So here’s the big idea: I think our communication of the Christian message, in an increasingly secular cultural context, needs to involve asking really good questions, and not just providing really good answers.
Most of the time, when Christians are articulating the gospel in a public context, our focus is on answers. ‘Come and get your questions answered’, we say. ‘Here are the answers to the top ten questions you’ve been asking.’ We structure our books, our tracts and our sermon series that way. We even call the process of reasoned dialogue about Christianity ‘apologetics’, from the Greek word for ‘answer’. And while there’s certainly an important place for that, I think there are three reasons why asking questions can often be better.
Do you agree that questions are an important but neglected aspect of our communication of the gospel? Which ones do you think are the most effective? Why?
The first is that lots of people who don’t follow Jesus are not asking the questions we think they are. If you stop people in the street and ask them what they spend their time wondering about, not many of them will say, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ or ‘Will I go to heaven when I die?’, or even ‘Who was Jesus, and why did he die?’ It’s not that those questions are unimportant – far from it! – but they are not what people in secular Europe (where I live) and much of the US (where many readers of this blog live) are actually asking. So if we wait for people to ask them, with our answers all prepared, we may find that conversations about spirituality and faith never even start. If you have a good question, on the other hand, you’d be amazed how many people sitting next to you in Starbucks will be prepared to talk to you. I’ll give some examples of my personal favourites (favorites?) in my next post.
The second is that asking questions forces you to take a genuine interest in what other people think, rather than seeing their comments as fodder for a Christian response. It’s a Dale Carnegie thing, really; people don’t just want to understand, they want to be understood. If we ask good questions, we end up in genuine dialogue about what secular people actually believe, rather than monologue aimed at what someone else has confidently assured us secular people believe. (Which also means, incidentally, that you don’t have to spend the whole conversation defending the Christian worldview; you can also spend some time engaging with, and gently critiquing, their worldview. Good questions can undo Richard Dawkins, live on the radio. Answers often don’t.)
The third, and most important, is that asking questions to engage people about the gospel of the kingdom is exactly what Jesus did. Again and again, whether put on the spot by somebody or out of the blue, he asked good questions to express his interest, expose someone’s motives or challenge their thinking. 283 times in the gospels, Jesus asked questions of people, and they’re all good ones: Who do others think I am? Whose head is this on the denarius? What does the law say, and how do you read it? Which one acted like a neighbor, do you think? If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son? Author and pastor Phil Moore refers to this as ‘kicking the ball into the opponent’s half’, a soccer metaphor which hopefully still translates – it serves to make the discussion about things the other person needs to think through. Jesus was a master at this, and repeatedly gave examples of how to engage with people about the kingdom with clarity and grace, by asking good questions.
That’s the big idea behind my new book, If God Then What? Wondering Aloud About Truth, Origins and Redemption.