Four Killer Questions
by Sue Bohlin
Dr. Jeff Myers of Bryan College and Summit Ministries shares our passion for helping others develop a biblical worldview. One of the tools he offers in developing critical thinking skills is how to use the right question at the right time.
He suggests four “killer questions” to help anyone think critically. The first question is, What do you mean by that? In other words, define your terms. The second question is, Where do you get your information? The third is, How do you know that’s true?, and the fourth killer question is, What if you’re wrong?
Dr. Myers tells this story:
“A friend took a group of third graders to the Denver Museum of Natural History.
Before he took them inside, he knelt down on their level and said, ‘Kids, if anybody in this museum tells you anything, I want you to ask them, how do you know that’s true?’ Giving this question to a third grader is the intellectual equivalent of giving them a surface-to-air missile. These kids walked into the museum; all they knew was, Ask: How do you know that’s true?
“A paleontologist was going to show them how to find a fossil. Apparently they had intentionally buried a fossil down in the soil sample and she said, ‘We’re going to find it.’ Very clever, right? No, not with this crowd. ‘Cause they started asking questions like, ‘Well, how do you know there’s a fossil down in there?’ ‘Well, because we just know there’s a fossil down there.’ ‘Why do you want to find it?’ ‘Well, because we want to study it.’ ‘Why do you want to study it?’ ‘We want to find out how old it is.’ Well, how old do you think it is?’ ‘About 60 million years old.’
‘Lady, how do you know that is true?’
“She patronized them. She said, ‘Well, you see, I’m a scientist, I study these things, I just know that.’ They said, ‘Well, how do you know that’s true?’ Anytime she said anything at all they just asked, ‘How do you know that’s true?’ What happened next proves that truth is stranger than fiction. She threw down her tools, glared at these children, and said, ‘Look, children, I don’t know, OK? I just work here!'”
Question #1: What do you mean by that?
The first question is, What do you mean by that? You want to get the other person to define his terms and explain what he is saying. If you don’t make sure you understand what the other person means, you could end up having a conversation using the same words but meaning very different things.
When I was a new believer, I was approached on the street by some people collecting money for a ministry to young people. I asked, naively, “Do you teach about Jesus?” They said, rather tentatively, “Yesss. . . .” I gave them some money and asked for their literature (which was in the reverse order of what I should have done). Only later did I learn that they did indeed teach about Jesus—that He was the brother of Satan! I wish I had had this first killer question back then. I would have asked, “What do you teach about Jesus? Who is He to you?”
Get the other person’s definition. Let’s say you’re talking to a neighbor who says, “I don’t believe there is a God.” Don’t quarrel with him: “Oh yes there is!” “No, there’s not.” Second Timothy 2:24-25 says not to quarrel with anyone. Just start asking questions instead. “What do you mean by ‘God’? What’s your understanding of this God who isn’t there?” Let him define that which does not exist! You may well find out that the god he rejects is a mean, cold, abusive god who looks a lot like his father. In that case, you can assure him that you don’t believe in that god either. The true God is altogether different. If it were me, at this point I wouldn’t pursue the existence of God argument, but rather try to understand where the other person is coming from, showing the compassion and grace of God to someone bearing painful scars on his soul…
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