Can it Be True? A Personal Pilgrimage through Faith and Doubt. By Michael Wakely. Grand Rapids : Kregel Publishing, 2002. 224 pp. Paper. $11.99.
The presently popular evangelical (in the most liberal sense of the word) postmodernist, Brian McClaren sug ges ts in his writings that doubt serves as a Christian virtue. While he believes that doubt that is out of control can lead to unbelief, when in the proper balance, it is “our Geiger counter for error.” What essentially occurs is that faith chan ges from objective to humanistic. No longer does our assurance rest completely in the objective promise of God’s Word but partially in our own subjective emotions and feelings. This thinking is becoming increasingly common.
Michael Wakely shows a similar line of thought in his book, Can it Be True? In the introduction, Wakely orients the reader to the book’s subject: “This is a book about faith—to be specific, the Christian faith—not a book of doctrine and dogma, as many such books might be. What I have written is the product of a personal pilgrimage…in my experience, faith has always walked hand in hand with doubt” (p. 8). What Wakely fails to realize is that our faith is grounded in doctrine (doctrina, Latin meaning “body of teaching”). Our understanding of Biblical teachings may be wrong or right, but it nevertheless is grounded in doctrine. Just one page later he explains, “In my understanding, doubt is not a sin, nor is it a failing. It is a mark of an intelligent and authentic faith” (p. 9).
Admittedly, there are key figures in the NT that had doubts: Peter and Thomas. Yet, was that moment of doubt their finest hour or something that they had to overcome in order to become an unmovable follower of Christ? We see that the disciples’ doubts before the resurrection were turned into such persuasion the world has scarcely seen since.
Wakely qualifies his belief that doubt is a “mark of an intelligent and authentic faith” by explaining in chapter 2, “God has given us a mind and expects us to submit it to him and then use it” (p. 18). Thankfully, in this same chapter he dispels the notion that feel-good faith is authentic. Wakely isn’t comfortable with ongoing doubts: “…doubt, left unanswered and feeding on the cynical encouragement of the world, can easily lead to unbelief—active rebellion and moral disintegration” (p. 25). Yet, he goes on to say that “Biblical doubt is better seen as perplexity or uncertainty” (p. 25). It doesn’t seem that his thesis is very well thought out.
The author spends the next six chapters (3-8) answering several questions: Is religion relevant?; Has God really spoken?; What’s so special about the Bible?; How can it [the Bible] possibly be true?; Why [believe in] Jesus?; and Don’t all roads lead to Heaven?. These chapters are more apologetical in nature than the first two. He makes many good points in these chapters, but I especially like his comment on tolerance: “Today, tolerance has come to mean acceptance of every creed as of equal value—anything less is regarded as bigotry and prejudice” (p. 93). It is amazing that modern society looks pejoratively at those who hold firm convictions. Society looks to the weak-kneed for their source of strength and encouragement.
After six chapters of apologetics, Wakely takes a turn into the great unknown. The final ten chapters seem out of place. Chapter 9 ur ges the church to not equate Christianity with middle class America , which is a good message, but it does not seem to fit with the rest of the book. Chapters 10 and 11 combat the “name it and claim it” gospel. In chapter 12, Wakely turns his attention to the question “Is God biased?” He cites statistics that show how unfair life is and cause many to question the righteousness of God. Yet, he answers these questions well by saying: “…but the Christian God has himself plunged into the maelstrom of human suffering and failure, wading through the sewage to experience the horror and involve himself in the rescue operation” (p. 142). It is our God alone who, though His home was in Heaven, came to earth to suffer and die on our behalf. This is definitely an answer that should erase any doubts. The remaining chapters answer objections about whether God cares, why there is so much pain in the world, and why we see so many unanswered prayers. These chapters are adequate at best. The chapter on signs and wonders (chapter 14) is far from convincing, being filled with anecdotal illustrations.
Overall, the first eight chapters are worth reading. The second half of the book unfortunately wanders from an already poorly-thought-out-thesis. To top it off, the gospel is not clearly presented (pp. 14, 49, 75, 100, 103). Buyer beware.