Pete Enns has just written a new book entitled “The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs“. I recommend this book because it seems interesting to me from what I have read about it; I have not yet read it though I hope to.
The big idea of this book is that there is a difference between “belief” and “trust”. In evangelicalism, the very notion of belief is almost always associated with believing “in” something–believing that God exists (atheists don’t believe that), believing that the universe is created by God and not just the product of blind chance (evolutionists don’t believe that), believing that Jesus is not just some random Jewish carpenter, believing that Jesus died and rose from the dead three days later…you get the idea. Hang out in evangelicalism long enough and you will get the idea that what really moves the needle with God is our belief “in” a variety of different things which are deemed essential to the Christian faith–a belief which in many places is little more than intellectual assent to items on a checklist. These checklists vary from place to place, from church to church and denomination to denomination, yet the basic idea is the same.
But trust is something different. Trust is a “who” word, not a “what” word. You trust God, not a series of correct statements about God. Trust can only exist within the context of a relationship; the uniquely evangelical notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus” is an attempt, albeit a flawed and incomplete attempt, to get at the idea that faith involves trust in God and not just belief in or assent to a series of propositions about God. (Enns does not play belief and trust against each other as polar opposites; he recognizes that faith must have substance and he knows the importance of correct belief. But he also knows that correct belief is not enough.)
What Enns is getting at is the idea, which is all over the place in evangelicalism, that knowing is essential to faith. In order to have an active, vibrant faith, you must know with certainty what you believe, and that knowledge must be correct. This will place your faith on solid ground so that your faith will withstand anything life throws at you.
That was the plan, at least. Doesn’t quite work out like that in real life. Enns relates how he grew into his thirties and forties and beyond, and found that knowing what he believed–being certain of what he believed–was just not enough for what he faced in life. He leaned into the Wisdom books, especially the laments of Psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes, which make the poignant point that having all the right answers is just not enough, and in many cases not even possible.
If we are honest, we can all relate to this. And if you haven’t yet gotten to a place where you relate to this, trust me, you will.
I have been listening to a good bit of CCM lately–Susan Ashton, Steven Curtis Chapman, and others whom you would never have heard of unless you grew up in the evangelical universe which I inhabited as a college student and young adult. One of the recurring themes which I am picking up on is that doubt, questioning, losing your certainty about things, means you are drifting from God and need to turn back/awaken from your apathy/reignite the passion of your first love. But what if God intends for us to go through seasons of doubt/questioning/uncertainty?
It seems wise advice, when one is lost and uncertain, to go back to the last place where you felt certain of where you were, and continue from there. But places change and roads change, and sometimes it is just not possible to go back. The road that used to take you home now curves off into some huge new development that didn’t used to be there and comes to a dead end there. What do you do then?
Many of us come from Christian traditions where the narrative of the personal faith journey is that one is baptized as a child or comes into the church as a child, then grows through Christian nurture, Christian education, and a variety of other experiences along the way, into a mature Christian. Many of us are evangelical, where the narrative of the personal faith journey is of the “Damascus Road” experience–there was a time when we were lost in sin, we experienced a dramatic spiritual turnaround upon accepting Jesus Christ, and began to grow from there. But if you are honest, regardless of what Christian tradition you come from, you will probably admit that reality differs significantly from what is advertised and that the actual personal faith journey contains seasons of certainty when it all makes sense and you are sure of what you believe, and seasons of doubt and questioning when you are just not sure at all.
John the Baptist had absolute certainty as to who Jesus was. He saw the Spirit come down on him and heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He even pointed Jesus out to his own disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yet in a different set of circumstances, all that certainty was not enough. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” he had his disciples ask of Jesus as he sat rotting in Herod’s prison. These are questions on which he was quite certain at one point in his life.
So what to do when certainty flees like that? What to do when you are lost and the road which used to take you home now takes you to a place which never existed before? You do what John the Baptist did. He took his questions to Jesus, or had his disciples take his questions to Jesus, at least. When his own understanding was not enough, he leaned on Jesus.
For these reasons, I am unimpressed with the Al Mohlers, Kevin DeYoungs, etc. of the world–those who sound so certain of what they believe on the issues of our day, so certain that what they believe is drawn correctly from the Bible and accurately reflective of the mind of God. How much better–don’t you think–to be able to say “I don’t know”, or better yet, just remain silent, and commit yourself to the care of a merciful God.