Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Faith & Doubt

John Ortberg, Faith & Doubt, Zondervan, 2008. 186 pages. ISBN 978-0-310-25351-8

John Ortberg is a pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California. He is a bestselling author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out the Boat; All the Places to Go ...; Soul Keeping and others. Ortberg has a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. In his book, Faith & Doubt, Ortberg confesses that he has doubts. In addition, he confesses that he has faith. Ortberg asserts, "I have spent my life studying and thinking and reading and thinking about God. I grew up in the church. I went to a faith-based college and then to a seminary. I walked the straight and narrow. I never sowed any wild oats" (9). You might say how can you have faith and doubt. You might even think it is a sin to doubt. Ortberg, like others argues that doubt is part of faith. Ortberg asks, "Is it okay if we don't pretend that everybody is split up into two camps: those who doubt and those who don't? Is it possible--maybe even rational to have faith in the presence of doubt?" What do you think?  

Chapter one discusses faith and doubt. In this chapter Ortberg explains why he believes, and why he doubts. The author states, "When people of faith are not willing to sit quietly sometimes and let doubt makes it case, bad things can happen" (20). Ortberg suggests that people of faith can give bad answers; they can be "glib;" they can increase the suffering of people by what they say; they can be filled with pride. In chapter two the author tells why he thinks neutrality is a bad choice. He explains why beliefs matter. Chapter three discusses "what kind of belief really matters." I love his quote from Madeleine L'Engle: "Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself" (39). This seems true since many great saints in the Christian Tradition struggled with faith and doubt. Even Mother Theresa struggled with doubt for several years. She even referred to herself as the saint of doubt.

Other chapters discuss the leap of faith, hope, silence of God, how doubt can go bad, uncertainty, and why the author believes. I like to look at the leap of faith and living with uncertainty. First, the leap of faith. The idea of the leap of faith is often associated with Soren Kierkegaard. It is often misunderstood. Many think it is a leap into the dark. Ortberg asserts, "Sometimes people talk about it as if it is the 'leap' in which you ignore evidence, give up on reason, and embrace fantasy." This is not what Kierkegaard means by the leap of faith. To Kierkegaard, it is choosing freely. Ortberg states, "Any freely chosen commitment ids a leap, such as the choice to marry or to bear children" (73). Kierkegaard believes that coming to faith requires passion and total commitment. It is more than intellectual assent. The author shares the example of Mortimer Adler. Mortimer Adler was one of the leading thinkers and philosophers of the twentieth century. He was convinced by philosophical arguments that God existed, but he was not a Christian. Then one day he lay sick in the hospital. A friend visited him and prayed for him. While he was praying, tears flowed down Adler's face. He only knew one prayer-the Lord's prayer, so he prayed it. He prayed it day after day and found himself believing. Adler asserted that the leap of faith, for him, was not a "jump to conclusions" based on very little evidence. Instead, it was a leap from intellectual assent to the worship of God. It was both a head and heart knowledge. Adler argues, "The god of the philosophers is not a god to be loved, worshiped or prayed to. He is not the personal God of the Bible.

Second, what does faith and doubt have to do with uncertainty. Are there any benefits from uncertainty? Ortberg lists several in chapter 9. He begins the chapter with a great quote from Frederick Buechner: "Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved." The first benefit of uncertainty is that it leaves room for doubt which makes trusting possible. Ortberg argues, "Faith is required only when we have doubts, when we do not know for sure. When knowledge comes, faith is no more" (139). Second, uncertainty "adds humility to faith." Ortberg believes that uncertainty is "one of the forms of suffering that can produce character." A prime example of a prideful group who did not doubt was Job's friends who gave counsel to him during his suffering. Third, uncertainty "causes us to learn." Doubt prompts us to search for answers. It calls for us to look deep within ourselves. Fourth, uncertainty causes us to search for truth. Some people think faith means choosing to believe when there is no evidence. This is not the case. Dallas Willard believes we must follow truth wherever it leads us. I remember reading in one of Thomas Aquinas' writings several years ago when he said if our reason or best judgement does not lead us to believe that Christian faith is not the truth, then we should not believe it. These words of Aquinas have always intrigued me. Fifth, uncertainty will lead to growth. Ortberg suggests, "There are times when a decision will require commitment when we don't have total certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case" (149). Why does not God give us the certainty we are seeking? Often times He wants us to grow from the experience of making decisions and trusting in Him. In addition, we will grow when we are faith even in times of uncertainty.

Ortberg does a good job in showing that doubt is part of faith. Some think they need to fight against doubt, but the author describes both good and bad uses of doubt. Doubt can go wrong, but it can also go right? We do not have to hide our doubts from others. We have done harm to fellow believers in churches by teaching them that Christians do not doubt and if you do doubt you are not a Christian or you are a backslidden one. Ortberg does a good job in explaining the relationship between faith and doubt. He writes in clear prose and is easy to understand. I would recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in the subject.  

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