The other day I was listening to a radio program. The speaker is someone who is very popular in Evangelical apologetics. He is someone that I have learned a lot from and whom I respect a great deal. However, he propagated something that I think is a very poor apologetic response to questions for which the individual does not have answers. It goes like this:

Apologist teacher: “We need to be ready to give an answer for our faith.”

Student: “But I am scared. What if someone asks a question that I don’t have an answer for.”

Apologist teacher: “Don’t be scared. It is okay if you don’t know. Don’t feel bad about your lack of knowledge. You just need to remedy it. Tell them that it is a good question and that you will go find the answer and get back with them about it.”

However, I find this sort of carte blanche response disturbing and quite demeaning.

I am not saying that it could not be a good answer in certain circumstances for certain questions. But when it comes to our defense of the faith we had better be more prepared and more reflective. What do I mean by this?

Think about it. Let’s put this in a particular situation. You are an enthusiastic Christian who believes deeply in the Gospel. You are talking to a co-worker about Christ one day. They begin to tell you about why they don’t believe in God. The crux of their issue is the problem of evil. “How could a good God allow evil?” That is their question. You respond, “I don’t know. Good question. I will research this some and get back to you next week.”

What you have just done here is illegitimized your faith to this person. As well, you have diminished the seriousness of the question and the person asking it. To this person, your faith is carried even though you have not dealt with one of the most serious theological questions that anyone can ask. You have just told the person, “Hmmm…Good question. Never thought of that.” Once this person (who obviously does think deeply) recognizes that you have not personally wrestled with this issue, they will see your faith as shallow and fake. By essentially saying, “I have never thought of that,” you have just lost your representation. To them, whether true or not, your faith is naive. 

Not only this, but you have also belittled the person by demeaning the question. How did you demean the question? By not engaging it, but simply saying “I will get the answer and come back.” Quick fix, eh? How do you know you will get the answer? Is it really that easy? Is it as simple as “getting the answer and coming back.” You are saying to this person, “I know that this is the main reason why you reject God. You may think you are a smart chap, but you are not that smart since I can simply go get the answer and come back in no time!”

I am not saying that we have to have an answer for everything. But this is the point: Most pop apologetics today are concerned with good Evangelical cliché answers. It is not about engaging the issue. It is not about wrestling with problems. It is about “getting the answer and coming back.” Sometimes there will be good answers. Other times there will be many legitimate options. Still, other times there will be no answers, just an understanding of the difficulty.

This is why Christian discipleship of the mind is so important. We need to show others that we are not disqualified due to intellectual shallowness. We need to have wrestled with the issue ourselves. We need to show them that we understand the problems not simply because we have read a question/answer book on the subject, but because we have been in the same place and asked the same questions. We have engaged and wrestled with the question personally. Therefore our answer comes from the depth of who we are, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”

Another example: Think about this. You are witnessing to someone and telling them about Scripture as God’s word. They begin to inquire about the contents of Scripture saying, “So many people have different books in their Bibles. How do you know that the books you use are the right ones?” You say, “Good question, I will get back to you on that.” Say what? You have not even wrestled with a foundational question such as this? How real can your faith actually be? That is what is going through their mind.

Or, how about this: They ask you how you know historically that Jesus rose from the grave and it is not just a Christian myth. You respond, “Good question. I am going to find out and get back to you on this.” You are going to find out how you know Jesus rose from the grave? You are going to find out how you know Jesus rose from the grave?? You are going to find out how you know Jesus rose from the grave???? You, a Christian, are going to go (future tense) to find out why you believe the central element to the Christian faith is true? And you expect this person to follow you?

This comes in all areas of theology. As a Calvinist (one who believes in unconditional predestination) I am often asked many questions about why God did not choose everyone. I don’t have an answer for this. It disturbs me too. But this is not from lack of studying or reflection. I know all the options. I have spend many a night dealing with this with the Lord. Hoever, I don’t have a good answer. But I do have an informed answer: “I don’t know.” Sometimes an informed I don’t know is better than an unreflective text book answer. Why? Because it legitimizes the question (and the one asking) and legitimizes your faith. You have shown that you are a real person, not a theological bot. Theological bots are simply concerned with the “right” answer to everything, not the struggle and the depth that accompanies true belief.

We are not theological bots. God wants us to love him with all our understanding. But our discipleship process must engage issues truly. We need to avoid surface level shallow defenses of our faith. They do more harm than good. And, remember, on some issues, informed agnosticism is the best and most effective position to have.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    19 replies to "“Good Question . . . I Will Find the Answer and Get Back to You” . . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • Dear Michael,

      I cannot agree with you more!
      Not knowing and not having the answer is never an excuse to avoid getting into a conversation on any subject of importance to someone else. If we are true and honest in our own beliefs and our daily walk with God, struggling with the one who posed the question, could only enrich our own understanding. We need not fear for what we have to say, for in that moment it will be given to us. And could there really be a question that we never thought about? Or that we haven’t yet formed some opinion of? Or that could not be liked to what we already believe? I agree, we should engage in the conversation and trust the Holy Spirit to provide us with the right answers. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1Peter 3:15.

    • Dear Michael,

      I cannot agree with you more!
      Not knowing and not having the answer is never an excuse to avoid getting into a conversation on any subject of importance to someone else. If we are true and honest in our own beliefs and our daily walk with God, struggling with the one who posed the question, could only enrich our own understanding. We need not fear for what we have to say, for in that moment it will be given to us. And could there really be a question that we never thought about? Or that we haven’t yet formed some opinion of? Or that could not be liked to what we already believe? I agree, we should engage in the conversation and trust the Holy Spirit to provide us with the right answers. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1Peter 3:15.
      God bless,

    • Irene

      I saw a notable quote today, Election Day, from Winston Churchill.
      “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
      God forbid that the world could say of us that the best argument against Christianity is a five minute conversation with the average Christian.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      I don’t know about this argument. When the positions are reversed, and I’m asking the question of an atheist, or a Mormon, or a Buddhist, and they don’t know the answer, but they say something like, “I’ll get back to you” I don’t get upset at them, or think any less of them.

      I don’t expect people to have multi-paragraph nuanced answers readily available to them when I ask them questions, and so it doesn’t bother me when I don’t have awesome answers at my ready disposal either.

    • Anthony

      A man or woman following the Lord and doing so by all the Lord, Yeshua, has provided for us in Scriptures, will all one needs to answer any question others have. Should others fail to understand the answer given to them, they are not ready yet to receive the Lord’s word. They first must devote their heart, mind and soul to the Holy Spirit. All others so continue to struggle to understand is because they are not leaving their sinful ways.

      “For this cause, Yahweh has given them up to shameful lusts; for their women have exchanged the natural use for that which is against nature, and in like manner the men also, having abandoned the natural use of the woman, having burned in their lusts, one towards another, men with men, doing shameful things and receiving in themselves the fitting recompense of their perversity. And as they have resolved against possessing the knowledge of Yahweh, the Lord has given them up to reprobate sense, so that they do what is not fitting; being filled with all iniquity, malice, immorality, avarice, wickedness; being full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity; being whisperers, detractors, hateful to the Lord, irreverent, proud, haughty, plotters of evil; disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Although they have known the ordinance of Yahweh, they have not understood that those who practice such things are deserving of death. And not only do they do these things, but they applaud others doing them.”

    • Anthony

      You reject to hear truth and would much rather spew your own doubts of Scriptures to others. First become a disciple of the Lord Michael and drop the word game of theology.

      • Anthony

        This post was in error and I am sorry for any confusion over it. I would have deleted it if I could but instead I will owe to my mistake and say I’m sorry. To all a blessed day and evening.

    • josef

      I will answer your question with a question
      Does the world history of mankind have a better way of faith in what is not seen
      Or what is seen “the Creation of Life”
      The same question was ask of Job, where were you …When l set the foundation?


      • josef

        The command to go all nations and preach the word of Kingdom of Christ on earth and ruled out of the Heavenly Government of Jehovah’s (god) son Christ’s throne.
        Mankind’s home on earth of peaceful life of immortal races with no more death
        Paul Peter and the other elders taught this message for Christian fellowship no virus of war’s it’s one national people who Loves each other.
        Look for it, its Biblical perspective, not a religious obligations group of ravages wolfs claiming to speak as Gods spokesman.

    • Anthony

      I will touch ground with the question why the Lord doesn’t choose everyone: because not everyone will seek forgiveness if their sinful ways, nor will everyone be willing to forgive others of the offenses they have made. I see the kingdom to come as a place where there will be no such existence of any type of sin, because those who have been chosen have avoided all that was bad; they turned away from adultery, fornication, idolatry, theft, lust, deception, homosexuality, lesbian behavior, murder, and other sins mentioned in the good book.
      Ezechiel 18 : 1-32 (this gives a good explanation on why all are not chosen)

    • Steve Martin

      “All I know is that I was blind, and now I can see.”

      • josef

        Blind from birth
        Why would l want to

    • josef

      Deniability when confronted with documents and facts in print and LDS historical context the Mormon believes what only the book of Mormon says to a fault if any scripture in Bible doesn’t agree the member first reply is it not translated correctly?
      Over all, where did Christian fellowship advocate political involvement and war that’s

      found in the book of
      Mormon (mt. Meadow masquerade) and B.Young being a general of Army Mormons to fight the United States

      Where was Jesus born ??? Alma 7:10 say it was Jerusalem
      JST of his bible. Matt. 3:4-6 says that it was Bethlehem is
      Smith correcting Elohim or Moroni or maybe he was in error when looking in the hat or scribe took a coffee break
      Add to the list pretentious milk of the church and that Adam was a God took mans form to bring Elohims spiritual children to earth but had eat the fruit of tree good and bad first to become equipped sexually to produce human offspring

    • Clint Roberts

      I’m sure the title of this made most people initially think, “Hey wait, I’ve said that before. What’s wrong with it?” As becomes clear, the issue isn’t that line itself but the condition & intent of the person saying it. The criticism is of the lazy Christian who devotes no time to thinking much in depth about his beliefs and simply uses the go-to line, “I’ll get you the answer tomorrow” to buy enough time to do a quick bit of ad hoc research which he will then parrot to the critic when he sees him next.

      The problem here is the Christian’s apathy, not simply his admission that he doesn’t know the answer. He is acting like a Mormon missionary at this point, doing the barest minimum, using a cheat-sheet resource to give automated scripted answers to any challenges.

      The right circumstance for admitting ignorance is when someone is asking you some very specific question that solicits uncommonly rare knowledge we might not expect the average knowledgeable Christian to know off-hand. The questions used in this blog (problem of evil, resurrection) are NOT those kinds of questions. Instead, if asked about specific dates for something in church history or the years of an Old Testament king’s reign, it is OK to excuse yourself from having that information off-hand.

      Also if you are asked unanswerable questions (like, “What exactly was God doing before creation”) there’s no problem with saying, “How the heck should I know?”

    • Josh

      I think Clint is right – and I think that’s what Michael is getting at. The attitude that communicates apathy – “I don’t care enough about my faith to have thought about it very deeply – but you should totally buy it” -that’s the problem.

      But having a prepared response to every possible question – or a strong opinion on every issue whether or not we’ve investigated it, that can be worse. How about something like this: “I have some thoughts on that issue, but the question you’ve raised deserves more dignity than my knee-jerk response. I’d like to research this a little more, and then talk with you again about this.”

    • Glenn Shrom

      I’ll agree that “I don’t know”, especially if it is something you’ve already looked at, is a better reply than “I’ll get back to you.” A real gripe I have had in the past was with people (especially Jehovah’s Witnesses) who said they’d look into it and get back to me on it, but then never bothered to look it up or tell me what they’d found.

      But an obscure question about someone in the Bible you’ve never heard of before could get an “I’ll read that passage and look into it” reply much better than a question about God’s goodness in a world of evil.

      There is also a degree of difference regarding the age of the person being asked and how long the person has been a Christian. The blind man who had just been healed was asked by the Pharisees to explain how Jesus had healed him, presumably in the sense of whether Jesus had the power of God or was under the devil or was some sort of charlatan. The man answered that he really couldn’t tell them by what power or what manner of person Jesus was, just that he had been blind and now he could see!

      Another good way to proceed is to say, “Have you asked God about that? I can’t give you a good answer right now, but may I pray with you now so that we are open for God to lead us into the answer?” Then actually do pray, if the person is willing. I even know of one man who prayed, “God, I know you don’t exist. But just in case you did exist, if you did, … but I know you don’t … but if you did, I would really want to know it, so if you do, please let me know.” Then God answered. God can answer questions and doubts, God can bring faith, when no steps we follow are adequate.

      Jesus often did not seem to give any answer, or he answered a question with another. Q: “Should we worship here or in Jerusalem?” A: “The time is coming and is now come, when the true worshippers will worship neither here nor there, but will worship in spirit and in truth. God seeks worshippers.”

    • Jeff

      I think another problem that I have seen (and somewhat related to this subject) is the answer of asking them to attend services so they could go talk tot heir priest/pastor/minister/deacon/elder/whomever is in authority in their local body. This is basically getting someone else to do the work for them.
      Matthew 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
      Notice how Jesus does not command them to go and get someone else to answer their questions, or to go and read a book or wait until they can look up a good answer. The “pop apologists” and “pop theologians” and ‘pop philosophers” are really just being lazy by failing to do as Jesus instructed. I run into this often. Talking to Christians who just want other people to answer the difficult questions instead of taking the time to pray and reflect upon the teachings of Christ. This does not mean one will always have the correct or even intelligent answer. But the silly answer of “you should go ‘talk to Rev. Jeff” or read a book by Dr. Craig or whomever is their go to person in authority is not taking the commission seriously. Will Jesus look at you and say well done, you got your pastor to answer your questions for you?

    • Carriejh

      Thanks for this. When I was first studying religion this answer would really upset me. I couldnt understand why someone who didnt even know why they believed what they believed would be so intent on converting me to their faith. Now i dont get upset but instead i encourage them to do some research. Most Christians think that just because they know a few bible stories and the Romans Road that they have it all figured out.Give me 10 minutes in a room with a regular Sunday Morning Christian and i will have him doubting his faith with a few simple points. He may still go to church but only out of habit and tradition.
      You brought up the resurrection. I would love to hear your reasons for believing that. Do you have any historical sources outside scripture that documents this event?

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