John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Why I'm No Good at Chess (And Why It Matters)

I took an I.Q. test a while back. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I did. It snuck past the filter on one of my email accounts. Normally, something like this would be escorted right out of my mailbox as the spam that it is, but I saw it, I read it, and I took the test. I’m not going to tell you the actual number, but I will tell you that the company sent me a 13-page report on why my I.Q. is important and what I should be doing with my ability to assimilate knowledge. Apparently, I have a mathematical brain that should allow me to see patterns developing quickly, and I should be good at strategic games…like chess.

Except I’m not very good at chess.

I have two weaknesses that work against me. First, I’m impatient. I rarely give enough time and thought to the implications of my next move. If I do manage to win, it’s probably because my opponent gives me too much credit and actually believes there to be a method to my madness!

My second weakness is related: I’m far too aggressive. Chess matches with me are always bloodbaths. I send pawns in to be senselessly slaughtered. It’s all one big frontal assault on the Queen.

And herein lies the problem: Chess is a game of strategy; it is not a game of will. Wanting it badly enough doesn’t count. In sports contests, coaches and analysts frequently talk about which team “wants it” the most – or which team is “hungry”. In chess, you can want to win more than your opponent, but if you fail to think strategically, you will lose.

The secret to chess (from what I’ve read) is understanding the essence of the game. The pieces were not named randomly; they are named according to what they are designed and intended to accomplish. Chess is like a tiny, less-expensive version of war. There is infantry (pawns), cavalry (knights), castles (rooks), clergy (bishops) and royalty (queen and king). The goal, of course, is to dethrone the king, and if you can break through hostile defenses and land on enemy soil, then you can have all the queens you like and raid with all the voracity of a Viking!

War operates under the same basic principles. Pundits tend to overemphasize the importance of the morale of the troops and believe that wanting victory brings victory. But it really comes down to (a) strength and (b) wisdom. There are no substitutes for raw power and shrewd strategy. Most armies have had one or the other. It is that rare world power that combines both of them. There is no resolve that can withstand a balance of brawn and brains.

I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do – blending both can be difficult to say the least. Amass all your troops into a wedge, and you’ll find yourself quickly outflanked and surrounded. Spread them too thin, and your lines are easily broken. A wise commander keeps three key issues in the forefront:

  • First, he must repel the attacks of the enemy.
  • Second, he must defeat the enemy in a given battle.
  • Third, he must always seek and serve his ultimate objective.

If winning a battle causes him to lose the war, he might as well have stayed at home.

Now, here’s why this is important (and thanks to all of those who have stayed with me thus far!): Chess is warfare on a small scale; Apologetics is warfare on a large scale. The stakes in apologetics are not just bragging rights over who is the better player. The stakes aren’t even over something temporary like who will rule a nation. Chess is a game, and nations rise and fall. Truth, however, and all those who embrace Truth, will live forever. Eternity is at stake in the battle of apologetics.

The stakes are high, but this is no reason to draw our swords and charge ahead thoughtlessly. The wise person fights with wits.

And here is where far too many Christians have just failed miserably. We’ve acted as though our mission of making disciples throughout the world was a matter of will power. If we wanted it badly enough, churches and Christians would be healthy and growing. But this isn’t necessarily so. We’ve charged ahead impatiently and aggressively – not giving enough thought to the implications of our words and the ramifications of our actions. In the constant battle of ideas in our pluralistic society, Christians have shamelessly settled for a bloodbath instead of a reasonable defense of our positions. We’ve gone petty and small, resorting to things like name-calling and slander.

Oh, and one other thing about me and chess: Because I know I’m not as good as most people think I should be, most of the time I just refuse to play.

Kind of sounds like some corners of the church world, too.