Quiz the intimidator
Thomas H. Trapp
In my early years as a full-time campus pastor, I attended a gathering of diverse university religious clergy. Intriguingly, they invited a Christ-centered scholar to speak to a group of mostly skeptical theologians. During the question–and–answer period, one of them quizzed the scholar: “So, what is your view of salvation?”
I thought to myself, That’s an easy answer. The only name under the sky that will bring salvation from God’s just and holy judgment is Jesus. Faith in Jesus saves! (cf. Acts 4:12).
Then I realized the person sitting across from me firmly rejected Jesus as God and Savior. How was the speaker going to respond without being accused as a hater of non-Christians and an unloving, narrow-minded bigot? The speaker knew he was being set up to be chopped down.
If you were that speaker, how would you respond? You may want to do what Jesus often did: He answered a question with a question.
Jesus asked questions
Jesus knew that questions force antagonists to rethink their positions. Religious leaders once asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t follow their religious traditions and wash their hands before eating. Jesus responded with a question: “Why are your man-made traditions more important to you than God’s commands?” (paraphrased from Matthew 15:3). With that question, he was calling them to repentance. What were they doing wrong before God? Instead of using their money to take care of their parents (the Fourth Commandment), the Pharisees bragged that they gave their finances for God’s work. It was a “religious” excuse to break one command of God in order to obey another—and “look good.” Have you ever experienced being more spiritual than others and hoped others noticed it? I can hear Jesus ask: “Why does your obedience make you arrogant?”
During the week before Jesus was crucified, the hate-filled, resentful religious leaders heard children in the temple area singing to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus’ response? A question: “Yes, have you never read [in Psalm 8:2], ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:16). Of course, they knew Psalm 8. They were scholars of the Scriptures! It’s a passage about the coming God–man Messiah (Hebrews 2). Jesus was sending them a clear message: I am that Messiah of Psalm 8. Follow me! “Haven’t your read . . . ?” was a question of love, even though these religious leaders didn’t love him. Jesus wanted his enemies to rethink the words he spoke to them and the miracles he showed them and join the children in singing his praise.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” a wealthy man asked Jesus (Luke 18:18). The man of means felt he was living a holy life and on his way to heaven. Jesus answered again with a question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Jesus was redirecting the man’s false reasoning: If you think I’m “good/God,” then give all your riches to the poor and follow me. The man loved money and walked away—but Jesus’ penetrating question gave him something to think about. Interestingly some think this rich man was Joseph of Arimathea who eventually committed his life to Jesus and buried the Lord in his personal tomb. Who knows?
Jesus faced many challenging and attacking questions, even from his own disciples. One dark night the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee when a furious storm came up and made the waves start flooding their vessel (Mark 4:35-41). It’s hard to imagine, but Jesus was sleeping in the back of the rocking boat. The disciples woke him up with an accusatory question: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus answered: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith in what? In him! They just saw him perform divine powers of healing and casting out demons. Why wouldn’t he also have power over the wind and the waves? Have you ever asked Jesus: “Don’t you care about me and all the troubles in this world?” Jesus asks us: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” King David was once terrified of getting killed. When he turned to God’s promises, he wrote: “I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5). It’s not good fortune or luck that keeps us alive. It’s the Lord. He alone will also determine when we go heaven. Do you believe this?
The goal of questions
Questions make us rethink our doubts and unbelief. Questions also help people who don’t know God to rethink God. A number of years ago during a television interview, a movie star challenged a Christian theologian: “I understand that you think Jesus is God? Well, that’s your opinion!” His response: “Do you really think that’s my opinion?” Then he paused before saying. “It’s not my opinion. Either Jesus is or isn’t.”
Our goal is the Lord’s goal: It’s not to win an argument but to win a soul . . . with truth and love. Intimidators of believers may have no love for us or interest in what we say, so to get their attention, you need to make them question their questions.
A young Christian woman who came to our campus ministry at UW-Madison lived in the dorm with an atheist. The atheist was nice and friendly, but she loved to challenge Christians. One day she confronted her Lutheran roommate with this question: “As a Christian you must believe that I’m going to hell, right?” Our student sat quietly for a moment and then responded, “Yes, I do believe you’re going to hell as Scripture says.” Then she asked a question that eventually changed her atheist roommate’s life: “Did you know that my family really loves you and is praying that you might come to know the love of Jesus and go to heaven?” Her unbelieving roommate was stunned. She never heard any Christian give such a blunt answer and follow up with such a caring question. The entire family was praying for her?
Out of curiosity she came to our campus ministry and started to ask me many, many questions. As we searched the Bible together, the Holy Spirit eventually touched her heart. She told me she fought the Spirit-filled words of Scripture for a long time, but one day she woke up believing in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Then she asked to be baptized. The Chapel celebrated that day along with all the angels in heaven!
When people want to belittle our faith or attack it, develop a penetrating question from their question. Make them think. Then be ready to give them answers from God’s Word, with loving “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Now here’s a closing question for you: If antagonists ever quizzed you, asking, “So what’s your view of salvation?”—what question would you ask them?
Thomas Trapp served as campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel at UW-Madison for 38 years. The Lord called him home in March. We are saddened he is gone from us but rejoice he has found complete joy in his Savior’s presence.
This is the eighth article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.
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Author: Thomas H. Trapp
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019
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