Have you chosen wisely?

I just finished reading Mark Mittelberg’s “Choosing Your Faith: In a world of spiritual options” (Tyndale: 2008). Mark had spoke at Xenos Summer Institute two years ago (http://www.xenos.org/xsi/index.htm – look in the 2008 archives for Mittelberg’s teachings) and I figured, since this years XSI is right around the corner, that I better get this book finished (I’m only two years behind). I’m very glad I did. As implied in the title, this book is about how people choose their faith, what some of those choices are, and why choosing to trust Jesus Christ is the best and only real option. I found this book to be an excellent read and highly recommend it.

The first half of the book is about how people choose their faith. Mittelberg comes up with six approaches to the faith choice:

The relativistic faith path – belief that there are differing truths that are based on personal perception and experience… truth is perspectival (p. 22)
The traditional faith path – probably the most common, the passive reception of truth — a hand-me-down religion that has never been critically examined (p. 45)
The authoritarian faith path – similar to tradition, since it is passively received, however, here it is an issue of submission to a religious leader (p. 60)
The intuitive faith path – real perception resides in feelings and instinct (p. 83)
The mystical faith path – based on claims of an actual encounter with a supernatural entity (p. 102)
The evidential faith path – logic and experience — reasoning of the mind combined with real-world information that we gain through the five senses (p. 129)

It is important to realize your “faith path” because you may be deceived. Or you may believe things and even if there are true ( I’m using “true” in the absolute sense) you don’t really know the basis for your belief. This leaves you in the very precarious position of not really knowing what you are talking about and either being susceptible to being persuaded to believe or accept something wrong or at the very least just be a poor or unconvincing witness.

The second half of the book concentrated mostly on the evidences for belief in a personal God and in particular Jesus Christ. Mittelberg called the lines of evidence “arrows” because they point to Christ. He went through twenty of these arrows which included the design argument and other similar arguments to arguments for the Bible as reliable and the best source of truth to fulfilled prophecy to the change and testimony of the disciples and testimonies of many people throughout history. Though these were not exhaustive treatises, they did illustrate the main lines of evidence for belief in Jesus and he also provided references to many sources where you could dig deeper if you wanted to. Near the end of the book he dealt with some barriers people put up towards belief which I also appreciated. You often encounter these (e.g., “we don’t know enough”, “inconsistencies in the Bible”, “suffering in the world”) when talking to folks about God. Sometimes they are raised as actual issues, sometimes as a smoke screen.

What I found most enjoyable and intriguing was the way Mittelberg wrote about these approaches. It was very conversational and not weighed down with philosophical ramblings. Yet, he didn’t skimp on some of the tough issues or nonsensical beliefs some people have. He very straightforwardly, yet graciously, challenged various beliefs based on inaccuracies and/or false claims. He also introduced the reader to logic (something you don’t see every day) in a very practical way. For example, with respect to the tradition faith approach, “somebody’s parents and teachers have to be wrong”… “opposites cannot be true”… “law of noncontradiction is an inescapable reality” (p. 50).

There is much to learn from Mittelberg and you can tell that he’s conversed with many different types of people from Mormons to Muslims and New Agers to hard-core atheists. Also, I think he brings some degree of levity and much realism to the whole aspect of witnessing. The fact is that most people don’t really have a whole lot of basis for what they believe. Why should we operate out of fear when trying to witness? Why not show people what the basis or implications for their belief is in a non-threatening way? We have the truth – or at least we have the opportunity to get to know the truth if we choose to. Others need to know the truth, after all, that’s what we are here for.

My only real critique is that it had cost too much ($19.99 new). I understand that the guy has to make a living. But, I don’t understand why Christian book publishers charge so much for books that are excellent resources for Christians to get equipped with for the ministry of reconciliation. I see now that you can get used copies for about $5 plus shipping on amazon.com. I’d definitely do that if you are interested.

7 thoughts on “Have you chosen wisely?”

  1. Greg, I loved this book and have found it useful in “going back” and revisiting conversations that I have had with ppl before. Sometimes ppl are not as closed as they seemed to be. People like to talk about what they believe. As Christians, we (well at least I do) to be silent and listen well to what others are saying. A few well placed and thoughtful questions can lead to some fruitful conversations. Thanks again for reviewing this book. I recommend others read it as well.

  2. Greg: Your review popped up tonight on a “Google Alert,” so I clicked the link and read what you wrote. Thanks for your careful and encouraging assessment. You really captured the content as well as the intent of the book! (We’ll address the cost issue you mentioned soon — when we release the paperback.)
    – With Appreciation, Mark Mittelberg
    P.S. FYI, your review was a boost for me as I’m laboring to finish a new book on the tough questions we must all face as Christians. So thanks again!

    1. Mark, how bout that “Google Alert”. I appreciate you reading my blog and commenting. Thanks for your book. You guys do great work. I look forward to your new book as well, I pray it all goes well in the writing.

      Are the “tough questions” in the new book pertaining to evangelism/apologetics or to broader aspects of lifestyle/life-focus as well? Some of the issues we’ve been wrestling with are those that center around the ineffectiveness of the church with the student populations (they are losing their own kids and not surprisingly can’t reach out to non-xian students) which seems to be a very deep and systemic issue (you can see more on our thoughts in this NEO blogosphere as well as at neozine.org). I was wondering if that issue is something you are considering?

  3. Greg: I’m dealing with 10 of the top questions that came out of a survey we did among 1000 Christians through Barna’s organization. They include classic apologetics questions as well as lifestyle issues (abortion and homosexuality).

    I’m not dealing directly with the question of how to train young people — but hope the answers in the book will help do that. I’m very attuned to (and concerned about) this issue — which is why I’ve been doing the Big Dig youth apologetics conferences (and similar ones) in the past few years — as well as the event at Xenos, which I’ve spoken at twice. There are no shortcuts: we must teach young people theology and apologetics — not just what we as Christians believe, but also why. And we need to engage them in dialog so they learn to discuss and defend their beliefs intelligently without being defensive. This requires interactive training and not just lessons or sermons.

    God bless you guys for all the ways you’re doing that! And thanks for your prayers … now back to writing!
    – Mark Mittelberg

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