Grow Your ‘Street Smarts’ for Facing Challenges to Your Faith

By Tom Gilson Published on January 23, 2024

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of it sound tough?

“Jesus never said a word against homosexuality!”
“If God created the universe, who created God?”
“How can you believe in a good God when there’s so much evil in the world?”

The world challenges us as believers. What does it take to be ready?

Are We Ready for What We’re Up Against?

I came very close to facing a dangerous challenge of a different sort one night years ago. It was getting late, but I took a shortcut anyway, driving home from the airport on surface streets through South Central Los Angeles. I knew there was some risk in it: South Central wasn’t the part of town you’d want to get stopped in at night. And I knew I was way short on street smarts to stay safe if something hostile happened. I figured my car could get me out of any trouble I might get into, so I went ahead.

What I didn’t know then was how close it was to breaking down — right on the verge. I had it in the shop the very next day.

God protected me that night. Since then, it seems the whole secularized world has turned hostile against Christianity. Way too many believers have bent or buckled under skeptics’ challenges. Some have given up all their faith, others have let loose enough of it to be just as bad.

Street Smarts

Thank God He does more than protect us: For every question they can throw at us, He has an answer. Still it takes street smarts to hang on under the pressure, and even more to go the next step and help invite the challengers to believe.

Enter Greg Koukl and his 2023 book Street Smarts: Using Questions to Answer Christianity’s Toughest Challenges. As the title indicates, it’s a book on how to answer by using questions.

It makes me think of a friend of mine, a world class military-trained combat fighter. If I’d been stuck in South Central that night, I wouldn’t have minded having his strength, but his skills would have mattered even more: His main technique is jiu jitsu, using the opponent’s strength and his moves against him.

Greg Koukl shows in this book how, more often than not, the best response to hard questions isn’t always having the best right answer. More often than not, it’s turning the challenge around, almost jiu jitsu style, simply by asking a question in return.

Tactics

He’s written on this before. His book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions is an absolute classic, powerful yet simple, accessible to anyone.

Would you believe just two simple questions are all you need to sort out virtually any challenge an opponent throws at you? Someone says, “I can’t believe in Christ because … ” and it doesn’t matter how that sentence ends, you can ask, “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?”

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So I can’t recommend Tactics highly enough. It’s readable, it’s learnable, the kind of thing any believer could follow and use. It’s a great start on the basics.

If I’d been caught in the streets that night in South Central, though, I would have wanted more than just basics under my all-too-white belt. Likewise in today’s anti-Christian world, believers need more than the basics, too. Tactics gets you started in that direction. Street Smarts takes you a whole lot further. It’s still about asking good questions, though.

How Do You Answer This One?

For example, how do you answer when someone says, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow so much evil in the world!”

A lot of people would say that’s the hardest question for Christians. Koukl turns that around and shows it’s no easier for non-Christians. Here’s an abbreviated version.

Christian: “So, you believe in evil, then?”

Atheist: “Right. That’s why I don’t believe in God.”

Christian: “We agree there’s a lot of evil in the world. How do you, as an atheist, explain that fact? I’m wondering, if atheism is true, how can there be so much evil in the world?”

Atheist: “Excuse me? I don’t get where you’re coming from here.”

Christian: “My question is, if atheism is true, where does the standard come from that lets us consider anything as being evil.”

Atheist: “Oh, that’s easy, it’s just common sense.”

Questions that Move Toward Answers

(Continuing …)

Christian: “Right, that part’s easy for most people, except you’re answering a different question there. Common sense might be how we know something is evil, but where is the standard that makes it evil?”

I’ll skip ahead here …

Christian: “It’s evil if it breaks some kind of rule or standard that determines what’s right. You can’t violate a rule that isn’t real. In atheism there’s no God making those rules, so where do they come from, and what gives them any authority?”

You’d be surprised how hard that question is for those who don’t believe in God.

Now, this is just one short excerpt. This particular dialogue will even the field, showing the atheist how Christianity may have one problem of evil, but atheism has another one. If the person stayed with you in the conversation you could go on — using more questions, along with some answers — to show how Christianity has a better solution than atheism.

A Reference Guide and Much More

Koukl covers dozens of challenges like this one, suggesting questions you can ask in return. Don’t think it’s just pages of scripted dialogues, though. Greg Koukl knows better than to think you could script your life that way, or that you would even want to. Along with his example dialogues, he does a great job explaining the truths these questions point to. It will equip you not just to interact, but also to understand.

With the right questions we can turn those challenges around and stand strong. And who knows? You might even persuade your challenger to follow Christ, too.

It’s well organized, too, almost like a reference book. You might think Street Smarts would be a great resource to have on hand when you need it — online, for example — and you’d be right. But what if you don’t have it right there with you, though? It depends on how ready you want to be. I never heard of anyone pulling out a book on martial arts technique when he’s in the middle of a hostile crowd. You’re not ready unless you’ve done the work.

Training Material for People Who Want to Stand for Christ

I almost hate to say it in a world where Christians seem to hate the “h” word — “homework” — but you’re not ready to stand for Christ, either, unless you’ve done the work. There is no shortcut.

Thankfully, Greg Koukl also gives us a way to make that work engaging, interesting, maybe even fun, through the Study Guide you can buy along with the book. It’s a clear road map to learning together with friends how you can “contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3), and assure yourself, your friends, your loved ones, and even your challengers that the hard questions have good answers.

Skeptics will always have their challenges, trying to dismiss and dishonor Jesus Christ, and persuade us out of the faith. With the right questions we can turn those challenges around and stand strong. And who knows? I’ve seen it happen: You might even persuade your challenger to follow Christ, too.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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