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Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  517 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Looking to end the divisive conflict that has raged between Christians who attack each other either as "liberals" or as "fundamentalists," Newbigin here gives a historical account of the roots of this conflict in order to begin laying the foundation for a middle ground that will benefit the Christian faith as a whole. What results is a perspective that allows Christians to ...more
Paperback, 111 pages
Published March 30th 1995 by Eerdmans
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Steph Miller
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
At the risk of sounding fanatical, I will begin by saying I wish more Christians would read Newbigin! He is such a *deep* thinker, and has really helped me sort through my uneasiness about the fundamentalist focus on "certainty." He traces this back to Descartes and the West's resulting dependence on dualistic thinking, particularly where it comes to the objective vs. the subjective. I love how he so eloquently brought Michael Polanyi into the conversation, with an emphasis on his concept of "pe ...more
Joel Wentz
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding, and worth revisiting (which I plan to do regularly). Newbigin is conversant in broad streams of history, philosophy, and theology, and manages to weave them all together into a an argument with seismic implications: the West's worship of epistemological 'certainty' inevitably leads towards nihilism and disaster (a proposal that's hard to ignore in 2019). He systematically responds to thoughtful counter-arguments, ultimately leveling a significant critique at both liberal and fundame ...more
Jul 01, 2010 rated it liked it
A very helpful book. Newbigin critiques Descartes' program to find absolute certainty in our knowledge, "certainty" here meaning validation of a truth claim beyond any conceivable doubt. He succinctly maps out many of the historical consequences of the Descartes' influence on western thought and culture, a culture which has largely and with deep irony abandoned the possibility of having absolute certainty in knowledge.

In place of exalting doubt as the key principle in a search for knowledge, Ne
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Simply put, this is essential reading for understanding the Western mind in relation to "faith, doubt, and certainty." Being only a little over 100 pages it is mostly introductory, but what a full introduction it is.
Israel Ruiz
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You can' afford not reading it.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an amazing read. Honestly, this is a book I will probably come back to again and again. It is full of incredibly thoughtful ideas that are important to consider, many of which I hadn't considered in the way that Newbigin articulates. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, but he is clearly brilliant, and I really want to contemplate it some more.

So, why not 5 stars? Well, It's very short. I like that, but he packs so much into it and covers so much ground, that it make for a very
Caroline Abbott
Jul 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
I know this book is supposed to be a classic theological book, but I had a very difficult time getting anything out of it. I had to read it for a theology class I'm taking. It was written in 1995. I guess they didn't use headings and sub- headings back then, or at least this author didn't. Each long chapter was just paragraph after paragraph of difficult concepts. If there were subheadings, I feel like I might have been able to focus and concentrate on all the subjects. As it was, it was a waste ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
While providing a helpful critique of Descartes' epistemology, Newbigin has bolstered my confidence in Jesus and the appropriateness of my adherence to Christianity. Newbigin claims that possession of demonstrable and indubitable knowledge is far inferior to personal commitment, for Christians, this is a commitment to a relationship with Jesus. I've never before read a defense of Christianity as contained in this book, but I have found it to be truly helpful.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physical-library
Well-written and balanced, the author discusses the role of faith and reason in ordering the human life and understanding. This is particularly relevant to apologetics. It's a short read, but it required concentration and thought. I do not know whether I agree with the author about the limits of reason and the role of faith, but I respect his argument and I am grateful for this book. I recommend it to any thinking person.
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: apologetics
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Newbigin does a great job here of demonstrating the truth of this proposition. His discussion of Descartes and absolute certainty shows the important between certain knowledge and useful wisdom. He shows the bankruptcy of all non-Christian epistemologies and the supremacy of the Biblical meta-narrative.
Sep 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The first half of this book hurt my brain. (I deal much better in the world of concrete thoughts and actions than I do in abstract thinking.)
Mike Joyce
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A powerful tool for addressing the secular, postmodern world.
Taylor Breckenridge
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
great short read for anyone interested in Christianity's relationship with philosophy, and its effects on the Church today.
Tim Hoiland
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anglican, faith
My interest in Newbigin was rekindled after hearing Michael Goheen speak recently about his personal and scholarly interest in bringing the best thinking of Newbigin together with the ideas of Abraham Kuyper as a cohesive framework he calls “missional Kuyperianism.”

With this in mind I recently read Newbigin’s Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans). It’s a little book with big implications. Newbigin presents an alternative to both the theologically lib
Peter B.
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, apologetics
Very insightful and helpful, except for a few pages at the end. In short, Newbigin explains how a pursuit for an impersonal objective certainty based on reason has led the West into doubt and skepticism and how hope lies in recovering a theory of knowledge that includes personal commitment. By definition, only God can explain His purposes in creation and providence, and by definition we must trust Him on His word.

While this book has many good insights (historical and theological), near the end
Nate Walker
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life my first year of seminary. It taught me the humility to see my knowledge of God was not as a scientist mastering his subject, but as a person being mastered and encountered by a personal God. The fruit of this was it freed me to listen to others much better than I had. I will never have the level of control over the knowledge of God that modernity and fundamentalism seek. I have simply responded to Jesus call, "Follow me." There is no avoiding that my knowledge of him i ...more
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is extremely helpful in understanding today's division between liberal/fundamentalist Christianity. Newbigin traces the path of secular ideas throughout modern history and shows that our understanding of "truth" is more bound by the psuedo-logic of Descartes and Enlightenment thinking than anything truly biblical. (For example, why start our foundational knowledge with "I think, therefore I am" instead of "I love, therefore I am"? It is an arbitrary starting point.) If our confidence a ...more
Jon Patterson
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A tad repetitive, but very helpful read! What does it mean to have a "proper confidence" in our beliefs as Christians? Is there a happy medium between the uncertainty and shakable nature of a great deal of liberal theology and the dogmatic, close-mindedness that characterizes fundamentalism? Newbigin says yes in this short read, laying out false dichotomies that we have accepted as a result of certain philosophies (such as Descartes of the Enlightenment) and showing that there does not have to b ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
newbigin is brilliant in this volume, as always. however, this felt like a more condensed version of "gospel in a pluralist society". the only additions i really noticed were a more in-depth history on the development of enlightenment thought in europe and more direct reference and quoting of polanyi (whose epistemology newbigin rests on heavily). though i did enjoy it since it has been a while since i read gospel in a pluralist society, i'd save your money on this volume and just go for Gospel ...more
Mayowa Adebiyi
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Newbigin is one of those theologians, he possesses a rare combination of simplicity and complexity in his thoughts. This book is about faith and towing the line between not being one of those liberals or one of those conservatives. This is a survey of western intellectual history of ideas and how it relates to the faith.

Two key figures to note in Newbigin's analysis are Polanyi and Descartes, with the former as a suitable corrective to the latter's isolated notion of certainty, blame it all on s
Robert Murphy
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is a dense, dense book that made me slow way down and consider what it was saying. The foremost impression I have is of a man who was an avowed liberal and had moved very much to the right, but wanted to reach colleagues of all theological stripes. Because it is a small book, he probably achieved his goal, but I'm not sure this book will help everyone. Personally, I find D.A. Carson more lucid and Van Til more insightful in picking an choosing a "proper" path between Modernism and Postmoder ...more
Jun 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Briefly mapping the intellectual history of Europe since Augustine, Newbigin sets a path towards an appropriate understanding of faith in a postmodern context. In the midst of this ambitious project, Newbigin also weighs the critiques and responses of liberal, fundamentalist and natural theologies in this intellectual climate. Newbigin provides a brief yet incredibly insightful overview of the place of faith within the postmodern milieu. A
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Newbigin was so important in my intellectual growth. This and "Foolishness to the Greeks" (which I liked more) give the Christian (and non-Christian) such an important understanding of how society has changed and developed since the Enlightenment. For the Christian it outlines how one should operate (or what the "Proper Confidence" they should have in today's age. Really fast read, if you like it you should aslo read "Foolishness to the Greeks."
Corey D Grinder
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Conservative, Liberal or True?

While not a new book, Newbigin's experience and insight into the nature of knowledge and learning by faith--more in line with Augustine's "I believe therefore I know" that Descartes' "I know therefore I believe"--is an essential read for those who wish to speak the truth in love to those who have been deceived about both the identity of Love and belonging to the Truth.
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've ever read. Simple (I believe it's 100 pages or less) and applicable (deals with one of our current ways of thinking). It was wonderful for me because these were the questions I'd been having - what is the nature of knowledge? how does a person put down roots, into a belief, in such a complex world? and how should I think about certainty? - and no other book, or human being, had either addressed them or addressed them this well. Wonderful.
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christianity
So much to think about

After reading a biography of Descartes last year I am intrigued to hear the thoughts in this book; thoughts that question the foundations of modern culture. In many ways Earth shaking if you think about it. Humbly written, I consider myself indebted to the author. Definitely worth the read, it's quite likely you may decide at some page that you wish to throw the book across the room (if it's an electronic copy I wouldn't recommend this).
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Still digesting this piece and will probably revisit it many times. Newbigin helpfully deconstructs the modernist epistemic project (or rather, points out how historically it has devolved into skepticism). Using the insights of Hungarian scientist Michael Polanyi, Newbigin attempts to reconstruct a Christian conception of knowing that avoids modern counterfeits (which are bankrupt) and embraces the biblical story as the true story of the world.
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Full of good insights on the lack of neutrality anywhere. In places he is weak on the authority of Scripture. Just because we must be humble in our approach to Scripture does not mean it lacks "indubitable certainties." We can be certain about the infallibility of Scripture while cheerfully acknowledging our personal fallibility. In fact, Scripture requires it.
Dean P.
Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Newbigin does a good job approaching rationalism and the traditional Christian apologetics in this short book, arguing for a more appropriate view of certainty in regards to faith in modern life. His prose is a little over-academic at times and gets lost in the pages, but overall it is a short, helpful volume.
Aug 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended (to my surprise) by a mentor, so I instantly read it. I was shocked to find this book so refreshing, and be exactly about many of the themes in philosophy of science applied to theology that I've been thinking about of my favorite (and short) theological books I've ever read.
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What is Newbigin's approach to apologetics? 1 5 Jun 15, 2014 11:52AM  
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Bishop James Edward Lesslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary and author. Though originally ordained within the Church of Scotland, Newbigin spent much of his career serving as a missionary in India and became affiliated with the Church of South India and the United Reformed Church, becoming one of the Church of South India's first bishops. A prolific author who wrote on ...more
“One does not learn anything except by believing something, and -- conversely -- if one doubts everything one learns nothing. On the other hand, believing everything uncritically is the road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But as I have argued, rational doubt always rests on faith and not vice versa. The relationship between the two cannot be reversed. ” 11 likes
“But if the biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to a human being will be one which rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the competence of the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty which is inseparable from gratitude and trust.” 5 likes
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