Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: How Can I Be Sure?

In his book How Can I Be Sure?, John Stevens acknowledges that the people reading this book may be struggling with doubt themselves, or know others who are struggling, (Kindle location 40).  His prayer is that the reader "will be reassured to discover that doubt is a common experience for God's people, and that you [the reader] will be helped to grow stronger in your faith."

In the introduction that author goes on to state that "doubt is one of the hidden struggles that many Christians face," and he exhorts Christians to be "honest about the problem, so that we can find help and recover a joyful and confident faith," (Kindle location 31).  One problem with this book is that Mr. Stevens does not give a single definition of 'doubt', but describes it as "a number of different feelings of uncertainty."  The author notes that sometimes doubt is used to mean unbelief, (Kindle location 117), but he also says that "doubt is not the same as unbelief," (Kindle location 159).  His arguments are confusing at times because he does not have a clear thesis with defined terms stated in his book.

In addition, Mr. Stevens doesn't identify one specific object or instance of doubt, but considers a myriad of situations.  Sometimes he talks about Christians who doubt their faith, (Kindle location 602); other times he talks about Christians who doubt the existence of God, (Kindle location 876); and still other times he talks about Christian leaders who doubt the essential doctrine of Jesus' resurrection, (Kindle location 123).

It is apparent that Mr. Stevens views salvation from an Arminian point of view which means that regeneration is a synergistic process involving action from both God and man.  This view of salvation is clearly seen in his book when he writes:  "I became a Christian through the witness of a number of friends...who shared the good news about Jesus with me...I resisted God's call on my life for more than a year, but finally trusted in Christ...," (Kindle location 15), and "You are not an unbeliever until you reject Jesus as Lord," (Kindle location 348).  With this belief system in place, it's easy to see why the author is so concerned when Christians doubt their faith.  When fallen man is perceived to have the power to resist and/or reject God in accepting the Gospel, then man must also be a part of maintaining that salvation.  The Bible tells us that no man is righteous, (Rom. 3:10); therefore, losing salvation must be equally as possible as obtaining salvation in the Arminian belief system.  To say that God is not sovereign in salvation, but that He is sovereign in perseverance is inconsistent.

A more consistent view would be that God is sovereign in the salvation process because regeneration is a monergistic work of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible clearly states that no one seeks after God, (Rom. 3:11).  The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) says that the "effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power in the creature co-working with His Special grace,' (Chapter 10, paragraph 2), and that "perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father," Chapter 17, paragraph 2).  The Confession goes on to say that true believers may have their assurance shaken by negligence, sin, temptation, or God's will, yet they are never lacking the seed of God and life of faith whereby their assurance may in due time be revived, (Chapter 18, paragraph 4).  The belief that God is sovereign in salvation and perseverance is consistent and biblical.

At the end of his book, the author gives good advice on how to develop spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, but he concludes that these disciplines will help overcome doubt and develop a more secure faith.  These disciplines may help in the sanctification process, but they will not result in saving faith.  The nebulous use of the word 'doubt' in this book, along with the unbiblical view of salvation, left me doubting the author's ability to truly help strengthen Christian faith.  In How Can I Be Sure?, Mr. Stevens tries to dispel Christian doubt and give assurance of saving faith.  However, this assurance is impossible given his Arminian soteriology; therefore, I cannot recommend this book.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.