July 19, 2013
Friday Five: Matthew Lee Anderson
Are the motivations behind our questions always good? We asked the author of a brand new book that, ironically, asks this question.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Matthew Lee Andersen. Matthew is the founder of the Mere Orthodoxy blog and author of several books, including Earthen Vessels and his latest work, The End of Our Exploring, which encourages us to think about the questions we ask. He is a contributor to Christianity Today. (Be sure to read his latest piece on doubt at Leadership Journal.)
Today we chat with Matthew about the motivation behind our questions, why certainty scares us, and how his experience studying abroad has shaped his worldview.
What inspired you to embark on this latest book project?
It's been a long brewing process for me. I originally wanted to write a book directly aimed at small group leaders and teachers, to help them learn to use questions better in educational contexts. But what happens in the classroom doesn't stay there, and with all the talk these days about doubt and questioning, I realized there had been little discussion about questioning well. So I decided to take it on.
Modern evangelicals, largely, seem to believe questioning is always a good thing. But you're saying that not all types of questioning are good. Why is this?
For biblical reasons, first and foremost. The first question we see in Scripture is not simply a dud; it's thoroughly malicious and deceptive in its very form. Satan asks Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). That alone should be enough to make us all realize that not all our forms of questioning are good.
It seems like many of us are comfortable with uncertainty. Are we afraid of answers?
That's interesting, as a lot of people I know are the opposite: they really don't like ambiguity and uncertainty. However, I think we are more afraid of answers than we realize. Answers are a form of judgment: they utter a verdict, establish that the world is this way and not that. That finality demands obedience and conformity from us, which can be difficult. It is a constant temptation for some people to hold on to their questions because they don't like the answers.
Was there a crisis moment in your life when you didn't know how to ask good questions?
Absolutely. But when I entered the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, I learned that many of my questions were simply shallow. I was reading the surface of the world and missing out on its depths. Being around and reading content from truly educated people made me realize just how badly I had been formed. And honestly that's still an ongoing crisis: I have been reading the letters of C.S. Lewis and realizing how poorly educated I am next to him. The same with Oliver O'Donovan. If you read greats like them, you'll quickly realize that we don't really know how to inquire well.
You're studying at Oxford right now. Has living outside of the American experience shaped your questions differently?
Well, Oxford is a bit strange because it's such an international city. Lots of people here are from the States, and many of the issues under consideration are similar to the States. But it has put a good deal of distance between me and the day-to-day political wrangling that goes on, and that has helped me wonder more about the systemic and structural issues that are at stake in our society. That has been a helpful reprieve, though at some point I will need to return to thinking about policies directly.