I’ve been interviewing a lot of new Christians to hear how God has worked to bring them to the Savior. Their stories encourage me greatly. Several recurring themes emerge. Mostly, I hear of the improbable nature of God breaking through to people who seem the least likely to be interested, open, or ready.
One pattern intrigues me. I often hear of people asking one question but really seeking an answer to something else. Underneath the iceberg lies something far bigger.
An illustration may help me express this.
One man told me of a Bible study he attended for months before trusting in Christ. The study was designed for people just like him – those who knew little about the Bible but were open enough to come every week to wrestle with the text. They walked through the gospel of Mark, asking who Jesus was, what faith looks like, and why God works the way he does.
In the course of my interviewing these new converts, I always ask if there was any one question or objection they felt they needed to have resolved before believing. You can imagine the common roadblocks: “What about evolution?” “Why is there so much evil and suffering?” “Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions?”
I asked this man if he had any major questions. Here’s how he responded.
“No… not really… well, wait a minute. Yeah, I can think of one. You know that part in the Bible where Jesus cast the demons into the pigs? When we read that, I was like, ‘What’s up with that? What’s Jesus got against pigs?’”
I must confess, as he told me this, I wondered, “Really? That’s your big objection? A bunch of pigs was stopping you from experiencing eternal life?” I said none of those things. Instead, I asked him how his Bible study leader answered his question.
“Well… at first he said he wasn’t sure.”
That’s actually a good start, I thought. Admitting we don’t know the answer to every question may be a great evangelistic aid. Too many non-Christians think we’re arrogant know-it-alls. Admitting we’re not sure of something helps break down barriers.
“Then he told me that the story of the demon and the pigs tells us at least two things. It shows that demons aren’t to be messed with. And it kind of implies that there’s something radically different between being a person and being a pig.”
“Did that resolve it for you?” I asked him.
“Yeah… well, it answered it enough. Y’see, you need to know where I was coming from. If I had asked that question at the church I went to when I was growing up, they would have told me to not ask such a question, that some things are just mysteries, and you just have to ‘believe in Jesus’ and he’ll take away all your questions. That always seemed stupid to me. So, when this Bible study leader gave me a fairly intelligent answer, I figured that his faith wasn’t stupid.”
I’m not sure he had put all those pieces of his story together before he recounted this moment in his journey. I noted that his real objection was far bigger than concern for swine.
And this point is worth considering: Quite often the “presenting problem” is just the tip of an iceberg. The question behind the question may be far larger. It may be, as it was for this man, “Is your faith a stupid faith that tells people not to ask questions?”
The gospel already carries a significant stumbling block that we dare not eliminate or minimize – the need to repent of sin and acknowledge that we have no righteousness of our own. But we can clear the way for receptivity of that good news by listening for the question behind the question and responding to both. What starts out as a discussion about pigs may lead to far bigger things.
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Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. He ministers on campuses and elsewhere in our nation's capital to students, professors and policy shapers. He is an honors graduate from Temple University and has a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is also engaged in doctoral studies. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and the books Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues about God and Life, both published by Kregel Publications, and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, forthcoming from Crossway.
To find out more, visit his blog, Integration Points.