“Faith and Doubt” by John Ortberg

image I like what John Ortberg writes.  I heard him once when he was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek.  In his latest book, Faith and Doubt, he is honest about his faith and his doubts.  Ortberg assures us that doubt is not the opposite of faith.  The line between belief and unbelief may be less a dividing line between hostile camps than a razor’s edge that runs through every soul.  “The beliefs that really matter,” he writes, “are the ones that guide our behaviour.”

To illustrate the point he describes three kinds of belief:

Public convictions
These are the things which we want other people to believe we believe.  But we may not actual believe them. They are beliefs of convenience which allow us to remain insiders.

Private convictions
This are the things we think we believe even if our lives give evidence to the fact we don’t. Ortberg gives the fictional story of Elmery Gantry as an example:

The novel tells the story of a young, narcissistic, womanising college athlete who becomes a notorious and cynical alcoholic. Gantry is mistakenly ordained as a minister. He acts as manager for Sharon Falconer, an itinerant evangelist. Gantry becomes her lover but loses both her and his position when she is killed in a fire at her new tabernacle. Gantry contributes to the downfall, physical injury, and even death of key people around him, including a genuine minister, Frank Shallard.

Asked by a reported, in the light of his chaotic lifestyle, if he believed what he preached, Gantry replies: “When I’m preaching, I do!”

And core convictions
These are the things we actual believe and therefore shape our behaviour.  Gravity, heat, the impact of coffee. This is our “mental map”.This is where our doubts exist.  If what we say we believe hasn’t shaped our core convictions then pain, grief, injustice and so on will rock our inner being. Ortberg notes what most individuals already know – that some people who maintain a 100% orthodox creed both privately and publicly are often ones who hold a "mental map" characterised by a life of greed, selfishness, arrogance and lovelessness. Someone else might not appear very orthodox in his faith and yet is more like Jesus’ “mental map” on such issues as generosity, forgiveness, grace and love. Again, core convictions matter and spill out into every area of one’s existence.

The work of the pastor/teacher and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is, surely, to impact the core convictions of people’s lives, so that they can build lives on the rock and not on straw.

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