Faith Outside the Bubble
The riddles of God," said G. K. Chesterton, "are more satisfying than the answers of man." This sparkling one-liner from the 20th century's best theological journalist could serve as a motto for Matthew Lee Anderson's new work, The End of Our Exploring: A Book About Questioning and the Confidence of Faith (Moody Publishers). Like C. S. Lewis before him, Anderson sets out to explore a middle way between free-floating skepticism and dogmatic certainty. The first perspective sees any form of commitment as betraying integrity, holding that the wise are characterized by permanent questioning. The other refuses to think about questions, seeing them as a slippery slope leading slowly but surely to unbelief.
This is no mere academic tension. Anderson's book has emerged from reflection and dialogue with colleagues and friends, particularly at the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University (the author's alma mater). Like many—myself included—Anderson is worried about young believers who lose their way through well-intentioned guidance of the "just trust, don't think" type. He's also concerned about a Christian subculture that fails to prepare young Christians for life outside the "bubble." Within this subculture, excessive reliance on slogans and clichés can act as substitutes for thinking. As Anderson rightly notes, "It is the nature of clichés to avoid examination."
Anderson is good on why we need to ask questions if we are to grow in our faith, and why so many pastors feel threatened by them. Sadly, some interpret the questions of those who are genuinely exploring the faith as challenges to their authority, or blasphemous attacks on the gospel. What is really a kind of spiritual growing pain is misunderstood as rebelliousness or subversion. Anderson reminds all of us who pastor such people that rather than slapping such questions down, we need to examine the context within which they arise.
Anderson cuts to the quick, avoiding scholarly detachment and academic jargon. A series of well-chosen examples allows him to probe why we are reluctant to engage questions, while at the same time illuminating how such questions can enrich faith. We need to do more to help Christians—especially those attending college—to internalize their faith, gain a proper confidence in its roots, and learn to express this in gracious responses to the questions they will inevitably encounter.
The Downside of Apologetics
In The End of Our Exploring, apologetics—or, at least, a certain kind of apologetics—comes in for critique. "The work of providing reasons for Christianity has teetered on overcompensating for the anti-intellectual strains in American Christianity and the rise of a noisy atheist opposition." I know what he means. Christian apologists (like me) who have taken the lead in engaging the "New Atheists" (like Richard Dawkins) have tended to focus on the intellectual arguments for and against belief in God. While this leads to some good outcomes, there is a downside, and Anderson is right to note this.