Are Questions Better Than Answers? No Question About It!

By Sean McDowell Feb. 15, 2017 9:00 a.m. Apologetics, Culture, Spiritual Formation

Although it might surprise you, given that I grew up with a famous apologist father, my parents asked me more questions than they gave me answers. My parents did not want me to believe something simply on authority, but because I had good reasons for believing it was true. They certainly wanted me to become a Christian, but they were also deeply interested in helping me learn how to think critically for myself and to confidently arrive at truth.

Jesus also asked dozens of questions even though he knew the answers. Why? While there could be other reasons, it seems to me that he wanted to elicit faith in people and to help them arrive at a personal knowledge of the truth. When it comes to helping people arrive at a biblical worldview, Jesus knew questions were often far more powerful than statements. In fact, he knew the most important question of all is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

As I look back on my life, it was often the people who asked me the most timely and insightful questions who have had the greatest impact on my life. For instance, as a grad student in philosophy, I read a ton of books on postmodernism and, to be honest, was quite confused about the nature of truth. I remember thinking: How can I ever know the nature of truth if I can’t step outside my own perspective and examine it firsthand?

I asked for guidance from one of my philosophy teachers at TalbotDr. Garrett Deweese, and he simply asked me a question back: “Is it possible you’re confusing the metaphysical and epistemological issues related to truth? Ponder that for awhile and let me know what you think.” Boom! His question got me thinking on a whole new level and opened up clarification in my worldview between the nature of truth (metaphysics) and how we know truth (epistemology). This distinction continues to serve me well to this day.

The Question Explosion

Even though information is expanding rapidly, people are asking questions at an even greater rate. Every year humans ask the Internet 2 trillion questions. On average, American adults asked four questions per day online. But most of these questions are for a place to eat, sports facts, or how to fix something that is broken. Most are factual questions that have easy answers.

But there are other kinds of questions that lead to life change. What is the key to asking transformative questions? This is a question I have been thinking about for some time. Becoming a better question-asker is one of my ongoing goals as a teacher, parent, coach, apologist, and follower of Christ. If you want to genuinely influence other people, a key skill to develop is the art and science of asking good questions.

What Makes a Transformative Question?

I was recently reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. If you’re interested in future technological and cultural trends, this is a must-read book. Towards the end of the book Kelly has an entire chapter titled, “Questioning,” in which he talks about how culture is moving from the rigid order of hierarchy to a state of flux where new possibilities will be opened up for those who ask the right questions. Kelly got me thinking, “How can I be confident that I am asking the right questions?” How confident are you?

Kelly lists fourteen marks of a good question. Here is my top seven:

  1. A good question cannot be answered immediately.
  2. A good question challenges existing answers.
  3. A good question creates new territory of thinking.
  4. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
  5. A good question cannot be predicted.
  6. A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
  7. A good question is what humans are for.

Take a minute and reflect on these points. End by asking yourself a few questions for reflection:

What is the most significant question someone has ever asked you? What made it so significant? What is the best question you have asked someone else? Do you tend to make statements or ask questions? Why? How can you become a better question-asker?

If you want to make a lasting difference in the lives of people, these are critical questions to ask.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org. You can find the original version of this artical here.

Comments

  • Keith Feb. 16, 2017 at 1:28 AM

    I would suggest that answers are more important than questions.

    I am talking about the right Truth God-honoring answers Colossians 4:5-6 & 1 Peter 3:15. Jesus didn't just ask just to get others to think (use their innate intellect). Rather He asked providentially purposed questions to illuminate (make known to the questioner) a specific needed Truth i.e. conviction convincing. He did this by exposing their wrong reasons or reasoning (maligned motives) in their sin laden questions that they might seek first the Kingdom of God.

    One might even derive that Jesus Christ often asked His questions and answered others queries more to teach His disciples whom had ears to hear to understand (unlike those whom asked): consider the rich you ruler Matthew 19:16-26

    We should even read, plead (asking God for wisdom), and heed the many wrong, ill motivated, ignorant questions asked of Jesus considering then the specifics of the right, pure motivated, all knowing questions He catechized back.

    Jesus Christ even appeared to ask questions in response to get them to understand i.e. be made aware of how wrong (in motivation? in means? in method?) the question that they had just asked was. You here imply in your Blog that questions are the answer. Queer, reeling with cognitive dissonance (spiritual dissonance), and divertive to the Truth.

    And while you acknowledge Jesus Christ Himself asked questions you reference and quote from a human author rather than the Author Himself from what I AM said in His 'Good Book'.

    If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. (James 1:5 KJV)

    And finally I must ask what does the studies of man's metaphysics and epistemology in theory have to do with the right fear of the Lord and the wisdom bound therein? Job 28:28, Psalm 34:11, 111:10, Isaiah 11:1-3, 33:6, & Proverbs 1:7.

    In Christ,

    keith

  • Sean McDowell Feb. 16, 2017 at 7:03 AM

    Good last question, Keith!

  • Mark Feb. 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM

    I'm not sure there's such a clear line between questions and answers, or between them and statements or assumptions for that matter, so on the one hand one could see trying to choose the most important of those two may not be important. I would think strictly speaking questions contain statements (as assumptions if in no other way) and the reverse.

    I just don't think in terms of a question/answer dichotomy. If there is a binary at work in dialog or debate, I think it is in point and counterpoint. Someone wants to make a point (how often do we say or think "what's the point?"), not ask a question or make a statement, and wishes for someone to make a counterpoint.

    But on the other hand, it does seem to me introducing distinctions is the most fundamental and critical aspect of any fruitful discussion or debate, so I suppose if I were forced to answer the question I'd have to say making statements are the more important of the two since questions will be meaningless without them.

    I think people are inclined to say questions are more important than answers when they see them as stand-in terms for listening and speaking, but I don't think such an analogy is apt. Critical distinctions are necessary to move an argument or discussion forward, and moving forward in some relevant way should always be the goal, whatever the means. That is true even when the goal is or has to do with evaluating human and personal subtexts where the discussion itself isn't really the point.

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