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 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

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

    • Ed Kratz


      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.


    • 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?

      free will
      Calvinism v. Arminianism
      unanswered prayer
      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
      bureaucratic structure of church
      roles for women
      end times
      fate of the unreached

      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.


    • 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

      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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