In response to Can we reverse the trend on low quality posts? we would like to propose the following thoughts on what defines a good focused question.

The primary focus of this site is a place to ask questions about Christianity. We have identified a couple of key aspects of constructive questions that focus on being about Christianity.

  • Most high quality questions about Christianity should be answerable using doctrine or applications of doctrine. Questions of this type must ask specifically about the doctrinal tradition (e.g. denomination, tradition or belief system) that they want to understand.

    Comparison questions in this category about doctrine are possible for fixed and reasonably small sets.

  • Some questions about Christianity will call for the exegesis and/or application of a passage. Questions of this type must be seeking for a doctrine or application. Answers may use exegesis in addition to other references. However, answers must be on topic to and supported by a given doctrine. (More on this in later posts.)

    Questions about translation and interpretation of texts that do not call for answers that result in doctrinal statements or provide application are better suited to Biblical Hermeneutics, since they are non-doctrinal and are purely related to the text of the Bible instead of the practice and beliefs of Christianity.

  • A few questions about Christianity will not involve doctrine but must be answerable using referenced facts. Examples include historical questions, questions about Bible translations, and questions about specific traditions (among others).

  • Questions that do not provide the doctrinal tradition that they want to understand or are not answerable with doctrine should be prompted to choose a direction. Questions that do not get edited in a way that provides guidance for solid, constructive answers should be closed as Not Constructive.

    Open ended questions that cannot be answered with verifiable references or doctrines are really too broad and invite low quality answers that are completely unsupported from any doctrinal or biblical standpoint. Questions were all opinions are equally valid should be closed as Not Constructive pending edits that make them into testable questions.

As a StackExchange site, we will survive by drawing experts. These guidelines will help us foster questions that call for response from experts. Such experts will be those who have a strong knowledge in a particular doctrine. Experts will also be best able to ask these kind of questions.

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Can I suggest adding a note of asking in good faith? I've seen Christians and atheists alike asking questions in good faith and in bad faith. I notice that you have mentioned it elsewhere (Are questions from atheists welcome here?) but it seems like it belongs in this post. –  Ray Oct 15 '11 at 4:12
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4 Answers

For reference, I think it's important to define our terms:

  • Doctrine - the body of beliefs established and supported by a group of people. This includes all denominations/sects/groups of Christians including those set of beliefs supported by some Christians that are not denominationally bound (such as Young Earth Creationism or Muscular Christianity).

    • Doctrinal Questions - Questions regarding the beliefs and practices of the group of people.

      NOTE: For the purposes of this discussion, these questions include the Catholic idea of "traditions" as well as their required beliefs. (Meaning, questions regarding what a group believes in general as a group and what they believe is required are both on topic.)

  • Doctrinal Tradition - this is C.SE terminology that encompasses all doctrines and traditions of a group of people. This is the same term as Doctrine above, but phrased in a more inclusive manner.

  • Exegesis - The interpretation and translation of specific biblical text

    • Exegetical Questions - Questions seeking the translation or interpretation of a particular biblical passage.
  • Doctrinal Exegesis - (Yes I made up this term, but it's probably valid.) interpretation and translation of text based on a particular viewpoint or doctrine.

    • Questions of such - These questions involve translation and interpretation of scripture based on a particular viewpoint.

      NOTE These questions are the type that are allowed on Christianity.SE. (ie On Topic on this site) This includes the traditional application and view of scripture from the perspective of the group of people.

  • Personal Exegesis - interpretation and translation of text based on an individual's viewpoint that may or may not line up with doctrine

    • Questions of such - These questions are asking for translation and interpretation of scripture not based on a particular viewpoint, but on a general viewpoint.

      NOTE These questions are the type that are not allowed on Christianity.SE. (ie Off Topic on this site) Christianity.SE is only concerned with what a particular doctrinal tradition believes.

  • Factual Questions - These are questions that involve facts related to Christiainty. Such facts could include history, biblical translations, etc. These are questions whose answers can be found by referencing external sources.

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Doctrinal Exegesis is a good term, if more Catholic canon lawyers were programmers on the side (or vice versa) we'd probably have a lot of those kinds of questions. –  Peter Turner Oct 12 '11 at 16:34
    
@PeterTurner. Well, this site isn't just for programmers. It would be interesting to do a survey, though. –  TRiG Oct 12 '11 at 19:45
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I'm really not keen on users having to remember that they can ask questions about any topic within Christianity on this site except for questions about the Bible (or, more specifically, the interpretation/interpretation thereof) which have to go to Biblical Hermeneutics. Moreover I would rather see questions asked here and moved to BH.SE, so that it leaves behind a redirect link that's searchable within this site. But I accept that would create a fair bit of extra work for the moderators.

The important thing is that BH questions posted here are indeed moved as opposed to closed as off-topic. BH questions are not off-topic here, they're just better placed on BH.SE.

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I've just posted my first question there, incidentally - but I'd rather have posted it here. Out if interest, what would have happened if this was posted here? Is "wait" in Isaiah 40:31 active or passive? –  Waggers Oct 13 '11 at 8:48
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So far in the history of the site we have actually had very few questions like the one you asked that area really raw textual issues. Most people here want to know what the verse means to them which is exegesis + doctrinal frameworks + practical theology etc. Those questions have been and still will be very much on-topic here. When things come up such as you just asked on BH that do have a much tighter scope and cannot be answered with doctrine of some kind, they can be migrated from here to be better addressed by the expertise there. –  Caleb Oct 13 '11 at 10:40
    
The other-lap zone we're suggesting where things are on-topic in both places is actually huge and in many cases it won't be obvious either to askers or even to us which site is the best fit. In those cases wherever the question turns up will probably be where it stays. –  Caleb Oct 13 '11 at 10:42
    
@Caleb I guess the big question is, what if a question in the overlap zone (ie on topic in both sites) is asked in both sites? Closing as duplicate when the question doesn't already exist on one site doesn't seem the right approach, but neither does allowing exact duplicates across both sites. I guess it will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis –  Waggers Oct 13 '11 at 10:46
    
Also from your post "except for questions about the Bible" doesn't do the concepts here justice. Questions about the Bible (and as I said, indeed most of the questions we've seen so far about the Bible) are very much fair game here! –  Caleb Oct 13 '11 at 10:46
    
Off site posts don't count as exact duplicates unless they are identical, in which case they would be migrated and merged one way or the other. I think the solution in the overlap zones will be to edit the questions that prefer to be in each place to more clearly encourage the kind of answers that are the focus of that site. If you asked your recent BH question here I would have suggested an edit that made it more about the practical difference one way or the other or any doctrines built on the idea. –  Caleb Oct 13 '11 at 10:49
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I believe this is the wrong approach, it's not what common practice is among Stack Exchange sites, and it will result in a little used site not really valuable to anyone.

Experts

Sure, SE is about experts. But you are getting way too carried away. On SO, you don't have to prove your Ph.D in Comp Sci to answer a question. You don't have to appeal to the Gang of Four book to have a valid position.

I'm a mod on RPG.SE. We welcome accredited game designers, but answers are certainly welcome from everyone else. Similarly, we understand there's a huge gap between "written doctrine" (the game rules) and actual practice, and that it's foolish to have the actual practice declared off topic.

SEs want to attract "experts" - but in the main SEs, expert just means a non-incoherent practitioner. I think the rules being bandied about here, if applied to a random subset of question from Server Fault or whatever, would end up closing 80% of them.

In the end, too much bandying around "well, but popular doesn't mean good" conveys a distrust of the fundamentally democratic nature of SEs. You're saying that you don't trust the community to decide on good questions and answers, and that surely you need to vet them all. But a SE isn't Wikipedia. Loosen up. Sure, there are bad questions that should be closed, that's why folks with rep can vote to close.

Doctrine

I would venture to say that official denomination doctrine is largely irrelevant to the many Christians, especially American Protestants. Sure, it's big among the Catholics and LDS, but there are a lot of newer churches that don't have much written doctrine (a growing percent are independent or Bible churches) and I know I myself am not alone in not really discriminating much on denomination when choosing a new church.

I'm not sure where the fear lies in allowing "Christian Living" to basically be on topic for this site. Trying to artificially divide topics up into Christian living vs official denomination doctrine vs Bible interpretation is pointless and ends up not serving the needs of the vast majority who mix all three of those things into their life, and are trying to make sense of them all together.

Examples to Follow

Parenting.SE. It's all about sound opinion and judgment and very little objective fact to resort to - and it works great. They refuse to answer specific medical advice questions, but other than that the kinds of things that get pooh-poohed here as "pastoral advice" are actively encouraged and the results are great. Careful curation is what will get you a better site, not arbitrary rules and exclusivity. Good Subjective, Bad Subjective is more than adequate.

I started participating in this site early on, but as more and more things are declared "off topic" in the name of getting better questions, I find less questions I consider high quality or interesting, so I have largely wandered off. I've said some subsets of this before, and the mods disagree, but I think if you step back and look at other SEs and the bigger picture you will see that perhaps there's a better path.

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I think that the most important comparison is to compare ourselves to live sites, not sites in beta. Admittedly, I'm not on Parenting.SE (and I don't follow Philosophy.SE). However, "The StackExchange Way" is to draw experts in their field. If we're not drawing experts, then this site will end up as the Yahoo Answers of the SE Network. Finally, you mention Good subjective, bad subjective. There's a line in that post: opinion, by itself, is noise. This site is filled with opinion. That's what we want to fix. –  Richard Oct 20 '11 at 11:09
    
Sure. But fix it the right way. –  mxyzplk Oct 20 '11 at 12:28
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I'm starting to see your point. However, the problem that we're running up against is that we have no measure of "good" or "bad" advice and opinions. On parenting, it's clear that calling your child "stupid" is bad advice. Here, however, any and every opinion must be acceptable because of our horrible definition of "Christian". If you can suggest a better definition that we can use to limit what is "good subjective", then we would have been able to avoid this whole mess. As is, the above is our attempt at that. –  Richard Oct 20 '11 at 12:42
    
Maybe we should concentrate more on better defining "Christian". –  Waggers Oct 21 '11 at 22:23
    
Although I think we are unnecessarily nancy about defining Christian, I don't think that's required. No one canonically defines 'good parent' on Parenting. Do you know why calling your kids stupid is bad advice? Because the parents there would vote that answer down. It's as easy as that. And there's not too many sites out of beta; I wouldn't be too picky, I'd look at successful sites. Frankly I don't think this approach would fly on SO either if you want a "big" compare. –  mxyzplk Oct 22 '11 at 1:37
    
I think you're right, we're trying to be too prescriptive, and insisting on technical theological language when plain English would be much more preferable. –  Waggers Oct 22 '11 at 7:39
    
@mxyzplk: Would it be too much trouble to ask you to post this as a stand alone meta post? I would like to give some of these a real reply and comments aren't a good place to do that. If you are suggesting a different direction I think it deserves to be vetted out as a full meta post of it's own. You might have to edit the intro just a tad to show what you are objecting to exactly, but most of this could read as-is. That way those with feedback can write answers instead of chaining comments together! Thanks. –  Caleb Oct 22 '11 at 8:38
    
@Waggers: I don't anybody is (and would object if I saw someone) insisting on technical theological language. Plain English is acceptable! In fact, using it may show more skill than using the technical language, however one way or another we need to communicate things. The reason technical theological language exists is because it communicates certain meanings that there are not other words for. It's the language that experts speak. Using the word "doctrine" should not be a requirement, but I think asking questions that are answerable with "doctrine" (whether called that or not) should be. –  Caleb Oct 22 '11 at 8:44
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I can, though actually I'd normally consider that inappropriate - I think too many things are being posted here on meta as "directives in the guise of questions." my post above would be good for the unasked question of "what should our new posting guidelines be?" I have ot admit I find questions like this one somewhat off-putting because they are declarations, not questions, which gives a clear impression of being set already. Post the question and post the "mod-approved" answer, but then you can see the community's response via vote. –  mxyzplk Oct 22 '11 at 14:41
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@mxyzplk: I think this would result in a lot of questions becoming a popularity contest between multiple viewpoints. On sites like Parenting.SE, that's fine, as you are trying to build a consensus, and you don't mind if unpopular ideas get downvoted. On Christianity.SE, we're trying to avoid popularity contests so that that nobody gets "voted off the island" just because their belief is a minority. In order to do that, we want questions which have verifiable answers, so that we can vote based on correctness and not on whether we agree with it or not. I'm not sure if you can have both. –  hammar Oct 23 '11 at 1:27
    
@mxyzplk: Meta posts can have a little diferent format. Check the main Meta.SO for examples, but most posts forward a problem, request or suggestion in the body and the up/down vote system on the post serves for the community to vote whether they think that is a good or bad idea. Then answers can suggest further implementation details or object to the problem or whatever is relevant. This post is not the first nor was it a directive, it was after [a post]( How can I contribute to the effort to clean up Christianity.SE? forwarding a problem an –  Caleb Oct 23 '11 at 16:51
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Again I invite you to re-post this as a stand-alone suggestion so that we can have space to reply to it point by point in answers. This comment thread is already out of hand! –  Caleb Oct 23 '11 at 16:52
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It is unbelievably unlikely that most questioners will be able to "specify a doctrinal tradition". It is highly likely that questioners will not know much about Christianity, and may not be able to differentiate between protestant and Catholic, let alone more subtle distinctions. If they are forced to choose between things they don't understand they will just go off somewhere else, and spread the word that the people on christians.se are a bunch of obnoxious idiots (or something less polite). This will not contribute to our attempt to get high quality posts.

However most of our answerers should be able to distinguish between doctrinal traditions. So it makes more sense to put the burden on the answerers to specify the doctrinal position that they are coming from. They can say "Catholics believe ...." or "Pentecostals believe..." etc.

Some people will write "Christians believe..." when they really mean "My branch of North American Evangelicalism believes..." and we should encourage the downvoting of those answers, until such time as they are edited to accurately specify the denominations.

"Ah, but wait" I hear you say "Won't that lead to competing answers, with people voting for their own tradition in a popularity contest?". That's when we pull out our secret weapon - the synthesis answer.

The synthesis answer is something that Jeff Atwood encourages, though I've been looking for the reference to where he says it for a while. Essentially it consists of taking part-answers and writing a full answer based on them. So the synthesis-writer take the answers for Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostal and Anabaptist and writes an answer that says "Catcholics say this, Presbyterians say that, Pentecostals say the other and Anabaptists are different". That shouldn't actually be too much work for someone who knows roughly what they are doing. Then we encourage everybody to vote that kind up answer up, heavily.

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This is actually where we started with our cleanup. We really did try to get people to specify POV in their answers but got little traction. The questions we were getting invited un-identified answers and the community was split on whether it was a good idea. We decided we needed to show the root of the problem, which is that bad questions attract bad answers. In tech sites like SO bad questions just get ignored. With our subject matter, they are specifically answer and debate magnets. Bad questions lead to bad answers. When bad question are identified, the bad answers are easy to identify. –  Caleb Nov 11 '11 at 23:20
    
This might be worth revisting. However I'm seeing a LOT of answers from people who -- unlike your comment above -- couldn't distinguish a doctrinal tradition if their life depended on it. (Never mind that it actually might!) Do you have any proposal for how to deal with those? –  Caleb Sep 30 '12 at 19:09
    
Not really. Of course it only takes one person with reasonably broad knowledge to write the synthesis answer. But the problem I think is going to be to persuade people to vote that one up over the one that represents their favourite denomination. –  DJClayworth Oct 1 '12 at 1:34
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