Lesson 3: Inquiry Learning

Methods of Jesus.03

Lesson 3: Inquiry Learning

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this learning module the class facilitator should be equipped to explain and apply inquiry learning methods to an adult Sabbath School class. This will be accomplished by designing thought-provoking questions dealing with problems, dilemmas, and puzzling issues. The facilitator should also be able to assist members to form their own conclusions. The facilitator should be enabled to teach in such a manner as to awaken interest, maintain enthusiasm on the part of the learner, and foster spiritual growth.

Jesus led His disciples to seek their own understanding of essential concepts. He awakened the mind of learners by asking thought-provoking questions and posing challenging problems for them to solve. Contemporary educators use inquiry learning techniques in a similar fashion.

“Inquiry learning occurs when difficult situations are faced, when perplexing questions are raised. In such cases, learners seek conclusions for themselves” (Ronald Habermas and Klaus Issler, Teaching for Reconciliation, p. 113). Before feeding the five thousand, Jesus posed a problem to His disciples. They learned to experience faith in the process. To test him, He asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed the crowd (John 6:5, 6). Philip claimed the task was impossible (John 6:7). Andrew, however, made an attempt to solve the problem by finding a boy with a few loaves and fishes (John 6:8, 9).

Class Facilitator’s Responsibility in Inquiry Learning

Deep and broad. The task of the facilitator in inquiry learning is “to help students progressively think more deeply and broadly about the subject; to challenge and probe students’ thinking so they move beyond a simplistic and superficial understanding of the subject” (Habermas and Issler, p. 134).

If class facilitators can stimulate the mind of class members to solve a problem, a riddle, or a puzzling question, they will lead the learners to seek conclusions for themselves. The learner will then be inclined to formulate beliefs based upon their conclusion.

Observe how the Pharisees were challenged and led to think beyond a simplistic and superficial understanding when Jesus posed perplexing questions. Read Matthew 22:41-45. The Pharisees must have walked away pondering His question long into the night. This may have helped some of them to form the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

It is important in this process that the facilitator not inflict on the class a problem, riddle, or puzzling question that is so difficult or distasteful to the learner that the member develops an aversion or loses interest. The challenging and probing must not be done in an intimidating way. Rather artful facilitators will keep in mind the needs and interests of class members.

For example, if the class facilitator brings up the problem of slavery (Eccl. 2:7), a member might respond: “Slavery is always wrong. Solomon should not have had slaves.” In order to probe deeper without stridently arguing the point, the facilitator might take this approach: “Would you consider it wrong to have indentured servants?”

This might leave the way open for more inquiry on the part of the learner rather than to heated debate.

The parables of Jesus dealt with topics of vital interest. Often they spoke against popular practice. But they almost always left room for the hearers to go their way mulling over the stories and seeking greater meaning and application.

How to Introduce Useful Problems

Christian educators suggest the following ways to introduce useful problems to adult students: “Partly this happens as we share relevant struggles from our own pilgrimage experiences. Partly, problem-posing springs from knowledge of local and world affairs, by selecting dilemmas that speak to the twenty-first century church. The facilitator should select a significant, relevant, thought-provoking problem that is properly worded. The wording should be stated in question form in such away to encourage probing and ownership. The problem should be manageable, not ambiguous nor partial” (Habermas and Issler, pp. 169, 170).

A past Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide offered a number of such problems.

  • Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Class members are encouraged to share times when they wondered if God still controls this earth. Class facilitators could ask members to discuss the extent that God is in control of tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. Does God, for example, allow natural disasters to unfold in random manner, or does He select the time and place for calamities to occur? How does this relate to His judgments falling on the wicked and the destruction of the innocent along with sinners?

The task of facilitators. Kindly lead members to find biblical solutions rather than to simply pool their ignorance. For example, ask:

  • Can you think of any guiding principles from the Bible to solve this mystery?
  • Who would be interested in doing a little research in the Bible to bring back a report to the class?

There are a number of ways the facilitator might pose problems, riddles, or perplexing questions that could be answered by the principles set forth in the Bible, e.g.:

  • What are the themes in Ecclesiastes, for instance, that would spark inquiry?
  • What are the things that class members would need to know in the twenty-first century?
  • “Simplification” might be one theme. We are plagued with too many things to do with too little time. Simplicity of life seems to be the focus in Solomon’s closing statement (Eccl. 12:13). Even the way we approach spiritual life may be perplexing and in some cases burdensome unless we narrow our focus.

Facilitator Scripts (Bold Type)
When we think of the simplicity of fearing God and keeping His commandments, what are legitimate spiritual burdens and what are common spiritual burdens that are not legitimate?

Facilitators might explain what they mean by giving the following example:

The burden to feed all the hungry children in the world may be unrealistic; however, the desire to participate in a program of planting trees so people can feed themselves may be a task that the Christian can fulfill.

Facilitators may solicit other examples and lead the class in discussion, drawing them into the ideology of the Bible.

There are natural puzzles to solve in Ecclesiastes. One question may possibly be whether or not every expression in the book represents a model thought for the converted Christian. Did Solomon, at times, simply express opinions that he held while in an unconverted or depressed state? The facilitator should be prepared to probe and squeeze the question in order to help members think more broadly and get beyond pat answers and shallow expressions.

The phrase “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2; 12:8) needs to be compared with other statements about the purpose of life found in the Bible.

Why are these statements put in the Bible?

If the class concludes that certain expressions may not represent ideal thoughts for Christians, then facilitators may ask, “Why are they put in the Bible?” It is important for facilitators to have a clear sense of where to lead such a discussion. They might direct the learner to reflect on the inspired statements and Bible commentaries dealing with such topics as the vengeance psalms, or statements of Job’s counselors. The class may conclude that God is not on trial for all the expressions in the Bible, but some expressions may be included in order to honestly reflect the thoughts and expressions of the biblical character at the time.

Trials as Case Studies

Daily trials mentioned by class members offer another opportunity for problem solving. “Trials in our lives provide opportunities for us to think about, clarify and integrate our theology and lifestyle. Learning gained through such deep wrestling in the crucible of life is learning not easily forgotten” (Habermas and Issler, p. 113).

There are many issues mentioned in Ecclesiastes that are common to people today. I cite three:

  • Chapter 1: Does life have meaning? Does increased knowledge always bring pain? If so, why? Why does it not work to make pleasure the goal of life?
  • Chapter 2: Various passages address such problems as gluttony, depression, despair, wantonness, seeking life in all the wrong places, and the influence of associates.
  • Chapter 6:2. Do you think this text has anything to say regarding the question of illegal immigrants and border control?

This question might well lead to other texts about how to treat strangers and aliens, as well as passages regarding misuse of other people’s goods. It could also lead to a discussion to clarify understanding of the text that says, “God does not give him power to eat of it.” What does that mean? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the matter of illegal immigration. Inquiry learning would probe the depths of the question and develop biblical insights in the process.

Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists


  • Make a list of contemporary problems addressed in the current Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.
  • Ask class members to choose the problems most relevant to their current needs.
  • Prepare additional questions for a number of possible directions that the discussion might follow.