Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty ペーパーバック – 2013/9/15
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Bestselling author counters the unbiblical notion that faith means lack of doubt, offering practical ways to live as disciples in a world of uncertainty.
Gregory A. Boyd (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary), formerly professor of theology at Bethel University, is senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, where average attendance has grown to 5,000 since he helped plant the church in 1
The first section - False Faith - confronts "certainty-seeking" faith as an idol. This is faith where a person is consumed with being certain that what they believe in is true. (Personally, I question if this is even faith, for if there is no doubt, how can faith exist? Kierkegaard made this point which encouraged me several years ago when I read "Fear and Trembling.") Throughout the book Greg reveals his own life and the struggles he has dealt with to arrive where he is now in his journal of faith. Where he started was with "certainty-seeking" faith, and with a "house-of-cards" faith, when one part of it became clear to him it was not true, his whole faith crumbled. Many go through life without questioning their faith and remain in this type of faith to some extent their entire lives. (I did to varying degrees for the first 52 years of my life.) Some may interpret Greg as being judgmental of people in this section, but I do not think that is his intent. However, because of seeing people abandon faith he is very passionate in his desire to alert people to the dangers of this faith because the life God has through Jesus Christ is too good to abandon.
The second section - True Faith - describes what Greg believes is faith that will survive doubts and the onslaught of other ideas. He begins this section by looking at Jacob wrestling with God and uses this as Israelite faith that is integral to true faith. He describes Israelite faith as "having the courage to honestly struggle with issues before God and to even have the audacity to wrestle with God." Greg looks at Job's questions and Jesus' question on the cross - "My God, why have you forsaken me" as further examples of faith not being certain, but rather "faithful living in the face of uncertainty." At the end of this section, which he carries through to the final section, Greg contrasts "contracts" - legal binding deals with "covenants" - binding love. This was probably the best part of the book for me as he shows covenants are made because we trust each other, such as marriage, while contracts are made to protect self because we do not trust the other person. Greg explains how contract thinking is used in many thought patterns in the church, for example, when were you saved by saying the sinners' prayer and believing God is bound to a contract. Covenant thinking is focused on the present and how we are living out the love relationship since covenants are entered into for love of the other instead of protection of self. While chapters 6 and 7 are heavy on the covenant, this thinking pervades the book from that point to the end. I was in a reformed church for 3 years, and what Greg has about covenant would receive hearty "amens" from them.
The final section - Exercising Faith - highlights the importance of doubt to have a strong faith. Here Greg delves into passages many interpret as promises that God will do something and at the end of it all Greg puts "the love of God revealed on the cross is the summation of all God's promises." Throughout this section he emphasizes that our faith is in God revealed through Jesus, and not in a promise. God is not bound by a contract to heal or provide a job. Rather, in a covenant relationship the assurance we have is God with us as we continue in the covenant - believing in God enough to live as if God is there.
Greg's love relationship with Jesus clear in this book such that I have more than enough in common with him that I welcome the challenges to thought and especially to living more of an other-love centered life as Jesus lived from reading "Benefit of the Doubt." I find Greg is excellent at explaining his understandings. When I disagree, of course there is at least one unanswered question, and he interprets some passages much differently than me. However, I understand how he got there.
We often suppose that a lack of certainty is a problem for our faith. In contrast, Greg Boyd says we should use our doubts to center our faith on Christ. So, why does Boyd claim that a certainty-seeking faith leads to idolatry?
Boyd maintains that there is nothing virtuous about the ability to feel certain of things.Trying to feel certain and avoid doubt is irrational and reduces faith to a form of mental trickery. Having people believe that their salvation and answers to prayer depend on how certain they feel is psychologically torturous and presupposes an ugly god who responds to magical thinking.
This false model of faith also leaves us inflexible in our beliefs as we respond to challenges defensively by avoiding reconsideration of our ideas. This leads to a fear of learning anything that cannot be easily slotted into our current belief structure. This further results in a kind of hypocrisy in which we consider anyone who will not seriously consider our beliefs to be close-minded, willfully blind, and stubborn. However, in contrast, our own refusal to reconsider our faith is virtuous. Thus, attitudes that we celebrate in ourselves are condemned in others. Boyd points out that it is practically impossible to both refuse to doubt and seek the truth. You can’t do both. And finally, it is idolatrous to get our security and confidence before God from our correct beliefs about God.
If a certainty-seeking faith leads to idolatry, what kind of faith should we seek? Boyd constructs what he considers to be a more Biblical and life-giving model of faith, a covenantal model centered on the revelation of God’s love in the cross.
One of the attractions of the book is how Boyd weaves personal stories into the book. This is not just an abstract philosophical treatment of a theological issue. This is a life work of Boyd in the sense that he takes us along on his faith pilgrimage from his early days of atheism in a dysfunctional family to the present day.
Part 1 - False Faith
Embracing the Pain -- the pain of lost certainty
Hooked on a Feeling -- 8 objections to a certainty-seeking faith
The Idol of Certainty -- how we try to get life from idols, including good things
Part 2 - True Faith
Wrestling with God -- Biblical faith wrestles with God
Screaming at the Sky -- when the author got real with God
From Legal Deeds to Binding Love -- covenant vs. contract
Embodied Faith -- true faith is visible
Part 3 - Exercising Faith
A Solid Center -- a house-of-cards faith vs. a centered faith
The Center of Scripture -- Christ crucified is the authoritative revelation of God
Substantial Hope -- faith: hope and imagination coming together
Stumbling on the Promises of God -- random promise grabbing
The Promise of the Cross -- a love that knows no limits
It is an excellent book that I would recommend to critics and cynics, to lifelong Christians, to evangelists....to, well, everyone.
It's the kind of book that I wanted to talk about with others who had read it. Frankly, it changed my life. It healed some wounds and increased my confidence that my faith is legitimate.
One of the things that really stood out to me, was that depending on where you were in the book, if you didn't know who Gregory Boyd was, you could read a passage and think he not only isn't a Christian, but that he was anti-Christian. Which is to say, he courageously takes on the challenges of our faith, and the people who represent it, without pulling any punches.
At the risk of going too far, in terms of the ability to write a book that makes an impact, I think Gregory Boyd might just be this generation's C.S. Lewis.