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 the shape of leadership

How to Answer Tough Theological Questions

Preparing to handle the difficult inquiries

Chris Colvin on April 26, 2018

Pastoring can be hard. One thing you seldom hear about in seminary is how many questions you’ll get.

Sure, there will be questions about the vision and direction of your church, both from critics and supporters. You’ll also face questions like, “How is your children’s ministry?” or “Why should I join a small group?” or “Where best can I serve?”

But there are other questions that pop up from time to time in a pastor’s inbox. Tough questions of a theological nature. Difficult questions from the Bible. Perplexing questions that stretch the faith of your followers. How do you answer them?

Is It Really Important?

You may be thinking, “Who cares?” After all, those tough theological questions are few and far between. And they often involve some minutiae of Scripture that has no real relevance.

I would argue that those questions are relevant. Providing good answers to tough questions not only strengthens the faith of our followers, it lets them know you care. You care enough about their question to give a good answer. And you care about their spiritual growth. Instead of handing back a canned response, giving a reasoned response can make the difference between someone going all in on Christianity or remaining on the outside looking in.

Ultimately, every answer is found in Christ.

As pastors, we must recognize that people hold us to a high standard. Today, that seems to involve having all the answers to any passage in the Bible. That’s not fair, but for many, that’s just the way it is. Instead of ignoring the tough questions, you must find the right way to answer.

Be a Student

The best way to give a good answer to tough theological questions is to be ready. Paul’s advice to his young protégée Timothy was, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Correctly handling God’s Word involves reading and studying it. Another way to put it is to have a reason for the hope you have in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15) by having the Word of God in your heart and mind.

 Being a student of the Word of God means more than just reading it. So often, pastors and preachers merely read the Bible to prepare for a sermon. We spend hours in our study finding the right passage and discovering how to explain it well to others. But that type of focus on Scripture can leave us unbalanced. If you only read your Bible to get ready for Sunday, you’re missing out on God’s intent for His Word. We must be reading it for our own spiritual growth, as well as for sermon prep. Hiding the Word of God in our hearts means we spend time alone with God and His Word.

But we also need to be lifelong students of the Bible to learn more about it, more about God and more about our faith. Sermon prep and personal growth are two great reasons to learn Scripture. However, you should also find ways to stretch yourself regularly when it comes to your Bible knowledge. That means digging into the Scripture, but it also involves finding good commentaries, subscribing to periodicals and journals, supplementing with books and listening to podcasts and sermons. You may never mention these resources from the pulpit, but you will be adding to your own personal knowledge.

Get Some Help

If you’re not the studying type, I get that. I believe it is a characteristic of all great leaders to be curious, lifelong learners. But you may learn differently than others. And your passion for biblical knowledge may not be as intense as the person asking those tough questions every other week.

Its’ OK to ask for help. Look throughout your congregation for someone who loves to read. Find that person with a Ph.D. in biblical studies or a retired minister. Ask whether he or she is interested in helping out once in a while with those tough questions.

We all have different gifts and different ways of expressing those gifts. You might just find out that someone in your audience has been waiting for you to ask for help. He or she may jump at the chance to dig in to some hard biblical questions and give some good answers.

“I Don’t Know” Is an Answer

It’s OK to admit when you’re stumped. “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine response in many cases. Remember, we’re not looking for the right answer or the complete answer. We’re looking for a good answer. Admitting that the question is beyond you or too difficult is sometimes the best answer.

Some matters of God are beyond our ability to understand, but we must keep seeking insight and discernment from the Spirit. Paul himself prayed that the Ephesians would be able to know what is beyond knowing — the love of God (Ephesians 3:19). That tells us that some things may not be knowable, at least not in our own wisdom and power. The mysteries of God run deep.

There is a real pressure among pastors to have all the answers. It’s a humbling experience to answer a tough question with “I don’t know.” We may feel like we’re admitting a weakness. But that’s just a matter of ego. God never called us to have all the answers; He called us to point people to Jesus. Ultimately, every answer is found in Him. The next time you get one of those tough questions, whether you have the answer or not, make sure you’re always pointing people to the Savior.

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