Asking Good Questions

“[And] they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  (Luke 2.46, NRSV) 

This month hundreds of thousands of students flock back to school ready to learn, ready to read, and ready to engage their minds with the problems and queries of our day.  My hope is that each girl and boy is as profoundly impacted by a teacher as I was ten years ago.

It was freshman year.  The class — Christian Doctrine.  One day we were introduced to nuances of feminist/womanist theology.  It’s the notion that when reviewing scripture, church history, religious rhetoric, etc. we pay attention to the increasingly apparent patriarchal hierarchies and rhetorical dominances.  Instead of taking them for face value, we listen for the still, small voice of how the context portrays the underprivileged (i.e. women).

Honestly, I thought the whole thing was stupid.

And that’s when my professor asked me a question that silenced my ego in front of the whole class.  It was so impactful that it still affects me a decade later:  “Barrett, why do you think the voice of women in affliction and the centuries of their displacement is irrelevant?”

At that moment I realized my failure to embrace the powerful questions of our day.  I realized I had only accepted my interpretation of the status quo while rebuking everyone else’s.  I also realized living this way destroys any hope for a future where inquiry and creativity are seen as virtuous.

Needless to say, at that moment my life changed – for the better.

I hope scenarios like this happen in every school system, in every county, and in every classroom this year.  I hope students learn that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right and pure is not necessarily what someone else tells them – they should learn to ask good questions about it first.

Questions keep us from thinking they have it all figured out.  Questions keep us from falling into destructive patterns in leadership, in governance and in community.  They create an equal playing field as well as remind us to never stop learning, probing, seeking, questing, hoping, dreaming, and longing.  Questions spark creativity, hope, and promote appreciation for “what can be.”   And questioning is the fuel our young people need in order to help ignite our world.

And we see Jesus model this perfectly in Luke 2.

When Mary and Joseph lose Jesus, scripture says, “. . . they find him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening . . . and asking them questions.”

Even at an early age Jesus knows the power of listening and asking good questions.  He knows that learning comes from appreciating the other’s story and then asking questions to deepen his understanding of the point being made.  Jesus models, as a kid, the kind of learning environment I hope our students have this school year – an environment that promotes inquiry, growth, grace, and (perhaps most importantly) questions.

Yet questioning only goes as far as the teacher is able to sustain it.  I was fortunate to have a professor who knew how to utilize questions to help me grow.  But this is not always the case.  Just as much as we need students asking good questions, we also need teachers promoting and reciprocating these questions.

In Luke 2,  an image of a healthy student-teacher relationship emerges.  The scribes and scholars serve as excellent examples here.  They become so enamored by Jesus’ inquiry, scripture says they engage with him for what seems like days. They dialogue with him. They treat him as an equal.

When teachers engage students this way, sparks of creativity ignite.  Confidence is instilled and hope is revealed in the student’s mind and imagination.  Instilling confidence, creativity, and hope may just be the most important gifts a teacher can give students this year.

We see how it shapes Jesus’ life in Luke 2.  My life was changed by it years ago.  May our children and youth be impacted by it now.  Let’s teach them to ask good questions.

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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