Doubting Your Faith: Good or Bad?

12 04 2012





Sometimes not questioning is a sign that you don’t really care; you don’t care enough to think about stuff.


Faith and Doubt sermon series by Pastor Greg Boyd

Faith is sometimes understood as the lack of doubt. Doubt can be seen as the enemy of faith; however, doubt is not always the enemy. God wants His people to wrestle with Him on the things that happen in their life. We must not be afraid of struggling with deep questions.




“couldn’t an unwillingness to question lead to a false security that would be even more dangerous? For example, imagine it’s 1860, and you’re a Caucasian Christian in the American south and you are taught in church that dark-skinned people are inferior and therefore should be “our” slaves. The Bible is used to buttress this belief as a moral absolute, and to doubt it is seen as treason against not only the state but also the church. Don’t you think a person would be a better Christian for doubting that belief? Or think of Galileo back in the late Middle Ages. He doubted the church teaching (“proved” absolutely by the Bible) that the sun rotated around the earth. Would he have been a better Christian – not to mention astronomer – if he had refused to doubt?”

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doubt is and will remain a fixture in faith communities. Doubt is widespread and it isn’t going away. Church leaders are just going to have to figure out how to minister to lots of doubters within the church.

Why this is so is largely due to our historical location. Modernity has changed the way we experience belief. We live in the age of reason, empiricism, skepticism and science. The world has become disenchanted. The are no more witches or goblins, we live with molecules and entropy. As Bonhoeffer phrased it in his letters from prison, the world has “come of age.” We don’t need any more fairy tales.

Modernity hasn’t run faith out of the building. If anything, faith is experiencing a renaissance in modernity.

What characterizes modernity is the radical range of choices now in front of us. I can choose to be a Christian. Or a Buddhist. Or a Muslim. Or a Humanist. Or an atheist. And I can change my mind. Faith hasn’t been eliminated. Rather, faith has become radically open. The options available to us are dizzying. We live in the wake of what Charles Taylor calls “the Nova Effect,” this explosive expansion of choices, worldviews and lifestyles.

what this means is not that modernity has made faith unreasonable. But it does mean that faith is more fragile and unstable. As are all things in the foreground. The fact that faith is a choice means that faith can be revisited and the reasons behind that choice opened up to scrutiny. Further, we are constantly in contact with people making their own faith choices and can’t help but be affected by their reasons. No longer taken for granted, faith is always exposed to reflection and revisitation. When faith is a choice it needs to be reasserted, like all our other choices. It’s like waking up every morning and deciding what to wear. The choice is an everyday object in the mind. Thus, we need to keep choosing faith, over and over. And, like all things in the foreground, this take a lot of time and effort. Faith is now hard work. And some people, not surprisingly, just get tired.

In short, faith is going to feel different in modernity. It’s going to feel vulnerable and fragile. It’s going to be effortful. All this is simply saying that faith has moved from…

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for many Christians faith simply means “belief.” Further, “belief” is taken to mean “I think proposition x is true.” Thus, having faith means something like “I believe God exists.” While atheists are defined as those who say “I don’t believe that God exists.” Faith becomes reduced to asserting (or denying) propositions.



Needless to say, this is a thin and hollowed out notion of faith. Faith becomes an abstract, intellectual, cognitive, and rationalistic process. And the implication is that if you can’t get your intellect in line then you don’t have faith.



This formulation has many problems. First, it suggests, by definition, that doubt is a lack of faith. If faith means confidently asserting propositions doubt is found to be incompatible with faith. Unshakable intellectual confidence becomes the mark of faith. No doubt can be admitted into the faith experience. Such a situation is worrisome on many levels. First, in the bible faith is never understood to be unshakable intellectual confidence. In the bible faith is more similar to perseverance, obedience, covenant faithfulness or worship. Additionally, if faith is “unshakable intellectual confidence” religion becomes inflexible, intolerant and dangerous.



A second problem with a rationalistic notion of faith is that the believer has nowhere to go when doubt emerges. If doubt is the opposite of faith then when intellectual questions emerge the believer has to conclude that she has “lost faith” in God. But, as we all know, intellectual questions come and go. Our ability to assert anything about God waxes and wanes, often for years or decades. So we need understandings of faith that allow us to engage with those questions without the whole house of cards being thrown up into the air. Faith needs a stable foundation that can support intellectual exploration, questioning and doubt.

The first stage of the cognitive turn occurred with the establishment of the Christian creeds during the reign of Constantine. With the establishment of the creeds being a “Christian” became a matter of assenting to the propositions listed in the creeds. This was a hollowing out of faith. Faith was no longer participation in the life of the counter-cultural Christian sect declaring that Jesus was Lord in the face of the Roman Empire. For these early Christians “faith” was more akin to allegiance, rebellion and revolution, a declaration that you were not a citizen of this world. That Caesar was not, in point of fact, your king.



But in the wake of the creeds all this was lost. “Faith” became the public endorsement of a list of religious propositions. Being a “Christian” became equated with orthodoxy (asserting the correct propositions) rather than political allegiance.



The second stage of the…

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Doubters tend to be thinkers; and thinkers want someone to interact with, and so I want to recommend two books that have been helpful for me with doubts. I begin with Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment and Robert Wennberg Faith at the Edge: A Book for Doubters. These books will sometimes speak to you as if the…

I have to begin with this observation: you will never go back to where you were and you will never be the same again and you will never get back to where things were. Instead, this season of doubt, which for some lasts months and for others years and even in some ways lingers for a lifetime, is with you and it changes you and your faith. There is a temptation to seek to go back and find your first feelings or your former way of doing things. That approach to encountering doubt teaches most us one one thing: that’s not the approach that “works.”
Instead, it is my advice for you to see that faith and doubt are not opposites but instead companions, with doubt a direct challenge or at times an assault on what you believe. Your faith will mature and develop because of encountering doubt, but it will be a new and more flexible form of faith itself.
You have now experienced what many today call “deconstruction.” Deconstruction bewilders, but provides an opportunity for reconstruction. That is, once the building has been dismantled, the new reconstruction will not be the same — but dismantling will give you the opportunity to begin all over again with an existential yearning for it all to make sense. This opportunity may be the most significant season in your life. I know when I was in seminary I struggled mightily with the nature of the faith but I came out chastened but stronger in that everything considered important had to be important in order to be included in the new construction.

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Doubt keeps us honest. My nervous-meter rises when anyone claims that their view is obvious. Christianity or atheism, pacifism or just war, new perspective or old. If you “don’t understand how anyone could think that,” that’s a you problem. People think all of it because none of it is obvious. And if it is obvious, then everyone who disagrees with you is either evil or stupid. And that’s obviously not true. By all means land, but land lightly.

Doubt exposes our…

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