With compelling and often humorous stories from his own life, Bible scholar Peter Enns offers a fresh look at how Christian life truly works, answering questions that cannot be addressed by the idealized traditional doctrine of "once for all delivered to the saints".
Enns offers a model of vibrant faith that views skepticism not as a loss of belief but as an opportunity to deepen religious conviction with courage and confidence. This is not just an intellectual conviction, he contends, but a more profound kind of knowing that only true faith can provide.
Combining Enns' reflections of his own spiritual journey with an examination of scripture, The Sin of Certainty models an acceptance of mystery and paradox that all believers can follow and why God prefers this path, because it is the only way by which we can become mature disciples who truly trust God. It gives Christians who have known only the demand for certainty permission to view faith on their own flawed, uncertain, yet heartfelt terms.
©2016 Peter Enns (P)2016 Tantor
"This is a very fine, very readable, often humorous, and much needed analysis of what Western Christianity is up against." (Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward)
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
A number of books have been written in the last decade or so that have embraced the acceptance of doubt or at least have normalized having periods of uncertainty as a regular part of the Christian life. It has progressed far enough that there are now books and article rejecting the over embrace of doubt.
Peter Enns has long been a part of this controversy because his own book Inspiration and Incarnation was controversial because some thought that it encouraged an unhealthy doubt. The Sin of Certainty concludes with a long, and very personal, section about Enns’ own doubts, which were exacerbated by the mishandling of the controversy around his earlier book. I will not get into the full story since it is detailed in the book, but Enns was forced out of his job as full professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in 2008 after several years of controversy. (It took 4 years for Enns to get another full time teaching job and even now four years later he is not yet a full professor.)
Enns own story is driving the message of the book. I think it would have been more helpful for the story to have been pushed up in the book to give greater context for why Enns thinks that a focus on certainty is unhelpful. But placed at the end of the book, the story really allows for the book to end strongly.
The Sin of Certainty is going to be misread by many and not read by many more because of the title. To be clear, Enns does not say that we should not have theological boundaries or that orthodoxy is unimportant. Instead he is saying that right belief is not the most important thing for us as Christians. There is a long section about faith being misunderstood in our current culture as theologically correct belief instead of the way that scripture primarily means it, which is trust.
When scripture talks about faith in Christ, it does not ever mean ‘right theological understanding of Christ’. Instead it primarily means that we need to fully trust in Christ. Enns discussion of his own lack of trust in Christ through difficult times makes it clear that actually trusting God is often harder than having correct theological beliefs. (His loss of his job and the eating disorder and recovery of his daughter are two significant places where it is easy to see that trust can be more difficult than theological boundary drawing.)
I do think that the presentation can make it a bit hard for some to actually hear the main message. Enns has been hurt and I think he can be a bit prickly and if you are not a generous reader, you might spend more time than you should arguing with him as author instead of hearing him as a Christians speaking out of his pain and recovery.
Enns is calling on the church to actually trust Christ and love others as their primarily call, not in opposition to right belief and theological boundaries, but as the best way to achieve theological boundaries and right belief. This is a book that makes a lot more sense if you have had a real crisis of faith or walked through a crisis of faith with others. For those that have not had a real crisis of faith, there might not be enough empathy for Enns to hear him well.
I didn't know anything about Peter Enns when I downloaded the book before my bike ride today, but by the time I was a few hours into the book I felt like I have a long lost friend. I was delightfully refreshed to hear someone else echo similar thoughts that I have been thinking for years. This book is very helpful to understanding some of the trends in evangelical Christianity today.
Tom delivers Peter's humor without a wink and it really had me rolling at times. Often the jokes hit pretty close to home so I appreciated the tone of the reading.
I really related to the whole book.
I loved this book. I hope you do!
This book is like mold remover for gross residue from religious thinking...
I've struggled with end times theology for a long time. Specifically I feel like the direction that we're heading with technology really changes a lot of things. Those things were not able to be seen when much of our eschatology was created.
to continue to believe something apart from mainstream requires fighting through a lot of doubt. This book explains how the doubt is necessary and actually helps. It dispels the mystery of have doubt is a bad thing and makes a very good case about how it's a good thing. For me a lot of the battle was in the past, but reading this book resonated with the truth of what I went through in that battle.
Peter Enns explores some of the core problems facing the church today in manner that isn't inflammatory to those on any side of the issues. It's a book I will b passing on to a number of different people.
Really unpacks personal subconscious thoughts that irked me over the years. definitely recommending to all family and friends of faith, particularly in the evangelical tradition.
He really wants to say there is no divine revelation and the crux of the faith is not God's word revealed to us through scripture and enlightened to us via the Holy Spirit, but personal trust in God which can measure anything as holy and of the Lord. He wants to be Christian and hopes that is enough. Trust in God that you are right with God, that is enough. He sets up straw men of overly dogmatic Christian attitudes, and paints any certainty in the Holy Word with that brush. There is little to this man that is sacred except for his own confused despairing inclinations of trust in a God of his own mind, not the God as revealed through Scripture alone. He is educated and gives lip service to the essentials of Christian doctrine, but his core is to lead doubt to a place of jumping off where any way of life can be holy.
Irreverent to the point of being obnoxious (and uncomfortable). I now understand why Mr. Enns was asked to leave Westminster Seminary and also why he is no longer a part of Dr. Francis Collins' Bio Logos ministry. Very disappointing. I was hoping to hear an intelligent discourse on the complexity of faith in our modern age. Instead, it was many of the same old, tired arguments against belief in a just God.
One good point though - the crucial difference between belief and trust. I will take that from it.
If you're lost in a faith deconstruction trying to find hard ground to stand on, read this book. And then when the ground shifts again... read it again. Breaking free of needing to have it all figured out is so difficult, but I'm looking forward to the freedom. Thanks, Pete. I needed to hear this.
Thank you, Dr. Enns. Everything you have said in this book needed to be said.
Sincere, heartfelt sharing done in a way that made me laugh out loud more than once
I'm usually disappointed when an author chooses not to narrate their own audiobook. This book is the rare exception. The narrator conveyed to the words to me in a way that deepened their impact.
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