Is the "inside out" method of apologetics applicable to any subject?

Hi Josh,

You have described the “inside out” approach that is developed in Apologetics At the Cross like this:

First, starting on the inside of the other person’s framework, we ask: What can we affirm and what do we need to challenge in this worldview? Where does this worldview lead? And in particular, how is the view unlivable and how is it inconsistent?

Second, we contrast their view with Christianity, asking where competing worldviews have to borrow from Christianity. And how does Christianity better address our experiences, observations, and history?

“Inside out” guides us into apologetic conversations, tracing out points of agreement and points of disagreement, challenging other worldviews on their own terms, and showing how their view fails to live up to their own deepest aspirations.

Is this method applicable to nearly any subject - or does it have to be about more philosophical issues? Or, for instance, could you provide an illustration of how this method might look in a discussion about the recent royal wedding?

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Well, I don’t think I could use the royal wedding as a test case since I didn’t watch it! I guess I am late to the party on that one.

We mean for inside out to be mental scaffolding for people to take with them into conversations. It is inspired, in part by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor who once wrote, "Reasoning in moral matters is always reasoning with somebody. You have an interlocutor, you start from where that person is, or with the actual difference between you; you don’t reason from the ground up, as though you were talking to someone who recognize moral demands whatever.”

And, yes, I think it can apply to a wide range of topics. For instance, if someone has a view on something, we can begin by asking questions to understand their view and why they hold it. What I have found is that often times people have reasons behind their reasons for their views. By this I mean a certain set of assumptions that they have inherited from the surrounding culture (i.e., plausibility structures). I am particularly interested in having a conversation about those…even though often times people have not even articulated these assumptions themselves. For instance, Taylor talks about how most people in the West have embraced the “ethics of authenticity” (Robert Bellah means roughly the same thing when he coined the term “expressive individualism.”) This is the idea that the most important thing that you can do as an individual is throw off the shackles of exterior expectations and be “true to yourself.” This assumption about what is good and true has a profound impact on practical everyday thinking and living. We can have a long discussion on, for instance marriage and human sexuality, but unless we interact with this assumption (if they are indeed assuming it), we probably will not make much headway in persuasion. So first, we need to understand and perhaps even help them articulate some of their basic assumptions. And then, while on the inside of their framework, we can look for ways to both affirm and to challenge their assumptions and aspirations. There is something good about turning from an overly hierarchical society that leaves us without basic choices (I’m thankful to be able to have some choice about my occupation, for instance), so there is something about the changes in society that have accompanied the ethics of authenticity (EA) that we can affirm. However, EA is actually incoherent and detrimental to the type of human flourishing that most modern people aspire to. Perhaps I can flesh that out in a later post. For now, I just want to stress that it is important to show that their view has both some problems, but also perhaps some glimmer of truth. I think we should always be looking for that glimmer of truth that will be able to establish a point of contact for the conversation.

The next move is to explain how the gospel/Christianity actually provides a more coherent, livable, and ultimately true way to view a particular issue. For now, I want to stop here and in a later post I will pick up and explain how one might do this.


Hi Josh, thank you for this opportunity to learn from you. I quote above part of your reply to Carson which left me with a kind of ‘cliff hanger’ :)) I am looking forward to your fleshing out that argument to help me build a better response in conversations centering around EA.

Thank you.


I am going to pick up where I ended on this last post. I will use the ethics of authenticity (see above) as a test case for how you might start out inside of someone’s framework and then work to the outside of their view (i.e., to Christianity). The goal is to explain how gospel makes more rational and emotional sense than their view.

First, the ethics of authenticity undermines our most relationships that require commitment and sacrifice. Families, friends and marriages are viewed instrumentally and are quickly abandoned if they cease to serve as a means for self-actualization. If a close friend or even a spouse is seen as are restricting my ability to pursue what my heart tells me, to be “true to myself,” what resources does EA give to motivate me to stay committed? To stick it out when it is really hard? I will put up with them only as long as the benefits they provide me outweigh my obligations to them. After all, if a relationship is confining, why not find new relationships that don’t demand self-denial and sacrifice?

If someone were to consistently hold to the tenets of expressive individualism, it is difficult to see how they wouldn’t find themselves suffering malnourished relationships. And research from the social sciences seem to support this conclusion. One thing that I have learned from my university students, though they are surrounded others, they often feel depressed and alone. EA, which is the default setting of our culture, tends to undermine thriving community.

If you set out to point this out in a conversation, someone might reply, “Yes but I don’t live like that. I understand the pull of expressive individualism, but I do have relationships that are altruistic.” This is significant: many who have generally assumed expressive individualism do strive to live sacrificially in some of their most intimate relationships. Here is something we can affirm and use as an opening to help them understand the gospel (turning to the outside of their framework to connect the gospel to cultural aspirations).
When people refuse to abandon important relationships in the name of personal freedom, instead valuing others more than their own self-actualization and autonomy, they seem to be admitting something parallel to the Bible’s teaching: namely, that saying “no” to some desires is an important part of genuine flourishing. They are admitting that personal sacrifice is essential for deep, life-giving relationships. This concession just might open the door for Christ’s teachings to be seen in a new light. When Jesus tells us we must die to live and he gives us rules to live by, he is inviting us to a deeper, truer kind of flourishing.

Second, EA is impractical. It is impossible to live out. We cannot help but constantly look to those around us to learn what we should value and how we should legitimize our own significance. We are always defining our lives in dialogue with our community. We all look to something or someone for our identity and sense of worth. This leads to a third problem with denying Christianity in the name of freedom.

Third, though EA may promise us freedom, it cannot deliver on that promise. Everyone has a master. If what a particular group of friends or your parents or a partner or your kids think of you is the most important thing to you, then you will build your life, your happiness, and your worth around them. Their responses to you will limit you and control your life. If they reject you, if they let you down, or if they are taken from you, your life will feel empty. And you know it. So you will do anything you can to avoid losing them. The many different “gods” of our modern world will restrict us, consume our time, and wreak havoc on our emotions. If we make them ultimate, they will, in the end, not just let us down—they will destroy us.

So when Jesus promised his followers an abundant life, he was not telling them that he would usher in a life of freedom from norms and submission. That is impossible. We all submit to and are enslaved by something. Jesus, however, can paradoxically promise true freedom (John 8:32 –36) through submission because he is the one person we were designed to submit to, the one person in whom submission results in true freedom—the freedom to become the people we were designed to be. To better understand this, we need only look at Jesus, the most free and satisfied human who has ever lived.

This is just one example of how you might apply inside out to interact with the assumptions held–normally below the radar–which make Christianity seem implausible. Start inside of their beliefs. Listen. Ask questions. But also be aware of general cultural trends; his will help you better understand individuals when you are in discussions. Find out what you can affirm and what you need to challenge. Listen for both, problems that need to be pointed out and cultural aspirations that are actually meant to be fulfilled in Christ.


Hi Helen,
I finished off my answer to Carson’s question and the discussion on EA. Hope it was helpful.


Wow, thanks, @joshchatraw, for taking the time to provide such a detailed and clear explanation! I’ve not thought of EA in such an insightful way and how it can connect to the Gospel. I’m looking forward to learning more from your new book. I’ve also learned from the article you wrote in the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies entitled “A Way forward for Pastors-Apologists: Navigating the apologetic method debate.” Thank you for taking us to a deeper level in our apologetic pursuits.

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