Ravi Zacharias Apologetics Method

Ravi Zacharias provides a helpful apologetic framework that’s useful when discussing difficult issues.  He breaks all debates into three levels.  The first level is logic, which is why we believe what we believe.  The second level is imagination, feeling and experience, which covers why we live the way we live.  The third level is the application to reality or why we legislate for society the way we do.  Based on these levels, all beliefs can be tested as to whether they are tenable in an argument, livable in reality and transferable to others.  In Zacharias’ framework, our arguments must begin by establishing truth (level 1) before applying it to ourselves existentially (level 2) and then prescribing it to others (level 3).  In every area of life the questions associated with these levels must be answered sequentially.  1) Is my belief tenable?  Can I defend it with the laws of logic?  2) Is it livable?  Can there be a harmony in existence?  3) Is it transferable?  Do I have the right to make moral judgments?

Many of our everyday moralizing and prescribing in life are had at the third level, which Zacharias calls kitchen table conclusions because they are not grounded in logic.  Questions like “Is my good grandmother going to hell?” and “Is homosexuality immoral?” fall into this category.  Discussions at this level can be highly emotional and rarely lead to solid conclusions because the they are an exchange of opinions without foundational authority or a moral referent.  In a relativized culture, everything becomes a matter of taste or preference.  The second level is problematic to argue at as well because it is the existential realm of art and imagination.  It isn’t bound by rationality.  Zacharias recommends that all debates be brought up to the first level, so that the laws of logic can be applied and truth identified.

The most important step to moving someone to the level of logic is to spend time understanding where the person is coming from in his/her worldview.  If someone calls you and asks for directions to your house, the first question you would ask them is “Where are you?”.  You wouldn’t give directions if you don’t know where someone is at.  Yet we often jump into providing answers without finding where they’re at spiritually or philosophically.  Peter Kreeft has said, “There’s nothing more pointless than answers to questions not fully understood.  We’re far too impatient with questions and therefore far too shallow in appreciating answers.”

Here are the steps:

1) Identify the level of the discussion.  If the question being debated is what someone should or should not do (i.e., prescriptive in nature), then it is at level three
2) Move the conversation to level one to take the emotion out and talk at the level of truth by asking questions to define terms such as “What do you mean by good?  How do you know what’s good?” or “Who decides what’s moral?”
3) The person you’re discussing the topic with will either answer with a relative or absolute view.  If they respond from a relative perspective, then they can’t expect a definitive answer for anything because there is no single source of truth.  It’s then just a battle of opinion with no way to resolve the dispute.  Each of us, then, can define the answer.  However, if s/he responds from an absolute view, then you can move to the question of authority
4) With this step you should help them see that they are relying on something or someone as the definitive source of authority for defining good and bad, right and wrong.  Question them about the credibility of their authority source and/or why they accept parts of the source but not others (e.g., some parts of the Bible but not others)
5) Up to this point, you’ve only been asking questions to understand the perspective where the person is coming from.  Now, you can begin to provide answers.  You should build from your authority source, the Bible, up to answer the question about what is good, right or moral.

Zacharias details this process in the appendix of his book, A Shattered Visage, and applies it to fallacies in atheism.

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