl: …And I was, going to UCLA at the time. And Westwood Village was the kind of happening place in that community right next to the campus. And so in free time, you kind of walk around the village and get something to eat and talk to people. And, of course, during that time, there were all kinds of, people with various spiritual trips that were communicating on the street, stopping bystanders, and getting in conversations. This was right at really the height of the Jesus movement, and, in Southern California, no less. So this was the epicenter of it all. And so it was very easy to get into spiritual conversations. And for me, as a brand new Christian, this was something I wanted to do, and it came naturally and lots of opportunities, but I realized that I was not very well equipped to engage people with the challenges they had. And I’m unusual, I think, among my colleagues in that apologetics played almost no role in my. Well, I would say no role in my conversion. It isn’t like J Warner Wallace or, you know, or Lee Strobel or some of these other folks that, you see this progression as they’re working through the defenses for Christianity, and this persuades them to become a Christian. That wasn’t my case. So I didn’t have all this stuff. And, in fact, some of the questions that were being asked were questions I had for myself. Now, I still was convinced about Christianity, but that was something the Holy Spirit did. That’s another story. But nevertheless, I still wondered, well, what is the right answer to that question? And so this is where I began getting interested in Josh McDowell at the time, and, Francis, Schaefer. I mean, back then, there were only about four or five people in play. Norm Geisler was around. I didn’t read him then, but, John Warwick Montgomery, he was in play, and so was Walter Martin. And other than C. S. Lewis, which is across the pond, I mean, that was about it. And so, I just drew from that. We have dozens and dozens of authors now and all kinds of mediums like this one here, for people to gain that information. But we didn’t, then. But I started studying, especially Francis Schaeffer, and it had a great impact on me, and Josh McDowell. Now, there are two different elements that are there. One is a way of approaching the whole issue. That was Schaefer and then specific answers to challenges. That was McDowell. But nevertheless, that really helped me. And then I went for, let’s see that, 83 to, about 20 years, 73 to 93. About 20 years into this enterprise. This is when I decided, with a lot of encouragement from others, to focus in on, I thought the thing that I do best. And this is where my philosophy of ministry is that. And I think biblically, ministry is not distributed by calling. You don’t have to kind of hear what God is calling you to do. That’s not actually biblical. what’s biblical is that ministry is distributed by gifting. And we have whole passages, chapters of the Bible, one Corinthians twelve, Romans twelve, et cetera, et cetera, that are devoted to that. So I asked myself, what is my gifting? And my gifting was in communication. My interest was, in American culture and apologetics and making sense of Christianity in light of the challenges. And so that’s when we started stand the reason in 1993. That means we’re at our 30th anniversary this year, which is pretty cool. But, here’s what occurred to me, and this was really the motivating enterprise with stand a reason in the conversation in the culture. I just finished an apologetics master’s, and I was just beginning another master’s in philosophy. And I realized in both those studies that we have great answers to the issues, but people aren’t using them. Christians aren’t in the public conversation. We have a lot of shrillness. It’s shrill and it’s shallow. Okay. There are two S’s or silent. Christians weren’t even speaking. There’s three S’s. Good Baptist Sermon right there, working out. And so, that’s when I decided maybe I can make a contribution with an enterprise that would help train Christians to think more carefully about their convictions and then make a defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values. And that, by the way, is our mission statement to stand a reason, which I just cited. So that was the genesis of this project, that for 30 years now, God has been prospering in amazing ways. And I don’t say that in a trite fashion. Everybody says that kind of thing. and at some level they mean it. But I’m not saying it because I have to say that I have had a tiger by the tail for the last 30 years, and I’ve been just been dragged along by what God is doing, trying to make my contribution, building a team. But really, I have not been in charge. I didn’t do this. I was just there when it all happened over the last 30 years.
Greg Koukl: So there’s a thumbnail sketch of my project, which Then brings me to the books that I’ve written over the years to help Christians understand the Christian worldview. That’s a book we haven’t talked about before called the Story of Reality. and then the last book we talked about tactics and the new book, which is Street Smart. So tactics is subtitled A, Game Plan for discussing your Christian convictions. So it’s an actual plan, a three step plan that allows Christians to very effectively get into conversations without taking any risk on themselves and what Street Smarts is. And the subtitle there is using questions to answer Christianity’s toughest challenges. Okay, now there’s a book that picks up in a certain sense where the tactics book left off for those who are familiar with the tactical game plan, it’s the third step of the game plan on steroids. I mean, that’s Street Smarts. All right, we can talk about what that looks like. so these are connected. If you read tactics, you’re going to love Street Smarts. I’m just saying. but if you haven’t read tactics, I hope you do. But Street Smart still is a standalone book because it reviews the tactical game plan, all the steps, the foundational material, and then goes right into the third step application, of the game plan, encountering a whole bunch of different specific issues. Okay. And this is where Street Smarts is different from tactics. in tactics, I talk about maneuvers, the game plan, and then specific maneuvers that you could do in conversation that will help you. Tactical maneuvers. Okay. In street, smarts, I talk about issues. So I talk about atheism. I got two chapters in that. I have a chapter on the problem of evil. I have a chapter on whether you can be good without God. I, have two chapters on abortion. I’ve got, two chapters on the Bible, Bible and science, and then Bible challenges like slavery and alleged genocide in the Bible. I have, two chapters on Jesus, the Son of God, the only way of salvation. These are all problems for other people. I have chapters on gender, and sex and marriage. So you can see I’m hitting all the high points of the discussion challenges from the culture. But I’m giving background information, Clay, with those topics. So then people can then, integrate the problems that I show them regarding each of those issues into the tactical game plan, but always using questions which, as you know, is central to that game plan. So there’s a little pitch on how that all fits together.
Clay Kraby: No, that’s a great overview. And, in the midst of all that work, the big part of STR, which you can learn more at STR.org. has been this call in radio show that you’ve done for 30 years. So you’re actively having conversations either with Christians that are needing help, maybe processing their conversations, or maybe skeptics calling in or curious people or whatever else, or hostile atheists.
Greg Koukl: We get that.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, I’m sure you do. So a lot of this work, these books, the website, have come out of real world conversations that you have had. And as you’ve mentioned, tactics. One number one recommended apologetics book on my site. I always tell people, always direct people to tactics. I’ve bought tactics for people. I’ve read it several times, really highly recommend it. And one of those tactics is dealing with questions. And you call it the Colombo tactic. And for those of us who grew up with a remote control and didn’t have to walk up to the TV and change the channel, who’s Colombo and why is it the Colombo tactic? I think to YouTube. Am aware of who Colombo is. I probably wasn’t before your book.
Greg Koukl: yes, that’s an interesting way you put know, walk up and change the channel. That’s true. Those were the days. Right. but Colombo is a TV character. He’s iconic. In fact, he’s the number one TV icon of all time. More memorable even than Lucy. And people are saying, who’s Lucy? Well, never mind. Lieutenant Colombo was, engaging because he was a murder detective that would come on the crime scene and look like he was bumbling and didn’t know what he was doing and always scratching his head and thinking, I don’t know, there’s something about this thing that bothers me kind of thing. but he’d ask questions, and then he’d ask questions first to gather information. But then when he gets an idea of who the bad guy is, he starts asking more particular questions relative to his suspicions, but he’s not letting on. Okay, so he’s under the radar the whole time until he’s gathered all of his information. Then he can make his final point. Okay, now, this question asking approach is the heart of the game plan. Some remember it as the Socratic method that goes back 2400 years. Socrates. But I think Colombo is a more fun way of characterizing it. That’s why I call it the Colombo tactic. And this is the game plan. And all the other tactics are meant in the tactics book to serve that game plan. and there’s a lot of reasons why I think the game plan is so effective using questions. So you’re not just using the method of Colombo, but you’re also kind of assuming his unassuming approach, his calm, relaxed, scratch in the head. This confuses me, help me out here kind of thing. because we want to come in in a relaxed way, in a certain sense, under the radar. We don’t want to alarm people. we don’t want to, of course, make them feel like we’re tricking them, but at the same time, we are trying to get them to think more carefully about the views they have that are faulty, that are flawed, that are contrary to what the truth is. And so if we know where the flaws are, then we can begin asking questions pertaining to the flaws. And that’s actually the third step of the Colombo method. or the game plan is using questions to make a point. The first two steps are actually very simple. We’re just gathering certain types of information. We’re trying to understand what the person’s view is. That’s the first step. And a model question would be, what do you mean by that? Or some variation. And the second step is just to figure out why they believe what they believe. I call it reversing the burden of proof and some form of the question. Well, how did you come to that conclusion? Now, Clay, you know this from reading the book, but, those first two steps are, like, radically simple. I mean, anybody can do this. You can be a brand new Christian, and you’re just being a student of the other person’s views. But there’s real value in using questions, for those first two steps. For one, questions are dialogical.
Greg Koukl: They allow you to interact with the other person. You’re asking questions to gain information about their view or the reasons for it. You’re not fighting them, you’re not taking exception with it. You’re just learning. And, they’re polite. they’re relaxed. And there’s no risk for the Christian if you were an atheist. And, Clay, all I wanted to do is figure out what were the details of your convictions and the reasons that you held them. Obviously, I’m not pushing my view in any sense on you. So, there’s no grounds for objection by you as an atheist. And there’s nothing for me to prove right at that stage. Okay. But here’s the key. And you know this from using the tactical game plan. Even if you just are asking what they believe and why they believe it, it’s amazing how much progress you can make to get a person thinking about their own view in a way they didn’t think before. I call that putting a stone in their shoe. Right. It’s just annoying them in a good way. Right? I never thought of. Wait. And the reason is, when you ask people what they mean, what their view is about, or whatever, a lot of times when they’re forced to articulate it carefully, they stumble around because they haven’t thought through it well. And if you ask them the reasons for it, they stumble around because they haven’t thought through it well. And then this makes them wonder, well, maybe my view is not as good as I thought. By the way, if I can get them wondering that I’m done, I’m satisfied. This is what I call gardening, as opposed to worrying about the harvesting. I’m satisfied. So I’m just trying to put a stone in their shoe. And those first two questions do that. But the third use of Colombo, using question to make a point, is really the thrust of the Street Smarts approach.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And so you’ve taken, again, if you’re familiar with tactics, a lot of this is going to be familiar. And now in Street Smarts, you’re really expanding upon that and giving practical examples of what that could look like in these really specific situations and conversations that can easily become heated and you can really disarm, and kind of diffuse a lot of the tension by one asking them questions because there’s no reason answering objections that people don’t have. You got to find out what their objection is. And like you said and pointed out with a simple question that might be enough for them to realize, well, I didn’t actually come to this conclusion. I just assumed it, or I’m repeating it or whatever else.
Clay Kraby: But you mentioned something just now that is early on in the book that I think is important. And this difference between a gardening mindset and a harvesting mindset. And you bring this up by suggesting that we kind of psych ourselves out of evangelism and spiritual conversations. We make it harder than it has to be because we’re thinking of evangelism incorrectly. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
Greg Koukl: Yeah, Clay, you put it perfectly. I’ve never heard anybody put it quite like that. I wish I would have put it in the book like that. We psych ourselves out, okay, because our understanding of evangelism is largely influenced, actually, by events that took place over the last 150 years. This is not the way, the way we do it now, and I’ll explain that in a moment, is not the way they did it in the New Testament Book of Acts, Gospels. You don’t see this kind of approach, but it’s a kind of a communication of the simple gospel, answering questions, if we can, and then inviting people to pray and receive Christ. And that might be in an individual conversation. You might have a tract or booklet or something that has the sinner’s prayer at the back. or it might be in a church service where the gospel is communicated, and then people are invited to raise their hands or to come forward and receive Christ, have an altar call or something like that. And I’m not against any of those methods, and I’ve used them before in certain ways. Altar calls I do a little differently than now. I never really, as I’ve looked back, understand, like, with every eye closed and every head bowed and shoot your hand up. And I said, this isn’t like the New Testament. Like, we’re going to hide before we say this. And then that’s allowing timid people to show that they’re receiving Christ. But why would we want that to be relegated to. Why would we want timidity to overcome that if we’re really, Anyway, that’s a whole other issue.
Clay Kraby: But I agree with you. And you always wonder, did someone really raise their hand or is he making that up?
Greg Koukl: Yeah, thank you.
Clay Kraby: I see that hand.
Greg Koukl: Yes. Well, there was a pastor who did altar calls, kind of like that, but he also added something, and he said, yes, I see that hand. He said, no, I want you to tap the person right next to you, and I want you to tell them, I’m receiving Jesus right now. that was great. That kind of overcame a bit of that problem. But, Ah, anyway, that’s the methodology we have in our mind, and we think, well, that’s the way to do it. And so I actually shock people a lot when I speak at events now. And I tell them, it’s been over 30 years since I prayed with anybody to receive Christ. I haven’t done that for 30 years. Like, I know what they’re thinking. What a loser. Because that’s what a lot of people think about themselves if they haven’t prayed with someone to receive Christ. But here’s the deal. The approach that I just described, which everybody’s familiar with, that’s a harvest approach. And what tools are being given there in the tract, is a harvest tool. That’s why they have the prayer in the end. Okay? But the work isn’t in the harvesting. Here’s the key. The harvesting is easy when the fruit is ripe. In fact, the fruit falls off the vine on its own. I mean, think of agriculture. You walk around and there’s the fruit laying all over the ground. It falls off when it’s ripe. All right, well, the same thing applies with evangelism, okay? It falls off when it’s ripe. And when I became a Christian more than 50 years ago now, the night that my brother came to start talking to me about Christ, I told him, Mark, you don’t have to tell me any more about Jesus. I’ve already decided I want to become a Christian. So I harvested myself. Now, we know the Holy Spirit harvested us, but I think that’s the way it works biblically. There are no altar calls in the New Testament. There are no occasions of people being, challenged to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Even look at the Philippian jailer in Act 16. Believe in the what shall I do to be saved? Pray with me right now to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Nothing like that. He just says, believe and you’ll be saved. Apparently that happened. I do a poll now just to underscore this point. Clay, I do a poll now with every audience I speak to on this issue when I get to this point about gardening, because I think people are confused. They think, wait a minute, you don’t pray to it? No, don’t even worry about that. Really. Bite your tongue, man. I can’t believe you said that. Okay, I’m going to take a poll right now because what I want them to think about is not harvesting, but gardening. All right? Gardening, not harvesting because that’s what makes the harvest plentiful, is good gardening. No dough, right?
Greg Koukl: I want you to raise your hand if you’re a Christian and you did not become a Christian by coming down the aisle for an altar call or by praying with someone, using, a tractor or something like that, to receive Jesus as Lord and savior. I’m just telling you right now, I’ve probably had 12, 13, 14 audiences so far since I’ve been speaking about Street Smarts, that I’ve taken the poll, 60% to 75% of the people raised their hand and I said, keep your hands up and look around. Do you see this? Look at all these people who became Christian without having somebody lead them to Christ. Right? The harvest is easy when the fruit is ripe. God takes care of that. He is the Lord of the harvest. So what I want Christians to do is forget about that. Don’t even worry about it, because that keeps them on the bench. Right? Just like you were saying, they psych themselves out. Forget about that. Worry about gardening. And what I do in tactics and especially in Street Smarts, is I give them gardening tools, things that they can use even in the face of some of the harshest criticisms to Christianity, and they can maneuver effectively. This is what I teach. I teach the questions you can use to expose the flaws in the views that other people offer or the challenges that they make on Christianity. That’s street smart.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And I think that’s really helpful for people to remember, is that our job is not to save people. And I think they feel like if they have an encounter, spiritual, conversation, evangelistic encounter, whatever you want to call it, that doesn’t end with that person receiving Christ, that they have failed. and it’s a poor view of what our role is, I think a poor understanding of what the Holy Spirit is up to in the lives of people. We’re just to be faithful in those conversations. Whether that ends up presenting the gospel, whether that’s asking good questions like we see in your book, just to help people move maybe one step closer towards Jesus. And who knows who God’s going to put in their path the next day, the next week, the next year to move them to the next step. And so we’ve got, like you said, you’ve given gardening tools. It’s not that people are unimportant. It’s not that these, conversations are unimportant. It’s that the bulk of them really need to be a lot of this gardening work. And so you’ve got these tools, ah, that help people garden. So they’re not just walking around with baskets trying to shake trees and see what fruit falls in. they’re actively tilling the soil. They’re doing their work. They’re asking these good questions. And what are some of the benefits? We’ve talked about a few of them already. Can you talk about why questions are so important as one of these gardening tools?
Greg Koukl: Yeah, I’ve hinted at that a little bit. Let me recast that. by the way, in a recent letter I sent out to our constituency, I made this point, and this is my first line. You will never be able to change anyone’s mind on the truth of any spiritual issue. That’s my first line. Now, of course, that sounds strange coming from a guy like me, but it’s true. And it goes to this issue that we don’t persuade, we present in a meaningful way, and that’s why these conversations are important. But we’re not the ones who are tasked with doing the persuasion. That’s God’s job. Okay? And when we kind of get that in our mind, that’s really going to be freeing for a lot of people.
Greg Koukl: All right. But, the value of questions, for one. Well, it’s polite, it’s dialogical. We’re interactive. it’s easy. You talked about firing, let’s see, heated conversations was the phrase that you used, and sometimes we end up in those. But, my suspicion is, and of course, my experience is it’s likely you will never end up in a heated conversation with someone who disagrees if all you have been doing is asking that person questions because they get heated when they disagree with you. Okay. Oh, no, you’re totally wrong. I can’t believe what you believe. Women’s right to choose, Christian Bible, this, blah, blah, blah. We know all, the moves, right? But nevertheless, if you are just asking questions, then you’re not putting anything out there to be shot at. And this is one of the biggest values or benefits of using questions. I have a whole chapter in Street Smarts devoted to it, and the chapter is titled Questions Keep you safe. Questions keep you safe. And if there are Christians who don’t want to get into play because they’re nervous in the street, and remember, the street is any place you feel vulnerable, right. You’re open to attack in a spiritual sense. All right. so they’re not going there. They’re going to stay home, they’re going to stay on the bench, whatever, where it’s safe. if they feel vulnerable, they’re not going to go out there. But if they have a means by which they can begin to engage that provides them with a tremendous amount of safety, then they’re more likely to venture out. So I sometimes will ask audiences how many people in the audience like to take tests. Raise your hand, of course. Like two people. Right? And I know why those people are raising their hands. It’s related to my second question. How many of you are happy to take tests if you know the answers? Everybody’s hand goes up. So those two people who raise their hand, they know the answers because they study for the test, so they get prepared, so they don’t mind. that’s kind of the way I was in school, too. Yeah, I don’t mind because I know the answers. Right. but what it shows is once that, in our context, a Christian is prepared for the street, once they’re street smart, they’re not going to be nervous about entering into the street, so to speak, and especially if they can enter in at their own speed. So in the chapter on questions keep you safe, I talk about having a conversation in know. Oh, no, Sao Paulu in Brazil. Right? And, in an airport there. And I’m flying back from Paraguay and it’s the middle of the night, and I end up having an encounter with a Mormon missionary. The story is all in there. But I did not want, at midnight, after ten days of working very hard in Paraguay, flying back to the States, to get into an argument with a, Mormon missionary. Not that I couldn’t handle myself, I just didn’t want to do it. I was tired, okay? But then I realized I didn’t have to commit myself to a big deal with the Mormon. If I’m asking questions, because if I just start asking questions about his view, whenever I stop asking questions, the conversation ends, right? So that means I’m in control of how long this goes or where it goes. And if I don’t want to go any further, I just get, oh, okay, I’m tired of this. Then I could just stop asking questions. So here’s the principle. And I developed this. I tell the whole story in there. M and the principle is very simple. Easy out, easy in, easy out, easy in. If I know I can get out easily, then, I’ll get in. Now, what about. If I were just saying, okay, I think Mormonism is false, it’s a cult, and you guys have your burning in the bosom stuff that doesn’t work, and here’s why. And blah, blah, blah. Now I’m engaged in a back and forth contrary situation. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. How am I going to walk away from that? If I walk away and say, oh, I’m done, I don’t want to talk about this anymore? It sounds like I just lost, right? It sounds like I couldn’t handle myself in that conversation. But if I’m just being a curious onlooker and carefully drawing out information, I could ask three or four questions and then figure, okay, I’m done, I don’t want to go any further. Or maybe I can’t go any further. Then you can stop with no liability to yourself, right? Remember, easy out, easy, in. And, that’s another value of questions. But of course, a very important feature of asking questions is you’re getting information. And that’s really critical here, because I’m not just going through motions here. I am trying to figure out their view. Now, sometimes people will say, why would I want to ask him what his view is and the reasons for it? In other words, why would I let him argue for his view, invite him to argue for his view against mine? That’s counterintuitive. I said, here’s why. Because his view is false. That’s why. Ah. And probably, especially if you know what to look for. And this is what Street Smarts will help them to do. The more he talks about his false view, the bigger the hole that he’ll be digging for himself. He may not realize it, but you’re listening for particular things that then allows you to ask questions about those particular things that are liabilities. That’s why I teach in Street Smarts. Now you’re making a point with your questions, and now you’re requiring of him that he give an accounting or his own view. Can I give you an example of that?
Clay Kraby: Absolutely.
Greg Koukl: This is in the Street Smarts book. So problem of evil is a challenging problem for Christians. And the biggest reason that it’s challenging is that we don’t have a clear answer to the question, why would God allow so much evil in the world? Now, that’s called theodicy, all right? And there’s lots of speculative stuff. And when I wrote the book, the story of reality, I give a take on that. I give my own characterization, but it’s speculative. Some speculations are better than others, but it’s still, God never told us this, okay? So if you’re going to try to convince an atheist why God allowed evil, this is going to be hard. All right? So I take a different tack in street, smarts, different approach. Right now, I’m just given the backstory that I give in the book so you’ll understand the line of questioning. and I argue this in the story of reality. The problem of evil is not a problem for Christians the way people think it is, okay? It’s because the problem of evil is part of our story. In fact, our whole story is about the problem of evil. It’s at home in our story, and our story is not over yet. It starts in chapter three. It doesn’t get resolved till 66 books later. Okay, so, the problem of Evil is at home in our story, really critical, okay? But it is not at home in the atheist story. All right, so here’s the way I approach this. Now you’ve got the backstory, and it’ll become more clear. The problem for the atheist, when I ask the questions, when I show you the questions I ask. So the atheist raises the issue and the atheist says, how can there be a, good and powerful God if there’s so much evil in the world? Notice that the atheist is acknowledging the reality of evil in the world in the way that he asks his question. And that’s the way it’s almost always asked. Okay, so great. Now that gives us something to work with because what I’m going to do at this point is I’m going to agree with him. I’m going to say, okay, maybe you’re right. I can understand, by the way, why people would reject God because of the problem of evil. But now I have a question. Okay, let’s say God’s gone. You’re right. There is no God. Those things that you just described earlier that you called evil, the rape and murder and torture and genocide and global warming or whatever, climate change, does this all still happen? Yes, of course. That’s, what I’m complaining about. Okay, now those things that you just described, are they still evil? Yes, of course they’re evil. That’s why I don’t believe in God. So all I’m doing at this point is reaffirming his point.
Greg Koukl: But now I’ve got a final question. Okay. When he says, of course they’re still evil, I said, okay, now, can you explain to me as an atheist, as a person who believes there is no God in the world and all there are molecules in motion? That’s it. That’s the whole story. How can you explain why there’s so much evil in the world?
Clay Kraby: Right.
Greg Koukl: Okay, now that’s kind of a mic drop moment, all right? Because now he’s already affirmed the reality of evil in the world, but he also has a worldview that gives him no standards by which he can assess the fact of evil in the world. Okay. where did the standards that identify good from which evil as a departure come from? That’s the issue. And I go into great detail in Street Smarts on how this all works. It’s called a grounding problem for those more philosophically minded. But I want you to notice what just happened there. I agreed with him. I said, okay, let’s follow you and let’s see where your view leads you. And I got him to reaffirm the main points which then creates a huge problem for the atheist. And I’ll tell you what has happened a lot of times, Clay, is when the atheist is confronted with the question, well, how do you explain all the evil in the world? Why is there so much evil? If there’s no standard for evil? How do you make sense out of that? It’s a, completely fair question. All right. And here’s the atheist’s only alternative. There is no evil in the world. It’s an illusion. And philosophical atheists have just made this point very clearly, even Richard Dawkins, that, there’s no good, there’s no evil, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. His famous citation on that matter, okay, now, he’s not consistent with that when he writes about God in the Bible and stuff like that. But nevertheless, that is consistent with atheism. So what’s the atheist going to do? He’s going to say there is no good and evil. But then I’m going to say, now I’m really confused. First you say you can’t believe in God because there is so much evil in the world. And now that you’re an atheist, your answer to evil in the world is that it’s an illusion. There is no such thing as good or evil. Help me make sense of that. Now, another question ball back in their court. Now keep in mind, I’m not trying to convert him. I’m trying to put a big stone in his shoe. I’m trying to help him see that if there is evil in the world, and everybody knows that there is, then that turns out to be evidence for God, not against him. Yeah. Ah, okay, now that needs to be cashed out more. And I go into quite a bit of detail in Street Smarts. in the chapter evil Atheists fatal flaw, or atheism’s fatal flaw. So there’s an example of how that works out. But I want you to notice something else about that little sequence of questions. And it’s true with all of the questions that I provide for the reader in street smart regarding any of the issues we’re talking about. These questions invoke these simple questions series, invoke a common sense response. All right? Of course this and of course that. Well, here’s the answer to that. Okay, good. Now we’re setting pieces in place. Notice that I am not the one setting those pieces on the table. It is the atheist or objector who sets the pieces on the table in response to my questions. So if they put the pieces on the table, they’re not going to take them off the table. They’re not going to disagree with me. They’re the ones who put them there in response to my questions. And so, when they do that, until I kind of lower the boom and show where this leads with the final question, all that’s in the book, then, notice what I’ve done. Then they’re stuck, right? But notice what I’ve done. I’ve enlisted, in this case, the atheist skeptic, whatever, the objector. I’ve enlisted them as an ally to help me make my point by asking them these questions that lead up to the final conclusion that shows the problem with their view. So this is, I think, one of the strongest points of the Street Smarts approach. Notice it’s always using questions. And because of that and the way that we can maneuver here, I can be completely relaxed. I don’t have to fight with anybody. I don’t get any arguments. I’m putting the ball in their court. Now, they may have questions for me, and that’s another issue. But at this stage of the conversation, what we’re dealing with is their view, not my view. And I’m in the driver’s seat, or the Christian following the Street Smarts approach is in the driver’s seat of the conversation. And that changes everything. Clay, one of the things I hope.
Clay Kraby: People notice when they hear that example conversation, and you’ve got lots of examples like that in the book, is all the things that questions were able to do for you. Someone comes up to you and they says, I can’t believe in God because there’s evil in the world. Instead of flipping through the file cabinet in your head for all these responses you’ve read or these different things that you can bring to them, you can slow things way down and just say, like you said, what do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? It slowed way down. And then I find, too, that if you’re asking questions when the other person’s Talking, rather than trying to assemble your response to them and get all your facts and data and scripture, Bible references and all these things, you’re actually listening to them. So you can ask a good question, which really, that’s just a much better conversation. Whether the other person intends to be hostile or not, you’re going to have a more fruitful conversation.
Greg Koukl: Yeah, that’s a really good observation. and I know the tendency to be running in the back of your mind, going through the file, trying to find the answer, whatever. But in this approach, I’m really listening carefully, not as a discipline so much like I got to listen and pretend like I really care kind of thing, but, because I’m waiting for that person to give me something I can use.
Greg Koukl: All right. And so when they say something about the evil in the world, I says, so you believe in evil, right? Yeah, of course they do. So when you say evil, what do you mean? Well, then they usually give examples, rape, torture, blah, blah, blah. Notice these are all questions for clarification. This is just the first step. So, okay, all right. My question m wasn’t examples. You gave me examples. I’m asking what makes those things evil?
Clay Kraby: Right.
Greg Koukl: Well, common sense. Well, no, you just told me how you know they’re evil. I’m asking a different question. What makes them evil? And by the way, for those listeners who aren’t following exactly what I’m getting at here, all the details of this are in the book, but this is really the difference between how you know something and what accounts for that thing being there in the first place. I can know what the speed limit is in front of my house by looking at a sign, but the sign doesn’t make the speed limit. It is the government who makes the speed limit, who indicates the limit by the sign. And that’s the difference between how you know something and where the thing came from. And that’s the question I’m asking of the atheist. So again, I’ve noticed these are actually just simple, questions for clarification’s sake. And it’s so interesting to me that, like I’ve pointed out, how is a person going to get mad at you, get all heated because you’re asking for clarification of their own view. And what’s very interesting is you probably know the atheist, Peter Bogosian, a late of, Portland State University. And, he wrote a book that’s a tactical book for atheists, and it’s called a, Manual for creating atheists. I have it in the back of my right back there somewhere. And actually, I do speak a little bit about that book in Street Smarts, because here is a guy who’s doing the exact same thing, teaching atheists to ask the right kinds of questions of theists to get them doubting their own view. Okay? And so it shows this method can work both directions, and it does work both directions, actually. and this is why I think we have to be alerted to this, so that we can’t be taken advantage of in a way that I think Bogosian does take advantage of religious people but, that’s broadly another issue. But just to make the point that this is an effective technique for all sorts of things and can work in both directions. And when you are asking the questions, you’re not in any risk, usually, of, being yelled at. Some people think, oh, well, they’re going to be mad at me because I’m asking all these questions. Well, I’ve actually never encountered that, and I’ve asked lots of questions of people who raise issues. So this goes to the listening point. I’m listening for the purpose of understanding. And since, my conviction is that their view is false, I’m listening to find things they say that I can, use with questions as a point of exposure of the weakness.
Clay Kraby: Yeah. And so the first few questions that I think most people will be very comfortable with, those clarifying questions. What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Can you explain this? Those things, I think are very, approachable for people. I think, when you ask those questions that expose a flaw, by what basis do you say something’s good or evil that expose the flaw in somebody else’s reasoning? Those can be a little bit more challenging. And those questions is really what Street Smarts is coming alongside. To help people do, is to understand where is that flaw that I can expose and bring to light with a good.
Greg Koukl: So on that issue, for example, a question that very easy to ask, of, say, Richard Dawkins, who on the one hand says there’s no evil, no good. Right. I cited that passage. But in God delusion, he’s got a whole paragraph berating the God of the Bible as this evil monster. Okay. It’s actually a really well written paragraph. You can put it to music. It’s really well done. But it’s incoherent in light of his atheistic view, because the question then is this, and this is, a good one for people to remember. Where are you getting the moral standard from which you are judging God by now? Where are you getting that now? Again, they might say, well, it’s common sense. That’s Christopher Hitchens’ response: “it’s just common sense.” So wait, I didn’t ask how you know it, I’m asking where it came from. Different question, very important distinction. and this is one that a lot of these folks completely miss. This is why I spend so much time on the so called grounding question with regards to morality. But that’s a question they can’t answer because, in their worldview they have no foundation of, moral. There is no morality inherent to atheism. All you can have is a subject of morality. You can have your own view of what’s right or wrong for you, or what maybe evolution, you think evolution has, created in you, but why are you objecting? Because evolution created in you an understanding that apparently it didn’t do in the ancient Hebrews. They had a different understanding. So how are you faulting their evolution? That’s a fair question. Yeah, I actually asked that of an atheist once on my show, and he was coming on pretty strong with me on this particular issue. And I said, okay, so what you’re saying is that, given your evolutionary characterization of the origin of morality, what you’re saying is that what other people do that you call evil are just things that disagree with your evolution. Is that right? Now, that’s a clarifying question, right? I’m just trying to state more clearly, with no spin on it, exactly what he’s saying. So it’s still Colombo number one, right. And he said yes. And I thought, okay, case closed, no further questions, your honor, kind of thing. What do you say? Obviously, this is ludicrous that you’re making a moral objection against somebody else who disagrees with what you have evolved to believe. I mean, this is silly. and I just wanted the world to see that. But in his favor, at least he was attempting to be consistent there. He was consistent with his view, but he was not consistent with reality. And that’s what I’m trying to get people to see.
Clay Kraby: Yeah, and these questions are great. And as you alluded to earlier, not only for spiritual conversations, these questions are good. Just in any engagement, where you feel maybe a little out of your depth, you don’t know how to respond, asking clarifying questions. It might be with a skeptic, it might be with a fellow Christian who disagrees with you on something. I had a comical experience online, I think, last week where someone. Their response to some, it was just a theological definition that I put out there. I, was only defining a term, of a theological issue. And he said, why don’t you just worry about making disciples and not try and force Christians to think the way you think? And of course, the question to that is, would you prefer that they think the way that you think? he actually answered yes, which, there you go, I had to appreciate. So these questions can be really helpful.
Greg Koukl: That was excellent. You got that from the tactics book, right?
Clay Kraby: Absolutely. It’s been tactics, coming in handy for years. all these things are laid out in the book. Again, if people are watching, listening to this, and they see, okay, that’s a little less daunting, I can do that, but I need someone to maybe kind of hold my hand, walk me through it, get me some reps. That’s what Street Smarts is doing. It’s taking these particular, a lot of these really, heated issues, controversial issues, and you don’t shy away from those. You’ve got chapters dedicated to these things, walking people through them. What is your hope that people take away from reading the book? Street Smarts.
Greg Koukl: Yeah. thank you for that question, because I have two answers to that, and I was just thinking about when you were making your point just a moment ago, and that is, even if Christians don’t get in any conversations with other people about the content in there, I know that Christians are asking themselves the same questions, the questions that atheists or a whole range of different people, skeptics about Christian theology, theological points of view, or questions about, Christian, morality, like abortion or gender and sex and marriage and those kinds of things. These are questions that Christians have and they are not capable of answering. and I’m hoping that if they never engage anyone, that’s not my desire, but if they never engage anyone, what they do is the book builds a confidence in them that there are answers to these questions, and now they know what they are, so they are not questioning themselves and their own convictions. And, what I’ve said is apologetics will help a person answer the toughest critic he’ll ever face, and that’s himself. Okay. But of course, I hope this gets more Christians in the street, into the street where they belong. We are, salt and light. we are to go into the darkness and bring light there. Okay. We don’t expect the non-Christians to come into our church where it’s a big, safe environment for us. We go into their environment. The New Testament called this the Agora, the marketplace. All right? We go out the Ecclesia, the Church of the called out ones, we called out from the world as a separate entity and called out periodically to meet together, like Sunday mornings or whatever, and get trained so that we can then go out and disperse in the marketplace of ideas and take the light that we’ve learned in church out to them. A lot of people can’t do that because they don’t have a game plan. They don’t, know how to handle themselves. They have a wrong understanding of evangelism. That’s one thing we covered. And all of those things are addressed in this book. So I hope Christians are going to have an increased confidence in their own convictions that their views, the biblical view of reality is actually true. It’s accurate to reality. And the second thing is that they will be encouraged to start heading out in the street, venturing out into the street, even if slowly, even if carefully, just asking the first question or two, to start getting used to these kinds of conversations. And then when they get used to it, they get a little bit more comfortable and then they start applying some of the questions that I invite them to use regarding specific issues, all in the book. Street Smarts. They’re going to realize they’re going to get street smart. They’re going to be able to handle themselves better and better out in the street. And when they do with these gardening tools, they will be gardening more effectively and switching metaphors here, of course, but then there’ll be a larger harvest. That’s the deal. Absolutely.
Clay Kraby: and that street smart is going to help people do that. Tactics is going to help people to do that. Stand a reason is going to help people to do that.
Can you just share where folks can learn more about stand reason
Clay Kraby: Can you just share where folks can learn more about stand reason? Where they can pick up a copy book, maybe where they can even, see some of the live events that STR has going on?
Greg Koukl: Yeah, let’s see. I’m not sure when this is going to launch, but in live events in Minneapolis on the 10th and the 11th, it’s Friday and Saturday. I’m just looking at my own schedule here. The 10th and 11 November, we’re going to be in Minneapolis and we expect to have, based on past history, 4000 young people there. Wow. Middle schoolers and high schoolers and their church leaders and parents. We had 3800 last year and we’ve been doing these reality conferences all around the country. We do six of them, two we’ve already had for sellouts and then we’ll have one in Philly and in Dallas and in Augusta, Georgia in the spring. And if you go to realityapologetics.com, you’ll get all the information there. Stan, to reasons website, you’ve mentioned it once, STRG, real easy. All kinds of stuff there that people can take advantage of if they want to see these kinds of things in play. they can subscribe to our podcast, my own stand a Reason podcast. Go to wherever you subscribe to podcasts. I don’t know where that is because I’m not into all that stuff, but other people know how to do that and subscribe to Stand to Reason, the podcast, or there’s a second one I do with Amy Hall. It’s called Hashtag STR. And then we deal with questions there. But what you’ll see there is the tactical approach in play live, so to speak. So, those are what I recommend. The book, of course, is available at str.org in the store. Maybe it’s forward slash store or something like that. But if you go to our homepage, you’ll find that, or you can get it at, Amazon.
Clay Kraby: Where everything else comes from.
Greg Koukl: Yeah, that’s right. Don’t tell my staffers I told you this, but you can go to Amazon and get it overnight kind of thing. I have a book here I just ordered yesterday and I have it now. It’s on my desk. and the Street Smarts book is there, the tactics book there. On November 7, I believe the Street Smarts workbook will be available. And so this is just another means. I’m not sure when the videos are going to be available, but they’re all done. The ten session course that you could take on video that Zondervan produced and that gets companion with the workbook. And that should be sometime in November, I suspect. So all of the pieces of, the project are going to be available, but certainly the Street Smarts you can get right now, at, Amazon or str.org.
Clay Kraby: Wonderful. I’ll be sure to link to all of that stuff, the different resources that we’ve talked about for the show, notes for this episode. Reasonabletheology.org Slash Street Smarts. The book is Street Smarts answering or, using questions to answer Christianity’s toughest challenges. Our guest has been Greg Koukl. Thank you so much for joining me once again on the podcast.
Greg Koukl: It’s been great, Clay. Thank you. I look forward to next time, except for they don’t have to write another book to do that. I’m afraid.
Clay Kraby: We’ll go back to an older book.
Greg Koukl: Yeah, rather, Story of Reality maybe, or something like that.
Clay Kraby: Perfect. I really appreciate your time.
Greg Koukl: Thank you, Clay.