One of the fascinating things about reading the Gospels is how often Christ acted in ways very unlike how we usually behave. I am not thinking of how he was without sin, while we are sinners (which is significant, of course), but rather how he often interacted with people in ways most Christians usually don’t.
Consider, for example, the conversation Jesus had with a lawyer in Luke 10:25-26. The man approached Jesus with a question—a question that we would all probably insist Jesus could have answered easily. “Teacher,” the lawyer said, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Not only could Jesus have answered this easily, most training courses in evangelism would say that we all should have a ready answer for that one. What could be more basic? Yet, rather than simply giving an answer, Jesus responded by asking the lawyer a question in return. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus asked, “How do you read it?”
The Scriptures do not tell us why Jesus did this, but it is not too difficult to suggest at least two possible reasons. For one thing, Jesus’ question transformed a Q & A session into a conversation, with some true give and take. And for another, Jesus’ question served to probe more deeply into the man’s heart and mind (See Luke 10:27-37).
What Jesus’ example reveals to us is that asking questions should be something we are willing to do even when we’ve been asked a question by a non-Christian. It can help probe more deeply into what’s behind their question, and perhaps reveal the real question that hasn’t yet been verbalized. And sometimes it clarifies their question, so that we don’t get sidetracked into issues that are secondary. Of course giving honest answers to honest questions is essential, but that doesn’t mean that every question should immediately prompt a mini-sermon.
An example of this is mentioned by Judson Poling in an article in Leadership. He heard a student tell a professor whom she knew to be a Christian that she didn’t believe in God. Rather than launching into a defense of theism, the professor asked, “What is this god like, the god you don’t believe in?” She described an angry, vengeful god that he said he didn’t believe in either, and went on to discuss the God of the Bible with her. What had begun as confrontational was turned into a conversation by the professor’s question.
Poling lists several other questions that he has asked, not as formulas to be memorized and regurgitated, but to help us reflect on how, like Jesus, we might ask probing questions in response to a question someone has posed to us. Poling calls them “conversational tools for digging deeper”:
“That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”
“What situation in your life makes you wonder about that?”
In response to an angry challenge, “did Jesus really teach that?!” “If I say Yes, would you rule out the possibility that it’s true? Why won’t you even consider it?”
“Is there any answer that you won’t accept? Why?”
“What has led you to conclude [or ask] that?”
“What information do you think would cause you to change your mind?”
“If everyone held that view, what would society look like?”
“If you found out you were wrong, what would be at risk? How would your life change?”
“Most seekers’ questions,” Poling writes, “whether intellectual or emotional, indicate underlying issues. Choosing to believe in Christ carries major internal ramifications. Snappy, pat answers don’t satisfy these inner struggles… Behind every question is a person asking that question, and we need to minister to that person—if we can find him.”
Listening and asking questions is part of being winsome as followers of Christ. Only those who have real compassion for people will take the time and effort to enter into their lives and invite them into a true, living conversation. Learning to ask questions when questions are posed to us helps us turn encounters into conversations, allows us to give the gift of unhurried time, and follows the example of the Lord. It’s a winsome way to live out our conviction that every person is created in the image of God.
Questions1. That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”
2. What situation in your life makes you wonder about that?”
3. In response to an angry challenge, “did Jesus really teach that?!” “If I say Yes, would you rule out the possibility that it’s true? Why won’t you even consider it?”
4. Is there any answer that you won’t accept? Why?”
5. What has led you to conclude [or ask] that?”
6. What information do you think would cause you to change your mind?”
7. If everyone held that view, what would society look like?”
8. If you found out you were wrong, what would be at risk? How would your life change?”