Wednesday, March 2, 2011

REVIEW: Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense by Brian D. McLaren

by A. C. LaMonica

Finding Faith---A Search for What Makes Sense [Book]After hearing of my loss of faith, a family member recently sent me Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense by Brian D. McLaren; no doubt out of a genuine concern for my spiritual well-being. I decided to sit down and read through it with an open-mind out of respect for my family whom I love.

Finding Faith begins with a foreword by Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Global, Faithworks, and www.church.co.uk. This was a discouraging introduction to a book I hoped would give some interesting and unique insights into faith and belief in God. Wasting absolutely no time, Chalke mentions Jesus and how he never forced or manipulated anyone into believing him but rather “always left room for doubt…” Already I could see how reading this book would prove to be a difficult search for what makes sense in itself!

Based on the simple idea expressed here, does it make sense that Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, would take the most eternally important decision of belief and intentionally always leave room for doubt? As if the leap of faith wasn’t difficult enough, adding room for doubt makes it virtually impossible for a reasonable person. And how does providing proof of something force or manipulate anyone to believe something? The creationists prove this point perfectly. Despite the mountains of scientific evidence supporting the age of the earth, evolution, etc. they choose not to believe it. If there is evidence or proof of something, you accept it! There is no belief involved!

In the introduction, Why Is the Search for Faith So Hard?, McLaren says that the purpose of the book is to “help you replace the faith you lost, invigorate the faith you have, and develop the faith you desire but never had before.” I can only say that after reading this book it has simply reaffirmed my belief that most Christians are not being intellectually honest with themselves.

In chapter one, McLaren provides a definition of faith as a state of relative certainty and confesses that we do not have absolute certainty in life and “especially in matters of the spiritual life.” I couldn’t agree more. Brian goes on to describe his ideas of good faith vs. bad faith and to my surprise, includes creationists as an example of bad faith (albeit indirectly). One of this apologist’s saving graces is that he appears to be able to “entertain a thought without accepting it.” to quote Aristotle. He is more open to questions other Christians would see as a threat to their faith and avoid at all costs. However, how an educated man like McLaren retains his faith through the scope of reason is an amazing feat and sounds like quite the struggle for him at times (pgs.93-94). 

Each chapter is titled with an intriguing and reasonable question regarding belief, religion and the existence of God. Unfortunately, the author never really answers the questions or makes such a feeble attempt to give an answer that you may as well not even read it. Instead he offers incredible assumptions and pseudo-reason to explain his arbitrary conclusions. For example, in chapter one, he says the following in describing “good faith”:

“Good faith is relational. If I believe there is a personal God behind (and with) the universe, shouldn’t my search for truth in God’s universe begin with an acknowledgment of my relationship with God? In other words, given my personal limitations and the limitations of human knowledge, wouldn’t it make sense to live in dependence on God to help me learn and search fruitfully—and more, to live with expectancy and hope that God will in some way be my teacher and guide? Wouldn’t my relationship with God thus become the basis or context for my search for truth? And shouldn’t I consider what loyalties and responsibilities are incumbent upon me as a party in this relationship with God?”

After reading this, my response was, “What?! I haven’t even made it past chapter one and he is saying this?!” McLaren asks these questions as if the answers should be obvious to the reader. This line of thinking and its presentation is common amongst apologetics. The author appears to follow some sort of logic and thus appeals to the eager reader seeking something that makes sense. Is it rational to begin with a belief and then try to prove it or is it rational to ask a question and seek the answer based on evidence? Obviously, Brian McLaren prefers the former.

In chapter two, the author explains how we all live by faith of some kind or another and that is inescapable. I agree but this does not excuse every faith-based belief from our faculties of reason. We have “faith” in gravity because we can observe it, experience it and verify its presence with objective evidence. Could we say that we have faith in God for those same reasons?

He then goes on to liken the search for God as to shouting out in the dark for someone. We need to act as if someone is there in order get our answer. With this in mind, if you called out for someone in the dark and received no answer, which of the following possible conclusions would you make?

A.) No one is there.
B.) Someone is there but they are invisible and choose not to use an audible voice to answer.

My guess is that most reasonable people would choose “A” but apply this same logic to God and suddenly “B” makes sense.

Chapter four brings us to McLaren’s explanation of the term atheism. At this point, I am not surprised when he completely misconstrues the concept. He says that atheism is a position of faith “because no one can prove conclusively that God doesn’t exist.” If McLaren actually understood atheism, he would realize that atheists would agree that no one can prove God doesn’t exist. They would also agree that no one can prove the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Zeus or unicorns do not exist. Even one of the most prominent atheists, Richard Dawkins says, “…there almost certainly is no god.” The difference between faith in atheism vs.  faith in theism is that atheism is a belief based on evidence or lack thereof. Clearly, the “faith” of atheism is in no way like that of theism. 

Again, Brian makes a faulty assumption about atheism and agnosticism (pg.123) in saying that people of these philosophies think the “whole spiritual side of life is not worth even thinking about.” Recently, Sam Harris addressed this common connotation at the 2007 Atheist Alliance Conference. I highly recommend Mr. McLaren watch or read that poignant speech and then tell me what he thinks.

Overall, Finding Faith was an interesting read if only just to get into the head of a Christian and see how they manage to believe what they believe (albeit irrationally). McLaren makes huge assumptions to get to his personal mindset in regards to God’s existence and religion. In his reasoning and questioning, I think he even manages to inadvertently make some good arguments for disbelief in God. Although I don’t agree with just about every assertion made by McLaren in this book, I do commend him for his acceptance of evolution, openness to change, and willingness to ask tough questions. If it must exist, I think Christianity would be better off with more believers like Brian D. McLaren.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I recently wrote a similar (though much more condensed) version of this same review on Goodreads. I read it back in 2012, at the recommendation of my grandmother, and it was utter nonsense. I threw it away when I was done, so that none of my shipmates would read it and actually reinforce this way of thinking.

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