Today I’m delighted to review the latest offering from Peter Enns, titled The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs.
With previous books including Inspiration and Incarnation, The Evolution of Adam and, more recently, The Bible Tells Me So, Enns is an increasingly familiar voice among those seeking to remain committed to a biblically rooted faith without having to deny either scientific facts or the complexities of lived reality. As a biblical scholar, Enns is, of course, well versed in scripture and its historical and cultural context; his particular gift is bringing his knowledge to bear on the modern world in a way that is accessible and relevant to a broad and mostly non-academic audience – something he does here both with his trademark self-deprecating wit and with disarming candour.
Perhaps the easiest way to give you a glimpse of what this book is all about is to quote a few words from an early chapter titled “What’s so sinful about certainty?”:
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. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I know many readers will resonate with these words, because they have found themselves unable to continue in the stance of dogmatic certainty in which they have found themselves trapped. Unable to cope with the increasing cognitive dissonance yet fearful of allowing their most strongly held beliefs to be challenged, many end up either doubling down on dogmatism or abandoning their faith altogether. It doesn’t have to be that way, and Enns helps shed light on why and how another way is possible.
Enns’s two primary sources are the Bible and his own life. He draws widely on the Old Testament (unsurprisingly, given that he’s an Old Testament specialist), delving into the Psalms, Job, Genesis and more besides to illustrate how the rigid certainty to which we so often feel duty bound to hold is, in fact, a far cry from the experience of God and faith found in scripture. But he also draws extensively on his own experience, sharing some of his most intense struggles with life and faith and narrating his own journey off the edge of the map of doctrinal certainty and into the uncharted expanses of freedom and trust. (And he knows whereof he speaks: talking and writing about changes in his own theological perspective stirred up a storm of controversy that ended up costing him his position as a tenured seminary professor.)
In summary, The Sin of Certainty is about letting go of the need to be theologically correct and embracing the freedom of not knowing all the answers. It is about learning not to be afraid of doubt, uncertainty and complexity. Ultimately, it is about making the transition from faith as a set of dogmatically held beliefs to faith as a dynamic journey of trust. I’m confident that it will be a breath of fresh air to many who are wondering whether they can remain true to their faith through the storms of life and a welcome bright light to those seeking a new and less dogmatic approach to faith.
[The Sin of Certainty is published by HarperOne and is due for release in April 2016. I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.]