Ask, Don't Tell (Well, Almost!)

“Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.”
— (Matthew 21:24, ESV)

On Wednesday night, the intrepid Dead Theologians Society met to discuss Greg Koukl's excellent little book, Tactics: A Game plan for Sharing Your Christian Convictions. It was certainly cold around the fire-- probably a bit cold, on hindsight we should have gone into my study to escape the elements, but we were probably all a bit too stubborn to flee inside. But the fellowship was certainly warm nonetheless.

The essence of Koukl's genius comes to down to asking people warm, inviting, searching questions. This is tremendously freeing, for it takes the onus off of us to do all the talking, and it lets the Christian steer the conversation in a helpful direction.

Koukl advises the use of 3 basic types of questions. First, fact finding questions, "What did you mean by (that)? This is important so that we can all agree on common terms. So for example, if someone says, "I just don't like religion", you might say, "What do you mean by religion? Is all religion bad? Did Jesus hate religion? (NB Ask these one at a time not in shotgun fashion!).

Second, Burden of Proof Questions, "That's interesting, how did you come to that conclusion? Can you help me understand your position?" So, let's say our conversation partner says, "The Bible is all about relationship; it's not about religion!" You might say, "May I ask you, what particular passages of the Bible led you to embrace that position?" 

Third, leading questions that expose the weakness of your friends position:

  • "This is where I am a little confused, I completely agree the Bible has a lot to say about empty rituals, vain repetitions in prayer, etc., but have you considered the many texts that extol the value of true religion?
  • What are we to do, for example, with the many passages that call God's people to gather together for public worship, not to forsake assembling together, etc., etc.?
  • We might also ask: Just because God hates bad religion, is it right to conclude that he hates all religion?
  • When Christ was on earth, what was his practice? Did he call the Jews to forsake the synagogue?
  • Have you ever read HIs words to the Churches of Asia minor in Revelation Chapter 2-3? Are you aware those churches were in such a state that he said, if they did not mend there ways, He would de-chruch them? And yet, as we read those passages, what was His advice to true Christians attending those Churches? Does He ever tell them to leave those assemblies?

    Obviously, you wouldn't ask those questions all at once. But you could feed them into the conversation slowly and see where they take you!

This morning, after our Thursday morning Bible study, I had an opportunity to share the gospel, and I would like to walk you through how Koukl's book helped me."

I was talking to an acquaintance, I have probably bumped into this man on 2-3 other occasions. He knows I am a pastor and we have briefly engaged in 2minute conversations that were loosely Christian in nature. Raised in a Roman Catholic home, he mentioned to me this morning that his mother was tremendously keen on praying to the Saints. She has medals of Saint Anthony and Saint Christopher all over the place, and he said she gets upset if he doesn't carry a medal of St. Christopher (The Patron Saint of Travelers) in his car.

I didn't have much time, so I cut to the chase directly: "Can you help me understand that practice," I said, "My mother's side of the family is Roman Catholic as well, and I have always found that interesting. Here's my question: If the Son of God came into the world to die for sinners, to live the life we ought to have lived, and to die the death we ought to have died? If He is not ashamed to call us, "Brother!" And if he promises again and again (which He does) to hear our prayers, why would we not just pray directly to Him? Why would we ask Saints to pray to Him for us? What does that say about His love for us, His interest in us, and His willingness to hear our prayers directly? Again: I didn't unleash all those questions at once. Like a child throwing bread to the swans, I through them out bit by bit. This sparked an interesting train of conversation in which he confessed similar doubts. The question drew those doubts from him in a much gentler way than if I had simply and directly told him such a practice was "wrong" or "unbiblical."

The conversation continued and I noticed a number of times he made statements like, "I am not a bad person of course, but...." Or "I am a good person, we all are..." I stopped him again with a question, "Can I ask you, Robert, what do you mean by a good person or a bad person? I get the fact that there are some human beings who are particularly given over to wickedness. But are any of us really good?" He thought for a while and said, "Yes, I think humans are basically good, we just make bad choices." I responded, "So I am right in understanding your position? You are basically saying, human beings are good on the inside, but we just appear bad on the outside because we make bad choices?" He said, "Yes, I suppose so. That's what I am saying!" I said, "When I examine my own heart, that's where I have to differ with you. For me its the other way round. I might look good on the outside, but on the inside it's a very different story. Can I illustrate in a way that might sound a little silly at first, but please bear with me, "Let say I (or you for that matter) had a small wide screen TV duck taped to my head, and this TV broadcast my thoughts in real time. Do you think people would think more of me or less of me at the end of he day?" He began to see my point. I said, "By the end of the day, I don't think I would have many friends left, and many of my friendships, my marriage included, would probably be in tatters. People would be appalled by the goings on inside my mind!"

At this point, two possibilities present themselves. I could prosecute the "negative" route and say something like this: "Jesus Himself said, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matthew 15:19–20, ESV)." "It seems to me Jesus is saying the problem with us all is not what we do on the outside of our lives, the bad choices we make. No the problem with man is what's on the inside..."  

Or, and this is the route I took, you could lead the conversation in a more positive direction by saying, "When it comes down to the question of goodness, Jesus summed up the whole subject of human ethics in two statements. Do you know what he said?" He gestured for me to continue, "He said, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The Second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Driving this point home, I said, so if that was the exam to test your goodness and my goodness, can I ask you, How would you fare?" "I can tell you, I would fail both those questions. My life has never measured up to them. Not once. None of us have!" "This is the Bible's assessment on the human condition."

Now at this point, I could tell that he needed to get back to work. So I said two things to tie things up: I briefly explained the gospel: "When a person falls down on these two areas, we commit sin. And the Bible is very clear on this: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Which is why I need Jesus as my Savior. I need someone who is big enough and kind enough to pay down all my debts I owe to God for failing in these two areas-- the only areas God says really matter in life! And He did that for me on the cross. That's my only hope of getting my debts cleared and of getting to heaven when I die." Second, I said to Him, "Would you like to get together with me sometime, perhaps I could buy you lunch or a coffee. I would love to chat with you further about this. Perhaps we could study the Bible together?"

As I left our discussion, I thought to myself, "How could I have handled that conversation better? What did I do well? What did I say that wasn't helpful, or that felt a bit "awkward?" And there were a number of things. This is a vital step after every evangelistic encounter. It's how we grow. I also thought to myself, "What if I had more time, what else could I have said?"

In such evangelistic encounters, one the most important things is to make our points by quoting a short, apt verse of Scripture and explaining it. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10). For example, "One of the reasons I find the Bible and its message compelling is that, when it comes to explaining the human condition, the basic problem with mankind, it hits the nail squarely on the head. For example, the Apostle Paul describes himself and all other human beings like this, "We once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice, being hateful, and hating one another (Titus 3:3)." This sums me up rather well. And, I have to say, when I watch the evening news, it sums us all up very well." We tend not make wise choices because we are foolish. We are disobedient-- we have an awful propensity of doing what we know is wrong. We are prone to be deceived by temptation. Rather than seek higher ends, we tend to follow our basest and darkest desires for pleasure ("enslaved to various lusts and pleasures"), and we have this awful habit of lashing out against those whose lives we envy. There is a terrible mean spiritness in all of us that tends to destroy even our best relationships. Isn't this why marriage is so hard and so often ends in divorce? Isn't this why we have such a hard job getting along with our children, and why they struggle to get along with us? And it is precisely to such people that the Christian message offers hope? (Insert Gospel here!).

So, as you make your way through the weekend, have a plan to evangelize everyone you meet. Be interested in other people. Ask them questions. The barista preparing your coffee might tell you she is a student at UNCG. And so you ask, "What are you studying?" She might say, "I am studying Criminal Justice!' You say, "That's an interesting subject. Can I ask you why are studying that, are you planning to work in Law Enforcement?" No, she might say, "I want to work as a social worker with troubled teenagers." To which you enquire, "That's much needed. Can I ask you, what do you think the trouble is with troubled teenagers?" Just show an interest in those around you, and you will be amazed what you'll learn. All roads really do lead to Christ! Press on and may God bless our witness to our city!

Christ Covenant Church