A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
In his preface, Neil Martin writes, ‘One Sunday afternoon, I remember having lunch at Ruth’s house [his wife-to-be] and meeting a Christian guy about my age who opened up very candidly on the subject of doubt. He had problems with God’s existence, reliability of the bible, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility and assurance’. Neil Martin himself has suffered over many years from chronic illness and wrote this book partly as a response to his own struggles in the faith.
The book is important for its brutally honest approach to the struggles which many of us face, but find hard to explore within the normal processes of ‘doing church’. Consequently some Christians are made to feel, as the author did, that they shouldn’t be asking basic questions like ‘does God really exist?’.
It is made plain from the start that struggles are the norm for most Christians and Psalm 73 is given as a good example of a biblical author experiencing the same: ‘But I had almost stopped believing; I had almost lost my faith because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well’ (Ps. 73:2,3, NCV). Keep going is founded upon six reasons why we struggle: Christians face difficult questions that can’t always be answered; Christians’ feelings don’t always keep pace with their faith; Christians are sinners; Christians live in non-Christian societies; Christians are affected by their temperament and circumstances; and Christians often forget to count their blessings.
Neil Martin wrestles with key obstacles to faith and seeks to engage with the likes of Richard Dawkins and the evolution vs. creation debate along with many other key areas. Chapter 5 tackles the thorny issue of a lack of assurance – something which will help Methodists who struggle with some of Wesley’s pronouncements in this area.
My only reservation is that the book tends to approach the problem from a largely intellectual viewpoint rather than exploring issues like prayer and spiritual discipline, however there are plenty of other masterpieces on these subjects to complement Neil’s work. I recommend this title, not only to those who struggle, but also to those who struggle with those who struggle, and those who struggle with those who appear not to.