Is Doubt Essential to Faith?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last week the religion section of the Washington Post featured an article by Jason Boyett, a Southern Baptist author and speaker. In the article, titled “The Doubting Christian,” Boyett admits, “There are some days when I'm not entirely sure I believe in God.” The point of his article is to encourage Christians to embrace their doubting. His conclusion:

“Deep in this valley of doubt, I still call myself a Christian and try to serve others, love my enemies, and otherwise live like a follower of Jesus...even on the days agnosticism looks inviting. Even on the days I labor to reconcile evolution with the Bible. Even on the days I'm not certain God exists. I'm a big, fat doubter, and I'm learning to be okay with that.”
Unfortunately, Boyett reflects the modern world's understanding of the concept of faith, but not the Bible's teaching of the concept of faith. He writes:

“Our mistake is that we view doubt and faith as opposites. I grew up thinking of "faith" as the ability to believe in certain presuppositions--that God exists or that Jesus died for my sins. If I could mentally assent to that checklist, I had faith. If I struggled with those beliefs, then I had doubt. Faith and doubt couldn't coexist.

“I've spent three decades learning I was wrong. Doubt is essential to faith. Faith, by definition, requires uncertainty.”
This is a sad but common misunderstanding. The Bible says the opposite is true: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see." (Heb 11:1)

To the modern world (and Boyett), faith means I'm banking on something that I'm pretty sure is reliable, but not certain. For example, the coach of the Detroit Lions might say, "I have faith in my team, and I think we're going to the Super Bowl." (Hmm....) However, according to Scripture, faith means I clearly see realities that unbelievers are blind to, I embrace those realities, and I am motivated to act according to those realities.

What does Scripture Say?

According to Hebrews 11, faith is our spiritual eyes (the eyes of our understanding) being opened to see spiritual (invisible) realities:
• "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see." (Heb 11:1)
• "By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God's command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible." (Heb 11:3)
• "These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them." (Heb 11:13)
• "By faith [Moses] left Egypt without fearing the king's anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible." (Heb 11:27)

True believers may be uncertain about where the life of faith will lead them on earth, but they are certain about their eternal reward:
• "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going.... For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Heb 11:8, 10)
• Moses "regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward." (Heb 11:26)

Christian Doubters

I am not saying that a true Christian will never struggle with doubt. True believers often have times of doubt and struggle. Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith,” includes individuals who had times of severe unbelief. Abraham lied (twice) about his relationship with his wife, for fear of being killed. Sarah laughed when told she would conceive at 90 years old. Many Christians have been encouraged in their struggles by the honest cry in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

But doubt is not “essential to faith.” Doubt is the opposite of faith and is overcome by faith.

Certainly I would encourage fellow believers to be open about their doubts. It’s okay to ask questions. It would be wrong of me (or any Christian) to demonize or reject an honest doubter. But the way to help doubters is not to celebrate their doubting (as Boyett does), but to help them combat their doubts with the sure promises of Scripture. Ultimately, the problem with Boyett’s article is its complete failure to point doubters toward God’s Word. In fact, he lists a Bible verse (James 1:6) as a “culprit”! I much prefer the perspective of the old hymn: “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”

To me, Boyett’s article is just another example of unhelpful, unbiblical, postmodern drivel. For example, consider his statement: "Answering 'I don't know' to most religious questions isn't just honest, but humble." If the religious questions he's referring to are questions the Bible clearly answers, then answering "I don't know" is sinful, not humble. Reminds me of G. K. Chesterton's statement: “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed."1

This is Practical Stuff

What I'm arguing for is vital in the Christian walk. Boyett states, "These days, if I have faith, it's in my willingness to follow the teachings of Christ despite my hesitations. Faith, for me, is action." This is dreadful counsel. For me, the opposite is true. If I have hesitations regarding the truth of God, Christ, salvation, and eternity, I am much more likely to sin. If I doubt even for a minute the truth of the Bible, I am 100 times more likely to give in to temptation. "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Cor 15:32). 100% certainty in the truth of God and eternal life is our most powerful defense against temptation. This is what it means to "take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph 6:16). However, it is important to remember that our hope of salvation is not in our ability to believe and never doubt, but in Christ our perfect substitute.

Are you struggling in your faith right now? Consider “doubting your doubts.”2 What is your ultimate authority? What is the source of your perception of reality – your doubts or God’s Word? Pray for eyes to clearly see His truth and His promises. “Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe” (John 20:27).
God makes faith solid/ it's not a blind leap, it's an anchor attached to a rock, it's/ God promise on top of an oath/ the evidence of the things unseen the substance of hope// provable and immutable/ absolute truth as usual it's still irrefutable/ God's perspective the true objective/ no other document should be as highly respected
-Stephen the Levite, "What's Your Proof?"
1. Orthodoxy, pp. 27-28.
2. Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p. xviii


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