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In our culture there are countless ideas that run contrary to mainstream Christianity. Not only are some of these ideas illogical, but they include irreconcilable contradictions that seem to escape the minds of those holding to them. Two of these common ideas are tolerance and pluralism. 

Traditionally, tolerance has been defined as the ability to respect and coexist with people who hold opinions, ideas, and/or behavior contrary to our own, but nowadays, tolerance has been redefined to mean that one has to forcibly accept and agree with points of view contrary to our own!!

Traditionally, tolerance has been defined as the ability to respect and coexist with people who hold opinions, ideas, and/or behavior contrary to our own, but nowadays, tolerance has been redefined to mean that one has to forcibly accept and agree with points of view contrary to our own!

The problem with the modern concept of tolerance is that most Christians do not detect the implicit redefinition of the term and are quickly silenced with phrases like “stop being intolerant” or “it is wrong to be intolerant” or “all religions are basically the same.”

Fortunately, there are tactics that can help unmask bad thinking whilst removing us from the hot seat. One such tactic is to ask meaningful and guiding questions. Questions are a simple way to get to the truth without being confrontational. Greg Koukl calls this the “Columbo” tactic; named after the main character of a detective show from the 80’s. Columbo solved every crime through the systematic use of guided questions. This is also known as the Socratic Method.

The Columbo tactic consists of three questions that can be asked as needed to put you on the driver’s seat of the conversation. The three key questions are:

  1. What do you mean by that?

  2. How did you arrive at that conclusion?

  3. Have you ever considered…?

The key to the Columbo tactic is to shift the burden of proof during a conversation. In legal terms, lawyers define the burden of proof as the obligation to justify an assertion with an argument and/or facts.

But how would we use this tactic? Let’s go back to our example about tolerance and pluralism with a real-life example. A few months ago someone posted a meme on my Facebook page with a label that read:Buddah

“Buddha was not a Buddhist, Muhammad was not a Muslim and that Jesus was not a Christian, they were teachers who taught love. Love was their religion”.

Now, initially this idea looks very attractive, “tolerant,” and “inclusive” but it has fundamental flaws. I could have harshly fleshed out the inconsistencies directly but I decided to use the tactics above instead. Why? Because the tact and language we use will make a huge difference on whether or not the other person accepts our logical conclusions. We are to be ambassadors for Christ: innocent as doves but astute as serpents (Mat. 10:16). Here is more or less how the conversation went:

ME: Do you mean that religion can be equated to love? Is that the idea behind the meme?

POSTER: Yes, the idea is that we ought to tolerate all religions.

ME: What do you mean by “tolerate”?

POSTER: I mean that all points of view should be accepted or you would be unloving. We should tolerate everyone…

ME: But, have you considered what to do if the points of view contradict with each other? For example, In Sura 4:157 Islam claims that Jesus never died on a cross, but Christianity affirms just the opposite? Also the Bible claims that God created the universe but Buddhism affirms that the universe has always been there. Can both be true?

POSTER: But regardless, both teachers had love as their primary creed…

ME: How did you arrive at that conclusion? Have you read the Koran?

POSTER: (long pause) Well, not really…I thought…uh…

ME: Actually, in Sura 3:32 the Koran reads that God does not love unbelievers, yet the Bible in John 3:16 says the God loves everyone. How do you reconcile that? Can both be true?

POSTER: I guess not…

ME: What about Buddhism? How did you conclude that Buddhism is all about love?

POSTER: Well, I don’t know, but regardless we should tolerate them…

ME: But earlier you said that to “tolerate” is to accept “all points of view” or you would be unloving. But wouldn’t it be unloving to not tell people if they are mistaken and tell them the truth?

POSTER: But they may get offended…

ME: Well, that’s right, but that is where true tolerance comes in, you can’t tolerate someone you agree with, you tolerate someone—and respect/love the person—even when  you disagree with their ideas, don’t you think so?

POSTER: I hadn’t thought of that…

ME: Now, if this resonates with you, can I tell you about how Jesus tolerated and loved people in his time?


ME: (Proceed to share the gospel).

Now, this approach accomplished a few things. In particular, it demonstrated that the traditional concept of tolerance has been hijacked, and that pluralism is an illogical and untenable position . In general, this method accomplished the following:

  1. It removed obstacles to share the gospel.

  2. It did so in a non-confrontational manner. It doesn’t mean that the person can’t or won’t be offended by your leading questions, but a question is a lot less confrontational than an assertion.

  3. The objections and poor logic were dealt with by shifting the burden of proof. Now the other person has to answer for their ideas.

  4. Facts and data (quotes to the Bible and Koran) were used to lead the questions.

  5. It puts you in the driver seat to manage the conversation.

One key point to understand is that the goal of this tactic is not to win the argument or to humiliate and obliterate the person. We may still need to show how illogical the person’s arguments are; but the ultimate goal is to bring the person to Christ with gentleness, respect (1 Peter 3:15) and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).






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