Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Indirect Approach Tradition

It is interesting to trace back the origins of an idea. I first came across the indirect approach when I picked up the book, Strategy. I bought the book to see if I could glean anything from the military strategy of war that would apply to the spiritual battles of the Kingdom of God. Strategy takes major military battles of history and looks for common factors that determined victory or defeat. The main premise of the book is that the more indirect an attack, the higher the likelihood of success. This principle, played out in history is fascinating and I quickly applied this concept to online apologetics.

The indirect approach is not a new idea in apologetics. It has been used throughout history to win over hearts and minds. Kierkegaard coined the term indirect communication and used this strategy in his writings. He wrote the following about his approach…

No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed. If it is an illusion….and if there is anything to be done about it, it must be done indirectly,.... There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it. If anyone prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost. And this is what a direct attack achieves, and it implies moreover the presumption of requiring a man to make to another person, or in his presence, an admission which he can make most profitably to himself privately. This is what is achieved by the indirect method, which, loving and serving the truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive, and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God—that he has lived hitherto in an illusion (Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work
as an Author
, p. 24ff).

Kierkegaard wrote philosophical stories, under a pseudonym, to demonstrate his ideas. Many of his stories did not provide answers, this would be a direct attack. Instead, his stories brought forth questions that pointed to Christ.

In practice, the indirect approach has been used by some of the most influential people in history. Paul at times used the indirect approach. He became "all things to all, to save at least some”. Jesus taught mostly by way of parables, which is an indirect method. In fact, Jesus’ life itself was indirect. The King of kings did not come with riches and earthly glories but was born incognito in a manger to a poor humble family. He conquered sin and death, non-directly, by submitting to the will of the Father and laying down his life on the cross. Socrates would be another example. Socrates claimed not to have wisdom, but by asking questions he was able to bring people on the journey of truth.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Nice page! I've thought about using Liddell Hart's idea with regard to persuasion too. The idea of approaching people along lines of least resistance and using surprise seems useful to me. I believe there's been some study of people that suggests people will keep a position more strongly when it is called in to question directly.

I also like the idea of attacking the supporting ideas rather than the idea itself in an indirect way, treating them as a sort of supply line.

There's an interesting book called "The Power of Indirect Influence" by Judith Tingley that I came across on Amazon. I scanned it and read some of the sections on techniques for indirectly influencing things. One, the use of paradox, seems like Kierkegaard's approach.