It is with thanks to author Christina Powell for the opportunity to review her book Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith (IVP 2014). A little information about Dr. Powell from the Amazon site:
Christina M. H. Powell (PhD, Virology, Harvard) is a biomedical research scientist who conducted research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. She has been a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and a research associate at Boston University. She is also an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and a frequent writer and speaker on bioethics and issues of science and faith.
The core message of the book is that while doubts will arise over the course of our lives, it is possible to resolve those doubts by prayerfully and thoughtfully working our way through them. It is important we not allow doubt to derail our faith life and sense of calling but rather to allow them to challenge us toward greater faith and sense of the calling God has on our lives as Christians. In writing the book, Powell seeks to equip Christians with effective means to question their doubts.
She writes in the introduction:
Whether you are experiencing potentially faith crippling doubt about the existence or the goodness of God, a doubt about your life direction, or a doubt about your own ability to accomplish a certain task, this book will help you think through your doubts, understand the various resources of doubts and work towards resolving those doubts (10).
This was a very appealing book for me. I am a thinker, to a fault. But Powell did well to help me think through some of the doubts that I deal with. For me those are not faith harming but have more to do with my sense of personal identity and life calling/direction. I am at a pivotal time in my life right now as to what direction I need to go in regards to vocation. Her book is helping me, a thinker, think my way through this. Some people are feelers and others are thinkers. This book will be great for the thinkers and especially those thinkers who tend to be crippled by their thinking.
Powell actually confronts this issue of thinking. It’s perfectly okay. Our minds and ability to think are integral parts of how God made us – he made us to be thinkers. I highlight this because I (as well as Powell) come from a faith tradition that tends to eschew thinking for faith as though they are mutually exclusive. They are not and even Jesus said thinking is one way we love God (You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength). Too often we downplay the life of the mind.
Faith, facts, and personal experience come together when a person embraces Christianity. Knowledge of the historical facts of Christianity combines with a person’s experience of peace and joy to form a reasonable basis for belief. Yet belief in the provision of eternal life to those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior remains a matter of faith. Knowledge without trust is meaningless for salvation although trust flows from knowledge (46).
I share this quote because for me I found it hit at the heart of the author and the wisdom she desires to share. It is thoughtful, informed, and pastoral. Powell doesn’t just write and tell you to have faith and stop doubting (like a lot of people do in a misapplication of something Jesus said) but she truly desires to help people work through doubts in their lives and to grow in their faith and relationship the Lord. She does this in a very wise, gentle, humble, and pastoral way – this book could be used in a discipleship situation where a few people read it together and talk about it – or even could be used as a means of spiritual direction.
I greatly appreciated reading this book and receiving pastoral care from the author. It was and is faith building. Now I don’t want to sound too glowing, I know not all people read a book the same way nor do they read it and react the same way – we all respond to things differently. If you have an allergy to the thinking life and instead prefer faith and such, well you could hate this book or you might learn from it and be freed from the shackles of the un-thinking life. I report, you decide.