May 29, 2020

***Q & A***

handup.jpgTim Challies live-blogged this “Q&A Session” with Dr. John Macarthur, and after reading it, I had some thoughts on the whole subject of “Question and Answer.”

This isn’t really an essay, so pay attention for shifting gears. I’ll use a universally recognized symbol for my shifting attention span.

***I Like Question and Answer.***

Question and answer is my favorite format for communication. If I go to a conference, I always look forward to open Q&A. Now this isn’t because I think I’m smarter than the speakers or I want to attract attention. It’s because I think questions really have the potential to get down to the “bottom line” of what is important about a text, or a cause, or a moment/experience in life.

I’d much rather ask a well-known preacher or writer questions than listen to a monologue. It reveals what the audience is thinking about when they read or listen to a communicator, and the answer often shows a different side to the authority. It was interesting to me that in a room full of thousands of preachers, the questions were primarily the sorts of questions you expect from young Calvinists. Dr. Macarthur’s answers have a good seasoning of practical humility. Very good.

Sometimes questions and answers go places that speakers will never go on their own. I once heard a “Bible Answer Man” come under the questioning of a highly intelligent caller who wanted to know about “errors” in the Bible. This speaker’s usual approach acknowledged these issues, but not in a great deal of seriousness. The questioner turned out to be far more prepared to look at these difficulties head-on than the “Answer Man.” I have to admit it was quite interesting to hear a questioner pushing the speaker well beyond what was in his “notebooks” of canned replies.

Years ago, I was at a Founder’s Conference where Dr. John Piper did a question and answer session. I’d just finished reading a book by Piper’s nemesis in the Openness controversy, Dr. Greg Boyd, so I asked Dr. Piper a question that referred to Boyd’s criticism of the Reformed Theodicy. I now realize I assumed that Piper was up to speed with all of Boyd’s reasoning, and I appeared to be wrong. But on another occasion, my question to a Southern Seminary professor took him into areas that he hadn’t spoken to in the session I was attending. I believe my question helped the professor’s presentation.

So questioners can be over-eager, rude and even annoying, but they also keep things from being too safe and scripted.

I came up with the idea of having open question and answer chapel sessions with the students at our school, and my boss was fairly nervous. In all the sessions we’ve done, I’ve never regretted opening the floor. I’ve had students ask me things that I would never normally address, and it has especially allowed me to hear some of the “real world” emotions and feelings that come along with the questions.

For example, one student asked me “Why do you have to talk about sin all the time?” I’ve done many messages that deal with sin, but the frustration in that question was a unique issue that I was glad to answer. Many questions are premised on presuppositions that need to be clarified, and that is often uniquely evident in questions.

Wouldn’t it be something to hear someone at one of these conferences say, “That’s a great question, and I really don’t have an answer for you. I just don’t have all the answers. I’ve still got a lot of questions myself.”

*thud*

***Questions I’d Love To Ask***

I’d love to ask Robert Capon if he’s a universalist, and if he believes Jesus was a universalist or if it simply the logic of the Gospel taken to the next step.

I’d like to ask Al Mohler if he has always been as conservative as he is now, or if he once supported more moderate positions, such as women in ministry.

I’d love to ask a number of TRs a bunch of questions, mostly about dealing with life experiences such as depression and doubt. I wonder if TRs believe that doctrine has the effect on human experience that they advertise it does? I’d also like to ask some practical questions about Calvinistic “versions” of discipleship and Christian growth. Is growing to see the whole Christian life in terms of Calvinism actually producing people who are like Jesus?

I’d like to ask John Piper about the dangers of Christian hedonism in the Christian life. (I consider myself a subscriber to Christian Hedonism.) Can it become legalism? Too subjective? Fanaticism? And I’d like to get some specifics on Piper’s views on the Charismatic movement and his own involvement in it. Has he changed his mind from the days he preached his famous series on “Compassion, Power and the Kingdom?”

I have a barrel of questions for C.J. Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace types on their interaction with the Reformed, the cessationist debates within Reformed circles, and their views on liturgy and the regulative principle. Has C.J. read Charismatic Chaos? What did he think?

I’d like to ask certain Reformed bible teachers to distinguish between faith, repentance and obedience.

I’d love to ask some people who used to be Christians why they gave it up, and what was the process that eroded their faith.

I’d like to talk with people who left the pastorate and kept their calling by non-traditional or bi-vocational ministries.

I’d like to talk to people who lived with depression and emotional illness, and found peace.

I’d like to talk to Thomas Merton about everything. Everything.

I’d like to ask Joel Osteen why he doesn’t preach the Gospel?

I’d like to have conversation with people who made it through serious marital problems, and how they found the grace to forgive.

I would love to talk to people in house churches about their way of doing church.

I have questions for preachers, older men, people who lost weight, skeptics, former Calvinists, middle-aged parents and anyone taking care of his mother at home.

I’d like to ask people who died, how they did it well, and in faith.

I’d like to ask one internet watch-blogger, “Why?”

I’ve got so many questions about Jesus, I just need to retire and find somewhere to ask them full time.

***Questions I Never Hear***

I get informal questions all the time. There’s about ten of them that I’ve been asked hundreds- thousands?- of times. I’d be lying if I said I really enjoy answering questions about “Left Behind.” I don’t.

It occurred to me a while back that there is this huge gap between what I preach about (most of the time) and the kinds of questions I hear. I talk about Jesus in every sermon. Jesus and the Gospel are what you hear from me. But guess what? I almost never get questions about Jesus and the Gospel.

It would be amazing for someone to ask me to tell them anything about Jesus. Or to come with serious questions about their own salvation, or the application of the Christian worldview.

I do get some questions about God, and more than a few about why God would be against things like smoking pot. But questions about the things I read about, study, teach, proclaim and emphasize are few and far between. For example, I recently did a series of messages on “The Christian and Art” that dealt with a number of controversial issues. While I did have some discussion, it’s not what I would anticipate with such a topic.

I hate to say it, but a lot of Christians are afraid to ask questions, and the questions they ask reveal that many of them live on a very shallow and legalistic level. Typical questions: Is this wrong? How much of a particular sin is acceptable? Can you still go to heaven and do this or that? What are we supposed to think about (name the issue.)

Discouraging. If you are reading this and haven’t asked your pastor a good question lately, start a list now. He may be a bit startled, but I imagine he’s like me: he’d like to know that you’re listening, thinking and asking questions.

Comments

  1. Thank you. I have no further questions.

    😉

    Nah, I think an iMonk Q&A would be wonderful. My friend Bryan set up a permanent Q&A site for Don Miller (www.donmillerfans.net) where Don has been answering questions almost every day.

  2. Since you interact frequently with comments that are made on your blog, I’m not sure a separate Q&A section is necessary on this site. However, if you’re getting a lot of repeat questions through email, then perhaps it’s a good idea.

    I have noticed in my email correspondence that you’re rather quick to just point me to links to previous posts on your blog, so if you did a Q&A, you’d probably end up still getting the emails and having to respond with a link to the appropriate answer to that particular question. Just not sure if it gains anything for you or the reader. Interesting idea, though.

    By the way, I’m not sure when you changed the layout of the site (because I often read through RSS), but I like the new look. Much easier on the eyes.

    steve 🙂

  3. Oh, forgot to mention that I’m one who has been involved with house church and simple church concepts for a couple years now. Would love to see you post some of your questions about the topic.

    steve 🙂

  4. Albert G. says

    Michael,
    Question and answer is a favorite of mine too. It’s almost always better to me than monologue for a couple of reasons. First, language is meant to be dialogic. Words are spoken to be heard, and once heard responded to. Words spoken or written with no one to hear are empty and useless. And someone who talks with me instead of talking at me is always more welcome. Second, questions and answers both imply some actual interest in the other person. The ask-er is interested in what the other has to say, and the answerer has actually listened to the one asking. (I guess that’s true only if those involved really are interested and not trying to trap the other, or refute some position.)

    A retreat speaker I heard one time, said, “If you want to show someone you love them, listen to them”. It’s true. I have found over the years that everyone wants to be listened to, to be valued enough for someone else to make time for them. Real, honest questions and answers are wonderful, someone who actually listens is a rare wonder.

    Albert

  5. Anglican_Joi says

    YES! I would really enjoy seeing a Q&A here. Questions are usually much more helpful than lectures.

    I participated in a Socratic-style great books program during college, and while questions can be frustrating, they allow for much more learning than lectures.

    Hooray for questions!

  6. Perhaps following Steve’s suggestion, you could do one of those FAQ’s like they have in the front of some Bibles. You’ve seen them:

    When you’re feeling in need of comfort… Read Psalm 23.
    When you wonder if God loves you… Read John 3:16
    etc.

    So you could have…

    When you wonder about the emergent church…read my post x.
    When you wonder why TR’s hate me…read my post y.

    hehe

  7. OK here’s a serious question, and I really would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    If you had to sum up Pauls basic problem with the church in Corinth (in 1Corinthians) in one sentence what would it be?

    If Paul were here today in the US would he see the same problem wth the chuch in the US? Would he see this problem more or less in the emergent church movement?

  8. “Discouraging. If you are reading this and haven’t asked your pastor a good question lately, start a list now. He may be a bit startled, but I imagine he’s like me: he’d like to know that you’re listening, thinking and asking questions.”

    Would that this were true in my case. I’ve seen the kind of pat answers our pastor gives out when someone asks him a serious question, and THAT is discouraging… Discouraging that, no matter what he says over the pulpit, he really doesn’t like people to question him on anything.

    I see that The Foolish Sage beat me to the suggestion of a FAQ. Maybe you could just format it so that it deals with those top 10 questions you get repeatedly. Put the Q&A dialog on the same page, below the FAQ, so people are forced/encouraged to read it before they ask their question of you!

  9. linda gover says

    You are answering many of my Q & A as I browse your web site. Keep it up with so much current information.
    Vision

  10. linda gover says

    What are your questions for middle-aged parents? Vision