by Peter Enns
HarperOne Publishing, San Francisco. 240 pages
REVIEWED BY ROBERT MELONE JR.
What did it for me was the death of a dear friend at the hands of a drunk driver 15 years ago. Our church had just prayed for her. We had asked God to give her “journey mercies” and a safe trip home. But, apparently God had other plans. God must have, because she died!
This is what did it for me. It dramatically opened my eyes to the realization that perhaps not everything I have been taught to believe about God, faith and prayer was completely and perfectly adequate!
As a first born, type-A, ENFJ, certainty had been a crucial part of my life. My faith was all about answers to all of life’s most difficult questions; my certainty of those answers was critical to my ability to maintain a stable faith and to feel secure in my walk with God. Certainty is what kept me safe from the relativism of the day, and it was where I found the strength to be the spiritual leader that I believed I was called to be. It’s what kept “option overload” from paralyzing me, thus keeping me from ever being able to establish a foundation upon which to build my life. But this friend’s death changed all that. It allowed me to begin to see how inadequate my beliefs really were, and how, more often than not, they left me longing for something deeper, something more intellectually satisfying, something more mysteriously holy.
I think we all have times like that; and that’s when we all need a book like Peter Enns’ “The Sin of Certainty.”
In a freeing and life-giving way, Enns gives his readers the courage to ask the questions and to give voice to the doubts that for far too long have bound the church to a faith that is about little more than correct thinking. Pointing out that such a perspective tends to grow a faith that is stressful and tedious, Enns beautifully reminds us to “never confuse God with our thoughts about God!”
Enns succinctly traces the church’s emphasis on “right thinking” about the Bible from the Reformation’s rallying cry of sola scriptura in the 16th century, through the challenges of Darwin, archaeological discoveries and German scholarship in the 19th century. Then, he proceeds to take us on a quick journey through often-neglected passages of Scripture – Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Job – all of which reveal a faith that is less about belief and more about learning to trust.
In an intellectually credible and inspiring way, Enns beautifully articulates why God desires our trust more than our “correct” beliefs! He boldly declares and helps the reader to understand why “a faith in a living God that is preoccupied with certainty, is sin.” And then, he challenges us to learn to develop a culture of trust – discerning, articulating and embodying the heart and soul of the Christian tradition.
Most importantly, he helps us to see that letting go of certainty is not in any way a compromise to faith, but rather a demonstration of it. For ours is a God more eager to develop our ability to trust than our capacity to believe.
ROBERT MELONE JR. is teaching elder at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia.