A few years ago I began to feel very isolated in my faith – isolated from other believers. Churches seemed to be filled with people living serene spiritual lives, my friends seemed to be well-studied apologists, and no one seemed to be in the same place as me – doubt and questioning.
These days its a topic frequent among many Christians, thanks in large part to a movement of professed doubters such as Rachel Held Evans and Jason Boyett, both who have written books and maintain blogs frequenting the subject. Long before either were on the scene I felt very much so alone because no one seemed to be talking about it, and as such my questioning was not simply just in particular doctrines but in whether in my questioning I was losing orthodox faith altogether.
I had a desire in me to be a published author, and I began compiling ideas for a book that I thought would be totally different – a Christian admitting they’re shaky and not very rigid in the Christian structure, and in fact had stopped believing in some supposedly central ideas. I had worked out a cute title, “Sprinkler System Rainbows,” a reference to how even machines can make a rainbow, something called a miracle by the Bible.
Well I got focused on other things (and I was aware my chances of being published were very minimal), and before I knew it doubt was mainstream. Naturally this freaks out plenty of people who were raised to have “bulletproof faith,” but ultimately I think the doubt movement has potential to be a great thing.
My church very much so taught the Bible as literal and inerrant words of God himself, and thought of itself as the victim of constant attacks on the faith from all over culture. It pushed for believers to be strong as a rock. And I would never condemn a convicting faith, it’s a beautiful thing. However the church insisted it had everything figured out and the only thing to question were the opposing side’s viewpoint.
So imagine my surprise and horror when I began to find holes in the supposed air-tight church! And when they teach every single thing to be so important its difficult not to question everything.
Here are some reasons doubt can actually good for Christianity, which tends to do things upside down:
- Doubt precedes faith – its how you land at belief in the first place! There must first be doubt. But the church was either too afraid to admit that for fear of losing believers or simply didn’t see this value of questioning at all.
- Freedom can actually come from doubt – because we can finally feel comfortable and honest in what’s really going on.
- Doubt and questions don’t just dissipate. Healthy couples know to resolve their conflicts, not turn a blind eye. If you put off attending to a wound it ultimately gets bigger and can even get infected. It becomes a much bigger hassle if left untouched.
- I think one of the products of the building of a generation of believers who can make a case for Christ, who are trained in apologetics, is that you get a strong emphasis on doctrine – Christians should know exactly what they believe and be able to articulate it well. And doctrine is easy to lose faith in, especially reductionist fundamentalist ones. Christianity for many believers, became more about believing in the ideas than in the power and experience of Jesus. The doctrine replaced Jesus. And ultimately believers are believers because of a powerful experience of meeting Jesus, not because of intellectualism. You doubt and question ideas, but usually not encounters. I think this is why you hear news stories of pastors who become atheists – for them Christianity was about intellectual belief.
So keep questioning on, if that’s where you’re at, and know that the very act of asking questions is actually an expression of faith. Jesus knew people would doubt – they doubted his teachings, they doubted who he was, they doubted his resurrection – and he wasn’t nervous about it.
What do you think about the doubt movement – do you agree it can help believers? What are its dangers?