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Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship Paperback – March 30, 1995
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Newbigin spent another couple of decades learning about the changes that had occurred in society, as well as how the Gospel message fits in with this, and wrote this book at the end of his life.
The book describes with great clarity the impact of Cartesian ideas on our society ("Doubt as the path to certainty"), the correction provided by Michael Polanyi and others, and the Biblical picture of how we should think about knowing and believing. The book ends with a marvelous address in three directions: Newbigin defends his conclusions against Catholic natural theology, liberal theology, and fundamentalist theology. It is a really good book, and I recommend it highly. It is already changing the way that I think about apologetics.
But it also affects the way I think about my Christian discipleship across the board. Newbigin centers on the person of Christ. This quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer opens the book, and--now that I understand it better--sums up Newbigin's ideas well:
Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith.
He opens with a clever look at the worldviews of the ancient world. The certainty founded in the logos of Greek philosophy and that in the Israelite anthropomorphic God were suddenly challenged by the ultimate reality that was knowable in Jesus Christ. This led to Augustine's affirmation that he believed in order to know, an affirmation which Newbigin is essentially trying to resurrect.
Chapter 2 explores the Thomistic synthesis, in which natural theology and the proofs of God create a cleavage between truths demonstrable by reason and truths known only through faith. This, Newbigin says, was a mistake, because it implies that more sure grounds than the biblical narrative should be sought in the communication of the faith. This in turn led to the rationalist of Descartes which, he says, erodes inevitably into nihilism, because no knowledge can claim the kind of certainty that Descartes insisted was essential.
Chapter 4, the philosophical center of the book and foundation for Newbigin's epistemology, is an analysis of Michael Polanyi's writings. Polanyi argues that knowledge is "personal," that it is never objective and removed from the subject which claims it. Later in the book Newbigin will cite a helpful analogy from William James, that knowledge is like hanging on a breaking branch on the side of a cliff and deciding whether or not to leap to another branch. Knowledge involves personal commitment and risk.Read more ›
If you knew me, you would've heard me talk about Michael Polanyi, the 20th century scientist and philosopher whose work was the subject of my Master's thesis. Newbigin's book is a great quick reference for the application of Polanyi's thought to the Christian life, and I highly recommend it. It's only 105 pages and is written in a very accessible style. I read the whole thing this morning.
If you're curious about how Christian thought fits (or doesn't fit, as Newbigin shows) into classical, modern, or post-modern ideas about knowledge, you should read this book. If you're one of those young evangelicals that is disenchanted with the hyper-rationalistic hyper-individualistic concepts of Christianity, you should read this book. If you want to figure out whether truth is objective or subjective, you should read this book. If you want to know what is really wrong with "fundamentalist" Christianity or with "liberal" Christianity (perhaps surprisingly, it's something they have in common), you should read this book.
A few weeks back, my friend Jon (who also introduced me to home roasted coffee) wrote an interesting piece for his blog about a recent trend among young evangelicals in which many are departing to more liturgical versions of Church, especially various Eastern forms (by the way, I think the Emergent Church is sort of a wimpy American-consumer version of the same trend). It's all a sort of pre-modern postmodernism.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
After reading a biography of Descartes last year I am intrigued to hear the thoughts in this book; thoughts that question so many of the foundations of modern culture. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Graham
Fred Jappe, Science and religion Professor Mesa College, retired
Intellectuals in the West, with the enlightenment and the fruits and efforts of Science have for the... Read more
I recently was in a book discussion of Proper Confidence with a group of graduate students in the sciences and in the humanities. We enjoyed it very much and found it helpful. Read morePublished 19 months ago by david61821
Every work of Newbigin's which I have read has encouraged me to seek another. He gives both the fodder and the grain. Excellent. Read morePublished on January 28, 2014 by Amazon Customer
Newbigin is brilliant in this volume, as always. However, this felt like a more condensed version of "gospel in a pluralist society". Read morePublished on January 7, 2014 by Benjamin Morrison
This book is much more profound than one would think. Newbigin unpacks the flawed quest for certainty of the Enlightenment - which also is evident in Fundamentalism (naturally so,... Read morePublished on June 12, 2013 by S. J. Young
Very helpful. Seemed a little unnecessarily intellectual but all in all a great read. I will read once a year for sure.Published on April 28, 2013 by Gary W. Little
This is a wonderful book by a brilliant and influential theologian which will be incredibly helpful for anyone struggling with religious epistemology.Published on January 18, 2013 by Alexander J. Demarco