Part Three of Part Five: Applying the Socratic Method
This blog article ends my twelve-part series on apologetics and evangelism. Beginning in (probably) two weeks, I’ll embark on what will be a major shift in topics—and one that I believe millions of people would like answers to, but which there are few Bible-based resources to investigate: “Will deceased pets and wild animals be in Heaven?” I’ll introduce the topic in the next blog article, so let interested people know what’s coming up. For now, to the issue at hand.
In my last article, prior to Christmas and the holidays, I suggested that asking challenging questions requires non-Christians to justify their own religious or secular worldview. This is the Socratic method of apologetics. If you didn’t read that article, go back and read it before going further, or what follows won’t make as much sense.
It should be clear by now that the task of Christian apologetics is to identify and remove obstacles that prevent non-Christians from seriously considering Christianity. The strategy of the Socratic method, in achieving this goal, is to ask questions that encourage non-Christians to see for themselves that their own religious or secular worldviews are untenable, and, in light of this, to reconsider the veracity of the Christian worldview.
This apologetic approach can be particularly useful in today’s postmodern world, where many non-Christians claim (although few consistently live it out) that there are no absolute truths, especially in the area of ethics and religion. Rather than trying to present objective facts and evidences for Christianity, which many staunch postmodernists will off-the-cuff reject as irrelevant, we challenge them to explain their position on the issue at hand.
The idea behind this apologetic tactic is that when fair-minded people come to understand for themselves that their existing religious or secular worldviews cannot be substantiated, when they discover they are unable to muster legitimate reasons to believe it, they will be more willing to rethink the assumptions of their own worldview. This may lead to a willingness to consider traditional apologetic evidences for Christianity. Better yet, to a Gospel presentation.
What kind of questions should we ask? In my book Engaging the Closed Minded I give numerous examples, but here are several basic kinds of questions that will work in practically every apologetic encounter:
“What do you mean by that?” (Make then clarify.)
“How do you know that’s true?” (Is their view merely personal opinion, based on
hearsay, or is it something they are parroting from popular culture?)
“Why should I believe that?” (Is there a good reason to believe as they do?)
“Where did your learn that”? (What’s their source, is it reliable?)
“What happens if you’re wrong?” (Religious decisions based on feelings and
experiences, rather than a foundation of objective facts (as in Christianity),
are at best questionable, and likely false.
These are just a few examples, and I encourage you to read my book for many more examples and a much fuller treatment of this subject. But notice that all of these questions are essentially the same kinds of questions that non-Christians often ask us. By asking them the same questions we’re asked, we are taking the burden of proof off ourselves and placing it on the unbelievers—where it belongs. After all, we have the truth and they don’t, so why should we always be the ones justifying our beliefs!
We can also ask similar questions to help non-Christians think through their assumptions about Christianity. Non-Christians often harbor erroneous ideas about what the Bible teaches and misconceptions about what Christians actually believe. More often than not, they get their opinions from popular culture, which is notoriously biased against Christians and Christianity. As we respond to their answers to the questions we ask, we can gently and lovingly share the truth about our faith. Unbelievers will begin to see that much of what they assume about Christianity is mistaken. This may give us an opportunity to share the Gospel as well as the transforming power of Christ. Postmodernists in particular, who often interpret reality according to their feelings and emotions, need to see that Christianity is not just about facts and history. It really can change their lives and meet their deepest emotional and spiritual needs—because it is true.
So give the Socratic Method a try. Simple questions that encourage unbelievers to think through their beliefs can be a powerful and effective apologetic tactic.
* This series of blog articles are adapted from copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without permission. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or email it to people who may benefit from it. I explore the topic of this present series of articles in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).