Friday, July 5, 2013

Keep the Faith

Keep the Faith, Martin Ayers

What do you do when as a Christian you have doubts about your faith? Do you hide them away, hoping no-one will notice? Do you long to ask for wise advice, but are unsure where to turn and who to trust? Do you decide to investigate what non-Christians think, to see if that makes more sense?

The first step is realising that many Christians have doubts. I would suspect that all of us at some time or another have asked:
  • Is this really true?
  • Can I believe the bible?
  • Do I really believe that Jesus is the son of God and the saviour of the world?
  • Do I really need a saviour anyway?
  • Why do so many nice, intelligent people think Christianity is a crutch and am a fool for being a Christian?
As Ayers says:
An atmosphere of unbelief surrounds us, in which declaring you are a Christian seems equivalent to admitting you’ve decided that thinking is inconvenient and you’d like to get by in life from now on without using your brain. In this environment do you ever ask yourself, “What if I really have gone mad?” (p14)
This little book will help you to think logically through doubt. It will help you to see what the alternatives on offer really are and whether that is where you want to go. It will not deal with specific doubts per se, but it will equip you with a way forward when dealing with doubts when they arise.

Ayers points our two major problems with doubt – it erodes our thinking which then affects our actions. So, he wants to arm the believer first with right thinking and then with helpful actions.

In addressing our thinking about doubt, we need to acknowledge that no-one sees anything from an unbiased point of view – the atheist, the Christian, no-one. Many atheists will acknowledge that they do not believe in God, because they do not want there to be a god. Unbelief is a matter of faith as much as belief is. If you want there to be no God, you will structure your argument around that. If you want there to be a God, you will organise your thoughts around that.
There is no neutral ground. What you believe or don’t believe has such a profound effect on your life that it’s impossible for anybody to be objective. A Christian is naturally going to be more sympathetic to arguments in favour of Christianity than somebody who hates the God of the Bible (p64)
I found this reminder that none of us are bias-free helpful, as well as the reality that we all follow a world view with a potential agenda. Along the way he points out some of the problems of choosing not to believe in God or Christianity, one of which is that we end up with a very bleak view of humanity, for there is no reason to attach any value at all to human life.

The second part moves on to our actions in the face of doubt. Ayers want us to do three things when facing doubt: remember the Fall, remember your Redeemer and remember the stakes.

Remembering the Fall means understanding how the Fall has skewed all our thinking, people do try to suppress the truth. When we have doubts, we should see what we think the alternative is and compare it just as critically. We should beware of getting caught up in small details of doubt and letting them become larger than they need to be. We should go back to the basics and remind ourselves of the fundamentals of the faith, one way he recommends we can do this is to teach children the faith. Also, we can ask for help from others and stay involved ourselves,
the further you move away from Jesus Christ and his body on earth, the church, the more your doubts will grow. You will enter a vicious circle until, if you’re not extremely careful, you’ll drift away altogether. (p90)
One of my great sadnesses over the years is seeing people do this. Starting with some doubts, they move away from God, his word and his church to try figure things out for themselves. Sadly, more often than not, they never return:
there’s no neutral territory you can slip into for a while to give you a chance to make up your mind. If you drift from the light, you drift into the darkness (p91)
He also calls us to remember our Redeemer. Check if there are idols in your life pulling you away from Jesus and helping fuel your doubts:
If you are struggling with doubt, and you are considering giving up on being a Christian, you would only give it up to live for something else. Whatever that is, whatever you choose to live for instead, death would be the end of it. Nothing else has an answer to death. (p113)
Finally Ayers encourages us to remember the stakes:
This is vitally important. The stakes are life or death. There is a kind of drifting from which there may be no way back. The clear challenge of the Bible is to keep the faith. In an environment of unbelief, it can be difficult to keep going. But keep going we must. (p137)
There are a couple of limitations of this book, mostly I agree with what Dave pointed out in his macarisms review.  I’ll let you read that, rather than rehash the same things.

All in all though a very good, short book addressing doubt for Christians. If you find yourself in that category, I hope you find it helpful. I did.

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