Why We Need A (Good) Theology Of Doubting

I have been following the whole IRD/Rachel Held Evans conversation that was taking place on the IRD’s blog, Juicy Ecumenism, and one thing is pretty obvious…Christians need a good theology surrounding doubting. Let’s face the fact that our current theology concerning doubting flat out sucks. It’s complete garbage. Why? Because any time someone expresses a strong doubt, they are given funny looks, avoided like the plague, or just shunned. All one has to do is look at the comments in the post to see my point (although one commenter does get it right). Here are just some of the gems:

  1. “Mark, she isn’t “wrestling with doubt,” that’s just liberal claptrap, makes it sound like they’re openminded and consider all the options while evangelicals are stuck in our rigid orthodoxy. They have their own orthodoxy of core beliefs that are non-negotiable, but they can’t come out and admit they’re trying to replace one orthodoxy with another. Ask a liberal if she has doubts about gay marriage or ordination of women, and she won’t hesitate a second. They’re not sure is marriage is essential for men and women any more but they’re gung-ho for same-sex couples.”
  2. “Something has happened to the reasoning power of college students if they could sit through such poppycock and not laugh or walk out. She says we’re supposed to doubt (no Bible verse to support that, needless to say), but they says we’re supposed to have a “childlike faith.” Apparently she’s never had any contact with actual living children, because kids don’t like doubt, quite the contrary. I do agree that Christians should have a childlike trust in God, but in her mouth “childlike faith” sounds like an admonition to not think in a mature way about our beliefs and values. I don’t want to sound unkind, but the author strikes me as an overgrown kid who likes attention and knows bit and pieces of the Bible but isn’t mature enough to see the overall themes in it. Could we please get some adults to write Christian books”
  3. There is a seductive quality in this book—as in, a doubter trying to seduce others into doubting. The author honors doubt more than truth. Probably any purchaser of this book has already begun to doubt her faith, so it’s a relatively easy seduction. It is a sign of immaturity to boast of being in the Doubting Thomas Society instead of the Christian church—or, as the Doubters might call it, the Boring Close-Minded Reactionary Club. As a rule, the Doubting crowd ends up believing not much of anything, so there is no discernible difference between the ex-evangelical and the secular agnostic. Frankly, I have more respect for the ex-Christian who completely abandons the faith and says so bluntly. It is hard to respect this author who sorta kinda hangs on to the name of “Christian,” while she and her supposedly Christian publisher are happy to make money from books designed to tear down people’s faith instead of enriching it. When you find yourself mentally more comfortable with unbelievers than with believers, do the obvious thing: exit the church and go dabble in whatever flimsy-fluffy “spirituality” the All-Knowing Oprah is recommending that week.”

I will deal with each of these in turn.

  1. Saying one is “wrestling with doubt” is not “liberal claptrap.” There are plenty of instances within the Bible where one is dealing with doubt: Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Thomas…to name a few. I think it’s safe to say that Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah probably had their doubts concerning God’s call for them. Just look at the call stories. They tried to make excuses to get out of what God was calling them to do.
  2. Point me to a verse that prohibits doubting. There are several that describe doubt and there are some that show God and Jesus dealing with doubters. To my knowledge, every story where God or Jesus is dealing with a doubter, they meet the doubter where they are and provide them with the support or evidence needed to overcome their doubt. There is no scolding or admonition.
  3. So you would deny a part of the biblical narrative because it does not conform to your views on faith and doubt. And if you believe that the doubting crowd doesn’t end up believing in anything then what “doubters” have you actually conversed with? Yes, some people do not overcome their doubts, or they don’t want to. As someone who has made the journey through doubt, I can tell you it’s hard…very hard. But you can’t have true faith without having journeyed through some kind of doubt.

I’m not the only one who thinks doubting is a part of spiritual growth. Alister McGrath wrote an entire book on doubt and dealing with doubt. It’s a book that I highly recommend as it has been a great help to me. Also, James McGrath the following video earlier today. I watched it and you should too.

To read more of my story of the journey through doubt to faith, pre-order a copy of From Fear to FaithI wrote a chapter detailing my spiritual journey through doubt.

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