The End of Our Exploring

I finished this thoughtful book by Matthew Lee Anderson (subtitled “A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith”) earlier this week. While I had expected it to focus primarily on how to deal with the doubts and questions that Christians may wrestle with, instead it turned out to be more about how to “question well”—an important topic and one that Anderson handles wisely and gracefully.

Anderson discusses a range of topics, including what questions are and what they reflect about those who ask them, the frameworks from which we ask our questions, the difference between doubts and questions, what the goal of our questioning should be, and the place of questioning in our churches and our relationships. In terms of style, I sometimes felt that the transition between chapter subsections wasn’t the smoothest, and the abundance of footnotes irritated me a little until I gave in and decided to just enjoy all his parenthetical remarks, but Anderson’s overall writing style—at times almost breathtakingly beautiful—amply atoned.

For me, an important takeaway point was that we need to learn (and teach our children) how to question and think deeply rather than superficially. Anderson is surely correct that we tend to prefer quick easy answers to careful thinking (“just enough instruction so we know what to do but not so much that we have to think”—ouch). It’s never been easier to get our hands on facts, he points out, but our goal should be understanding: “Those who inquire well must move from answers to understanding, from the instant gratification of our need for comfort and security toward the deepened desire for the enduring good of wisdom.”

Slowing down on the rush for easy answers also means that we will be able to interact in a more empathetic way with those we disagree with, recognising that we may not be right and trying to see things from their point of view. As Anderson says, “To understand a position does not entail that we agree with it: but in a world marked by unsympathetic, hasty dismissals and cataclysmic, thunderous prognostications of doom, a strong dose of listening and considering might go a long way toward improving our discourse, both inside and outside the church.”

I appreciated, too, how Anderson shows that in the midst of our questioning, in the uncertainty and in the waiting for answers, we can have, as the subtitle says, confidence: “Reality makes us; we do not make it. And at the heart of reality, out of the silence of unknowing emerges the cross. The cross engenders within us the courage to explore without finding, to wait without an answer, to search without seeing—precisely because we know one has already gone before us into death, come back victorious from it, and will come again to consummate His triumph over sin.”

Ultimately, The End of Our Exploring is a Jesus-focused book. Because, as the final chapter in particular makes so beautifully clear, the end of our exploring is Jesus. “For the answer we are given is the life of a person, the Lord of all, life abundantly.”

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