A few times in my life I have had a book in mind, and have just begun to write it when I come across a book on the same concept. That just happened to me today. For some time I’ve been hoping to write a book about doubt and faith–talking through some of my own faith journey and exploring some of the chief aspects of my own return from the abyss of doubt. I had even begun to sketch out some ideas on my blog. However, I then picked up a copy of Jaded Faith by Jarod Osborne. This book so completely nails what I wanted to do that I don’t see any reason to write the book I had in my head. Osborne’s book is the perfect companion for those of us that “have our doubts.” Here’s three reasons why:
1) Osborne has gone father into the abyss of doubt than most who write on this subject (including me.) There are many great books on faith and doubt. I have most of the best ones on my bookshelf, the names of the authors include Hecht, Strobel, Ortberg, Guiness, Lewis, and Newbigin. These are good works (some are indeed classics on the subject)–but they are either by those who have been convinced for a very long time–or by those who came to faith late in life and offer a testimonial apologetic of sorts. Osborne’s story is one of a child of the Church who walked out to look out into the abyss of doubt, much like I did, but then (unlike me) he journeyed to the depths where the sun doesn’t shine, and hiked out on the other side of doubt. So I recommend his book which already exists over mine that is just in my head. My ideas on this subject are like someone who visited the rim of the Grand Canyon written for people that have never been to Arizona. His are from an experienced hiker who made it to Phantom Ranch and the river at the bottom of the canyon, and came back to tell you how to make it out as well.
2) Osborne structures his book not as an apologetic (from the perspective of Church Dogmatics) but instead from the perspective of the key concerns which cause us to doubt. Yes, that list is different for everyone, but he hits the hot topics as they come instead of starting with the doctrine. Many similar books are really just apologetics books masquerading as books on doubt. Yes, Jarod spends his fair amount of time on creeds, theology, the Church Fathers, and tradition–but he lands the plane at these issues, instead of taking off from them as given starting points. I think this helps. His chapters end up being “reasons” for a jaded faith to turn into a properly confident faith (nod to Newbigin). The chapters/reasons are: Meltdown, Narrow Path, Dull Church, Hypocrites, Pain and Suffering, Rationalism, Evolution, Relativism, the Other Reason, and Moving Forward with Life. This is a well-written book with a good structure. Here’s an excerpt to prove it. (His introduction is quite well written and he “had me at hello” with his writing style.)
3) Osborne also does what so many of we emerging church leaders (including me) sometimes have trouble doing: he knows how to offer a reconstruction of faith instead of just a deconstruction. Emerging Church Leaders (whoever that might be anymore) are notoriously skilled at deconstruction. We have a sharp scalpel for cutting away the fat of evangelically ingrown errors and extraneous emphases in the church. However, we are not very good at offering the hope that comes from a fully orbed and eventually fairly complex theological system we might call “Christianity.” We are like first graders that learned how to subtract but never learned to add. This means that many of those with a jaded faith are left without much to count on after they read us. Put another way (hopefully not too unfairly): after reading a bit of Rob Bell many believe less in Hell, but few believe more in Heaven. Our emerging churches have too often become short-term waypoints on the young evangelical drift away from the faith. They start in the megachurches, or traditional churches, and after becoming disenchanted they come to us. We then nurture that disenchantment such that eventually they leave the faith altogether. I’ve seen that story repeated dozens of times. The emerging church has too often become the cramped connecting flight between the airport of faith and the hub of agnosticism. I know this because I’ve been a part of it. I’ve been part of the problem at times. Osborne, however, actually reconstructs a faith that is fairly robust (for a book of only 158 pages.) I admire that and learned a lot from it in his book. I hope to learn that skill well.
Do I have any critiques to the book? Well, I honestly wouldn’t have minded if it was a bit longer. Osborne has a lot of great ideas. More books are on the way I suspect. Also, I wouldn’t have minded if Osborne spent the first few chapters just walking us through his descent into doubt without resolving it early. Instead, he tips his hand at his redemption quite early–and instead he weaves his doubt journey into the rest of the story (usually at the beginning of each chapter). This works, and certainly ensures that someone reading the book doesn’t get depressed 25 pages into it and lose their faith because of it (a valid concern, of course). However, I for one could have “dwelled in the doubt” with him for a bit at the beginning–as you can see through the book that his doubts were/are real and vivid–and that adds a lot of credibility for me, and most of his readers I think. However, this is a minor issue and in fact only a preference of mine, not really a valid critique. Besides, the three reasons I love the book are so significant it overwhelms this preference: his experience, his structure, & his reconstructionism.
So, there’s three reasons why I’m not going to write a book like this. Jarod Osborne already wrote it–and his book is way better than mine would be–so that’s why I ordered several copies of his book to put on my shelf to give away when I come across someone with a faith that has become jaded. I’m so glad Osborne wrote this book because now I don’t have to. On to other book projects!