A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)
Foreword to Anderson’s Called into Questions
Matthew Lee Anderson, Called into Questions: Cultivating the Love of Learning Within the Life of Faith (Moody Press, 2023)
Matthew Lee Anderson has written a book on the nature of questions in the life of faith, and I commend it to you. In fact, I commend it so much that I wrote a couple pages worth of Foreword for it. Here’s a sample from the Foreword, just a bit of what I say there about the book:
Called into Questions provides a series of exercises in cultivating the thoroughly human virtue of questioning. It is devoted to the kind of questioning that serves human flourishing.
The questioning life is a human project first because it is finite and bounded rather than infinite and boundless. Too often we think of inquiry and inquisitiveness as absolute forces that can pierce all mysteries, or universal solvents that can eat through anything no matter how supposedly solid. But questions are no such things. They are not absolute realities, but specific realities surrounded by other realities that they bump up against. Questions are not the whole story, but are one part of it, to be situated properly within a broader human quest. They follow creaturely ways, and are humanly scaled. They are even a kind of intellectual technology or technique, in the sense that we formulate them to extend our mental reach further than it could otherwise go.
But the questioning life is human, secondly, because it is not subhuman or inhuman. A question is not an inert or neutral tool that can operate autonomously or be wielded indifferently. Questions are, as Anderson relentlessly demonstrates, self-involving. They implicate their askers. Questions emerge into the world fundamentally formed in the image of the questioner, often displaying to a sensitive audience exactly what is going on in the heart of the questioner. We think we can employ a question while remaining safely behind some kind of scientific screen of disinterested objectivity, but every question is implicitly a kind of self-portrait that gives us away. Questioning is a human enterprise, and questions are covered with human fingerprints as we lob them out into the world, from a self to another.
Questioning is a human enterprise, and Anderson takes it very seriously because the project he is engaged in is, if we were to classify it in terms of its doctrinal location, a project of theological anthropology. The depth and seriousness of Called into Questions come from the author’s conviction that humanity is to be understood theologically. This vantage point is what enables the book to be a defense of questioning not only against those who tend to be dogmatically answer-oriented, but equally against those who pride themselves on being the questioners. Considered from the perspective of the Christian doctrine of humanity, there is simply too much cheap questioning going on in contemporary life. But the problem is not the questioning; it’s the cheapness. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Discipleship, we might say “Cheap questioning is the deadly enemy of the truth. We are fighting today for costly questioning.” Bonhoeffer’s lament was about grace, of course, and his influential book made its first English appearance under the longer title The Call to Discipleship. Anderson’s Called into Questions is also, in a very different way, a call to discipleship, in that it is not just a study in what it means to be human (theological anthropology), but in what it means to be a follower of Christ. It is decisively a project for disciples, in which they can learn to ask themselves harder questions than unbelievers can ask them. For a disciple to be called into questions is, surprisingly, to be called into a confidence not available by other means.
The only question I have for you is, why don’t you go ahead and buy this book?