How does the modern Protestant define faith? For many, faith is considered to be an intellectual assent to a set of doctrinal creeds, rather than trust in a living God. In the past century, especially, the Christian life has calcified into checking boxes on a statement of belief, rather than a relationship with a being who is far beyond our comprehension. Gone is the mystery, the paradox, or the humble recognition of human limits.
Pete Enns is the Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University and earned his Ph.D. at Harvard. Early in his career, he had all of his theological ducks in a row, but while on a plane to give a presentation, he watched Disney’s A Bridge to Terabithia, where the unbelieving girl said that she didn’t believe that God would make his own son die if he was so busy running the whole world. Pete thought to himself, would a loving God force his own son to die a painful death? And he was thrown into a quagmire of doubt, which is not a comfortable place to be when you’re a pastor.
Throughout the book, Pete opens up all of the hermetically sealed boxes that today’s evangelical Christian keeps tucked safely away. How can the earth possibly be 6,000 years old? Why did God want the Israelites to kill all those people? Does he care about me, then? Why is the Bible so ambivalent on the question of slavery? If God loves us, why do children die and why are there wars?
When Pete began to wrestle with these issues himself and to bring them up in his classes, the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary began to view him with suspicion. He published a book on the Old Testament in 2005 (Inspiration and Incarnation) of which his administration did not approve, and while he was struggling to hold onto his job, his daughter had to be sent to a therapeutic boarding school for an overwhelming anxiety disorder. His life began to unravel, and he entered what Douglas Adams calls “the long, dark teatime of the soul.”
The Sin of Certainty is Enns’s exposition of his own journey away from and back to faith—or, as he would say, trust—and he boldly wades into dangerous waters. One of our pastors recommended this as the number one book he would give to people who are deconstructing or reconstructing their faith. Enns certainly leaves no stone unturned. He is completely knowledgeable about scripture, of course, since that is his vocation, but he also writes conversationally and even humorously about his own life and the state of the church. Near the end, he has a couple of sections called, “When ‘Uh-Oh’ Becomes ‘Ah-Hah’” and “Cultivating a Habit of Trust.” He believes that it is important to become comfortable with uncertainty and with changing your opinions as life happens. As Switchfoot would say, “We are always in motion, like the winds, the tides, the ocean….”*
To put cards on the table, I really like Pete Enns. David and I were several years into our reconsideration of many religious issues when we read his How the Bible Actually Works when it was published in 2019. It was pivotal in my journey to have someone who loved the Bible and had studied it for decades tell me, in effect, “but hey, it was not handed down on stone tablets. Here is the real story.” Pete Enns and Jared Byas also host a podcast called The Bible for Normal People, to which I regularly listen. They have great guests and ask hard questions. I am not always in agreement with them, but they are never boring.
When David and I read How the Bible Actually Works, we thought that we were alone in our struggle and that we would never know any other believers who were pursuing God on this path. We were wrong, thank goodness. If you are questioning manmade teachings that you have been forced to think are essential to salvation, please know that there are so many kind, intelligent people who love Jesus and are not evangelical Protestants—millions of them who have lived over a couple of millennia, as a matter of fact. You are not alone, and The Sin of Certainty is a good place to start.
Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
*”We’re Gonna Be Alright,” by Switchfoot, from the Native Tongue album. It also says: “…And it’s ok to doubt/ To learn what you think ain’t what you thought.”