When you’re having a debate with someone about something, it is always dangerous to assume that when one of you uses a distinctive term that you and the other person, (with whom you are having an argument or heavy discussion), automatically have and agree to the same definition for that term. The other person’s meaning may be light years away from yours. Why is it important? Because the old adage says that he who defines the terms wins the argument is true. When you’re having a discussion with someone about something, particularly heavy, like God and faith, it is even more critical (while you’re being careful to be patient, kind, loving, and respectful) to get the other person to zero in on exactly why they believe what they’re proclaiming as truth, and whether or not they even know what defines their beliefs.
Andrew Heister, Jeff Myers, and Mark Cahill have been using what they call “The Four Deadly Questions” in their work at Summit Ministry. I received a handy bookmark version of them years ago at a home school convention where Jeff Myers was speaking. Not only do they challenge me to narrow down why I believe what I believe, and present my faith in a lively discussion format, they challenge the other person to really be more analytical (and honest) in their thinking and information processing, and ponder more intensely what they’ve always considered to be “facts.”
In a nutshell, these questions squash lazy thinking. They’re called “deadly” because they can quickly zero in on the important issue and torpedo someone’s faulty thinking and assumptions. Learning and practicing them will help you be a better, more thoughtful messenger. (You can read last week’s post on the importance of being the best messenger you can be with a tough message).
So let’s get into these “deadly” questions.
Number 1: What do you mean by that?
The true weakness of an argument lies in the fuzzy definition of terms used by people. When someone makes a “truth” claim, ask him what he means by that statement. It may be that he’s just heard it uttered by another person and have decided that it “sounds” right, or he isn’t being completely honest and doesn’t really want to come clean on or admit to the facts.
Number 2: How do you know that is true?
Actually, as Heister, Meyers, and Cahill say, “most people believe things for which they have absolutely no evidence.” They don’t know the source, they don’t know the facts, and they’ve taken what someone else has said for truth. (Can anyone say “political hyperbole and spin”?) A person who holds strong, confident convictions will be bold in her explanations of her beliefs. While she’s explaining those beliefs, you might come to realize that her “facts” are based more on mere feelings, hopes, dreams, skewed biases, and convoluted logic than on real facts. This question should open up a great discussion.
Number 3: Where do you get your information?
If someone makes a “radical” claim, it is important to question him about his source. Think like an investigative journalist or researcher. Is his belief based on first source information, hearsay, opinions, political dogma, pillowy or abstract philosophy, or …? After some wrestling together with this question for a little while, you’ll eventually get to the basic foundations of the person’s belief and will be able to better define the terms. That’s helpful for both of you.
Number 4: What happens if you’re wrong?
Bingo!! That’s something most people never consider. They never ask themselves: What if I’m wrong? It’s one thing to believe something and quite another to stake your life on it, like Jesus’ disciples did. Can you imagine them dying like they did for something they knew was a lie and awful hoax? Really!? Would you honestly go to the head chopping block, be crucified upside down, be stoned to death, or sacrificially climb into a vat of boiling oil for something you knew wasn’t true!? You might die for something you believe to be true (and many people around the world do that); but you would hardly willingly die for a known lie.
If we’re honest, it is a question many people of deep faith ask themselves, more than once in their faith journey: What if all of this is just a hoax? The Apostle Paul says that if it is, Christians are to be the most pitied of people. But remember, what is the loss if you believe, and you are wrong? Honestly, not much.
But if you don’t believe and are wrong, what do you stand to lose? The answer to that is: A lot! Unless you don’t think eternal life is everything, in which case I guess it depends on your view of “eternal life.” If you know what Jesus said about it, it’s enormous. It’s EVERYTHING! And that’s another reason it’s important for everyone to know just what He had to say about eternal life. (And the description is not us being turned into a bunch of winged angels, sitting on clouds strumming harps. People don’t become angels. God already created a bunch of those types of beings.) That’s why it’s important for us to boldly violate the “rule” of not discussing religion, and going forth with a prompt on discovering and revealing someone’s faith.
The bottom line is the most important questions in life are:
1. “Where do you go when you die?
2. “What happens if you are wrong?”
And the ultimate question is: “Who do you say Jesus is?”
How would you answer those questions, and help someone else answer them?
Are you a savvy messenger?
Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!
When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer
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