The Right Kind of Confident: The Remarkable Grit of a God-Fearing WomanWritten by Mary A. Kassian Reviewed By Beth Webb
We named our first daughter Matilda. It means strong. Back then we believed we needed more strong women. Fast forward to today and we now have four daughters we’re endeavoring to raise into strong, confident women. I’m armed with the knowledge that girls suffer lower self-esteem than boys and that as they grow, this inadvertently sabotages their relationships and impedes them from attempting new ventures. The difficulty is that the old adage to just believe in yourself doesn’t seem particularly effective or theologically robust. Kassian’s new book The Right Kind of Confident successfully provides a birds-eye biblical framework that speaks into this.
The Right Kind of Confident is an accessible and practical read that’s meant to be shared and discussed with friends in order to maximize its full benefits. Accompanying questions and leaders’ guide are available at the author’s website (pp. xvi–xvii). Kassian’s aim is that the reader might understand fear properly, rightfully fear God and break free of other fears that control them (p. xvii).
To achieve this, the book is set out in three sections. The first section (ch. 1) establishes the “Bible’s confidence code” (p. 26) that underpins the book. Kassian surveys four Hebrew words for confidence to demonstrate that there are two main opposing sources of confidence in Scripture: a foolish one and wise one. The wise source relies on (and fears) God more than other sources, the foolish type does the reverse.
This foundational concept is built around Old Testament material. In the following chapters, there are sections that elegantly move Old Testament themes into their New Testament counterparts showing how Christ develops them (pp. 81–83, 110–12). But overall, this Old Testament emphasis remains throughout the book. For this reason, it can feel as though the themes of grace and eschatology are not as developed as other themes, such as the holiness of God.
Following this, chapters 2–4 outline a biblical understanding of fear before chapters 3–7 apply this “real, down-to-earth, practical” (p. 112) doctrine to everyday life. Kassian starts with fear because while the world says fear blocks confidence, the Bible says fearing God is the root of confidence. Thus, to explain how fear could lead to confidence she establishes the case for both the negative and positive elements of fear. The story of the fall shows this. Human beings were created with a good, God-given fear that positively protected them both physically and spiritually. After the fall, Satan distorted both what we fear and what we trust to alleviate those fears. Kassian wants us to revive the positive, pre-fall aspects of fear before that fear was corrupted.
She then delineates how to do this by outlining a broad definition of fear that has the capacity to hold both its negative and positive elements. This definition hinges on the comparative strength between us and what we fear. That is, we fear what is beyond our control. This is not always a bad thing; it depends on what the object of our fear is. By categorizing a vast number of verses of Scripture, Kassian finds three different types of fear that fit within her definition (p. 73). The first is apprehensive fear where you are vulnerable to being hurt by what is out of your control. The second is respectful fear where we are still vulnerable but “anticipate benefit and not harm when we show proper respect” (p. 75). The last is reverent fear which builds on respect and moves us to veneration. Perhaps the most illuminating part of this chapter is where Kassian explains how we could move from apprehensive fear of God to a reverent fear because of our salvation in Christ (pp. 81–83).
The practicalities of this are outlined in chapters 5–7. These chapters are packed with stories (both biblical and contemporary), illustrations and practical exercises. Some stories and illustrations are powerfully moving and others every-day and easily relatable. However, others stand in danger of losing effectiveness because of overuse in popular talks, articles and sermons —e.g., Aslan (pp. 92, 138) and Blondin (pp. 142–43).
Great attention is given in chapter 5 to the examples of both Moses and the disciples in the storm. However, the reader is placed in the shoes of the characters without particular attention to that character’s special or unique place in the unfolding revelation of Scripture. For example, Kassian claims that God can do for us what he did for Moses (p. 124) and the disciples (pp. 128–29). Depending on your biblical-theological framework, you may be left looking for more clarity about what the author means or doesn’t mean by this. However, the book’s context does give the larger framework of the redemptive-historical story (pp. 81–83, 110–12), and also addresses the tension of living in the age between Jesus’s first and second coming—e.g., in a story of two men’s contrasting journeys with cancer (pp. 135–37).
The overall logic of this final section is that our confidence is directly linked to our view of God. It explores what erodes that confidence and what builds it up before returning to the confidence code outlined in chapter one to tie it all together.
In summary, I appreciate the way Kassian investigates the semantic range of key words and how they develop through history, so we can more readily bridge them to the way the Bible uses them. Of course, language is not static. Contemporary use of key terms such as fear, awe and confidence smuggle in a new range of meanings that become part of the landscape we inadvertently live and breathe. This results in language mismatches between current usage and Scripture which can easily distort our understanding of the way Scripture uses these terms.
However, we can’t escape being embedded in our contemporary context. While Kassian laments that “the words at our disposal simply aren’t big enough to contain or communicate” these concepts (p. 95), I think it would be worth considering how we might use the contemporary vernacular to some extent. While not undermining the challenge this presents, I crave to converse, for example, with my young daughters about confidence without getting too tied down with how words change over time.
The highlight for me was being able to see what confidence means for different kinds of women. In our society, confidence often “looks like” the woman in the board room calling the shots. I don’t doubt for a moment that such women need buckets of confidence, but I live in a socio-economically disadvantaged region where few of my neighbors hold tertiary degrees or will probably ever enter a board room. Yet the hardships they face are immense. They too need confidence. Kassian powerfully shows how the modern advice simply to not be afraid is both an insensitive and ineffective way to deal with such genuine hardship (pp. 1–3, 185–88). We need confidence rooted in a source bigger than ourselves.
Of course, the idea of trusting God through serious hardship opens a can of worms about God’s providence and the problem of suffering. While touching on this question, it is beyond the scope of the book to address it in a sustained and systematic way. Regardless, The Right Kind of Confident lucidly illuminates many important truths that are valuable for the real world, and I lapped it up.
Chester Hill Anglican Church
Chester Hill, New South Wales, Australia
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