Options on hot question No. 2

dan fireThe tmatt trio issue has inspired another solid question from a loyal reader.

For those new to the discussion, the trio is a set of three — duh — hot questions that I have often used when interviewing clergy and other Christian leaders during this era in which the whole liberal vs. conservative thing has become so rooted in politics, as opposed to doctrine. Once again let me stress that I developed these questions in the mid-1980s as a journalistic tool. I have found that these are the questions that, time after time, help me get past vague labels.

A reader has already asked about question No. 3, which is logical in an era when sex makes so many headlines. But here is the whole set, once again:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

Now, Jeff Hubbard has written in with a question about question No. 2. Here is the heart of his letter:

There was a post recently where you explained a little about your reasoning in asking the third question in the famed “TMatt Trio,” the one about sexuality.

I have a similar inquiry about the second question of said trio. … (It) seems this question leaves open the possibility of not getting substantive insight into the theological positions of the interviewee. For example, many people that would hold an inclusivist or universalist view about salvation (myself included) would be able to answer “yes” to this question with no qualms or reservations whatsoever. This is esp. true of Barthian universalists. (Who have a very Christocentric rationale for their universalism.)

Of course some universalists who are pomo/liberal-type folks would just flat out answer “no” to the question. However, a “yes” answer to the question leaves open the possibility for that person to fall anywhere on the theological spectrum … five point Calivinists, Wesleyans, fundies, evangelicals of all sorts, and some universalitsts all could feasibly answer “yes” to this question. So what I’m wondering is if any of these issues have ever come up in response to you asking this question, or one like it. Have you ever thought of fine-tuning this question to include more nuance?

Hubbard is right, of course. There are variations on the universalism that dominates our all-tolerant age. Questions about salvation, and whether any one faith is the true faith, often hover in the background of discussions of everything from public prayers by U.S. chaplains to faith-based initiatives in prisons and elsewhere to MPAA ratings for movies. It’s interesting that this “political” question is usually asked in connection with Christian projects, as opposed to Muslim.

This simple question might not tell you much in the context of a check-this-box opinion poll.

However, I have been asking these questions in the context of interviews, often face-to-face interviews. What you find is that the person being interviewed almost always tries to qualify the answer. This yields information about the very variations of belief that Hubbard describes. It is an especially interesting question to ask Roman Catholics in the post-Vatican II world. Often, it has been years or decades since Catholics have heard a sermon on heaven or hell or questions about how one gets to one or the other.

And what about question No. 1? In the late 1980s, I asked that question to five candidates for the open post of bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. The man who eventually won the job went around and around and never did say “yes” or “no.” It was clear that he did not want to answer. That was, of course, a very revealing answer.

Speaking of click-this-box polls about religion, our friends at Beliefnet still have the Belief-O-Matic quiz online. Is this a revised edition? It looks more nuanced than the one I wrote about long ago (in cybertime). Also note the religion-quiz page, with a wide variety of quizzes for people of different faiths. It’s the tmatt trio times 666.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • Don Neuendorf

    You’ll never refine a question to the point that it can pin everyone down until you make it so complex that it’s unusable. I say leave #2 as it is.

    On the other hand, in view of other discussions on this page about sorting out the differences between incarnations of Islam, perhaps we need a tmatt trio for Islam as well. Dare I suggest…

    1. Which is the ultimate source of authority for Muslims, the Qur’an itself in Arabic, the collective interpretations of Qur’an scholars, or a descendant of Muhammed?

    2. Is it pleasing to Allah for Islam to be advanced by conquest?

    3. How should non-Muslims respond to those within Islam who seek to impose Muslim faith or Shari’a law by force?

    That’s just a stab at it. I know someone out there could do better. And I’d LOVE to see someone from CAIR answer a similar set of questions.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Well, I doubt that any Moslem would answer “a descendant of Mohammed”, as there are a LOT of sharifs and sharifas around (including H.M. Elizabeth II)… or else it might be interpreted as a claim of authority for the King of Morocco.

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