When a question is better than an answer

QuestionsHas anyone asked you:

“Why are all Christians homophobic?”

“Why should I worship a God who allows children to starve?”

“If Jesus is so great, why are so many of His followers jerks?”

Tough questions, to be sure. And making matters worse is the questioner’s tone, implying that he or she is not really looking for an answer.

So how should we reply?

Questioning evangelism

That’s a topic Randy Newman addresses in his book, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did.

Newman, who has served in ministry on college campuses, at the Pentagon, in churches, and in various academic settings, writes that a diverse audience requires diverse approaches. “If Jesus teaches us anything about evangelism, it’s that He used a variety of methods with a variety of people,” he notes.

Newman says any evangelistic approach requires three skills: (1) declaring the gospel; (2) defending the gospel (Christian apologetics); and (3) dialoguing the gospel. That third skill is the focus of his book

“Often neglected, difficult to master, but absolutely essential, this skill of giving and taking – asking questions and bouncing ideas back and forth – might be just what our postmodern audience needs,” he writes. “We need all three skills if we’re to be Christ’s ambassadors in the twenty-first century.”

Reading the Gospels, we see that Jesus often responds to questions with a question of His own. His goal is to get beneath the question to the heart of the matter – whether strict legalism, as in the case of the Jewish religious leaders who chide Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, or a faulty view of Christ’s divinity, as in the case of the rich young ruler.

Fight or flight

So, how might we respond to someone looking for a debate rather than a sincere answer?

One option is to walk away. “When a person’s choice of words or tone of voice tells you that he or she isn’t looking for an answer, it’s best not to give one,” says Newman. At times, Jesus cuts His encounters short with hardened unbelievers. Most of the time, though, He finds a way to engage them.

Newman challenges us to ask probing questions that neither launch a red-faced debate nor confirm the questioner’s suspicion that all Christians are simpletons with pat answers.

Here are a few questions we might consider asking:

Really? When someone makes a self-refuting statement such as, “All religions are true,” a good response is to challenge the statement. We may follow up with questions like, “Do you think a religion that leads people to commit mass suicide is true?” The purpose of the “really” question is to help our friends discover that their statements make no sense.

Isn’t it possible? If someone charges that the Bible cannot be trusted because the originals are lost, we might respond, “Isn’t it possible that the copies we have are faithful to the originals?”

As Newman notes, “‘Isn’t is possible’ may be one of the most important ways to begin a question. It helps people consider that something might be true so that they ultimately can accept that it is true.”

What do you think? We might ask this of a person who wonders how a loving God can send people to hell, followed by questions about what the person thinks of God, of good and evil, of justice, and of life beyond the grave.

How do you know that? A person who claims, for example, that miracles are impossible may rightfully be challenged to defend her position.

Would you like it if …? This question helps explore motives and exposes agendas. For example, we might ask: “Would you like it if there were a God who knows everything about you?” Or, “Would you like it if Jesus really did perform miracles?”

Other good questions include:

  • “What convinces you of that?”
  • “Where have you heard that?”
  • And, “What is the strongest case for that?”

Well-placed questions put the burden of proof on those who challenge biblical truth and, if asked respectfully, may open the door to a gospel presentation.


One comment

  1. David Ellis

    Great points here. In trying to emulate Christ in my own life, I have seen in scripture that Jesus – more often than not – answers a question with a question. When I adhere to this model, it works very well. When I don’t; lets just say not so good.