THIS book could have been called The Art of the Apposite Question. The former Bishop of Oxford celebrates the ways in which an unexpected or oblique question can stimulate creative reflection and open up new vistas. It is the art of the skilled journalist, chat-show host, counsellor, spiritual director.
Believers often picture a Jesus in “transmit” mode, dispensing wisdom. But, Pritchard says, Jesus’s approach was often to drop seemingly innocent questions into conversation — questions that turn out to be resonant and unsettling. The enigmatic questions that Jesus asks in the Gospel narratives can, he suggests, be rich and searching for people today.
Pritchard takes 20 of the questions that Jesus asks some of his contemporaries, such as “What are you looking for?”, and “What is your name?”. In each case, the author imaginatively retells the background story as a first-person account, Ignatian-style. Then he applies the question asked by Jesus to the reader’s life, faith, and discipleship — drawing on stories from Pritchard’s own life, as well as sporting, literary and cultural references and quotations from spiritual thinkers down the ages.
Each short chapter ends with further questions from the author, based on the biblical passage (ever pondered the conversation the former demoniac might have had with the owner of all those pigs?), along with suggestions for working through the issues in intercessory and contemplative prayer. The book assumes a readership of practising Christians, as well as some prior biblical familiarity: Nicodemus in his monologue talks about the Sanhedrin, and clearly expects more than blank incomprehension from the reader.
Pritchard’s book is well-written and would make an excellent daily devotional, with clear pointers for prayer and application to everyday life. An afterword reflects on the ways in which a believer might “hear” Jesus asking new questions on the journey of faith, and offers tips for hearing an authentic voice rather than merely reinforcing a personal agenda.
Less clearly spelled out through the book, but equally potent, is the challenge to Christian communicators from this study of the ways in which Jesus engages with people. Sometimes a simple and well-aimed question achieves more than any amount of expounding, exhorting, and emoting.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Head of Church Growth for Manchester diocese and author of the Stepping Stones for Growth course.
Twenty Questions Jesus Asked: And how they speak to us today
Church Times Bookshop £9.89