Faith, Doubt, & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Newbigin)

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This is an amazing and truly outstanding book.  Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) is honestly one of the best brief and to the point books I’ve read on Christian epistemology (i.e. knowing things – specifically how faith and knowledge relate).  I would love to do a series of blog posts on this book, but I don’t have the time right now.  Instead, I’ll blurb a bit now, and come back to it later.

In this book, Newbigin talks about modernism & fundamentalism along with postmodernism & liberalism.  He wonderfully describes them, critiques them, points out the strengths of each, but then says neither will ultimately do for a Christian pilgrim “on the way.”  In fact, says Newbigin, our knowledge is “partial here in via, but promised in its fullness at the end” (p. 7).  We cannot assume a sort of enlightenment or even fundamentalistic view of knowledge, that we know so much based on scientific, reasonable propositions.  Nor can we assume a sort of liberal or postmodern view that nothing can be known with any certainty.  Instead,

“If the place where we look for ultimate truth is in a story and if (as is the case) we are still in the middle of the story, then it follows that we walk by faith and not by sight.  If ultimate truth is sought in an idea, a formula, or a set of timeless laws or principles, then we do not have to recognize the possibility that something totally unexpected may happen.  Insofar as our knowledge is accurate, we shall be able to predict the future.  Future and past events are governed by the same laws, the same principles, and the same realities.  But if we find ultimate truth in a story that has not yet been finished, we do not have that kind of certainty.  The certainty we have rests on the faithfulness of the one whose story it is.  We walk by faith” (p. 14)

Again, I’ll come back to this book some other time.  If you want a lesson in epistemology, especially how to think and act when it comes to liberalism and fundamentalism or postmodernism and modernism, reason and faith, and so forth, you really have to get this book.

A few more reading tips: First, Newbigin appropriates Polayni well in this book.  Second, this adds a new “robustness” to Van Til’s presuppositional arguments.  Finally, I assure you that if you read this book of Newbigin along with Herman Bavinck’s Certainty of Faith, you will not only be edified, your faith will also be strengthened, and you’ll have a great set of lenses with which to read and view the Christian faith in light of science, doubt, and skepticism.   Both books are around 100 pages and probably easy enough for anyone who knows the basic outlines of the history of philosophy.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “Faith, Doubt, & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Newbigin)”

  1. This is such a great book! I’d also recommend Esther Lightcap Meek’s Longing to Know. I think one of the biggest problems with scientism in England and America (it’s not really an issue elsewhere), is faulty epistemology. So many people still hold to a verificationist epistemology that simply cannot be held with integrity, and minimizes the full breadth of what it means to “know” something…especially to know personal things.

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  2. Amen, Kyle, I agree fully. We read Meek in seminary – she liked Polayni is about all I remember (I should read it again!). You should get Bavinck’s Certainty of Faith as I mentioned as well. If you do, please let me know what you think of it! Thanks again for the comment.

    Shane

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  3. I confess to being wicked and never having read a page of Bavinck before today. I’ve wanted to order his Reformed Dogmatics on multiple occasions, but since WTS Books doesn’t ship overseas, and various other excuses, I haven’t. Fortunately, upon your recommendation I found that richardsibbes.com had “The Certainty of Faith” as a PDF. It didn’t take long, and it flowed so well.

    I’ve often felt that reading from the past has helped me to see that our “problems” are not new. In fact, despite one or two things, this book could easily have been written this year. It was extremely relevant to modern discussions on faith, certainty and science. I imagine that Van Til would later smile while reading some of his comments about revelation and lines such as “There are no atheists.” I really enjoyed it, and find his arguments to be very well thought out. It’s probably going to be motivation enough for me to finally go ahead and order Reformed Dogmatics from Amazon.

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  4. Te Absolvo (!) and glad you read it! Note to other readers: go to http://www.richardsibbes.com and print off this little book by Bavinck. Thanks for the web reference, Kyle.

    If the overseas shipping for 4 vol of Dogmatics is killer, Bavinck’s “Our Reasonable Faith” will blow you away as well. It is (in a way) his dogmatics very tersely summarizes, though it is in narrative and pastoral/practical form. It reads like a systematic storybook.

    Blessings,

    shane

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