Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: Choosing Your Faith

Quick Facts:

Author: Mark Mittelberg
Publisher/Year: Tyndale, 2008
Pages: 269


With so many religious beliefs and ideologies in the world, how does one go about choosing a faith? Why should we even choose a faith? And if we decide to choose a faith, are some ways of choosing better than others? To put it another way, everyone believes something. Moreover, we all believe we are right (that’s why we believe the things we do)! But since people believe contradictory things, not everyone can be right. So how should we decide what to believe?

Mark Mittelberg addresses these questions and more in his book Choosing Your Faith…In a World of Spiritual Options

In chapter one, Mark begins by addressing the question, “Why Choose Any Faith?” The simple answer is that we all have faith in something. In other words, everyone lives their life placing faith in one thing or another, even as we go about our daily business. We all believe something, even atheists like Richard Dawkins who has faith there is no God. This being the case, Mark asks the central question:

Is ours a well-founded faith? A wise faith? A faith that makes sense and is supported by the facts? One that works in real life and is worth hanging on to?

More importantly, is yours a faith you’ve really thought about, carefully evaluated, and intentionally chosen—or did you just slide into it at some point along the way?[1]

No one would buy a new car or house without researching their investment. If we take the time to look into the purchase of material possessions which are here one day and gone the next, how much more time should we invest in examining the most important questions in life which may affect us for an eternity?

In chapters two through 7, Mark examines six different faith paths that individuals commonly walk down when deciding what to believe.

Chapter two examines the pragmatic or relativistic faith path. This is the view that truth is what works, or rather, what fits you. Essentially this approach says pick a faith you like. As long as you are sincere then something can be true for you but not necessarily true for anyone else.

The problem, of course, is that not all faiths can be equally true and valid. Different faiths teach contradictory things. Not only that, but this faith path is guilty of the self-excepting fallacy. It says that truth is relative, yet also asserts that the claim “truth is relative” is objectively true for everyone. This is self-defeating and inconsistent, especially when relativists attempt to convince you that their view is true for you. Reality, as it turns out, is completely indifferent to our beliefs. Mark concludes that
…we must find out what truly is real and then align our lives and actions to that reality.[2]
To put it another way, if we apply commonsense thinking in our daily lives why not in areas of morality and religion? Reality is simply what is and we can no more chose our truth in spiritual things than we can in any other area of life. So where should we start?

First, we need to search for what’s real…We have to be willing to recognize what is true, even if it flies in the face of what we’ve thought in the past…But if we’re lovers of truth, we should be willing to do so…And once we’ve discovered what is, let’s be willing to actually take the courageous step of aligning our belief to the truth we’ve discovered.[3]

Chapter three looks at the faith path of tradition. Most people inherit the faith of their parents making the path of tradition the most common. This is not to say that all tradition is bad, but as noted earlier, different faiths teach contradictory things making it impossible that they could all be right. In other words, your parents could be wrong! In fact, somebody’s parents have to be wrong! The question is,

Are we willing to step back and examine our inherited beliefs and make sure that we’ve thoughtfully and intentionally chosen a faith worth following?[4]

While each of us may inherit a faith, there comes a point in life where we each become intellectually responsible for our beliefs. That being the case,

You must decide to weigh the reasons and evidence for what you have so readily accepted up to now—so you can be sure that you end up with a faith that really makes sense because it’s based on actual truth.[5]

Chapter four considers the authoritarian approach to faith. This is different from the traditional path in that it is characterized by submission to a religious leader or spiritual authority. Many within the Islamic community fall under this category. However, as with the traditional approach, there comes a time when we need to step back and examine what we believe. Again, this is not to say all authority is bad. The question lies in choosing a trustworthy and reliable authority that is worthy of our response. Mark suggests four characteristics a trustworthy authority should possess: integrity, consistency, accuracy, and openness.

Chapter five investigates the intuitive faith path. This approach holds that real perception is found in feelings and instinct, a view characteristic of many Eastern religions and the New Age movement. In other words,

They turn off their senses, ignore their logic, and just feel their way into whatever belief or practice seems right to them.[6]

As with tradition and authority, this is not to say all intuition is bad. Every human being possesses certain built in intuitions, for example, in the area of morality. Intuition is useful as a tool but not as a full-blown faith path. Different intuitions may contradict one another, making it necessary to test them by some other means. Mark states,

Hunches, intuitive flashes, and “gut feelings” can serve as cautionary alerts—but whenever possible, these need to be tested against other proven methods of finding and affirming truth. In other words, they can be great warning lights, but in isolation, they’re generally not great traffic signals to direct us.[7]

Furthermore, certain aspects of this approach seem self-contradictory and therefore self-defeating. Those who tell us we must abandon our reason usually give us reasons for doing so. Those who tell us to turn off our senses usually communicate this through their senses. People simply cannot live consistently with the intuitive approach, especially in their everyday living. Mark concludes,

Intuition is, at best, an imperfect guide. We tend to forget all the times it was wrong and selectively remember the times—however rare—when it was actually right…We need to pay attention to our instincts, but we also need to scrutinize and corroborate them carefully. We must test what we sense to be true against logic and evidence.[8]

Chapter six analyzes the mystical approach to faith. Some people choose their faith based on an actual encounter with a supernatural entity. This is a claim often made by Mormons who have prayed concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. But while many people claim to have mystical experiences, not all mystical experiences are created equal. Mark offers two important guidelines for evaluating mystical encounters:[9]

1.      Feel does not equal Real.
2.      Real does not equal Good.

In other words, a genuine feeling may not necessarily be a genuine supernatural encounter, and a genuine supernatural encounter may not necessarily be good or from God. Once again, this does not mean that all mystical encounters are bad but rather that they should be tested. We must

…be very careful. Before we embrace new claims, we must test them against what we already know…Make sure that the message being given through the mystical encounter is (1) true to the world; (2) true to the messenger’s own words; and, ultimately, (3) true to God’s words.[10]

Chapter seven concludes the various faith paths with the sixth approach of logic, evidence, and science: the evidential path. This includes both logic and sense experience. Though some attempt to deny the value of logic, such as Zen Buddhists, in the end logic is inescapable. You must use logic in any attempt to undermine it, which is self-defeating. In this chapter Mark argues for the superiority of the evidential approach to faith:

Real knowledge comes when the logical, organizing power of the mind is applied to the real-world experience and data gained through the senses. These two elements are examples of fundamental, undeniable realities. To even try to argue against them, you must first employ them. And, apart from them, nothing could be known.[11]

Logic is useful in that it is able to test arguments and teachings, preventing us from embracing irrational or contradictory beliefs. And sensory experience, which includes facts and evidence, is useful in not only investigating a faith claim and showing it to be false but also in building a positive case for a particular faith system. Facts and evidence can be gained through a variety of disciplines including science, history, and archaeology.

So, just as we rely on the Evidential approach in ordinary, everyday life, it can also be extremely valuable in the realm of our religious understanding.[12]

This approach should not be confused with scientism, which is the self-defeating philosophy that says only science gives us truth.

Chapter eight provides a helpful summary of chapters two through seven. Why is it important to examine these different faith paths? Mark explains:

I’m convinced there’s nothing more important than choosing your faith—intentionally and wisely…We tend to follow one of several faith paths, and the particular path we pick—or even passively adopt—can have a great bearing on which beliefs we end up embracing.[13]

One of the most glaring problems with the first five faith paths is that they do not guarantee truth. The same path may be embraced by different people who end up embracing contradictory beliefs. This highlights the superiority of the evidential faith path. It is

…the one path that tests—and ultimately supports or undermines—all the others. Its two key elements, logic and sensory experience, are God-given tools we must use to gain the vast majority of our information, to test truth claims, and ultimately to decide what to believe…The Evidential approach tells us logically and empirically that there is one set of truths—based on actual, what is reality—that we need to discover and let inform our choice of faiths. We can use these tools to test traditional teachings, religious authorities, intuitive instincts and hunches, and mystical encounters, so we can know which ones are worth believing and holding on to.[14]

In chapters nine through eleven, Mark Mittelberg utilizes the evidential faith path to make a case for the Christian worldview. He appeals to logic, science, history, and experience. Mark presents twenty arguments, or arrows, which point to the existence of God, the historical reliability and divine inspiration of the Bible, and Jesus as God-incarnate, all of which form a powerful cumulative case for the Christian worldview. Below is a list of the twenty arguments presented by Mark which are explained in greater detail in the book:[15]

  1. Design in the universe points to an Intelligent Designer.
  2. Fine tuning in the universe points to an intentional Fine Tuner.
  3. Information encoded into DNA points to a Divine Encoder.
  4. The beginning of the universe points to a Divine Originator.
  5. The sense of morality throughout the human race points to a Moral Lawgiver.
  6. The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely consistent religious book.
  7. The Bible is a uniquely historical religious book.
  8. The Bible is a uniquely preserved work of antiquity.
  9. Archaeology shows the Bible to be a powerfully verified book.
  10. The Bible shows itself to be a uniquely honest religious book.
  11. Miracles, performed in the presence of believers and critics alike, point to the prophets, apostles, and Jesus as messengers of God.
  12. Fulfilled prophecies point to the Bible as a divinely inspired book and to Jesus as the unique Messiah of God.
  13. Jesus’ sinless life backed up his claim to be the Son of God.
  14. Jesus’ resurrection powerfully established his credentials as the Son of God.
  15. The emergence of the church points to the authenticity of its message.
  16. The changed lives of early skeptics affirmed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and the teachings of the church.
  17. The willingness of the disciples to die for claims they knew to be true affirms the trustworthiness of their claims.
  18. The changed minds of many modern skeptics further support the Christian truth claims.
  19. The testimonies of countless believers throughout history attest to the reality of God and the value of following Jesus.
  20. It’s true because Jesus said so—and he has the credentials to speak with authority.

In chapter twelve, Mark addresses typical barriers to faith. But before discussing these barriers he is careful to clarify the type of faith he is advocating:

Wise, spiritual faith—the kind I’m advocating—is a commitment of trust based on solid, though incomplete, evidence that we’re believing in the right things and moving in the best direction. This understanding of faith, I should point out, is in sharp contrast to the fuzzy and often misguided definitions we see floating about in contemporary culture.[16]

In other words, Mark is promoting reasonable faith, which he defines as action based on good evidence. In spite of the evidence and arguments presented, many people do not take that required step of faith. Mark discusses twelve common obstacles or barriers to faith that must be overcome:

  1. Lack of Information.
  2. Lack of Openness.
  3. Intellectual Doubt or Disagreement.
  4. Lack of Experience.
  5. Lifestyle Issues.
  6. Personal Hurts.
  7. Sense of Control.
  8. Anger.
  9. Discomfort.
  10. Disinterest.
  11. Fear.
  12. Oversimplicity.

Mark concludes in chapter 13 by explaining the benefits of choosing your faith wisely, urging his readers to be lovers of truth and challenging them to take faith questions seriously. Choosing your faith is the most important decision you will ever make given that how you answer the most important questions in life will affect you for an eternity.


If you are asking the question, “What should I believe and why should I believe it?” or if you are a Christian with friends and family members seeking answers to these types of spiritual questions, Choosing Your Faith is an excellent starting place. The benefit of a book like this is that it does not simply tell you what to believe. Rather, Mark Mittelberg begins by examining different ways to choose a faith, the pros and cons associated with each faith path, and then moves on to making a case for the Christian worldview. Along the way he examines various religions associated with different faith paths and assesses them using reason, science, and history. Choosing Your Faith would make a great gift for spiritual seekers and even Christians who are assessing their own faith path or helping guide others into a faith that makes sense.

[1] Mark Mittelberg, Choosing Your Faith…In a World of Spiritual Options (Colorado Springs: Tyndale, 2008), 12.
[2] Ibid., 30, his emphasis.
[3] Ibid., 34-35.
[4] Ibid., 49-50.
[5] Ibid., 52.
[6] Ibid., 82, his emphasis.
[7] Ibid., 94.
[8] Ibid., 98-99, his emphasis.
[9] Ibid., 105-119.
[10] Ibid. 110.
[11] Ibid., 130-131.
[12] Ibid., 136.
[13] Ibid., 147.
[14] Ibid., 154-156, his emphasis.
[15] Ibid., 164-217.
[16] Ibid., 221-222.

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