Friends 2007: Introducing Brian – the Spiritual Guide [27]

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“… as soon as I talk about faith, I know many readers find it hard to relate. Make believe, self-hypnosis, manipulation, group hysteria, anti-intellectualism, obscurantism, closed-mindedness, backwardness — for many, the images of associations related to faith are the very opposite of what I was thinking about … For you, faith is perhaps like death, a subject you know you shouldn’t deny or avoid, but one that is profoundly uncomfortable. You wish, and I wish for you, that faith could be a subject of joy, vitality, hope and healing.

It is for people like you that I have written this book. If it can help you who struggle the most, I know it can help many others too, others whose struggles with faith are not perhaps as radical or extreme, but who struggle nonetheless. (The people for whom faith comes easily and whose faith is never called into question probably would never pick up a book like this anyway, although I wonder if it might do them some good if they did.)”
– pp. 9-10, Finding Faith: a Self Discovery guide for Your Spiritual Quest (The link is the new version, the one I have is the earlier edition)

Here’s a pdf sample chapter and an interview on what I heard Brian mentioned once as that this is one of his most favorite books he’s written thus far. And yet, it’s one of his lesser known or unknown works.

I first read the book in August 2001 and I wrote in the book, “In many ways I’m still a spiritual seeker, Lord invigorate my faith as I walk on with you.” And reading the book did help a lot …not just to put into words my own struggles (perhaps not as radical as many others) but also give me some language to engage in conversation with those who have more radical struggles.

I googled an interesting book review written in 1999 about the book. Here’s some excerpts from the reviewer which I found myself nodding in agreement:

“… What I found most refreshing about this book was the author’s ability to put himself in the shoes of the unbeliever or seeker, and not polarize the issues that are often hang-ups for post-modern people. For example, he tackles the idea “It doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you’re sincere” with respect rather than ridicule. He does this by suggesting that what people really mean when they say that is that the quality of one’s faith is as important as the content of one’s faith. He recognizes that the unbeliever is much more interested in the effect of one’s faith (does it make one a better person?) than in the accuracy of the propositions that one believes. If my faith puts a chip on my shoulder, this is not going to win many adherents, despite my brilliant intellectual arguments in defense of it.

I confess I still struggle and consciously need to confront the “ridicule” model when engaging with people of other faiths or skeptics of the Christian faith. It’s not easy to genuinely show respect for the other person especially when one feels they are under attack and we slip into a defensive mode. I wonder whether it shows more of my insecurities whether personal or in regards to the way I view my own faith. It was refreshing to read an author who modeled a respectful and proper confidence when confronted with hard questions.

… Another example would be the way he addresses the question of whether truth is relative or absolute. He gently points out that “when we say that everything is relative and no one can know anything with certainty, (we) conveniently ignore the fact that we seem to believe that we know with complete certainty that everything is relative.” (p. 56) This is not a new observation, of course, but I have seldom heard it made with such respect for the relativists we are seeking to win.

I never could understand how critics misunderstand Brian as a relativist after reading a statement like the one above — unless it’s more about “eisegeis” rather than “exegesis” of his works. But that’s for another post to talk more in depth if we have the chance! Ok, I need to remind myself to be more respectful and not slip into “ridicule” mode. Lord have mercy 🙂

… He writes in a respectful, conversational style as if he were actually in dialogue with an atheist or an agnostic or a struggling believer. In fact, he even asked several of his atheist and agnostic friends to review his manuscript. He does not try to back his interlocutor (i.e. the reader) into a corner, but gently leads him or her through the implications of each choice one can make in thinking about God. For example, he devotes a chapter to the proposition that there is no God (atheism), listing 9 reasons for atheism and six reasons for continuing the search for God (i.e. 6 reasons for questioning atheism). He gently points out that atheism is a faith commitment just as much as theism, but he does it in a way that respects, rather than ridicules, the atheistic reader.”

What I liked about the book was the honest explorations of our faith commitments entails. And the key point must be made, this can be done with respect rather than ridicule.

“… it is clear that the author is much more interested in winning people than he is in winning arguments. He has the rare ability of seeing things from the other person’s point of view. In this case, it is the point of view of the spiritual seeker, be he or she atheist, agnostic, or doubter. I would heartily recommend this book to any friend who is unconvinced or doubtful about the veracity of the Christian faith. It may or may not answer all his or her questions, but it will help the person to know how to go about finding answers.”

After my own little adventures and misadventures in trying to converse with those who hold different beliefs than me, or question my beliefs … sometimes it’s truly easy and tempting to forget the person in front of me and get sucked into the whirlpool of “winning arguments”. Of course, I’m not advocating irrationalism or anti-intellectualism or a warm fuzzy subjectivism, but it’s good to keep things in perspective while passionately sharing our points of view and at the same time being attentive to the other’s point of view.

As I shared from the start of this “Introducing Brian” series (especially for Malaysians), it’s imperative to read the prefaces and introductions of his books. Check out the following in his introduction for Finding Faith which to me is one of the most encouraging paragraphs I’ve read on inviting someone to a quest for authentic faith – it’s an holistic and honest approach which i would recommend anyone:

“Though a healthy faith is bigger than the intellect, the search for faith is cannot bypass the intellect. The sincere spiritual seeker must engage the mind fully, even while transcending cold and calculating rationalism. … the search for faith also involves non-cognitive parts of us — emotions, longings, aspirations, dreams and hopes and fears, drives, intuitions. It often forces us to face some ugliness in ourselves, some hard facts about life, requiring courage, honesty, and determination. Faith involves admitting with humility and boldness that we need to change, to go against the flow, to be different, to face and shine the light on our cherished illusions and prejudices, and to discover new truths that can be liberating even though they may be difficult for the ego, painful to the pride. The search for authentic faith must be the most life-changing quest anyone can ever launch.”, pp. 13-14

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