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Monday, January 5, 2015

"Permission to Doubt" (Ann C. Sullivan)

TITLE: Permission to Doubt: One Woman's Journey into a Thinking Faith
AUTHOR: Ann C. Sullivan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (176 pages).

What role has doubt to do with faith? Isn't doubt some kind of an anti-thesis to belief? Is it ok to question our own faith? Is doubt biblical? Popular speaker, Ann Sullivan feels that doubt is actually the beginning toward true faith. It may lead to many moments of dry spells or periods of difficulties and unbelief. For Sullivan, it is an honest journey toward a rediscovery of faith. Right from the start, Sullivan points out the importance of questions because they help us search for truth. Truth according to the author is defined as objective and that "it isn't threatened by our questions and doubts, nor is it determined by culture, opinion, the size of a church building, or evangelistic programs." Getting at truth is very much about asking the right questions. Truth will stand forever even as cultures, fads, trends, societies, traditions, and other human-installed devices fall away.

From the pursuit of truth, Sullivan very quickly deals with the subject of faith, calling it a mystery that requires our confidence in the God Who is in charge. She points out "three sides of doubt." The first side is spiritual doubt. She is aware that there are some kinds of doubt that are dangerous, like spiritual attack. The clue on a healthy form of spiritual doubt is intimacy. Spiritual intimacy with God breeds a healthy faith. Healthy faith means we learn to listen to God and to know God is listening to us. The second side is intellectual doubt which can be particularly challenging, even a stumbling block in itself. Readers are reminded of the Old Testament character, Job who tried to find answers to his suffering, only to be cut down to size about his own level of comprehension of the mysteries of God. If we are honest and humble about it, there would come a point where we need to acknowledge the limits of our own doubts. Here, Sullivan includes some apologetic about the existence of God, Jesus as God and the questions surrounding the authenticity of the Bible as God's Word. The third side of doubt is emotional doubt. Here Sullivan deals with the area of anxiety, depression, discouragement, disappointment, and when faith does not quite make sense. She offers some tips on how to deal with it, using biblical stories as well as modern illustrations. She writes from the heart, at times sharing from the deep experience she had recovering from her own panic disorders.

Through it all, the author has learned that doubt itself is not necessarily a barrier to faith. In fact, there is a place for honest doubts. There is a way in which we can grow more toward embracing the mystery of faith. We do not need to get all the answers before we can believe. We need permission to doubt in order to raise the right questions to help us strengthen our belief. In the Appendix, Sullivan provides us a list of ten things NOT to do as a Christian. I find that helpful as it can spawn creative ways on how we can be more faithful as a Christian. Along the way, as the author shares about her own journey of faith through doubts and challenges, she emerges a much stronger person of faith, and urges us along, encouraging us to persevere on, and to let the doubts not jeer us, but cheer us along toward truth.

This book reminds me once again that there is a kind of doubt that leads us to deeper faith, and there is also a kind of simplistic faith that leads us to unhealthy doubt. Sullivan's book points us to the former.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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