Defending the Faith Part 12: “Taking the Roof Off”

| Saturday, August 27, 2011 | |
by Greg Koukl

The “Taking the Roof Off” tactic is a simple technique used with great skill by Dr. Francis Schaeffer.

This tactic is also known as reductio ad absurdum (or simply reductio): reducing the argument to its absurd conclusion or consequence.

The point of this tactic is to see if a person can really live in the kind of world he’s affirming. Can he live with the moral or intellectual consequences of his beliefs? In essence, you’re taking his moral or intellectual rules seriously and applying them consistently to show they are inadequate or absurd. The Taking the Roof Off tactic makes it clear that certain arguments prove too much. The goal here is to show that one has to pay too high a price to hold certain views.

Here’s how to take the roof off someone’s argument, step by step:

First, you adopt the other person’s viewpoint for the sake of argument. Reduce the point of view to its basic premise, assertion, principle, or moral rule.

Second, give the idea a “test drive” and see where it goes. Ask, “If I follow this principle consistently, what would be the result? Do any absurd consequences result when this view is consistently applied? Does the rule have other unintended consequences that seem counter-intuitive?

Third, invite the person to consider the implications of his or her view and the truth that follows from the reductio.

As a point of fact, man is made in the image of God and must live in the world God created. Consequently, every person who is a non-theist must live with a contradiction between what he says he believes and what is actually true.

In a very real sense, every man who denies God is living on borrowed capital. He enjoys living as if the world is filled with morality, meaning, order, and beauty, yet he denies the existence of the God who grounds these things and makes them possible.

Because of this, non-Christians live in a contradictory world that creates a point of tension between what they believe and what is actually true. Man has erected as a defense a subconscious self-deception a “roof,” so to speak to protect him from considering the consequences of his beliefs. Your goal is to remove that roof, expose the fraud, and deprive him of his false sense of security.

In Francis Schaeffer’s words:

Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension. . . . The Christian, lovingly, must remove the shelter [the roof] and allow the truth of the external world and of what man is, to beat upon him. When the roof is off, each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is. . . . He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is.

When you find the place where that tension exists, exploit it gently, but directly. This is where a well-placed question, like the third one in the Columbo tactic, can be very effective. Your goal is to cause him a little pain, push him off balance, and direct him toward the logic actually, the illogic of his espoused beliefs.

In order to press a person’s view to its logical (and absurd) conclusion, you must first understand the view. Use your Columbo tactic to probe for the details until you have a good grasp of the person’s point. Then you will be in the best position to assess it and, if possible, refute it.

Next time: How to deal with someone who keeps talking over you - the "steamroller."

For more extensive tactics training go to and look for Tactics in Defending the Faith Mentoring Series or STRi DVD interactive training in our online store or call Stand to Reason at 1-800-2-REASON.


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