Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
Starting with a question seems like a good idea to most people. It helps to bring a sharper focus. It's conversational. It reveals gaps in knowledge. It's quite natural kids seem to use questions instinctively to find out about the world. Of course, there are lazy questions and there are thoughtful questions. The difference is hard to explain, but anyone who has ever heard, or asked, a good question asked at the right time will immediately know why good, careful, thoughtful questions are always worth asking.
Christians have often pointed to the example of God asking Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9), and Jesus as he interacts with people in the New Testament records of him. Here are some of Jesus' questions:
What are you looking for?
Why are you looking for me?
What do you want me to do for you?
Who do people say that I am?
But who do you say that I am?
Why do you ask me about what is good?
Why do you call me good?
Who is my mother? Who is my brothers and sisters?
Who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?
How long will I endure you?
Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?
What are you thinking in your hearts?
Why do you harbour evil thoughts?
If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?
If you do good only to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?
Do you want to be well?
Who touched me?
What is your name?
How long has this been happening to him?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" or to say "Rise, pick up your mat and walk"?
Do you see anything?
You see all these things do you not?
Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Do you see this woman?
Why do you make trouble for her?
Where are they, has none condemned you?
What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?
What could one give in exchange for his life?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Are you not more important than the birds of the sky?
Who is greater, the one seated at the table, or the one who serves?
What is the reign of God like? To what can I compare it?
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
Which of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?
Where is your faith?
Do you believe that I can do this?
Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?
Why this commotion and weeping?
Why does this generation seek a sign?
To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
Do you believe now?
I am telling you the truth, why do you not believe me?
Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?
Show me a denarius; whose image and name does it bear?
Why do you not understand what I am saying?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
Do you still not understand this?
If I tell you about early things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
Do you understand these things?
Why do you not interpret the present time?
Does this shock you?
Why do you call me "Lord, Lord", but do no do what I command?
Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
What were you arguing about on the way?
Why are you testing me?
Is it not written: my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
Will you lay down your life for me?
Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?
Do you also want to leave?
Do you realise what I have done for you?
Why ask me?
Why are you trying to kill me?
For which of these good words are you trying to stone me?
Do you think that I cannot call upon my God and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legion of angles?
Would you like some breakfast?
Have you anything here to eat?
Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?
Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die; do you believe this?
What are you discussing as you walk along?
Do you love me?
So, perhaps starting with questions isn't such a bad idea after all, is it?
Even so, some Christians are suspicious of starting with questions. This is probably party due to the legacy of Karl Barth, who restored an important focus on revelation in the Christian mind he was speaking against liberal, anti-miraculous, naturalist, revisionist critiques of the Bible. Barth was suspicious of the motive, and result, of starting with non-revealed material and data. He thought that led into idolatory and man / self-centredness. His argument doesn't actually ring true, but his legacy has contributed to a nervousness among those influenced by him to 'do questions'. So many Christians are now trapped in an ineffective strategy, but are worried about being unfaithful to God if they use, and engage properly with questions. But, as you can see Jesus isn't very Barthian. Which for me, is the strongest reason to thank Barth for his focus on revelation, but to reject his views of apologetics, questions and natural theology.
You'll find these resources useful too
Conversational Apologetics - Michael Ramsden
What should I say? Learning to answer our friends questions - Pete Lowman
How to Answer Questions - Amy Orr-Ewing and Michael Ramsden
The Importance of Asking Honest Questions - Ellis Potter
Want to go a bit deeper?
Get and read "Can Philosophy Argue God's Existence?" in The Rationality of Belief & the Plurality of Faith: Essays in Honor of William P. Alston, Tom Senor (ed.), (Cornell University Press, 1995).
Brian Leftow examines Karl Barth's claim that it cannot. Barth essentially has two arguments against natural theology:
(1) the use of equivocal language due to God's great transcendence limits our application of God as the first 'cause;'
(2) natural theologians' motives stem from sin-beliefs.
Leftow argues both of these arguments fail.
© 2010 Tom Price
Used by the kind permission of the author. Tom's blog is at a better hope.