Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Pastoral issue: Answering questions

One issue which I seem to be at variance with some others with is the issue of answering questions, specifically doctrinal questions. It seems that some would prefer to ask the enquirer why they ask the question first before answering it. Now, to some extant, this may be helpful pastorally since sometimes there are other questions and issues below the surface. But do we have to always inquire as to the reason why a question is asked before answering it?

There is of course a personal part to this question. In my Christian walk, I have had a few episodes where people seem more interested in why I am (or someone else is) asking a question. One time was a question I had asked a pastor (not my church). Another time was when I was seeking advice when I was counselling someone struggling with a doctrinal issue. Both times I was extremely disappointed when they were more interested in the "why" rather than the "what." When I asked the question, and received a "why" question back, my impression of the pastor immediately went downhill. Here was someone, I thought, who was not interested in answering my question. Here was someone who thought that behind my question laid some personal struggles and difficulties I may have, and thus doctrinal question was merely the symptom for personal struggles. I was very much offended and saw that as someone who belittled me and my inquiry. The good thing at least is that this guy was not my pastor, otherwise if so I might have left the church.

The struggle therefore is how should one go about answering questions. From my experience, I am resolved, as much as possible, that I will NOT speak down to others when they ask doctrinal questions. I will not insult them or their intelligence, by somehow having the "secret knowledge" that their doctrinal questions are symptoms of personal issues. To think as if any and every doctrinal question must be symptomatic of personal struggles is an insult to the inquirer and a belittling of God's truth as something important only to the extant it is "practical," whatever that terms means.

So when should we ask the "why" question? I don't know. It is probably better done in the context of relationships, and NOT when the person is asking that question.


Darrel said...

I've found two answers to the "why do you ask" question. First, the person asking 'why' seeks to put you under their control as if they have the 'answer' to all your personal problems (and they really are smarter than you and probably a better person, too). Second, they have no answer for your original question, so they skirt by it to avoid embarassment.
No psych degree for me, just 65+ years of dealing with mostly arrogant people and 8+ years in the Lord and His church where this is a huge problem, too.

PuritanReformed said...


that probably is the case for quite a few people, unfortunately

hanguoxiong said...

Hi Daniel,

There were occasions when I also replied "Why" to others who asked me questions. Usually, I did so to understand the context in which that person framed his/her question so that I can give a better response, and not to find out if he/she has "personal problems". Then again, there were other occasions in which I would answer directly, depending on the situation.

Perhaps another way to understand this issue is the anti-intellectual mentality that is deeply entrenched within the evangelical community (I would not be surprised if this applies to Reformed churches as well) at large. The culture is such that there is a lack of a spirit of critical inquiry. People do not seem keen to ask questions pertaining to the doctrinal basis of our faith. They accept teachings without much discernment (which requires asking "Is this teaching in accordance with Scripture?"). Such attitudes and actions are viewed as "pious" and an exemplary example of "having faith".

Guo Xiong

PuritanReformed said...

Hi Guoxiong,

I don't see a pblem with "why" questions per se, but the seeming need to ask "why" questions in response to people asking doctrinal questions, as if one must second guess why others ask questions.