Part 4 Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did
Jesus Asks Questions
We follow an amazing Master, have a listen, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:46), “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27), “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3), “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40), “Do you love me?” (John 21:17).
These are just some of the thought-provoking, searching, passionate, deep, probing questions Jesus asks as he walks alongside his disciples. In the course of his ministry the gospels record Jesus asking 307 questions - that’s an awful lot! The people he ministers to ask him 183 questions. And here’s something truly surprising: He answers only three of them. Overwhelmingly, asking questions is a huge part of Jesus’ ministry and Newman thinks we have much to learn from the Master.
What’s So Special About Jesus’ Questions?
In today’s world, asking questions is not always revered. It can be seen as pushy and journalistic. Yet Jesus’ questions feel quite different. Taking into consideration that Jesus changes the tone depending on who he is talking to: For example, with the Samaritan woman (John 4) he is gentle; With the teachers of the law and the pharisees (Matthew 23) he is harsh; And with his own disciples he often rebukes them after bringing them in for more intimate conversation. In different relationships and in different contexts the consistent quality of Jesus’ questions is that they have wisdom and authority.
Jesus’ questions cut through the noise into a spiritual space and leave the listener with an opportunity - to respond with our heart. Jesus asks questions to help people find the answers themselves and to obscure it from people that don't want to know. How do we respond to Jesus’ questions? How might our friends respond?
Jesus Knocks - He Doesn’t Kick Down Doors
Something about ‘getting’ Jesus’ message involves an internal struggle that is helped by chewing on questions. Part of the reality of the gospel message going out is that some will be saved and others will not. The gospel remains obscured for some because they do not have ears of faith.
I love the knocking at the door bit from Revelation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20) God never forces himself into our lives. He stands at the door and knocks. He doesn’t break the door down. Will we open the door?
Newman writes, “We must find new hinges upon which to swing open new doors...so that more and more people will join us in that great gathering of worshipers around the Lamb.” (p. 17)
How Can We Ask Questions Like the Master?
“Whether the questions are old or new - or angry varieties of either - we should be more engaging and less confrontational in our sharing of the Good News.” (pp.16-17) I think Jesus is less of a mind-reader and more of a people-reader. Observing people’s responses to questions gives him valuable information about the state of their heart.
For us, the way people respond to questions says a lot about them. It lets you know if they want to talk or they don't. And what people want to talk about or avoid talking about says a lot about them. Many of us walk around with big questions and long for satisfying answers. Some of those answers take years to wrestle out. And often we only get partial answers. Something to hang on to, to keep us going, but not the full-picture. But if we have no partner to spar with us we won’t make much progress.
One of the ways we can bless others spiritually is by engaging in spiritual conversations and challenging each other’s world views. At the very least getting on to deeper topics informs our prayers for others. Pray for your friends who don’t yet know Christ. Tell them you’re going to be praying as you go away and find out more about the topics you were discussing together.
Some of the questions that people ask today are the same old questions that people have asked for millennia. For example, “Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?”...Some of the questions have been asked before but the temperature in the tone is hotter now. When someone asks, for example, “Can Jesus really be the only way to God?” it might be more an accusation than a sincere inquiry...Some of the questions are new…”Why are you Christians so homophobic?” (p.16)
Prayerfully asking questions, as well as using them in place of answers, taking into consideration the context and the type of relationship we have with the person we are speaking to, are valuable tools to dig deeper and have better Jesus-centred conversations. It’s also worth remembering that Jesus was not just a master philosopher. He was a student of the Bible who wrote the second half with his life. We have to have lives that match up with what we talk about and honesty in how we see the world.
I was talking over a difficult problem with my husband, and we hashed out the following points:
· We think a thousand different things - even hour to hour.
· Sometimes we don’t know what we think and we’ve forgotten how to be honest with ourselves, let alone with others.
· It takes a long time for people to put all of that - all of themselves - on the table. To feel safe enough, generous enough, happy enough, sad enough, spontaneous enough, planned enough. In the right relationship, with the right focus, in the right conversation, with the right questions.
Building trust is a ministry of presence. And we are weak human beings. The best thing we can do is to introduce people gently to the gold standard of trustworthiness: and that is Jesus.
I think that the quantity of our time plus the quality of our conversations equals the depth of our relationships. How much do you trust someone? Enough after a year of Bible Study and church and social hangouts to finally say, “Actually I think Buddhists and Christians are all going to the same place.” Are you brave enough to pray and respond, “Actually I think the Bible is saying something different - what do you think Jesus means when he says ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’? Can we talk about that?”
We’re Only With People For Part of the Trip
We’re only ever with people for a part of the trip. I find that a scary thought. But it’s a realistic one. As I’ve read this book I’ve been reflecting on the snatches of time we have with people, the moments that make up a relationship. I don’t know how much time I have with my children, my husband, my friends, my parents, in this neighbourhood, in this school community, at this church. I have no immediate plans to change location but life happens. People change jobs. People get sick. People move on. We often don’t know what the time frame is - but we know it’s pretty short. Take hold of books like this to invest in the relationships God has given you in your life and may they bear fruit for eternity. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) There’s no special technique to learn here in Newman’s excellent book. Instead there is encouragement to start a conversation. And there’s nothing like a question to get things going.
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie is a lover of books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church and loves being part of the inner west community of Sydney. This year she commences a new job teaching the Bible at two local High schools. She would greatly appreciate your prayers for this endeavour.