A Review of “Called into Questions” by Matthew Lee Anderson

Reading Time: 5 mins

Anderson encourages us to meditate upon the ways that Christ truly is the end of our exploring.

Called into Questions by Matthew Lee Anderson. Moody Publishers. Paperback. 208 pages. List Price: $15.99

Every few years when the Pew Research Center or Barna Group releases new survey data on American religious affiliation, a chorus of groans escapes from Christian commentators in all fifty states. But we do not need Pew or Barna to tell us what many of us can readily observe: our friends are “dechurching,” deconstructing, and rejecting the faith in which they were raised.

Much ink has been spilled on the causes of this phenomenon and potential strategies to reverse course, but fewer authors are examining the nitty gritty of why we as human beings ask questions in the first place and how we can become better questioners.

Such a task requires us to move from the macro level of society to the micro level of the individual heart, a difficult matter to be sure. A good thing, then, that the job falls to someone happy to rush in where angels fear to tread: Dr. Matthew Lee Anderson, assistant professor of ethics and theology at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion. Anderson previously tackled this issue in his book The End of Our Exploring, released before ‘deconstruction’ took off as a buzzword. Now, he returns with Called into Questions, an updated examination well suited to our historical moment.

Anderson draws on biblical examples like the Book of Job to demonstrate that questioning is a good and natural part of being human. “God calls us into the questioning life through questioning us; His questions liberate us to question Him.” (p. 22). Nevertheless, he sees cautionary tales such as Eve’s discussion with the serpent where questions and answers can be voiced with ill intent. “There are no neutral questions we can put to the world: we are always moving deeper into the love of God or into rebellion against Him. Like the rest of our actions, our questions need God’s gracious justification” (p. 42-43). Therefore, our questions are always “responsive and responsible to God” (p. 24). The Creator chooses to reveal himself through the experience of questioning and learning. “God honors humanity by inviting us to converse with Him. He does not want only to be Lord over us, but God with us” (p. 48). Being with us means God condescends to have his ways questioned, allowing us to wrestle with him, lean on him, and seek him where he may be found. “He does not merely question us; He questions with us, speaking and listening to us as His friends.” (p. 24).

The questions we ask are therefore part of our life of worship: a communion with our Creator and fellow creatures. Asking good questions requires us to orient ourselves toward the true, the good, and the beautiful. “Questioning is more than a practice: it is a form of life that encompasses and entangles our hearts, minds, and even our bodies. We can only question well when we believe there are answers—but we will only live our way into the answers if we orient our questions toward the good and the true as Jesus reveals them” (p. 34).

Christ is the Answer

Among Anderson’s chief concerns is the telos of questioning—the “end of our exploring,” to use T.S. Eliot’s famous phrase. [1] Every child in Sunday School knows the answer to any question is usually Jesus, but Anderson encourages us to meditate upon the ways that Christ truly is the end of our exploring. “Jesus is the answer to the deepest questions we can put to the cosmos—but He is an answer who also challenges our questions and generates new ones for us” (p. 82).

We ought not pursue knowledge merely to satisfy curiosity or hold it up as a trophy in conversation. Rather, we must realize that questions arise from our longings, and those longings are pointed toward the logos: the wealth of understanding through whom all things came into being. “Our satisfaction is based on beholding a person, which means the ‘end’ of our search is not closed but perpetually open. Christ is not simply an answer, but an agent who is alive” (p. 91).

By calling us into questions, God calls us into a union with Christ in which we become part of the divine communion. “God questions and tests us so we may participate fully in His own life and explore the depths of His goodness, beauty, and love,” Anderson explains (p. 95). Elsewhere, he writes, “God has liberated us from carrying the burden of finding answers by revealing to us the answer of His life. Through responding to the proclamation of the Word, our lives are incorporated into the answer that His life gives to God on our behalf” (p. 112).

How does this affect the way we think about doubt? Anderson sees the answer in Christ’s cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34) In that heartrending moment, Christ voices our doubts about God’s goodness, love, and even existence. “Doubt is the enemy of faith—but like all the enemies of God, it is a defeated enemy that has no power or hold on us. None other than God Himself has freed us to ask our question in a minor key, to raise our complaints to God until we have ‘grief without grievances’ and begin to find joy” [p. 55]

On the cross, Christ takes on the role of questioner, advocating on our behalf before the one who holds the answers. “Christ carries the burden of asking about God’s hiddenness for us, freeing us from our anxious demands that He show Himself. We may still ask where God is, and sometimes we must. But we need not fear that we will meet silence. For the question Christ asks has gone to God before us and the Word of God does not return void” (p. 57).

Questioning in Community

How then should we live a life of questioning among our fellow human beings? Our life with Christ is not a solo endeavor. We are part of his body, the church.

“Questioning with and for each other is one way we bear each other’s burdens in Christ,” writes Anderson. “So long as our questioning remains an attempt to vindicate ourselves by heroically discovering the truth, we will be incapable of carrying the cross of another person’s questions” (p. 120). 

True heroism is not a person sitting alone, constructing a faith that seems good to them as they scroll through their social media feed. It is being willing to come alongside others and question together, an exercise that requires us to surrender our pride and be willing to be questioned, even as we question God.

This practice can help bridge divides in our increasingly polarized society. Anderson notes that, “Questioning together can surprise us with friendships we might never have otherwise, enriching our lives and deepening our understanding of the truth” (p. 140). Such engagement also requires us to meet people as fully embodied individuals rather than decontextualized opinions in our online feed. “More fundamentally, questioning together reminds us that we are talking with a person who is our equal before God” (p. 141).

While questions can certainly be used maliciously, Anderson warns that “communities that prematurely close down questions often produce reactionary questioners. A faith not oriented toward understanding is a faith in name only” (p. 126). Our willingness to be questioned and to walk alongside people in their intellectual struggles sends a powerful message. “The manner in which we argue among ourselves is as much a part of the church’s witness to the world as the conclusions that we come to” (p. 90).

But again, the goal is not simply to ask questions—to chase after novelty for novelty’s sake. We seek the unchangeable truth and must be willing to humble ourselves when our views are found to clash with it. Here Anderson warns, “If people are not formed to love the truth for its own sake, they will eventually turn against it for the sake of convenience, comfort, or respectability…Seeking understanding in the intellectual life frees questions to be questions rather than objections, critiques, defeaters, or defenses” (p. 90).

The End of Our Exploring

Our great comfort in questioning is Jesus Christ himself. “At the end of our exploring we will meet a person. It is not understanding that will make us whole, but a Who” (p. 183). The great truth to which we are drawn is that “the God who rose again will one day return and make all things new. We look for the day of His appearing, when we shall finally be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (p. 186).

At one point, Anderson quips a la C.S. Lewis, “The questioning life might not be safe, but it is good” (p. 36). I would likewise argue that this book may not be safe for you. It may force you to reconsider how you question, or to examine the true motivations behind your questioning. It is nevertheless a good read, come at the appropriate hour, for to be called into questions is to be called to follow Jesus Christ. 

[1]  See Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding”: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”