I first saw this in a note posted by Jonathan Smith from Pittsburgh. It is hardly different than what I have been saying in my own notes, but I like the style better and its appeal to the mode of teaching and persuasion that Christ himself used (and Socrates as well). Questions are less blunt, more humble, and more interactive and thus more appropriate for ecumenical dialogue. They are less likely to provoke heated exchanges. Whether they intend to be or not, declaratory statements, especially in written form, come off as arrogant and unwelcoming. The direct and purely logical approach comes off as beating someone over the head with argument, no matter the real intent.
In general, I prefer substance over style, function over form. Style and form have a tendency to make something appear more substantial than it really is. So at first glance, it seems a bit silly to continuously answer one question with another question (when the real intent is to make statements and the objective result is the same) just so no one feels bad. And back-and-forth dialogue is more tiresome through email/Facebook. But nevertheless, I have realized that the style and form of an argument actually do have ethical implications, as well as practical implications, and I should have known that and apologize for my lapses. One can use people merely as a means of testing one’s arguments, which may be very useful but also uncharitable, or one can truly engage others in a way that recognizes their innate dignity, in which the testing of one’s beliefs is a side-benefit. It is possible and necessary that we strive for Truth (who is Jesus) without comprising one of the greatest truths: we should love one another as He has loved us.
Jesus knew the power of questions. In evangelization and apologetics, we often (myself included) present the truth by laying out the facts as if we were presenting a court case. That’s a necessary part of getting a message across. But recently I’ve come to appreciate a somewhat overlooked means of bringing others to recognize truth: the question.
Two things sparked my interest in questions. While reading the Gospel of Luke, I noticed that when the child Jesus was in the Temple amazing the teachers with his wisdom, he wasn’t—as he is sometimes pictured—lecturing them. Instead he communicated his wisdom by “listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2: 46).
After becoming attuned to Jesus’ use of questions, I began to notice how often they occurred in his preaching (e.g., Mark 11:29–30, 12:16). His inquiries were like arrows dipped in the oil of the Holy Spirit, piercing hearts and minds as they penetrated to the very core of the matter.
The second cause for my new interest in “question apologetics” was my own failure. Not long ago I had the opportunity to meet with someone who had questions about the Catholic faith. He asked and I answered—or tried to. Afterward, thinking he seemed little moved by our discussion, it occurred to me that I might have better revealed the truth—both of his position and of the Catholic faith—had I asked some questions instead of only trying to answer them.
That led me to think it would be helpful to commit to memory some questions dealing with issues most often debated by Protestants and Catholics. And what better place to begin than with the hotly contested topic of just what is the source of truth? If we could agree on that, on how much more could we agree?
A widely held, foundational belief in Protestantism is that all theological truth is contained in the Bible alone, and it alone is the sole rule of Christian faith. When this is asserted with sincerity and conviction, we Catholics often get mired in giving specific Bible references for every word we utter. Instead, I thought, in response to the question “Where’s that in the Bible?” why don’t we ask a few pertinent questions of our own?
A word of caution here. There is an inherent danger in listing questions out of the context of a conversation. It can give the impression of a cross-examination. For the best use of space and the easiest way to remember the key questions, I have listed them. But I don’t suggest that we ambush our friends or challengers with one inquiry after another. Instead, we would do better to listen with respect, as Jesus did in the temple, and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, decide how to respond. Our goal is not to force-feed people the truth of Catholicism but to make them hungry for it.
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