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Permission to Doubt Kindle Edition
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From the pursuit of truth, Sullivan very quickly deals with the subject of faith, calling it a mystery that requires our confidence in the God Who is in charge. She points out "three sides of doubt." The first side is spiritual doubt. She is aware that there are some kinds of doubt that are dangerous, like spiritual attack. The clue on a healthy form of spiritual doubt is intimacy. Spiritual intimacy with God breeds a healthy faith. Healthy faith means we learn to listen to God and to know God is listening to us. The second side is intellectual doubt which can be particularly challenging, even a stumbling block in itself. Readers are reminded of the Old Testament character, Job who tried to find answers to his suffering, only to be cut down to size about his own level of comprehension of the mysteries of God. If we are honest and humble about it, there would come a point where we need to acknowledge the limits of our own doubts. Here, Sullivan includes some apologetic about the existence of God, Jesus as God and the questions surrounding the authenticity of the Bible as God's Word. The third side of doubt is emotional doubt. Here Sullivan deals with the area of anxiety, depression, discouragement, disappointment, and when faith does not quite make sense. She offers some tips on how to deal with it, using biblical stories as well as modern illustrations. She writes from the heart, at times sharing from the deep experience she had recovering from her own panic disorders.
Through it all, the author has learned that doubt itself is not necessarily a barrier to faith. In fact, there is a place for honest doubts. There is a way in which we can grow more toward embracing the mystery of faith. We do not need to get all the answers before we can believe. We need permission to doubt in order to raise the right questions to help us strengthen our belief. In the Appendix, Sullivan provides us a list of ten things NOT to do as a Christian. I find that helpful as it can spawn creative ways on how we can be more faithful as a Christian. Along the way, as the author shares about her own journey of faith through doubts and challenges, she emerges a much stronger person of faith, and urges us along, encouraging us to persevere on, and to let the doubts not jeer us, but cheer us along toward truth.
This book reminds me once again that there is a kind of doubt that leads us to deeper faith, and there is also a kind of simplistic faith that leads us to unhealthy doubt. Sullivan's book points us to the former.
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
When one reads enough books, one finds ways in which they provide a subtle commentary on each other. This particular book in many ways covers similar ground to books I have read recently that sought to understand God’s mysterious workings regarding suffering . Yet this book manages, unlike some of the other material I have read about the subject, to find the empathetic rather than critical aspects of my judgment because of its approach as a personal narrative that is not too overly sharing but is warm and personal enough to provoke a kind response in me. The book itself is organized rather logically, looking at the different aspects of doubt and covering the issues of depression and anxiety from the perspective of a personal narrative. Although the author came from a good family and did not have the usual abuse and family issues of alcoholism and brokenness that tend to lead people to struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, a physiological weakness in a heart value led her at the age of 19 to start having crippling anxiety attacks and mild depression that lasted for about thirteen years, a period of time that also included a miscarriage.
In dealing with the issue of doubt, the author makes a lot of sound comments that are based on personal experience. Some of them are related to how we deal with doubt in seeking to live healthy lives and, to the best of our ability, ensure that we are not putting ourselves in harm’s way through living in sin and remove ourselves from the encouragement of others, recognizing that doubt thrives in solitude and isolation. This advice is certainly well stated, and the author is spot on as well in recognizing the need to take care of our health even if we seek not to abuse drugs or place our faith in science and medicine. The author here, and elsewhere, strikes a moderate position in seeking not to alienate people or to be too dogmatic about areas (including, for example, the afterlife and God’s judgement) where the Bible itself leaves judgment to God. Another area where this book particularly succeeds is in pointing out that God is big enough for our doubts, for our concerns, for our wrestling, for our questions. God does not promise that faith in Him will protect us from trouble, only that God will be with us through the trouble until we make it on the other side.
There are two views of religious experience, one of them that faith is supposed to be a wall and a moat against difficult times, and the other that faith is supposed to be something that walks with you through difficulties . The fact that I have my own lengthy experience with battling anxiety and depression in my own life  certainly allows me to relate very well and very easily to others with that struggle, especially those who deal with it as bravely and as openly as the author. All too often people who struggle as Christians are made to feel as if they are less worthy as Christians because of their struggle, when in reality we should all encourage others to be open about their difficulties with the confidence that others will respond in love, at times urging repentance and a change of one’s ways, but many other times simply offering a loving hug or a shoulder to cry on or someone to lean on and share one’s burdens with. If this book encourages others to be more loving with those who wrestle with doubts but who live nevertheless in faith and obedience, it will have been a success. We should all aspire to a thinking faith that recognizes doubt, accepts the fact that our knowledge has limits, and seeks to live in obedience with God as best as possible. Despite some flaws, this book does a good job at its task, even if it talks about a subject most people would rather not have to deal with.
The author clearly shows that this doubt is actually an opportunity for God to reveal Himself in all glory and power as He increases your faith through slow healing, bringing your trial into a testimony. Although the audience for this book would interest all who desire to know about God in a greater way, I believe it will greatly bless those who are struggling with an illness or situation that has placed them in a hopeless position.
I was loaned this book by a friend from the church I used to attend who thought I stopped going to church because I had doubts that God existed. I told him I'd read anything he had for me.
Since I started this book, I've been wondering how I would review it. I began turning down the corners on pages where she says something ironic, hypocritical, misleading, misinformed, or that she doesn't seem to understand to possibly address them in this review. I ended up turning the corner down of about every other page. So discussing specific points would take another book...
So instead I'll try and generalize some of the issues I had with the book from a non-Christian perspective.
But first, some good. It's an easy read and she's a decent writer. In the first half of the book, she encourages critical thinking and researching the questions. She gives you "Permission to Doubt" in that she reminds us that everyone does at some point. Yet then she goes on to say since we already know what's true (Christianity), you just need to find the arguments that support this conclusion...which is backwards of course.
I'm giving this 3 stars when compared to other apologetics books. If you're coming to the realization that there are just too many problems with Christianity and you need a book to try and help you stop analyzing these problems, there are better books out there to help with this.
Summary of a few issues:
- Cherry-picking from the Bible and twisting its words to fit what you want to believe - This is a necessity so is expected. The most recent example I remember is in the last chapter. She cites a verse that says, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. (John 3:3)" while criticizing someone for saying he was a Christian, but was not born again. She says that because of this line, he has to be born again. A few pages later she is arguing that you don't have to know Christ to know God and ergo, get to heaven. John 14:6 and 8:24 might have something to say about that. But she's perfectly comfortable finding a workaround to save the people in the world who don't know any better.
This is the heart of what I find disagreeable with the entire book. One minute she'll quote a verse that should be taken as it is, the next she's claiming that you have to keep in mind the life and times of the men writing the verses, so you have to use the appropriate interpretation. e.g. when God said to kill all the men, women, and children, he didn't really mean it. That was just the words used back then.
- "Weight of the evidence" - She mentions this numerous times throughout the book. If this were true, there wouldn't be atheists. She never really shares what all this evidence is other than to source some apologists to tell you to read further. And she doesn't really address the problem with the quality of the evidence.
- Intellectual Doubt - When I read the title of this chapter I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say. I thought she was going to get to the meat of why many nonbelievers came to the conclusion they did. But the chapter only talks about why bad things happen to good people, voiced recently by Stephen Fry in his now famous/infamous video (YouTube 'Stephen Fry on God' if you have not seen this). This is certainly one problem difficult to reconcile, but hardly represents the entirety of "Intellectual Doubt". This is one piece of a very large, intellectually challenging puzzle. She does address other intellectual issues over the next few chapters, but I found this very odd.
- She often attempts to address a point but never really says anything. Perhaps it's an attempt to make you think about it yourself. If so, she often falls short. I feel like she wanted to address a particular problem, but doesn't have an answer herself and therefore talks around it.
- Start with your conclusion - The book is essentially saying, start with the assumption that Christianity is correct, now pick through the evidence and pull out those pieces that could be used to support that conclusion.
I struggled for years with the doubt. I finally decided that the *good* historical, philosophical, scientific, and empirical evidence shouldn't be ignored.
Don't start with the conclusion. When you start with the evidence and draw a conclusion, like any good investigator, you eventually come to a different conclusion. Not necessarily that there isn't a creator, though most come to the conclusion that there is no personal god. But that no religion today is even close to honestly knowing. And any claims that they do should be immediately disregarded.