Tag Archives: Questions

Contextualization: The Gospel and Your Neighbor

Have you ever thought that you’d like to discuss your Christian faith with someone, but you haven’t the slightest clue where to start? Have you ever hesitated to talk about your faith because you expect to already be pigeonholed as a bigot before anyone ever takes the time to understand where you’re coming from? Have you ever tried firing through the Romans Road or repeating a evangelistic plea that you’ve heard in church, only to get shut down right out of the gate? If you feel inadequate, ashamed, or frustrated in your attempts at talking about the faith that not only means the world to you, but also is the source for your entire understanding of how the world works, there is hope.

In this article, I’d like to share with you a method of discussing your faith that is simple to learn, built on developing mutual understanding, and non-combative. While this method confronts people with truth, it does so at their own pace and in an elicited manner rather than in a forced manner. In an increasingly post-Christian United States, where whipping out a tract or bringing up the Gospel in the workplace can get you fired, believers in Christ who see the Great Commission as binding on their lives must approach this responsibility with wisdom and tact. Our post-Christian culture also has created a vacuum of shared Christian pre-understandings. In other words, definitions of sin and grace and even stories in the Bible lack the clarity in our culture that they had in the middle to end of the last century. In light of these challenges, we need to improve our methods of sharing the Gospel. I’m not saying that we need to improve the Gospel. I’m saying that just as the Apostle Paul rarely used the same method twice in order to present the Gospel but, rather, adapted his presentation based on his audience, so should we.

I learned this method of sharing my faith while in seminary from Dr. Cashin, whom I’ve since interviewed on the topic of contextualization. With his permission, I’m presenting his method of engaging in Gospel conversations here on my blog with some adaptation. It is my hope that this simple approach will be helpful to those of you who, like me, struggle to discuss your faith with confidence.

This method seeks to build mutual understanding as a means to sharing your faith. Understanding our neighbors involves understanding their worldview. There are three legs of the stool of a person’s worldview: being, knowing, and doing. Ethnologists call these legs: ontology, epistemology, and axiology. Investigating these zones of your friend’s worldview requires that you ask questions–7 to be specific. And I know this doesn’t come easy. Most of the time, we’re so quick to share our answers, answers which others aren’t ready for or interested in hearing. Christians often struggle with asking questions when it comes to discussing our faith. We’re off the blocks too soon and our friends are still back at the starting line when we begin pushing for a decision. So slow down. Ask questions. Interview them. Write down their answers. I guarantee you that when you’re done, they will crave your input.


Being (Ontology):

First, it may be great to start with some questions on their views of human origin and destiny, and true power or success. If this isn’t a natural jumping-off point, feel free to start elsewhere, but these questions are often extremely thought-provoking. There are also a large number of questions in this category. Let’s begin:

Where do we come from?

In asking this question, it’s easy to get sidetracked into a discussion on the mechanics of where humans came from (apes, atom, age of rocks, etc.), but that isn’t the purpose of the question. Another way to ask this question may be, “If you pressed rewind on all of history and got all the way to the beginning of the recording, what would you find?” We want to discover whether our colleagues see everything that exists as the result of pre-existing matter/anti-matter or as the result of some sort of supernatural intervention. Usually people will self-sort as supernaturalist or naturalist based on their answer to this question. They will either view the stuff that they can see and touch and examine under a microscope as all that exists, or they will see the reality or possibility of someone/thing else standing aside or above all things and causing the stuff we see (ourselves included) to exist.

Where are we going?

The origin of humanity gives us answers to the direction of the race. This zoom-out question is designed to get at more than just our individual purpose, but in the end goal for all of humanity. The naturalist has no end-game. Someday, the earth will burn up or the stars will burn down and humanity will die out. Perhaps we escape for awhile, but in the end humanity is just a blip on the radar of a cold and dying universe. Or is there more to life? Is there something better to look forward to? Is there something terrible to dread? Is there something more deserving that awaits the Adolf Hitlers of this world who slip off into death in unpunished sleep? What is the end of humanity?

What is our ultimate meaning and purpose in life?

Here we take some time to understand our friend’s hopes and dreams. Do they want to leave money for the next generation? Do they hope to contribute to academia or sports so that they’re remembered beyond their lives? Do they feel that all that’s worth living for is another high, another one-night stand? What makes you tick and why? Getting to the bottom of this question helps us clarify the weight or value of what people see as the most important stuff in life.

What is the nature of our problem and how do we solve it?

Now, technically, this question assumes something, that there is a human problem. But I think it exposes a truism that underlies every human’s thinking. We all assume that something, somewhere got screwed up along the way. I mean, come on, if there wasn’t a problem with humanity you wouldn’t have Republicans and Democrats, right? And have you seen the way some people drive? Seriously! But to get real, we see some serious darkness in our world today: corporate greed, abortion, sex trafficking, injustice, and war, to name a few. Turn on the news and you’ll see that humanity has gone batty. But how it can be solved–that’s a question! Is there hope for broken humanity, and where do we find it?

How can we be successful in life and where does real power come from?

Success and power are intertwined. If success looks like achieving a certain level of wealth, then power=money. Understanding your friend’s view of power or success will help you understand what drives them. Materialism pushes us to see success in monetary terms. Naturalism forces people to define power or success in bettering others, gaining approval, or survival of the fittest. What about views of success that emphasize efforts such as philanthropy or social justice? What worldview do they fit with?

human brain on white background

Knowing (epistemology):

The next category which is helpful to discuss is the category of thinking that deals with how we use logic and sorting to come up with truth. Different cultures and generations have different methods for determining what is true.

How do you know what is true from what is untrue?

As you ask this question, you’re trying to probe the source of truth for this person. The typical postmodern will shrug this off with a neither/nor kind of response, but there are three follow-up questions that you can use to unpack this one:

  • How do you determine what is authoritative? The answer will be either subjective (“I think/feel”) or objective (“whatever science/authorities/a holy book says”). An alternative answer could assume the truth of a particular paradigm (e.g., “As a New England Republican I believe…”).
  • How do you determine what is unimportant? Spam, telemarketers, junk mail, pop-up, and so on, we all run into things in life that just have no appeal to us.
  • How do you rely on logic? Or, what arguments do you find persuasive? Some may rely more on linear logic (good for understanding math equations, IQ) while others may look to more analogical forms of reasoning (good for understanding more complex human problems, EQ). In other words, if you tend to start with “just the facts” in your reasoning, you’re probably a linear thinker. If you tend to start with relationships in your reasoning, you’re probably an analogical thinker.


Doing (axiology):

Asking questions about ethics is always going to elicit some kind of response. We all have strong views how people should behave. It’s one thing to claim that there’s no ontological self-existing standard of right and wrong, but it’s another thing to say that you don’t mind if someone robs you or rapes your wife. We all believe in right and wrong, but why and how do we determine it?

How do you know right from wrong?

Here are two followup questions that I use to probe this topic:

  • Do you feel that what’s right and wrong changes based on a person’s culture or their own value judgements, or is it more absolute and fixed?
  • What is your view on universal human rights? What about rights for women and the LGBTQ community? What about activities such as rape, sex trafficking, or bullying? In other words, are there universal human rights that protect individuals, or do cultures or individuals get to make up what’s right or wrong in these cases?

Offering dialogue…

Be respectful and let your friend answer the questions. Don’t immediately start telling them that they’re wrong or that they’ve contradicted themselves. Expect a few contradictions along the way. Many of us haven’t spent much time thinking through complex questions and answers such as these. When they’re done answering each main question and any followup questions, feel free to ask about what seems inconsistent to you. Your friend may have an explanation that makes sense to them. But if they don’t have an explanation, you’re allowing them to discover that the house doesn’t have a roof rather than trying to break the news to them yourself.

Answering these questions yourself…

At some point in this dialogue, you’ll probably be asked how you would answer these questions. I would recommend asking to wait until you’re done. You want to understand them first in order to show them respect. Tell your friend that you’d be happy to share your answers to the questions, but you’d prefer not to influence their thinking or responses.

As a Christian, I’ve formed opinions on these questions too, and when the time is right, it’s worth sharing your views on these. Here are my answers to the questions above:

  • Where do we come from? All material and immaterial things find their source in God. Rewind the clock of time and you’ll find God at the beginning–God and nothing else. As a Christian, I state with certainty that there is something beyond what I can see and taste and feel and hear and smell that miraculously created all there is.
  • Where are we going? Everything that moves is going somewhere, and the same is true with humanity. God created people in order to build a true community of worshippers among whom his love and presence will abide forever. The whole of human history and the future of our race is the story of that plan’s seeming failure and ultimate success.
  • What is our ultimate meaning and purpose in life?  The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else is truly permanent.
  • What is the nature of our problem and how do we solve it? Our problem is the problem of sin. Humankind has rebelled against God and has destroyed the peace he created in this world. Because of this brokenness, we all lean on a “crutch” in order to make our way through life. But is our crutch, our solution, to the problem of humanity truly reliable? For the Christian, the solution lies in God’s restorative work whereby he sent his own Son to take the penalty for our rebellion in order that people and nature might be made right again.
  • How can we be successful in life and where does real power come from? Success and power are counterintuitive for a Christian. Success comes when we give up what we have, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16.24-26). God is the source of all power. We achieve power, not by making Herculean efforts to make ourselves like God, but by humbling ourselves like Jesus (Luke 22.25-26).
  • How do you know what is true from what is untrue? All truth is God’s truth. A Christian goes out into nature expecting to find normative laws, because there is something fixed that holds the universe together from the outside. We expect to find that truth is objective. And God’s truth is both factual and relational. He demands faith, but points us in the right direction through what is true in our experience.
  • How do you know right from wrong? I know that murder or rape or bullying is wrong because God gave me (1) a conscience, (2) human government, and (3) divine revelation. Conscience and culture’s definitions of right and wrong are subservient to Scripture. As a Christian, I always have a timeless and culturally-transcendent objective moral standard which explains the inherent assumption of morality that we’re born with.

6.5 Reasons Why We Need To Ask More Questions

Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a course and frustrated because you don’t understand what’s going on?  Have you found yourself struggling to keep pace with the ever-changing dynamic at work?  Do you want to clear up doubts of your own or misperceptions of others?  If, like me, you’ve found yourself sitting there in one of these self-contemplative moments, I’d like to offer a little insight I’ve found that may help.  Here are six and a half reasons why I’ve found that I need to ask more questions.Question

Because you don’t understand everything on a comprehensive scale.

I’m not God and I don’t have all the answers.  Asking questions begins with this admission.  Leaders who lead without asking questions tend to steer the corporation the wrong way.  Pastors who pastor without asking questions tend to lose track of what is important in their congregations.  Students who study without asking questions often find themselves leaving school without direction or purpose.  So start asking yourself the meta-questions.  What is the big picture?  Why am I doing process?  Why am I pursuing this degree?  What is the goal of the Church?  Where does my company need to be in 1, 2, or 5 years?

Be willing to think abstractly and interact with those who you feel may not fully understand the situation.  Pastors can be compelled to get directional insight from their congregants because of the authority gap.  In a similar sense, bosses avoid asking these questions sincerely of their employees and teachers don’t ask these questions of their students.  In the reverse, many children fear asking meta-questions from their parents for similar reasons.  Those who are under authority structures fail to ask meta-questions because they fear that their authorities will assume that they don’t know what they are doing or that they have lost their orientation to the purpose of the institution or company.

The reality is that none of us know the best way to answer the meta-questions.  But we’ve been given those around us to help us answer those questions.  Don’t shy away from asking the big questions regardless of whether you see that person as superior or inferior.

I remember seeing a statistic somewhere of how many churches don’t have a purpose statement of some kind.  And I remember thinking to myself, “how in the world do churches plan to execute their mission if they don’t know what in the world the plan is?”  Unfortunately this is often the case.  When I managed a couple hundred employees and was attempting to maintain over a dozen client relationships, I found myself simply trying to put out fires.  I lost my vision of the big picture because I stopped asking questions.  When I stopped asking questions, I started running on assumptions.  When those assumptions were wrong, I was wrong.  Don’t be wrong on the big picture; ask more questions.

Because you don’t understand the minutia.

Now in a similar sense to the problem with not asking the meta-questions, I think I’ve often failed to question the minutia.  Because I know the big picture of an event or circumstance, I often fail to probe the details.  And when I start probing the details it is often quite fascinating how the big picture I thought I had begins to morph.

A student who fails to ask the detail-oriented questions will miss the critical test questions.  An employee who doesn’t probe the minutia will inevitably make a minor mistake that cascades.  A leader who doesn’t dive into detail often will address surface-level problems and fail to address the real issues.  A counselor who avoids finding out those seemingly minor features in the conversation will end up steering the counselee down the wrong direction.

Become a journalist with your questions.  Begin by examining the 5 W’s and 1 H of your workplace problems, school assignments, relational difficulties, ministry needs, and so on.  When you’ve taken an event or thing and asked all the questions you can, you’ll find your contributions more helpful, your work more accurate, and your study more scholarly.

The other day, I was being told about the value of encryption on computer files.  Now, I feel that I’m relatively tech-savvy, so the question that I asked probably made my friend question whether I was an idiot.  I had to be okay with that (and the fact that my readers may feel the same about me right now).  But I honestly didn’t truly understand how the process worked.  My friend began to explain that the process was dependant on two keys.  I stopped him.  “What is a key, and why do I need it?” I asked.  He then explained about the need for keys and cipher texts, public and private keys, and so on.  I kept asking questions until I truly felt that I understood the minutia to a greater degree after the conversation than I did before.  Don’t walk away from a conversation feeling like you wished that you knew more and avoid the pitfalls of the unknown unknowns; ask the detailed questions!

Because you need to stay a step ahead.

Change is one of the few constants in life.  Parents, your kids are growing up in a different world than you did – drastically.  If you want to keep pace with your child and understand the pressures that they’re facing, you’re going to need to stop and ask them some questions.  Corporate leaders, whether you believe it or not, your industry is undergoing change.  If you’re not actively asking questions about the direction of your industry and trying to stay ahead of the demand and technology, you’re going to fall behind.  Educators, there was a time where your industry seemed basically static.  But growing costs and the influx of online education has changed the playing field.  There used to be a time that providing a mediocre education in order for kids to walk away with degrees and job placements was just fine.  But the reality is that those jobs don’t exist anymore.  And the tuition at your school is probably prohibitive for the students that you had 10 years ago.  So what’s your competitive advantage?  What does the education in your class or program or school offer that other schools simply can’t offer?  Start asking questions.  Ask students.  Ask peers.  Find out how you can improve what you offer to strengthen the value of the education that you provide.

The story of Apple is insightful.  10 years ago, Apple set themselves apart from the rest of the industry by asking questions.  Unlike their rival at the time, they began asking what consumers really wanted.  And the answers they got began shaping better and better products.  The entire landscape of the tech industry was reshaped by the innovations of Apple that were designed around a simple interface for their consumers.  But in recent years, analysts have begun to suspect that Apple has stopped asking these questions.  Their competitors are answering consumer demand for greater customization, larger devices, cheaper items, brand new devices such as wearables, and newer technology.  Over the past few years, Apple’s product has merely been brought up close to or just at the standard of the rest of the industry.  Perhaps one of the overarching problems in where Apple is at today versus 10 years ago stems from their failure to really ask where the consumer demand is headed.  Don’t lag your competition and don’t be forced into the mold of always struggling to keep up.  Ask questions in order to stay ahead!

Because you don’t want to waste time or resources.

I’ve become a big advocate of asking questions over the past 10 years or so.  But one of the biggest push-backs I often get is that asking questions takes too much time.  Isn’t it just quicker to call someone out on a failure and move on?  As a parent, won’t it take longer to ask your child why they climbed into the neighbor’s yard than it would to simply reprimand them for doing so?  Won’t it take longer to ask that friend why they’re down in the dumps rather than just offering an encouraging word?  Won’t it take up much-needed company time to ask an employee why they made a particular error, rather than just writing them up for it?

I would argue that failing to ask questions actually takes more time in the long-run.  Not asking the child why he climbed the fence can fail to account for the possibility that you never articulated the rule to begin with.  Not asking questions about a friend or co-worker’s disposition can lead to more detailed interventions down the road.  Not asking why an employee made a mistake leads to angst on the part of the employee and a greater probability of the same mistake happening again.

I’ll never forget the time that I was buying an investment property.  A friend turned me onto a great deal and I had to act within a limited window.  I asked some questions, but I never slowed down to ask very many questions.  Questions take time…time I didn’t have to cut the deal.  So when I closed on the house and I called the contractor that my friend had a signed quote from indicating that they could do the repairs at a particular cost, and the contractor said that the quote wasn’t accurate, I began to ask the questions that I “didn’t have time to ask before.”  When I found that the comps that were pulled for the house were not actually valid, I began to ask even more questions.  And, of course, when I found out that my friend was actually profiting tens of thousands from my purchase, I began to arrive at the answers to those unasked questions.  By God’s grace, I walked away without a huge loss, but I’ll never forget the value of asking those questions that I “don’t have time to ask.”

Because it helps you treat others the way you should.

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  I tried really hard as a kid to play by the rules, and there was nothing quite as devastating as being called out for breaking them.  So I had just started at a new school and I think I was about 5 years old.  We were at recess and my new friend Ben and I were kicking a ball.  One of Ben’s kicks sent the ball up against a small fence and I went to retrieve it.  Ben followed me and told me that he had lost another ball over the fence one time.  He pointed to it and dared me to get it.  So I hopped the short fence and went to grab it.  I was on my way out when the teacher blew a whistle and came running at me.  “You aren’t supposed to be back there!  You’re in BIG trouble!”  I honestly didn’t know there was a rule about the fence.

But, of course, the teacher wrote me up.  My teacher placed little slips of paper in our lunchboxes at naptime.  These indicated how good we had been: green for good, yellow for some problems, red for a lot of problems, and black for HUGE problems.  Of course, I got the black slip.  When I saw it in my lunch box, my stomach sank.  “Didn’t she know that I was new?  Why didn’t she just ask?”  Now my mom was about to find out, and I’d definitely be punished for disobeying my teacher.  What should I do?  In the dark room in the midst of nap time, I quickly pulled the black slip from my lunch box and slid it down the air vent, never to be seen again.

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of unquestioned injustice a time or two too.  Don’t make the same mistake.  Ask questions.

Because you have doubts.

Time and again I’ve talked with people who’ve snapped.  They’ve walked out on their marriages or their jobs.  They’ve turned their back on their education path or their faith.  And as we discuss where this decision came from, quite often we get to the core of the issue.  They had doubts about their partner, their job security, their relationship, or their religion.  They felt like asking the questions that needed asking would prove a lack of faith on their part, so they just covered up the problem and moved on.  Moving on felt like the right call.  But really, they should have asked the hard questions.

Asking the hard questions early on can quickly demonstrate that you are right and need to take a different course or that you are wrong and need to rethink your position.  Do you think that this career isn’t right for you?  Be honest with your boss.  Think through a list of questions and start posing them.  Try to work through your doubts and you’ll be better off for it.  Have you been questioning the tenets of your belief system that you’ve held since you were a child?  Sit down with your pastor and begin asking the hard questions.  Obviously, don’t be a jerk about it, but really try to understand how someone who spends their whole life pursuing that belief, career, or educational path has done so.  Maybe you’ll walk away agreeing.  Maybe you’ll walk away disagreeing.  But I know you’ll walk away better informed on your decision.

I remember the first time I doubted the existence of God.  I don’t think my reason is one that most atheists have thought of, and the reason doesn’t really matter.  The fact is, I had doubts.  But, growing up in a legalistic background where performance and façade was what it was all about, I couldn’t admit my questions.  So I buried them deep inside and pretended like I had all the answers.  But those doubts only cropped up later in life – stronger and more difficult.  And it was only as I began asking questions to God, from the Bible, and from the Church that I began finding the answers I desperately needed.  Honestly, some of my most difficult periods in life would have been avoided had I simply been willing to expose my doubt, and ask the tough questions.

Because you have all the answers.

You know how we started with the admission that we’re not divine and that we don’t have all the answers, right?  Well, I thought I’d mention that Jesus liked to ask questions.  So what does that mean?  Perhaps Jesus recognized the value of the Socratic question to help his listeners understand truth.  Jesus didn’t need to know whose image was on the denarius.  He needed the people to understand the implication of image-bearing, and so he asked them a leading question.

If you think you’ve the big picture down and you’ve probed the minutia, if you’re a step ahead of all of us and you have taken the requisite time to come to your position, if you treat others right in every decision and have no doubts about your current course, then you genuinely have a lot to offer the rest of us.  But unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you can be done asking questions.  The best way you’ll be able to get us to your position is to start asking us the questions we need to answer in order to get there too!