I would not be working in San Francisco to help start the Newbigin House of Studies if I was not a fan of the great British missionary-theologian Lesslie Newbigin. I was first introduced to his works in college, and I’ve been hooked since. I’ll likely talk more about him later, but one big idea has captivated me – Confidence trumps certainty.
Confidence emerges from trust. Certainty emerges from insecurity. Confidence breeds humility. Certainty breeds arrogance. Confidence manifests in a concern for the doubter, the weak, and the fragile. Certainty manifests in violence and fractured relationships.
I want to be a confident Christian, not a cocky Christian. Anne Rice just ‘quit’ Christianity (whatever that means) because she was tired of a Christianity steeped in certainty. But, confident Christianity isn’t weak-kneed and cynically doubtful, either. Newbigin says, “…if the biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to a human being will be one which rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the competence of the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty which is inseparable from gratitude and trust.” At 40, I am thankful for God’s fidelity, which trumps my feeble attempts to build a Tower of Babel into the heavens…
More from Newbigin:
In seeking a kind of supracultural and indubitable certainty, these [fundamentalist] Christians have fallen into the trap set by Descartes. They are seeking a kind of certainty that does not acknowledge the certainty of faith as the only kind of certainty available. The only one who has a context-independent standpoint is God. . . . To convert the Bible into a compendium of indubitably certain facts is to impose upon it a character alien to itself, a character that is the typical product of minds shaped by the Enlightenment”. page 99-100
“The confidence proper to a Christian is not the confidence of one who claims possession of a demonstrable and indutitable knowledge. It is the one who has heard and answered the call that comes from the God through him and for whom all things were made: “Follow Me”.
Read Newbigin’s Proper Confidence here