Barnabas Piper is a curious dude. I’ve recently become more acquainted with him via the Happy Rant podcast he co-hosts. He has a position on just about everything. Which, occasionally is irritating, but most of the time it makes me realize that he knows a lot of stuff. People know a lot of stuff because they learn stuff. They read, they research, they investigate. They ask questions. They are curious. Let’s face it. I’d like to know more stuff, especially as it relates to maturing as a Christian.
Enter The Curious Christian. (Lifeway/B&H 2017) This was my first foray into “Son of John Piper’s” writing, having read boatloads of Papa Piper. Definitely different writing style, definitely has a bit of an opinionated edge to it, definitely not a theology book – but overall, very readable and very challenging.
When first digging into the book, I thought the thesis might be a bit of a stretch, but quickly realized that it was very applicable and accessible. Piper diligently gathers many quotes from well known people pointing to the value of curiosity.
By curiosity, he means the quest for more – more knowledge, more depth, more understanding. We should do this by digging, asking questions, seeking answers. The opposite of curiosity is “uncuriosity” and Piper asserts that Christians can fall into this trap and “miss the wonders God has for us” – we settle for “flannel graph depictions of God instead of relentlessly and eagerly seeking to know Him.” This struck a chord with me, and I’m sure with many others. [Plus, anytime you mock the flannel graph, it’s bonus points in my book.] It is far too easy to become stale and stagnant. God calls us to grow and mature [Ephesians 4:15] in our knowledge of Him, in our growth in maturity as a believer, and in our love for one another. [Phil 1:9]. If we are lazy, content with where we are, “uncurious” – we will not be living in line with God’s word.
Piper points out that children are naturally curious, but “somewhere in the midst of aging and “maturing,” nurture defeated nature, locked it in the dungeon of history, and left it to die It started in junior high school when we realized being a bright-eyed question asker wasn’t cool…” Ain’t that the truth. I remember the kids who asked the most questions in class were mocked, but usually they were some of the brightest academically. (I mean…that’s not as important as being cool…right?!) Later in life, when I was deep in the heart of the corporate world I noticed something else along those lines. The “Big Dogs” – the executive brass – always asked questions. Constantly. Why do we do it that way? What does that mean? Why not? So what? Countless project status presentations made me anticipate their questions. Piper’s point is one that I have witnessed myself – smart people are smart because they ask a ton of questions…because they are curious.
So when talking about the most important thing – the gospel of Jesus Christ and our growth in that – why would Christians not be the most curious people on the planet? Piper points out that curiosity seeks answers – truth. God’s word is the ultimate truth. [John 17:17] Shouldn’t Christians then be more curious? Um….Yes.
So why not? Piper nails this with ouch-like conviction. “Most things don’t cross most peoples minds or spark a question. Most people’s minds are stupefied by comfort and overwhelmed by business. The structure and pace of life leaves little room or motivation for asking questions or noticing anything new.” I told you. #Ouch. Once again – our American prosperity and comfort is a blessing and a curse.
Christians are called to swim against this tide. To not be lulled to sleep by the comforts of our culture. To set our minds on the things above, [Col 3:2] to be striving with all of His strength as He powerfully works in us. [Col 1:28]. “Curiosity enlarges God in our minds…without the desire to see and understand and experience – without curiosity – we are content with a God-loves-me-so-I’m-all-good ‘relationship.’ That is barely a relationship at all.”
The implications that flow from this are many. God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge – we should be seeking Him in His word daily, in prayer, in community with the church. But we should be pressing the boundaries of our comfort zones for his glory. Talking to your neighbors or people (strangers?) in line at the checkout (seriously?); digging deeper in our relationships that the usual “How are you doing?” “Good, you know…staying out of trouble. Keeping busy” smalltalk. Even boldly stepping out in things like leading Bible studies, leading our families, fostering children, biblically counseling others, planting churches. None of this happens without a curiosity for God and to see His glory made known. (This is starting to sound more like Papa Piper after all…)
Piper is grounded in keeping God central in the quest for curiosity. I appreciated this, and honestly I was concerned going in to this book that there would be no anchoring in the centrality of God in the thesis. I was happy to see him include continual references to the fact that it is not curiosity for curiosity sake.
The author leads the reader into a practical application section in the 2nd half of the book. Pushing on spiritually content and asking “So what?” and seeking to put the knowledge to use. Piper calls us to take “advantage of every movie, every conversation, every book every everything to see how it might be something worth curating to connect people to the truth that saves.” AMEN! I’m a child of the 80’s where “everything in the world is bad and we must flee it!” was the prevailing attitude. Nonsense. All that did was raise a generation of Pharisees who didn’t know why we believed what we believed because were never were exposed to questions that tested it. [I’m really not bitter anymore.] This is not a license to sin [Romans 6:1…], but rather the call to engage curiously in this world and develop a biblical filter to which all things pass thru as we sift them – why? To connect people to the truth that saves.
Piper develops this and it is appreciated. Good parenting is hard, it’s scary – but we must let our kids learn and grow. The temptation is to just say “no” but good parents don’t just say no – they teach their kids to ask questions. “Why do you want to do this?” “What are the implications?” “How will this cause you go grow?” “What is biblically true about this and what isn’t?” These are curiosity fueled growth questions, not legalistic management.
Again, he goes deeper and probes that theme with questions like “How does this shape my life?” “What is this taking from me?” “What is it giving me?” “What worldview is this espousing?” “How do I know this is trustworthy?” “Do I see God’s world better because of this?” His point is well taken – embracing curiosity deepens us spiritually and God uses this pursuit to make us more effective and fruitful. [2 Peter 1:8cf] Shutting the door to curiosity our of laziness, or fear of the world can stifle us.
We should foster a culture of God-honoring curiosity. Piper nails this in my favorite quote of the book — “Of course, if asking questions is forbidden, most people stop thinking altogether. They just muddle ahead in whatever theological or biblical framework they were handed until life drunkenly runs a red light and smashes into them crushing the framework and leaving them with nothing but questions.” Will all become curious, either voluntarily or not.
Overall, he points us back to the main goal of a believer (Papa would be proud) – glorifying God. Well, he doesn’t say it like that, but that’s what it is. He writes “One thing determines whether something is out of bounds for a Christian’s curiosity: does it honor God?” That is the main reason to be curious – to honor God by submitting to him, growing as a believer, finding those “gospel intersection points” with others and sharing the hope of Christ, learning more from his word, more effectively serving him in his church.
As children of the God who created all things and works all things for his glory, Christians should perhaps be the most curious people indeed!