DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Struggling with The Questions

Written by: on October 19, 2016

wquestionsWhen I first began to read the book Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Dr. Linda Elder it did not really peak my interest as the books we had read prior to this one. As I was reading the book, my mother happened to call me. When asked what was I doing? I began to flood her ears with my sentiments about the book. Before I could finish she quickly expressed how much she loved the book. Let me take a “Selah” moment and interject some information that would provide context and basis for my mothers approval of Elder. So my beloved mother is a psychology professor, a division chair of behavioral sciences and a PHD candidate in Higher Education. So it was clear that Elder must be coming from a school of thought that my mother agrees with. I say this because all psychologist have their schools of thought that they “agree” or “align” themselves with. Much like Harry Potter fans align themselves with a House. While they may not agree with everything they typically agree with enough to defend it.

So you can only imagine the “lecture” I began to receive about my critical assessment of the book. My mother proceeded to say that I am doing exactly what Elder is advocating for in regards to critical thinking. Elder defines critical thinking as  “…self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and sociocentrism” (Kindle, 39). My mother then proceeded to “lecture” me on the fact that my critical assessment of the book is exactly in line with what Elder was discussing in her book. I thought maybe I am reading the book with a closed mind or maybe I was just following what she said when she wrote “to determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically “accept” what we have “learned” (Kindle, 174). In finishing the book,  I did find some great jewels that I know I will apply to my studies and life in general.

So what did I glean from this book? I gleaned a lot of things! Here is one things that I will focus on for this discussion. 

It is an intellectual virtue to wrestle with the questions.  Elder explains that Intellectual perseverance is “a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight” (Kindle, 192).  It amazes me how “instant” of a society we live in. Every question despite the complexity seems to have a plethora of immediate answers. No problem exists without a solution. Yet in my mind I find that to be the inherit problem. Why are we so unsettled with sitting with the questions? Why do all questions have to have immediate answers? Spending time with the question, most times, opens the door to new questions. These new questions pave the way for new discoveries and experiences that otherwise would have been overlooked or not ever explored. When a question is posed it is as if we do not want to appear to be unintelligent if we do not offer some type of rhyme or reason as a means to resolve the issue.

If we can be honest, our faith walk is spending each day wrestling with the questions. We see in part as the Apostle Paul has mentioned (1 Cor 13:12) and so we don’t fully have a complete understanding.  This is why the Holy Spirit is so important in our daily lives. He sits with us in the tension, in the unsettled, fragmented places of our lives. He works with us daily to wrestle with the questions in hopes of discovering more. The more is not just spiritual matters but holistically in our lives.

I am reminded of the Rountree when he says “Don’t seek for understanding only in situations or activities you are already comfortable with” (Kindle, 697). Wrestling with the questions is tough and can be uncomfortable. The best learning experiences come from being able to maul over the questions. I realized that I have to sit and critically think about the purpose and ask questions about the information I am seeking to learn. I cannot be passive in my approach but to be active in engaging in my “intellectual virtues”. In doing so, I am taking the risk to deepen my understanding not only within my education but in how I engage with the world.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

9 responses to “Struggling with The Questions”

  1. Geoff Lee says:

    Elder explains that Intellectual perseverance is “a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight” (Kindle, 192)
    I picked up on this too – the sense of wrestling and struggling with issues. This has been my experience in leadership and in learning, that I have to struggle and wrestle with complex issues until I can settle an issue in my mind.
    The difficulty of good thinking is underestimated sometimes I think!

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “If we can be honest, our faith walk is spending each day wrestling with the questions.”

    Thanks for making the connection between critical thinking and faith. For some, the church is seen as an environment where we only ask the questions where we already know the answers

    True faith is delving into the unknown. It is a challenge as we look at our culture and discern how we should live and believe as we place our trust of an eternal God and our confidence in a timeless yet ancient set of scriptures.

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      Oh, Stu, I think you’ve hit on a key characteristic of the church in your response here. Unfortunately, my experience has been that many in our churches (including leaders) do not think critically, but accept answers given by popular authors, or “the way things have always been.” Often those who DO raise questions or suggest we “delve into the unknown” are not looked upon favorably. We, as leaders, must persist in risking the status quo to see how the Holy Spirit might be at work.

  3. Mary Walker says:

    “Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself.” St. Francis de Sales
    Christal, I really enjoy reading your posts. I agree that the best learning experiences come from wrestling with tough questions.
    As an old lady I have finally learned that most of the fun is in the journey anyway. I love knowing the answers that are important, but I really enjoy good dialogue with Christian sisters on any topic. My favorite memories are having a cup of tea, cinnamon rolls, and a Bible search with my friend Debbie who went to a different church. I do not fear listening to someone else’s sincere opinion that is different than mine. I hope that I have learned not to be egocentric in my thinking. And I’ve been wrong often enough to learn some humility.

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    Christal: In my life and ministry I have come across many believers who are fearful of wrestling with the profound questions of life. Many would rather accept pat answers, easily obtained but of little lasting value. The answers to the tough questions come from an intellectual and spiritual struggle in which, as you say, the Holy Spirit is an ever present help. I never want to loose sight of that fact. It’s a part of the working out of our salvation that Paul mentions to the Philippians and the part that develops and shapes our faith. Geoff mentioned in a post—my paraphrase: Our faith is strong enough to take it! Great post Christal!

  5. I honestly think that the church’s (or certain branches of the church, I suppose) discomfort with wrestling through questions and doubt is the reason so many people become discouraged and disillusioned with the faith. The college students I know, in particular, get so frustrated with “the Bible tells me so” answers. They WANT to wrestle, and they seem very comfortable sitting with the paradox of faith and doubt as they wrestle. I don’t know if that is the way it is with all or even most college students, but it has opened my eyes to other people who are tired of the “certainty” presented. It seems that Paul and Elder are saying that “comfortable” may be the enemy of critical thinking.

  6. I enjoyed you sharing your conversation with your mother. I view it as sharing wisdom vs lecture (smile).
    Asking the questions, helps us to search or enter into deep thoughts to arrive at answers. Sometimes those answers may be correct or incorrect but it satisfied our quest for knowledge.
    We must lean to the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to correctly ask the question and interpret the answer. Being a part of an instant society, as you stated, it’s quicker to lean to my own understanding. Hence, dysfunction.

  7. Beautiful and profound Christal! Your conclusion of how you want to approach the world was inspiring. That intellectual perseverance was a stand-out point for me too. It reminded me of the scripture to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I also loved your point about our Great Counselor the Holy Spirit. Through God’s spirit, we can and need to accomplish the task to wrestle through our spirituality and beliefs.
    Your conversation with your mom made me smile. I’d like to read a book authored by her. She sounds like she’d have some profound things to say. I had fun picturing that lively conversation.

  8. mm Katy Lines says:

    Elder & Paul say, “Listen to your mother!” (especially when she agrees with us.) 🙂

    “Every question despite the complexity seems to have a plethora of immediate answers. No problem exists without a solution.” On the one hand, yes, our tendency is to respond with immediate answers, without allowing time to marinate on an answer(s), sitting with it and allowing the question to be turned over and reflected upon. On the other hand though, our context also seems to be satisfied with ambiguity, without sensing a need to arrive at a single answer. Is it possible for both of those practices to operate at the same time? (Might need to think about that for awhile).

    My initial response is twofold: one, our postmodern worldview recognizes that there possibly might be more than one “correct” perspective or answer, and thus, is willing to sit in a “both/and” place. And two, I fear that we are often satisfied with ambiguity because of our Intellectual Laziness and lack of discipline and willingness to struggle with deeper resolutions.

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