6 Practical Ways to Respond to Faith Questions
Jo and Vince Vitale and Abdu Murray unpack six ways to respectfully and thoughtfully respond to questions from skeptics about faith, offering practical advice both from their own experiences and from the life of Jesus.
At RZIM, we're passionate about questions. This article is adapted from a transcript of the video below, in which Dr. Vince Vitale, Abdu Murray, and Dr. Jo Vitale unpack six ways to respectfully and thoughtfully respond to questions from skeptics about faith, offering practical advice both from their own experiences and from the life of Jesus.
Vince Vitale shares two reflections on how to better answer questions about faith.
1. Questions Open the Door to Share and Learn
There are two reasons we love questions. First, every question has a true answer. And as Christians, we believe that all truth is grounded in God. So, every question is a gift, because every question, no matter how seemingly irrelevant or antagonistic, is an open door to share something about truth itself–about who God is, and what he has done. The second reason we love questions is because questions are how you get to know a person, any person. And so, if God is a personal being, questions are also how you get to know Him.
2. Take the Time to Prepare
Even before a question is asked, we need to be prepared. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "always be prepared to give an answer." I used to get discouraged when I would read Jesus's answers to questions in the Gospels: "Why do you call me good?" "You who are without sin, throw the first stone." "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God, what is God's." Jesus' answers are just too incredible. The sorts of answers I think of three hours too late on the drive home.
But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: are these just instances of Jesus being incredibly quick on his feet? Or just possibly could they also be instances of Jesus being well prepared? We know Jesus took a lot of time alone with his Father, praying. Wouldn't he have been asking his Father "Who am I likely to see tomorrow?" "What questions are they likely to ask me?" "What would be the most intriguing and inviting and loving way I could respond?"
So, take the time, as I believe Jesus did, to be prepared for the questions that come your way. Both the tough questions about faithand the everyday questions: "How was your weekend?" "Not bad? Thanks." Or, "How was your weekend?" "Really good, actually. Saturday, I just did some stuff around the house. And then Sunday, I went to church, which is always a highlight. Do you ever go to church?" "No, I never used to either. But a friend invited me along a few years ago, and I've found it incredibly meaningful. It would be great to have you join me sometime."
If you are a Christian who has had the privilege of encountering the living God in worship and community on Sunday, "Not bad, thanks" isn't even an honest answer. Simple, everyday questions are such a gift. Let's be prepared. Imagine if every time you received that question, every Monday for the rest of your life, you were prepared to share a glimpse of the hope that you have, and have the ultimate answer, to every question, Jesus Christ.
Simple, everyday questions are such a gift.
Abdu Murray suggests two important factors to remember when answering faith questions.
3. Don't Be Defensive Too Quickly
Now one thing Christians do often, when they answer questions, is move to explanation or defense a little too quickly. You see, someone offers an objection to the Christian faith. Maybe they'll say, "the Bible has been changed," "How can you trust the Bible?" "The Bible is untrustworthy," or "Jesus really didn't say the things the Bible says." Immediately, what we do is we launch into explanation, about why we can trust the Bible. "Here's all the textual evidence, here's the history behind it. Here's how I know it's really true." Well, why do we do that? You see, you don't bear the burden of proof at that point. They bear the burden of proof because they've made the claim the Bible's been changed.
Now, I'm a trial lawyer by training. And one of the first things they teach you as a trial lawyer is to make sure that the burden of proof rests on the person making the claim. Now, if you make the claim that God exists, or that Jesus rose from the dead, or whatever it might be, yes, you fairly bear the burden of proving that claim. And you should be prepared as Vince talked about. But if an objector says the Bible's been changed, or Jesus didn't rise from the dead, or science is disproving God, whatever it might be, they bear the burden of doing that. So, what you can do, in that instance, instead of answering with an explanation, is respond with a question yourself. If someone says the Bible has been changed, you can simply say, "Really? When? By whom? Where? In what ways? What parts?" Get them to bear the burden of proof of their own objection. What happens then? If they can't do it, something is exposed, and Jesus masterfully exposed people's motives when he responded to their questions. If they really don't have a substantial reason for believing why they believe, or substantiating the objection they have, oftentimes, the heart is now revealed; we see the motive behind the question.
4. Answer People, Not Just the Questions
Answer people, not questions. This is what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6. He says, "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." (Answer the questions they're actually asking, but answer the person who's actually asking it). And then he says, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." That's beautiful. Paul doesn't say answer each objection, answer each question. He says, "answer each person." Because questions don't need answers. Objections don't need answers. People use their questions and their objections to get the answers they need. But you and I are to answer people. And by putting the burden of proof back where it belongs, you'll get to the heart of who they are and you'll answer them.
Jesus masterfully exposed people's motives when he responded to their questions.
Answer people, not questions.
Jo Vitale offers two key areas in answering questions about faith:
5. Ask Questions that Address the Root of the Issue
As Abdu has said, sometimes people's objections are intellectual, but oftentimes, their intellectual concerns have a deeper root in the heart. For example, someone might say to you, they don't believe in God because of the suffering in the world. But deep down the real hurt comes from the fact that as a child, they pray to God for help, but they felt like He didn't answer that prayer. As Ravi Zacharias would say, "Behind every question, there is a questioner." So how do we learn to reach that questioner, behind the question? We make sure that as part of our questioning, we are asking questions that aim for the heart. Questions like, "What is the primary thing that holds you back from becoming a Christian?" Or a question that Vince loves to ask, "If Christianity was true, would you want it to be? If God was real? Would you want to know Him?" That's a great question, because it moves from the head to the heart to motives they themselves may not have considered, helping someone to honestly, examine whether they're truly open to God or not.
6. Pray for the Holy Spirit's Guidance
If you feel like you're going in circles but not hitting at the underlying issue, and you don't know what question to ask to get there, the best advice we can give is this: pray. Pray, not just before evangelism, but during. Invite the Holy Spirit into your conversation. People often forget and try to do it by themselves, which is crazy, because it's only God who saves, not us. And the Holy Spirit is not just passionate about evangelism, He's actually really good at it. He is the ultimate evangelist. The reason He was sent to us on Pentecost is because we need Him. Ask Him to give you sensitivity to his leading. To prompt you with the right next question. To be working in the other person's heart. And if you do that, I think you'll find it can radically transform your evangelism to not be a nerve-wracking duty that you're doing all by yourself, but as simply taking part in the work of your heavenly Father, and getting a front row seat to watching Him do something gloriously beautiful: taking someone who's spiritually dead and bringing them into the fullness of life. What a joy and privilege that is.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate evangelist.