Faith After Doubt:
Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It
Brian D. McLaren
Geoffrey W. Sutton
Faith After Doubt reads like a spiritual memoir and, no doubt, many will find Brain’s ideas helpful. He writes well, and judging by various reviews online, he has met the needs of a lot of followers.
For young thoughtful Christians doubt can be an unwelcome guest who stays too long and keeps returning as if doubt were oblivious to the not so subtle rejection of a hostile host. McLaren embraces doubt as a catalyst to spiritual growth. His welcoming attitude toward doubt may help those struggling to close the door.
Some readers appear to have appreciated his four-stages of faith, which are frequently referred to in the book. Here’s a quick look.
1. Simplicity- Christians accept the simple faith they have been taught and many remain in that stage their entire life.
2. Complexity- Christians are learning about their faith. They are thinking and asking questions.
3. Perplexity- Christians develop scepticism regarding official teachings and churches.
4. Harmony- Christians find peace. They no longer worry about unanswered questions. Spirituality is experienced as a deep love for others and a deep connectedness with people and nature.
If the message about doubt helps, by all means read the book. If the stages of spirituality help frame your spiritual journey, then this book may be helpful. I have found some of his other books to be more interesting.
My primary difficulties with Faith After Doubt are twofold. First, His stage theory is not convincing. The stages are not supported by evidence or an in-depth analysis of the struggles of dozens or hundreds of people sharing a set of distinctive features. The flow from one stage to another is too imprecise and the role of doubt needs more clarity.
Second, he does not plumb the depths of the pain people experience during their bouts with doubt that rock their childlike faith. Brian’s discussion is too cognitive. I’m looking for that depth of emotion that plagues so many intelligent Christians. And I want to know the different ways they come to grips with spirituality.
I come to this book from a different perspective than those who have not studied religiosity from a scientific perspective or treated people whose mental health has been affected by their faith. So, I do not wish to overly critical of Brian’s work, which I hope helps a lot of people. For those looking for a more academic approach, see the writings of Julie Exline on spiritual struggles.
Geoffrey W. Sutton, PhD is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He retired from a clinical practice and was credentialed in clinical neuropsychology and psychopharmacology. His website is www.suttong.com
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