The End of Our Exploring by Matthew Lee Anderson

The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of FaithTakeaway: An attitude of doubt and the ability to ask a good question are two different things.

One of the problems of reading a large number of books on top of one another is that inevitably the books end up in conversation with one another.  I started The End of Our Exploring right as I was finishing up The Art of Letting Go: The Wisdom of St Francis.  Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, is known for his books on spiritual development, especially male rituals of adulthood.  So even though the two books are about totally different issues, both Rohr and Anderson spend time talking about how pain relates to questioning and spiritual growth.

Rohr expressly says that pain is a necessary component to both spiritual and emotional growth.  But Anderson suggests it is a weakness of contemporary Christianity that “we often do not begin to question until the megaphone of suffering has awakened us from our sleep.”  Maybe Anderson needs to allow us as Christians to have more pain.  But I think they are both right, pain and discomfort often present during growth.

One area of human suffering is doubt.  It is an area that I have not suffered much with throughout my life.  That is not to say I have not had questions about my life or the world or our purpose in the world.  But doubt about the basics, who God is, is God good, is there purpose or reason in the world, are just not part of my background.

So while I am a fan of Matthew Lee Anderson and his work as a public intellectual (I don’t think he likes me calling him that, but I believe that is his real role), I was a bit reluctant about this book.  I was fascinated by his last book, Earthen Vessels, because I had not ever really interacted with the concept of the theology of the body.

I struggled most with the first 100 pages or so of The End of Our Exploring because I was not sure where Anderson was going.  It seemed to me that Anderson was condemning people for having doubt.  That is clearly not the purpose of the book.  Anderson’s purpose is to separate the concepts of questioning and doubt and to place them in a healthy place for Christians.

Anderson is not a fan of doubt.  He believes that too often doubt is held up as a virtue while truth is seen as outmoded or provincial.  On the other hand Anderson is a fan of the good question.  (And he does believe that there is such a thing as a bad question.)

So once I caught up with his purpose, and got into the later sections of the book that were more focused on what questions are, how to ask good questions, communities of inquiry, etc., I really enjoyed the book. Anderson is someone that I often have said that I would like to sit down and talk with.  And this book is a good example of that that type of conversation, even if it is only in print.

My main complaint, and really only real complaint, is that I think Anderson is too hard on those that doubt.  I agree with his overall point that doubt is not a virtue.  There is nothing virtuous about not having answers.

But I do believe that some people are just made in a way that makes it hard for them to not doubt.  I know several people that have expressed to me their dissatisfaction with their doubt.  They want to believe (whether it is in Christianity or something else), but they feel unable.  One man I know reads the bible almost daily, and has for decades.  But feels unable to believe even though he desires belief.  Another has basically told me that he is attempting to act out belief as he understands it, hoping that belief in reality will come.

I think at least part of the problem with these two (and others that I know) is that Christians, especially Evangelicals, have presented belief as intellectual assent.  Belief in Christianity is something much more than just intellectual assent.  Many that doubt also have emotional questions that are at the root of their intellectual questions (but certainly not all).  And I do not think that Anderson adequately takes the emotional roots of doubt into account.

All that being said, I strongly recommend The End of Our Exploring, especially for those that want to question well and take seriously the intellectual parts of our Christian faith.

The End of Our Exploring Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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A paperback copy of the book was provided by the author for purposes of review.  I gave away the paperback to another reader.

2 Comments

Did the author talk about the difference between skepticism and doubt? I would imagine some people would call what they are feeling doubt when it is really skepticism and vice versa.

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