Friday, September 5, 2014

How Can I Be Sure?

How Can I Be Sure?How Can I Be Sure? by John Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lord I believe.  Please help my unbelief.”  The cry of faith and doubt, assured uncertainty, desperate confidence, has been the greatest source of sustained faith for me.  There are others as well, but God has used this desperate cry of a desperate father to spur me on in great seasons of doubt and, at times, despair.  How Can I Be Sure? is a question with which I have personally struggled, mightily.  And it is still, in seasons, a struggle that is much more prevalent than I would like.  I was thankful for the chance to read John Stevens work from The Good Book Company on this very personal subject.

Stevens does much well and very little for me to criticize.  I am sure, if I were a more astute reader or if I just tried really, really hard, I could nitpick or even come up with some genuine concerns.  But, be it the topic or how it is handled, this book ministered to me much too greatly for me to be able to see much wrong with it.  Stevens begins by listing some examples of people, all different people at different stages of their journey of faith, to set the stage for a conversation on doubt.

Is doubt and unbelief the same thing?  Maybe, but not always.  Like a child asking “why”, sometimes our doubt is genuine desire to know God more and the struggle that inevitably ensues when a sinful person seeks to know a holy God in a broken world, but sometimes our doubt is simply rebellious unbelief.  Stevens does a service to all doubters by differentiating clearly between the two.

“Doubt is good” is a mantra that is oft repeated in our pluralistic, relativistic age, but Stevens aids the reader in seeing that, while doubt is inevitable and the result of wrestling through doubt is good for the believer and to the glory of God, doubt is quite dangerous.  One thing he highlights that we may often miss is the peripheral danger of doubt.  It is somewhat obvious that doubt is dangerous for the one doubting because, when left unchecked and allowed to fester, it can grow into unbelief and apostasy.  An all-too-often overlooked aspect of the danger of doubt is its effect on those around us.  Stevens cautions the doubter to not be an island and to honestly express their doubts, but to do so to people who it will not hurt or cause to doubt.  This is a weaker brother argument that is much closer to Paul’s meat and drink position than the typical “alcohol is the devil”, Momma Boucher response of so many.

Stevens deals with issues of assurance, not by looking back at an experience or an earnest prayer or a date the evangelist told you to write in the front of your bible but, by encouraging the reader to trust Jesus and believe the Gospel.  His question is not so much “Have you believed the Gospel?” but “Do you believe the Gospel?”  It is important to note that this “believe” does not preclude doubt, even a season of rather intense doubt, but it is contrary to unbelief and apostasy.  Beyond just mental assent, “believing the Gospel” is inextricably linked, to some degree or another, to growth in Christlikeness.  Though this looks quite different for all and the amount of growth and areas of growth might not be as distinguishable for some as for others, citing 1 John and other biblical texts, Stevens persuasively argues that there is necessarily growth in the life of the Christian.

I once had a friend ask me what I would tell someone who was struggling, desperately, with their assurance.  My advice was to meditate on the Gospel and to avail himself of all the means of grace (corporate worship and prayer, private study and prayer, the mutual edification of Christian fellowship, the hearing of God’s Word read and preached, taking communion and witnessing baptism).  Stevens hits on essentially these items as he guides the reader on, not just how to overcome doubt but, how to “develop a confident faith”.  To flip the proverbial saying, sometimes a good defense is a good offense.  Often, the best way to fight doubt is to cut it off before it appears.  Growing in a confident faith is not a magical force field against the arrows of doubt, but it is the best way to be prepared when those shots begin to be fired.

This is a great book that I look forward to sharing with people.  Get it, read it, enjoy it.

I received a review copy from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.

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