Do You Use Discussion Questions in Christian Books?

Discussion questions in Christian books
If you read Christian books, it’s not uncommon to find yourself looking at a list of questions at the end of each chapter. These questions encourage you to interact with the material on a personal level, and help you process what you’re learning. Sometimes they’re designed for groups. Sometimes they’re just for you.

What I want to know is, “Do people use them?”

God’s Favorite Place on Earth
God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola makes great use of discussion questions.

Recently I’ve been reading When Helping Hurts, which utilizes questions like these at both the beginning and the end of each chapter. At the start of each chapter, these questions are intended to gauge your current understanding of the subject at hand (in this case, poverty alleviation). They also help you see how your current perceptions stack up against what you’re learning in the text. At the end of the chapter, follow-up questions ask you to reflect on your original thoughts and see how new insights may have changed your response. These questions help highlight specific areas that you’re growing.

While I understand the value of these questions, I never use them.

I’ve always seen these questions as “conversation starters” for reading groups. They’re touch points for creating a larger dialogue about the subject. That may not be accurate, but when I’m reading a book by myself, that perception makes it easier to skim over these questions without feeling like I’m missing something.

To find out if this was just me, I headed to Faithlife.com and posed the question to almost 400 Faithlife employees.

Studies in Faithful Living Patriarchs Collection: Complete Church Curriculum
Looking for small group material? Check out Studies in Faithful Living Patriarchs Collection.

Fred Sprinkle from design said he never reads discussion questions. He says, “Maybe it’s because I already feel like I’m reading enough. Or, perhaps I shy away from anything that reminds me of a school test or assignment. I might feel different if I was trying to lead a book group though.”

Similarly, Matt Miller says, “The ones I’ve encountered are tailored more as devices for recall of the content rather than instruments to encourage critical thinking.”

Not everyone was opposed to discussion questions though. There were just as many people in support of them.

“I think discussion questions are always helpful because they can help you apply the material or draw your own conclusions based on the text,” says Abby Salinger from Lexham Press.

For those who reflect on what they read through writing in a journal, discussion questions are useful writing prompts.

“I’m reading Shauna Niequist’s new devotional, Savor, and I’m finding the short discussion questions to be great prompts for journal writing, reflection, and prayer,” says Erin Land from Vyrso. “Discussion questions are great in devotionals, but I don’t think I’ve used them much elsewhere in Christian books.”

DIY Bible Study
DIY Bible Study is a highly interactive Christian resource—it includes questions, videos, devotionals, and more.

When what you’re reading is designed to be a brief mediation or a segue into personal reflection and prayer, questions help you make a smooth transition from the author’s thoughts to your own. If each chapter is only a piece of the overall message though, or you read several chapters in a row, questions before and after each chapter can feel like an overwhelming interruption to your study.

The common thread I noticed through this conversation about discussion questions was that people like questions that make them think. That’s why we read—to expand our perspective and think about the material in new ways. Questions that ask you to recall information or that “test” your understanding of the subject matter aren’t as valuable when you aren’t preparing for an exam or an essay.

Justin Marr from Lexham Press put it this way: “I find them helpful as long as they’re open ended. Questions that demand specific answers aren’t as conducive for introspection and application.”

So what do you think?

Tell us why you use discussion questions (or why you don’t) in the comments!

Comments

  1. says

    I use the questions in 2 ways. 1. they help me apply the content to myself 2. In small group meetings they help to initiate discussion. Bonus: Sometimes I even use them in sermons to get the congregation thinking in new ways.

  2. Martin Michaelson says

    I have used the discussion questions in the marriage classes that I have been apart of. They have been open ended questions and with a group of people that like to talk I was able to get people to think outside the box. Some of the books I used are “The Marriage Builder ” by Larry Crabb. I used a lot of Larry Crabb book and “Boundaries by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend. Having a discussion time helped people to see how to use it in their own lives

    • Linval says

      In sermons, I use them more in a rhetorical kind of way…to guide folks thought processes towards new avenues of application, both personally and for their neighbors. We also do something called a “Social Service” and that program forgoes the sermon for short discussions and sharing between people in the congregation…the discussion questions really work in that type of setting because it allows people to share something of themselves, assisting in building relationships. All good stuff….

  3. TC says

    I tend to write my own questions, as the one’s in workbooks, etc. just aren’t beneficial for practical life. They are sufficient for being able to copy the answers from a book, however.
    I generally ask three styles of questions.
    1. Basic material question. Similar to the book questions; but, less allowing for copying from the books. Ie, they need to know the material.
    2. Application question. How does what you learned about Moses taking off his shoes, because he was on holy ground, apply to you in your life? Is one I used.
    3. During the next week demonstrate how you saw God speak to you, focus in on what he said, your response, and how God worked. As another example of the types of questions I prefer.

    When teaching, my goal is never to indoctrinate, that I leave to the Holy Spirit and the pastor. My goal is to have people understand what God is saying, and how what he wrote in the Bible applies in real life situations.

  4. WadeW says

    Of course it depends on the book, what the purpose of the book is and what my purpose for reading it is. But in general, I would agree with the assertions here: open ended questions are better than ones with discreet answers. Questions that make you think about the topic in different ways are generally good for discussion starters and questions that help me think about the material and how I can apply it to my life.

    In all cases, questions that help me to know Christ and to make Him known are the most useful whether in a small group, personal study or practical application.

  5. Dkitm says

    I’m teaching a high school class using Wayne Frudem’s Systematic Theology. I always read the discussion questions in my own study and will usually take a question or two to add to my PowerPoint.

  6. says

    I appreciate your reply TC about using ‘Discussion Questions.’ You sound like a good teacher. I will save this as a methodology. I am of the opinion we should communicate by implication versus application, without compromising, interpretation-exegesis of any given text Biblical or not.

    Thank you for your post

  7. says

    Questions can take a number of forms.
    Confrontational – Questions that force us to face ourselves. These aren't popular but they're necessary. "If we would judge ourselves…." is something we all need to do regularly and honestly. Scripture is the standard by which we compare ourselves and the goal is growth in Godliness. These questions are best structured to ensure that we have the option of privacy. Some things are better not said. What might work is to prompt the reader to examine the principles involved and comment on if, and how, they do the self examination necessary to insure that growth is continuous. Confession in a group is not always beneficial and sometimes destructive; "against thee have I sinned oh Lord." The goal is leave buried those places that we have dealt with also but to uncover our vulnerabilities and break down roadblocks to growth.

    Thought provoking – These are the questions that should cause meditation and deep thought. They can completely consume a period of instruction but are sometimes the most useful. Deep thought on a specific question can be far more beneficial than examination of arcane Biblical facts. Some questions have no direct Biblical answer but do assist in developing Biblical thinking skills. For example; "so just why did God make the eating of the fruit from 'that" tree forbidden?' The Bible provides hints but not a direct answer but it does point to the existence of evil before the creation of earth and the universe. Perhaps that question will cause us to examine the whole question of evil or a host of collateral questions.
    One thing is certain, questions that require us to merely recite back factual information does little to propel us in the process of life-change.

  8. says

    It's very difficult to get people involved in a discussion. Its riquire to think about and to put their own opinion what would represent to be commited with the subject.

  9. Jim says

    Put questions as the beginning that ask the questions that the material will be answering to orient the reader. Also ask questions that the material won’t explicitly answer but will make the reader start thinking along the lines of what they should be looking for and why. Then put a few questions at the end that are totally open-ended aimed at causing the reader apply the material in situations that aren’t so cut and dried so they will perhaps go back over the material, add to it, and find its boundaries/limits.

  10. says

    the questions never seem relevant to my frame of mind. Especially in novels, the book itself usually inspires "self reflecting" questions. I prefer to read which then stimulates me to ask questions. I think our modern digital age is suppressing the intuitive aspect that comes from reading the written word, and we are "dumbing down" from what I call the "electronic effect."

  11. Tim Bray says

    I use discussion questions as part of my sermon and / or home group study prep. For example If I am preparing a message on “sin” I do a basic search in my all resources using the search term “discussion question” WITHIN 15 WORDS Sin
    While this is only a very small step in the overall scheme of things, it helps me think of applications I might have missed.

  12. Daniel says

    I could see the use in them, but I don’t personally read them (much less answer them). They just feel like a waste of time (even though they could definitely be more than that). In a group setting, I could see them as being of good use for starting discussion. I think in group settings, when they are used for starting discussion, they can be especially helpful for people that are new to teaching. Once some has been teaching for a while or a group is comfortable around each other the questions at the end of chapters can start to feel fake. At that point it’s usually up to the group to spark the discussion and the teacher to guide it. Just my thoughts.

  13. says

    You make some great points about the discussion questions in christian books. I think that the questions should provoke more pondering of the subject instead of just being a reminder of what was just read. I think that it is most beneficial for the reading material to cause us to think about how the gospel applies in our own lives.

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