A Book for Those Who Struggle with Christianity

doubt

Earlier this year, I found myself saying, “Christianity doesn’t make sense — not with itself, not with the Bible, and not with reality.”

I felt burnt out with trying to have a relationship with an invisible, omnipotent being that wasn’t too intellectual or too emotional, with nothing but “read your Bible and pray” as the guidelines for growth.

I was exhausted with attempting to reconcile to myself the capricious, genocidal God in the Old Testament with the God who became incarnate as Jesus Christ.

I gave up waiting for God to appear, in any way (but not too emotional or too intellectual) during my darkest moments of doubt and vulnerability. God did not show up. I was weary convincing myself that he did or would or had.

But I still wanted God, more deeply than ever. In my agnostic state, my whole being desired God.

This book allowed me to say things out loud that I was too scared to say but knew to be true: The Bible is hard to interpret. The attempts to know God via intellect or emotions only (or some odd balance between them) don’t work. The God of the Old Testament is often capricious, genocidal, and unlike the God of the New Testament. God appears unfaithful at times, especially when we need him most.

But this book also affirmed my desire for God in the person of Jesus Christ. It reignited my love for Scripture. It set aside the baggage of the Western tradition that elevated knowing things about God for certain over trusting and longing.

It’s called The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs by Peter Enns.

Here are some highlights touching on the major exodus of Christian kids from church, the bajillion Protestant denominations, and the fragility of “knowing what you believe”:

[Christian kids] have heard sermons and lessons their whole lives where they were taught to think of the world in a certain “Christian” way, and then maybe in high school, maybe in college, they begin to see that life is more complicated and God doesn’t work according to the plan. So a major disconnect rises up between what they had been taught and what they see. Their faith is no longer a convincing way of explaining the world, and so they leave it. …

The long Protestant quest to get the Bible right has not led to greater and greater certainty about what the Bible means. Quite the contrary. It has led to a staggering number of different denominations and subdenominations that disagree sharply about how significant portions of the Bible should be understood. I mean, if the Bible is our source of sure knowledge about God, how do we explain all this diversity? …

[Preoccupation with correct thinking] reduces the life of faith to sentry duty, a 24/7 task of pacing the ramparts and scanning the horizon to fend off incorrect thinking, in ourselves and others, too engrossed to come inside the halls and enjoy the banquet. A faith like that is stressful and tedious to maintain. Moving toward different ways of thinking, even just trying it on for a while to see how it fits, is perceived as a compromise to faith, or as giving up on faith altogether. …

A faith that rest on knowing, where you have to “know what you believe” in order to have faith, is a disaster waiting to happen. All it takes to ruin that kind of faith is a better argument. And there’s always a better argument out there somewhere. …

When we think of “strong” faith as something that should be free of uncertainty or crises, I believe we have gotten wrong an important part of who God is and how the Christian life really works.

If you want to hear a less burdensome way to follow Jesus, read the rest of the book or check out Peter Enn’s blog. Let me know your thoughts!

// A prayer for periods of doubt and another great book

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6 thoughts on “A Book for Those Who Struggle with Christianity

  1. Hannah

    Hey Bailey!

    I was wondering how Enns makes the distinction between “knowing what you believe” and the essential tenets of the Christian faith. While his book is designed for those who are not quite sure where are, does he provide any parameters that can inform the reader that they are on the right track? (If so, where does he get these tenets, since he seems to adopt a critical view of the Bible?) And how does he avoid the issue of universalism or relativistic choose-your-own-theology Christianity?

    Thanks! :)

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    • Bailey Steger

      Good question. I don’t wish to speak for him, but it appears he follows the parameters of the Bible itself and draws from the diverse Christian and sometimes Jewish traditions, particularly Eastern Orthodox (though unconsciously, I think). He wants to understand the Bible *as it was intended by its original authors and redactors,* which is rarely (if ever) strict science or history in the modern sense. It differs from the typical Protestant literalist interpretation that often neglects how the original authors and recipients would have understood the text and instead woodenly reads metaphor, story, and allegory as literal fact, interpreted only through a modern lens. His thought process goes like this: “This feels off. Let me see what the Bible actually says about this. Oh, wait, it doesn’t say that at all/nobody before Protestantism interpreted or meant it this way.” He does not dismiss Scripture; he’s just critical of how most Western Christians interpret it. :)

      Because he’s in conversation with Scripture and the rich Christian and Jewish interpretations of it, he avoids relativism and choose-your-own-theology. I don’t know what he would say about universalism in particular. He sounds very much like an Eastern Orthodox theologian, to me (but he belongs to an Episcopalian church); nothing he says differs from what certain Christian traditions have always been saying. Does that answer your question?

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  2. Adele

    This is weird . . . I’m pretty sure Peter Enns was my Teaching Fellow when I took the class “Cultural Legacy of the Ancient Near East” at Harvard way back in 1990. Fascinating class. I learned a ton.

    Adele

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  3. Karen Wright

    So much of this. I can relate to SO MUCH of this! Trying to reconcile God….waiting for Him to appear…realizing the Bible as it was taught to me doesn’t actually make sense to me as a grown-up….intellectual vs emotional….and I can’t wait to read this book! Love what I’ve read from the blog so far. Actually I’m trying to decide if I should start with the Sin of Uncertainty or Inspiration and Incarnation. The ideas from Peter Enns reminds me of a book I just read that I’d recommend and I think you’d like, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. It goes into origins and reconciling faith with scientific fact. Such a great book, having never been taught evolution it was a great introduction to the evolutionary theory and to come from a devout Christian….even better. I think I’ve been disillusioned for awhile now thinking that I have to decide between educated thought and faith. It’s slowly becoming exhilarating to discover that I don’t have to choose. Thanks for this.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I resonate with all of this! I haven’t read “Inspiration and Incarnation,” but I should put that and your book recommendation on my reading list. Thankfully, I went to an academically rigorous school that introduced me to the basics of evolution without any commentary on theology, which helped a ton. It’s helpful to know that faith as trust is on an entirely different plane than intellectualism (i.e., it’s not a “Christian worldview” that competes with the science, history, sociology, etc. of “the world”). So much more peace of mind. :)

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