Book Review: “Tactics” by Gregory Koukl (2009)

“A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions”

This book was recommended to me at a pastor’s conference in WA a few years back, and overall I found it helpful, if not a bit upsetting. In this review, I’ll open with a critique, but then follow the negative with some positives, and conclude with what I’ve taken away from the book. After all, Tactics is an extremely helpful book for polishing one’s apologetic or evangelistic opportunities, so I wouldn’t want to discourage any believer from reading it. It’s just that the premise of using “tactics” or “methods” in evangelism doesn’t sit well with many people, myself included.

While the challenge to strengthen my evangelistic fervor intrigued me, the concept of employing “tactics” to do so sounded a bit sketchy. Sure, I get that we’re in a spiritual battle and that we must be vigilant by planning ahead and strategizing our way against the Enemy, but the last thing I want to do when sharing Christ with a non-believer is to connive my way into his graces. This is why heated arguments, impromptu debates, and “burn in Hell” street preaching always make me squirm. I just figure: if I’m uncomfortable hearing Christians talk this way, then what in the world are the unbelievers feeling? Thus, delving into an explicit, “this is how we’ll get them” book just fills me with unease.

This discomfort was certainly not allayed early on, when on page 16 I read the following: “You can become an effective ambassador for Christ. It only requires that you pay attention to the guidelines in the chapters that follow and then begin to apply what you have learned.” Really? All I need to do is follow and apply Koukl’s guidelines (methods or tactics), and then I’ll become an effective ambassador for Christ? Whew! That’s a load off my mind. Sarcasm aside, I found this claim by an author who also thrives as a public speaker (Christian-motivational, I assume) supremely arrogant, and it didn’t set the stage well for the remainder of the book. In fact, it wasn’t until page 149 (as far as I can recall) that he finally acknowledged that another person’s response to the Gospel isn’t actually our responsibility at all:

 You and I have very limited control over how other people respond to us. That is largely in God’s hands. We can remove some of the negatives or dispel some of the fog — and we ought to try to do both. But at the end of the day, a person’s deep-seated rebellion against God is a problem only a supernatural solution can fix.

Despite my early unease about this book and its proposed methods, I continued reading and am glad I did, for Koukl proved to be a good writer with lots of fantastic points to make about wise speaking, though again, he couches them all in the language of “tactics” to employ. Koukl describes what tactics are not by quoting Hugh Hewitt:

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. It is not the Christian life to wound, embarrass, or play one-upmanship with colleagues, friends, or even opponents, but it’s a common vice that anyone can easily fall into. (19)

Instead of these false ideas, tactics are more the natural approach of a good ambassador, an approach that “trades more on friendly curiosity—a kind of relaxed diplomacy—than on confrontation.” (11)

Employing Koukl’s tactics also requires hard work on the part of the Christian reader to know his stuff, for “if Christianity is the truth, no matter how convincing the other side sounds at first, there will always be a fly in the ointment somewhere,” (20) and it’s up to us to find and expose it. As Koukl explains, “There are three questions you should always ask whenever someone offers an alternate explanation: Is it possible? Is it plausible? Is it probable?” (55)

Koukl also offers a great counter-culture view of judging and how honest judging is a far cry from judgmentalism and intolerance. Beyond his short exposition of Scriptural passage on judging on page 80, he also makes the following points:

There is no neutral ground when it comes to the tolerance question. Everybody has a point of view she thinks is right, and everybody passes judgment at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeonholed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too, even people who consider themselves relativists. (70)

People make the blanket statement that it is wrong to judge. Maybe it is wrong to make moral judgments, but using this rule to condemn a judgmental person is itself a breach of the principle. (113)

The only consistent response for a relativist is, “Pushing morality is wrong for me, but that’s just my personal opinion and has nothing to do with you. Please ignore me.” (115)

Overall, Tactics has given me plenty of ideas for how to avoid getting tongue-tied or looking foolish when trying to share the Gospel with a skeptic. Koukl’s ideas will help me get to the heart of the matter more quickly, so that I can definitively plant the Gospel seeds, but (and this is a pretty big “but”) I know that these methods will not become “essential tools” to my evangelism. My ultimate confidence is in the Holy Spirit to teach me Truth as I study His Word, so that I can be an approved workman of God always ready to answer anyone who asks me about my Hope. Believe me: if they’re asking, I’m telling. If nothing else, Koukl has at least encouraged me to start doing the asking before the skeptic even thinks about doing so himself.

Koukl’s emphasis on breaking into conversations is something with which I admittedly struggle. While he might be capable of taking a surface-level conversation with a waitress over dinner and turning it into a one-sided debate about abortion, I just can’t do that. And it’s not so much that I can’t do it as that I really don’t want to. The vast majority of the issues Koukl uses as examples in the book are culturally relevant (abortion, evolution, etc.) and yet secondary to the Gospel itself. While I understand  that most unbelievers have some major mental hurdles to cross before they can even begin to consider Jesus as Savior (i.e. interpretation issues, relativism, personal freedom, etc.), it’s important that evangelistic seed-planting involves more just “seeds of doubt.” Where are the “seeds of the Gospel” in Tactics? Koukl barely mentions them. Simply convincing a person she’s wrong doesn’t accomplish much, unless you also direct her toward the Truth where she can correct her misconceptions.

©2016 E.T.

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