Books: Confident Faith

After reading five books in Tyndale’s Summer Reading program, I was entitled to receive one book free from the same reading list. I had some trouble coming up with five books I was interested in reading, though I did end up finding all five worth reading. I had borrowed them from the library, however, and had no interest in acquiring my own copy.

I finally settled on Mark Mittelberg’s Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs. The reviews I read at amazon.com were very positive, and Lee Strobel (whose books The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ I had previously read and found helpful) calls it an “invaluable guide” which he wishes he had had when he was looking for the truth about the Christian faith.

Mittelberg’s book is a good basic book on apologetics, interesting and easy to read. He begins by discussing the idea of faith itself, showing how everyone has faith in certain things whether they call it that or not. Then he explores what he calls six “faith paths,” ways that people come to have the faith they do.

Next he goes through twenty “arrows of truth” – evidence that helps point the way to truth although no one piece can be used to prove it absolutely. Finally, he finishes by addressing what he calls ten obstacles to belief, such as fear, intellectual doubts, personal hurts, and oversimplicity.

I have no specific critiques of most of his points, just some disappointment that I found it far less invaluable that Strobel seems to. I’ve read a number of books on apologetics, since before Strobel started his spiritual search in 1980, and there is little here that I haven’t seen in a number of other books.

The main thing that Mittelberg adds, I suppose, is his approach of the six “faith paths.” This takes up more than half the book. It’s an interesting approach, though it’s hard for me to say how valuable it is. His “faith path questionnaire” puts me squarely on the Evidential faith path – something I knew without reading any of his book.

I guess I would have assumed that people reading books on apologetics would generally be those looking for evidence to begin with. It seems strange to me that he would spend so much time showing the weaknesses of basing one’s faith on relativism, authority, tradition, intuition, or mysticism. Would someone who followed one of those “faith paths” be likely to read a book like this, which so obviously is pushing the evidential path as the one to follow?

Of course, no doubt some people are going to be given the book by others who think it would be good for them to read. And perhaps it will convince them – it would be interesting to read a review of the book by someone whose views were changed by reading it.

One reader said he had given a copy to an agnostic college student who became a follower of Christ as a result of reading it twice in one week. But I didn’t find any reviews by people who had been changed by reading it other than to be more sure of what they already believed.

What I can’t help wondering is this: was their faith strengthened by the evidence itself, which is presumably Mittelberg’s goal? Or was it strengthened by finding a book by a bestselling author  – i.e. an authority, in many people’s minds – who can write convincingly about why they are right to believe as they (already) do?

When I was a young Christian, I read/heard all of these points about evidence for the Christian faith in books I read and sermons I heard and lectures in Bible school and college (I attended a fundamentalist Baptist college). I would, for a time, be more confident of what I believed.

But occasionally I couldn’t help wondering, was my confidence in the right place, or was it really in the authors of those books and the pastors and teachers I listened to? They were so intelligent, and they were convinced of the truth of what they taught, so there had to be a solid basis for it.

The fact is, it’s really hard for any of us to evaluate the evidence directly. Mittelberg’s first “arrows” deal with evidence from science supporting faith in God. I think I understand science reasonably well for a non-scientist. But when it comes to evaluating arguments as to whether fine-tuning in the universe, I simply don’t know how to evaluate the claims of those who say it points to a Designer versus those who say it does not.

Similarly, evidence from the Bible is not so straightforward as I thought it was when I was a new Christian and had not actually read the whole Bible. Pastors and teachers talked a lot about the unity of the Bible, how every book pointed to Christ, and how amazingly so many prophecies were fulfilled so exactly.

But when I actually read the Bible cover to cover, I found things much less clear-cut. I had wondered how the Jews of Jesus’ time could have failed to recognize him from the many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, but when I read through the prophets myself I did not find the prophecies all that clear. Without someone to point out to me how some of them point to Christ, I don’t think I would see it on my own.

I have come to accept that authority and tradition have a place in forming our faith, along with evidence. And Mittelberg seems to accept this also – he provides a number of factors to consider in deciding whether a particular authority is trustworthy.

One thing I would have liked to see more of is bringing up the arguments against the “arrows of truth” and dealing with them. Unfortunately, that portion of the book, which I had expected to be the largest part, is only about one quarter of the book. So there’s not room for a whole lot of discussion of these ideas – at least not without making it a longer book, which might discourage some people from tackling it.

Mittelberg does provide a list of resources at the end for further reading. I have read several of the books on the list, and with some I have the same issues as with this book. But perhaps one of the others will have answers I did not find here.

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