AGILITY VS FORCE
During my years of seminary training I learned a lot. What I didn’t learn was how use this theological and philosophical knowledge in the real world.
Yes, learning how to write academic papers, engage in formal debate and parsing Greek vocabulary is important for some, but what about learning skills that will immediately help you in the real world? In this series of posts, called Answering Questions, I’m going to teach you how to field questions from any person and respond with the truth in a winsome manner that not only gets the truth across, but also helps build your credibility and develops a relationship with the questioner. These are tips that I will be discussing in more depth in my book, which will be available to you later this year, Jump Start: Starting Meaningful Spiritual Conversations. (If you want to get the early bird special, subscribe for free to be an Anchor Insider. All Anchor Insiders get discounts and other cool stuff.)
When I began working on my major in college — marketing and mass communications (a fancy way of saying “many forms of communication in the art of persuasion”), I wondered how I could use these skills in everyday life to serve people, so I began to use what I learned in the classroom for marketing in my day-to-day conversations, and over the years I’ve been able to hone this skill in a way that has helped me communicate the beauty and truths of the gospel.
One of the classes that I took was a class on sociology that focused on teaching you how to get and keep a job and eventually become the boss. I can’t tell you how much this class has helped in my life on so many levels. One of the areas that we covered was how to answer questions. It ranged from how to utilize your body language to how to reframe and answer questions. I enjoyed this section so much that I became obsessed with researching how to do Q&A — which definitely helps knowing when you’re an apologist.
As a Christian, we are called to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, so how can we not only give an answer, but frame it in a winsome manner? When I think of fielding a question, I think of the martial art of Aikido. Aikido doesn’t teach someone to meet force with force, but rather, it teaches someone to use the attackers force to your advantage and redirect that energy against him while you expend minimal energy.
As a Christian you are going to be asked challenging questions. Why do people ask challenging questions? Because they are mean-spirited? Maybe. Because they want to test your mettle? Perhaps. More likely it’s because when you are presenting your case, which is just the case in almost every decisive communication in any conversation, you’re asking the other person to change. Most people are resistant to change, and so they kick the tires. You are the tires.
If you are presenting Christian truths to an audience, or debunking untruths, the intensity is raised by three other additional factors:
- Public Exposure. The risk of a mistake is magnified in large groups.
- Group dynamics. The more people in the audience, the more difficult it is to maintain control.
- One Against Many. Audiences have an affinity bond among themselves and apart from the presenter or speaker.
The result is open season on the lone figure spotlighted at the front of the room, who then becomes fair game to the opposition.
But, as they say in my home state, “Remember the Alamo!” The Alamo, and other stories like it, such as Thermopylae (think of the movie 300) and The Battle of the Bulge, will help you remember that although you may be outnumbered in a situation such as this, you can still make a huge dent, if not win like David did against Goliath, against a superior or larger force by using agility instead of force.
Your objective, if you choose to accept it, is to take control. By using agility instead of force you can gain control of the question, your answer, the questioner, the audience, the time utilized in the exchange of question and answer, and yourself. Another way of looking at this is as effective management. It is your job to manage all of these areas.
A word of caution though: If your response to a challenging question is defensive, evasive, or contentious, you lose credibility …and with it the likelihood of attaining your objective in the discussion. BUT, if your response is prompt, assured, and to the point, you will be far more likely to emerge unscathed, if not fully victorious. As it says in Beowulf,
Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.
Much of persuasion in any situation deals in confidence. If you respond with confidence, not pride, people tend to be persuaded. Although we’re talking about apologetics, this principle applies anywhere — even in business. The Chairman of Crown Advisors, David Bellet, say this about questioning those who ask him to invest in their cause or company:
When I ask questions, I don’t really have to have the full answer because I can’t know the subject as well as the presenter. What I look for is whether the presenter has thought about the question, been candid, thorough, and direct and how the presenter handles himself or herself under stress; if that person has the passion of ‘fire in the belly’ and can stand tall in the line of fire.
I, too, was a skeptic once, and I had tough questions to ask Christians and Christianity in general, so I understand the importance of “always being ready to give an answer” because I expected others to give me an answer. We should never shy away from questions, but welcome them as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God in a winsome manner by connecting with other people seeking answers to their most deep-seated questions.