Enns, Peter. 2016. The sin of certainty: Why God desires our trust more than our ‘correct’ beliefs. New York: HarperCollins.
In this book Enns follows up his The Bible Tells Me So with further observations on how the Bible is often misinterpreted and used as both a crutch and a club.
Enns speaks from a personal encounter with Westminster Theological Seminary (he does not mention this in the book, but I found out on Internet), where he was once a tenured professor (he is now at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania). However, when he began to question or teach certain parts of the Bible differently than the seminary expected, he was eventually fired.
The book begins with Enns’s discussion called “I don’t know what I believe anymore,” He had been taught “that questioning too much was not safe Christian conduct” (p.4) and he found his slide from certainty into uncertainty to be “frightening” (p. 8). And why is certainty so bad? “because this pattern of thinking sells God short by keeping the Creator captive to what we are able to comprehend” (pp. 18-19).
Enns believes we got into “this mess” because our mental images were betrayed as science and evolution made Christians nervous, and for good reasons. There were three main factors: 1) astronomy, which showed how vast the universe is (compared with the fundamentalist view of a relatively young earth); 2) archeology, which recorded very ancient civilizations, much older than what biblical fundamentalists allowed; and 3) German theologians, using critical textual analysis, showed that the accepted views of biblical authorship were not accurate.
Another early factor was Martin Luther, who translated the Bible into the language of the common people, resulting in people understanding and forming opinions on what the Bible said (p. 48). A multitude of Protestant denominations in time resulted and now “a critical mass of Protestants is starting to wonder whether this quest for certainty is running on fumes” (p. 51).
Enns examines some Psalms, such as 50, 90 and 73, to show that God is not coming through as he promised and how this causes David to have a crisis of faith. In other words, “Our psalmists wouldn’t make very good Christian fundamentalists, who see the Bible as a source of certain knowledge about God, the world, and our place in it” (p. 70).
The discussion then turns to “two miserable people worth listening to” (the title of chapter 4), namely Qohelet in Ecclesiastes and Job. Qohelet is in a “faith–crisis mode”, a man who has worked hard all his life and in the end has nothing to show for it. As Enns so aptly says “I wonder how many invitations Qohelet would get to speak at fundraisers or funerals” (p.77). However, Job doesn’t do much better, for he and his friends were operating under the assumption that God wants all humans to know what he is up to. Job does do better in the end and trusts God, even though “Trust like this is an affront to reason, the control our egos crave” (p.89).
Enns claims that it is not a matter of belief or faith that we need—which are directed toward what we want to happen. Rather it is a matter of trust—which is directed towards Jesus. But trusting in God is something mostly reserved for a crisis, not necessarily a way of living. As he says, “Belief leaves room for worry. Trust explodes it” (p. 109).
A life of faith is preoccupied with correct thinking and holding on to what we “know”. Enns once did a survey on his blog and asked “What are the one or two obstacles to staying Christian? In other words, the roadblocks and issues that won’t go away. The answers fell into five categories: !) How the Bible portrays God, in many instances, as violent and mean; 2) the collision of Bible and science; 3) the injustice and suffering in the world; 4) claiming Christianity is the only path to God; and 5) how terribly Christians sometimes treat each other.
A Christian faith plagued by those questions does not make sense to the people considering them. However, a faith that claims to answer all of these items and remove doubt will not hold up in real life either.
Enns does not provide cut and dry answers, instead he asks “Is the faith in God supposed to be this hard? With a Bible like this, what are we supposed to think about God? (p.123).
Enns points out that the account in Genesis and the explanations of ”[e]volutionary biology, genetics, astrophysics, and geology—to name just a few” have observed phenomena that are not a part of the biblical cosmos. (p.125) As he notes, “A God who can be comfortably captured in our minds, with little else for us to find out apart from an occasional adjustment, is not God at all. Expecting faith in God to be rational is often more the problem than the solution” (i51).
We must go back to the basics of our faith, such as the incarnation and the resurrection, which are both “beyond knowable” and are only available through trust.
After discussing “doubt”, Enns reminds us that we are to take up our cross and die. We are crucified with Christ and our life is “hidden with Christ in God “ (Colossians 3:3). When everything else is removed, we ask God to help us trust (p. 170). “Dying is the only path to resurrection, and that is the only way of knowing God. There is no shortcut. Jesus himself is our model for this” (p. 172).
Enns suggests a couple practical ways to help: 1) reading outside our comfort zone and 2) discovering a contemplative means of worship.
In conclusion, “Knowing Christ, for Paul, means not only experiencing ‘the power of the resurrection…[but also] the dark times of the life of faith, the ‘sharing’ of Christ’s sufferings, participating in them, so to speak” (p.199). We remain open to the moving of the Spirit and how to think about God, the world and our place in it, rather than resting on our certainties.
I found Enns’s book stimulating but, at times, bewildering. In trying to translate some of his concepts into the Kewa language. For example, “belief” and “faith” are both expressed by the degree of strength a person has in holding on to Jesus and God. One Kewa verb “rula”, which means to pack something down firmly, such as a house post into the ground, is used to express both belief and faith. The matter of “trust” is bound up in both. There isn’t a single word in Kewa for each of these concepts. The matter of trust in someone else is to acknowledge that “Yes, he will do it,” or , in regard to trusting me, when I affirm, “Really, I tell the truth” (and you can count on it). People can also express trust when their stomach’s (their emotional center) says that they are living well.
We might ask “In what/whom do you believe” and the answer we would expect is “in Jesus.” It might also be, for the Kewa, marea, which means “who knows?”
Perhaps the Kewa expressions portray the root meaning of trust forcibly enough for the Kewa people.