A couple of months back, Peter Enns began a blogging series on Patheos entitled ““Aha” Moments: biblical scholars tell their stories” This 16 part series has a variety of scholars talking about moments in their lives/ careers when they decided something they had always believed in was wrong. Whether that might be the inerrancy of Scripture or women in ministry, these scholars bring up some serious issues that are not just felt by scholars but also laypeople. Michael Kruger on his blog “Canon Fodder” started a series, unfortunately much shorter, called ” Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages.” He has top -notch conservative scholars respond to some of the more academic questions proposed by Enn’s blog.
Here is what I take from this short interaction between Enns and Kruger, two men who are undoubtedly brilliant thinkers and I believe they are genuinely concerned with truth and Christianity. Christian fundamentalism and modernistic sensibilities have crippled our ability not only to think, but also to ask questions.
When I was reading through posts from the “aha moments” series I began to sympathize with these people even though I did not draw the same conclusions. A majority of them said that they had been too afraid to ask questions, and that they did not want to buck up against the norm because they were taught questioning and doubting was a bad thing. Any time people are afraid to ask questions we have stopped educating them and have begun indoctrinating them, and it is this exact type of educational climate that they had described in their experience.
This is a big problem! What type of environment has the church built where people are afraid to ask questions? Luther once said “Knowledge and doubt are inseparable to man. The sole alternative to ‘knowledge-with-doubt’ is no knowledge at all. Only God and certain madmen have no doubts!” Unlike Luther, modernism has sought absolute certainty in the realm of what we can know. I think this has caused people to assume that if they become critical or skeptical of key doctrine then they can’t be Christians. As long as we do not begin to affirm these doubts in which we begin to contradict the Scriptures, we are welcome to have these doubts. Reconsider what Luther has told us: “Only God and certain madmen have no doubts.” For a man who led his whole life by the conviction of His heart in the turmoil that he faced, I would say he is a valuable source for this advice.
We ought to welcome questions of any kind and stop treating doubt and skepticism like someone is having an intellectual temper tantrum. That just doesn’t work. There have been times when I have gone weeks and months prayerless because I have a major concern with some theological issue, and do not bother to ask my question. “What will they think of me if I ask that?” “Am I still a Christian if I ask that?” Not asking my question ended up being more toxic than if I would have avoided my fear of people. I see three things we gain if we just stop being afraid and start asking our hard questions.
First, if we allow people to ask us questions it forces us to know what we are talking about. This result in and of itself has a couple of crutches though. If we are to hone the ability to answer people’s questions then that means we must be devoted to prayer and the study of Scripture. What good is it if we have open communication but nobody has the answers we are looking for because the Christian community is too dull? As Christians we must study the scriptures diligently. This is the essence of 1 Peter 3:15, ” But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (NET Bible). This is not exclusive to apologetics for atheists and agnostics but Christians as well. This is one way we can love our neighbors.
Second, by being good stewards of our minds and hearts we are then able to help and guide people to a deep gratitude and affection for Christ. Answering a question for someone and creating an environment where people feel comfortable to ask those tough questions might be the push they need.
I was taking a class on the parables of Jesus, my first graduate level class with a great professor and an even better friend. We started the class with the historical critical methods and one of the first things we talked about was the discrepancy among scholars for a clear definition of a parable. I became so rattled with doubt about the historical veracity of scripture that I became depressed and angry. “If we can’t even tell what a parable is, how can we know anything about so-called ‘parables’?” Seemed like a fair question at the time. This was just one of the many concerns I raised in class. If I had not been able to ask my professor my questions in great detail I would have been left to stew in doubt and uncertainty.
If we take time to talk with people about their questions, doubts, skepticism and uncertainties surrounding Scripture we may just be doing the work of the Church. This is what is meant by the author of Hebrews when he writes, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,”(10:24). That is enough incentive. Although these are great consequences of asking questions, this still is only a shadow of the greatest benefit.
Finally, all questions lead to one common goal; one end, because questions do not have any intrinsic value apart from the goodness of Christ. Every question that we have or someone might ask leads us to a deeper knowledge of God. If this is true what are we so afraid of questions for? If knowledge leads to questions, and questions leads to answers in some way, and God is the origin of all truth should Christians not be the most inquisitive people on the planet? Shouldn’t Christians want to know everything they can, knowing their limited, to have deep and rich love for Christ? It would seem to me that the Church should not be afraid of questions but breed questions. Just because we ask questions and are not certain about every last detail does not change the validity of Christianity’s objective truth claims.
At the end of the day we need to be humble enough to ask questions and let people ask their questions. Nobody asks stupid questions, the questions you think are stupid are just the questions you are too impatient to answer.