Showing posts with label persuasion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label persuasion. Show all posts

Friday, October 29, 2021

Why isn't Apologetics more Effective?

Have you ever had a religious or political discussion with someone where you stated your disagreement in a carefully worded, factual, and well-reasoned response? How did it go? I'm guessing the other person didn't say, "Oh, you're right! Thank you so much." In fact, I bet it's more likely that they responded with something so irrational or incoherent that you couldn't even understand what they were trying to say.

Why it happens
There are several reasons why this happens, but they can basically be summed up by what psychologists call the backfire effect. This effect explains why people will sometimes strengthen their beliefs about something after they are presented with evidence against it. We like to believe that we're all rational beings who make decisions based on evidence, but that's just not the case most of the time.

The dual-process theory is the dominant theory among psychologists to explain how we think. According to this theory, system 1 is fast, unconscious, automatic, and emotional while system 2 is slow, deliberate, analytical, and rational. The issue is that we like to think that our rational system 2 is in complete control, but system 1 has much more control than we think it does.

If we believe something is true and are confronted with conflicting data, it is emotionally difficult, especially if it is a deeply held belief. When this happens, system 1 jumps into overdrive and hijacks system 2 in order to defend our original view so that we think we are being rational, but any unbiased observer can see otherwise.

The task of evangelism is to persuade people that their deeply held beliefs are false and that Christ is the only way to eternal life. Apologetics specifically tries to do this with evidence and reason. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect setting for the backfire effect so that in many cases, apologetics may actually cause people to strengthen their current beliefs rather than convert to Christianity! Does this mean that apologists are doomed right from the beginning and there is no point in trying? Not at all. There are ways to avoid the backfire effect for those who want to be effective.

Overcoming the Backfire Effect
Just about everything I can think of has positive and negative effects. If we focus too much on the positive or the negative, we increase our risk of erring. I don't think that most people know that the backfire effect is a possible outcome when they do apologetics, and if they do, they underestimate the likelihood of it. Learning (more) about the backfire effect can help us think about the potential negative outcomes of apologetics and evangelism rather than focusing too much on just the positive.

The backfire may seem discouraging at first, but my hope is it doesn't prevent people from doing apologetics and evangelism. Instead, I want to encourage people to learn about and apply evidence-based methods of influencing people so they can do apologetics more effectively.

If you want to get a more robust understanding of evidence-based methods of influence, I recommend the books Think AgainInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. These are not Christian books, but they can be easily applied to apologetics and evangelism and they go into more depth than Tactics which is an apologetics book on effective influence. If you want to learn more about dual-process theory or more generally, how people think, I recommend the books Thinking, Fast and SlowPredictably Irrational, and Blindspot.

Books are great, but they are time-consuming, so I've written a few articles discussing several evidence-based methods of persuasion, which specifically apply these methods to apologetics and evangelism. I would recommend starting with the apologists' secret weapon and the super-secret weapon before reading the articles on persuasion methods for apologetics.

Rather than just ending with more on your to-do list, the one bit of practical advice you can use right now is to avoid arguing with others. As soon as a discussion becomes an argument, your odds of persuasion plummet. Instead, listen to people, ask sincere and inquisitive questions (not trapping questions), and if needed, apologize for any errors (factual or social).

Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Psychological Apologetics Resources

Psychological apologetics is a unique field that focuses on using and applying psychological sciences (which really includes all social and cognitive sciences) for apologetics. Very few people do work that could be considered psychological apologetics, especially if excluding people or works that are explicitly in the realm of psychological apologetics. If you want to get started in psychological apologetics, there aren't really any single sources you can pick up to get started. Instead, you need to piece together information from a variety of resources so you can become knowledgeable in both subjects, psychology and apologetics.

I've categorized the books by sub-genre rather than recommended reading order. However, I do provide a recommended order at the bottom of the page and I've classified the books into general tiers of relevance and/or importance for psychological apologetics. Here is what the tiers mean.

  1. Very relevant/important
  2. Relevant/important
  3. Somewhat relevant/important or overlaps content of books rated higher
  4. Least relevant/important or I just don't know much about the book.

While this list is pretty long, it's nowhere near exhaustive, especially considering all the books out there that focus on the integration of psychology or counseling with and theology. I included some of the more current ones, but there is so much more out there. Also, it should go without saying that I do not agree with everything in all the books, but some of them I think are relevant for the field. If you think I missed any important books, want more specific suggestions, or have any other comments, please contact me here

Psychological Apologetics Books

The books in this section are the closest thing that could be considered psychological apologetics without having to piece together resources from various other places. I listed this section first to highlight the sub-genre of psychological apologetics so don't be surprised that these books aren't recommended as first reads. These books only cover a narrow scope of the possible topics that fall under the umbrella of psychological apologetics.

#1. Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin (Ph.D.), who is not a psychologist but she gets people. This book fits under the banner of psychological apologetics because Rebecca responds to more psychologically oriented objections to Christianity and does so through an application of psychological principles. She focuses on objections from atheists in the field of psychology or related fields such as Steven Pinker and Sam Harris, among others, and exhibits deep concern for real people who are dealing with these topics in real-life situations. There are many good apologetics books, but I am hesitant to recommend them because they come across as uncaring to non-believers and set a bad example for believers. Rebecca is able to write compassionately while not compromising truth, which is a rare and much-needed skill. This is a great book for a basic-level understanding of the main objections to Christianity and a model for how to respond to those objections. I highly recommend it for apologetics enthusiasts, other Christians, and for unbelievers.

#1-2. Complex Simplicity: How PsychologySuggests Atheists are Wrong about Christianity by Luke Conway (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and Christian apologist. The tone and focus of this book are different from other apologetics books in a way that will be more appealing to skeptics and Christians alike. This is also the only book that focuses on the broad use of psychological science to defend Christianity, much of which comes directly from Conway's own research. I highly recommend this book for everyone. For apologists and other Christians, it offers a fresh new look at reasons for Christianity. For people who don't believe or might be struggling with severe doubt, it presents arguments in a way that is more appealing and therefore, more likely to be seriously considered. Here's a more detailed review I wrote of this book.

#2. The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (Ph.D.), who's an atheist psychologist. Ironically, this book makes a pretty darn good case for Christianity and does so through social sciences. The author recognizes this and explicitly states that the data is not an argument for Christianity, but it is. In short, if Christianity is true, what the book reports to have happened is what would be expected. The book talks about the historical factors the led to the development of modern, Western society, and while there are multiple factors involved, the main factor is Christian sexual ethics and the Church's teachings efforts to spread those teachings.

#2. Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief and #2. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin Barrett (Ph.D.), who's a Christian cognitive evolutionary psychologist. I haven't read these books, but I've read a lot of Barrett's academic works. My understanding of these books is that he makes the case that humans are biologically predisposed to believe in God, and therefore, it is psychologically healthy to do so. 

#3. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul Vitz (Ph.D.), who's a Christian psychologist. In this book, which I also haven't read yet, he is responding to the Freudian critique that belief in God serves as a replacement for having a poor or non-existent relationship with a person's biological father. My understanding of the book and Vitz's position is that the opposite appears to be true, that people who have a poor or non-existent relationship with their father are more likely to be atheists.

Effective Persuasion for Apologetics and Evangelism

Perhaps the biggest gap in apologetics literature is the absence of evidence-based strategies for doing apologetics. There are some apologetics books that discuss this, and some do it fairly well, but they don't really go into the science behind effective persuasion methods or give a broad range of practical methods. The books listed are not Christian books and as far I know, only Carnegie is a Christian, but the strategies in these books are easy to apply to apologetics and evangelism.

#1. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant (Ph.D), who is an industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologist. This book could go in this section or the next and its ability to explain both how people reason and how to influence others is unique among other books. I listened to this book in two days and immediately listened to it a second time (at a faster speed) to process it even better. The book is a wonderful introduction for people to understand how people think and how we can overcome some common thinking traps in our own reasoning or help others avoid those traps. If someone were to ask me what's the first and most important book they should read for doing apologetics, I would recommend this one.

#1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and #2. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and perhaps the foremost expert on persuasion methods. His work is widely used and cited for sales and marketing. Influence is the absolute single best book I know of for understanding how persuasion works.

#2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book is a classic and for good reason. I put off reading it for the longest time because I thought it would have little to teach me and little modern relevance. I was dead wrong. This book is a very practical guide for how to effectively influence people without being manipulative.

#3. Getting to Yes and #3. Getting Past NoThe first is by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton and the second is just by Ury. These books are essential reading in many business programs. These are excellent resources for learning how to negotiate with others, especially in a way that maintains long-term relationships.

#1. Contagious Faith: Discover Your Natural Style for Sharing Jesus with Others by Mark Mittelberg (M.A.). This book is a great guide for anyone who feels like sharing their faith is too awkward or confrontational. Mark gives great ways that all different types of people can share their faith without ruining relationships or coming across as weird. He talks about different types of people, but doesn't fall into the trap of limiting people to a single type. It's more of a personal and situational approach.

#2. Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth by Michael Sherrard (M.Div.), who's a pastor and apologist. This is another one of the rare apologetics books that focuses on more effective methods for doing apologetics and evangelism. While it's not a psychological book, it does apply psychological principles well. 

#N/A. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl (M.A.), who's a well-known Christian apologist. This is one of the few apologetics books that explicitly focuses on practical methods for how to do apologetics and evangelism more effectively. It's very practical but it doesn't really get into the mechanisms underlying the methods, which is great for simplicity but leads to some issues with the application or presentation of the methods. For instance, the steamroller chapter depicts people who steamroll as overly emotional, immature, and dishonest which justifies the advice to shame them. This is an incorrect and overly simplistic view of people and the advice opposes what research shows will be more effective, which is to listen to them empathically. I've also seen Koukl and others apply the methods of the book in a way that more often than not is condescending, combative, and evasive, which again is neither Christian nor effective. There are some great recommendations in the book but too many harmful recommendations so I do NOT recommend this book anymore. I thought it would be good to include in this list because it is in the genre of psychological apologetics, it is widely used, and people ask me about it a lot.

Bias, Reasoning, and Decision Making

If you want to understand how to do apologetics effectively, you have to understand the way in which people make decisions and the variety of biases that affect our reasoning processes. In short, people are not nearly as rational as we often think they are. These books reveal a ton of ways in which our minds make mental shortcuts, often leading to false conclusions, and how we can overcome them. These books are not Christian books and as far as I know, none of the authors are Christians. While initially it may seem like these biases apply to religious belief, they apply equally to why people belief atheism is true.

#1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and noble prize winner in economics because his work was essential for the field of behavioral economics. This is the essential book for understanding decision 

#1. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that focuses on moral reasoning. This book will help you understand how people make moral decisions. This is relevant because moral beliefs strongly influence religious and political beliefs. His other book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is also pretty good but not nearly as relevant for psychological apologetics.

#2. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji (Ph.D.) and Anthony Greenwald (Ph.D.), who are psychologists that focus on basically what the title of the book is. Most of this book focuses on blindspots when it comes to race and sex, but it's highly relevant for psychological apologetics because the mental processes they discuss apply to a broad range of topics.

#2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on decision making. This book makes the point that having more choices isn't always good for us psychologically and often leads to less than optimal choices. It's very relevant in a society where people have lots of religious, political, and moral choices. 

#2. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which is a book and a movie based on a true story about a professional baseball team that became very successful after they started using a revolutionary method of choosing players, which was based on carefully selected objective metrics rather than expert opinions. I haven't read the book but the movie is great. The story can really help gain an understanding of the biases in everyday life and how we're often blind to them.

#2. The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters by Daniel Wegner (Ph.D.) and Kurt Gray (Ph.D.), who are social psychologists that study consciousness and choice, amongst other things. The book talks about some of the underlying factors that affect our moral decisions.

#3. You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself Paperback by David McRane, who's a journalist the writes on thinking and psychological biases. This book is a rapid-fire explanation of a ton of biases in a fairly amusing style.

#3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment by Richar Thaler (Ph.D.), who's a Nobel-winning economist. This book discusses how small, often unnoticeable factors affect our decision-making.

#3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist. This book is similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow, but it's shorter and explains slightly different ways in which people make irrational decisions. It's a great book that's very enjoyable to read, but I would consider this book more of a second-tier book for psychological apologetics.

Sexuality and Gender

Sex, sexuality, and gender are probably the relevant social topics for Christians in our culture. My knowledge of the subject comes from more academic sources (the sources often cited by these books) so I am not very familiar with these books or authors, but from what I do know about the authors, they are respectable.  

#2. People to Be Loved: Why HomosexualityIs Not Just an Issue, #2. Living in a Gray World: A ChristianTeen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, and #2. Embodied: Transgender Identities,the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say by Preston Sprinkle, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) that focuses mostly on topics related to sexuality and gender. I haven't read any of these books, but I have listened to several hours of his podcasts and YouTube videos. The guy knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful ability to engage difficult topics with love and respect.

#2. Is God anti-gay? and #2. Why does God care who I sleep with? by Sam Allberry, who's a pastor and apologist who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read these books and have limited experience with Sam's work. From the little experience I do have with Sam's work, he seems to be reasonable, knowledgeable, and compassionate.

#2. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story, #3. Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read either book and don't have much experience with Yuan's work.

#2. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, #2. Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth, #2. Homosexuality and the Christian: AGuide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, who's a Christian clinical psychologist. I haven't read these books yet and am not very familiar with Yarhouse's work so I have no comments to add about these books.

#2. The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society by Debora Soh (Ph.D.), who's a neuroscientist who focuses her research on sex and gender. She is not a Christian and is quite liberal, but she still has some concerns about some of the activism around gender. I haven't read this book so I don' t have much to say on it, but you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#3. Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael John Cusick (M.A. x2), who's a Christian licensed professional counselor. I haven't read this book yet, but from my understanding, it's about the negative effects of porn on people who use it. This is relevant for apologetics because most Christians would agree that porn violates biblical morality and so we should expect negative side effects when we engage in it.

#3. Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney (MD) and Freda Mckissic (MD), who are both obstetrician/gynecologists. I don't know if they are Christians or not, but I suspect they are. I have browsed a few sections of the first edition of this book, but I've never read the whole thing. Essentially, this book discusses the scientific evidence that casual sex or sex with multiple partners does not lead to better outcomes in life.

#4. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier, who's a journalist and not a Christian. I haven't read this book so I don't have much to say about it, but if you want to know more, you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#4. This is Your Brain on Sex: The Science Behind the Search for Love by Kayt Sukel (M.S.), who's a science writer and as far as I know, she's not a Christian. She might be, but her Twitter account had quite a few posts the suggest she's probably not. I haven't read this book and know very little about it, but I do want to read it. I included this book because, for the most part, the science of sex supports what the Bible teaches about sex, although there are some people who twist or ignore some of the science to argue otherwise. 

Christian Psychology Books

#2. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.), who's a behavioral neuroscientist. I've read most or all of this book and it's a good explanation of the biological factors that affect our psychology, both of which affect our propensity to sin.

#3. Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) and Pamela Ebstyne-King (Ph.D.), who's a developmental and positive psychologist. Both authors are Christians and in this book, they make the case that humans' ability to be social, get and use information, and exhibit self-control are what makes us unique. Based on these traits, we can make hypotheses about human flourishing, and when we do that, they align with the Bible and the science supports these traits so far. This book is a good introduction to evolutionary psychology and is a good place to start if you want to know more about that field.

#3. Enhancing the Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community and #3. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, And The Church by Brad Strawn (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.), who are Christian psychologists. I haven't read either book yet but they're on my shortlist to do soon.

#3. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias (Ph.D.) and Catherine Wikholm (Ph.D.), who are clinical psychologists. Farias is Catholic but I don't know if Wikholm is a Christian. I haven't read this book, but from my understanding of it, they argue that meditation and mindfulness are not all they're cracked up to be and can have negative consequences. I'm hesitant to put this book on this list until I've read it because I'm concerned they might oversimplify the research to promote their view, but I can't condemn them for that since I haven't actually read the book yet.

#3. Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications by Charles Hackney (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist that focuses on positive psychology.

#3. The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#3. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist.

#3. The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert Emmons (Ph.D.) and Michael McCullough (Ph.D.). Technically, this is not a Christian book, but many of the authors in it are Christians, including the editors, and the research on gratitude generally aligns with Christian theology.

#3. Psychological Insight in the Bible: Texts and Readings by Wayne Rollins (Ph.D.) and Andrew Kille (Ph.D.), who are theologians. I haven't read this book or spent much time looking through it, but it's potentially very useful. My concern is that neither author has a psychology degree, which makes it more likely they will misunderstand the science of psychology in their work.

Integrating Psychology and Christianity

What seems to be the biggest topic of discussion about psychology is how to integrate it into theology. These are just some of the books that tackle that subject. To be honest, I'm not sure it's necessary to read a whole book on it, especially since so many of them get bogged down by abstract conflicts that may or may not be relevant or are probably not due to worldview differences at all. If you want to save the trouble, here's my article on the need (or lack of) for Christian psychology

#3. The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach by William Hathaway (Ph.D.) and Mark Yarhouse. I haven't read this book yet (it only came out a month ago) but am really looking forward to it. The approach they take based on the table of contents seems like it will be really helpful for being trying to gain a better understanding of integration.

#3. Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical and social psychologist. It's been a long time since I read this book so I don't have much to say on it. I recall having a generally positive view of it so it will likely be a good introduction to psychology for people who don't know the field very well.

#4. Psychology through the Eyes of Faith by David Myers (Ph.D.) and Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book yet. Myers is a Christian, although many reading this might consider him too liberal, but he is a well-known social psychologist who's written many textbooks. I'm fairly sure Jeeves is a Christian, but I don't know a ton about him other than he writes a lot on the intersection of psychology and Christianity.

#4. Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration by David Entwistle (Psy.D.), who's a clinical psychologist and appears to be a Christian. I haven't read this book yet, but I have it on my shelf and plan to read it.

#4. Psychology and Christianity: FiveViews edited by Eric Johnson (Ph.D.). I put this book here because it's relevant, at least on the surface, but it was disappointing. You can read my review of it here.

Clinical or Counseling Psychology

#4. Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration by Elisabeth Nesbit Sbanotto (Ph.D.), Heather Davediuk Gingrich (Ph.D.), and Fred Gingrich (D.Min.), who are Christian counselors. This is a skills-based book so the typical arguments over how to integrate psychology and theology can be set aside for this one. Psychologists are great at talking to people and this book teaches methods psychologists use that can be applied to effective apologetics and evangelism.

#4. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.)

#4. Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#4. Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Mark Yarhouse (see above).

#4. Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Barrett McRay (Ph.D.), Mark Yarhouse (Ph.D.), and Richard Butman (Ph.D.), who are Christian clinical psychologists.

Psychology of Religion Books:

Psychology is a science, which means the field is all about publishing in peer-reviewed journals. However, there are still some occasional academic books that get published. Here are some that are relevant for apologetics 

#3. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (MD) was trained as a physician but did a lot of work in psychology and even philosophy. There aren't really foundational books in the field of psychology, but if there were, this might be one of them. For this reason, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't actually read it before (I read more journal articles). James was not a Christian, at least I don't think he was, but he was not overly critical of religion either.

#4. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds by Justin Barrett (mentioned above).

#4. Cognitive Psychology of Religion by Kevin Eames (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and Christian.

#4. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion by Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Prayer by Bernie Spilka (Ph.D.) and Kevin Ladd (Ph.D.) 

#4. The Psychology of Christian Experience by W. Curry Mavid (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John Kildahl

#4. A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion by Helen De Cruz (Ph.D. x2 in anthropology and philosophy) and Johan De Smedt (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book, but really want to. My understanding of it is that they examine aspects of natural theology from the lens of cognitive science.

The Brain, Soul, Consciousness, and Free Will

This category covers a lot and I plan to add more to this section in particular, but I wanted to have a place to add some of these books. They are relevant to psychology, but a lot of the people writing on these subjects are philosophers or scientists outside of psychology. I say this just to draw attention to that point because psychologists may have a slightly different take on the subject or rely on different sets of data to come to a conclusion. Also, there are a lot of implications for this subject from the books in the reasoning and decision-making section.

#4. Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.) 

#4. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher.

#4. Am I just my Brain? by Sharon Dirckx (Ph.D.), who's a Christian neuroscientist.

#4. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion by Paul Markham (Ph.D.).

Other Relevant Social Science Books: 

If you want to understand psychology, you have to understand complex relationships between multiple variables. Nothing in psychology has a simple explanation. Psychologists look at everything through the lens of multiple interacting causes, which we separate and test through various statistical methods. These books are not all obviously in the field of psychology, but they are excellent to help people understand the need to look beyond simple and intuitive answers in order to get a full picture of reality.

#1. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, #2. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, #2. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, and #3. When to Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven Levitt (Ph.D. economics) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). The books are interesting, fun to read, and informative. In essence, they will help you think like or see the world with more complexity, much in the way that a social or psychological scientist does.

#1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Ph.D.), who's basically a really smart numbers guy. He's a professor and a former stock trader. What most people don't realize is that psychology is hugely dependent on statistics. If you don't understand stats, you don't understand psychology. While this book is about investing and markets, the stats discussed are very similar to what is used in psychology and the underlying purpose of the use of stats is the same.

 #3. Outliers: The Story of Success, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, #3. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, #3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, #3. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and #2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell, who's a journalist, pastor's kid, and as of fairly recently, a convert to Christianity (I think while writing David and Goliath). These books are not from a Christian perspective, even after Gladwell's conversion. In short, they won't say much that the books in the reasoning section will say, but Gladwell is so great and tying everything together with stories and a grand narrative.

#3. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (MD I think), who was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor. This book is a memoir of his time in the concentration camp. 

#3. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark (Ph.D.), who's a sociologist that focuses on religion. This book examines sociological factors that led to the growth of Christianity in the first three or four centuries. Stark admits he was only an in-name-only believer when he wrote this book, but as a result of writing it, became a committed believer.

#3. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath. This book is great for helping understand how to present information in a way that will help people remember it. What's the point in doing apologetics and evangelism if people won't remember what you actually said?

#3. Humility by Jennifer Cole Wright (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the science of morals and virtue. 

#4. Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions by Robert McCauley (Ph.D.) and George Graham (Ph.D.), who are philosophers. I do not know if they are Christians.

#4. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded by Don Norman (graduate degrees in psychology and engineering but I'm not sure on specifics). This is an excellent book for understanding engineering psychology or human factors and how the design of objects affects us.

Fiction Books:

#3. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (Ph.D.), who's one of the most well-known psychologists today, even though he died in 1990. He is best known for behaviorism and his work with conditioning. This is a fiction book he wrote about a utopian society based on psychological principles as he understood them when the book was first published in 1948.

#4. Animal Farm by George Orwell and #4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. These books are excellent representations of some of our most basic and universal psychological tendencies and what could happen if they're left unchecked.

Apologetics Books: 

I love apologetics. It is led me to become a believer. However, apologetics often has a bad reputation inside and outside the church. On the one hand, some of that reputation is unfair. People don't like it when facts and reasons get in the way of their beliefs. On the other hand, apologists tend to write and speak in a way that is very direct and confident. This is a very effective method for people who mostly agree with what is being said or respect the speaker, but it can be off-putting to people who don't already agree or don't respect the speaker.

For these reasons, I am very careful about the apologetics books that I recommend. These books cover the main arguments used in apologetics, and for the most part, do so in a way that is more winsome and not as overstated as some other apologetics resources. If you want to go deeper, there are a ton of other resources available.

#1-2. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace (M.A.), who's a cold-case homicide detective that converted to Christianity when he investigated the gospels in the same way he investigates cold-case homicides. This book is the result of that investigation. It's highly accessible and written in a friendly manner that is not condescending or argumentative. He also has a kid's version of this book that is great for children about 10 and under.

#1-2. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision or #3. Reasonable Faith, Third Edition: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig (Ph.D. in philosophy and Ph.D. in theology), who's a Christian philosopher, apologist, and theologian. Craig is probably the most prolific apologist of our time based on the high quality and quantity of works he has produced for academic and lay audiences. These books cover the same content, but Reasonable Faith is more academic and goes into greater depth. The tone of 

#3. The Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs and #1-2. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions by Craig Blomberg (Ph.D.), who's a New Testament scholar and one of the foremost experts on the reliability of the New Testament. I've only read portions of these books, but I have read a lot of Blomberg's other materials, listened to him speak, and was fortunate enough to have him as a professor in seminary. He's extremely kind and thoughtful and writes in a way that isn't offensive to people who disagree. The Reliability of the NT is a much more academic and longer book, otherwise, they are similar in content.

#1-2. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (D.Min.), who's a well-known and respected pastor, even among non-Christians. Keller is an intelligent and thoughtful communicator that speaks in a way that does not compromise truth, but at the same time, is not offensive to people who disagree. This book only scratches the surface of apologetics, but for the arguments it does cover, it does so in .

#1-2. Francis Schaeffer books. Really, any of his books are great and serve as excellent (but not quite perfect) examples of how to apply psychological principles to apologetics.

#4. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World by Paul Gould (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher that emphasizes the need for better cultural engagement in apologetics. It's not just as simple as stating a bunch of arguments to convince people.

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting, Leadership, and Discipleship

I lumped these categories all together because they are often lumped together (Marriage and Family) by psychologists and because the underlying psychological mechanisms are often the same. For instance, the same general leadership principles apply to parenting and work, the details are just tailored to each situation. As Christians, we should try to model Christ-like behavior, which is often judged based on the quality of our relationships with others. This affects our ability to influence those we have relationships with already or people who are able to serve our relationships with others. These books are a combination of Christian and non-Christian sources. They mostly align with Christian ideals, but there will be a few comments in these books that stray from the science and make philosophical statements most Christians probably wouldn't agree with.

#4. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf. This is a well-known leadership book and the basic premise, leaders should serve the people they lead, is a solidly Christian principle.

#4. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Revised and Updated and Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship by John Gottman (Ph.D.), who's probably the most well-known marriage counselor because he has been able to predict divorce in the first five years of marriage with 95% accuracy based on his research. The degree to which this trend generalizes to all couples is debated, but it's still impressive. This book discusses the factors that are relevant and how to avoid the negative predictors of divorce.

#4. A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley (Ph.D.), Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan. Stanley is a Christian clinical psychologist (I think the others are too) and probably the top Christian academic for marriage resources.

#4. His Needs, Her Needs: Building a Marriage That Lasts by Willard Harley Jr. (PhD.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. My wife and I read this book for premarital counseling and have gone through it a few times since. It's a great resource for couples to help them think more about their partner's needs than their own.

#4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman (Ph.D.), who's a Christian therapist. This book is also geared toward thinking about your partners' needs rather than your own and is a great tool for helping people think about how to express love and concern to other people in all situations.

#4. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Dan Siegel (MD), who's a psychiatrist and probably the leading parenting expert right now. Most of his work is evidence-based and very good, although he does stray a little beyond the evidence from time to time to make points about his worldview. In general, though, I think his parenting advice is pretty solid and would be beneficial for people to follow. 

#4. Kevin Leman (Ph.D.) is a Christian psychologist who writes on marriage and family. The books I've read of his are great. None of his books are ones I would say are the best in the field, but they're all good (at least the ones I've read).

#4. David Schnarch (Ph.D.) is a clinical psychologist who focuses on sex therapy. I don't know if he's a Christian but I have seen him cited a lot by some of the author Christian psychologists on this list. On the one hand, there is some research showing Christians have better sex lives than others, but there are also a lot of people with damaged views of sex due to the church that these books can be helpful for.

Self-Help or Personal Growth

We tend to over-spiritualize spiritual growth as though it is somehow completely separate from other types of maturation, but in reality, it's really not. There are some resources by psychologists, some Christians and some not, to help you grow and mature as a person, which will help you grow as a Christian.

#4. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth by Henry Cloud (Ph.D.) and John Townsend (Ph.D.) who are Christian clinical psychologists.

#4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Ph.D.). who's a social psychologist who became relatively famous for her work on this subject.

#4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the way we frame things in our mind and how it affects our outcomes. This book, from my understanding, focuses on having a fixed vs. growth mindset. A growth mindset is when we think we can grow and develop, which I would say is a biblical concept, and it's generally better on all outcomes.

#4. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,  Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson (Ph.D.), who's a clinical psychologist. He's become famous for all kinds of other issues, but he's a legitimate clinical psychologist and a pretty smart guy. He's a bit more philosophical than most psychologists and willing to draw conclusions beyond the evidence more than most psychologists, but at the same time, he's aware of when he's doing it and has pretty decent philosophical grounding for it. In either case, I think his psychological work in these books is worth reading or listening to, even if he goes astray from time and time. He also does work with one of the top personality psychologists and has some interesting work in that area.

Other Christian Books:

#4. Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme, #3. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, #3. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins, and #4. The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons. I've read the first two books and referenced the third one. Kinnaman and Lyons understand culture well and how to effectively engage people in it (which aligns with social science principles). What I have read and heard from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#3. Interpreting Scripture through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards (Ph.D. New Testament) Brandon O'Brien  (Ph.D. in some field of religious or theological studies).

#4. Os Guinness books. Os is a pretty well-known Christian author who does a fair amount of apologetics and has a Ph.D. in sociology. He writes, speaks, and presents information in a way that models good psychological apologetics.

#4. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith (Ph.D.), who's a theology-oriented philosopher. This book exhibits a pretty good understanding of some of the psychological factors involved in worship.

Recommended Reading Order (top 10 only):

  1. Think Again
  2. Tactics
  3. Influence
  4. Complex Simplicity, The Reason for God, and/or another apologetics book, depending on how well you know the subject.
  5. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  6. The Righteous Mind
  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  8. Freakonomics
  9. Fooled by Randomness
  10. Pre-Suasion
  11. Blindspot

Other Resources

Blueprint1543 podcast or free online courses on psychology and theology. BluePrint1543 is an organization founded and led by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) with the goal of combining psychological sciences and Christian theology more naturally.

My Christian Psych list on Twitter, which includes Christians who work in cognitive or social sciences.

Psychological Apologetics FB Page, FB group, and Twitter.

The Apologetic Professor blog, by Luke Conway who's a social psychology professor and apologist.

The Ten Minute Bible Hour by Matt Whitman and Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. I listed them together because they do a podcast, No Dumb Questions, together, and because they are part of this list for the same reason. They aren't apologists or psychologists, but they do work in a way that models effective methods for reaching believers and unbelievers. Matt teaches about the Bible and does do some apologetics in his videos while Destin does science and engineering videos and only makes it known he's a Christian by posting a Bible verse at the end of his videos and in formats outside his YouTube channel. They both approach their subjects with humility and respect for other views and model ways to interact with people they disagree with.

The Freakonomics and Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell) podcasts are great for all the reasons I mentioned above. Agree or disagree with them, that's fine, but the way they look at topics in greater depth and from more angles than we typically see in the media is what social scientists do. These podcasts can help you get in the habit of doing that.

The Moral Science Podcast by Amber Cazzell (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that did a postdoc in the lab I work in at Baylor. This is not a Christian podcast but it does cover a lot of topics that are relevant for psychological apologetics.

The Langauge of God podcast by BioLogos, a science-based apologetics organization, has had several episodes that relate to psychological apologetics. After quickly growing their episodes, the ones that seem most relevant are #s 14, 30, 31, 32, 33, 58, 65, 77, 79.

The WorkLife with Adam Grant (Ph.D.) podcast is a psychology podcast that covers a lot of relevant topics for psychological apologetics or just understanding the field of psychology.

The Hidden Brain podcast is a psychology podcast that will help gain understanding in various areas of psychology, some of which are directly related to psychological apologetics.

The CrashCourse Psychology playlist on YouTube.

Faraday Institute for Science and Religion videos and podcasts on the brain and psychology.

The Great Courses on Amazon/Audible Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality by Mark Leary (Ph.D.) and How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals by William Lidwell. These courses will help you better understand people and how unconscious things affect our decisions.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Engineering Psychology for Apologetics

Apologists tend to think like engineers in the sense that we're very analytical and logical, which also means that we often misunderstand people who don't think this way. Nearly every apologist goes through a phase where we think, if I just show people the evidence, then they'll believe. Some give up when they realize it's not that simple, some get wise and change their methods, and some never figure this out.

Since so many of us think like engineers, why not embrace this thinking style and view ourselves as conversation engineers. The field of engineering psychology, or human factors psychology, attempts to improve the design of machines or systems so that people can use them better. The better the design, the more likely people will seek out the product, use it, and recommend it to others. As conversation engineers, we can design spiritual conversations that lead to a better experience for the people we talk to.

The success of Apple has largely been attributed to the superior design of their products. Apple engineers and designers have made products that are easy to use, making it an enjoyable experience for customers, which leads to increased sales and brand loyalty. As apologists, we can use these same engineering principles to improve our outcomes. Our product is the evidence for Christianity, which the users (non-apologists and non-Christians) will be more likely to use and trust if we can give them a positive experience.

Basic Concepts
For now, there are three basic concepts to understand. These are affordances, signifiers, and feedback. Affordances are what the product can be used for and to some extent, is dependent on the person. A chair affords sitting, but if it's a really big or heavy chair, it only affords moving for strong people or groups of people. Signifiers are signals about what a product can do (what is affords). An arrow on a dial signifies which way the dial can turn.

Feedback is a little more than people might initially think. It is a signal regarding whether the operation has been activated or a signal about whether to product is working as intended. Your phone may beep to let you know you've pressed a button or it may provide different types of beeps to tell you something went wrong. Feedback can be thought of as a type of signifier that comes after a function rather than before it and gives information about the product, not the user.

Application to Apologetics
In apologetics dialogues, our product is evidence and our goal with it is to bring people closer to Jesus, strengthen religious belief, grow the church, give Christian confidence, inspire awe, and so on. In human factors terms, these are the affordances. However, it can also have bad affordances just like a phone can have bad affordances like porn, distractions, being used for target practice, and so on. Apologetics, when done wrong, can push people away from Jesus, drive people to anti-intellectualism, or make Christianity seem narrow and self-righteous.

If we use signifiers and feedback in the right ways, we can help prevent the negative affordances of apologetics. Signifiers can be obvious or subtle. Wearing Christian or apologetics clothing and posting Bible verses on social media are obvious, but doing so may provide feedback to people with unintended negative consequences. I'm not saying don't do this, but be aware that there could be negative consequences to it. To overcome potential negative effects, use positive rather than negative signifiers (e.g. more positive Bible verses than critical ones).

Subtle signifiers can also be useful. Wearing colors like blue, white, or green can make you seem more approachable and open so people are more likely to engage in conversation with you and be more open to listening when doing so. Colors like black and red may work against you in this way. Likewise, the same goes for your website, ministry branding, and so on.

The language we use can be a powerful signifier. If we talk about people in a condescending or critical way, this tells people we aren't open to understanding and don't really care about others so they will avoid us or if they do engage, the conversation will be fruitless. Likewise, when we talk about how busy we are, we send the signal that we're not open to taking an interest in others, which creates a barrier to relationships.

Feedback is perhaps the most dangerous area for apologists. When our feedback is limited to variations of "that's wrong and here's why," we are not going to win people over. Again, this signals a lack of concern for others, even if we are correct. Instead, our forms of feedback should send the message we care about others and we're open to considering their point-of-view (even if we've already considered it 100 times and know it's false).

How can we do that? Rather than engaging people in a back-and-forth, point-counterpoint type of conversation, we need to take a greater interest in others. Ask people about their lives and what motivates them. When they do say something factually or logically incorrect, try paraphrasing so you can ensure you've understood them or thank them for sharing their views with you. Ask follow-up questions to find out more about their beliefs or their lives, not just questions aimed at trapping them.

You may be thinking that this doesn't sound like typical feedback and you're right. This is feedback about yourself, not about them. You are sending the other person the message that you can listen to them without arguing, that you care about them, and that you're a rational, kind, and considerate person. By sending them this type of feedback, they will be much more open to listening when you do present evidence.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. I want to encourage you to check the resources below to go deeper or check back here as I will almost certainly write more on this topic. The big take-away is that we want the people we engage with to have a positive experience so that they want more of it. We need to consider the other person's experience over our own desire to present evidence. If they have a positive experience, they will be much more likely to listen to the evidence and come back to you in the future or search for more evidence on their own.

I highly recommend the book The Design of Everyday Things to help understand design concepts. Even though it's not an apologetics or religious book, if you think through it and do the work of applying it to apologetics yourself, it can be very helpful.

I also recommend the Great Courses class How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals. This can help you be more effective at apologetics through the clothes you wear, how you design your website, your ministry logo, and so on.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Coddling of the Righteous Mind

I've been meaning to read Jonathan Haidt's books, The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind for quite a while. In fact, I considered applying to work with him for my PhD because his research is so relevant for apologetics. Alas, I finally got around to reading both of these books and they were great. I wish I would have read them much sooner.

The Righteous Mind discusses the science of moral decision making, which relates to our political and religious views. This is extremely useful for apologetics because if we better understand how people have come to their decision on different issues, we approach the topic with arguments that the other person will value. Haidt shows that there are five different domains that are used for moral decisions. They are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. He also proposes the possibility of a sixth domain, Liberty/Oppression, which seems to be accepted now (the book was published in 2013).

The Coddling of the American Mind is a response to the political climate on many college campuses today. Haidt and Lukianoff (who's actually the first author, but is lesser known) discuss the various cultural shifts that have led to a generation that is unable to cope with diversity of thought or the challenges of life. The book discusses changes in parenting practices, the effects of social media, and the negative effects of cultural maxim's such as "trust your feelings." This book is helpful for apologetics specifically for anyone who wants to reach Gen Z and also extremely helpful for parents.

Both books discuss interesting scientific research mixed with real-life events that often make the headlines. For this reason, they were enjoyable to listen to and easy to comprehend on an audiobook. My guess is that anyone who reads or listens to them will learn quite a lot about why people are the way they are and it won't feel like a chore either. I highly recommend these books to all apologists, especially anyone who does college ministry (e.g. Ratio Christi chapter directors). Additionally, parents should read The Coddling of the American Mind. Even though it's not a parenting book, per se, it will be as helpful, if not more, than most parenting books.

Both books have websites with additional resources and information for people who want to go further. and

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The apologist's super-secret weapon

You have to meet people where they are
or they'll never get to where you are.

Part I of this article discussed paraphrasing as a secret weapon that anyone can use in apologetics or evangelism. All you have to do is repeat what the other person said in your own words. When done correctly, this method is so effective that often times the other person will reveal some personal details about their thoughts, beliefs, or actions, which can lead to some awkward moments.

Knowing this will happen is helpful to prepare you, but you also need to respond the correct way so that you don't shut down the conversation and damage the relationship. To help you be prepared, some possible confessions that come to mind are past or current affairs, murder, abortion or paying for someone to have one, having an intersex condition, same-sex attraction, being transgender, past sexual abuse, being in an open marriage, rape, war crimes, time in prison, drug use, and many many more.

Whatever you think is the worst possible thing a person could do, imagine someone confessed that to you and keep it in mind as you read the rest of this article (this is assuming they've served their time or are no longer a threat in potentially dangerous or criminal situations).

Super-Secret Tip
This "bonus" tool is always a good thing to practice, but it's mostly necessary because paraphrasing is so effective. If and when someone shares something with you that's very private, you have to prevent yourself from reacting with a negative tone of voice, look, or otherwise critical manner. If you show any trace of disapproval, the conversation will shut down immediately and the relationship will probably be damaged.

Psychologists call this unconditional positive regard, which is responding in a positive or neutral manner no matter what the person says. This gives people difficulty because they feel like it's agreeing with or condoning wrong beliefs or actions, but that's a misunderstanding of unconditional positive regard, which I think becomes more clear in the example below. The hardest thing to control for most people in these situations are facial expressions and other types of body language, but automatic reactions like blurting out criticisms, letting out a brief laugh, or an audible gasp also have to be controlled. 

Abstract ideas can be hard to put into practice or understand at a practical level so here's an example. If someone were to confess to me that they are having an affair, I can still respond with unconditional positive regard while not compromising morality.

The first way to practice unconditional positive regard is by controlling my emotional reactions, even if I am disgusted by the confession. When I speak, I can start by thanking them for their honesty and for trusting me with such personal details. I can also paraphrase what the person said to make sure I understand the situation. If they didn't already say how they feel or what they think about the situation, I can ask them these questions, too. The whole time they are speaking, I am careful not to look at them critically or say anything critical about them.

How can I point out their sin and need for repentance? I can do this through questions. They probably already know it's wrong and perhaps they are trying to rationalize it or just are in a state where they don't care. I can ask them what the Bible says about sexual immorality, what they think about it, and why. When they say things that are true such as "I know this is wrong," I can affirm them for not trying to rationalize their actions. Whatever they say, there is probably something I can affirm.

At some point, they may ask me what I think about the situation or I may feel the need to express that for whatever reason. I can do this by saying I think their actions are wrong, but also making it clear that I am willing to listen and help them without judgment. This last part is often most difficult, but if my ultimate goal is to get them to stop the affair and repent, non-judgmental listening will be more effective than criticism and condemnation.

When someone share's an embarrassing or controversial detail about their life, they almost always already know you disapprove or might think they're abnormal so you don't need to respond with critical comments. This is true even when every bone in your body might be telling you to point out what you think their errors are (and it's probably your reaction telling you to do this, not the Holy Spirit's). Instead of correcting or debating, focus on making sure you understand their story and they feel safe. Once you've done this, you will begin to earn the right to respond, which is necessary if you actually want your words to make a positive impact on the other person.

We all have issues, some more severe than others and some just more taboo in our culture. Expecting someone to have their issues worked out before you will accept them is hypocritical and the exact opposite of what Jesus did. It's also a highly ineffective strategy, which also damages the reputation of all Christians.

Check out my articles on persuasive apologetics for more tips on increasing your effectiveness.

The apologist's secret weapon

I'm currently reading the new edition of Tactics, which is a must-read if you want to learn how to have better conversations with unbelievers. The books Relational Apologetics and Influence: Science and Practice (non-Christian book) are also great for evangelism and apologetics. These books are wonderful, but it takes a lot of studying to remember all the different methods and a lot of practice to be able to use them effectively.

What if there was a very simple method you could use in every situation that will help your conversations be more fruitful, lead to future opportunities, prevent misunderstandings, and take the pressure off yourself? Obviously, if there was such a method, we'd all do it, at least if we knew about it, which is why I'm telling you about it!

Clinical psychologists, and all others who do counseling, are trained in methods that help facilitate conversations. They're able to create an environment that helps people feel a greater sense of trust and connection with the counselor so they will be more willing to talk about personal topics and will be more open to receiving advice from the counselor. This is exactly the type of situation we want to create in apologetic dialogues so we should learn from their methods.

Even though it's extremely important to learn all the knowledge you can for apologetics, applying this technique is even more crucial because the answers can be found later and, more importantly, people aren't looking just for answers. This is abundantly clear from psychology. People want answers, but they also want connection. They want to express their views to another person, be understood, and feel respected (That's also great relationship, parenting, and leadership advice. You can pay any time 😉). To do this, you don't need to have answers. You just need to listen and seek understanding.

Secret #1
The technique I am referring to, which is used extensively by psychologists, is paraphrasing. When using this method, you don't need any knowledge about anything related to apologetics. Answers are good, and we should have them, but the point is that we don't need them to have effective conversations with people. All you need to do is to listen carefully to the other person and repeat back to them what they said in your own words.

By paraphrasing or summarizing what the other person says, you're ensuring that you've properly understood their point of view, which will prevent both sides from getting frustrated at how "dumb" the other person is. When you do this, you will build trust with the other person so they'll be more likely to listen to you when you do give a response and more likely to have future conversations with you. As a bonus, it will also buy you more time to think of a response so you won't have to tune them out as you formulate a response in your head.

Image result for paraphrasingThis method is arguably more important in online conversations, even though it will drastically slow things down. When we can't hear a person's tone of voice or see facial expressions and body language, online conversations can very easily become uncharitable and degenerate into a cesspool of linguistic muck. Paraphrasing solves this issue most of the time, but it's hard, and sometimes too effective. Isn't that a nice problem to have?

The reason it's hard is that it requires a lot of restraint to refrain from giving a response to an objection you've practiced a hundred times in your head. It's very tempting and I don't even do it as often as I should. It's easy to think we understand and then respond, only to see the conversation take what seems like a sharp turn off a cliff.

The other "issue" is that paraphrasing is sometimes so effective that people will often overshare very personal details about their life or beliefs with you, leading to some potentially awkward moments. When this happens, you have to use the apologist's super-secret weapon (it's a separate article for clarity and to limit the length here) so you don't damage the relationship.

Once you understand, you can choose to respond, or not, depending on the situation. You are probably going to err in one direction or the other, either by talking too much (and being seen as too pushy) or by not talking enough. If I had to choose one, I'd choose to err on the side of talking too little because this is going to open more opportunities in the future, and as Koukl says in Tactics, put a stone in their shoe (because people typically don't spend time thinking about what annoying people told them in an argument).

As I've heard so many apologists say, our goal in apologetics is to win the person, not the argument. Paraphrasing can help us win the person and never lose an argument. Be sure to read about the super-secret weapon and other scientific methods of persuasion to take you to the next level.