3

Consider my question on the 'Conversations with God' book series...

It's gotten some heat for being potentially "not constructive", or similar criticism. Despite my best efforts to phrase the question in a constructive manner, I clearly have failed :)

I suspect, however, we will get many questions like this from seekers. How can we steer these questions in a productive direction, so that we can answer them, without degrading the quality of the site?

I could see the question also taking the form of "Should I trust X?" or "Is X a reliable source of information/teaching?" or "Does X fit into a Christian world-view?" And while I can see that the answers could be yes, no, and sometimes, depending on the denomination/sect of the one providing the answer, it seems that facilitating all of these answers is likely to be useful to the one asking the question.

  • 2
    Putting aside the specific call for opinions (which isn't constructive anyway), questions like that pre-suppose Christianity is monolithic, and that there's going to be a single correct "Christian" answer. See What is the definition of "Christian"? for why that's problematic. – user72 Aug 25 '11 at 8:02
  • 2
    Most of the questions on this site are "calls for opinions" including Is masturbation a sin?, Do children go to heaven?, and many others. This is the nature of a site about religion. There are very few things that all "Christians" can agree are completely objective. Furthermore, I'm suggesting that we should permit multiple answers to questions like this, in light of the fact that there is "no single correct 'Christian' answer." – Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 8:04
  • There's a difference between providing an answer that's verifiable in principle (Based on scripture X or authority Y, the answer is Z) and an opinion (I believe X). I can decide whether an interpretation based on a secondary source is accurate; I can't refute or question what you personally believe. For Christianity.SE to work, questions need to invite the former, not the latter. – user72 Aug 25 '11 at 8:07
  • @Mark Trapp: Fair enough. I think it would be safe to assume that "Should I trust X?" could be interpreted as "Should I trust X according to the Bible?" If you can think of a better word than 'opinion' in the title of my question, I'm completely open to suggestions. The purpose of my question was never to advocate "I believe X" type answers, without referencing scripture or some other suitable authority. – Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 8:09
  • I don't think it's safe to assume that at all, which was the purpose of me linking to What is the definition of "Christian"?: people are going to have wildly different understandings of what it means to be Christian. I think the answer to both issues is the same: in order for a question to be constructive, it needs to provide the context under which it can be answered. Things like "Given what the Bible says about X, is point Y presented in book Z accurate?", or "How do I reconcile what book X says about Y with what authority Z says?" – user72 Aug 25 '11 at 8:15
  • @Mark Trapp: According to this question, it would seem we can assume that the context is Christianity, and therefore that the Bible is a reasonable source to use in answering. I'm not sure what other context someone asking such a question could intend on a site like this. I suppose we could simply require everyone to say "..according to the Bible" when they ask such a question. If we're willing to accept that, it would address my concern, but IMO, with unnecessary complexity. – Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 8:20
  • I don't think "according to the Bible" makes a question constructive: questions are going to need a lot more context than that. A question needs to explain what specifically about Christianity or the Bible the asker hopes to compare to the subject of the question. "According to X verse...", "According to Y encyclical", "According to Z authority..." is the constructive scope, not "According to the Bible...". – user72 Aug 25 '11 at 8:35
  • @Mark Trapp: So are you suggesting that our users must have a sufficient knowledge of scripture to frame the question in light of specific scripture verses? That seems like an unreasonably high expectation to set--especially considering that the entire reason to ask a question may be to learn what scriptures address the issue. – Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 8:38
  • "What scripture passages address X?" is an entirely different question from "Should I trust X (according to the Bible)?" The former is constructive (albeit a bit broad), the latter isn't a real question: should you trust X according to which perspective? The Roman Catholic one? Lutheran? Presbyterian? Mormon? Someone else? – user72 Aug 25 '11 at 8:49
5

It is very difficult to make a question like this constructive:

  • It depends on your interpretation of the book
  • It depends on your tollerance for error - some people want their reading to be 100% compatible with their doctrinal position, others will accept a degree of difference
  • It is rather difficult to citique an entire book in the Q&A format used on SE
  • Above all, it depends on your doctrinal position in comparison to the views expressed in the book

The simple solution is to close such questions as not constructive, and I think this will happen in most cases.

If you really want an answer to a question like this, you will have to put some work in. You could, for example, ask about:

  • The religious affiliations the author
  • Whether the book teaches a specific doctrine
  • The compatability of a specific doctrine taught in the book with other specific doctrines

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .