About three months ago I reviewed Matthew Lee Anderson’s first book, Earthen Vessels, which I wanted to read mainly because Matthew is a fellow Biola alumnus who experienced that beloved university at the same time I did, 2000-04. We ran in different circles, and I knew of him only in passing (I am unaware if he knew of me, and I am sure if he did, the knowledge was less than flattering. See a possible reason why in the first paragraph of this post). Regardless, I take great pride in the university’s producing writers like Matthew (other Biola Authors from the class of ’04 include Keith Buhler and Nathan Shane Miller, both of whose books I have also read, though I have only reviewed that of the former). I caught Earthen Vessels a few years late, but now that I follow Matthew’s exploits and articles regularly at Mere-Orthodoxy, I have the privilege of reviewing his second book, The End of Our Exploring, in a much more timely fashion.
The book opens very well, with Matthew taking the lecture approach of first asserting the value of questions themselves then providing a preview of all that he intends to tell us about them, chapter by chapter. This section is immensely strong, and I am including the following quote not merely to give you an idea of his language but also to show why I kind of fell in love with the ideas in this book:
Questioning is a form of life, a habit, and even a disposition. It is one way our loves and desire take shape–and a practice that also shapes our desires. There is a peculiar quality that the questioning person cultivates, an openness to the world before them and a willingness to consider events with the hope that they might learn something. Their inquiries don’t stay on the surface, either of the world or their own soul. They explore the why and the how to discern the fundamental shape of things. Their openness goes beyond the possibility they are wrong toward the active reconsideration of their stances when given reasons that compel them to do so. [p13]
Beautiful stuff, that. And the rest of the book follows suit, embracing the inquisitive mind of the truth-seeker while also tempering it with a dose of examination to ensure that the questioner is not driven by selfish ambition or vain conceit but a genuine desire for truth an understanding. Matthew presents himself well as not only a teacher but also a fellow learner, jumping between roles as necessary within the chapters, exhorting his readers at one point and expressing his own lessons learned at another. This ability in conjunction with a number of footnotes that are both self-depreciating and rather charming make the book’s content accessible, even while it is dense. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. The End of Our Exploring is a full book, one that contains both many quotable sentences (“As Christians, we do not possess the truth; we live within it and are possessed by it.” [p109]) and wonderful overarching considerations throughout the chapters, with particular insight into the nature of questioning and context. His analysis of the cheapness of facts due to the pervasiveness of information [p71] is perhaps one of the most astute things I’ve read this year.
The book contains many such cultural analyses as well as personal anecdotes and mindful observations about not only the nature of questioning but life itself (and their inherent relationship). By the end of the book, when matters become a bit more practical and concrete, Matthew is on fire as an author, both in terms of his content and communication. He provides excellent insight into how individuals can dialogue well despite their disagreements and how they can question within those dialogues and through those disagreements. This is perhaps the most fascinating part of the book and also a true testament to the author’s own journey from the arrogant provocateur (his sentiment, not mine) to the wise listening seeker (my sentiment, not his–he’s far too humble to label himself as such).
My only real complaint about the End of Our Exploring is Matthew’s tendency to begin sentences with “there” and end sentences with prepositions (though I am unsure if he does both in a single sentence). These grammatical choices are pet peeves of mine, and in two out of three books I would not be overly bothered, but Matthew’s work is so well-written that these specific shortfalls (likely done to make the work more accessible) are jarring each time I encounter them. Within the the first few pages of the text, his love for language and words is evident; one can see that he believes that textual nuances matter and each line should be composed carefully. A leaning toward academic accuracy and avoidance of the weak “there” as a subject would have worked better for the book than his adoption of vernacular–particularly given that Matthew’s regular asides in the footnotes are always engaging and delightful enough to make the work conversational. But again, these are personal pet peeves, similar to another reader’s dislike of gerunds or a viewer’s frustration with wipe transitions in the Star Wars trilogy.
In the end, I still think this is a great book, and I am sure that those who are more forgiving of the aforementioned grammatical faux pas will have nothing but good things to say. The End of Our Exploring can be purchased on Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle formats.
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