The Curious Christian

People who know Emily or me knows we’re generally curious people. By that, I don’t mean that we’re odd (although we are Canadian). I mean we’re inquisitive. We like learning. We’re always reading. We like to try¬†new foods and restaurants (despite what one of my coworkers suggests). These are good characteristics, ones we want to pass on to our kids, too.[1. Which is part of the reason we homeschool, although don’t read too much into that, y’all.]

So reading Barnabas Piper’s new book,¬†The Curious Christian,¬†was a very affirming activity for me. Not because I’m a fan of confirmation bias, but because he’s noticed some of the same things I have: many people‚ÄĒespecially Christians‚ÄĒaren’t all that curious. In fact, it might be fair to say that they don’t necessarily see curiosity as a good thing.¬†But in writing this book, Piper wants his readers to recognize that curiosity is a good gift from God. A gift that allows us to grow in our relationships with others, the world around us, and with God himself.

A better vision, not another program

Here’s what you’re not going to find in this book. You won’t find seven step processes and how-tos for becoming more curious. That’s because curiosity isn’t something that can be systematized. It can’t be turned into a simple program because it’s a way of life. That’s what you’ll see again and again as you read this book as he first offers a vision of a curiosity-fueled Christian life (the “why”), then explores seven¬†areas of our lives where curiosity matters (the “what”), and concluding with one chapter on the how of curiosity.

In other words, if you’re someone who relishes steps and systems, this book might drive you mad. But, as Piper himself writes, “Curiosity doesn’t have a recipe. It’s not like baking cookies. If it was, it wouldn’t be very curious, would it?” (153)

So if there’s not a series of steps and guidelines,¬†why should anyone read this book?¬†Here are three key areas where I found it helpful (and a brief attempt to apply it in each):

1. It challenges our temptation to offer simplistic choices.

Piper is pretty consistent in his disdain of simple binary choices. That is, that we must either choose A or B when there might actually be an option C, D or E available. Think Trevin Wax’s tendency to offer a third way, but a lot snarkier.

Just think about the ballyhoo about Mike Pence following what’s often called the “Billy Graham” rule. The short version is, Pence chooses not to be alone in¬†elevators, cars or restaurants with women who are not his wife. Why? Because he feels it is the most appropriate way to honor his wife. Some feel it is a wise and honorable practice, and one all Christian men should follow. Others believe it’s a practice that harms relationships more than it helps, believing it implies that men and women are incapable of having platonic relationships and he is therefore perpetuating something unhealthy. But what if the answer is¬†more complex than either of these options allow?¬†Why¬†can’t a choice like this be both respectful to a man’s wife and respectful to platonic male-female relationships?¬†To answer a question like this, we need to¬†seek to understand the reasons behind a decision, rather than just assuming motives.

2. It encourages us to develop our ability to practice discernment.

There’s a subset of bloggers who’ve coopted the term to “discernment” to run the internet equivalent of gossip columns about this or that Christian “celebrity” or megachurch. I’m all for dealing with real issues in biblical ways, but this isn’t¬†what the Bible is talking about when we read the word in its pages. Instead, as Piper reminds us, “Discernment is the ability and practice of seeing and deciding what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. It is a sense and practice. And that is what mature, godly, truth-seeking curiosity leads to” (113) . He continues:

What is true? What is honorable? What is just? What is pure? What is lovely? In our world it can be hard to tell. Almost nothing is black and white, especially not people. Motives are not. Stories are not. Products are not. Businesses are not. Entertainment is not. Church is not. Cultures are not. In nearly every interaction we must be able to discern what is pure and lovely, what is honorable and true and conversely what is not.

Piper’s application of Philippians 4 here is important. We are to know the difference between what is pure and lovely and what is not, but we are to think on and pursue the former. Discernment helps us to focus on the right things. Curiosity allows us to¬†discover what those right things are‚ÄĒand where.

3. It honors our need to stand by our convictions, not abandon them.

It’s tempting to take a topic like this and think it is encouraging us to jettison our convictions. If you’re one who chooses not to listen to music with coarse language, read books that include suggestive (or more than suggestive) elements, or watch films that portray any significant amount of violence, it’s likely you’ve probably felt condemned at one point or another. Perhaps you’ve been called narrow-minded, or worse, a fundamentalist.[2. The worst word you can use these days, it seems.] But this isn’t what Piper does. Instead, he encourages you to honor your convictions while¬†learning to embrace your God-given curiosity. More simply, he encourages humility.

We have nothing to fear from the world if our curiosity is truly seeking God’s truth and is anchored in His Word and character. We can’t catch the world’s evil like a cold. If our curiosity is like that of Christ, we have everything to offer the world and a way to offer it. (122)

This, I hope, is an encouragement to those who’ve felt shamed by those who believe themselves to be more open-minded.[3. Though often I find them to not be nearly as open as they think‚ÄĒafter all, they could be wrong, too!]¬†Piper recognizes the tension, the desire to honor God in all things, to know and uphold and live in light of the truth. These are good goals; but we can’t forget that curiosity helps us to do this. We discover the¬†truth by being earnest seekers of it, and we can’t do this without being curious.

Too valuable to neglect or to lose

As I said at the beginning of this review, this book isn’t about teaching you how to be curious; if it were, Piper would have failed miserably. Instead, The Curious Christian is about inspiring you to pursue it in the ways you already know. To see that curiosity is too important to the Christian life to neglect. That our sense of wonder¬†is too valuable to lose. And if we fear we’ve lost it, there is good news: we can get it back. With this as his goal, Piper succeeds admirably.¬†And I hope you find that to be true as you read this book. And once you’re done, I hope the first question you ask is, “What do I want to learn about next?”

Title: The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life
Author: Barnabas Piper
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group (2017)

Bonus: Listen to a conversation with Barnabas Piper about this book and more on Reading Writers.

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