Asking Open-Ended Questions

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Asking open-ended questions.

We received these wise words from a faculty friend of ESN. If you would like to contribute to the Emerging Scholars Blog, anonymously or otherwise, please contact me. Thank-you! ~ Tom

Asking open-ended questions is often the best way to begin a conversation with a new friend or stranger, “What is your religious background? How did that affect you?”

In my teaching, I introduce each new topic with questions. In advising students in required speech class, I usually recommend that each new section of their talk could well start with a provocative question that gets the audience starting to think along with them before they share further. In class, I always mention that I’d rather answer their questions than continue with my prepared lecture: “Interrupt me even in the middle of a sentence if you want”.

Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) founded the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland and was the author of many books, including The God Who Is There (InterVarsity Press).

Francis A. Schaeffer believed in giving honest answers to honest questions. Many faculty do not want questions from the class because often they don’t understand their own material on a fundamental level. Defensive math teachers often say when a student asks a probing question, “We don’t have time for that, we have too much we have to cover”.

The InterVarsity “inductive Bible study method” is based on a series of questions to cause everyone to be probing into the Scripture along with the leader.

What does it say?

What does it mean?

How does it apply?

That is my most favorite way to lead small group Bible study. A pastor got defensive during Sunday evening studies when he was asked questions he didn’t feel prepared to answer. I have found a way to answer hard questions, even when I’m fearful.

I love it when students ask questions I can’t answer easily. I say, “Is this what you’re asking?” “Oh, it isn’t?” Usually another student will help me. Then I re-state it. And say to the class, “What do some of you think about this?” I make short comments on their answers, and eventually say, “I think Bill comes closest in his answer, but I still wonder about this. We’ll have to come back to this again next class.”

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One Comment

    Andy Walsh commented on September 30, 2012 Reply

    I am far from consistent in the application, but I have also recognized the value of good questions in starting or continuing good conversations. I’ve been working on increasing the intentionality of my questioning. I find it particularly useful in online threads, where it is very easy for people to wonder away to the next topic if there’s nothing driving the current one forward.

    Of course, the tradition of good questioning goes back at least as far as Socrates, and we know where it got him.

    Jokes aside, I think this is a particularly important time for Christians to foster good question-asking skills. Atheists/agnostics/skeptics claim that what sets them apart is a desire or willingness to ask questions, while they view religion as characterized by uncritical acceptance. I say that as Christians, we should never be afraid to ask or be asked honest questions.

    Now, since we’re talking about questions – should the end goal of asking questions be to try to find an answer, even if it is known from the start that a (full) answer is unknowable? Are there other purposes to questions?

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