He handed me a contract.
“I wanted you to sign this before I spoke to your class,” he began, “In case I lead any of your students astray, I do not want to be held liable for undermining anyone’s faith.”
He was not kidding. The contract was very specific. “If any students give up their belief because of my talk on ___________ at Lenawee Christian School in Adrian, MI I, Mark Eckel, will not hold ________ responsible for any anti-Christian outcome from his talk.”
I could not help myself. I laughed out loud.
“Sir, I sincerely apologize for my uncontrollable outburst. Forgive me, but your document caught me unawares, and just a bit sideways,” I said, unable to wipe the smile from my face.
“Sure. I will sign your document,” I handed the signatured page back to him. “If there is nothing else, follow me to my classroom so my students can meet you.”
The man was an atheist, a local professor from a local community college. I invited him to speak to my students because I believe in having my students hear unadulterated points of view, a regular occurrence in my classes.
He spoke for 45 minutes and then, as agreed to ahead of time, my students asked him questions for 45 minutes. No students left The Faith that day. In fact, my students asked him questions that made him feel quite uncomfortable. I did not invite the man back again to my classroom. He did not represent his position very well. My students were unimpressed by his perspectives or answers to their questions.
Questions are the most powerful form of argument. Questions—without rancor or sarcasm—send a message: “I want you to give me the best reasons for your beliefs.” Questions should be the primary means of education.
Questions allow freedom of expression.
Questions allow honesty.
Questions identify commonality.
Questions expose differences.
Questions are respectful.
Questions lead to more discussion.
Questions provoke thought.
“When I ask you a question, what does that make you do?” I asked.
“It makes me think. That’s what I hate,” he answered.
The young man continued in education to earn his PhD. He is now having influence over hundreds each year. He was in the classroom the day the atheist professor stopped by. He asked one of the profound questions which the visiting professor did a poor job answering.
“You said ethics were important. Right and wrong, from your point of view, comes either from the community or individuals but not from any kind of outside revelation. As an atheist who believes only in human reason as the source of ethics, I have to ask: what happens if I disagree with your ethics and decide to kill you?”
After class, I dropped my copy of the contract in the round file. My students were respectful, honest, and straightforward.
I wondered after he left if my students should have created a contract for him.
Mark has taught with questions for over 30 years for all the reasons mentioned above. Dr. Mark Eckel spent 17 years teaching high school students in Christian Life and World Studies (CLAWS). Dr. Eckel’s latest book I Just Need Time to Think! Reflective Study as Christian Practice asks and answers many questions. Capital Seminary and Graduate School students are now taught how to ask questions.