Anyone for tennis?
It was really quite exhausting! The questioner was plying me with question after question, hardly waiting for my answer to the previous one to finish. I had just given a talk explaining the relevance of the creation message and I was standing with a group of people at the book tables engaged in discussion on a range of issues. My questioner had challenged me on a variety of scientific and theological points seeking to discredit biblical creation. A small group had gathered around to listen.
It seemed to me as though I was in a ‘gun battle’ with shot after shot being fired at me. Then I realised that my challenger was not actually interested in my answers so much as in trying to trip me up on some point and thereby discredit biblical creation. It occurred to me that I needed to change tactics. This discussion should be like a tennis match, not a gun battle! In a tennis match, one player will serve, and his opponent will endeavour to ‘return serve’. If he does so successfully, the onus is on the server to deal with his opponent’s shot. And so it continues until one player is unsuccessful at returning the ball, at which point he must acknowledge, “Okay, you won that point.”
So, after my answer to the next question I immediately asked;
‘Do you understand my answer? Do you accept it?’
My challenger was momentarily taken aback by my direct questions. He tried to raise another issue but gently and firmly I brought him back to the topic;
‘Do you accept or reject my last answer?’
My refusal to move on to another topic until the current issue had been dealt with radically changed the nature of the discussion. The antagonist was forced to either accept my answer, in which case that topic was dealt with and closed, or reject it, in which case I would ask him to explain why. That would give me another opportunity to clarify the biblical creation position further and deal with the objection.
What happened next astonished me. When he saw that I would not proceed to answer another question until the current topic had been dealt with, he abruptly terminated the discussion and walked off. What I had done was move the discussion from being like a gun battle, with question after question being fired at me like bullets without serious consideration of the answers, to being like a tennis match. I would return each ‘serve’ by answering the question and then ask if he accepted or rejected it. If it was rejected, I would ask why. By going back and forth on the one topic, digging deeper and unearthing the root cause of the objection, the discussion becomes much more positive and constructive.
I have found this kind of ‘tennis match’ approach is very effective in engaging with people over the creation/evolution issue. It helps to focus the discussion in a constructive way and soon reveals if someone is genuinely seeking answers or is just intent on trying to trip up the creationist without any real desire to seek the truth. If the discussion is like a tennis match, with one topic at a time, I will play all day if necessary. Refusing to engage in gun battles is a good strategy!
Re-posted on homepage: 5 January 2022