Takeaway: Openness to questioning your beliefs and understanding primarily is about relationship. If we are unable to question, we are unable to build relationships with anyone that does not believe exactly as we do.
Early in the book David Dark quotes Flannery O’Conner as saying, “The cultivation of skepticism is a sacred obligation because skepticism keeps us asking questions…Skepticism will keep you free. Not free to do as you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects around you.” Essentially this is the point of the book. Dark wants the reader to learn to question, not for our own self agrandizement or as an intellectual exercise, but as a religious obligation to help us follow God better.
Skepticism and questioning is a common theme of books in the last couple years. Rachel Held Evans, Jason Boyett, Anne Lamont and other authors (usually relatively young authors) have been writing about the problems of presenting a too self assured view of Christianity. At first I thought some of these books were overstating the problem. But the longer I have been paying attention, the more I think that the modernist conception of faith (as taught and understood by many Evangelicals) does not have an appropriate category for questions and skepticism. I was reading comments on a post a couple weeks ago about faith and questions and many of the commenters were saying it was not possible to have faith and have questions at the same time. These everyday commenters were ignoring the book of Job, the book of Psalms and much of the rest of scripture that frequently question God. The whole concept of the problem of evil, really comes down to questioning God.
As I moved through the book I kept alternating between thinking this was a good book and a great book. Either way I think it is worth reading. But there are times when greatness shows. When he is telling stories of his students and his attempts to teach students more than what they may have really wanted, his love of the subject really shines through. But paradoxically, what I really appreciate is that this book is more than a memoir. Several of the previous questioning books were primarily memoir. While that is useful, bringing more philosophical and theological background into the conversation really helps move it beyond, the “I got hurt by the church and this is how I got over it” books.
A section about 1/3 of the way in on comedy and why in order to really understand our faith we need to be able to laugh at it should be required reading for everyone that gets easily offended by people making light of Christianity. Other chapters include questioning passion, language, history, government (and economics), the future, religion and more.
In the end, my take away is that we need to be willing to question everything because of relationship. When we are surrounded by people that believe the same as we do, then there is little motivation to question anything. But when we interact in the world, the diverse and messy world, we need to be able to question our prior assumptions so that we can learn more of God. Those that are complacent about their knowledge of God will always have less of God than what he would like to share with them. Second, we need to be open to questions because those that are far from God are rarely those that believe exactly as we do. Evangelism does not work well in drive by. I know that is how much of Evangelicalism conceives of evangelism, but effective evangelism is primarily done through long term relationships. If you are unwilling to question your beliefs and open up yourself to others, then you will never be able to build a relationship with someone that does not believe as you believe and think as you think. Which pretty much by definition means you will not share the gospel with someone that needs to hear. You will only share the gospel with people that already know God.
I am a bit concerned that maybe my love of this book is based in my agreement with the author. One of the problems with questioning everything is that you never really question enough. We all make assumption and take short cuts. We can never question it all. So do I love this book because it agrees with what I already believe and reinforces my ‘rightness’ or do resonate with the message because it is so full of truth. I am not sure it is possible to really know.
This audiobook was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.