Keep Going: Overcoming Doubts About Your Faith

By Neil Martin
Phillipsburg, N.J. : P&R (2008). 300 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 122-124

In an engaging style, the senior designer at IDEO in London, Neil Martin, has written on different subjects which are a challenge to the Christian faith and life. His introduction advises that two questions are being answered by his book: What does the Bible say about the place of struggles in the Christian life? And how can the biblical material be used as a weapon to tackle some of the most common and important examples? Chapter One answers Question One. Chapters Two through Six answer Question 2. He asks a major question for many people, but perhaps one which is not always voiced openly, or understood: “Should We Expect to Struggle with the Christian Faith?” He lays out in six bullet points the reasons why the answer is in the affirmative, namely, difficult questions to answer, feelings not keeping pace with faith, admission that we are still sinners, living in non-Christian societies, affected by own temperament and circumstances, and forgetting to count one’s blessings. A good description of each follows, with sound advice and exhortation. A selection of appropriate Scriptures provide biblical content or examples.

For the first reason he refers primarily to Asaph, to Job, and their situations. This is no selecting one verse, making a single comment, and then moving off on his own tangent. Martin deals with the texts. Pithy statements, thoughtful ones, occur, e.g., “without diligence in Christian practice, we have no right to expect Christian confidence” (16). Concisely, the subjects of sin, the fall, and its impact are described, particularly as relates to the Christian who is not yet free from sin’s clutches. The reader will find himself nodding in agreement with so much being said by Martin. He notes the temperamental diversity among people, and does not swallow the myth of the ideal Christian temperament (30). Chapter One, then, augurs well for the chapters to come. Each chapter thereafter has had its structure determined by the six reasons why the believer should expect a struggle with the faith.

Chapter Two’s main heading, “Tackling Struggles with Belief in God” (43), indicates the apologetic flavor of its content. A short summary of three arguments for the existence of God is followed by turning to the Scriptures to highlight the intuitions of God and of spiritual realities. Martin recognizes that humanism and atheism are in conflict with theism, and each other, too. From this point on and for the next thirty or so pages, Martin masterfully sets before the reader evolution, scientific-worldview as a whole, philosophy, and psychology, all of which undermine the theistic worldview. In these pages he is not loathe to take on Richard Dawkins as well. The reader grasps just how committed Dawkins is in his aggressive opposition to Christianity.

Chapter Three treats the question concerning the authenticity of the Bible. Martin began the discussion with the historical reliability of the Bible by asking if Jesus was fact or fiction, if the disciples embellished or misrepresented His story, and if later editors or translators corrupted or misconstrued His story (107). At one point, Martin remarks that sound documentary evidence assures the believer that Jesus did live in Palestine and did do all that the Bible says of Him (128). All in all, the chapter is instructive with a good number of Scripture references.

Chapter Four, the longest one in the book, tackles divine sovereignty, responsibility, and divine justice (147-217). Notably, this chapter quickly affirms God’s attributes of greatness and goodness and His aseity. Theodicy questions are summed up in seven bullet points: how could a good and just God who controls everything allow for evil, an eternal heaven and an eternal hell, the saving of some and not others, and condemn them, etc. Martin opens his discussion not in the order developed around those questions in Chapter One, but begins with believers living in a non-Christian society. With emphasis on self-help groups, on feeling good, and having one’s needs meet, it is not surprising that people have a less than accurate picture of God and are troubled by “the sovereignty of God.” Immature believers— although Martin does not use this term—think they are better than they are and think they are deserving of more than they deserve. In fact, this in turn begins questions on whether or not God knows their needs. Martin’s unfolding of the free will and human responsibility debate under the two categories of determinism and indeterminism is well done, but in places the reading slows down in order to understand fully what he has written. Moral determinism deals with the link between moral causes and moral effects, and operates according to motives and reflects human consent. The important point is that it never causes actions against one’s own will. Genesis 50 and John 8 offer support here. Pretty much in standard Reformed theology fashion, he tackles the the doctrine of election. Finite human minds cannot venture to understand the infinite mind of God (190-91). He comments that human responsibility makes human choices significant; divine sovereignty gives them meaning. Their combination is a paradox that is thoroughly justified (191). Finite minds will not handle responsibly all the biblical data on God unless it fits that finite mind’s stereotype of what He should be like. Under three headings Martin sums up what finite minds think, namely, that God is an overreacting, vengeful tyrant (196-99). The only missing factor is identifying who it is that paints such a picture of God. Is it the believer, even an immature one? Or the unbeliever who would not accept biblical truth without distorting it? The rest of the chapter closes out the discussion by noting that the whole thing will not seem just until things are looked at from God’s perspective. Again he sums up a response by observing that there can be no justice and no grace without goodness and no salvation without grace (201-2).

The content was fine, but it seemed as though the book had dragged out the subject long enough. This reviewer several times paged ahead (to see just how much more needed to be said), sighed, and kept going [pun intended]. The last two chapters dealt with overcoming struggles with assurance and those struggles in Christ. Frankly, one wonders what has gone wrong in discipling and teaching if a professed believer struggles too often with lack of assurance. He remarks at the end of the book, “Knowing Jesus better is the thing we must pray for and work for above all else in our struggles—there is simply nothing like it to help and encourage us in our efforts to Keep Going! It will be a good exercise to read through Keep Going.