Apologist Trent Horn shares method to discussing faith at annual Gospel of Life Conference
One of the most effective ways to discuss the Catholic faith with someone else is not to quote the Bible or Catechism of the Catholic Church. According to apologist Trent Horn, it’s to ask the right questions.
“I try to teach people that to be successful at defending your faith, especially the moral teachings of the Church, you don’t need to have all the right answers, you just need the right questions,” Horn said.
The sought-after apologist outlined his approach to evangelizing during a talk at the annual Gospel of Life Conference Oct. 22 hosted by Denver Catholic Charities’ Respect Life Office. Horn models the approach during the Catholic Answers Live weekly radio program when he dialogues with atheists, pro-abortion advocates and other non-Catholic callers.
He told a crowd of about 200 gathered for the conference that the artful use of a question helps share an idea with another while avoiding a tense conversation.
“Asking the right questions moves the conversation forward,” Horn said. “When you ask questions, it takes you out of the hot seat and puts you into the driver’s seat of the conversation.”
Statements about the faith are easy to ignore, he added.
“Every time you make statement you give that person a license to let it go in one ear and out the other. But when you ask questions you force them to think. You can lead a critic to an answer but you can’t make them think.
The first question is simply asking what the other person believes. The second question is ‘Why?’
“The key with the ‘what’ questions are to get as specific as possible,” Horn said. “Make the person outline their view and really try to think it through because many people don’t. That’s the easiest way to show there’s an inconsistency with their worldview.”
For example, when dialoguing with a pro-abortion advocate, it’s good to begin by asking what they think about abortion and why they believe it. The term “pro-choice” is vague and can vary widely in definition person-to-person. Horn suggested asking what they think about abortion and then why they believe it should be legal up to 6 months of pregnancy.
“The third kind of question is more difficult. This requires more practice to use but it’s incredibly helpful to master,” Horn said. “That would be the challenge question. A challenge question is—now that you know what the person believes and why they believe it—to look and find an inconsistency somewhere and gently ask them about that.”
In continuing his example, if a pro-abortion advocate says they’re for abortion up to 6 months, Horn suggested asking for their response to a hypothetical situation.
“What if someone prolife says, ‘I’m going to pass a law that draws the line at conception. Would you say that’s arbitrary? Isn’t what you’re saying equally arbitrary? Shouldn’t they be held to same standard?’” he continued.
If the advocate responds that the fetus needs to look like a baby before abortion can be illegal, a pro-lifer may respond with another question. “Why does looking like a baby matter? Why do you have to look like a human to matter? There are humans who are victims of accidents and disease and don’t look human but are treated humanely.”
Hypothetical questions are the best way to turn a conversation from a toe-to-toe battle to a shoulder-to-shoulder discussion. The end goal is to help the other recognize inconsistencies and lead them to the truth.
“We leave a pebble in their shoe,” Horn said. “That’s ultimate what we’re going to be doing. We cannot convince people. We cannot convert people. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. But what we can do is we can ask questions and elicit and find common ground.”
Horn’s talk concluded a series of speakers at the conference aimed to give attendees the tools to engage in dialogue about the faith in an often-relativistic society. Bioethics Professor Marilyn Coors, Augustine Institute Professor Dr. Ted Sri, and Colorado Catholic Conference Executive Director Jenny Kraska also spoke at the event.
The Respect Life Office recorded the speakers’ talks and will make available to the public. Visit http://gospeloflifeco.org for details.