The book is titled Choosing Your Faith In a World of Spiritual Options. Thankfully Mark Mittelberg, who wrote it, knew where to begin, for the first question that’s bound to come up is, Why choose any faith? It’s a good question, but I won’t take credit for it; I borrowed it straight from the title of his first chapter. Why write about choosing a faith? Is it any more relevant than a book about, say, Choosing Your Sword in a World of Knighthood? Well, yes, of course it is. Mittelberg cites evidence that religion’s influence remains strong in North America (if he had ventured into the rest of the world he could have shown the same, even more so).
Faith is a fact of life apart from religious belief. Mittelberg says of atheist extraordinaire Richard Dawkins (p. 11),
Whether the chances are large or small, the important thought to catch here is that Dawkins doesn’t know there is no God—and he even concedes the possibility that some kind of God might actually exist. Rather, he takes it on faith that there actually is no God….
That’s just the way life is. We all live by some form of faith. Which leads us to the central question: Is ours a well-founded faith? A wise faith? A faith that makes sense and is supported by the facts? One that works in real life and is worth hanging on to?
More personally, is yours a faith you’ve really thought about, carefully evaluated, and intentionally chosen—or did you just slide into it at some point along the way?
That question is directed at all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. The next six chapters expose common ways people choose their faith: pragmatism and relativism, tradition, authoritarian sources, intuition, the mystical approach, and “logic, evidence, and science,” with an emphasis on “I’ve gotta see it to believe it.” Chances are you’re going to find yourself described in one of those chapters or some mix thereof. Chances are especially good if you’ve never given your faith much thought. Faith, after all, is a synonym for belief; and how many of us really pay attention to why we believe what we believe?
So it behooves each of us to reflect on where we’ve come from in choosing our faith. Mittelberg prefers a version of the logic, evidence and science path, renamed the Evidential path in chapter eight:
It’s the one path that tests—and ultimately supports or undermines—all the others. Its two key elements, logic and sensory experience, are God-given tools we must use to gain the vast majority of our information, to test truth claims, and ultimately to decide what to believe.
The other faith paths do not necessarily lead to the wrong destination, but within them there is little or no means of testing, nothing to correct us if, for example, we rely on tradition for tradition’s sake. (“Your parents could be wrong,” he says. I suppose that even applies to my kids’ parents.) Going on,
The Evidential approach tells us logically and empirically that there is one set of truths—based on actual, what is reality—that we need to discover and let inform our choice of faiths. We can use these tools to test traditional teachings, religious authorities, intuitive instincts and hunches, and mystical encounters, so we can know which ones are worth believing and holding on to.
On another thread I’ve been debating whether it’s conceptually possible for God to reveal himself to us just through direct impressions (the sensus divinitatus) such that we could reliably know that the encounter we’re having is with God. Clearly if there’s a God, it’s unreasonable to assume that he could not do that. I’ve had many experiences I would describe that way. For purposes of that discussion, it’s logically sufficient to establish that if there is a God, then God could do that. But that’s a very limited point, for a very limited purpose. (I wouldn’t have brought it up here except I knew it would be brought up for me if I didn’t.)
The fact is that even though I know God can convince me of his reality any way he wants to, nevertheless when I have an experience that seems like God, I want some way to check whether I’m getting it right or if I’m mistaken. We’re not left only to our impressions, as it turns out, nor are we stuck in a morass of doubt where we have nothing to turn to besides tradition, authority, feelings, or the science of the laboratory. All of these have checks and balances coming from a most useful source: objective reality. Mittelberg explores logical, scientific, and historical criteria for choosing one’s beliefs, along with ways to assess the biblical and historical evidences for Jesus Christ.
Like his friend (and author of the foreword to this book) Lee Strobel, Mittelberg writes on a very accessible level. I recommend this book highly for the seeker in your life (including yourself, if you are that seeker). For church study groups, it could provide good discussion material for assessing various worldviews. (Mary Jo Sharp recently recommended this book for the same purpose.) I especially appreciate that Mittelberg emphasizes how to think about spiritual questions rather than telling us what to think. Of course he lands on his own solid conclusion: that faith in Jesus Christ is an excellent choice, the only one that makes good sense. But he gets there through a thoughtful path that should help readers think thoughtfully about their own paths.
Choosing Your Faith In a World of Spiritual Options by Mark Mittelberg. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. 254 pages plus endnotes. Amazon price US$13.59 hardcover.