Doubt, Faith, and Certainty by Anthony C. Thiselton

Anthony Thiselton has spent a lifetime working at the crossroads of biblical studies, philosophy, and theology. Many pastors and scholars know him from his distinguished works on philosophical hermeneutics or his massive biblical commentaries. In Doubt, Faith, and Certainty Thiselton writes with a general audience in mind, as a pastoral theologian to people struggling with spiritual doubt or overwhelmed by uncertainty.

Admittedly, he's not entirely successful in this aim! Long digressions on scholarly topics, frequent use of Greek and Hebrew words, and detailed summaries of complex thinkers like Paul Ricoeur, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and René Descartes will likely overwhelm many of the general readers he hopes to reach.

However, this small book can be very useful for pastors, chaplains, and teachers who are preparing sermons or talks that tackle the themes of doubt, faith, and certainty. The chapters read almost like working notes, shifting between biblical word studies, philosophical analysis, and theological and historical considerations—hardly elegant, but illuminating for anyone seeking clarity on the three concepts, as well as food for further reflection.

Above all, Thiselton urges that we use the words doubt, faith, and certainty in sermons, counseling, or conversation with attention to each concept's "many-sidedness in biblical, theological, and philosophical thought." Certainty, for example, can mean something different in law than it does in physics, and again in theological or pastoral contexts. Thiselton also insists that while doubt can be negative, in many situations (including in the Bible) it can stimulate fresh thought and questions, and even expose the idols we have made of belief and God. 

Perhaps the richest chapter for spiritual reflection is the final one on the Holy Spirit and certainty. Here, Thiselton argues that certainty is a gift of the Spirit that believers have in a provisional way now in Christ, but which is only complete at the last judgment, when "the partial, finite, and fragmentary will give way to understanding the whole context and entire picture of God's completed purpose." (Eerdmans)

About the Author

Todd Statham is the Christian Reformed campus minister at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia.

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