Face-to-face dialogue can be intimidating! Jesus told his followers that they were to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mt.28:16) Peter implores Christians to give an account for the hope they have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). How then, can we fulfill the commands of scripture even if we’re intimidated by one-on-one dialogue with our non-religious friends and neighbors? Here are three key questions to ask in a conversation with skeptics:

1. What do you mean by that? What a great question! Too often, in carrying a conversation we’ve got our pre-developed answers and we begin the conversation by loading up both barrels. But what if we could ask a non-aggressive question, that seeks clarification and forces our friends to defend their statement? That is exactly what this question does. Furthermore, if forces us to actually listen to the person on the other end of the conversation!

2. How did you arrive at that conclusion? While the first question seeks clarification of a statement, this question requires the person on the other end of the conversation  walk us through their thought process or a life experience that contributed to the conclusion of their position. Once again, this question forces us to listen for more than just an opening to attack, but rather, gives us access to what the person thinks and the journey they took to get there.

3. If…..Then….Questions. Once we’ve asked for a clarification of a statement or how someone arrived at the conclusions they have, we can ask “if…then…questions. What is an “if…then” question? It is a question that seeks to go on the offense from a defensive position. For example, say a friend states, “I don’t believe that truth is absolute!” W can ask both questions #1 and #2 and follow it up with “If what you are saying is true, then is the statement ‘truth is not absolute?’ an absolute statement about truth?”

By asking these questions we can be genuine towards our skeptical friends, understand why they believe what they believe and probe the validity of their beliefs without coming across as “holier than thou.” Jesus wants us to spread the gospel to all. Peter called for Christians to defend the hope of Christianity. These three questions are instrumental (in my opinion) in helping all of us conqueror our fear of face-to-face discussions.