Over the past many months, I have been doing a book study with a couple dear friends of mine. This week, we have finally reached the end so we are all writing reviews of it. I’ve decided to place mine here because it might encourage some of you to check it out. So here it is…
Richard Mouw’s book, Restless Faith, is an essential resource for those who claim to be Evangelical Christians. He appeals to two different groups in this work. The first is traditional Evangelicals who have built up theological walls to protect them from the surrounding culture. To this group, he makes the case that Evangelicalism must progress in order to survive, and the best way to do that is to engage in an active dialogue with the culture, taking a posture of humility and being willing to learn from those discussions. The second group, the one who he is most focused on, is those who are struggling with maintaining the label of Evangelical due to its negative connotations and the often true accusations against it. For them, he lays out both the history and dogma of traditional Evangelicalism, making his case that there is much about the Evangelical faith that is worth preserving.
On the first count, he does an impressive job walking an intellectual tightrope in order to appeal to more conservative Evangelicals. He informs his readers of the “essentials” of Evangelicalism in the first chapter, which cements his reputation as an Evangelical while setting the stage for critiques he will make later on. He proceeds to offer a fair amount of criticism to those who have been uncritical about their faith and he challenges them to move on from certain aspects of Evangelicalism that he deems unessential. He encourages them to avoid “staying grounded” in faith, which has the connotation of being stubborn and unmoving, but to “hold fast” to the faith, clinging to the heart of the Evangelical message while being willing to listen to the surrounding culture. This is where his argument is most impressive, as he does not offer answers to hot-button issues such as homosexuality, social justice, and abortion, but he is very clear that Evangelicals need to be more willing to engage in those discussions with humility and compassion. He makes sure to note that Evangelicals need to remain “clear about sin,” but even there he impresses upon his readers that truth can be found even in sources that one disagrees almost entirely with.
On the second count, he tries very hard to convince those of us (I include myself in this group) who are on the fence about Evangelicalism that despite its baggage, the core of the faith is good and needs to be maintained. In this respect, he pushes Evangelicalism to its limits, reinterpreting classic doctrines such as the infallibility of Scripture in a way that, while still acceptable to traditionalists, is more appealing to the progressive faithful. He rightly warns about the dangers of having a structure-less faith and of compromising too much in order to appease the greater culture. Again, he offers no answers to the hot-button questions posed, but in this case it ends up being a weakness since these are the questions that this group seeks answers for. In his attempt to bring both sides of the aisle together, the need to maintain his credibility with traditional Evangelicals means that he does not go far enough to make an adequate case for those whose faith is restless to the point of leaving the label behind.
Despite this, his attempt is an admirable one and is necessary reading for all who claim to be Evangelical. There is much to learn from this book, mostly about the need for humility in dialogue and reflection on the actual core of the Evangelical faith. Truly, if traditional Evangelicals began speaking in the way that Richard Mouw does in this book, with the same grace and openness, I would be much more inclined to joining them at the table.