I enjoyed listening to the opening part of Greg Koukl’s show Stand to Reason some time ago. You can find it by scrolling down to November 18, at this link. Very briefly, Koukl had a fascinating chat with a waiter, but the conversation simply didn’t go anywhere! They talked about all kinds of interrelated stuff that was all connected to the big questions of life, but they didn’t get anywhere in their conversation. The waiter’s thoughts and reflections were widely scattered and generally incoherent. Understandably Koukl found this rather perplexing and a little frustrating.
How is it possible to talk for that long with a single person, about so many subjects, and simply not make any real progress in the conversation? Quite simple, actually.
First, some background. Greg Koukl wrote the book “Tactics” which is a marvelous book that’s something along the lines of Arguing with Friends. As I shared in my interview with Brian Auten of Apologetics 315, Koukl’s book is about tactics and Arguing with Friends is more about strategy. Same battle, similar advice, different perspectives. In many ways Koukl’s book is rightly seen as the standard text for people to read when it comes to having these important life conversations.
So Koukl is no stranger to these kinds of discussions. Still, this one did not pan out well at all. Let me give a little snippet of the conversation to illustrate what it looked like. My favorite part was the conversation about water.
Waiter: Everything is supernatural.
Koukl (lifting a glass of water): Is this water supernatural?
Waiter: Jesus walked on water!
Koukl: Jesus walking on water is supernatural, but the water isn’t.
Waiter: 80% of your body is made of water!
If you’re like me, that brief snippet of the conversation should leave you scratching your head. What in the world does anything he said have to do with anything else he said? His comments are totally divergent, but they sure sound spiritual, don’t they? Koukl simply did not make any headway in the conversation with the waiter at all.
So how can somebody so familiar with having these conversations with people make so little progress with a solitary, dedicated audience? The problem, I would venture, had nothing to do with Koukl and everything to do with the waiter. I can think of several possible reasons why the conversation would simply meander without getting anywhere, and this is useful for all of us to consider because we will have these conversations ourselves some day.
- Postmodernism strikes again. As I describe in Arguing with Friends, Postmodernism has had a very detrimental effect on people’s ability to reason because the very process of reasoning is not valued as a means to discovering truth. Not only do people get out of practice in their reasoning skills, some people specifically go out of their way to avoid anything that sounds rational.
- The waiter’s worldview may have been only vaguely thought out. In other words, the waiter was unable to intelligently articulate his own beliefs because he had never really thought them through nor had them seriously questioned or challenged.
- Soundbite culture. We live in a society that majors on soundbites and minors on lengthy, coherent, trains of thought. The waiter could have been a victim of this amateur approach to philosophy.
We need to expect that some people we talk to are going to jump all over the map and give us very little to work with in terms of seeking truth. There are many possible reasons for this and it will take a little work on our part to figure out the reason and therefore figure out how to connect with them. Take heart, though, if the “master” of conversations – Greg Koukl himself – has difficulty talking with some people we should expect to face some challenges ourselves!