How do you discuss tough questions with someone who is smarter than you?


(Brandon Little) #1

I have a friend who is moderately well-known as an author and proponent of the Deist faith. David also holds several degrees and certificates in leadership. He has usually researched the typical responses to his main points so it is particularly difficult to respond to him because of his own perceived knowledge on almost every subject.

He has recently tried to challenge several foundations of my Christian faith. He gave me a book he wrote on why the Trinity is a contradiction and added comments about the supposed beliefs of the American founding fathers, Romans burning books, and the age of the earth. However, the validity of his points are not the concern for me.

My question is this: how do you respond to somebody who is smarter than you about subjects they may also know more about?


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #2

First of all, I know exactly what you how you feel (just look into the bible translations question i had asked in the Daily Evangelism section based off of my youth leader who has done his research). I know what its like to feel incapable of defending the truth because of someone who has done a lot of research and is good at manipulating the truth to fit their views.
What I would do is:

  1. listen to what they have to say. Have an open mind. Listen to their part of the argument and then ask yourself “Does it make sense? Does what they say contradict what the Bible says?”
  2. Ask questions to understand and clarify their position. Where do they stand on certain issues? Do they take one position, then quickly jump to another? Do they try to soften their position? Ask questions like “What do you mean by…” and “Why do you believe this to be true?” etc.
  3. Ask for their sources. Are their sources credible? Is the source a well known person or website?
  4. Do not be afraid to tell them you don’t know. That is key. I remember Jo Vitale saying that you don’t have to know all of the answers on the spot. It’s all right to tell them that you will get back to them with an answer. this leads to…
  5. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! This is so important. Don’t just take their word for it. look up verses in the bible and search trusted websites for answers relevant to your conversation. Read books by trusted authors. Some authors i recommend are Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, and Josh McDowell.

I wish you all the best! I pray that you will learn more about your faith so that you will be able to defend it to those that question the Truth.
May God bless you in your discussions!


(SeanO) #3

@bwlittle That is a very good question - it can be difficult to have a conversation that feels meaningful with someone who knows more about a topic than you (or at least claims that they do) and disagrees with you. I would recommend a few approaches:

  • ask the other person questions to help you understand where they are coming from and what their motivations are - do they really want truth or are they just shooting the wind? Why have they come to their conclusions? Are they seeking God or are they settled into their unbelief?
  • ask yourself ‘Is this conversation really worth having?’ If you have had this conversation with them 20 times before and it leads to nothing but a long speech from them, maybe you should focus on another topic or on just showing them Christ’s love / truth through your actions
  • ask questions that require them to provide factual evidence for their claims to see if they really do have evidence or if they are just displaying their opinions very loudly

There is No Rebuking Someone Wise in their Own Eyes

Here are some Bible verses pointing out that we should rebuke those who want to learn. It is not always useful to spend time trying to correct someone who does not want to learn.

Proverbs 26:12 - Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

Isaiah 5:20-21 - Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

Proverbs 9:8 - So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you.

Learn Some Conversational Tactics

The columbo tactic is classic and can be very helpful when someone claims to have all the answers because it forces them to show their hand, so to speak. Using this method you can often discover what evidence someone really has to back up their claims and hopefully have a more meaningful conversation.

Timing Matters

Sometimes we need to ask, ‘Is this the right time to engage in this conversation or give this particular advice?’

Proverbs 25:11 - Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.

Os Guiness discusses ‘Signals of Transcendence’ - events in peoples’ lives that help them go from comfortable unbelievers to seekers. If someone has not experienced a signal of transcendence, their heart may still be closed to God. Now, you could be that signal of transcendence, but I think generally it is very hard to move a person from comfortable unbeliever to a questioning seeker.

Hope those thoughts are helpful. The Lord Jesus guide you as you interact with your friend. Feel free to ask more questions.


(Albert Schmidt) #4

Hi Brandon,

Great point. I liked the answers to it as well and want to add one thing to it.
If you feel it’s the right thing to get involved into these things with this special person, there is no other way than to take the arguments, check them one by one and then present your answer. You’ll have to be willing to put the work into it and try to come eye to eye with him. There, you can battle it out intelectually. After all, it’s a great opportunity to up your apologetics-game and if your friend is the thinking guy, you may win him. But it’s up to you to decide which way you want to go with him.
I have a friend who is an agnostic and he also likes to discuss these matters. With him, however, I know where his doubts come from: they are not intellectual in nature, but emotional due to some experiences in his past. Sure, we talk about these things, but I want to make sure my focus is right.

May god bless you for your way with David.


(Jimmy Sellers) #5

One of my great fears is to find out that I am the smartest guy in the room. Having said that I try very hard to assume that everyone I interact with has something to teach me. I have worked in the technology field all my life. I have people that work for me across the educational spectrum everything for PHD’s to high school degrees and for the record I only have a 2 yr AS in Mechanical Engineering Technology. I have spent my life in the company of people that are smarter that I am and am thankful for it. At the end of the day we are in sales. We all are salesmen/saleswomen selling something.

I have posted this before but it is applicable here. It is rules for sales as compared to rules for sales of life.

In industrial/commercial sales we look for opportunity to solve industrial/commercial problems.

  1. Needs: Do you have any problem(s)?
  2. Interest: Do you have any interest in solving your problem(s)?
  3. Money: Do you have the money to solve the problem(s)?
  4. Time: Do you have the time to solve the problem(s)?
  5. Commitment: Will you, can you commit to a solution to solve your problem?
  6. Present: The solution is… (product or service)
  7. Close: Give time to reflect on solution and allow for a change of mind.

In life we look for opportunity to solve life problems.

  1. Needs: Do you have any problem(s)? Life issues this is universal. you can view this as you trying to develop this universal need. A relationship to the Lord of glory.

  2. Interest: Do you have any interest in solving your problem(s)? Is it possible? Here is where the rubber meets the road. If there is not interest in a solution end of conversation, move on to the weather. Circle back later.

  3. Money: You don’t need money for this solution .This might shock them.

  4. Time: Do you have the time to solve the problem(s)? Is it urgent? If you gotten this far you need to understand that time is an issue. Think how long it took you to make a decision for LIFE. Be prepared to devote additional time and resources to this person.

  5. Commitment: Will you, can you commit to a solution to solve your problem? Will you need to consult with another person or will this be your decision? This is key. If someone engages in a conversation with no intention of commitment in light of a real answers to the big question it is possible that they are wasting your time. Move on as there is in need to be twisting in wind trying to reason with someone who has no intention of changing their mind. You can always comeback.

  6. Present: The solution is… The Gospel.

  7. Close: Give time to reflect on solution and allow for a change of mind. Consider the cost. Be ready to offer additional support.

I hope you see the parallel. There are business problems and life problems both can me addressed with a similar process and without the hype. Both can be rewarding. One with temporal and the other with eternal results.

I hope this makes sense. I don’t want you to feel like this a sales game with a quota but talking with anyone more or less knowledgeable that you involves a certain protocol.

  • It involves asking questions, conversation starters and question to keep the conversation going.

  • Sometimes you ask direct question that will limit their response.

  • There are commitment questions that are designed to illicit a Yes or No answer.

  • Sometimes you will need to expand on the negatives of what you are talking about. Point out the benefits and the differences of what you trying to convey.

  • Allow for them to explain their issues and be prepared to explain it back as away of clarification

  • If unsure then ask for more to consider what you have learned about his view on the subject.

  • Sometime in the conversation you will need to measure where you are. Does what you are saying making any sense to your subject? If not its time to make a mid-course correction or defer to another day. Remember this is not a contest it is a labor of love.

Sorry for the long reply.


(Kelly) #6

Hi Brandon. Your friend reminds me somewhat of my daughter. Her passion is philosophy, and her boyfriend’s passion is the same. Trying to discuss topics sometimes feels like it’s as effective as whispering to a friend in a hurricane. (That does not stop me from the discussion when I am invited to do so.) Through this, however, I have learned that love is a powerful force. She has shared a couple of things to us that made me aware of just how important this component of our discussion is: 1) She told my husband and I that her very anti theist boyfriend really likes us and wants us to like him! 2) She talks about how she despises religion (Catholic, Protestant, etc), but then she will turn to me and say, oh, but you’re not any of those things . . . you are a Christian.

My takeaway from this is that what she sees in my life is important as well as what we discuss. During the years where I couldn’t share or discuss anything because she was not willing or not ready to receive what I had to say, I still had opportunity to unconditionally love her.

Regardless of how your friend responds to some of the amazing questions and thoughts provided in this tread, I encourage you to take heart and continue stand with him and to walk along side of him. Your life is an incredible testimony of Christ. May God richly bless your friendship and your discussions!


(Brandon Little) #7

@O_wretched_man your post on Bible translations was very helpful to me as well. Ironically, that very topic was mentioned by my Deist friend I am speaking about here. I think your statement here, “…someone who has done a lot of research and is good at manipulating the truth to fit their views.” is a pretty accurate description of my friend. With that being said, I appreciate your other input as well. I will take it into account when we meet next. I have tried hard to lean on Ravi’s advice of understanding the questioner instead of my natural response, which is to contend every idea that he brings up.

Blessings to you my friend.


(Brandon Little) #8

@kelelek That is profound. I can see clear parallels between your situation and mine. You see, he also seems to despises all forms of religion. I’ve discovered bits and pieces about my friend’s childhood that explain some of why he is on an intellectual pursuit of all things based on “reason and rationality”. While I don’t anticipate a breakthrough in the near future, I think you’re 100% right that the way I live my life, not how I respond to his criticisms, is the greatest testimony I can give him of the living God; just as yours is to your beloved daughter.

Be blessed my friend.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #9

I have to work at it as well. Sometimes (maybe a bit too much) I tend to procrastinate😲
It’s a challenge but it’s worth it to further God’s kingdom. I’m glad my question was a help, but you should really be thanking @SeanO instead. He was the one with the graceful answers.


(SeanO) #10

@O_wretched_man A good question is sometimes even more valuable than a good answer :wink:


(Kasey Leander) #11

Gotta love those Colombo questions :sunglasses:


(Brandon Little) #12

@Jimmy_Sellers I definitely see the relevance of looking at all 7 areas you mentioned and asking the questions you have mentioned. The different questions/approaches allow me to better analyze my friend’s approach. At first glance, I don’t think he has real interest in or would consider a commitment to an unbiased look at the truth. Thanks for your response.


(Brandon Little) #13

@SeanO Thank you for your input. Obviously, the Bible verses you quoted say all that really needs to be said here. But I’ve heard several long speeches that you mention in your 2nd point. He will quickly and sternly mix opinion and statements of fact that I don’t agree with or get the chance to sort through. I read the book _Fools Talk _ several years ago but I am interested in Tactics. Thanks for the Columbo advice! I’ve also found that simple questions are the most thought provoking. In this situation, I think they’re better than engaging intellectually if there’s a chance he will be open to changing his perspective.


(SeanO) #14

@bwlittle In my experience it is common for people to mix fact and opinion when they are grand standing in personal conversation. I think that it is also very important to pick your battles. For example, if you think it is wise to discuss / he is open to truly considering the evidence, you might discuss evidence for the resurrection of Jesus or the uniqueness of Christ rather than worrying about tangential topics like the age of the earth or the founding fathers. Though you would need to do your homework and come prepared.

The Lord grant you wisdom as you engage with your friend.


(Mark Gilliam) #15

First of all, I bet you are pretty smart, probably smarter than you think, so don’t sell yourself short.

However, this is not an intellectual battle. It is a spiritual battle and you are infinitely better armed than your friend because of the Friend you have.

I think you can simply share about your relationship with Jesus and what he has done for you. To be sure you should not be cavalier in your testimony, and, if possible, I think you should weave the Gospel message into your own life using scripture references if possible. When Jesus healed the blind man (John 9), the blind man was questioned by the Pharisees, who were certainly smart and well educated, probably much better educated than the blind man. The blind man responded based on his interaction and knowledge with and of Jesus to questioning in John 9:25 “…One thing I know, that, though I was blind, now I see.” Simple, but powerful.

Jesus does not require us to be theologians to share what He has done for us. I think we should share based on our knowledge, at whatever level that may be. That is our part, and it is actually the easy part. God has the hard part of converting people, but God can take your testimony and convert someone. That is His business and He is really good at it.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #16

That is a really good example from scripture!


(Brandon Little) #17

@mgilliam Thank you for making that point. I take a lot from that passage and it’s really encouraging to remember, as you said:
“Jesus does not require us to be theologians to share what He has done for us. That is our part, and it is actually the easy part. God has the hard part of converting people… That is His business and He is really good at it.”


(Mark Gilliam) #18

Thanks, Brandon.

I remember years ago when I was involved with an evangelism ministry at my church, my team visited a couple of medical doctors, a husband and wife who were married to each other. Two of their parents were also at the doctors’ home. All were very smart and well educated people. It was challenging. They posed some typical hard to answer questions like what happens to people in Africa who have not heard the Gospel. My team, after many years of practice and training, generally saw questions like that as an attempt to distract us, but we were able to share the Gospel with them through determination and prayer. I know we did a good job because they called an elder at our church to complain about us. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Good job, but offensive? The Gospel is offensive to those who do not believe it. The natural man wants to save himself through his own works and his own earned merit. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

It was the only time anyone had ever complained about us. One of our team leaders was a 75 year old widow, hardly scary or offensive, but she loved Jesus and was determined to share Him with others. The other team member was a missionary on furlough from his mission assignment in Mexico. I pray that the Holy Spirit worked in the doctors and parents hearts through our message. It obviously made an impact.

I can think of a few other visits with intellectuals that went like the above, except later, not during the visit, they made professions of faith and joined our church.

Justification by faith is quite difficult for those intellectuals who prefer justification by works, so they can claim merit in their own works.

Sometimes we plant the seed and we don’t know if it ever grows.

May the Lord be with you as you minister to your friend.

Mark Gilliam

924 Stevens Creek Road

Augusta, GA 30907

706-651-0075 ext 204

[email protected]