A friend once told me, “pastors answer questions that no one is asking.” While I disagree with his statement, my friend caused me to ponder the nature of questioning and answering. While all Christians, not only pastors, have the gospel “answer,” the issue at hand is one of questions. In a broken world perhaps people aren’t asking the right questions.
A few years ago I attended an apologetics seminar featuring a few well-known authors and speakers. During a Q&A panel discussion, one of the speakers stated “We mustn’t just answer questions. We must answer the person behind the questions.” This drastically changed my thinking in regard to evangelism and discipleship. We mustn’t seek to only provide better answers, but to encourage the asking of better questions. Questions reveal something about the person questioning and the person answering.
A Culture of Questioning
In a postmodern society, the church has seen a backlash against doctrinal absolutes to the point that questioning everything has become the norm. Everyone has questions. Everyone seeks answers. While questions aren’t in themselves dangerous, how we answer them can be.
Safe Questions, Safe Answers
Some questions prompted by fear are answered by surface-level statements whose goal is self-preservation. While the answers may be factual and true, there is no transparency or vulnerability. In some church circles these have been called “Sunday school answers,” keeping discussion on topics rather than getting to the heart behind the question.
Safe Questions, Dangerous Answers
Some questions are prompted by ignorance. In these conversations, one may be quick to speak an answer, but that answer is not always wise. At best this is a “missing the forest for the trees” scenario.
Dangerous Questions, Safe Answers
Some questions are prompted by pride. These questions are asked so the questioner can answer themselves. Though Scripture is frequently used, it is often misapplied. What’s at stake are idols and religious legalism.
Dangerous Questions, Dangerous Answers
Some questions are prompted by sin and rebellion. The question and answer are often the same, exposing the fallenness of humanity and expressing cultural and personally preferences.
Gospel Questions, Gospel Answers
Gospel-centered discipleship involves not only providing the answers, but reorienting the question itself, getting to the heart behind the question and applying the gospel. “Gospel questioning” is prompted by the good news, asking questions in faith and hope, seasoned with grace, honesty, and vulnerability. Questions are the groundwork for the gospel answer to take root and flourish.
A great example of “gospel questioning” is in Mark 10:17-31. This is a beautiful story of discipleship: an outsider trying to become an insider and a group of insiders learning the nature of the identity they’ve been called to as disciples. A rich man asks Jesus a question. Jesus answers with a question, spinning the disciples into questioning, all the while providing the answers in the interchange. Here we see three questions posed which inform us of the gospel in the immediate context, but also apply to us today.
The Rich Man: “What must I do?” (17)
Behind this question is a man characterized by wealth, knowledge, and good works. The rich man asks a good question – one that we all ask. We answer by our religion, spirituality, and good works.
Jesus: “Why do you call me good?” (18)
The man addresses Jesus as “good teacher” – a seemingly prideful comparison of being on par with the Savior in light of his telling of keeping all the commandments. Jesus responds to the question with a question that draws out the motives and theology of the rich man. Is Jesus good because of what he can do for the man? Is the man addressing Jesus as an equal who’s religious lifestyle is “good” as well?
The Disciples: “Who can be saved?” (26)
The disciples ask a question that has personal and missional implications. “Who can be saved?” as if to say, “Look what we’ve done – We’ve left everything to follow you – what about us?”
Jesus impresses the gospel through questions, revealing the true motives of the human heart. The true issue is not the question itself, but the sin, idols, fear, and pride within the heart that prompts the questions. Here the pride and idols of the rich man are exposed. Likewise, the fear and pride of the disciples is addressed. One could imagine the ignorance of bystanders washing away in light of the revealing of Jesus’ goodness and the salvation he provides.
The Question Whose Answer Changes Everything
Mark 8:27-30 is the turning point of Mark’s gospel. Jesus asks, “who do people say that I am?” This question sets the stage to address cultural views and expectations, revealing the questions people are asking. Jesus not only gives the answer, but uses and question to bring about revelation of the gospel. Jesus asks his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” This question gets to the very heart of any fears and doubts that the disciples may have, evoking the faith and hope of the gospel. On behalf of the disciples Peter responds, “You are the Christ.”
This question is not only the once-for-all proclamation that all Christians cherish, affirming the identity of our Savior Jesus. This is an ongoing question we must continually ask to remind ourselves of the good news.
The Role of Questions in Gospel-Centered Discipleship
Impressing the gospel through questions has implications for both personal discipleship and leadership.
Personally, impress the gospel into your own heart by questioning the questions and objections prompted by sin, idols, pride, and fear. Invite others to question you as well. In the moments of combatting sin and idols, we must answer the gospel question Jesus poses: “Who do you say that I am?” Our response of faith or doubt will change everything – not only for eternity, but the moment-by-moment living in a broken world.
In discipleship, may we answer the person behind the question, tilling the very soil of the questions so that the gospel seed may be planted and flourish. May we answer questions well, and also encourage the asking of questions in light of the gospel. May we face the brokenness of humanity head-on and pry the human heart with questions.
Developing gospel questioning fosters humble reliance on Christ’s work, Scripture’s guidance, and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Likewise, gospel questioning develops ongoing rhythms of belief and repentance personally and relationally in community on mission.
What kind of questions are you asking? What kind of answers are you seeking? What kind of questions are you evoking? What kind of answers are you giving?
Jeremy Carr (ThM, MDiv) is lead pastor and co-founding elder of the WELL in Augusta, GA. He has been a member of the Acts 29 network since 2007 and has written for the Resurgence. Jeremy is husband to Melody and father to Emaline, Jude, Sadie, and Nora. Twitter @thewelljeremy