What's Tony Thinking

New Webinar: Help My Unbelief


We are following our webinar on UnApologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense with a different but equally engaging and helpful book study, Help My UnBelief  by Fleming Rutledge

I have mentioned Fleming’s work here before. I started reading her in the 1980’s. She and I were colleagues at the Toronto School of Theology, both of us visiting faculty, in the academic year, 2008 – 09. During that time we became good friends, a relationship that has continued to this day. I had the pleasure of being a guest in the Rutledge home in New York several years after we met up in Toronto. In 2014 she was one of the guest preachers at our “Festival of Preaching Northwest.”

Help My UnBelief takes it title from the words of a father, terrified and desperate because of his son’s life-threatening illness. This father sought help from Jesus who said to him, “All things can be done for the one who believes,” to which the desperate father responded, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

The novelist Flannery O’Connor described these words, “help my unbelief,” as “the foundation prayer of faith.” In the preface to this volume, Rutledge writes, “This collection of sermons has been designed for the man or woman who wonders about faith. We might call such a person a “faithful doubter” or even an “unbelieving believer.”

Often in her writing, Fleming speaks of her own struggle of faith. So, she may in some sense be addressing herself (which most of us preachers do). But she also writes out of a pastoral concern for the person who may be “a loyal church member who nevertheless admits, “I don’t think I have enough faith,” or “I wish I had as much faith as my wife [husband, mother, brother, friend, pastor] does,” or even, “I think I am losing my faith.” I suspect many of can identify with those words and feelings.

This book is a collection of sermons. Sermons, for the most part, are prepared to be spoken and heard, not to be read. They don’t all translate well to written form. But Fleming’s sermons are an exception to that general rule. She writes, as she speaks, with elegance, care and gravity. She takes the stewardship of words very seriously, and her sermons make good reading.

One advantage of a collection of sermons is that you can read one in 15 minutes or so, maybe less. Each week we will take three sermons, grouped together because of a similar theme or prepared in response to some contemporary question. For example, for the first session on April 25, we will take the opening three sermons that are all a response, from different angles, to this question: “Haven’t we learned how to deal with the important questions without recourse to the God hypothesis?” Or to put it another way, “In the modern world, is God really needed?”

The format will be the same as the previous book study. A panel made up of myself and 4 friends from the Crackers and Grape Juice podcast, will discuss the reading for that week. We invite on-line listeners to participate via the Q and A or Comment feature on the Zoom page. Each session begins at 4:00 PDT (7:00 EDT) and runs 90 minutes. You can register (it’s free) using the link on the right side of my homepage.

Registering not only gives you the Zoom link for each week’s live session, but also means you will receive the tape of the session a day or two later. So if you can’t/ don’t make it in person and live, you can still take part. The book is available both new and used at many of the usual outlets. The series will run 11 weeks, which I think takes us into early July.

After this webinar I may return to the format I used when hosted “Conversation 42” sessions, which has all those who register actually appear on the Zoom screen and talk together and with the presenter(s)/ moderators.

Categories: Uncategorized