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Book Review


THE SIN OF CERTAINTY: Why God desires our trust more than our “correct” beliefs by Peter Enns. Harper One, 2016. Hardcover, 228 pages, $31.99 (Can). Reviewed by Edwin Buettner.

Peter Enns, professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, has written a rather provocatively titled book laced with a good deal of self-deprecating humour. Lest any potential reader suspect sinister motives on the part of the author, his words should provide some reassurance: “This book is about faith, doubt, and the wisdom of not needing to know and learning that trusting God is the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian path.”

While competently drawing on his background in Scripture and theology, it is the author’s own faith journey that provides the substance for his writing and enhances its credibility. The reader becomes privy to a series of crisis points that culminate in a radical shift in Enns’ personal faith perspective. One might say that in this book he writes less as a professor and more as a pilgrim.

The following quotation serves well as a summary of the book: “. . . belief and faith in the Bible are just different ways of saying trust” (italics added). By no means is Enns dismissing the need for theology and creed; he affirms that humans were created with a capacity to think and a desire for understanding. What he is saying is that the fullness of the mystery of God can never be captured by our thoughts and speculations, important as those are. It is when we substitute thoughts about God for an authentic relationship that we enter a zone of spiritual peril: “The need for certainty is sin because it works off of fear and limits God to our mental images.”

A tone of bold (and at times brutal) honesty runs through Enns’ writing. He is not afraid to shed light on those places in the Bible that have often been ignored or even purposefully hidden by liturgists, teachers, and theologians. He cites numerous examples from the Psalms, including Psalm 88, which he summarizes as “. . . You (God) keep on hiding. I’m in absolute pain and the only friend I have is darkness.” As well, some might characterize a few chapter titles as at least a little irreverent. For example, the chapter on Book of Job is called “Don’t even try to understand what God is up to.”

However, Enns is not going out of his way to simply be outrageous; rather, he is emphasizing that, as is the case with human relationships, honesty is essential to building trust. Insincere and pious platitudes that mask painful realities will not do. On the other hand, the hard-to-hear parts of the Bible “have a lot to say about trusting God precisely because they go to the dark places of faith.”

For this author, faith (i.e. trust) means that one must be careful about seeking the answer(s) to the “whys” of life’s challenges. While study and reflection do provide needed context, ultimately thoughts alone will be inadequate. What does satisfy is “letting go of the need to know . . . because God is God.”