It was Socrates who devised this method. So enjoy some very old ideas and thoughts.
In reality no one can live logically according to his own non-Christian presuppositions.
- Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world.
- If he were consistent to his non-Christian presuppositions he would be separated from the real universe. In other words man would not exist on earth.
- Schaeffer tells us that only Christianity accurately portrays reality as it exists.
- We ought not first try to move a man away from what he should deduce from his position but towards it. In other words let him continue on until he can either prove his position or learn that he is simply wrong.
- We try to move him in the natural direction in which his presuppositions would take him.
- We are then pushing him towards the place where he ought to be, had he not stopped short.
- We encourage an unbeliever to follow his religious presuppositions to their logical conclusion. When he does this, the unbeliever will inevitably discover that his religious beliefs are untenable.
- We encourage an unbeliever to follow his religious presuppositions to their logical conclusion. When he does this, the unbeliever will inevitably discover that his religious beliefs are untenable.
- Hence, they are incapable of leading to spiritual truth. Then the person will know he is pursuing an untenable supposed truth.
Here’s a final example of a worldview presupposition leading, as Frank Schaeffer says, away from “the real universe.” Proponents of religious pluralism claim that all religions teach essentially the same great truths. Thus, all religions are equally valid paths up the mountain to “God.” But is this possible? The answer is no. It can’t be possible because it violates the most fundamental law of logic, the law of noncontradiction.
This basic law of logic states that something cannot be two different things at the same time and in the same sense (“A” cannot be both “A” and “non-A” at the same time). It can’t be daytime and nighttime outside at the same time and in the same spot.
The fact is, all world religions are clearly different in their essential beliefs. The nature of God, concepts of salvation, and other major doctrines vary greatly among the world’s religions. If two religions teach opposing views on these essentials, they can’t both be right. They may both be wrong, but only one can be correct. God can’t be the impersonal, unknowable “It” of pantheism and the personal, knowable God of Christianity. He can’t be the sole God of the universe as Christians, Jews, and Muslims teach, and share the universe with a multitude of other gods as polytheism teaches. In short, followed to its logical conclusion, the fundamental presupposition of religious pluralism—that all religions are true—is logically impossible.
Asking Socratic Questions
This brings us to application. How do we persuade unbelievers, such as Christian Scientists, New Age practitioners, religious pluralists, and others to critically examine their presuppositions? I believe the Socratic Method the one Socrates advanced provides an effective way of doing this. By asking the right questions, we can force unbelievers to confront their beliefs and to justify them.
Let’s begin by listing some of the kinds of questions we can ask.
Do they have proof? Is their source reliable? However, just remember to be humble and ask these questions kindly and wait for the answers if they have one.
- “How do you know that?”
- “Why do you believe that?”
- “Where did you learn that?”
- “What evidence do you have for that?”
- “On what authority do you base your view?”
- “Aren’t you taking … for granted?”
Clarification or elaboration:
- “What do you mean by that?”
- “I don’t follow you, tell me more.”
- “Can you give me an example?”
- “You seem to be contradicting yourself. You said earlier . . .”
- “What difference does it make?”
- “How can … ?”
- “What happens if you’re wrong?”
- “Are you willing to risk salvation rather than … ?”
- “Have you ever considered … ?”
Secondary issues that result from hidden assumptions:
- “What you say creates another problem.”
- “That raises another question.”
- “Then what about this … ?”
- “In light of what you believe, how would you explain … ?”
- “How do you account for … ?”
Let’s apply some of these kinds of questions to the three worldviews examined above (Christian Science, New Age, and religious pluralism) and also to evolution. I’ll add a few other examples:
- “How do you know that evil and sickness are illusions?”
- “What evidence do you have that people are actually divine?”
- “Where did you learn that all religions are true?”
- “What happens if you’re wrong, and all religions don’t lead to God?”
- “Are you willing to risk salvation rather than check out Christianity?”
- “Why do you believe in evolution? Have you ever checked out creation? Aren’t you taking for granted that evolution is true?”
- “Why does belief in evolution discount Christianity or salvation through Jesus Christ?”
- “Explain how can order come from disorder?”
- “Explain how life can come from nonlife?”
- “Explain how something can come from nothing?”
- “If Jesus didn’t die and rise from the grave, how do you account for the existence of the Christian church and the changed lives of His disciples?”
- “In light of what you believe, if it’s a myth that Christ died and rose from the dead, how do you account for the untold thousands of Christians who were willing to die for their faith?”
You will be surprised at the responses to these kinds of questions. Most non-Christians take their beliefs, or their worldview presuppositions, for granted. (Of course, so do Christians. But as I’ve shown elsewhere, Christians can justify their presuppositions with testable, objective evidence.) It’s an eye-opener when unbelievers discover that they can’t justify what they believe. Likewise, unbelievers are often surprised to learn that what they assume to be true about Christianity is wholly false. Many times this will leave the door wide open for us to explain the true Christian position on the topic under discussion.
Another Socratic approach is to ask unbelievers the same kinds of questions they ask Christians: “How do you explain the presence of pain and suffering?” “Do you have a holy book? “Explain how do you know your holy book is true revelation?” “Explain how do you know your religion is true when it contradicts other religions that also claim to be true?” As Alister McGrath says, “Too often, those who ask critical questions of evangelicalism fail to realize that those same critical questions need to be addressed within their own ranks as well.”
Let me illustrate this technique by presenting a series of hypothetical conversations. Notice that all the Christian responses are designed to place the burden of proof on the unbeliever by challenging her to respond to the very issues she raises:
Unbeliever: “You Christians can’t prove what you believe!”
Christian: “Then you prove what you believe!”
Unbeliever: “How do you know the Bible is true?”
Christian: “How do you know it’s not true?”
Unbeliever: “The Bible is full of contradictions!”
Christian: “What contradictions?”
Unbeliever: “If the Christian God exists, how do you account for the existence of evil and suffering?”
Christian: “If God doesn’t exist, what is the solution to evil and suffering?”
Unbeliever: “I think belief in God is a psychological crutch for weak people. What proof do you have that God even exists?”
Christian: “I think atheism is a psychological crutch to get off the hook in terms of accountability to God. What proof do you have that the evidence for God’s existence is false?”
Unbeliever: “Christians are so narrow-minded. You only think your religion is true!”
Christian: “Don’t you believe what you say is true? Does that make you narrow-minded? Does being narrow-minded automatically make something untrue?”
Unbeliever: “I think people are free to decide their own moral standards.”
Christian: “Then do you think it was okay for Hitler to massacre 6 million Jews and the radical Islamists to kill everyone who is not an Islamist?”
Unbeliever: “The Christian God is harsh and vindictive. Look how He annihilated whole cities in the Old Testament.”
Christian: “Why do you think God is cruel and unfair to punish a wicked and perverted people who were warned for centuries to repent and yet continued to blaspheme God, worship pagan deities, engage in deviant, forbidden sexual acts in the name of religion, and even sacrifice their children to false gods?” By your question I assume you believe there is a God, if not why are you questioning His decision to punish regenerates.
Unbeliever: “I could never follow a God who sends people to hell just because they don’t worship Him as you Christians do.”
Christian: “You mean you’re willing to go to hell just because God doesn’t act the way you think He should?”
Unbeliever: “What makes you think Christianity is true when it contradicts my religious beliefs?”
Christian: “How do you know your religion is true when it contradicts Christianity? Can you prove your religion is true?”
Unbeliever: “How do you know Jesus really speaks for God?”
Christian: “What evidence do you have that Charles Taze Russell [or Joseph Smith or Muhammad] speaks for God? How does he prove it?”
Unbeliever: “If a woman wants an abortion, it’s her right to do whatever she wants with her own body.”
Christian: “If a baby is a human being, why wouldn’t it have the same right to live as the mother?” Should a baby suffer death just because the mother made a mistake?
Unbeliever: “We don’t need a God to set standards of good and evil. People can make their own moral choices.”
Christian: “Then if I say infanticide is acceptable, would you agree?”
Unbeliever: “Science disproves miracles like the Resurrection.”
Christian: “Aren’t miracles like the Resurrection historical events? How can science disprove anything in history?”
Unbeliever: “I don’t believe God exists.”
Christian: “If there was a time when nothing existed, what would be here now if there is no God? What I mean is, if God doesn’t exist, how did nature come into being? Can something create itself? Can something come from nothing?”
Do you see what’s being done here? Rather than defending our beliefs, we are challenging unbelievers to account for their beliefs. We are shifting the burden of proof away from Christianity to the non-Christian.
The purpose of these kinds of questions, then, is to point out problems that the unbeliever cannot easily resolve and has likely never considered. People seldom think through their beliefs. Religious and ethical presuppositions (assumptions) are usually taken for granted as truth. The right questions force unbelievers to rethink their beliefs. When they do this, they are frequently more willing to listen to Christian alternatives.
Those who pose that God does not exist
If God doesn’t exist, what is the solution to evil and human suffering? It’s easy to blame God, so let’s remove Him from the equation. What’s left? Can you think of a solution to evil and suffering without God?
The unbeliever will have one of two responses. (1) He will offer another solution. But with further investigation, he’ll discover that there is no better solution to the problem of evil than the Christian one. No other religion or philosophy, including pantheism, dualism, secular humanism, naturalism, postmodernism, and New Age thought can offer a solution to the problem of evil. They all either ignore it or accept it, but they don’t solve it.
(2) The unbeliever will admit that there is no solution. But then we’ve won the argument, because he’s inadvertently admitting that only God can solve the problem of evil.
Is there a solution to the problem of evil without God? The answer is NO! Whatever the solution to the problem of evil is, it must include God, or it doesn’t exist. One cannot reject God and still come to terms with the problem of evil. Third, we have challenged the erroneous anti-Christian assumptions that God either (a) can’t solve the problem of evil, (b) is the cause of it, or (c) doesn’t exist.
Let me illustrate this principle. Suppose you are engaged in a discussion on creation versus evolution. Let’s see how the defensive and offensive approaches differ:
Defensive: Let’s look at the evidence. There are no transitional fossils in the fossil record. Probability studies clearly prove that mutations—given the age of the earth in evolutionary terms—are unable to account for the development of higher species from primitive species. There’s not a shred of evidence life arose from nonlife in some imaginary chemical soup that supposedly existed before life on earth. How can you maintain that creation is a Christian myth? The evidence proves evolution is a myth! Those that believe life came from non-life are forgetting that God has many supplies of things that are unobservable from mankind just as He is unobservable that He may have used to create everything that Jesus created.
Now, let’s apply this same information through the Socratic Method:
Offensive: Let me ask you a couple of questions about evolution. I’d like to see how your view explains a few things that I think the creation model explains more easily. For example, how do you account for the total absence in the fossil record of transitional fossils when evolution claims that one animal type, like reptiles, evolved into another animal type, like mammals? There are no half-reptile, half-mammal fossils, or half-dog, half-cat fossils, for that matter.
I understand that probability studies clearly demonstrate that the earth isn’t old enough for mutations to account for the emergence of higher life forms from lower life forms? How then did higher life arise without a creator?
I’ve read recently that there is no known mechanism in nature that can cause life to spring from nonlife. How can evolution claim as fact that life arose from nonlife when there is no evidence to support it?
I’m not saying that unbelievers will never have a thoughtful response to our questions. They may very well. However, if unbelievers do have a rejoinder, it will always fall short of the Christian position in terms of supporting evidence. Remember, Christianity is truth. We will always have the correct solution to any conflicting worldview issue—we just have to know it to be able to use it.
Another thought: “Evil does not exist, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply what happens in the absence of God.
Remember Your Goal
Finally, the Socratic Method is in harmony with the second commandment of good apologetics. It can lead to a gospel presentation. After discussing the unbeliever’s stand on relative ethics, the problem of evil, or creation, we can move the conversation to direct evangelism by asking this simple, unobtrusive question: “Do you understand, or know, what the Bible teaches in this area?”
Many unbelievers will admit they don’t, and you can give the Christian view to a willing listener. If unbelievers say yes, ask them to explain. Likely they will present a distorted or popularized picture of what they think is the Christian view. Either way, the door is open for leading the conversation to a gospel presentation.
We want to learn how to say what needs to be said in a way that people will listen too, understand, and accept.
“Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak” (James 1:19)
The first rule of good communication comes right from Scripture. James’s admonition, applied to apologetics, is to listen before you respond.
A good listener does not interrupt to voice his opinion before the other person completes his thought.
Using the Socratic Method demands that we know the Christian solution to the problems inherent in the unbeliever’s position. If we don’t know the subject at hand, we can’t identify hidden assumptions, inaccurate data, or misconceptions.
Moreover, once an unbeliever concludes for himself that his present view possesses fatal flaws, it’s necessary to demonstrate that the Christian alternative is correct. Otherwise, the unbeliever may opt for still another erroneous worldview, and you are back to square one. It’s impossible to be effective using the Socratic Method (or any apologetic tactic) without a background in evidential apologetics.
Beware of these responses. When someone forcefully expresses a view which belittles or puts down your faith, emotions soar and it is easy to respond with these kinds of statements. Here are the discussion stiflers.
- It’s a proven fact that …
- That’s just the way it is.
- There’s no question about …
- Only fools believe …
- (Using a condescending tone of voice) The Bible says …
- You don’t know what you’re talking about.
- That’s ridiculous.
- Look at the evidence.
- That just doesn’t fit the facts.
- You’re not serious.
- Well, if you believe that, then …
- There’s just no evidence for …
- That’s been totally disproved.
- Give me a break; that was refuted years ago.
- Hey, if you believe that, you are committing intellectual suicide.
- That’s a self-defeating argument; you’ve just said something that’s impossible.
- You’re being totally illogical.
- How can you even say that?
All of us can probably add to this list. The message here is to avoid words and phrases that raise people’s hackles rather than open their minds.
Below are common Christian words and phrases that have clear and specific meanings to Christians but may sound strange and ambiguous to non-Christians or carry different meanings in the secular world. I have suggested alternative words, synonyms, phrases, or definitions that carry the same meanings but will be more understandable to non-Christians. The list is not exhaustive, and you should add to it yourself.
- “Believer” (Christian)
- “Fellowship” (getting together with other Christians)
- “Faith” (trusting God)
- “Spiritual warfare” (our struggles against sinful thoughts and temptations)
- “Praise music” (worshiping God through song)
- “Judged” (how God deals fairly with unbelievers)
- “Saved” (From what? Explain.)
- “Hell” (eternal separation from God)
- “Binding Satan” (praying to God to protect us from the evil forces in the world)
- “God spoke to me” (Explain how.)
- “Indwelt by the Holy Spirit” (God’s Spirit, living in the hearts of Christians, empowering us for ministry and to resist sin)
- “Baptized by the Holy Spirit” (When we first believe, the Spirit of God empowers Christians to resist sin and to serve Him.)
- “Holy Ghost” (Boo! Use “Holy Spirit” or “Spirit of God,” depending on context of discussion.)
- “Father” (Use “God” unless unbeliever is familiar with the concept of the Trinity.)
- “Son of God” (Use “Jesus” unless unbeliever understands the concept of Trinity.)
- “Gifts” (the strengths and talents God gives us to serve Him in particular ways)
- “Rapture” (When Jesus comes in the clouds to gather His church, [all believers] the dead first and then the living to take them to God’s heaven)
- “Born again” (When sinners become an elect child of God by turning their lives from sin, repenting of their sins and receiving Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Jesus will then send the Holy Spirit to be instilled in our bodies. Then Jesus over time will bring the resurrected to learn obedience and faith and be justified for their righteous faith, beliefs and actions.)
- “Resurrection” (Unbelievers need to understand that after death their soul will receive a glorious, immortal, incorruptible, spiritual body in the blink of an eye before being raised into heaven. Be sure the unbeliever doesn’t confuse resurrection with reincarnation.)
When you talk to non-Christians and use theological terms such as “atonement,” “justification,” “reconciliation,” “redemption,” “sanctification,” “transformation,” “Trinity,” and so on, they too need to be defined. To most unbelievers, these words, when used in a Christian context, are as foreign as beta particles and quasars are to non-astronomers. If you don’t understand these concepts yourself, you won’t be able to explain them to unbelievers. Certainly, to be effective in apologetics and evangelism, we must understand—and be able to explain—our doctrines.
“No matter who you are and what you do, you can’t escape the need to communicate meaningfully with others.
One of the key biblical principles that we must communicate accurately to unbelievers is God’s grace in forgiveness of their sins when they accept Jesus Christ; that is, we are justified (forgiven and made right in God’s sight—saved) by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, not by our good “works” (Eph. 2:8).
Ephesians 2:8 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
A word picture may help us explain to an unbeliever that forgiveness is a gift of God’s grace. Here’s an example:
Have you ever really hurt your spouse or girlfriend, and no matter what you did you couldn’t get rid of the guilty feelings? You think if you send her flowers and candy, you’ll feel better. But it doesn’t work. You still feel an estrangement that you can’t seem to shake. Finally one day, knowing your heart and sensing your guilt, she says, “You know, you don’t need to keep trying to earn my forgiveness. I want you to know that there is nothing you can ever do that could earn my love. I forgave you the moment you hurt me because I love you. That’s not something you can earn. It’s something I give you. All you need to do is ask for my forgiveness and accept it. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t forgive you, and all the presents and apologies in the world wouldn’t change me.”
Aren’t word pictures the teaching technique Jesus employed most often? Jesus taught His greatest truths through stories and illustrations. Read, for example, the parables of the Unforgiven Servant in Matthew 18:21–35 and the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25–37. These and other parables are word pictures drawn from the lessons and circumstances of everyday life. Jesus’ purpose was to teach truths concerning the kingdom of God in a way that was relevant yet understandable to His audience. Parables served this purpose best.
Always keep Jesus in your heart and on your mind.
God is testing us every day and has given us the right to make our own choices. Do you know which ones are the right choices in Gods mind?
Fear God, love God, honor God, and trust God with all your heart, mind and soul and you will receive and experience the joy of the promises of God’s blessings in His time.
Prayer: Father in heaven, hallowed is Thy Name. I praise You for Your Son and the Holy Spirit. I praise You for Your grace in sending us Your wisdom about “Using the Socratic Method to Prove or Defend Christianity.” I praise You for Your caring, Your loving kindness, and Your generosity. Only Your graciousness and love could forgive the sins of mankind and still allow him to become an elect Son of Yours. Please bless those who have read this article for they too seek Your righteous truth, Your understanding and Your love.
May God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and Christianity be our guiding lights, our safety nets and our inspiration for loving happiness in all of Your kingdom. Let it be Your will Lord not mine. Please come Lord Jesus.
I pray in Jesus sweet name and to His glory through the power of the Holy Spirit,
Christian Verse: 2 Thessalonians 2: 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.