The first book I read by Gregory A Boyd was discreetly snatched from my friend’s bookshelf (thank you, Dee Robbins) and hungrily devoured, with many long pauses as I digested the deep and nourishing truths he developed in “Repenting of Religion.” I’ve just finished slurping and chewing my second Boyd book, “Benefit of the Doubt; Breaking the Idol of Certainty.” I will definitely be rereading this book full of underlined mind bombs. Every chapter filled my heart and mind like a full course meal- I’m challenged with how to share just a few appetizers.
The premise of the book is that certainty is not the same thing as faith; after a few chapters describing what faith is not, Boyd develops what true Biblical faith is. An Amazing read. I highly recommend reading the whole thing for yourself; I think the ideas in this book would untwist many confused and disheartened Christians. Here are a few thought provoking quotes from the first two chapters.
“The assumption…is that the more psychologically certain you are, the stronger your faith is. In this conception of faith, therefore, doubt is an enemy.” Pg 24
“If the strength of your faith is measured by the intensity of your psychological certainty, then the way to increase your faith is to try to push doubt aside in order to make yourself certain. And in this sense, exercising faith is something like a psychological version of the Strength Tester game (from the fair). You are in essence, trying to hit a faith mallet as hard as you can in order to send the faith puck up the faith pole to get as close to the certainty bell as you possibly can.” Pg 26
“So everybody experiences pleasure when important beliefs are confirmed, anger when they are threatened, and pain when they are doubted. This is what makes learning, as well as teaching, a challenging endeavor. But the situation is much worse for those who embrace certainty-seeking faith. For people like Bob, his eternal destiny, his fellowship, his identity, and his sense of purpose and well-being depend on his ability to remain confident he’s right, not just about one or two beliefs, but about the entire package of beliefs he and his church identify as ‘orthodox.’ For people like Bob, these beliefs are not only important; they define people to the core of their being, and they do so with an eternal intensity.
“This is why I claim that certainty-seeking faith tends to inflict people with a learning phobia. Learning requires students to be willing and able to allow their beliefs to be challenged and to experience cognitive dissonance. Learning requires students to at least hypothetically suspend their beliefs to objectively consider other points of view. And learning demands that students sincerely consider the possibility that they’re wrong when assessing perspectives that conflict with their own. With so much riding on his remaining convinced that the beliefs in his fixed package are all true, how could Bob NOT fear this process?
“From personal experience as well as my interactions with conservative Christians over the years, I’m convinced that one of the main selling points of the model of faith that declares war on doubt is that it allows people to feel justified indulging in the pleasure of feeling certain and avoiding the pain of doubt. In fact, it not only allows for this; it declares it a supreme virtue! Unfortunately, the price one pays is that they must insulate themselves form everything that might threaten this certainty, which means it installs a phobia of learning in areas that could potentially conflict with their beliefs.
“And when they do confront challenges to their faith, their amygdala is triggered. Indeed, since the stakes could not be higher, it is trigged with a vengeance. If you’re looking for a explanation for why conservative Christians in America have a reputation for being narrow and intolerant, I submit you’ve just found it. In fact, as we’ll discuss in a moment, if you’re looking for an explanation for why religion has, in one fashion or another, been behind so much of the bloodshed throughout history, I submit you’ve found your answer for this as well.” Pg 44-45
“For it is, as a matter of fact, arrogant, if not sinful, for anyone to assume their beliefs are true and all others wrong, simply because they enjoy feeling certain they’re right and would rather avoid the pain of thinking they may be wrong.
“Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think it applies to faith as well. The unexamined faith is not worth believing.” Pg 47
“So how is it that, when it comes to believing the truth claims of Christianity, those who hold the kind of faith we’re talking about do the exact opposite of what they would when asked by a dealer to believe his claims about a car? Precisely because so much hangs in the balance on believing the truth, these people try not to doubt the beliefs they’ve been given and instead try to be as certain as they can be that these beliefs are true without exposing them to any challenges. Doesn’t this strike you as peculiar?
“I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but the only conclusion I can draw from this peculiar behavior is that these people are not concerned with believing the truth as much as they are concerned with feeling certain they already believe the truth while avoiding the pain of thinking they might not.
“The truth is that there simply is no way for a person to be concerned that what they believe is true if they’re at the same time trying to feel certain that what they already believe is true. The goal of believing the truth and the goal of feeling certain you already believe the truth are mutually exclusive.” Pg 51
Alright friend, if you’ve read this far you are probably wondering, “how does this dude define faith?” I wish I could just quote the entirety of chapter six, but a few sentences will have to suffice until you read the book yourself. Boyd paints a beautiful picture while describing the difference between contract and covenant and how that plays into our understanding of faith.
“Faith isn’t primarily about our beliefs- as if God were an academic who was obsessive about whether you arrive at the right intellectual conclusions. Even less is faith about engaging in psychological gimmickry as you try to suppress doubt to convince yourself your beliefs are the right ones so that you can feel accepted, worthwhile, and secure before God. Rather, as we’re going to see, faith is about trusting in the beautiful character of Christ as your heavenly husband, about being transformed from the inside out by the power of his unending love, and about learning how to live in the power of the Spirit as a trustworthy spouse who increasingly reflects his love and his will ‘on earth’ as it is in heaven.” Pg 121
“…psychological certainty is inconsequential to the covenantal understanding of faith. The only thing that matters is that a person is confident enough of their beliefs to act on them. And whereas certainty-seeking faith motivates people to strive for certainty, thereby creating all the problems we’ve discussed, the covenantal model motivates people to commit to a course of action in the face of uncertainty.
“Our heavenly bridegroom has proposed to us by giving his life for us on the cross. We say, ‘I do,’ to this proposal and enter salvation by placing our faith in him. This faith presupposes that we believe that the one who was crucified some two thousand years ago was God’s Son, but this belief is not itself faith. We exercise saving faith when we act on this belief by committing to live as a trusting and trustworthy bride. And while there was a moment when we first made this pledge (when we were saved), this past pledge is significant only insofar as we’re faithfully living it out in the present (we’re being saved). The important question, therefore, is not, Did you once pledge your life to Christ? The important question is rather, Are you honoring the pledge you made to Christ by living as a trustworthy spouse in the present? pgs 126-127