Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series

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 blanc 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.

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 House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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

    • Aarn Farmer

      Good post but I would hope that you would give a measure of grace for immature Christians who are very young in their faith. After I came to know the Lord I was eager to share my faith and would many times run into a question that I hadn’t thought about or dealt with and could not even begin to give a meaningful answer to. It was precisely that process of going and studying those questions that informed and strengthened my faith.

    • Michael

      CMP,
      I think to some (not all) the phrase “I don’t know” delegtimatizes you just as much and in some cases I think they are right. I think in some cases a “I don’t know” despite having studied the issue and knowing the options makes one a fideist which isn’t much better than being unreflective.

    • Leslie

      Valid point, Michael: Engaging with the questioner is more important than just giving answers!

    • C Michael Patton

      Michael, “I don’t know” sometimes simply evidences the limits of human understanding. For example, saying “I don’t know” to the question, “How did God created everything out of nothing?” is the only answer anyone can give. Yet, as the same time, this does not illegitimize the doctrine in this particular case since it is a doctrine of necessity (i.e. all other options end up in contradictions and absurdities.

      Same hold true for questions such as: “What was God doing ‘before’ he created the earth?” Or “How do you explain that God is three in one?”

      There will be many questions that an informed “I don’t know” serves best.

    • C Michael Patton

      Aarn,

      This is why I think these questions need to be dealt with during the discipleship process. One of the biggest problems we have in the church today is the people who have been Christians their whole life have to say, “Good question. I will go find out the answer.” So many life-long Christians have yet to wrestle with their faith in the name of faith! In other words, they may respond, “You just have to take it by faith.” And what they mean is blind faith because they don’t have any answers and have never really thought deeply about what they believe.

      In our society today where we are no longer living with Christian bots (i.e. we are in a post-Christian society), these type of answer simply won’t work. People—postmoderns—are thinking too deeply about these things…we are not.

    • Jim

      I always enjoy your post, and I agree with what youj ust said, on the other hand, I have seen and heard Christians say some of the Stupidest and unbiblical answers while attempting to answer a skeptic, I like your truthful response of “I don’t know” but if some say’s that honestly then adds, somthing like “My friend Mike is more knowledgeble in this, can I talk to him and answer you” then give a time when you will commit to getting back to them. Sadly, many Christians cannot answer basic questions about their faith I was watching a tv channel where they had many worship videos and once in a while threw in a “sound Bite” sermonet. A girl at a Christian college just tried to convince me that God actally weeps, and that Jesus died of a broken geart, this is the kind of people that open their mouths and misrepresent the real Biblical answers.

    • Mark 13:31

      Note from Moderator: Please keep the discussion on topic. There are more appropriate posts to address this question.

      Question: As “one who believes in unconditional predestination”, how can one know “God wants US to love him with all our understanding.”(emph. mine) I mean, why would He want love from those who are going to hell anyway? Or are you assuming that only those on “the good side” of predestination are reading this, i.e. how does one know who “us” is ?

      My apologies if missing something blatantly obvious here. You are clearly a bright person, just trying to figure out if the “lack of understanding” here is mine or yours, based on a faulty reading of (or reading into) scripture (things that are not there).

      Also, what, in the Bible, do you believe supports the doctrine of predestination ? Thank you in advance. Interesting site.
      Mark

    • Mark 13:31

      p.s.
      Found you following a “link trail” from Frank Tureks’ fine site:
      http//:www.crossexamined.org/blog (a place you might enjoy yourselves)

    • Mike

      Michael, I have benefited greatly from your posts and podcasts. I love how you grapple with the issues in a spirit of humility and it shows in a post like this one.

      I think I understand your concern. There are few people more annoying than the “spiritual know-it-all” who has pat answers for every question. “Problem of evil? No problem at all. I don’t have the exact formula here, but I’ll just look that up in my handy apologetics manual and get right back to you!”

      On the other hand, I think I may understand where the talk show host was coming from too. Having been brought up in an environment where the intellectual life was belittled or at least under-emphasized, our “pat answer” was “you don’t have to know everything…just quote John 3:16” or some such. Many people I know have been taught almost a fideist perspective which doesn’t wrestle with the issues either, but teaches an approach to hard questions that involves “wrapping them up in a bundle of faith”.

      Coming from this background, you can imagine the relief it was to begin learning and growing more in the Christian life of the mind and come to find out that there are in fact answers to the tough questions! And we don’t have to be intimidated when sharing our faith if someone brings up an objection that we’re not familiar with. It isn’t the case that the objector happens to be the first person in history to think up this objection. Great minds have struggled with the issues over the centuries and we have a wealth of knowledge at our disposal. We can truly go “look it up”.

      This by no means invalidates the points you make about wrestling with the issues ourselves, but I wanted to bring up the other side.

    • C Michael Patton

      Mark, good question. Let me go find out and get back to you.

    • C Michael Patton

      🙂

      Seriously Mark, I did not understand the question, but it seems like it is about Calvinism (which, as the moderator noted) is not the topic of this post. We have a lot of recent posts on this though if you search under “Calvinism” in the topics on the right.

    • Hodge

      “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.””

      I think you’re right that this is indicative of the type of discipleship that goes on in both the church and in Bible schools. I used to have a prof that would say that one can tell the difference between a seminary trained and university trained individual. I don’t agree with that dichotomy, but I do think there are many ecclesiastical bodies that teach in an exclusively content-oriented manner (i.e., here’s what I say, memorize this and repeat it). Real discipleship is teaching someone how to fish rather than just giving them one. We need to teach our people to think through the content that they’re being taught, to be critically minded, and then they’ll be able to do the same with any question, whether they have thought of it before or not.
      Unfortunately, as you’ve pointed out, evangelical preaching, music, apologetics, etc. tends to exist in cliches rather than a living and active mind of Christ.

    • Jermayn

      Have to disagree with your post P&P…

      Not everyone is a theologian and has the answers, from experience when your honest it goes down better than ‘making up’ an excuse or an answer.

      The issue is when you do NOT get back to them with the answer.

    • C Michael Patton

      Jermayn,

      Not sure if you read the post since your question does not really follow. The post did not say “make up” an answer. In fact, this is the very thing we are trying to avoid.

      Do you think that every Christian should know why they believe what they believe?

    • Jermayn

      @C Michael Patton – Yes Christians should in an ideal world know what they believe in and every Christian should be learning but the truth is that Christians cannot be expected to know everything..

      Personally I know limited amount of information of the “creation vs evolution” argument but I believe that we where created by design and not a fluke of accidents. However I will loose every argument against a scientist but that does not mean I cannot have an opinion on what I believe in. I just don’t have a scientist mind…

      poor example I know but I think its ok if people say “I will find an answer and get back to you”, especially if they actually do it as that causes them to learn and know.

    • bethyada

      OT

      Michael, you often mention that you struggle with God creating from nothing, but I don’t quite get what the issue is for you. Perhaps a post sometime on why making the material from the non material raises so many logical or theological issues?

    • Nick Norelli

      CMP: You asked Jermayn, “Do you think that every Christian should know why they believe what they believe?” The answer is sure they should, but to take your first example in the post, not every Christian believes what they believe because they’ve ‘wrestled’ with the problem of evil. If an answer to that question hasn’t been pivotal for them or foundational to what they believe, then why should they have an answer waiting for those who ask about it? I can appreciate that you consider it an important theological question, but not every Christian agrees with you. But to make the broader point, we’re only called to give a reason for why we believe what we believe. For some that’s just saying, “because the Holy Spirit touched me and convicted me of my sin.” For others it’s saying, “because I’ve studied these issues in depth and have found the alternatives lacking.”

    • Wonders for Oyarsa

      At least, I know that for my own faith, a bad answer to a serious question is far more toxic than an admission of ignorance or appeal to mystery. Which you certainly touch on at the end of your article. Would that more evangelical apologetics took this far more seriously!

    • C Michael Patton

      That is why I said, “I am not saying that it could not be a good answer in certain circumstances for certain questions.”

      The issue here is one of shallowness. Most people have not wrestled with these kinds of questions because they are simply not part of our basic discipleship. Others have not because they don’t feel like they have permission…like questions express some sort of doubt.

      The point of this post is that we need to be better prepared. Some of the questions that life-long Christians are having to “go get” an answer for demonstrate the nature of their unreflective faith. People today can spot a phony with ease because they are reflective.

    • EricW

      If a person reads the Bible and doesn’t have all sorts of questions, including many of the same ones that skeptics and atheists and inquirers pose as both questions and challenges, then I would wonder if that person has really read the Bible or has ever seriously studied or experienced a Christian tradition or doctrinal stance other than his own. 🙂

    • Xulon

      One other issue here is that this statement is taught by evangelism technique people as a dismissal, or a putting the question off, so as to keep in control of the conversation. It is, essentially, a sales technique to keep riding the wave to the sale. As in sales use, there is usually no real expectation that any research or “getting back” will need to be done. Similar is the line “That’s a great question because it brings me to my next point”. Whether or not the next point has anything to do with the question, the purpose is retaining control. As such, it often leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.

    • jim

      Not the Jim of #6 above!

      In response to #17; The bible is clear that believing (faith) through conviction by the holy spirit of our sin saves. This can come about at any time whether the person has been wrestling with God or not. However, I have found that for a Christian to witness effectively we should have a understanding of what we believe.
      I agree with Michael that in this post modern world people are much more skeptic about God and salvation and question us much more readily than when I first became a Christian. I am much stronger (intellectual) now than then, because I have wrestled with the same questions , then attempted to find the answers. My witness is much stronger and though I don’t know all the answers I can at least dialogue on the issue in question because I have been there! It is true that God saves and the holy spirt convicts but we have to boldly defend our witness to get people from dismissing our faith based on stupid responses like “the holy spirit touched me. ( What does this mean to an unbeliever)

      To me, this is more efficient than offering Ball room dancing as a means of associaton with a church for the purpose of getting unbelievers interested, as some churches do. We need to do a better job of training the mind !

    • Lisa Robinson

      While I agree that someone new to the faith might find this resort practical and even necessary, I think the blanket action of it is indicative the unwillingness to engage with conflict regarding my beliefs. So I don’t think it matters whether we have the answer or not, or have studied up on whatever is being asked. If I’m asked a question I don’t know the answer to and am not willing to think through it with the person asking, it might demonstrate that I don’t think through anything I believe.

      I also think Xulon (#21) raises some good points about control

    • Paulos

      I have to disagree with you Michael. Responding to a question with, “Good question. I will find the answer and get back to you” is a valid response. It is then your responsibility to get back to them with an answer. The answer may be that it is a mystery of God, that it is something that is still under debate by different branches of Christianity, that the answer is “I do not know”, or that “Here is the answer”.

      I do not think that this is “One of the biggest problems we have in the church today”.

      Far from it.

      We have more problems with John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    • J.R.

      Good post Michael,

      I have had conversations with a loved one on the topic of evil and although I did not have an answer which totally solved her question, I was able to talk to her about my issues with evil and my resolutions to those issues. I believe this showed her I too have wrestled with the same questions.

      I think the jest of you blog is being authentic with the person. Allowing them to see that we too have thought deeper into our beliefs. We have struggles and at times have had doubts. Being able to sympathize with their questions and articulate our approach in answering to OUR satisfaction the same questions they are now asking. Our faith is built on what we know and what we believe to be true and how we came to that belief. Yes, some questions we may not be able to answer but getting Christians to think critically through why they believe what they believe is important. Is our faith based on what we have been told to believe by our pastor, parents, friends, etc, or is it based on what we know to be true through critical analyses?

    • #John1453

      I have rarely read a lede post of such complete tripe. I almost feel ashamed to post because by doing so I’ve admitted that I wasted 5 minutes of my life reading it.

      regards,
      #John

    • Joshua Allen

      While I agree with the basic point, I personally think it would be a disaster if most Christians out there answered certain questions like “Why does evolution disagree with the Bible?” That’s because there is such a broad range of answers that all qualify as orthodox Christianity, but half of which are insane. In fact, it’s usually the Christians who are most eager to answer the question who have the craziest answers.

      However, saying “good question” is usually a lie, and saying “I’ll get back to you” misses an opportunity to witness about the real reasons you believe in Christ. You can say, “I don’t know anyone who came to know Jesus by asking questions about evolution, but here is why I believe.”

    • EricW

      #John1453:

      They say menudo is tasty, but that’s not been my experience. 🙂

    • just some guy

      Can you think of an effective approach that avoids the shallowness?

      “Wow, that’s a good question. I’ll be honest, my initial response isn’t very satisfying even to me. I want to do justice to the depths of this issue, and I know others who have wrestled with exactly the same thing. Would you allow me the time to go research this a bit, and can we reengage on this point in a few days?”

      I’ve known tons of people who were terrified of being asked a question for which they had no answer, so they simply never engaged in spiritual conversations at all.

      If we can avoid the smugness of “I’ll get you an answer” and phrase it to honor their quest for truth, the approach isn’t condemnable – it may be necessary for most Christians.

      (the following don’t show up in any discipleship material I’m aware of)
      * What about the God’s command for genocide?
      * So who created God?
      * Christianity is just borrowed from ancient mystery and fertility cults…
      * David and Solomon were no more real than Robin Hood and King Arthur…
      * Bart Ehrman said…
      * Daniel Dennett wrote…

      I believe there are questions that every Christian ought to have ready a meaningful response. (1 Peter 3:15… why do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?) But few professional religious people are capable of responding to all of the nuances of objections in the wild, let alone the average Christian.

      We shouldn’t berate people because they aren’t ready for any and all questions, instead, train them to deal with the unknown “with gentleness and respect.”

    • #John1453

      As has been said before, a text without a context is a proof text. Or, a text forced into one’s preferred context provides little or no real support for an assertion. I’d hardly cally the reply, “Good question, I don’t know, I’ll get back to you” invariably shallow and smug. It depends, obviously on the context and one’s real intent on saying it, and on what else one says in the situation. It is not a “stupid statement” unless one assumes a context that makes it so. By admitting that the statement could be true in “certain circumstances”, CMP eviscerates the force from his initial allegation. Which kind of context happens more frequently? the context that makes the statement stupid and shallow, or the one that makes it a valid response? who knows? who cares? it’s not even possible to know. Certainly if it is true that some evangelism technique teaches the statement as a way of controlling the conversation (see #21, Xulon) it’s sick and disgusting.

      regards,
      #John

    • Jason Dulle

      Michael,

      I am a firm believer in preparing oneself to make a defense for the Gospel, and I agree with you that there are some basic questions that we should all be prepared for.

      But the truth of the matter is that there will always be questions posed to us that we have not thought about and/or studied, or for people like me who suffer from dementia already in their 30s, there will always be information we forget. In such circumstances I think the best thing we can do is affirm their question, and tell them we’ll get back to them on the matter. What other alternative do we have? Try to wing it (not that you are suggesting so)? They’ll pick that up from a mile away. No, we tell them we don’t know the answer, and then we go seek it.

      I think such a response demonstrates to your interlocutor both your intellectual humility, as well as the seriousness with which you take their questions about the faith since you aren’t simply trying to make up any ‘ol answer, and you’re not being dismissive of their question either.

    • Mike

      Amen to #28 and #30.

    • Michael L

      Even though I agree with the overall outline of the post, I have some serious reservations with some of the comments.

      Any answer we give depends on the intent with which it was given. If the “Let me research and get back to you” is done honestly because it’s just something we personally may not have struggled with or reflected upon, I believe it’s a valid answer and reaction. Somewhat aligned with what “Just some guy” just posted.

      If, on the other hand, the “I don’t know” answer is given dismissively and with the intent of moving on the next topic, it’s probably a worse answer than “I’ll get back to you”.

      CMP
      Do you think that every Christian should know why they believe what they believe? Nope.. If you do, you’re making Christianity an exclusive club for theologians only. How about people with mental retardation or other cognitive challenges ? They can’t be Christian because they can’t eloquently explain why they believe something ? AUCH !!

      EricW
      On post #20… you’re kidding, right ? I can vouch for several people who just don’t struggle with the peripheral things as much as we seem to do. Doesn’t mean they haven’t read the Bible or experienced other traditions. They just don’t see it as something to quibble over or question it. They would answer those questions way more in the sense of “I don’t know. It’s part of the mystery of God”

      In Him
      Mick

      PS: I’ve had some tasty menudo 😉 Got it from a Mexican matriarch and it was quite good.

    • C Michael Patton

      Paulos,

      My point about it being one of the biggest problems is the foundational issue that propts such a post. People don’t feel the need to be critical or educated in what they believe.

      The questions that so many are “having to get back to other on” are basic questions. I am not saying that there will not be times when someone brings up a question that we wiill not have an answer for or have not thought through (I indicated this in the original post), but when the questions we are having to get back to people on are ones that are part of basic discipleship, then we have discredited our faith. We should have already asked the same questions or been led through a critical thought path that makes us ask these questions.

      When Christians have not really wrestled with their own faith, it becomes one of the biggest problems in the church. That is what this post is about.

    • Michael L

      CMP

      I’m not with you on this one…

      We should have already asked the same questions or been led through a critical thought path that makes us ask these questions. When Christians have not really wrestled with their own faith, it becomes one of the biggest problems in the church.

      Great… no more 5 to 10 year old Christians, no more Christians with cognitive challenges… sorry brother… I can’t go there with you

      Mark 10:15, Matthew 19:14, etc… and I know I’m ripping it out of context… still like it though 😉

      In Him
      Mick

    • Jason Dulle

      Michael,

      I think I missed your statement, “I am not saying that we have to have an answer for everything” in my first reading of your post. Having read it through again, I can see that you did speak to the issue I raised.

      I should also say I like your point about informed agnosticism. Very true. We don’t always have to know the answer, but we can at least know the issues involved in finding it.

    • Archie Dawson

      Michael,

      To be fair, I’ve never heard an apologist promote using “Good question. I’ll find the answer and get back to you” who didn’t also promote a vigourous life of the mind.

      The point is to take away a common excuse that people have for not talking about spiritual things by giving them a graceful way to handle unexpected questions. If you honestly have an interest in these things, the person you’re talking to will pick up on your sincerity and you can say “Good question. I’ll find the answer and get back to you” in your own words, in a way that is appropriate to the tone of the conversation, and without sounding like a robot.

      Personally, I’ve been studying basic theology (and her handmaiden – philosophy) for a few years now but, if you asked me an eschatological question that went beyond what you learn in basic Sunday School, I probably wouldn’t have either a good OR an informed answer for you. The level of detail you’re looking for may have simply gone beyond my studying. My interests haven’t taken me there – I’m pretty busy answering my OWN questions. I’d probably talk a bit about tangential things and then say something that boiled down to “Good question. Don’t know. I’ll look into it and get back to you on that”.

      I’m also a software engineer. If a friend asked me something about software engineering that stumped me I’d probably say something similar.

      This “tactic” is not a replacement for studying or for careful thought. As a tactic, it was never meant to be.

    • C Michael Patton

      Michael,

      Can’t win them all!

      I do know that young children will not have wrestled with these issues. I guess that I was assuming that we knew it was not young children.

      I suppose that Peter assumes the same thing when he encourages Christians to “Be ready” to give a defense for the hope that lies within you. I don’t think that my young son Will is ready, but it does not invalidate Peter’s admonition.

      So, I hope you see that I am talking about Christian discipleship. When it comes to some of these questions such as “How do you know what books belong in the Bible” or “Why do you think Christ rose from the grave?” enthusiastic Christians need already have dealt with this or their faith will be seen as naive (indeed, I would say that it is naive). If they have not, they are not prepared.

      We simply need to prepare Christians more to solidify their own faith and give them something to share with intellectual stability.

    • C Michael Patton

      Archie,

      I should have made it more clear in the original post that this has to do with foundational issues to the faith. Normally when doing apologetics and answering objections, they don’t come in issues of eschatology or from other minor places. They come from foundation issues.

    • Mike

      Archie: “To be fair, I’ve never heard an apologist promote using “Good question. I’ll find the answer and get back to you” who didn’t also promote a vigourous life of the mind.”

      Same here. And I suppose even this post by CMP helps to prove this point.

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      I don’t think I am with you on this one either. Yes, we are to love the Lord with all of our mind. And yes, the first Christians were provided with the facts of Christ’s life and resurrection so that they could believe.

      However, I do not anywhere in the Bible see any one commanding us to wrestle with everything regarding our faith and thereby come to our own conclusions about it and why we can accept it. We are told to believe the truths that have been handed down to us and to live by them.

      Granted, we live in an age where very few are willing to do that. However, I am not so sure that means we have to tear each issue apart ourselves as indidivual Christians in order to be able to answer them. Jesus spoke often of little children and that “of such is the Kingdom of God” and that we need to be converted and become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Little children accept things by faith. They don’t have to have everything reasoned out logically or have all of their facts lined up in a row before they will believe it. They don’t even have the ability to do so. To say that we have to do this in order for people to believe seems to me to fly in the face of what Jesus taught us here.

    • EricW

      Michael L. #33:

      Re: my post #20:

      No, I’m not kidding.

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      I think the verse that says to be ready to give an anwer to the hope that lies within you deals with the very basics, like why we believe we are saved by Jesus. I honestly don’t think it can be taken to mean such things as knowing why we believe the canon is correct. It seems to me that is reading a whole lot more into that verse then was intended by Peter.

    • Michael L

      Can’t win them all LOL.. you got that right 😉

      And I’ll leave the children out for now.

      I dread going down the path I’m about to head down to… but oh well..

      I do believe some are more equipped to provide answers, explanations, etc.. Other are not. Even though they can be quite strong in their faith, providing intellectual answers is not their gift nor service.

      Examples ?
      A mentally retarded man who is a prayer warrior. Don’t ask him to explain his faith, but I do know it’s unwavering.
      A woman whose love and care for others is so strong she will take care of others in need to the extent she will forego her own “luxuries” to help others. When asked why she believes in Christ the answer is “I don’t know. I just know it’s true”.
      A woman who is there every week to help serve meals to others so they don’t have to cook at home and can make it to Church on time. When asked “what happens at the Lords table” she replies that she doesn’t know. But she knows Christ commanded it and that it helps her reflect on His sacrifice. Whether it has a salvific effect or not, or whether He is present or not, she “Leaves that to the theologians

      Simple answers ? Perhaps.
      Christians ? Definitely !

      I just don’t think you can have a “one glove fits all” in this case. We don’t all have to be eloquent defenders of the faith to be called Christian.

      In Him
      Mick

    • C Michael Patton

      Cheryl,

      “I do not anywhere in the Bible see any one commanding us to wrestle with everything regarding our faith and thereby come to our own conclusions about it and why we can accept it. We are told to believe the truths that have been handed down to us and to live by them.”

      I think that we can say that there is an assumption of critical thinking throughout the bible. Explicitly, however, Isa 40-48 is God’s indictment upon Israel for not using their heads. They lacked critical thinking which led them into idolatry.

      If we don’t promote and require critical thinking in the church then we have just opened the door to fideism and with it every other religious option that is out their. At that point, what makes our faith more “able to give a reason” than any other?

      Again, my point is that it is only because of our weak discipleship process in the church today that anyone would ever have to say “let me get an answer and get back to you” on pivotal questions of the faith.

    • C Michael Patton

      Mick, you left out those who sing the song “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”

      The Mormons love that song!

    • jim

      Is there any difference between discipileship and witnessing?
      I took the whole issue of someone asking you a question being a matter of being prepared to answer a simple question that most of us as Christians have already wrestled with.

      I understand that we can witness effectively by our actions but pre-supposed this discussion involved verbal communication.

      I agree it’s not a one-glove fits all and really has nothing to do with who can be a Christian or not .

      #37: If I was a software engineer and someone asked me a basic question involving my field, I hope I could cover that without having to go ask my boss, or my prof at college….. Not only that but I would make a heck of a lot more money $$$$

    • #John1453

      re Isaiah: seems to me that the issue there is evidence (via stories) of works that God has done and the (false) ones have not, not philosophical reasoning.

      re menudo. There is an annual festival in California. And I’ve eaten a Chinese dish from calves that was palatable (and not spicy). However, I’m a firm believer that just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. I would put it in that category, unless of course, one would otherwise starve. Even then, calling it a “traditional dish” sounds more like one is just making a virtue out of a necessity.

      regards,
      #John

    • Michael L

      CMP

      Glad I never heard that song ! I might have become a Mormon 😉

      Or in other words looking at the bait… not biting 😉

      I get your point, but I’m weary it may lead to a very long discussion. It’s getting into the question of “Does everyone need the spiritual gift of apologetics in order to be called Christian“. Can I have a sufficient understanding of the Christian faith and receive God’s grace alone by accepting, by faith alone, Christs atoning sacrifice in recognition of my sinful nature, without being able to adequately defend or explain it ?

      My answer: Yes.

      Yours ?? I would venture to say “Yes” but the post makes it sound too much like “No” imho.

      In Him
      Mick

    • mbaker

      I’ve found an effective answer, as well as an honest one, is to simply tell people that I ask myself some of the same questions sometimes. I also tell them I have doubts myself sometimes. While I don’t know the answer to everything and don’t claim to, I believe it’s wiser to tell them as much we do know, or can find out, when we do have their immediate attention. Even as a believer, I personally have been turned off too many times by the pat answer, “There are some things we just have to accept in faith, and leave it at that.” Yeah, that’s true, but there’s also an awful lot of good resources out there that we can steer people to immediately if we don’t readily have the answer, or don’t want to take the time to find ourselves.

      However, I think we all should be prepared as possible for the difficult questions ourselves that people invarably seem to ask. If the Bible does not have details that are enough to resolve the issue satisfactorily for them, I generally ask my pastor or someone whose knowledge and wisdom and passion for the truth I respect. I have even asked him, and others for CD’s’s and written material to give to people of in depth teaching on the subject they question. I also refer folks to trusted blogs or links where I know they will get a healthy dose of both sides of the question. The point is however you choose to do it there are better options to help people find answers than simply casually brushing valid questions off just because we don’t have a ready answer.

      However, when it’s a issue of say Calvinism vs. Armianism or the different beliefs on eschatology or whether the spiritual gifts exist for today, I think it’s perfectly okay to tell them that even respected theologians disagree on these things, and they can make up their own mind there. The important thing to stress, IMO, is sticking to known foundational truth and telling it like it is, not trying to sell pop Christianity by glossing over some of the more difficult parts, like counting the cost. So, if that sometimes means some time out of our busy lives to find substantive answers to difficult questions, so be it. While an honest ‘I don’t know’ is occasionally appropriate, it should never be an easy excuse not to be as personally prepared as possible when it comes to giving valid reasons for the way we believe as we do.

      Certainly there is already enough readily accessible knowledge of most of the questions people ask about the Christian faith that when it comes to answering questions, it should never be a matter of the blind leading the blind, as Christ so wisely noted. The bottom line is we may not readily personally have a complete explanation for every difficult question we encounter, but certainly most of us nowadays do at least know where to go to get the answers.

      So ‘I don’t know’, at least for the Christian, should never really mean, ‘I just don’t want to’.

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      It seems to me that the Isaiah arguments are quite a bit different than what you are getting at too CMP. And God did make the statement in chapter 44 verses 18-20 that the ones that had fallen into idolatry did it because He had shut their eyes and their hearts so that they could not see or understand and that they were deceived. Sounds very like the Romans 1 discussion where Paul says that God’s attributes can be known in creation but because people wouldn’t glorify Him as God they became foolish and fell into idolatry. Sounds to me like there is something other than lack of critical thinking going on when people choose idolatry.

      I’m not saying that we are not to use our heads. We certainly need to measure everything we see around us by the truth of God’s Word and only take in what measures up. And we do need to be able to give a reason for the “hope that is within us”. But again, I don’t think that entails all of what you have said it does. I guess what I have a problem with is saying that we have to figure out the how and why we believe everything that we do before we can be said to be legitmate in our faith.

    • C Michael Patton

      mbaker,

      very good. I agree.

    • cherylu

      mick re #49,

      I think what you said here is what I was trying to say above about people needing to become as little children and accept the truth of what God is saying. And I certainly think that is legitmate faith!

    • #John1453

      I do agree that we should never stop learning about the things of God, and that we should continue to grow in knowledge, and take advantage of opportunities to do so (as indicated by Aaron in his post #1). I also agree, as I indicated above, that it is wrong to use “I don’t know” as a way to ignore the concerns of the other. I also agree that if one has philosophical or other issues with one’s faith (doubts, inconsistencies in the Bible, inerrancy, evil, etc.) one should actually investigate those issues thoroughly rather than taking a shallow look at the issue and then abandoning the faith.

      However, I disagree that any sort of technical apologetics or understanding of justification is in general necessary for our faith. I also disagree with the pejorative comments about the “I know that He dwells within my heart” song. I think that while the song is not the complete story or the “be all and end all”, it is not only correct, but also legitimate and appropriate and consistent with what we read in the Bible about the indwelling of the Spirit. Indeed, if the song does not state something true about one’s faith, I suggest that one has a significant problem to work through. Moreover, for many people that is sufficient, and will be sufficient for them until the day they die.

      regards,
      #John

    • mbaker

      I don’t think CMP meant that it’s a matter of faith versus apologetics at all, but a realistic approach to sharing what we do know with those who ask as best we can. After all, isn’t that what we do with each other here? Does that mean we lack faith in our hearts because we also think about and discuss such things?

      I for one have learned a lot from hearing folks here discuss things I’ve wondered about in great detail, on both sides of the question. I’ve gotten many questions answered, (and a lot of them raised, lol) and hopefully provided some input along the way. I may not agree with all that is said, but I do learn why people believe as they do, and have often used things on this blog to explain something I didn’t have a great deal of knowledge on to others.

      I think mature Christianity carries with it a responsibility to disciple as well as evangelize those who come to us with valid questions. I think that is the real point of this post.

    • carl Peterson

      Often “I do not know” is a better answer than many taught by apologists. Often the questions I get by non-Christians are things no one really completely knows. And some questions are stupid or miss the point entirely. I do believe one shoudl know what one beleives and all Christians should have some knowledge of theology and doctrines. How can they not and be a Christian? What I find is intersting also is many Biblical answers go against modern thought patterns.

      Like why shoudl one trust in the Bible? A more modern Christian might try to persuade the person with manuscript evidence and so forth. That is okay but I think the most biblical answers is simply because God is real and who He is.

      But anyways I think it is better to say “I do not know but I will get back to you later” than to have a superficial answer. But of course a Christian should know how to respond to some of them at the very least.

      Also it seems that the program was just trying to reassure the person to not be afraid but to witness and that he does not have to know ALL the answers. So many think that they have to know it all before they start sharing their faith. That is sad.

    • Hodge

      I think Michael has a specific kind of person in mind though. I know that I did when I read his post. I pictured the person who has opportunity to think through issues, to meditate on what is revealed day and night, but chooses to spend his or her time watching TV, reading novels of low depth, etc. (i.e., people who waste their time and thoughts when they could be pondering those things that have to do with what is supposedly the most important thing in their lives). So I wasn’t really picturing the new believer, the child, the mentally challenged, etc. To whom much is given, much is required. If God gives you a mind to think through something, and the time in which you can think through it, then how can it be anything less than a sin to use that time in any other way.

      That, therefore, intersects with his discipleship claim, because if a church, based on a faulty discipleship model, is not thinking deeply and pondering these issues, then certainly, neither will most of those who attend it.

    • ChrisB

      I think you may be making too much of this. If you’re talking about who I think you are, he is continually encouraging people to prepare.

      So this isn’t a get-out-of-preparation card; it’s acknowledgement that you can’t prepare for everything.

    • #John1453

      The alleged stupidity of “I don’t know” is highly overestimated, because for many things on which one could have an answer, there are many possible, different answers and no “correct” answer. So what’s the point, really, of having to have one?

      evil
      free will
      Calvinism v. Arminianism
      unanswered prayer
      disasters
      mode of baptism
      nature of communion
      sinning & sinlessness
      inconsistancies in the Bible
      number of books in Bible
      age of earth
      nature of justification
      order of salvation
      separation from the world
      what activities are sin
      sabbath keeping
      nature of trinity
      cessation of gifts
      healing
      bureaucratic structure of church
      roles for women
      slavery
      polygamy
      end times
      fate of the unreached
      etc.

      In addition, I don’t get, from the “have an answer” passage a requirement for either an apologetic or for doctrine, but rather, simply an explanation why my life is different and who Jesus is.
      Other than the death and resurrection of Jesus, is there really any doctrine that is uniform across all major traditions? Note, please, that I’m not saying that apologetic and doctrine is worthless or unnecessary, only that there is no stupidity in not knowing something and admitting it and that one’s faith is neither defective nor deficient because of one’s lack of knowledge.

      regards,
      #John

    • Jason C

      I’m afraid that I could not answer with “good question…” because I’ve generally never found them such.

      What problem is there with evil? Does the Bible ever suggest that there won’t be sorrow and trouble in this world?

      We can go back to Genesis and find that human rebellion coupled with God’s judgement on the Earth deals with it, but the demand that God justify why there is evil in the world is nonsensical.

    • Gisela

      Wow. This one’s a zinger. I’m going to pray and study and think and reflect.

    • MatthewS

      Perhaps the more factual a question is, the more appropriate the “I’ll get back to you” response will be. How many apostles were there? Why might someone believe Job is an old book vs. a more recent book? These are factual questions for which one can research and return with an answer.

      Some questions involve real tension and have eluded easy answers for the history of the world. Job asked God why the wicked were prospering and the righteous were suffering, seemingly contrary to God’s promise. God did not answer with a direct answer. Instead, he interacted with Job and let Job see himself a little more clearly. There are tragedies and injustices in this world that bother people. There are theological reflections that cause tension. Careers have been spent researching deep questions of the faith. To imply that one can find a nice, clean answer by next week sometime and move on to the next question is to completely miss the question and the person asking it.

      I think it is a relief to many people to realize they don’t have to know all the facts. But they should not be relieved that they don’t have to think deeply and wrestle and ask difficult questions and deal with tensions. Because they must, if they want to speak persuasively with thoughtful people outside the faith who are interesting in talking about it.

    • TBascom

      This is a powerful post. In the main, I agree with the thesis. It goes to the heart of the tendency of many evangelical Christians to adopt the perspective that faith, not knowledge, is enough. It is not.

      Yes, we are saved by faith, not by our knowledge – but just because we are not able to fathom everything does not excuse us from wrestling with the wisdom, words and reasoning of our God. It is the process of wrestling with God’s Word that transforms our minds.

      As for excited new Christians being eager to share their faith, even when they have insufficient knowledge: note that Paul spent considerable time learning the tenets of the faith before he went out to evangelize. And in his early journeys, he traveled with a companion. That’s because we learn Christianity as much by being “traditioned into” the faith at the side of more mature Christians as by studying the tradition.

      Faith, which is emotional, requires foundations, which are mental, to have staying power. Faith without foundations is like the seed that landed on the earth and did not root. It will not yield fruit; it is not fruitful. It will succumb to whatever wind blows, or die out in the first months of spiritual drought.

      It’s one thing to say, “Friend, I have had an amazing experience! I don’t really know what all it means, yet, but I have been encountered by the Holy Spirit and brought to Christ!” And to then talk about that experience. That is a sharing of an experience, and cannot be either defended or attacked.

      My experience is my experience, whether you understand it or not. A challenger can be blunted with simple, honest words: “I don’t know what it means yet, except that I feel free and safe for the first time in my life. But I am learning. And I just wanted to share this with you because we’re such good friends. But you’ll just have to stay tuned to learn more about what this means to me; I’ll let you know as I figure it out.” The more evangelically-oriented might add something like, “Or, you could come with me and see for yourself. Maybe we could figure it out together.”

      It is something else to try to launch into a defence of the faith too early and without the support of more mature believers. Again: a strong community of faith is built on the practice of traditioning new believers into the faith – its content and rationale – and into the practices and customs of a particular church – along with their rationales.

      It is enough, all along the discipleship road, to just be honest about where we are in our understanding, our confidence, and our doubts. God can – and will – use our honest weaknesses as well as our genuine strengths as bridges to those He seeks to bring into the fold.

      That all said, evangelical enthusiasm trumps mainline Protestant apathy, in my opinion. Better to risk and fail to defend the faith, than to abandon the battle for souls. Too many mainline Christians have neither enthusiasm nor knowledge.

    • WKing

      There are times that I also am disappointed with “Christians” today in that there seems to be no desire to really know God. However, I have to remind myself that this desire has to come from within or someone helping to spark this desire. Not many “Christians” today could answer a question such as “Can you give me the Ontological Argument for the existence for God”. What would you say? We have to teach them to be better Ambassadors for Christ. I don’t want to push someone aside who is weak in their understanding. I want to put my are around them and teach them.

    • Luke N

      Michael,
      I get what you’re saying, but it moves into some dangerous territory. You need to add nuances. I think that you need to distinguish between essential doctrines of the faith and non-essential doctrines of the faith. Also basics vs minutia. Not everyone is going to have investigated every single alternative explanation for the evidence for the resurrection. So it is legitimate that they may not know due to ignorance; but that does not mean that the apologist is demeaning the person or the question.

      It is not possible to investigate every non-essential doctrine or the minutia of every essential doctrine. Every Christian needs to have a better understanding of why they believe the essentials vs non-essentials and be able to articulate their reasons. But telling someone that you will followup with them is not the result of malevolence nor does it always bring damage to Christianity.

      It seems that you are promoting a view here that is not possible for even the average…

    • FreeBeing

      I am new in the study of the Bible & sometimes in answer, I have to admit that I don’t know either and that I have been looking into it. I first believed on faith and am learning to defend it. Nothing I learn is going to take away my faith, so I feel strong there. If someone wants to not believe, I don’t think anything will convince them to believe.

    • […] I will get back to you after I find the answer and other stupid statements. […]

    • Brian

      CMP – I think this way of thinking may encourage many Christians to keep their thoughts to themselves lest they don’t have a well prepared answer at hand. Furthermore, your example regarding theodicy is a straw man example. Most everyone has some answer for the existence of evil. It may not make sense, or be Biblical, but most people I’ve encountered have an answer. The better example would be what if the non-believer explores a perceived weakness in your answer and asks for your response? Wouldn’t a “That’s a great question. I haven’t thought of it from that perspective. I’ll think and read more on that and get back to you” be honest (a Christ-like quality), respectful of the other person and their question (another Christ-like quality), and allow you to be thoughtful in your answer instead of shooting from the hip and perhaps replying with a stupid statement?

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