Tactics Blog Tour

tactics.jpgWelcome to the the Tactics Blog Tour.  For those who don’t know, Greg Koukl has written a great little book that I believe will be beneficial to believers of all stripes.  If the mood strikes then take a few moments to read my review.  Throughout the day Greg will be keeping an eye on the blog and interacting with readers and commentators, so please, feel free to join in the discussion by asking questions or making statements about the book or about Greg’s answers to the questions posted here.  Each stop on the tour features a question from the blog’s author as well as a Koinonia reader.  Due to time restraints Greg has only been able to answer mine but I’ll post the other question in hopes that he will be able to answer it in the comments to this post.  So without further ado here are the questions with Greg’s answer(s):

My question:

At the end of Part 1 on p. 102 you said to the waitress in Seattle that you had studied the issue of the Bible’s textual transmission extensively and that the “[t]he manuscripts were accurate to over 99 percent precision. The Bible hadn’t been changed.” Could you clarify exactly what “over 99 percent precision” means and also explain how you came to that conclusion?

Greg Koukl’s Answer:

The question of the textual purity of the New Testament documents is not a theological question, but purely an academic one since the disciplines pressed into service to answer this challenge are used equally of other ancient documents that have no theological significance. The question here is not whether the content is true, but whether it has been accurately preserved from the pen of the original author. It can be answered without any reference to personal “faith.” Instead, all that’s needed is a simple appeal to facts, a technique I call “Just the Facts, Ma’am” (chapter 13 in Tactics).

Here are the facts, as I understand them. N.T. scholar Daniel Wallace notes that although there are about 300,000 individual variations of the text of the New Testament, this number is very misleading. Most of the differences are completely inconsequential (spelling errors, inverted phrases and the like). A side-by-side comparison between the two main text families (the Majority Text and the modern critical text) shows agreement a full 98% of the time (see “The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical?,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June, 1991, 157-8).

Of the remaining differences, virtually all yield to the disciplines of the academic tools of textual criticism. This means that we can have confidence that our New Testaments have over 99% textually purity, a stunning statistic compared to any other documents from antiquity. In the entire text of 20,000 lines, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine (Geisler and Nix, General Introduction to the Bible, 475).

Scholar D.A. Carson sums it up this way: “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants” (Carson, D.A., The King James Version Debate, 56).

Though recent works that have challenged this conclusion (e.g., Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus), there have been a number of scholarly responses to show that there is no good reason for our confidence to be shaken. Characteristically, the textual problems are way over exaggerated as to their number (e.g., every misspelling is counted as a variant), and as to their significance. Though many of the textual conflicts might be new—and alarming—to popular readers (e.g., John 8 and the woman caught in adultery, and the longer version of Mark 16), these difficulties have been known to biblical scholars—and solved by them—long ago.

Koinonia Reader Question:

Why did you use “Tactics” as the title, seeing how tactic has such a militaristic definition? I noted the use of a chess piece (pawn). Is there any significance to this?  Are we just “pawns” in apologetics in evangelism and outreach? — Don, Virginia Beach, VA

Greg Koukl’s Answer:

When I started developing this material more than 15 years ago, “tactics” seemed like an apt word to describe the skill I wanted to impart to others. Here’s how I explain it in chapter one:

Though we are following a diplomatic model and not a military one, the military metaphor is still helpful to distinguish strategy from tactics. Tactics, literally “the art of arranging,” focus on the immediate situation at hand. They involve the orderly, hands-on choreography of the particulars. Often a clever commander can gain the advantage over a larger force with superior strength or numbers through deft tactical maneuvering.

I think you can see the parallel for you as a Christian. You may have personal experience with how the Gospel can change someone’s life, but how do you design particular responses to particular people so you can begin to have an impact in specific situations?

Tactics can help because they offer techniques of maneuvering in what otherwise might be difficult conversations. They guide you in arranging your own resources in an artful way. They suggest approaches anyone can use to be more persuasive, in part because they help you be more reasonable and thoughtful—instead of just emotional—about your convictions as a follower of Christ.

I understand the concern in the question, though. Tactics is a military term, suggesting bellicose engagements instead of genial ones. Zondervan raised this question when we first discussed the book. The problem we faced was trying to rename the concept after the word had served us so well for15 years and tens of thousands were already familiar with it through STR materials. We figured it would be better to stick with the tried and true, then be sure I clarified in the text what I had in mind: diplomacy, not D-Day.

The pawn and chessboard visual was only meant to suggest the importance of pondering your moves in the process of engaging others. That’s all. And it’s much better than crossed bayonets.

For a list of reviews and the other stops on the blog tour see Andrew Rogers’ post on Koinonia. 

Purchase Tactics from the following booksellers: Amazon; CBD; Overstock; Barnes & Noble.




Greg received his Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, graduating with high honors, and his Masters in Christian Apologetics from Simon Greenleaf University.  He is an adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University.  He hosts his own radio talk show advocating clear-thinking Christianity and defending the Christian worldview. (Learn more about Greg on his website)

11 thoughts on “Tactics Blog Tour

  1. Mr. Koukl,

    From what I know of your ministry, I would expect that this book is not merely about rhetorical tricks (tactics which are often used to manipulate others when more legitimate means are unavailable). I expect that you will be instructing Christians in dialectical virtues which befit witnesses of Christ. If this is right–if this indeed is one of the aims of your book–then which sorts of virtues do you hope to impress upon your readers? Which sorts of characteristics do you think are being neglected in contemporary evangelical Christian apologetics?

    Thank you for your time.

  2. You’re right, tactics aren’t rhetorical, manipulative tricks. In fact, in the book I go out of my way to make this point. For e.g. (p. 6):

    “Tactics are not manipulative tricks or slick ruses. They are not clever ploys to embarrass other people and force them to submit to your point of view. They are not meant to belittle or humiliate those who disagree so you can gain notches in your spiritual belt.

    “…[T]hese tactics are powerful and can be abused. It’s not difficult to make someone look silly when you master these techniques. A tactical approach can quickly show people how foolish some of their ideas are. Therefore, you must be careful not to use your tactics merely to assault others.”

    The virtues I want to impress upon readers, which are often neglected in contemporary, evangelical apologetics, are a formal part of Stand to Reason’s approach to apologetics. You can find the “Ambassador’s Creed” at http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5188. It’s included in the final chapter of the book.

    Here it is:

    Ambassador’s Creed
    An ambassador is…

    • Ready. An Ambassador is alert for chances to represent Christ and will not back away from a challenge or an opportunity.
    • Patient. An Ambassador won’t quarrel, but will listen in order to understand, then with gentleness will seek to respectfully engage those who disagree.
    • Reasonable. An Ambassador has informed convictions (not just feelings), gives reasons, asks questions, aggressively seeks answers, and will not be stumped by the same challenge twice.
    • Tactical. An Ambassador adapts to each unique person and situation, maneuvering with wisdom to challenge bad thinking, presenting the truth in an understandable and compelling way.
    • Clear. An Ambassador is careful with language and will not rely on Christian lingo or gain unfair advantage by resorting to empty rhetoric.
    • Fair. An Ambassador is sympathetic and understanding towards others and will acknowledge the merits of contrary views.
    • Honest. An Ambassador is careful with the facts and will not misrepresent another’s view, overstate his own case, or understate the demands of the Gospel.
    • Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of truth is fallible. He will not press a point beyond what his evidence allows.
    • Attractive. An Ambassador will act with grace, kindness, and good manners. He will not dishonor Christ in his conduct.
    • Dependent. An Ambassador knows that effectiveness requires joining his best efforts with God’s power.

  3. Mr. Koukl,

    Thank you for this generous and precise response. Each of the “Ambassador’s Creed” are quite appropriate and almost all of them seem achievable.

    My attention, however, is drawn to “Fair,” “Honest” and “Humble”–all of which are somewhat related. It strikes me that one of the most effective ways for an ambassador to promote these virtues in herself and others is to immerse herself to the very best opposing arguments, in order to appreciate the reasonableness of contrary perspectives and the limitations of her own.

    What makes this difficult, however, is the special attitude a Christian might reasonably have towards her own faith–an attitude inspired by the New Testament itself. One’s eternal salvation is supposed to depend upon one’s faith. This makes the goal of fully appreciating the best opposing points of views somewhat precarious, insofar as in learning to fully appreciate a good argument and the reasonableness of some other position, one inevitably puts one’s own beliefs at risk of changing.

    I wonder if you have ever felt this type of quandary of faith and scholarship in your own pursuit of understanding and education. I wonder also if related tensions influence your willingness to expose other Christians to the reasonable ideas that are contrary to the Christian faith.

    On the one hand, I can certainly sympathize with a hesitancy, on your part, to fully expose other Christians to the finest points of views that are in opposition to the Christian faith. On the other hand, the hesitancy to do just this makes it more difficult to cultivate fairness, honesty and humility in the church.

    I would appreciate your reflections on these issues which have often seemed, at least to me, to resist any easy and comfortable solution.

    Thank you again.

  4. CT,

    I don’t know that I can give you an “easy and comfortable solution,” but these comments from the last chapter of Tactics address the issue directly:

    “Part of that pursuit involves a certain kind of vulnerability. None of us wants our views proven wrong, especially our most cherished ideas, regardless of which side of the fence we are on. But if we want to cultivate a well-informed faith, we need to be aware of our own powerful instincts for ideological self-preservation.

    “This instinct is so strong, in fact, that sometimes we are tempted to intellectually circle the wagons and guard against the slightest challenge to our beliefs. This strategy provides a false sense of security, however. The opposite approach actually offers much more safety. Instead of digging in behind fortifications to protect against attackers, we should encourage critique by hostile witnesses.

    “In academic circles this is called “peer review.” Philosophers, scientists, and theologians present their ideas in professional forums and solicit critique. They test the merit of their thoughts by offering them to people who are inclined to disagree….

    “The idea of peer review is based on a sound notion. If our ideas are easily destroyed by those acquainted with the facts, they ought to be discarded. But if our ideas are good, they will not be upended so easily. In the process, we will learn what the other side knows. We may even be surprised at how weak their resistance really is.”

    Is this approach challenging, potentially, to our own convictions, our faith? Yes. However, by guiding confidence is that the truthfulness of the Christian world view is buttressed from many different angles and doesn’t rely on a single line of argument. Also, if I’m right, then any counter-argument, no matter how compelling it may sound at first, is going to be flawed somewhere. We just have to keep our eyes open and find it.

  5. CT, I hope you don’t mind me chiming in. A long time ago, I noticed that I was sometimes able to come up with much better arguments against Christianity than most non-Christians I read or talked to. I figured the figured the reason for that was because everybody looks at their own arguments more closely than they look at their opponents’ arguments. If you want to be careful to make really good arguments, you’re going to read your own stuff more carefully, and I think most people do. Consequently, it’s easier to notice flaws or weaknesses in your own position than it is to notice them in your opponents’ position.

    With that in mind, I began trying to read non-Christian literature a lot more closely. When I noticed was that if you REALLY try to understand those arguments, you begin seeing flaws and weaknesses in them that you might not have seen otherwise.

    I remember especially looking closely at David Hume’s argument against miracles. I decided to write a paper on it for one of my philosophy classes.

    I also went back and read some stuff by Quentin Smith and Michael Martin a lot more closely than I had before, and the same thing happened.

    The way I look at it, if Christianity is not true, then I’d rather know. And if it is true, then I want to know that, too. So I have nothing to lose by looking very carefully at opposing arguments. And it seems that I have much to gain. I’m much less likely to be accused of misrepresenting those views, and I can much more effectively respond to them.

  6. “The way I look at it, if Christianity is not true, then I’d rather know. And if it is true, then I want to know that, too.”

    Sam, that’s the beautiful spirit of a truth seeker. (If your educational opportunities are broad, this spirit may lead you down a number of paths.)

    But what do we make of this:

    “However, by guiding confidence is that the truthfulness of the Christian world view is buttressed from many different angles and doesn’t rely on a single line of argument. Also, if I’m right, then any counter-argument, no matter how compelling it may sound at first, is going to be flawed somewhere. We just have to keep our eyes open and find it.”

    I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, but it almost seems not to square with humility, as characterized in the Ambassador’s Creed:

    “• Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of truth is fallible.”

    It wouldn’t easily square with humility if the confidence is in the idea that opposing points of views are “going to be flawed somewhere. We just have to keep our eyes open and find it.” (But again, I’m not sure if that’s what Mr. Koukl intends.)

  7. CT, since Greg prefaced is statement with “if I’m right…,” I don’t see any lack of humility in what he said. What he said makes good sense. If Christianity is actually true, then any argument against Christianity must, by necessity, have some flaw in it.

  8. That’s right Sam. The use of the conditional made me wonder about Mr. Koukl’s point. But I was trying to interpret Mr. Koukl in a way that makes what he is saying non-trivial. It would be trivial to claim “If my views are true, then there must be something wrong with all incompatible views.” What would be the point to observe something like this?

    Thus, I suspected Mr. Koukl to be describing a certain attitude he takes. In the prior sentence he states that his “guiding confidence is that the truthfulness of the Christian world view”. The antecedent of the conditional in the following sentence (“if I’m right….”) is to be interpreted within this context.

    To simplify, it’s very much like saying this:

    “I’m confident that I’m right. And if I’m right, then the views of others must be wrong. Therefore, I’m ultimately just looking for the errors in the arguments of others.”

    Which is difficult to square with humility:

    “• Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of truth is fallible.”

  9. Oh yeah, I can see why you would think that. But I still don’t think Greg lacks humility in his approach. To be provisional is just to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong. But it seems that any degree of confidence you have in the truth of your claims ought to be accompanied by the same degree of skepticism regarding opposing claims. The more likely A is to be true, the more likely not-A is to be false. So I don’t see any lack of humility in a person who approaches opposing views with a degree of skepticism equal to the confidence he has in his own views.

    Now if Greg does nothing but look for flaws in opposing views, and never entertains the possibility that those arguments might be sound and that he might be wrong, then I would agree with you. But I’ve been listening to Greg for many years, and I don’t get that impression from him at all.

    Maybe you should ask Greg about this. He’s still on his blog tour, and today he’s on this blog.

  10. GK…
    Sir, you are readable, understandable and gracious, truly indicating an excellent education! Thank you very much…*: )

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