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 Talbot, Dr. 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:
- A good question cannot be answered immediately.
- A good question challenges existing answers.
- A good question creates new territory of thinking.
- A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
- A good question cannot be predicted.
- A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
- 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.