As an investigator, I made a living conducting interviews. In fact, my agency repeatedly utilized me when they needed someone to confess to a crime. I love talking to people, particularly when the conversation is difficult to navigate. Spiritual conversations can also be difficult on occasion, and if you’ve ever tried to talk to your unbelieving friends or family, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let me share seven things I’ve learned in over twenty-five years of interviewing. These tips were field tested in suspect interviews and jury presentations. They have direct application if you are trying to determine what people believe so you can share the truth of your Christian beliefs:
1. Know Your Case
I often say my success in criminal investigations has been based more in hard work than special gifting. My goal is to know the truth of the case better than the person I am investigating (or the defense team I am facing). Success doesn’t come cheaply. You’ve got to work for it. I typically spend several years working a case before it ever results in an arrest. By the time I get to the trial, no one knows the case better than I do. I you want success in spiritual conversations, you need to know why your beliefs are true and understand your case better than anyone you might engage. Don’t be lazy. Take the time to know what you believe and why you believe it.
2. Pick Your Jury
You can have a great case yet still fail to persuade anyone it’s true. Cases aren’t won at opening statement, evidence presentation or closing argument; they’re won at jury selection. Good jurors are interested, open-minded and humble. If you want to have success at trial, you’ll need to fill you jury box with these kinds of people. In a similar way, your Christian case making is dependent on good jury selection. We’ll need to be sensitive to our environment and pick the right people if we want to have success. Take the time to evaluate your jury. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your case with people even if they fail to possess these characteristics, but it may help you to have reasonable expectations should you decide to do so. The better the juror, the more likely you are to succeed.
3. Love Your Jurors
If a jury doesn’t like you as a detective, prosecutor or defense attorney, it’s a lot harder to persuade them. It’s hard to be convincing if your audience thinks you’re a jerk. It’s equally difficult to persuade your non-believing friends and family if they don’t like you (at least a little bit). As Christians, our love for others ought to be rooted in our transformed nature, not simply in a shrewd effort to persuade. I can honestly say my interview skills improved dramatically after becoming a Christian. Why? I learned to love the people I had to take to jail. I think they could see it in my behavior and attitude, and it certainly helped me gain their trust. If you want to effectively reach people, start by loving them.
4. Ask Before Declaring
When I first heard Greg Koukl talk about his book, Tactics, it resonated with my experience as an interviewer. Greg correctly identified the value of good questions. Before I declare what I know to a suspect, I take the time to mine out what he or she wants me to believe. I don’t typically reveal my hand until my suspect has revealed his (or hers). When someone makes a claim, there are two important questions I need to ask: (1) What do you mean by that? and (2) Why do you think that’s true? By asking these two simple questions, I can learn what people believe and why they believe it. These questions are equally valuable when talking to people about spiritual matters. Before I take a stand for what I know to be true, I want to know exactly what others believe. Take the time to ask good questions before you launch into the case for Christianity.
5. Look for Inconsistencies
My professional interviews and interrogations are an exercise in good listening. Every word matters to a detective. I learned not to talk over my interviewees so I could better identify discrepancies in their statements. When people are lying, they invariably make inconsistent statements. It’s my job to identify these statements so I can get to the truth. In a similar way, when people hold false ideas, they invariably make comparably inconsistent statements. It’s our job to identify these statements so we can help them find the truth. Listen carefully for self-refuting ideas, logical contradictions and factual errors.
6. Use Questions to Point Out Discrepancies
Once I’ve identified a false statement or factual inconsistency, I’m sometimes tempted to jump on the error to make my case. I’ve learned to resist the temptation, however. My goal in these situations is to reveal the discrepancy to my interviewee so I can get to the truth, but it’s far more effective to highlight the error with a question rather than a statement. In a recent conversation with a pro-choice friend, I used disarming questions to identify the error of her thinking. My friend claimed the unborn were not yet human because they were still dependent upon their mothers for survival. Rather than stating why this was errant thinking, I simply asked her a question: “It sounds like you’re saying physical independence and autonomy are the basis for human identity, am I hearing you correctly? But if that is true, does that mean aging or injured adults who are dependent upon pace makers or dialysis machines are less human than others?” My goal was to help her see the error in her thinking in the least threatening way possible. Good questions can help you accomplish this goal.
7. Clearly Articulate the Case
At some point in a conversation, you’ll hopefully earn the right to declare the truth. Start by mastering the topic, then pick your jury carefully and demonstrate your love for them. Ask good questions and be a careful listener. Help them see their errors in an unthreatening way. Then state the truth in love. This is not your “gotcha” moment; it’s not your opportunity to beat them with a “truth stick”. But in every conversation, I try to leave people with something to think about. If I’m engaging a suspect, there will come a time when I tell him or her that I believe they are guilty of the crime, even if they haven’t confessed to it yet. In my spiritual conversations, there will eventually come a time when I share what Christianity teaches about the topic under discussion. I cannot shrink from the truth, even when it may be uncomfortable. But if I’ve chosen my jury carefully, demonstrated my love for them, asked disarming questions and listened carefully for inconsistencies, I bet I can find the right words to share the truth of the Christian worldview.
Every suspect interview is an opportunity to uncover the truth, and every spiritual conversation is an opportunity to share the truth. There are similarities between these two forms of interaction. If these seven tips help you rethink your conversations, you can print them as a Bible Insert by visit the homepage at ColdCaseChristianity.com and clicking the link in the right toolbar (be sure to download all the other free inserts as well).
For more information about the nature of Biblical faith and a strategy for communicating the truth of Christianity, please read Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith. This book teaches readers four reasonable, evidential characteristics of Christianity and provides a strategy for sharing Christianity with others. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Forensic Faith DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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