Quick Book Review of "Proper Confidence" by Lesslie Newbigin
I just finished reading the book “Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin. As the title suggests, this book deals with the concept of how we can have proper confidence in the Christian story. The thing I appreciate about Newbigin is the fact that his writings have 36 years of missionary experience in India to back them. He isn’t some highbrow academic (though he is an academic) who has no experience writing for reality. In fact, his book, while immensely deep, is highly practical. This is perhaps because for him, as he lays out in this book, there can be no separation between faith and practice and theory and action. These are false dichotomies.
Anyway, here are the few things that stuck out to me as helpful in this 105 page book:
1. He tells the history of “knowing” from the early church to the post-modern period. This is perhaps the hardest part of the book to follow but it was very rewarding as he outlined the history of how we “know things.” He starts with the early Greeks and works through to the post-modern period (The Greeks to Descartes to Mcintyre and everyone in between). If you have never read anything about this before its really and eye opening few chapters (On side note, I read a book by Trevor Hart called “Faith Thinking“ that did the same thing. At that time, this was one of the most transformative things I ever read).
2. He explains how all knowledge requires faith of some sort. I am not going to try and explain how he does this, you’ll have to read the book for that. But, this understanding of knowledge really makes room for honest doubt in the Christian faith. What I mean is that if all knowledge requires faith, than it’s okay and healthy to have doubt. But, faith is not the master to doubt. In fact, he writes how Descartes pursuit of certainty (which led to absolute skepticism) was a problem.
“A the most obvious level it has created a prejudice in favor of doubt over faith. The phrases “blind faith” and “honest doubt” have become the most common of currency. Both faith and doubt can be honest or blind, but one does not hear of “blind doubt” or of “honest faith.” Yet the fashion of thought which gives priority to doubt over faith in the whole adventure of knowing is absurd. Both faith and doubt are necessary elements of this adventure. One does not learn anything except by believing something, and – conversely – if one doubts everything one learns nothing. One the other hand, believing everything uncritically is a the road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But as i have argued, rational doubt always rests on faith an not visa-versa.” (24)
3. He explains how despite popular opinion. even science requires faith assumptions for the scientist to come to a “truth claim.”
“The truth of course, is that both approaches – the confessional and the scientific – presuppose (as all rational inquiry must presuppose) a long tradition of thought and practice that determines which beliefs are plausible and which are not.” (46)
4. He emphasizes the importance and necessity of the Story (Narrative) of the Scriptures.
“At the center of the life of each community was the continual reading of the Bible, both in study and in the worship of the community. The biblical story came to be the one story that shaped the understanding of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, it was the story that was their mental framework, the story that defined human life and its meaning and destiny.” (13)
Unfortunately the idea the the Scriptures tell the story of God’s interaction with and salvation of the world has been lost in the modern world with the pursuit of concrete, certain statements of truth that we can write down forever. They bible is not just an instruction book or a set of propositional truths or even a collection of stories that tell truth. The bible the story of God bringing salvation to his world. If we don’t get this, we miss the point of the scriptures,
“We cannot understand Jesus except in the context of the bible as a whole. To detach Jesus from this story is to create a mythical figure. In his teaching and in his action he speaks and acts as the one who brings the story of God’s dealing with Israel to its point of Crisis and decision. the person who allows the biblical story to be the all-surrounding ambiance of daily life and who continually seeks to place all experiences in this context finds that daily life is a continuous conversation with the one whose character is revealed in the biblical story as a whole.” (88)
5. All knowing starts with assumptions and the belief in the Christian God begins with the assumption that the church’s affirmation that the story [the bible] tells is the true interpretation of all human and cosmic history and to understand history otherwise, is to misunderstand it, therefore misunderstanding hte situation here and now.”(77)
Wow, okay, so that’s a “quick” summary of this book. Honestly, I feel like I left out some of the most major parts and arguments. But, of course this blog post a) isn’t written by Lesslie Newbigin and b) its not 105 pages long. So, I apologize if I didn’t get the crux of the book down here…
I really, really enjoyed it as it gave a great and solid basis and argument for faith as a legitimate form of knowledge in our day. For me, what it has done is help a great explanation for why believing in the God and story of the bible is not for the small minded or stupid.
Go ahead and buy the book. Its not for the faint of heart and even though it is only 105 pages, its quite a hard read.