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EPISODE 64: Strategies for Apologetics
This week we present you an interview from January 2020 when Art Lindsley discussed 'Strategies For Apologetics.' Art Lindsey is a senior teaching fellow at the C.S. Lewis institute and the Vice President of Theological Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Works, & Economics. He has written: Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, The Case for Christ and True Truth. And Art has a wonderful 20-part video series available for free on the C.S. Lewis Institute website called The Basic Apologetics Course.
Welcome to Questions That Matter with Randy Newman. This week, we are presenting to you an interview from January 2020, when Art Lindsley discussed strategies for apologetics. Art Lindsley is a senior teaching fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute and the vice president of theological initiatives at The Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics. He has written Love, the Ultimate Apologetic, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, and True Truth, and Art has a wonderful 20-part video series available for free on the C.S. Lewis Institute website called The Basic Apologetics Course. Now, here are Randy Newman and Art Lindsley.
Art, it’s wonderful to have you on our podcast.
Great to be here with you.
Well, Art, you have degrees in theology, and you’ve taught theology, and you’ve also studied and taught quite a bit on apologetics.
Tell us just a little bit of why do you see apologetics as so important in the life of the disciple? In the life of the Christian?
Well, I think it’s crucial that people be able to see the truthfulness of faith, especially when there are obstacles to it. People can’t accept with the heart that which their mind objects to. And I think, although intellectual problems are not the sole problems by any means to people coming to Christ, it is with some people. Some objections have helped people to be able to at least consider faith in a deeper way. In fact, there’s a book by Os Guinness on doubt, and he has a chapter in there that talks about seven different kinds of doubt, and only one of the kinds of doubt is intellectual doubt. So certainly there’s doubt that comes from spiritual problems, which we can talk about more if you want, but it’s also doubt that comes from emotional issues, like a difficulty committing because of pain in past relationships. And the other six of those kinds of doubt are really interesting to look at. So it’s really important, when you talk to somebody, to sit back and listen and discern what the best way to approach somebody is, because it could be that, although they’re raising questions that you need to take seriously, it could be that those are not the real questions-
Yeah. Good, good.
… that there are deeper issues that are there. So obviously, an honest question deserves an honest answer, but you need to discern, and maybe listen longer. Like if somebody asks you a question, say, “That’s a good question, but give me a couple of other questions you might have,” and people will rarely, if ever, tell you the real issue up front. And so you have to listen for a while to be able to see what’s the deepest issue. Because you could end up… It’s like a tree. If you want to… Somebody’s objections could be like little branches out here, but you want to come back to the trunk and down to the root of where the objection is.
Good analogy. Yeah.
And so that takes some discernment.
And so I’d say listening, in many case, is a really important part of apologetics.
Because I think my rules, as previous professor, Dr. Gerstner, used to say that you need to be able to state somebody else’s position to their satisfaction before you critique it.
And so that means really listening. And so it’s very easy to start talking, maybe in a defensive way, answering questions and not really listening to the questions that are being asked, but it could be, even if you’re addressing adequately the thing that they raised, you’re not really getting to the root issue.
Yeah. You know, when I do some trainings for churches and also for our Fellows Programs, I do a number of listening exercises and pair people up, where one person talks, and the other person can only ask questions. And it’s amazing how many people, when we take breaks during this, they raise their hand and say, “This is a lot harder than I thought. When we started, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a stupid waste of time, but you know, I….’” One woman raised her hand one time, and she said, “You know, I realized for the first time that I’m always finishing my husband’s sentences. And he doesn’t like that.” Oh, imagine that? So listening, okay. So you’re going in the direction of strategies, and that’s where I wanted to go, because there’s a lot of information in the world of apologetics, and you’ve written three books filled with lots and lots of good content of information for us to deliver to people. And we live in a day, I think, with an apologetics wealth on the internet, that we can go to. So when people ask us a question, if we don’t know the answer, it’s not hard for us to find content of answers.
But your books also zoom in on strategy, about how we deliver the information, not just plop it down. Here it is. So tell us a little bit about these strategies in apologetics.
Okay. First of all, I’d say it’s important to be able to know the basic answers to the big questions of faith. And that requires the study of apologetics. You can get it through my books. But also there’s a resource here we have on the C.S. Lewis Institute website, The Basic Apologetics Course. That’s twenty hour-long lectures that really address the basic answers to the big questions that people ask.
But I would say it’s very rare that you’re going to have a chance to sit down with any of them and be able to expound the whole or even-
“Sit down, please. I have twenty hours…. No, no, no, no. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring you water. Just watch these twenty hours.” Yeah, okay, so that’s not a good strategy.
But often you don’t even have… you’d be optimistic to have a half hour to present something. Probably it’s five minutes or way less. Maybe it’s a minute or less that you have to be able to address things. So here’s an important thing: When you approach somebody and they’re raising questions and that kind of thing, you probably need to discern how open or closed they are.
So I’d say the more open somebody is, the more you can use direct forms of argument that you can draw from the resources that are out there, but the more closed somebody is, the more indirect forms of apologetics you need to use. And that’s what we can talk about here, is more of the indirect approaches.
Yeah. Tell us more. When you say indirect forms of apologetics, what are some of those?
Okay. I’d say there are a lot of things that I use. So I’ll give you a few illustrations here: Often, they’re little quotes that I have to use to respond to something. Like if somebody points out an example of Christian hypocrisy, “The church is full of hypocrites,” or some other specific example of it, I use a quote like this: I say, “G.K. Chesterton says that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.” And they usually laugh and say something, but then I follow it up with the second half of the quote: “But he said the best argument for Christianity is Christians.”
Ah, good, good.
And when I’ve used it with people, they go, “Huh. I see it in a different way because I know some tremendous examples of people that are believers.” So it’s a way of being able to very quickly… I mean there are a lot of other things you can say to that issue, but that’s a good starter. And if that’s the only thing you can say, it at least tempers that kind of objection.
Or another one that I can think of is… I was talking to a top leader in the New Age movement, and we had these long conversations. We’d go out to lunch or dinner and talk about things. But she didn’t believe that there was any such thing as sin. Really. There was no evil. All is one was the basic idea. And so I pointed her, number one, to a little book by Scott Peck called People of the Lie-
… which she had read that really thoughtfully wrestles with things, but the quote that I used with her, I said that G.K. Chesterton has said, “People have given up on the idea of original sin. Well, it’s the only doctrine of Christianity that can be empirically proven.” And she laughed.
And then we talked about it a little bit more. And it’s interesting. After about three or four months, I called her again. She’d been traveling. And the first thing she said when she got on the phone is, “I’ve been thinking about this whole thing of sin for the last three or four months! I can’t get it out of my mind!”
“I mean, there’s something wrong in the world-”
… and she didn’t have any basis to be able to say so.
But somehow that illustration of the book we read or that little quote really spoke to her and got under her skin, probably better than giving a lengthy argument would do. We did talk about it some, but nevertheless, that little quote, I think, really had a chance to get there.
Or somebody that really wants to be endlessly open, wants to never really decide about anything that’s particularly true. I have another classic quote from Chesterton that says, “The purpose of opening the mind, as in opening the mouth, is to close it on something solid.”
These little quotes, you can use them at the right point to be able to open up the discussion.
Good. Let me underline a couple of things you said, because this is good, and I don’t want people to miss this, so some of the strategies: One of the things you just said was that we want to try to temper the objection. I think that’s a really good strategy in a lot of cases, because I think a lot of Christians think, “How do I defeat the objection? How do I answer the objection?” And we do need that. But sometimes just the first stage is tempering it, of lowering some of the heat or making people think, “Oh, wait a minute! Maybe I need to rethink this.” So that’s one strategy.
Another one: You were saying about quotes, so yes, we need to memorize just a handful of quotes that we can use. Quotes that make people laugh, I think, are particularly powerful. There’s something about laughter and laughing together. You say the quote. The two of you laugh. It’s like, “Oh, we’re now on the same side laughing at something,” and laughter opens up people to consider it.
One more: You said something that could get under her skin. Sometimes that’s a very, very crucial strategy of just saying something. We need to do it lovingly, but we want to bother people. I think Greg Koukl is the one who talks about putting a pebble in their shoe. We want to do something that just, like, “Well, wait a minute! I’ve always thought this, but you know, ah….” And for some people, they need to be uncomfortable for three months. I think, for me, I needed to be uncomfortable about things, about this whole thing about Jesus—I was coming from a Jewish background. I thought He was a good teacher. And it was people saying the C.S. Lewis argument of He couldn’t have been just a good teacher. The kind of person who said the things that Jesus said—you know the rest of the quote—would either be a lunatic on the level of someone who called himself a poached egg or he was…. That bothered me for years before becoming a believer. And I think sometimes the strategy is putting a pebble in their shoe, getting under their skin.
Let me just give you another illustration. When Connie and I were on our honeymoon, we were in Bora Bora. We stayed at the Hotel Oa Oa in Bora Bora. And the guy there was… the owner of the place. We got to talking to him, and he started to know that we were in ministry, and he said, “Oh, I think Christianity’s wish fulfillment.”
You know, you kind of make up things in accordance with your own wishes. And I said, “You know, I think an equal or maybe better case can be made that atheism is wish fulfillment,” willing the death of the Heavenly Father. And that atheism is an opiate of the conscience. And that atheism is a giant Oedipal complex.
Oh, my goodness! This was on your honeymoon?
Yeah. Well, all I’m saying is that neutralized-
… and I could explain that and address it. But he’d never heard anybody just speak to him. It really put that objection on the side, so we could end up talking about other things.
Yes, yes. All right. Again, so I want to underline putting the objection on the side. We never want to dismiss people’s objections in a disrespectful, dismissive way, but there are some objections that are not the real issue. Like you were saying, the branches, rather than the trunk of the tree. So part of the strategy is discerning from the Holy Spirit and our thinking beforehand about, “Okay, let’s discuss that another time,” or, “Let me try to get that off of center stage.”
Well, there is a full case to be made, and I do make it in one of the chapters in C.S. Lewis’s apologetics, that really addresses this whole wish fulfillment charge by Freud and Feuerbach and others, and so there’s a case you can make, but at least if you neutralize it in the beginning, that can help have another conversation. Another thing, that illustration from Chuck Colson. One time, he was on national TV with a real star, sort of a late night show, and afterwards… he had mentioned the idea of absolutes in his discussion. And somehow he got the idea that this world class interviewer was struggling with that, and so he went off into a back room, and Colson gave every argument he could make against relativism, and he felt that the man really wasn’t listening. And he kind of felt that, if he acknowledged what Colson was saying, he’d have to become like the first caricature of a fundamentalist. And so he tried another approach. And this is something you could also do, but you have to do it wisely. That is, use a personal analogy. Find something that that person cares about, that you know they care about if you know them well enough, and then use that as an analogy to be able to speak to them. Like he said, “You like to sail, don’t you?” And he said yes. And he said, “Can you sail at night?” “Well, yes.” “Well, how can you sail at night?” “Well, you have to use the stars.” “Well, why can you use the stars?” “Oh, I see. You’re saying we need some fixed points by which we can orient ourselves.”
Ah, good, good. Right, right.
So somehow he’d gotten by a lot of the emotional baggage or the caricatures that were there and got down to the main point by using that personal analogy. And I think that’s really important that that happened. In fact, Schaeffer’s main approach was to do that, but anyway.
We’ll return to my conversation with Art Lindsley in just a moment. I wanted to point out that, on our website, cslewisinstitute.org, we have Art Lindsley’s basic apologetics course. If you go on our website and look for small group resources, there are twenty lectures, and they are brilliant and a useful resource for you to listen to as an individual, in groups, as a community group with your church. We highly recommend it. So now, let’s return to my conversation.
And we come back to where you started, about listening well. Because if you’re listening well and you find out someone’s into sailing—and by the way, even if you know absolutely nothing about sailing, well start asking questions and learn. I find that to be…. First of all, it’s a whole lot of fun to just learn about different things, but then to be able to use those things, in the same way, I think, wasn’t it? That Paul on Mars Hill looked and saw, “Oh, there’s a statue to an unknown god. Well, let me use that as, ‘Okay, you guys see that. You guys point to that. Well….’”
Let me give you another couple.
Sure, keep going. Yeah, yeah. These are very, very good. Again, because these are not just apologetic information or arguments. It’s how do we strategically engage people, so that they receive the arguments. Not just have them plopped in front of them.
Yeah. I had a friend that was doing a PhD program in philosophy down at University of Virginia, and he was actually studying with Richard Rorty, and I can come back to that later as something, but anyway, he met a woman there who was from a Jewish heritage, but she was atheist and a feminist. And basically he said to her, said, “I can prove to you you believe in absolutes.” She said, “No, you can’t.” He said, “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “Yes, I can.” He said, “I’ll give you two. One is holocaust was wrong, and number two, rape is wrong.” She thought for a second and said, “You’re right. There are a couple of things that… There are these things that I do think are wrong.”
I’ll give you one more illustration.
This is Mardi Keyes, who is from L’Abri in Boston. She and Dick have had a great ministry there through that ministry up close to Boston. And basically what she does is she goes onto feminist campuses, campuses of colleges where there are large feminist groups, in New England or elsewhere, and gives talks on Christianity and feminism. What she essentially argues is that the chosen worldviews that many hold in feminism are not really adequate to uphold your very feminism. And she’d argue that certainly there are many things about feminism that they say that are right, like women have been treated poorly and abused and not regarded as equal in terms of dignity and worth and value, and they’ve been denied the vote and so on and so on. But atheism has no basis, no strong moral basis to justify saying that that’s evil. And interestingly, not only that, but the New Age movement has no basis to say that there’s anything really evil. And even the chosen philosophy of many feminists is neo-paganism or Wicca or The Craft because they focus on the goddess, but even that has no basis to say that there’s anything evil.
People rage against the idea that there is really evil in the world. On the other hand, Christianity provides an adequate basis to say that evil is really evil and give a basis for justifying it. And really the history of feminism comes out of Christianity. And she argues that the early feminists that met in Methodist churches were believers. And Christians have done a lot to really help women like the sati in India or foot binding and sexual slavery. Many of the leaders of addressing this movement are believers. So believers have really fought, in many cases, for the rights and dignity of women in many arenas, and so she argues that, “Your chosen spiritualities don’t have an adequate basis to even say these things are wrong,” whereas at least within Christianity, that has it’s own chequered record in regard to treatment of women, does have adequate basis to be able to condemn the abuses that are really abuses.
Good. All right. So again, I want to try to underline… I have a couple of friends who’ve told me they’ve done training in improv, improvisation. And one of the strategies in improv is the, “Yes, and…” strategy. Someone says something, and then you say something to affirm, “Yes, I agree with you, and….” And I’m saying that the, “Yes, and…” strategy in apologetics can be, “Yes, I agree with you. Women should be treated with respect.” “Yes, I agree with you. Women have been treated horribly.” “And Christianity has a basis that’s even stronger than the basis that you’re offering.”
And I think the more we… I’m sorry to call it play, that we can play the, “Yes, and….” It also feels a lot better, I think, rather than always being on the no. “No. No, that’s wrong.” “Here’s why you’re wrong.” Nobody likes being told that. So to be able to start with, “Oh, yes. Oh, you’re right. We should be outraged by that. Yes, you’re right. That’s just horrible. And here’s why, as a Christian, I feel very strongly about that, because all people, male and female, are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect.” And, and, and, and, and.
I would say Francis Schaeffer, that was really the essence of his approach. Basically, what he said is that you need to take the roof off. It’s like you have a whole house. You take the roof off, and you can see the configuration of the rooms in the house and see how the person really lives and thinks and the things that they really care about. And then you end up pursuing that gently but nevertheless firmly and really ask questions to push that person, without being belligerent, towards the logical conclusion of their false assumptions. Get them to see where their worldview leads. That’s essentially what Mardi Keyes was doing in that case, is she was showing them that the worldviews you hold are not adequate to sustain what you know in your heart is right. And so you try to push them in that way, push them towards a logical conclusion of their false assumption. In fact, Schaeffer said if you had an hour on a train to talk about faith to somebody, which you rarely do, but say you do, you spend 45 minutes exploring that person’s worldview and show them where their worldview is inadequate to explain or really address the things they most deeply care about. And I gave you lots of illustration about that. And maybe 15 minutes talking about faith in Christ on the other side, because people need to see the need for it, and they need to see that some of their own objections and their own worldviews are inadequate to really, again, address the things that they most care about.
You know, I love that illustration that Schaeffer used about lifting the roof off. I’ve gone back and re-read that. By the way, we’ve been trying to get him on the podcast, and he just hasn’t responded. We’re very frustrated. But that image of lifting the roof off to explore the worldview. He also talked about how, when you do lift the roof off someone’s worldview, you’re exposing them to some harsh realities. And it can be a very painful thing for people to have their roof lifted off, and so he said we need to do it gentleness and even with tears. I’ve heard at least one speaker one time talk about that, but horribly, he didn’t say we need to lift the roof off. He said, “You know, as Francis Schaeffer said, we need to cave the roof in on people!”
And I remember sitting there. “No, that’s not what Schaeffer said.”
Not really right.
We don’t want to do that because that hurts. And it’s bad enough lifting the roof off, the pain they feel, but us…. Anyway. So that is a very, very important strategy again.
Should I give you one more?
Please! We’re on a roll. Or you’re on a roll. This is great!
All right. There’s a guy I know that’s been a state legislator over in Virginia. I could give you his name, but… probably not.
No, no. No names. We’ll just edit that out.
But he was kind of going around Europe and really on a quest for truth, but he was very much—this is way back at the time of the Vietnam crisis, and people were looking for an alternative way to really live life and trying to overthrow basic assumptions and be a revolutionary, that kind of thing. And he was very concerned about the injustice save the war and of other things that are happening in the society, but he was an atheist. And he ended up going over to L’Abri, and I think it was Os Guinness and others, Schaeffer, that started talking to him about this, and basically he started to realize after a while that his whole claim to justice and his basis to even uphold it was not there on the basis of his atheism. So the very things he cared about most, that he was preaching so much about, that he was so passionate about were really undermined by his atheism. And on the other hand, it was faith in God that gave him a real basis to justify the critiques he was making, that there was a solid basis to do so. And that, as well as other things, led him to come to faith in Christ. And I think it was a talk with Os Guinness one night at L’Abri that really helped close the deal.
And one of my good friends, Donald Drew…. He went to Donald Drew and just told him, woke him up in the middle of the night, said, “I’ve just become a believer.” He said, “I’ll meet with you at 6:00. We’ll have our first Bible study!”
“Now go back to sleep!”
Exactly! So again that’s another illustration of how somebody finds the things that they most care about were really undermined by the things that they believed.
We’ll return to my conversation with Art Lindsley in just a moment. But I do want to point out we’ve mentioned, or we’ve alluded to, our basic apologetics course. It’s on our website, cslewisinstitute.org. If you look under small group resources, it is a tremendous resource for you as an individual or for a group that you’re part of, perhaps with a community group within your church. Please check that out. And while you’re there, please also prayerfully consider joining us as a partner in ministry, to click on the button that says donate. Now, let’s return to that conversation with Art Lindsley.
Well, now this is all touching on…. You have a whole chapter in your book, I think it’s your book True Truth, about when arguments fail. All right, say a little about that.
When arguments fail. I’ve got a lot more to say.
I mean, I have a lot more illustrations I could give, but-
Well, we don’t want to give everything away because we want people to buy these books.
By the caseload, as a matter of fact.
They make lovely presents.
Yeah. Well, I mean I could say a lot more. Like Jesus was a master of doing this. Jesus was a master of using questions, for instance. Often questions rattle around in people’s brain longer than answers.
Yeah. They stimulate people’s thinking in a more engaging way than just hearing statements.
Yeah. And there are many examples of Jesus using these questions, but for instance, I think of the Good Samaritan. It’s a classic illustration of that. For instance, it starts out, “What do I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks him. And Jesus says, “Well, how does it read to you?” And then he talks about, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself,” and He says, “Go and do likewise.” And then Jesus ends up eventually telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan. And of course it was a quite clear answer. And He says, at the end, “Which one of these proved to be a neighbor to the one in need?” The answer is obvious! It was the Samaritan was the one that did it. In fact, the lawyer can’t even get out the word Samaritan because the Samaritan was a very hated sect, you might say, of Judaism. And then the answer that Jesus comes back and says, “The one who shows mercy. Go and do likewise.”
Yes. But by asking the question, rather than just stating it. “So, you see, the better one was the Samaritan.” Asking that question, again, drew it out of the listener.
Yeah. And so they ended up having to…. That story, that parable, is like a mirror that allowed him to see himself, the lawyer.
A similar thing with the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal Son is told to those who really despised those that were sinners.
And so He told the whole story of the Prodigal Son, and the Prodigal Son comes back. Of course, the father embraces him. But then there’s the elder son that remains outside. And the question is, “Is he going to remain outside?” It’s an unfinished story.
Painfully so. Yes.
And it shows the mirror to the Pharisees and says, “Who are you going to be like? Are you going to be like the father that embraces the prodigal son, or are you going to be like the elder who stands apart in his smugness?” And it doesn’t really provide an answer. What it does is it could rattle around in their brain if they’re open to hear it at all. And really confront them with who they are.
Yeah. This was a rather large pebble in the shoe.
Yes. And that’s the case with really almost all of Jesus’s parables are that. They’re in some ways weapons in controversy because they put a mirror up to see people. It’s not always clearly evident. They’re not just like nice stories. There are things that really help you see yourself in a clearer way.
Good. Right. Yes. Like a crowbar opening up.
Yeah. So often questions, if you ask a good question of somebody, sometimes you don’t have to answer if you have a good question. It’s a matter of wisdom as to when to do that and when not to.
Yes. Well, I love the category that you’ve elevated of when arguments fail, because I think a lot of Christians, they’ve got great arguments, and they’ve tried them, and they’ve failed, and they walk away sort of shaking their head, like, “What else could I have said? I mean, it was a foolproof argument. The guy didn’t have a leg to stand on,” and yet it didn’t work. So it’s not just enough to have this apologetic content. It’s strategies and stuff.
Well, I have lots more questions, but I think I want to wrap this up. So is there one final thought of strategies or ideas that you haven’t shared with us yet that you want to tack on?
Can I give you two thoughts?
I guess. You just asked a question. What am I going to say? No?
Okay. One. One.
No, please. Tell us these two.
One is, like C.S. Lewis said, reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning. And that often you can approach somebody not just by argument but by image, imagination. In fact, that was part of C.S. Lewis’s conversion. I mean, it was really his imagination was baptized by reading a story called Phantastes. You can read about that in C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ or other places.
And then secondly… his imagination was baptized. His reason was satisfied. And then his will was submitted. So imagination is often the first way you can reach somebody, like an illustration from a movie or a popular song or some other thing that you have in common with that person that’s in the culture, sometimes can get that person to think about issues in a deeper way. Kind of prepare the way for being able to discuss issues that are there. So this idea of imagination, baptizing the imagination as the first stage to really be able to move somebody towards Christ, is important.
But I would also say that, of course, love is the ultimate thing, that it’s really your example that’s going to make the difference. Like C.S. Lewis said at one point, “What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our greatest contribution to the conversion of others.” And so it’s often…. Even though C.S. Lewis did give arguments for faith, and he would go with Stephen Olford to evangelistic settings, where he would give an apologetic for 20, 25 minutes, and then Olford would get up and preach the gospel. So he thought it was important to clear the decks by using apologetics, but on the other hand, he did realize that the example and the kind of love we show towards other people is crucial.
Yeah. And that’s a great place for us to finish, to wrap up, because you have a whole book, Love, the Ultimate Apologetic, and “ultimate” is indeed the right word there, and we must… all of our conversations, discussions, they must be enveloped in a love for people. So, Art, it’s been great to have you on our podcast. I hope we’ve stimulated a bunch of ideas for our listeners, this whole idea about strategies for using apologetics. Again, thank you for being part of this. Thank you to those of you who are listening. As with all of our resources and all of our podcasts, we hope this helps you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind.