Brian Zahnd – Christian Certitude: A Disaster Waiting to Happen


Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.

– George MacDonald

In my spiritual memoir, Water To Wine, part of the story I tell involves my own journey away from cheap certitude toward an authentic faith. It is a phenomenon of modernity that certitude (mental assent toward something as an absolute empirical fact) has become confused with faith (an orientation of the soul toward God in the form of deep trust).

That this phenomenon is prevalent among certain streams of Christians is strangely ironic since this involves genuflecting at the altar of empiricism and privileging knowledge over faith. Privileging empiricism above faith as the final arbiter of truth is a hallmark of modernity, but it is also antithetical to Christianity.

Certitude is a poor substitute for authentic faith. But certitude is popular; it’s popular because it’s easy. No wrestling with doubt, no dark night of the soul, no costly agonizing over the matter, no testing yourself with hard questions. Just accept a secondhand assumption or a majority opinion or a popular sentiment as the final word and settle into certainty.

Certitude is easy…until it’s impossible. And, that’s why certitude is so often a disaster waiting to happen. The empty slogan “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is cheap certitude, not genuine faith.

The Cost of Real Faith

Real faith will cost you. Real faith is forged in the fiery theodicy of Job’s bitter trial where every assumption of the goodness of God is put to the test. Real faith is found during the forty-day wilderness temptation where the first question from the tempter is, “Are you sure?” Real faith reaches the apex of “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” only after the agonizing cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We have to wrestle with doubt to arrive at real faith. Certitude can’t be bothered with all that. Real faith has room for doubt — understanding that the effort to believe is the very thing that makes doubt possible. Real faith is not afraid of doubt, but the faux faith of certitude is afraid of its own shadow.

I have no idea how to arrive at real faith without a journey involving doubt. The mistake of pop apologetics — the silly kind that looks for an ancient boat on a Turkish mountaintop or Egyptian chariots on the bottom of the Red Sea — is that it is an attempt to do away with the need for faith altogether!

The Noah’s Ark hunters want to “prove” God so that faith will be unnecessary. But God does not traffic in the empirically verifiable. God refuses to prove himself and perform circus tricks at our behest in order to obliterate doubt. Frederick Buechner says it this way:

“Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”

The problem with the kind of certitude found in fundamentalist biblicism is that it truly is a disaster waiting to happen. You’re just one new atheist argument away from abandoning Christianity altogether. Yes, this happens!

When a pastor in my city trained in fundamentalist biblicism encountered a crisis of faith — and we all do! — he was completely ill-equipped to deal with it. After a lonely year-long struggle with doubt he finally announced to his congregation on the Sunday after Easter that he had become an atheist and was leaving the ministry.

At first glance it might appear that the move from fundamentalism to atheism is a tremendous leap of faith, but this may not necessarily be so. Fundamentalism and atheism are two sides of the same thin empiricist coin. And, it’s why certitude is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Sin of Certainty

This is why I’m so enthusiastic about Peter Enns’ new book The Sin of Certainty. I read it recently while on a family reunion houseboat vacation. It’s excellent!

Peter Enns is a biblical scholar who has been on a fascinating journey from faith as a knowledge set to faith as trust in God. Of course, a journey like that often involves a “dark night of the soul” — and Peter does a marvelous job telling his own “dark night of the soul” story in an honest and transparent way. To understand what Peter means by “the sin of certainty” here is an excerpt from his book:

Read HERE the entire article.





Brian Zahnd  

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Brian and his wife, Peri, founded the church in 1981. Brian is also the author of several books, including, A Farewell To Mars, Beauty Will Save the World, Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness and his latest, Water to Wine. He also blogs at


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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