Even though my last post was also a critique of Peter Enns, I promise that this blog will be more than just an avenue through which I can critique Enns. However, I would like to say a few words about a post he wrote earlier this month, “Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore.” I should start by saying that we shouldn’t be worried about the title of that post. Even though Enns says he doesn’t believe in God anymore, it’s clear that he does. He just doesn’t recognize that his trust in God requires believing in God. But we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves. Before we get to what’s wrong with the ideas he expresses, let’s take a look at them first.
To start, Enns explains what he means by ‘belief in God’. He writes, “‘Belief’ in God connotes–at least as I see it–a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being.” This—at least as I see it—is pretty much right, but Enns is unhappy with such a claim because he sees “the Bible focusing a lot more on something far more demanding [than having correct beliefs about God]: trust.” Now with this I completely agree. After all, “Even the demons believe [that God is one]—and shudder” (James 2:19). I’m even in agreement with him when he says there is a “huge difference between I believe in a God who cares for me and I trust God at this particular moment.”
So what, then, is the problem with Enns’s post? The main problem I see with it is that it rests on the mistaken assumption that belief in God and trusting God are mutually exclusive. If that were not his view, then it’s not clear why he’d need to title his post “Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore.” It’s as if he must stop believing in God so that he can now trust him. This is clearly mistaken and it’s easy to see why. First, to “trust God” you must at least “believe that God exists.” If you say to someone, “I trust God at this particular moment” and he responds by saying, “Why are you bothering with trusting in something that doesn’t even exist?” how could you respond without advancing your beliefs about God? It’s not clear that you can.
But there’s more to it than that. Even if the person above responded with a simple, “Why?” you’re going to have to resort to expressing your beliefs in God. That is, you’re going to have to respond by not only noting that you believe God exists, but also that you believe certain things about God—namely that he is trustworthy. Let’s borrow one of Enns’s examples to illustrate this. Consider the leadership-retreat favorite—trust falls. It’s true that these aren’t called “belief falls,” but who is going to participate in a trust fall without having reasons (i.e., beliefs) to trust those that are supposed to catch them?
Here one might object by making a distinction between “believing in God” (what Enns rejects) and “beliefs about God” (which, presumably, Enns would still want to employ). The problem is that such a distinction seems to be something Enns would have to reject given his understanding of “belief in God.” Recall that he takes that phrase to include, “a set of ideas about God that may eventually make their way to other parts of my being.” Presumably included in one’s set of ideas about God will be something like, “God exists” and “God is trustworthy.” If you reject belief in God, which includes a rejection of these sorts of idea about God, then you’ve rejected all reasons to trust God in the first place.
So, Enns is right that God cares more about trust than he does about mere belief. But embracing that truth simply doesn’t require one to reject belief altogether. Keeping this idea in mind is important given the historical problem the American church (at least) has had with anti-intellectualism. It’s ironic, given that he’s a well known academic, that Enns’s post could be used to justify that continued commitment to anti-intellectualism about one’s faith. When you throw out “belief”, you through out the need for careful Christian philosophy, theology, biblical studies, etc. Because I doubt Enns would want to discourage the church from such careful reflection, it seems likely he’s not all that serious about giving up belief in God. Let’s hope so.