A man living on a small but significant stretch of land in the Middle East was walking with a ragtag group of fellow Jews in what is now the Golan Heights. There, in the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, surrounded by shrines dedicated to pagan gods, the man eyed his companions and asked a question, “Who do people say that I am?”

The men accompanying Jesus of Nazareth responded this way and that way before the most outspoken of the crew, a fisherman named Cephas, blurted out what he thought was the right answer to his rabbi’s question.

Christianity is a religion that raises more questions than it answers. Though theologians wax eloquent about the doctrines of the church, Christianity is a religion rooted in mystery. Its core beliefs—that God is three persons yet one nature, that Jesus is human yet divine, and that he rose from the dead three days after being murdered—begs for more explanation, more understanding, more clarity. If Christianity were a sentence, it would be followed by a question mark.

According to Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. The records of church history confirm this to be true. From one perspective, the history of Christianity is nothing but a series of questions asked by people committed to a life of intense scrutiny. All generations of Christians ask their own questions as they examine their Christian identity and search for meaning in their lives.

From our historical vantage point, it’s quite right that Christians continually ask new questions and regularly revisit old ones.

We could say that asking questions is in our religious DNA. Besides praying, serving, and believing, perhaps asking is what Christians do best. Jesus, after all, was the consummate question asker who often responded to people’s questions by asking his own, suggesting to Christians nearby and far away that few things are as sacred as asking questions. During his short ministry on earth, the questions he asked were penetrating and provocative:

  • What are you looking for?
  • What will it profit people if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
  • Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?
  • Why does this generation look for a sign?
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Taking our cue from the way that Jesus taught his disciples, my latest book, Twenty Questions That Shaped World Christian History, queries whether the story of world Christianity is best told followed by a series of question marks than by semicolons, periods, or, worse yet, exclamation marks.

Out of an endless array of questions from which to choose, this book narrates the history of Christianity by responding to twenty key questions in the church’s past.

Each chapter begins with a story that provokes one overarching question for discussion. The remaining chapter provides responses to each question from writers of that century, with a conclusion attempting to shed light on the possible outcomes to the question.

So, what were twenty questions that shaped world Christianity? Here’s what I suggest are twenty of the most important questions Christians have raised in our two thousand years of existence.

  1. What’s the Relationship between Christianity and Judaism?
  2. What Makes Someone a Heretic?
  3. What Happens to Christians Who Backslide?
  4. Are Jesus and the Holy Spirit Divine?
  5. How Many Natures Does Christ Have?
  6. What Does It Mean to be Holy?
  7. What’s Islam?
  8. Are Icons Idolatrous?
  9. Who Has Authority over Newly Christianized Nations?
  10. Are These the End Times?
  11. Should Christians Fight Muslims over the Holy Land?
  12. Can Priests Marry?
  13. What’s the Relationship between Faith and Reason?
  14. How Should We Respond to Mass Death?
  15. Who Owns Newly Discovered Territory?
  16. Can Christians Own Slaves?
  17. Is Confucianism Compatible with Christianity?
  18. Is Conversion Necessary to Be a Christian?
  19. Does Evolution Disprove Christianity?
  20. How Does Christianity Look Worldwide?

If you enjoyed this blog post and want to learn more about Dr. Cooper’s book, click on the link below to purchase it.

As Professor Joel Scandrett of Trinity School for Ministry writes about the book, “To understand answers we need first to understand their questions. Derek Cooper’s Twenty Questions that Shaped World Christian History is a delightful introduction to the perennial questions that have shaped 2,000 years of Christian history. Understanding these questions, and the way Christians have answered them in the past is vital to understanding the place of Christian faith and life in the world today.”

This book has the benefit of not only teaching us about the past but the present as well. Did you know that many of the beliefs and practices we hold most dear as Christians were the results of simple questions that Christians raised in the past?

Did you also know that many unhealthy practices Christians were historically involved in, and may even be involved in today, were the result of poor responses to important questions of the past?

What are the questions that your church community is raising today, and how can the wisdom of the past equip your community to answer these questions with knowledge and understanding?

In my next blog, I will go into more detail about one of these twenty questions that shaped the history of Christianity. In the meantime, feel free to read the first chapter of my book online, which responds to one of the fundamental questions that Christians like Paul and Peter wrestled with in the first century.