This is the approach Jesus used when he asked, "What's written in the Law? How do you read it?" It gives me an opportunity to understand the person. It also affirms that I care for him or her, even more than I do about having the "right" answer.
Often, exhibiting care for the questioner is a greater ministry than answering the question.
Another good question: "What situation in your life makes you wonder about that?"
Kathy had tried Christianity before. It didn't work out. Her husband, Jim, was raised in a secular Jewish home. When I met them, they had lots of pointed questions about God, Christianity, and faith.
Jim, a logical man, said he wanted proof of Christianity's claims. How should I answer his skeptical and sometimes antagonistic questions? I thought. Is he really after more information? Why is he asking in the first place?
We could have spent our entire evening lost in theology. Instead, I asked what situation prompted their questions. That's when we discovered they were uncertain about their children's upbringing. Should they be brought up Christian, Jewish, nothing, or a little bit of each? Knowing the key issue directed our conversation toward cooperation rather than theological debate.
Sometimes, however, a seeker's questions and thoughts do require challenge. For instance, many seekers today are struggling with Jesus' claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
They ask, "Does Jesus really mean he's the only way? Isn't that kind of narrow-minded?"
"If I were to say that he really meant it," I reply, "would you rule out the possibility that it's true? Why won't you even consider that a possibility?" Such questions help them examine their skepticism.
When I was in college, students often boasted phantom objections and rationalizations to discount Jesus. Cutting through these smokescreens, I sometimes asked: "If you found out you were wrong, what would be at risk?"
Many times what keeps people from faith is fear of the consequences. Many of my college friends were living with their girlfriends. They knew if they accepted Christianity, they'd have to stop. So they put up diversions. As long as they could keep God looking silly and Jesus looking less than divine they could continue their unexamined lives. Their doubts had little to do with theology and everything to do with morality.
Once the objection is uncovered, it can be addressed with compassion and truth. "In Hebrews 11," I might say to one who fears what God will demand, "it says they who seek God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder. He rewards, not tramples, those that serve him. His character is not to make you miserable, but to give."
Judson Poling writes small group studies for Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.