Tactics Chapter 3 – Getting in the Driver’s Seat: The Columbo Tactic
by guest blogger David Stoecker*
"I am ready and willing to defend my faith to others."
"I know that I have THE Truth and THE Way. Not a truth, but THE TRUTH!"
"I will not be ashamed, I will not be intimidated and I will not get angry but will instead share my faith proudly with others and communicate with others the Truth!"
You are ready, and the opportunity presents itself. Someone says "I don’t believe in God. There is simply no proof" or "Who are you to say that Christianity is better than other religions? Jesus just taught about love, just like every other religion! Who are you to tell everybody how they should live and what they should believe?" and you completely shut down. Your mind either goes blank or 10 different ways to defend your faith run through your head at once and you can’t grab any of them. Just like that, your window of opportunity has passed and you are left shaking your head. Why did the conversation pass you by?
I am sure there are several reasons. The first may be that you have a window of about 10 seconds to engage the question before it vanishes. You miss the window, and poof it’s gone! Secondly, you may not speak because you are afraid that you might lose a friend or appear too extreme. Lastly, you are looking at the opportunity in the wrong way. You feel the need to defend your faith and that can be intimidating, playing defense. The great news is that you do not have to defend your faith. That is the simplicity of the Columbo Tactic in this chapter.
In the show Columbo, the detective that the show was named after had a method of operating that was very different. He would walk in looking unprepared, sloppy and unassuming. He would look at the scene, take it all in and then ask a question. He never posed the question in a threatening way, but instead as a way to get clarification. He sometimes would even ask permission, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" Then he would listen to the reply, which would generally lead to his asking another question.
Mr. Koukl says that you can, "go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation." Asking questions serves several purposes. It displays interest in the person speaking, allowing them to feel cared about. It also educates you on the other person’s beliefs. Finally, questions allow you to stay on the offensive, sitting in the driver’s seat of a conversation. If you have not stated your own beliefs, you have nothing to defend. The pressure for you is nonexistent and you can enjoy a relaxed conversation while steering it in the direction you want it to go in.
The best question is, "What do you mean by that?" or a variation thereof. It is an open-ended question that engages the person in an interactive way. It helps them clarify their point of view. It will make them spell out their objections instead of allowing them to use popular slogans, repeating what they have heard others say or staying vague in their beliefs. It may even surprise you how many people answer the question "What do you mean by that?" with a blank stare because they do not even know why they believe as they do.
Think of the first statement I used earlier, "I don’t believe in God. There is simply no proof." The first question could be clarification of what they mean by God. Do they mean they don’t believe in some white bearded old man sitting in space on a giant throne? Good, me neither! Do they mean that they don’t believe in a personal God but instead in a force like nature, or are they purely atheistic? That may be pertinent information to know.
Now that you have clarified what they mean by God, you can advance the conversation while staying in the drivers seat by asking another question. The follow-up question could be to find out what type of proof they need. Will they accept historical, scientific or philosophical proof? Can the proof be beyond a reasonable doubt or must it be absolute? You see, the entire time you are having them state what they believe and you have not yet said anything about your own belief.
The second statement, "Who are you to say that Christianity is better than other religions? Jesus just taught about love, just like every other religion! Who are you to tell everybody how they should live and what they should believe?" could give us pause also. So we could start by asking about the other religions that they have studied. So in your studies, you have found that all religions are alike? followed by Why are the similarities more important than the differences? Isn’t telling people to love each other telling them how they should live and what they should believe? Can you see how these questions set them up for conversation without them getting angry? Instead, the cause the conversation to continue and you have not had to argue your case at all!
That is why you must never be afraid to ask questions. Questions will force the people you are conversing with to think very carefully about what they mean. That will give you time to think and the ability to see openings when they present themselves. Remember, you are not having the conversation to win them to Christ. You are just looking for a rock to put in their shoe. You want to make them think. Argument does not bring people to Christ, encountering the Holy Spirit does. You are just creating a God-sized hole in their way of thinking for the Holy Spirit to fill-in later.
*Written for TPE by David Stoecker of Spiritual Spackle.