|Book review – The Benefit of the Doubt: Claiming Faith in an Uncertain World|
|Written by Brian R. Paulson (reviewer)|
|Friday, 23 August 2013 20:27|
by Frank Clark Spencer, with sermons by John B. Rogers Jr.
22 Degrees Publishing. 85 pages
An informed voice from the pew offers some useful insight in a book that can be shared in small groups as a spark for helpful conversation. The book sets out to address various dynamics of doubt that are found in faith and daily life. The project is not undertaken in an encyclopedic or highly systematic manner. However, it reads with a genuine tone.
One can easily hear an experienced ruling elder talking with friends about discoveries and insights of a spiritual journey throughout the pages of this book. As such it will be a useful tool for congregations seeking new curriculum for small groups. The closing three chapters of the book are each fine sermons, addressing the topic of doubt, by a seasoned Presbyterian pastor of the author’s youth, John B. Rogers Jr.
The book is informed by an interesting colloquy of pastors from the author’s life who gathered to share insight about questions of doubt. This conversation evidently informed the pages of the book. The author, Frank Clark Spencer, is a very bright man who has wrestled with questions of doubt in his journey of faith. He has embraced the particular gifts of our Reformed tradition of Christianity and shared his insight with intelligence and creativity that has clearly been practiced through his vocation that engaged fields of finance and law. The author understands how to communicate in an engaging manner.
Nonetheless, the book would benefit from some thoughtful editing to correct some errors in spelling and grammar. Also, there are problems of attribution. Since the book was generated out of a friendly spiritual conversation it reads warmly as such, but there are offhand references and quotations that are variably attributed or not. The problem with this is that it denies the reader a chance to dig deeper into quotations of interest or merit.
There are also problems of structure. At times there is a twist of thought that causes the reader to head off on a tangent from the line a chapter had been following (a good example of this occurs when a chapter on death and resurrection closes with a feint toward the attitudes of the Westboro Baptist Church). Also the structure sometimes causes the reader to be lost as to how a given chapter relates to the whole (e.g., Chapter 9 is a journey into a nondenominational megachurch without a clear connection to the overarching theme of doubt).
Despite the rough edges of this book’s format and the weaving line of its presentation of thought, it will spark useful conversation in a mall group. The author has aided small group leaders by providing questions for reflection at the end of seven out of 12 chapters. Presbyterians will be comforted to see a clear Reformed perspective throughout.
The author is to be commended for sharing his thought, experience ... and doubts! While it is doubtful this book will stand the test of time, portions of this book certainly will resonate helpfully for many in their own journey of faith today.
BRIAN R. PAULSON is the pastor at First Church of Libertyville, Ill.