Christians don’t really know what to do with questions. Some of us seem afraid to ask anything; others seem terrified to receive answers. But questions were never meant to be a source of angst nor a mask for unbelief.
In his new book The End of Our Exploring, Matthew Lee Anderson challenges us to examine the heart behind our inquiries and embrace the God-glorifying design of asking questions—to see them as opportunities to edify and encourage, to grow in our faith.
Better questions means better answers
After reading this book, one thing is abundantly clear: Anderson is a uniter. He finally brings “progressives” and “conservatives” together—but it’s not to hold hands and sing “Kumbuyah.” Instead, he recognizes that both are guilty of the same thing: simplistically approaching questions.
Many progressives tend to view certainty as the great enemy of faith; doubt is the mark of true faith and humility (ironically, they’re very certain about this). Many conservatives, conversely, either see asking questions as either a sign of a shipwrecked faith or a rebellious spirit. If they don’t eschew questions altogether, they do rush to be the answer police, giving (and gleefully receiving) an easy answer and moving on.
But neither approach leads to maturity; both leave us childish in our approach to the Christian faith. “If we want people to think adult thoughts, then we should stop catering to their felt needs for quick answers,” he writes (74).
But being simplistic about answers isn’t the only problem—we have difficulty even coming up with the right questions. Anderson writes:
We Christians should not be so answers oriented that we render ourselves incapable of coming up with the questions ourselves. We might think it a miracle that anyone learned about the Bible before we had study guides, given our total dependence upon them. What questions could the early Christians have possibly asked without the prompts we now have? And how did readers ever learn from books without prepackaged questions at the end of each chapter? If we are going to move beyond being a community that simply regurgitates “easy answers,” then we must also be willing to put an end to spoon feeding the questions. (74)
Do you get a sense of the difficult balance Anderson is trying to describe here? He is emphatic that we need to ask more and better questions about our faith, and especially the Bible—and we need to expect to have those questions answered.
This will, naturally, take a great deal of work and wisdom to accomplish, in part because the process is so challenging for us. “Good questions make the familiar seem strange to us,” he writes. “If we are willing to linger for a moment over the initial frustration of not immediately knowing the answer, we will find that a good question will revive our sense of wonder and enchantment at the world” (87).
This is something being a parent is forcing me to relearn. My kids ask a lot of questions. Like a lot a lot. I’m pretty sure I’ve been asked “what’s that” or some variation around 1,036,782 times over the last six years. Sometimes my kids want the simple answer: “It’s a cat; it’s a tree; it’s a cookie.” And if I can be totally honest, sometimes it’s really annoying to have to answer the same thing again and again. But sometimes when they ask a question, they’re not looking for a simple answer. They need me to go deeper. They want to understand the world they’re living in and their questions help them to do that.
As we grow in the Christian faith, we’re like my kids in a lot of ways. We start out asking a lot of questions because we don’t really know much of anything. But as we get older, and as we receive good answers, we learn to ask better questions. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways,” as the Apostle Paul says (1 Cor. 13:11). That’s what questioning well is supposed to help us do—to stop reasoning as children and instead reason as adults. To put away “childish ways,” and take questions and answers seriously.
What does our attitude to questioning say about us?
But, Anderson reminds us, that’s not all there is to questioning well. “Questioning well also means the question fits the things questioned as much as the moment” (169). And this brings to light another issue—one not necessarily between theological camps but generational divides.
Although there are always exceptions, when dealing with many members of the Boomer generation, I’ve noticed a tendency to see submitting oneself to questioning is a sign of weakness. Questions from younger generations—specifically their kids and grandkids, the Millennials—are often viewed as subversive or disloyal. Certainly there can be an element of this, especially for those of us who struggle with how to ask the right questions at the right time.
But does the perception fit with reality?
Not at all. “Questioning will tend to be subversive in communities where questioning is not practiced,” he writes. “When inquiry is modeled and discipled, the gap between healthy questioning and subversive questioning will be easier to discern” (148).
As hard as it might be for some to hear, the first thing we need to do when we react negatively to questions is to examine ourselves—is it because of an insecurity on our part? If so, we would do well to remember ”it is not a sign of weakness when leaders submit themselves and their decisions to be questioned publicly, but a sign of their confidence and desire for integrity” (133).
I don’t know if I’ve read a timelier book than The End of Our Exploring. Too many of us struggle to understand how to ask questions well or even understand the purpose of a question. But Anderson gives us a framework for asking the right questions in the right way that I’m sure will be valuable for years to come. This book is a wonderful gift to readers of all stripes; I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Title: The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith
Author: Matthew Lee Anderson
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon