I’m sure you’ve heard that there aren’t any stupid questions. That’s an interesting saying, though completely untrue. But, while there may not be any stupid questions, dangerous ones certainly exist, questions that seem to have no other purpose than to lead people in unfortunate directions..
I’ve been thinking a lot about questions lately. I began with Rob Bell‘s promotional video and the argument that “he was just asking questions” (Luther on the Power of Questions). But,this post was sparked by something else entirely. The high school group at my church is in the midst of a series on sex and dating. (Why does it seem like high school groups are always in the midst of a series on sex and dating?) And, last Sunday, I was asked to lead a discussion on that perennially problematic question, “How far is too far?”
I hate that question.
After countless series on sex and dating, I’ve become convinced that there is almost no way of asking that question profitably. Instead, it seems inherently designed to twist the conversation in unfortunate ways. It’s a flawed question.
- It immediately puts us in the wrong mindset. The question almost begs us to see how far we can push things before we’ve gone “too far.” It’s a question about boundaries and how far out they can be stretched. It’s a little like asking, “How fast can you drive before you get a speeding ticket?” Let’s find the outer edge of appropriateness so that we know how much we can get away with. Very little real benefit lies down that road.
- It hides more important issues. By immediately focusing our attention on boundary-stretching, the question hides more important issues like, “How can I love and honor this other person best?” or “Why did God design us to be physically affectionate people and what should I learn from that here?”. I’m sure there are better questions that these. The point is that “How far is too far?” is dangerous because it distracts us from much more important issues.
- It tricks us into making certain assumptions. The question leads you to believe that the earlier steps on the journey are inherently safe. After all, what could be wrong with one little kiss? So, the only real challenge is to determine when you’ve gone too far. But, the reality is that any step on the journey can be a problem if taken selfishly. I knew guys in high school who kept lists of how many girls they had kissed. I’d say that using another person’s body for one’s own egotistical gratification, even for one little kiss, is already going “too far.” But the false assumptions embedded in the question prevent us from seeing that.
I’d say much the same thing about another of my least favorite questions: What do you need to believe in order to be saved? Now, I can understand why this question gets asked a lot. But I still don’t like it.
- Setting the wrong mindset. Right out of the gate, the question has us focusing on the bare minimums necessary for salvation. It’s almost like we want to know how much a person can be ignorant of, or reject entirely, and still be saved. How much can we get away with and still slip into heaven by the skin of our teeth? Such a mindset seems necessarily misplaced.
- Hiding more important issues. I’m not sure where to begin on this one, the hidden issues are so many and so great. At the very least, the question hides the true grandeur of the story of salvation. Most people who try to answer this question place things like the Trinity, the Church, the image of God, and the eschatological new creation in the category of things that are important but not necessary for salvation (i.e. you can be ignorant of them or misunderstand them and still be saved). But, by framing the question in this way, we’ve hidden the fact that these (and more) are fundamentally a part of the story of salvation. We’ve reduced salvation to the individual person and his or her faith in some relatively finite set of facts (sin, cross, etc.). But salvation is so much more than this.
- Bearing false assumptions. I think we can find at least four false assumptions buried in the question: (a) It is possible to identify the bare minimum for salvation; (b) Salvation is ultimately about knowing certain facts; (c) Salvation is primarily about you as an individual; and (d) People know what the word “saved” means. I could write an entire post on why these four are all false assumptions. And the question seems to bring all four along with it.
So, a dangerous question is one that seems fundamentally flawed in these three ways. I’m sure almost every question could be accused of doing these to some degree. But, some do so to such an extent that I think we should categorize them as “dangerous questions” and just stop using them. (I should say, though, that such questions can be used as an effective teaching tool when you show people why they are flawed questions.)
What do you think? Are there other questions that you think are dangerous questions?