Show Your Work

By Jeff Laird

Everyone taking a math course encounters these words: "show your work." Whether basic arithmetic or calculus, the teacher always wants to know why you arrived at that answer. Using a flawed method, right numbers or not, means having that answer marked "incorrect." The teacher's goal is to equip the student to find real answers in the real world. And, to discourage reliance on lucky guesses, accidents, or errors. Truly studying mathematics isn't necessarily about specific answers, but learning how to get answers.

In other words, the process you use is actually more important than any one particular answer. Why? Because getting the right answer with a bad formula is just luck. Using a good process gives you a way to fix yourself, even if you're wrong this time around.

In a math class, the "show your work" principle encourages students to actually understand the material. Showing your work makes it possible for you to catch your own mistake prior to the assignment being graded. An incorrect answer, with your steps written down, allows the teacher or another student to walk you through and find your mistake. Being forced to show your work not only makes you understand math better, it makes you more likely to be able to solve real problems in the real world.

As we study the Bible, the same concept applies. It's not enough to simply have "right" answers. It's crucial to know why we arrived at those conclusions. First, if we can solid support what we believe, using Scripture, logic, and reason, we're more likely to have a view which is true, and compatible with the Bible. Second, we're more likely to understand that belief in something more than a shallow way. Third, if something challenges our view, we have something to check on.

As long as we know why we believe something, we have a reasonable chance of moving towards truth when we're wrong. Or, of remaining in the truth when we're on the right track.

If all we know about some aspect of our beliefs is "that's what I was raised to believe," or "my Pastor says…" or "I just believe it," then we're not "showing our work." At best, this makes us unable to explain or convince others of that truth. At worst, what we believe is actually wrong, but we have no way to know we're in error.

Another version of "not showing our work" is merely looking to support something we've already decided on. This is when we settle on some preconceived notion, or opinion, or tradition, and only then start looking for reasons to believe it. Beyond the issue of whether or not that particular belief is true, this also makes us more likely to use bad reasoning. If we try to defend "statement X," rather than "the truth," it's all but certain we'll suction in other non-truths to make our view seem legitimate.

Even more awkward is when we use a bad method to justify our beliefs to others. Would you trust someone as a tutor who got an "A" in math, but couldn't give a good explanation for how he got the answers? Or if he admitted that he just guessed? Why should it be different with spirituality? Eventually, the fact that we can't "show our work" will become obvious. At that point, others will distrust what we say, even if it's the truth. Let that sink in: those we want to reach might doubt the truth specifically because they saw us using poor reasoning to defend it!

In short, our process is ultimately more important than our position. An irrational, illogical, unbiblical, or flawed process is eventually going to steer us wrong. That's a problem even if we're right—by blind luck—on that particular doctrine. A good process—even if we're wrong right now—at least has a shot at getting us to the truth.

So, whatever we claim to believe—about the Scriptures, about faith, about the world—it's critical to be able to "show our work." Being prepared with the Bible, and logic, and reason, to answer why we have a particular view, is to truly act as a disciple (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 3:15). It not only makes our faith more confident and more accurate, it makes our witness far more effective.

Image Credit: Name; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life

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Published 9-6-16