Monday, September 21, 2015

Turning Questions Around: What to Do When Being Verbally Pinned Down

I recently read a book that I am not going to recommend here right now, but that taught me something important (not that I didn't like the book, but there is material I liked and material I think is not endorseable, so I'll withhold citing it).

The book examines a controversial issue, and discusses the common practice of intellectual combatants to shut down an opponent. How do they do it? Simply put, you ask a question that requires the person to answer in a way that will make them look ridiculous, judgmental, close-minded, or all of the above. 

Example 1: A gay person asks a Christian, "So you believe that if I'm gay, I'm going to Hell?" What does the Christian say? If he says, "Yes," the discussion is over. If he says, "No," he feels like he's just denied the truth. 

Example 2: A skeptic asks a Calvinist, "So, you believe that God has already chosen the saved, so nothing I do changes anything, right?" The Calvinist can go hyper and say, "Right." Or, he can get all compassionate and say, "of course that's not true," but then proceed to get tied in knots over sovereignty.

In both cases, a questioner is trying to drive a person to say something that will be simple, straightforward, but marginalizing. It won't further conversation, but instead it will shut it down. But is there a way to face such things successfully?

I think the answer is yes, and we can learn it from Jesus. When people asked Jesus tough questions that might have seemed to demand yes or no answers, he often refused to play the game. Consider these questions Jesus was asked:

"Can a man divorce his wife for any reason at all?"
"Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?"
"Are you the One who was to come, or should we look for another?"
"By what authority are you doing these things?"
"Are you the king of the Jews?"

When these questions came to Jesus from various sources, Jesus didn't just give simple answers, but did something else. He turned the question into a discussion.

To the divorce question, he asked what the Law said and a discussion began. On the tax question, he avoided offending either Rome or Jewish tradition by going to the coin involved to make a point. To the disciples of John the Baptist, he pointed their eyes to all that was going on and encouraged careful comparison of his work to the Bible's expectations of Messiah. And Pilate was made to think about the source of the animosity toward Jesus.

He redirected the question and truth was discovered as a result. Could this help us? Perhaps it can. Let's look at our examples.

Example 1: A gay person asks a Christian, "So you believe that if I'm gay, I'm going to Hell?" We might answer: "I'm not the authority on who goes to Hell, that's God's right as Creator and Judge. What do you think God might use to decide who might go to Hell?"

Maybe you think that's wimping out, but I would suggest that in the case of someone who is already expecting me to judge them, an answer that turns the question back on them and asks them to reflect on eternal judgment just might open a door for gospel conversation.

Example 2: A skeptic asks a Calvinist, "So, you believe that God has already chosen the saved, so nothing I do changes anything, right?" As a Calvinist, when I get this question, I usually respond, "Do you feel free to ask that question?" It's a weak joke, but I then follow up with, "Are you concerned that you might not be free to seek God?" If a person is at all open to talking about the gospel, this question may well open that door.

Now, you may (like me) feel like it's hard to come up with winsome answers and feel like, when asked, you will probably just say, "uhhh..." But perhaps you can join me in thinking about some of the tough questions we face, and are going to face, and how we might use them to open up possible discussions instead of just telling someone the cold, hard truth. After all, our goal is to win people to Christ, not win one particular debate or argument. 

A final note: never lie, and never deny truth. But realize you don't have to always lead with the final blow.