Conversational Common Ground

–Engaging people with other beliefs–

We are the deep conversations, deep questions, and active discussion club! Our mission is to promote thoughtful Christianity by diving into (not avoiding) the difficult topics of life and the Christian faith.

Naturally, when we share our opinions with others SURPRISE! We believe different things! Where do we go from here?

On Twitter or other social sites, if the disagreement is serious enough, we are tempted to unfollow, unfriend, or perhaps even block the person.

Honestly, this is appropriate if the other person is abusive or putting content, images, and video up that you do not wish to get stuck in your head. Have you noticed that you cannot UNSEE things?

But extreme cases aside, how do you navigate a conversation with someone who disagrees with you? This is our discussion topic this week at Ratio Christi.

Tactics for Impossible Conversations
– How to Listen and Engage

Christian Greg Koukl and Atheist Peter Boghossian agree on how to promote fruitful dialog.

Greg Koukl is the author of Tactics – a Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions, and his book has changed my life. It revealed my many conversational flaws and alleviated almost all of my conversational fears. Greg’s goal is to enable Christians to “get in the game” of discussing their deepest held beliefs with others.

Peter Boghossian is the author of How to Have Impossible Conversations (with James Lindsay). Peter and James are interesting characters. Both think that religious folks “have a flawed epistemology” (way of knowing), but both are eager to engage in conversations with Christians and to discuss their differences in a friendly way.

Some of you may remember another book Peter Boghossian wrote – Manual for Creating Atheists – and wonder why I would include ANY of his material in a Ratio Christi email or meeting. Good question. His Manual for Creating Atheists is centered around a sad observation – if you ask Christians to examine what they believe and why, many will not be able to justify their beliefs. When this happens, they tend to jettison those beliefs and become atheists.

The creators of Ratio Christi made the same observation 10 years ago, and THAT IS WHY WE EXIST! Christian beliefs CAN be justified, but we are not teaching apologetics in our churches. Therefore, the average Christian is unprepared for thoughtful probing questions about WHY they believe what they believe. We exist to change this perilous and unnecessary situation.

Clarity must always come before agreement.

Understanding takes listening, and listening is so difficult.

As a Christian, be Christlike – full of both Grace and Truth

Our number one problem when we finally speak up in a conversation is that we have something to say. Often it is a disorganized string of statements that takes time to get out. Once it is out, we want to clarify our points. We want to revise our statements. We want to emphasize our main points. This means the other person should be quiet while we work through our points – and they seldom let us finish.

What if we let the conversation flow through good questions? What if we were able to deliver short, clean points at the perfect time? This is a more excellent way, and it requires advanced listening skills.

By listening, you are better able to voice your main points at just the right time.

But that’s not fair!

Why should I let them make all the points and talk so much?

And HOW can I remain calm when someone says something stupid, offensive, ridiculous, evil. etc.?

You may be using the same vocabulary but a different dictionary.

You must clarify what your conversational partner means, which is at a deeper level than what they say.

Ask them what they mean when they use the word “X”?
(This is Greg Koukl’s “Colombo Question #1” – referring to the 1971 TV Series.)

Monday Night, we will practice by evaluating several assertions, focusing on word choice rather than the assertion. Here’s an example.

Could you have a good conversation with Einstein if he started with this quote?

What would you say if your pal Albert Einstein busted out with this quote in the coffee shop?

Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.

Albert Einstein, quoted in the Great Books of the Western World, Syntopicon, V2, page 543

You might be tempted to make your own opposing assertions, such as, “Religion has no place in science” or “science has no place in religion”.

This would be a mistake!

By making YOUR assertions, you are assuming that you and Einstein mean the same thing when you use the words “religion” and “science”.

It would be MUCH better to enter into a discussion on what Einstein means by the words “science” and “religion”. And why not ask about “lame” and “blind”, while you are at it.

Can you see how this might be a better approach?

“I’m curious, Albert. What do you mean by science and religion in this instance? How do they inform each other in your understanding?”

This is not confrontational at all, and I am sure you will gain more information about his views. You will gain more information about your own views, too. We build our views through conversation.


We can have conversations with books, too. Most importantly, we can have deep and life-changing conversations with God’s Word.

Ask the same probing questions of the Scripture that you would ask of a person.

If we hone our listening skills in conversation, then the Bible will “come alive” when we listen to what it says, too.

Use the same questions when reading the Bible.

“Okay, Bible. What did you mean when you used the word “X” in this context? Where else did you use the word “X”? Did you mean the same thing with both usages? Who were you addressing? When were you saying this?”

Contrast that approach to the Bible with the self-centered “me-culture” question, “what does this Bible verse mean to me”?

YOU don’t get to decide what the Bible means any more than you get to decide what Einstein means in conversation. Einstein knows what he means, and so does God.

The real question is, “what does God mean” in this passage of Scripture?

We only know this by asking questions, researching, discussing, and yes, praying. Stay tuned for more on this. We will discuss how we interpret scripture reliably later in the semester. (Specifically on February 7th and March 28th)

Here’s our semester schedule.

Our Spring 2022 discussions

We hope to see you Monday Nights!

Join us in the Chemistry and Forensic Science Building (CFS) in Room 123 at 5:30 PM.

I’d love to see you there.

Darren Williams, Chapter Director and Faculty Advisor

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Published by rcshsu

An international organization of campus clubs making a rational case for the truth of Christianity (i.e. Ratio Christi).

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