Based on this question: Is methodology advice to pastors too subjective to deal with here?

there seems to be a consensus that:

  1. Not only are Doctrinal Questions are on topic, but so too are Practical Ones
  2. There is support to model "Subjective" questions the same way that Parent.ing SE does
  3. We need to provide some guidance for "Good Subjective" vs. "Bad Subjective." answers

Of course, for background, you should read Good Subjective, Bad Subjective

The question is, how do we evaluate whether an answer to a practical question is on topic?

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I think we've covered most of the ground on questions already, what we're going to need in order to go there are some answer guidelines for subjective answers. –  Caleb Oct 1 '12 at 21:31
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Also, of the two examples you suggest for good subjective, one of them isn't subjective at all but very much a factual question. The other one sounds very problematic to me. I wouldn't want that being a model template for "good subjective" questions. (This comment is only relevant to revisions 1 and 2 of this question.) –  Caleb Oct 1 '12 at 21:32
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Good answers to a subjective questions on practical matters should still manage to draw from the four traditional sources of theology. Good answers should consist of any or all of the following:

  1. Scripture - Reference to common scriptures that address the practical situation at hand. (e.g. If someone asks, "When the pastor seems to have made an unethical decision, what should be done about it?" the best answers would reference Jesus' instructions in Matthew's account about dealing with brother.)

    NOTE: I would argue that a scriptural or doctrinal answer to a practical question most heartily validates the quality of the question.

  2. Tradition - If an historical practice within a significant branch of Christianity speaks to the issue, a good answer would include this. (e.g. If someone asks, "When is it most appropriate to have children lead worship?," good answers might say something to the effect of "In many traditions, the Christmas pagaent is a traditional service in which the focus of the worship is led by the youth of the church. Other traditions often have a Youth Sunday.")

  3. Reason - Answers which illustrate the process by which a practical matter is best solved in a way that further advances the mission of the church are good answers. (e.g. If someone asks, "What percentage of a typical church budget should go to missions?," one could say that furthering the Gospel is one of the ost fundamental parts of the Great Commission. As such, missions can lay claim to advancing one of the most central aims of the church, and therefore deserves a central role. Giving the "leftovers" runs contrary to the concept of first fruits, etc...

  4. Experience - Answers which reflect the experience of church leaders (both clergy and lay) in dealing with specific strategies for solving a common problem that are either first or second-hand accounts (e.g. When I led my youth group... or I read in so and so's book on the matter that...) provide authoritative and answerable facts to apply to a question.

Guidelines for bad subjective are answers that are:

  1. Speculative (I would assume that...)

  2. Highly localized (In our case, letting Mary Sue pick the color of the carpet but giving Elderwoman Vera final say on the curtains.... unless if a general applicability is explicitly stated).

    NOTE: When dealing with matters of law, it is required that jurisdiction be clear, at least in the answer, and it should be present in the question. Any question about the taxation of clergy, for example, should almost necessarily mention the country in which an answer or question is derived. (e.g., In the United States, pastors are able to claim a housing allowance deduction in addition to any mortgage interest deduction). Likewise, in matters of church governance a denomination should be specified (What are requirements for ordination in the Baptist Church) or a request for survey be in the answer should be clear - although this is discouraged. (What denominations practice a laying on of hands during ordination? Is this relatively common or rare?)

  3. Lacking supporting justification. (E.g. "Are Christians supposed to Suffer?" Answer: "Yes.") or are devoid of any of the recognized sources of theology (E.g. "How could a pastor comfort the grieving?" Answer: "Since the bodies are just rotting anyway, say 'At least they aren't feeling anything!')

  4. Argumentative or Combative - (E.g. What kind of idiots think that a baptismal pool should be kept at 40 degrees?)

  5. Unclear About the tradition in whose context you desire an answer - If you want to know how hot the water in the baptistry should be, you point out that you care about traditions who practice immersion - not sprinkling. And, if that's what you really want to know, there should be no need to go into a rant about the method. Indeed, rants of any kind are frowned upon. See #4.

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+1, I think these are some great starting guidelines. I see a few pitfalls in a couple points but we can cover those as we encounter them. I would add one major caveat: subjective and practical questions are not exempt from our guidelines about needing to focus on a specific doctrinal tradition. –  Caleb Oct 5 '12 at 9:11
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+1 to Affable Geek's proposed guidelines. As a follow up to that, I would just add one major point.

Subjective and practical questions are not exempt from our guidelines about needing to focus on a specific doctrinal tradition. Likewise, answering them must be done from the same general quarter.

A simple example would be baptism. If a practical question is asked about how to handle the water in a baptismal and the practicality issues surrounding a dunking, it would be inappropriate to answer with a rejection of immersion and defense of sprinkling as a baptism method. Maybe a comment or link to another question focused on the other tradition would be ok, but straying out of the scope of the question is not acceptable for subjective or practical questions any more than it is for any others.

By the same token, asking questions that are too broad will still be a no-no. You won't be able to ask "What is the easiest way to organize all my new converts getting baptized." You must specify what tradition you are working in, what principles you are working from on the nature of baptism, etc. You must be specific so that answers can be judged according to some baseline assumptions and their merits for YOUR situation, not for their own doctrinal leanings.

As far as answer guidelines go, we should be pretty strict about not allowing answers to practical question become platforms to rant promote each OP's favorite doctrine. Answer the question within the scope of the OP's field of operation or leave it alone.

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