A lot of people think Christianity does not welcome questions, and only offers pat answers. In the opening pages of his book God is Not Great, the late Christopher Hitchens expresses how a lack of answers to his questions contributed to his rejection of the Christian beliefs he was being taught as a boy at school.
As a pastor I’ve heard stories from adults who remember going to church as a child and asking thoughtful questions that challenged the church’s beliefs. They were warned not to ask those kind of questions, to just be quiet and believe what they were told.
With these experiences being all too common, it’s no wonder many churches are half-empty today. When someone asks you to consider making a life-changing commitment to Jesus, it seems reasonable to ask a few questions, and to expect a few answers!
Recently our church has been running a course called Alpha, where people have a chance to ask whatever questions they want, as they explore the basics of Christianity.
The Alpha course was started in the U.K. about 20 years ago to give people a chance to learn about Christianity and get answers in a safe environment where any question is welcome. Alpha has been a huge success, with more than 22 million people in 169 countries taking the course. It is taught in churches large and small, from every major Christian denomination, from Baptist to Catholic to Anglican.
The ten week course examines topics like “Who is Jesus?,” “Why and How Should I Pray,” and “Does God Heal People Today?” Every week people ask whatever questions they want, often about controversial subjects, and we do our best to discuss and answer them together. Nothing is off limits! The discussion is lively at times, but respectful.
I enjoy hearing the questions and wrestling with challenges to Christianity. After all, if Christianity is true, it should be able to handle tough questions about its validity. I find that people appreciate being able to openly discuss their doubts about God, the Bible and Christianity in general. Others appreciate hearing the questions that challenge their faith, as they may have never thought about them before.
I have noticed that people are much more open to considering the claims of Jesus and the Bible, when they know that they can express doubt openly, ask questions, and have discussions that take their comments seriously. And it also helps that we eat dinner together at the beginning of each class. Participants interact and build relationships as they share a meal prior to discussing the weekly theme.
I’m thankful for the Alpha course and how it is helping people get the answers they are seeking, while exploring Christianity in a safe environment. Most people do not have a safe place to seek answers to their spiritual questions, but Alpha is providing a venue that is meeting their spiritual needs.
Tim Strickland is Lead Pastor at Waverley Road Baptist Church. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Alpha course is offered at churches throughout the city, including Waverley Road, starting April 22 at 7p.m. More information is at alphacanada.org.