A warning for the many religious know it alls

A warning for the many religious know it alls Peter Enns
The Sin of Certainty: Why God desires our trust more than our ‘correct’ beliefs

by Peter Enns (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)

Author Enns, who is a professor of Biblical Studies at a Pennsylvanian University, is a writer in the evangelical tradition. This book, though issued before the present plague descended on us, has interesting things to say that seem very relevant to this critical period in which many are finding their faith challenged.

Basically he is saying that in these times what many people, especially religious  people need, is not less faith but more. It all depends on the quality and nature of that faith. Writing, as he does from a Christian viewpoint that places a heavier burden on the Bible, indeed on the exact text of the Bible, to provide a guide to being ‘correct’, he admits there are times – such as now – when many may despair of God.

Christians should repose themselves firmly in their trust of God”

People often see their faith as founded on being ‘correct’, adhering to the exact text for some;  in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, in doing the right thing liturgically. We have all met these people, as indeed Jesus did in so many encounters in the Gospels.

Instead,  Enns says,  Christians should abandon this wish ‘to be right’. They should instead do exactly what so many Christians have not been doing, whoever they are. They should repose themselves firmly in their trust of God.

Testing times, he writes, rather than undermining belief, can become a way of “encouraging us to face those dangerous questions that beset both life and belief – in order for us to move from needing to be right to trusting God instead”. We should walk in the dark and rely on the Lord.

He seems, however, also to suggest that this faith is enough. And yet humanity has (in the essential belief of Christians) been gifted with the power of reasoning. It is this, we remember, that underlies the doctrine of “natural revelation”, that reason alone can bring people to an idea of God, and therefore that every faith and belief  can have within it a partial apprehension of the divine.

This book will, I think, be both revealing and sustaining for many people.  But remember when you say with the Psalmist, “my soul is full of troubles”, that certainty can be a type of false knowledge, and that “as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part.” (I Corinthians 13:8-9)

This is a book which has lessons that are for later times, for all times perhaps,  rather than this moment of dread, and is well worth reading. All of us will learn something from it.