Written by Faculty member, John Child.
My wife says I ask too many questions! I’d be a good investigator or interrogator. I certainly want nothing to do with the nefarious worlds of Guantanamo Bay and the Inquisition. I am however interested in learning and the search for truth.
David Benatar, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, notes that a ‘commitment to questioning’ is characteristic of philosophy and the scientific method (Ethics for everyday, xxiii). But not only philosophy and science. A disposition to question is vital in a theological college, if not more important than in a university because of the unfounded dogmatism of many beginning theology students. And in an African theological college for cultural reasons too.
In certain cultures, the teacher is almost sacrosanct. He or she is the authority. What he says must be written down and memorized. Never must he be questioned, let alone challenged. To do so is disrespectful. To respect one’s elders and teachers is biblical but an uncritical acceptance of all they say is not biblical. Jesus crossed swords with the theological teachers of his day and Paul commended the Bereans who examined what he preached in the light of the OT Scriptures. Those who uncritically accept all they’ve been taught will not grow in understanding the Bible and theology beyond what they were taught or given to read. They will not learn to think for themselves, examine the evidence for what is claimed and proclaimed, test the validity of arguments and ask key and critical questions. In ministry, they will fail to challenge unbiblical traditions and repeat the limited knowledge and errors of the past. They certainly will be unable to lead their churches and denominations into the unknown future.
When I was at Bible college students typically came to college with strongly held theological convictions reflecting their church or denominational teaching. Few could give more than a superficial defence of their convictions. Most had not seriously grappled with opposing theological beliefs like paedobaptism, Reformed soteriology, Pentecostalism or a different eschatological scheme. Of course, a responsible theological college is not there to undermine their theological beliefs, let alone try break down their faith, as is typical in liberal institutions where the authority of Scripture is denied, but to strengthen and deepen their faith and ground their theological convictions in Scripture. This will no doubt result in a refinement of their theological beliefs and in some cases a correction of erroneous beliefs.
We do this by teaching the evangelical and Reformed faith, demonstrating its foundations in Scripture, its development in historical theology, its conformity to the creeds of the early church and the detailed confessions of the Reformation and Puritan eras. But the process is not one-directional. While we certainly teach we want our students to question. And not just for clarification. For understanding and growth in knowledge. If Jesus says, ‘The Father is greater than I’, how can we confess the persons of the Trinity are co-equal? If election is true how can God desire all to be saved? What does Paul mean when he says, ‘In this way all Israel will be saved’? We want them to interrogate their own beliefs so they know what they believe and why they believe and can give a biblical and reasoned answer when asked to justify what they believe.
By asking questions they may discover that not all they were taught was biblical, that there is little biblical and theological justification for say premillennialism or what they were taught about the Holy Spirit or confirmation. We also want them to ask applicatory questions: how does the doctrine of the Trinity relate to my prayer life? If Scripture is sufficient how does that relate to modern prophecies or the creation/evolution debate?
By asking questions students grow in understanding, question their own beliefs to see if they are well founded, test new teachings, and develop a healthy scepticism to religious salesmen and TV preachers. Asking questions helps us probe the Bible, its meaning, its relation to other texts and to our contexts. Asking questions is essential in the development and application of theology. We see this in the earliest church. Deuteronomy 6 teaches that God is one. The whole Old Testament is clear that there is but one true and living God, Yahweh. Yet Jesus said, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30) and Thomas confessed to Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28) and was not rebuked by Jesus. The early church confessed, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). How could this be? Grappling with texts like these led to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three Persons, co-equal and co-eternal.
Asking questions led to and still leads to theological advance and to the rejection of false or inadequate beliefs. Similarly, asking questions leads to better exegesis, greater Bible knowledge, philosophical understanding and the advancement of science. But the benefits are not just intellectual and scientific. Asking questions can be the beginning of social movements that lead to liberation and transformation: women and ethnic groups questioning unjust oppression and restrictions placed on their freedoms.
Asking questions is basic to all education from a mother’s knee through school and university to post-doctoral research and the advancement of knowledge. Asking questions is essential to debunking the myths of our day, whether the self-proclaimed healer who claims – at a price! – to give you a potion to make beautiful women fall for you, or who offers a cure for Aids, or sells you a magic stick that will make you rich, or the sophisticated scientist who denies the amazing and intricate design in all nature.
Asking questions is essential in the quest for truth and the exposure of error, above all in theology and religion, for getting the knowledge of God right or wrong leads to very different eternal consequences.
If you are interested in asking questions in your search for truth by pursuing studies at GWC, please click here.