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Questions Leading to Jesus

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The what, why and wondering approach to evangelism

A friend of mine, Nigel, once spent a week at a Christian conference. Midweek, he had to leave the event for two days to play in a tennis tournament. He booked a cab to take him to the train station. As the cab pulled away from the convention center, the driver asked Nigel what was happening there.

“A Christian conference,” Nigel replied.

“Oh, you’re not one of those religious types, are you?” grumbled the driver.

Rather than letting that roadblock in the conversation stump him, Nigel calmly replied, “What do you mean by that?”

The cab driver responded with a tirade about everything he hated about religion, not the least of which was all the hypocrisy and moralism. Nigel quietly prayed as he listened, and then asked another question he felt the Lord bring to mind: “Sir, have you ever heard of a man called Jesus?”

“Of course I have!”

“Well, it occurs to me that Jesus might agree with you about all the bad things in religion. After all, He reserved His fiercest words for the religious leaders of the day.” That comment led to a much more open conversation with the cab driver.

Two days later, when the driver returned to take Nigel back to the conference, the ice had broken enough for Nigel to give him an evangelistic tract as they parted, which the man said he would consider reading.

What Nigel did in that conversation was to ask good questions. I want to suggest that questions are one of the most helpful tools we have in evangelism, the way we talk about Jesus. And this isn’t some trendy, new idea. It goes right back to Jesus.

Jesus and questions

Bible scholars say that Jesus asked 307 questions in the Gospels and was asked 183 questions, though He answered less than 10 of them directly. (Jesus preferred to answer a question with a question.) The well-known story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 is a great example.

The young man came to Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

To which Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (verses 17-18).

Why did Jesus respond with a question? Why didn’t He simply reply, “I’m the Son of God. Follow Me,” or “Come along to the Alpha course that Peter and James are leading tomorrow at the First Baptist Synagogue of Capernaum”? Perhaps there was a deeper issue in the young man’s life that Jesus first needed to address, and a question was the way to do so.

Important distinctions

Picture in your mind’s eye a non-Christian friend. Maybe a work colleague, a classmate or a neighbor. Now, suppose you say to your friend, “Look, I know you don’t believe in God, but just for a moment, imagine there is a God and there is a heaven. If there were, what would you need to do to get there?”

How is your typical non-Christian friend likely to reply? By far the most common answer is “Be a good person.” Many people think that if God exists and there is an afterlife, then you get to heaven by being a decent person—a good citizen who is kind to others. Do all that, and God will welcome you into heaven. This is, in fact, the religious position most people take. And it’s the question the rich young ruler was asking Jesus: “You look like a good person who’s going to heaven—so how do I get there?”

When Jesus asked, “Why do you call me good?” He exposed the young man’s assumption.

“Yes,” Jesus’ question says, “all good people will go to heaven. But here’s the problem: Only God is good, so only God gets to go.” Jesus’ question also exposed the much deeper issue of money in the young man’s life . . . and hinted at an even bigger question: If only God is good, but the young man has seen that Jesus is good, who does that make Jesus?

The power of questions

By learning to ask good questions, we can create more natural conversations with people about our faith in Christ. Asking questions helps us avoid reducing evangelism to sound bites (“If I just use the right formula, my friend will become a Christian”). Questions help reveal motives and assumptions—for example, when my faith is challenged, I’ll often say, “That’s a great question.

Tell me, why do you ask that?” Questions also help the other person think. For example, if a friend says she’s an atheist, you might reply, “That tells me what you don’t believe, but what do you believe?”

Common questions

Over the years, I’ve found that I return to three types of questions time and time again. First, there are what questions, which are great for teasing apart what somebody has said. When an atheist friend recently remarked, “There’s no evidence for God,” I replied, “What do you mean by ‘evidence’? What would count as evidence for you?”

Then there are why questions, which are helpful for encouraging friends to explore the reasons for their skepticism. So if a friend announces, “I don’t believe in God,” you might respond, “That’s really interesting. I’d love to know why you think that.”

And finally, there are wonder questions, which are invaluable when talking with somebody who doesn’t object to or challenge what you believe but is just disinterested in spiritual things. Some years ago, my friend John would announce,

“I’m just not interested in God,” whenever the subject came up. That threw me for ages, until one day I noticed an Amnesty International sticker on his Honda.

“Have you ever wondered where human rights come from, if we’re just atoms and particles?” I asked. That question opened up an opportunity to discuss how justice and dignity make sense only if humans are created in God’s image.

Questions that lead to Jesus

Sometimes the right question leads directly to Jesus. I was recently talking with a university student whose biggest obstacle to Christianity was the many examples of church leaders abusing their power for personal gain. How, she wondered, could anybody take the church seriously when some of its leaders behaved like this?

As I considered how to respond, I realized that once again a question was appropriate. So I replied, “I share your disgust over this, because it’s totally antithetical to how Jesus behaved. Have you ever heard the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet?”

She hadn’t, so I read John 13 to her, and then we chatted about how countercultural His actions were.

I also spoke about the Cross and how Jesus had ultimate power, and yet He laid it all down. Rather than victimizing others, Jesus became a victim to save us.

As the conversation ended, the young woman asked for a copy of the Gospels so she could read more of Jesus’ story for herself. By God’s grace, the right question had taken a hostile skeptic to the point of being willing to give Jesus a more careful look.

Kid questions

Here are some questions to ask your children when they express doubts about their faith. Use these questions to help your kids dig deeper into what they know and what they think they know. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all question to ask. Instead, use a variety of questions to come alongside your kids, pray for them and help them sort out their concerns biblically and without clichéd answers.

What questions:

  • What do you mean by [that]?
  • What makes you think [that]?
  • What makes [that] important for you now?

Why questions:

  • Why are you asking about [that]?
  • Why do you think [that]?
  • Why does [that] strike a chord with you?

Wonder questions:

  • Have you ever wondered why God created us?
  • Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people?
  • Have you ever wondered why Jesus came to save us?

—AB

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