Book review: The Questioning God

by Ant Greenham


First, a note about what Greenham means by “the questioning God.” He doesn’t mean God wonders about the truth; he means God engages us with questions, forcing us to think for ourselves. God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” He asks Abraham, “Can you number the stars?” He asks Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth?” He asks Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Given that God is a questioning God, and that we are made in the image of God, Greenham encourages us to freely question as well. God would expect no less. God’s basic desire is expressed in this sentence: “I will be their God and they will be my people.” However, as individuals turn to God and become his people, it should not be a case of blind acceptance.

Greenham examines the three primary monotheistic religions, concluding that Islam discourages questioning while Judaism liberally encourages it. But there’s such a thing as questioning too much. Some questions don’t engage us with God, but dismiss him instead. The proper balance (and proper Christianity) seems to fall somewhere in the middle.

An example of how Christians should feel free to question: Consider George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Christian leaders everywhere opposed Bush’s invasion plans, but their voices were drowned in a tide of patriotic endorsement.  Few considered the nearly one million Christians living in Iraq. Nobody asked them what we should do. Consequently, one of the greatest catastrophes following the 2003 invasion was the loss of over half of that country’s Christian population.

Self-questioning (removing the “logs” from our eyes) is “penetrating and devastating. It is no less demanding than questioning the basis of Islam for a Muslim, or considering Jesus as Messiah for a Jew.” But Greenham does have his boundaries! It’s apparently fine for Muslims to doubt Islam, and for Jews to contemplate the possibility of Jesus as Messiah, but Greenham stops short of encouraging us to question the Christian Bible. I believe his stance is summed up by this quote:

“I tell people I teach in church and seminary setting not to believe me because I have a Ph.D., but only if they’re convinced that my teaching is biblical.”


  1. Maddening. I find that Christians are actually quite good at questioning things – generally more so than the general population, in fact. Maybe it’s because they’re accustomed to frequently stretching their imagination to encompass views of people from many different periods of time (Ancient Israel, early Christians, medieval theologians, Reformationists, etc.), rather than seeing things mainly through their own contemporary lens.

    They often question things that others don’t, like evolution or abortion. They’re good at questioning the values of their host culture (eg. consumerism, war), as well as their own culture (eg. the countless reformations, schisms, and reinventions of Christian beliefs and practice).

    But their unwillingness to question the authority of the Bible or the exclusive divinity of Jesus (things that are surely as questionable as you can get) is maddening.

    • Anonymous

      Dear Volnaiksra

      I’m sorry to have maddened you. However, have you read my book? Also have you considered the possibility that Christians do question the authority of the Bible and the exclusive divinity of Jesus and yet conclude that both are sound?

      Kind regards

      Ant Greenham

  2. I frequently get pulled into forum discussions about the divinity of Jesus…specifically, exactly how divine he is, whether he is God Himself…but I confess the topic of other divine beings never comes up at all. So, Volnaiksra, if that’s what you mean by questioning the “exclusive divinity” of Jesus, who else’s divinity should we be contemplating?

  3. @Ant: Of course I have considered that possibility, and of course there must be many Christians who subject fundamentalist teachings about the Bible and Jesus to genuine scrutiny, and find them satisfactory and flawless.

    Though, at least judging from my own personal experience, there are far more Christians who scrutinise them only superficially, if at all, and tend to cherry-pick the bits that suit their pre-defined theology and skim over the rest. Such people tend to take a stance typical of the ‘apologist’ rather than the ‘truth seeker’ (ie. they are already convinced of the truth before they go out looking for it). And who can blame them? When one’s Bible endorses both violence and pacifism, slavery and equality, theocracy and liberty, and portrays God as a tyrannical maniac who tortures people en masse one minute and then announces that “God is Love” the next, you’d quickly go insane if you didn’t start viewing it with a pinch of selective amnesia.

    Besides, no one – Christian or otherwise – enjoys the prospect of their worldview collapsing in a heap after a fine-tooth-comb search found it wanting. Which is why few people will readily prod and poke their own worldviews with as much gung-ho as that with which they prod and poke the worldviews of others.

    Considering all this, it’s not the least bit surprising that studies (eg. that famous Pew study from 2010) have found that Christians actually tend to know less about their Bible than atheists, agnostics, and Jews. And it’s not surprising that a majority of Evangelicals have no problem affirming that the Bible is the only divinely-inspired text even though they’ve never read the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, book of Mormon, or any of the other many books that claim to be of divine origin. That’s kind of like an apple farmer insisting that apples are the only healthful and delicious fruit even though he’s never bothered to taste any others. For many, remaining so resolute about the exclusive authority of the Bible – despite never actually testing the alternatives – is a sign of great faith in God. For me, it’s a sign of arrogance and an overestimation of one’s own powers of judgement. Like I said: maddening. That has nothing necessarily to do with you personally, Ant. Although Lee’s brief review did give me (rightly or wrongly) the impression that you were suggesting that non-Christians should question their faith with a different sort of rigor than Christians should.

    @Lee: I was referring broadly to the double standards that many Christians openly employ, and didn’t have any specific ‘alternate divinities’ in mind. Though there are certainly examples aplenty.

    For instance, many Trinitarian Christians would deny that the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are genuinely divine. Many would deny that Krishna is a genuine avatar of God, while having no problem believing that Jesus is an avatar of God.

    Many Christians assume that the virgin birth and miracles of Jesus are factual, while assuming that numerous other virgin birth and/or miracle stories (eg. Krishna, Buddha, Alexander the Great, certain Caesars, Sai Baba) are false or merely allegorical.

    Some belief systems, such as certain forms of New Age thinking, insist that all beings are, at least partially, divine, as all spring from the same source: God. According to such a belief system, people like Jesus or Buddha who demonstrated an exceptional level of enlightenment are merely models whose level of divine awakening can be also attained by us, if we only follow their ways. There are more than a few Bible verses that harmonise with that kind of thinking but, of course, most traditional Christians would argue that Jesus’ divinity is unique, and is neither attainable by Buddha or the average Joe.

  4. Lee,

    I’ve read just a bit, but I’m astounded by Greenham’s caricature of Islam. Muslims are supposed to question Islam, but following John Piper, Christians should never ask questions that will lead them away from obedience. I doubt many Muslims, beyond the most narrow, would recognize themselves in this picture. Not a good book in my estimation at all.

  5. Hi Bob, Mr. Greenham was corresponding here a bit ago, so I was kinda hoping he would see your post and respond.

  6. Anonymous

    Dear All

    I apologize for not having time until now to respond. I will try to do so briefly. First, Volnaiksra: Thank you for your considered response. You are absolutely right about far too many Christians’ arrogance and refusal to consider alternatives. That was one of the reasons I wrote the little book. As I quote from Colin Thubron in chapter 10 (p. 48), “A living belief must survive questions.” Second, Robert Cornwall: If you didn’t get as far as chapter 10, I respectfully suggest you do so. It would certainly aid further discussion. Also, it would be good for other readers to know why you are astounded by my caricature of Islam. I wrote three chapters on Islam. You provide no evidence that I caricature this world religion. Finally, Volnaiksra: I agree that the Bible can be awfully confusing, if it is read as a set of equally applicable segments (e.g. the Canaanite genocide and the Sermon on the Mount). Too many Christians read it in this piecemeal way. For me, the key word in Bible reading is trajectory (i.e. where the story is heading). There is a fundamental account running through the whole thing, which can only be understood in the light of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection from the dead. If that basis for interpretation is removed, then it won’t make sense at all.

    Kind regards


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