Book Interview: The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith by Trevin Wax
Monthly Archives: November 2022
LETTER TO A FRIEND ON DOUBT
A friend asked how I navigate my doubts. Here is what I wrote him:
I don’t like the word “certainty,” especially when it comes to the Christian faith.
When I teach apologetics as I did for four years at Regents School of Austin, I used the word “pointers” instead of “proofs.”
“Faith seeking understanding” is my preferred way to think about my relationship with God. The “democracy of the dead” who have helped me the most in this regard include, but are not limited to: Athanasius, Augustine, Kempis, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Baxter (and a few other Puritans), Pascal, Edwards, Herbert, Dickinson, Chesterton, Lewis, Newbigin, Willard, Bloesch, Stott, Oden, and Lundin. Most impactful living authors would include but not be limited to: Keller, Rutledge, Wood, Delbanco, Wright (NT and Christopher), McKnight, Piper, and Taylor.
You mentioned “tending your own garden.” Voltaire’s Candide is one of my favorite books. The glib Pangloss (=all tongue!) repeatedly invokes “It is the best of all possible worlds.” Exposure to the horrors of the world eventually make even him no longer believe what he is saying. For all its brilliance, Candide offers a binary trap: be superficial with the harsh realities of life or hunker down on your plot of land.
I believe (that word is instructive!) there is a third alternative: engage with the messiness of the world trusting there is a God who is really there, and more than fine with my wrestling to make sense of the Christian faith. I am grateful that God is mindful that we are but dust (Ps. 103:13,14), blessed if we believe without seeing (Jn. 20:29), and knows that the best of us sees in a mirror dimly (I Cor. 13:12).
I find it somewhat ironic that you liked Hitchens. I did too so I get it. His short book on dying (Mortality) is compelling. I love that one of the three authors that Hitchens requested be brought to him in his last days was Chesterton! The other two were Nietzsche and Mencken. Quite a trifecta! Yet, Hitchens was a man of certainty. Remember, we read and discussed god is not Great. He sounded like John R. Rice, so in the end I did not find him very illuminating.
There are many things I am not certain of, but I will mention one. As you know, I wrote my M.A. thesis (and then slightly expanded book) as a critique of annihilationists on the doctrine of hell. Though Stott, Hughes, et al. were mentioned, I spent most the time on Clark Pinnock’s view. To my delight, Professor Pinnock (along with J.I. Packer and Dallas Willard) wrote an endorsement. Pinnock said it was a fair and worthy treatment.
Years later after writing that first book (it came out in 1995), I am not so sure about many aspects related to the nature and duration of hell.
The following are some of the things that give me a “proper confidence” of what I believe.
*I start with the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. From there, I look at how Jesus handled the Scriptures. See John Wenham’s book, Christ and the Bible. I am fairly confident this is a wise way to proceed.
*I intentionally seek out alternative views to my own. It is why I listened to all three cable stations (we no longer have cable) and in the car listen to everything from NPR to right wing radio. It is also why Ralph Waldo Emerson has been a major conversation partner for over two decades. He wrote things that I need to hear, even and maybe especially when they make me angry.
*I seek out people who are willing to interact over the most contentious issues of the day. For example, in both writing, teaching, and conversations I had many vigorous discussions with pro-Trump Christians. In some of the best conversations we each learned some things we would not have otherwise learned. It is true that I remained a Never-Trumper, but my objections were clarified/slightly modified by these conversations.
You could read this as apologetic that there are others who have not bowed a knee to the Baal of certitude. You may be surprised that there are more than you imagined!