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The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

Daniel Taylor (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987)Some Reflections on Reflectivity

The reflective Christian in a world of secular doubt: Will his or her reflection lead to passivity or to commitment, to paralysis or to action?  Daniel Taylor, writing as a reflective Christian from his base as an English professor at Bethel College in Minnesota is writing reflectively for reflectives.  He is one who has clearly opted for commitment and action.  By putting his reflections down in black and white, he has frozen them as it were at a point in their evolution.  It was a very non-reflective thing to do, and Taylor has become an illustration of his own thesis.“

The Reflective person,” Taylor says, “is first and foremost a question asker…To be reflective is to be sensitive to and fascinated by the complexity of things.”  And of people.  And of God.  “Reflectiveness,” he continues, “is a character trait deeply rooted in what one essentially is.

Taylor sees the end of reflectiveness in an “either/or” sense: “Being a reflective is both a blessing and a curse, a potential for strength and for weakness.  It can lead equally well toward truth or error.”

But there is yet another way open to the reflective that Taylor does not discuss.  That is to accept certain conclusions while retaining doubt as to how such conclusions can be reached.  For example, it is possible to have faith in God—perhaps just a gut-feeling faith—and yet to admit to several different ways of reaching God, and for that matter, to question them all.  So is it also possible for a Christian reflective to accept that a Hindu, like Gandhi, was no less a servant of God than Mother Theresa, a Christian?

The Christian reflective, if she or he is not to be caught in the trap of paralysis, must accept ultimates on faith, regardless of doubt.  Thus can the faith of the reflective burn the purist of all, simply because it has allowed and then transcended doubt.  I think the lives of the saints, who were by and large reflective people, are proof enough of this.  Who among the early Christians was more introspectively a doubter than St. Paul? (Note Romans 7:18-20.)

Taylor, quite rightly, says “Everyone needs relief from the potentially endless cycle of assertion, analysis, counter assertion, qualification, redefinition, exceptions, extenuating complications, hidden presuppositions, emotional colorings, summation ad infinitum.  He sees the needed relief coming in commitment and action, supported by her or his own and the church’s memory, by the community in which the reflective lives, and by plain perseverance.  I would suggest that relief is also available through faith and that there is nothing wrong with a faith that admits doubt.  Furthermore, the reflective Christian can legitimately say, “I don’t know altogether why, but I accept that it must be so.”  As the biblical writer concluded in I John 4:12, “no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his law is made complete in us.” (NIV)

If, as Taylor says, action is the remedy for reflective paralysis, the New Testament is the handbook for action, the what-to-do, and the how-to-do-it manual.  It is also conclusive evidence that Jesus was a reflective.  He found value in the questing use of the mind.  He doubted a lot of things.  He doubted that upon his return he would find faith in the world.  He doubted key elements of Old Testament law and its interpretation.  And he was sympathetic with Thomas, a doubter.  Finally, as Taylor notes, he doubted that God the Father, his Father, was still with him.  Yet Jesus was a reflective who found surcease in commitment, and in commitment, action.  Jesus did and as Taylor so admirably points out in the last chapters of his book, so can we do.

Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer

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