The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor

A Book Review

In a moment of much appreciated candor, a local pastor friend confided in me a few years ago, “Rob, I don’t understand why my church does not attract business owners and leaders.” As a business person, I wanted to offer my opinion but I wasn’t sure either of us were ready for what was about to come out of my mouth. 

I felt somewhat qualified to speak since I had been struggling for years in the local church and feeling guilty about it. I would ask myself, (and I sensed others would like to ask), “Rob, why do you struggle so much with everything? Why, why, do you have so many questions?!”  I regularly consider how I might relieve my  brothers and sisters of their frustrations with me and relieve myself from the guilt and awkwardness of this strained relationship. in a season of peak frustration, I came across an odd titled book, The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor. With some desperation, I read a quote from a T.S. Elliott poem beneath the title of Chapter One, The Nature of Reflection;

And I pray to God to have mercy upon us / And I pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself / I too much discuss / Too much explain

Upon reading this line, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I knew I had found a kindred spirit in T.S. Elliot. Had I found one with Daniel Taylor?  That I have just completed my 4th reading of this book is indication that I have. Why would I read a book this many times? It is simply because, in a very real way, it helped me understand a few of the particulars of how God had wired me; the unique way that he had fearfully and wonderfully made me.  He helped me discover that I was not, at my core, questioning or contentious out of rebellious spirit. I was simply loving the Truth and pursuing it in the only way a reflective Christian can, through prayerful inquiry, thought and dialogue; things that can be foreign to our established religious subcultures.

Daniel Taylor has helped me to take an honest look at how we develop our beliefs and how subcultures are formed around these beliefs. He also helped me take a fresh look at faith. As it turns out, the absence of certainty is not, as I had hoped and sensed, evidence of my failure as a Christian and is therefore not a legitimate source of guilt.  The absence of certainty is simply that domain where the reflective Christian is called to exercise their faith and come to know their God. 

Taylor’s clear and humorous treatment of reflection was written with the wisdom that could only have been gained from personal experience. He too has apparently felt the sting from others who grew tired or intolerant of his inquiry and indecision. 

Taylor uses Alex Adamson, a (barely) fictitious character’s experience as a new english teacher in a very conservative Christian college to exemplify the complexity of the relationship of reflective Christians to the church. It would seem Alex was doomed to his isolation and confusion until he meets the hero of the story, Sarah Lawrence. Sarah is a least-of-these type; an unnoticed, overlooked character who appears on the scene with timely words of reconciliation and redemption.  Not surprisingly to me, Sarah’s timely and grace filled words were embodied not in a sermon but in her story which developed in the context of relationship and conversation. 

In his Afterword, Taylor writes, “My own thinking about the church has taken a slightly different tact of late. I have become increasingly convinced of the centrality of storytelling to the human experience and the life of faith. The church is the place we gather to tell stories – the stories of where we’ve come from, the stories of why we are here, the stories of what we are to do. And, of course, in the process of hearing the old, old stories we must be about the making and telling of our own.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Myth of Certainty to those of you who, like myself, find yourself out of sync, at times, with the community of faith. You may even feel sympathetic with the unbelieving world around you because the church’s dogma, cliches, traditions and expressions seem thin.  

I also commend Daniel Taylor to my pastor friends who are puzzled at the absence of business persons and professionals in their flock. In an hour when traditional churches are struggling and shrinking this book might serve as light on that phenomena. And, while pastors and leaders are considering their options, this book could yield some powerful insights about the fascinating and complex makeup of the religious subculture they are overseeing.