John Ortberg, bestselling author and evangelical pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, begins this soul-searching book by sharing a secret. He has doubts. Even though he reports to have spent a good part of his life "studying and thinking and reading and teaching about God," growing up in a church, attending a faith-based college and then seminary, he still owns up to doubts about faith and God.
But equally important, Ortberg has faith. Faith enough to "have bet the farm," so to speak. He tells readers to consider this mystery that touches every human being: there is an element where faith is incomprehensible. He remarks that the title of his book is not very catchy, but it's the one word in the middle that's most important for readers to understand because "most people are a mix of the two." So, he poses this question: Is it possible that doubt can sometimes be good for us?
This text will answer that question by jumping immediately into the theology of why or why not we believe in God, followed closely by why humans want to believe and why we often want to doubt. Readers will discover that Ortberg, who writes with many comical asides, frequently woos them into a discussion much more thought provoking than they had originally bargained for. And yet he makes the mental gymnastics worth the expenditure.
Ortberg offers evangelicals and faith seekers/doubters alike a comfortable place to settle in and slowly digest what, for ages, smart minds have been pondering. Quoting from theologians, philosophers and the like, he gives just enough meat for readers to contemplate and chew on before setting the next course before them to digest. He asks his readers to pose the question "Why bother?" because intelligent people have disagreed on faith and belief systems ever since the beginning. Specifically, Ortberg explains why neutrality is a bad choice, discusses whether faith or doubt is the more rational position, and provides a visually graphic analogy about a flying trapeze artist jumping into the air believing (faith) his partner will catch (doubt?) him. Interesting.
Readers will similarly mull over the kinds of belief that really matter day to day, for everyone holds public convictions, private convictions and core convictions. The real question is, how do these convictions compare to Jesus' convictions? Interestingly, Ortberg notes what most individuals already realize --- that some people who maintain a 100% orthodox creed both privately and publicly are often ones who hold a "mental map" characterized by a life of greed, selfishness, arrogance and lovelessness. Another might not appear very orthodox in his faith and yet is more like Jesus' mental map on such issues as generosity, forgiveness, grace and love. Again, beliefs matter and spill out into every area of one's existence.
In a day where just about everything is being called into question, Ortberg's text is timely and authentic. FAITH & DOUBT is a real keeper for thoughtful readers who understand that their doubts are not necessarily evil and their faith is often its close counterpart.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on November 13, 2011