In his book Tactics, Greg Koukl introduces a concept called the 10 Second Window. He presents a handful of very awkward scenarios where you are presented with a challenge to Christianity. These situations include often bold declarations that belief in God is irrational, the Bible is man-made and flawed, or Christians are overbearing and intolerant. What these situations all have in common is that you have a very short amount of time before the moment ends and the topic changes. There are a million different ways to make this situation worse, and only a few ways to turn them into a valuable conversation. It is possible, and here are a few reflections and suggestions on doing so, but remember, you only have 10 seconds to speak up.
The tactical solution to these awkward moments that Koukl presents are questions. Rather than jumping into an argument, draw them out a little more with some questions. This allows you to better understand their views and try to press them on their claims. If they declare there is no evidence for God, you could correct them by presenting a few pieces. However, this often will not have the desired effect. When you push back, defenses go up, resulting in a less productive exchange. Further, they may have a different idea of what counts as evidence and could immediately dismiss whatever you say right away. Instead, ask them a few questions about what they believe about God and the nature of evidence, and how they came to their conclusion. This will put you in a much better position to have a conversation.
Buy Some Time
These kind of situations are a lot easier to handle in an online context. After the person sends their message, you can take a few minutes. There is time to gather your thoughts, maybe do some research, and come back with an informed opinion. What makes these conversations difficult in person is that you only have about 10 seconds to speak up. Often these scenarios come out of nowhere, and it takes more than 10 seconds just to comprehend what was just said, let alone how to respond. These simple information gathering questions require very little analysis on your part, so the key is to get into the habit of asking them so much that it becomes second nature.
Asking questions not only gives them time to explain their views, giving you more information to talk about, but it also buys you much needed time. A room can only sit in awkward silence for so long. If they keep talking, you have more time to gather your thoughts, calm any initial kneejerk reactions, and respond with clarity and humility. The last thing we want is to speak too quickly, leading to either misunderstanding or unnecessary hostility.
A Gentle Answer
Proverbs 15:1 says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” This is a verse that we should always have in the back of our minds. What is our goal in this 10 second window? Are we trying to put them in their place, or do we want to guide them to the truth? If the latter, then our response should never be to match belligerence with belligerence. Instead, responding to anger with quiet confidence sends a powerful message.
That message may not always be seen by the person who is angry. However, in most live conversations like this, there are more than 2 people involved. Even if the conversation is 1 on 1, there are likely others within earshot. This is exactly the kind of situation where nobody wants to step in, but everyone is listening when you do. From their observer’s perspective, you have one person creating a bit of an awkward scenario, and a person who managed to calmly take control of the situation and respond thoughtfully. I can distinctly recall times I’ve been that observer, and having immense respect for the person, wishing I could carry that kind of demeanor.
Speak Up like Sheep Among Wolves
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out his disciples with the command to be shrewd as snakes, but innocent as doves. But on top of great teaching on how we ought to behave with people, Jesus makes one last point in the passage. He says that “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Jesus is not saying to ignore all preparation but does give comfort that we will never be alone when we are speaking the gospel. Remember this as your brain scrambles for what to do in that 10 second window. You have a chance to speak, you have some ideas for questions to ask, and you know that God will be with you. What more could we ask for?
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