[Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from Greg Koukl's article "Culturally Aware Apologetics" from the Stand to Reason website, www.str.org.]
Paul tells us "We are ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:20). An effective ambassador has three essential skills. First, an ambassador must have some basic knowledge of the character, mind, and purposes of his king. Second, this knowledge must be deployed in a skillful way. There's an element of wisdom, a tactical and artful diplomacy that makes his message persuasive. Paul says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person" (Colossians 4:6). Finally, there is character. The kindness, even-handedness, and respect the ambassador shows for those who differ can either make or break his message.
An ambassador is able to adapt to either the modern or the postmodern mindset. Since the approach is flexible by design, he can be effective regardless of what changes he is confronted with. This means intentionally contextualizing the truth of Christianity to the specific circumstances he faces.
The tactical element is critical to the effectiveness of this approach. Two different tactics have been effective even with postmoderns because of a couple of simple truths. First, fairness, gentleness, and respect are always in style, and they add persuasiveness to speech regardless of the message. Second, if Christianity is true, then every person who denies it must live in a contradiction. On one side is the pull of their postmodern convictions; on the other, the tenacious pull of reality.
The "Columbo" Tactic
Lieutenant Columbo was the bumbling and seemingly inept TV detective whose remarkable success was based on an innocent query: "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" The key to this tactic is to maneuver through an encounter--halting, head-scratching, and apparently harmless--with carefully selected questions. Columbo is most powerful if you have a plan of attack, if you ask questions with a goal in mind. You may be alerted to some weakness, flaw, or contradiction in another's view you can expose in a disarming way.
There are literally hundreds of ways to do this offering tremendous advantages. It's interactive, inviting the other person to participate in dialogue. It's a good tactic to use at work because no "preaching" is involved. The Columbo tactic allows you to make good headway without actually stating your case. More importantly, a carefully placed question shifts the burden of proof to the other person where it often belongs.
Using the Columbo tactic accomplishes a couple of things. First, it immediately engages the non-believer in an interactive, relational way. The questions are probing, but still quite amicable. Second, it's flattering because you've expressed a genuine interest in knowing more about the other's view. Third, it forces her to think more carefully--maybe for the first time--about exactly what she believes. Fourth, it gives you valuable information, putting you in a better position to assess her view. You learn what she thinks, but also how she thinks.
The Suicide Tactic
The suicide tactic makes capital of the tendency of many views to self-destruct when given the opportunity. Such ideas get caught in the noose of their own cleverness and quickly expire. These are commonly known as self-refuting views.