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.

Find more thoughtful content on these topics in RZIM Answers.

A Space for Questions

Returning to graduate school in mid-life re-introduced to me the importance of asking questions. There are the all-important pragmatic questions that involve the mechanics and the specifics of various assignments. Should one use a particular style guide in writing papers, for example, or what material will be covered on the next exam? There are the questions of curiosity about a particular topic or subject, and there are research questions intended to take a student more deeply into the minutiae of her course of study. I often find that questions beget other questions, and many are not as easily answered as when I first began “formal” education. Instead, I am often led from one question to another on this journey of inquiry that is often only tangentially related to the original question.

When this happens, I wonder whether or not I am in fact asking the “right” questions which would generate answers. Perhaps inquiring into the motivation behind the questions is an even more important task. Do I simply ask out of curiosity? Or am I asking in order to fill my head with as many possible answers as there are question? Or do I continually ask questions as a way of blocking answers—answers that I may not want to hear, or to receive. Of course, asking questions is one of the wonderful qualities of being human. And anyone who has spent even a small amount of time around young children knows that asking questions about every possible subject preoccupies their early verbal expressions.

Whenever I begin to fret about either the volume of my questions, or the apparent lack of answers for them, I recall a conversation I once had with a colleague when I began my first job after seminary. We had gotten into a discussion about the nature of heaven. Like many, I had insisted that it would be a place where all questions would be answered and all that was unclear would be made clear—immediately upon arrival. I’ll never forget his response to me. “Oh no,” he replied. “I don’t think it will be that way at all. Otherwise, there would be no more discovery or learning; no more wonder.” Instead, he mused about how heaven would be a place of endless discovery and learning. The impediments of finitude being removed, heaven would be very much as C.S. Lewis envisioned in his novel The Last Battle where the inhabitants would be taken “further up and farther in” for eternity. My friend believed that moving “further up, and farther in” would involve questions, imagination and discovery, because the capacity for learning would be limitless and endless.

While I am unclear about whether or not my colleague’s vision of continual questions and learning in heaven will in fact be the reality, the kingdom of heaven revealed by Jesus looks a great deal like this. It might come as a surprise—even to those who claim to be Christians—that Jesus asked more questions than he answered, at least as his life is recorded and revealed in the gospel narratives. According to author Martin Copenhaver in his systematic study of the questions of Jesus, Jesus asked 307 questions. Furthermore, he is asked 183 questions of which he answers three.(1) In fact, asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and to the way he taught those who followed him. More than using didactic teaching, Jesus often explored the reality of the kingdom by asking questions, or by telling stories or through using metaphor. Far from presenting easy answers, Jesus often left questions unanswered, or his teaching unexplained.

But Jesus did not simply ask questions or leave them unanswered simply to be mysterious or enigmatic. His questions took his listeners deeper into wonder, discovery, and into discomfort: Do you wish to get well? What do you want me to do for you? Who do you say that I am? Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I tell you? Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?(2) Significantly, Jesus’s questions went straight to the heart of the matter. They were piercingly intimate and vulnerable, as when he asked his disciples if they wanted to ‘go away’ after he gave the very complex teaching about consuming his body and blood as recorded in John 6. Far from requiring immediate answers, the questions from Jesus were asked to prompt careful and considered reflection, even as they invited the listener to wonder and amazement: Who then is this that even the wind and the seas obey him? Even Jesus asked the question that resounds on the lips and in the hearts of humans throughout the ages: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Surely, there is a time to put away endless questions and rest. There is a time to pause and simply to be grateful for the human journey of discovery. But when questions arise and they are not easily answered or dismissed, there is a space for them as well. Like the student who questions in order to better understand a subject, our questions can lead us closer to the one who created us to ask in the first place.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Martin Copenhaver, Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and The Three He Answered. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 2014.
(2) See John 5:6; Mark 10:36, 51; Matt. 16:15; Luke 6:46; Matt. 7:3

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