I’ve been a part of evangelical Christianity all my life. It’s all I’ve ever known. My worldview was formed from within a Southern Baptist church and family and, although I’m grateful for my upbringing, I have always been completely unaware of how evangelicalism looked to the rest of the world. Having learned about the history of evangelicalism from evangelicals, you can imagine that I have only ever heard one side of the story.
I’ve spent the last year or so re-learning evangelical history from the perspective of those who have been marginalized, criticized, ignored or injured by the church. As a result of hearing/reading all of these stories, I have had to come back to my own theology, beliefs and understandings of the Bible over and over again to see if they still make sense in light of what I’ve learned. Before beginning this re-learning process, I had all of these neat little boxes filled with the theology/beliefs I’d acquired throughout my life and ministry – each one already decided upon and sealed shut. I feel as though, over the last year or so, I’ve been dumping out each of these boxes one by one to see if there’s anything I’m still certain of. And although it’s been painful and confusing, it’s also been such a beautiful process for me. Peter Enns’ book, The Sin of Certainty, helped me to understand why.
“If having faith means holding on to certainty, when certainty is under “attack,” your only option as a good Christian is to go to war – even if that means killing your own.” (pg 46)
I remember hearing as a child that we should “know that we know that we know” what we believe and why. I believed it to be my duty as a good Christian to figure out where I stood on absolutely every issue (based on what the Bible says about it, of course) and make sure that I defended those beliefs at all costs. I’ve heard the phrase “defending the Gospel” more times that I can count and I honestly have never understood why the Gospel needed defending since the word Gospel means “The Good News” (which I learned in my 3rd grade Sunday School class). If it’s truly good news, why would it need to be defended?
Back to the book. Using humor, sarcasm (my native language), and quite a bit of research, Peter Enns explains why certainty is not only not possible, but also not beneficial to a life of true faith. He talks about the difference between belief in God and trust in God – a difference that, to me, is entirely life altering. This book gives the reader permission to doubt, to be confused, to be uncertain about what we believe about God or the Bible. For someone like me, who feels less certain about pretty much everything with each passing day, The Sin of Certainty was like a fresh stream of water or a cool breeze after the hottest day of the year. There is hope within the pages of this book that I needed more than I can express.
The reason that this process of re-learning, of purging, of letting go of certainty has been so beautiful to me is exactly one of the things that Peter Enns wrote in his book: “that trust in God grows best when things are falling apart.” (pg 71) It’s true. When I became unsure about so many things, amazingly, my trust in God actually began to grow. I couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t make sense. I thought that my faith rested on all of the things I was sure of – all of the beliefs I had so carefully stored in all of those boxes. But it didn’t. It rested on only one thing: that I believe God to be faithful and trustworthy. I have been able to dump out all of my boxes and still believe that God is good and just and loving – not because of right theology or certainty but because of trust. I wouldn’t have been able to put words to these thoughts without the help of Peter Enns’ timely words in The Sin of Certainty. If you’ve ever struggled with doubt, if you’ve ever been confused by Scripture, if you’ve ever wondered why everyone around you seems so certain about everything while you are still struggling, you need to read this book. It’s absolutely brilliant and beautiful.
“God exposes the limitations of our thinking. Then we can see the inevitability to letting go of the need to know and trust God instead – as best as we can each moment – because God is God. Trust like this is an affront to reason, the control our egos crave. Which is precisely the point. Trust does not work because we have captured God in our minds. It works regardless of the fact that, at the end of the day, we finally learn that we can’t.” (pg 89)
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Sin of Certainty from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.