Defend Without Getting Defensive

Listen Up!

Ever get uncomfortable listening to a religious view that’s different from yours? Sometimes, talking about morality and relgion can really get some people going—even to the point where you find it tough to get a word in edgewise. But allowing your skeptical friend to share their ideas or experiences is a key part of effectively navigating spiritual conversations.

Some Christians can get all defensive and feel a bunch of pressure to defend the entire Christian worldview when confronted with one objection to the faith! But wait. That doesn’t have to be you.

cults_questionI’m suggesting we reduce this pressure by employing a modest goal and a simple strategy: Get your skeptical friend thinking by asking sincere, but strategic questions.

And then listen. Really listen. If we want people to listen to our stories and our ideas, we need to first be willing to listen to their stories and their ideas. As my mentor, Dr. Darrell Bock, at Dallas Theological Seminary says:

Sometimes Christians tend to want to talk too quickly and too much. Allowing someone to talk about their religious experience and how they feel about God is very important because you’re being given a window into their heart. We need to be slow to talk and quick to listen, so that we give people a time to tell their story.

Ask Good Questions

Jesus did it, too. My friend, Sean McDowell, noted how the gospels record Jesus asking 288 questions! Think about it. Many people who oppose the faith are merely repeating slogans they’ve heard but never really considered. Stuff like this: “The Bible’s full of contradictions,” “Christians are intolerant,” or “All religions are basically the same.” OK. Relax. No need to get defensive.

Truth is on Our Side

tacticsEven if you’re totally new to this, there’s apologetic value in a confident believer simply remaining calm under fire. Ultimately, the truth is on our side, and lies are not defensible. Because of this, we can exude confidence by engaging critics with a relaxed, conversational approach which uses more questions than statements.

I love how Greg Koukl says “Apologetics can look more like diplomacy than combat.”

I like that—a lot. In fact, I recommend his book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, all the time! It’s an easy read and the tactics are practical. For example, asking questions like “What do you mean by that?” or “What’s your thinking on that?” can help critics consider what they believe and why they believe it—perhaps for the first time.

And if you get stumped by a question, t’s no problem to say something like, “That’s a great question. Let me think about that and get back to you.” Years ago, my pastor in Sacramento, CA echoed this sentiment in his message on 1st Peter 3, saying: “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know! Let me go ask someone at the church.”

Since I used to teach apologetics classes at church, I actually got to field some of those questions. But I’m confident that if you do your homework, you’ll find there are good answers to the hard questions. And even this exercise can strengthen your faith—a faith we can defend without getting defensive.

Now Hear This

If you liked this blog post, you’ll love Greg Koukl’s book, TacticsListen to him read my mini-review on the radio!

Look inside the book on


Note: Purchasing resources through the links on this page will help support my apologetics ministry.


12 Responses to “Defend Without Getting Defensive”

  1. Lance Amerman June 23, 2010 10:08 PM

    Questions do get people thinking, and when asked with genuine concern for the soul, questions can be an effective way of starting a conversation.
    I have enjoyed asking worldview questions on the street, getting real answers from real people, and have discovered a wonderful way of having the opportunity to share our christian theism, expressly the resurrection of our savior and Lord.
    I believe rather than being defensive, or even putting others on the defense, questions allow the Holy Spirit to give us insight into obstacles that keep a person from bending their knee and will to the One who is able to save.

    • Mikel June 24, 2010 1:06 PM

      Awesome point. You’ve got some great interviews up on your Web site, too. Nice to see you “in action!” Looks like these would also be a great resource for aspiring apologists to see real-life reactions to worldview questions. Thanks for getting the conversation going, Lance!

  2. Aaron June 24, 2010 3:35 PM

    Questions are definitely the best way to engage people. It is a non-threatening way to get to know people and share the truth with them. Many people enjoy being asked questions and will see you as a very enjoyable person to talk with. Questions also let the other person do all the work. Asking strategic questions can get people to think about what they believe and why the believe it, many times, something they have never done. You will find people believe all kinds of things that are completely contradictory. They all have to use what Van Till called “Borrowed Capital” from a Christian worldview and this creates tension within their own belief system. Most of the time they have not noticed this tension and it is our job to lovingly point it out to them. The more you practice and reflect on your conversations the better you will be. It also keeps you “in the drivers seat.” You don’t have to have all the answers. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, let me think about that.” As was state above “the truth is on our side, and lies are not defensible.”

  3. Mikel June 25, 2010 12:36 AM

    “Borrowed capital” is right. Interesting how so many students talk like relativists when it comes to ethics and religion, but want to discuss objective truth in math and science. Thanks for the comment, Aaron!

  4. Daniel July 1, 2010 8:43 PM

    I agree with the strategy of asking questions and entering a sort of dialogue (presuppositional apologetics anyone?), but shouldn’t we ourselves ultimately have a concrete, reasoned, “bullet proof” and Spirit filled response for those same questions we might ask? (I mean a response that goes beyond merely answering “GOD” to every inquiry).

  5. Mikel July 1, 2010 9:39 PM

    Yes, we should. Jesus knew the answers to strategic quesitons he asked his opponents. But he didn’t just ask questions. He also provided reasons to be believe. While questions are great for engaging people and exposing error, we’re actually commanded to be ready to share the reason for our faith in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Great point, Daniel. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Aaron July 2, 2010 5:03 PM

    Mikel, now that’s not fair. Jesus is God, of course he knew the answers. Lol! Questions are great for allowing people to poke holes in their own belief system. Once they begin to see the problems in their worldview we can share with them the truth of Christianity and demonstrate to them the reasons for our faith. Apologetic discussions change from person to person. We start in different places in our conversations depending on where the person is and what questions they are asking. One person may challenge our beliefs, one may ask why we believe, another may want to know the Gospel (if only they all were flocking and asking this question.) One argument may work for one person but not another. We are appealing to the knowledge they already have of God from general revelation and the imago dei they are suppressing.

    Daniel, I was wondering what you mean by Spirit filled? What is the difference between Spirit filled and non-Spirit filled?


  7. Mikel July 4, 2010 12:38 AM

    True. Persuasion is person-relative. In fact, many people rejected a good argument, good evidence and the good news of the kingdom physically delivered by Jesus himself! Sadly, “It wasn’t persuasive enough,” won’t excuse anyone from the penalty of sin. Good thoughts, Aaron.

  8. Aaron June 13, 2011 3:52 PM

    Great post! I know that I have trouble at times keeping it cool when it seems like the other person maybe looking for faith bashing instead of genuine council or debate.

    I can ignore a good poke but eventually there comes a point where enough is enough and you have to walk away before more damage than good is done to the Spirit of Jesus.

    Besides, we are merely planting the seeds. Ever planted a garden? Poke a hole in the dirt drop the seed in, and move on. What kind of fertilizer do you want on it? Good fertilizer that will feed the seed, or bad fertilizer that will cause the seed to grow moldy and choke out, never to grow?

    Thanks Mikel, I looked forward to more

    The Signs Daily – Bible prophecy study that won’t leave you behind!

  9. Apologetics Guy June 13, 2011 4:28 PM

    Planting seeds is a good way to look at it. I also like how Greg Koukl sets a modest goal of “putting a stone in your shoe,” in the nicest way possible! Glad you got to check out this post. Thanks for the comment, Aaron.

  10. Stephan July 9, 2011 5:51 AM

    @ Daniel: The Socratic teaching method, a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas, has been around since,…well Socrates and it is effective. And Mikel correctly states that Jesus provided reasons to believe, and as God He did so more convincingly and eloquently than any of us can ever hope to. I believe the most engaging question and answer should be the life of the believer. I think it was St. Francis of Assisi who sent out his followers with these words: ‘Preach the Gospel to all creatures, and use words if necessary’. Definitely buying the book. God bless.

  11. Apologetics Guy July 9, 2011 8:29 AM

    Thanks for the comment, Stephan. You will enjoy the book for sure. Tactics is one of my favorites!