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How to Ask Questions part 4

In part 3 I encouraged you to listen to the person challenging your beliefs and assess who has the burden of proof.  If he is simply offering an opinion, ask him to defend his conclusion.  You can do that by first asking, “What do you mean by that” as a way of gaining clarification of his position.  Let me stress the importance of asking this question.  Suppose you are talking to a Mormon and ask, “Do you believe you are saved by grace through faith?”  He will respond with yes I do.  If you accept his answer, the Mormon will sound like he believes just like we do.  Unless you ask a few clarification questions, all Mormons will sound Christian.  Ask, what do you mean by salvation?  What does grace mean to you?  What is faith?  Who is Jesus?  All these are questions will expose the fallacy of their beliefs.  The answers you will receive will be far removed from the historic Christian faith.  Don’t skip over the “what do you mean” questions unless you are certain you are on the same page with the person you are sharing with.

You then follow with a second question, “Why should I or anyone believe that?”  Once he gives evidence for his beliefs, listen carefully to what he says.  The best strategy is to keep the ball in his court by asking additional questions so he does most of talking.  I have found many people unravel during this process because no one has challenged their opinions with questions.

Once you listen to the response you can now question the person’s support to find flaws in his reasoning.  The following is a tactic I learned from Greg Koukl, president and founder of Stand to Reason, called taking the roof off[1].  It is effective for exposing poorly reasoned answers.

Taking the Roof off tactic

What you do is adopt the person’s viewpoint and then test it by using other examples.  The best strategy is to provide a drastic example.  At times we have used this tactic but didn’t realize it.  For example you as a parent told your child she can’t go to a party.  She replies, “Oh come on, everyone else is going!”  Now you’re going to use the tactic.  You adopt her answer and test it.  You reply, “If everyone is jumping of the cliff are you going to do that also?”  You exposed the fallacy of her answer by taking the roof off.

Here is an example in a spiritual conversation with a friend.  He is a moral relativist and says all morality is determined by society.  You take the roof off my adopting his relativist philosophy and testing it.  You reply, “If society decides what is right or wrong, then you don’t have a problem with what Hitler did when he murdered 6 million Jews.”  If the moral relativist says what Hitler did was wrong, he is appealing to an objective or universal truth (murder is wrong) and has to give up his relativism.  Usually, the person will say I didn’t like what Hitler did.  My response is I am not interested in whether or not you liked it but rather was it universally wrong for all people, all cultures, and all time?  The relativist is trapped and either has to admit he cannot say it was wrong or give up his relativism.  I once had a trapped atheist say that what Hitler did was good in murdering the Jews.  Do you see what happens when a person won’t give up their poorly reasoned viewpoint?

The taking the roof off tactic is great one to learn.  I use it all the time.  If you want to get better at asking questions and using this tactic I highly recommend Greg Koukl’s book called Tactics or his DVD series by the same name.  It is well worth your time to learn how to ask good questions.

Asking questions is the most powerful tool when discussing spiritual topics.  It helps keep the conversation from becoming a lecture.  People want to talk to others who care about what they believe.  Questions help all of us treat others with gentleness and respect.  Read back over the series, learn the material, and see if you can become a better ambassador for Christ by developing the skills of asking good questions.



[1] Koukl, Greg, Tactics, Zondervan Publ. 2009

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