Hard questions

by David Melton

I teach. I give exams. Gave one today as a matter of fact. Our students in Boston are a pretty respectful lot. But I was a student for a long time — I have sat where they sit — I know the look a student gets when he sees hard questions on an exam. I saw that look today.

Students love easy questions. In my course on the historical evidence for Jesus, I have all students memorize the 12 key biblical principles about Jesus’ identity. I call them the Twelve Towers and students have to memorize those along with a scripture reference for each. That’s pretty easy stuff. But then I ask them some other questions. Constantly. Over and over again. Challenging questions that require research, thought, struggle. That is the road to learning.

Students aren’t the only ones who prefer easy questions! Anybody can enjoy a nice, big softball lobbed to you, but hard questions mean hard work, wrestling with understanding things we don’t yet grasp, and figuring out what to do with what we know.

I spoke a few weeks ago to a group of Texas pastors in a discussion akin to what I have with students here in Boston. We talked about how the canon of scripture was gathered and how liberal scholarship is waging war like never before on that front. I asked those pastors that day, “Do any of you feel comfortable asking your church publicly to explain how the books that are in the Bible got chosen to be in the Bible? When did that happen? Who made the decision?”

I asked it as a rhetorical question, but one pastor blurted out, “Shoot, I don’t even want to ask myself that question!”

Hard questions. No way to avoid them.

As a college president, I spend a lot of time asking myself hard questions. I make myself think much about the consequences of my actions and decisions right now and how they will impact young people and their lives and ministries for the future. I think about how students studying with me now will very likely be the church leaders who lead my own children in not too many years.

Will my kids have church leaders who know biblical doctrine and won’t sell it for any price? Will my kids have leaders who are Baptists (yes, Baptists) who know what that really means and who can thoughtfully teach others why that has mattered for so long and still matters today? Will our next generation of leaders — submerged by an information tsunami that celebrates every ecclesiological hula-hoop imaginable and then some — will our future leaders know how to be culturally connected without being guilty of cultural capitulation? Will we have the wherewithal to say “yes” and “no” appropriately in a pluralistic world that shudders at anyone who holds to absolute truths?

Hard questions? Sure. Easy answers? Nope. Necessary to answer? Absolutely. That’s why we stay in school!