No Doubt or Know Doubt: part II



Rachel is still fond of saying that,“without doubt it isnt faith, its fact.” And before you think that makes faith less valuable or true, remember that one of the very fundamental fallacies of modern/enlightenment thought is that empirically verifiable fact is the only thing which is right or true. Translation – for the last five hundred years weve heard that only things which can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard can be proven or trusted. The whole world, including the non-religious, are waking up from the stupor brought on by this thinking and in a loud voice are calling out for something more. We must stop expending so much energy labeling the New Age, Eastern mysticism and spiritualist movements as something evil and recognize that the world is tired of waiting for Christians to tell them what they need to hear.

There is something real and deep and true beyond the world that the senses currently detect. And sadly, Christians are often too busy attacking spirituality which fails to match our own to be able to say, “Yes! Your impulses are good! Let us journey together.” Having a commitment to the Lordship of Christ does not mean that we must attack and destroy or ridicule and ignore anyone with another commitment.

Unfortunately when we have engaged in this conversation it has often been with a Platonic and Cartesian dualism than from Biblical spirituality. The Platonic way of viewing the universe says that not only are the senses not where all truth resides, but the senses cannot be trusted AT ALL. For Plato everything we see and experience is merely a “shadow” of that which is Real. So we have developed this belief that matter and physicality are not real and are essentially evil. And this is something which the Bible does not affirm.

The certainty of the Enlightenment was based on science and human progress – and we, along with much of the world, say, “Not so much.” Much of the Christian community of last few hundred years jumped on the progress bandwagon. However, what spirituality we experienced has often gone to the other extreme and placed all our eggs in a disembodied spiritual existence. And to this, the Bible says, “Not so much.”

What does all this have to do with doubt and certainty?

When our existence involves both the seen and unseen, physical and spiritual (though I utterly disdain that distinction), faith and reason…it is more difficult to develop and defend rigid systems with black and white boundaries. There are variables. There is mystery.

That doesnt mean that there is no truth or that we should not hold convictions. It does suggest that we should hold our convictions with humility. It does suggest that we can, in good conscience and good faith, admit struggles and doubt; we can have a sense of solidarity with the skeptical seeker. It does mean that we can question assumptions, and challenge beliefs.

I wonder what that looks like? It can look like secular humanism. It can look like individual  cafeteria-style spirituality. It can look like a lot of things which have already been shown to be ineffective. 

However, if part of the process of challenging is giving serious consideration to how Christians and Jews throughout history have been formed; if part of the process is remaining connected to community – even in the midst of differing perspectives; if part of the process is listening to the voices (present and past) who with faith in God have asked similar questions…this process can healthy and life affirming.

Is Dr. Beck right when he suggests that injecting doubt into our churches will probably kill them? My guess is that typically it would be pretty difficult to accomplish without viciously pulling the rug out from under folks. And yet we who are engaging in the ministry of planting new churches are often doing precisely this at some level. At least some of us are saying to those we encounter, “Ive got a lot of questions and doubts too, and my goal is not to eliminate your doubt. I want to invite you into community with other people who are wrestling and also to introduce you to Jesus, the One who is more interested is healing your wounds (and sending you to heal others) than giving you a list of answers (and sending you to convince others).”

Make no mistake, left unchecked, doubt can be crippling. And yet, when a community of disciples is willing to openly and honestly deal with their doubt; to struggle with difficult issues instead of hiding behind platitudes, such a community is poised to experience faith that is never touched by those who refuse to fully engage.


Posted on January 9, 2009, in doubt, faith and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Bret,

    A couple of thoughts:

    First, I agree with the usefulness of doubt in the journey of faith. I think your wife’s quote is an incredibly good summary of the matter.

    Second, I think you slam Plato a little hard here. Your slam is really about Platonism, not Plato (just like Calvin was not as Calvinist as most Calvinists). Plato was trying to conserve a real sense of Universal Realities which transcended and included Particulars (i.e. Justice as a REAL quality shared by just acts; Squareness as a REAL universal shared by all particular squares).

    His methodology may be dodgy (and substantially improved by Aristotle!). But his central insight was this: If there are no Real Universals, then everything is subjective.

    I think that is a helpful insight that we need to uphold, especially in the face of some of the corrosive errors in postmodern culture…

  2. Nate,
    Your critique is fair and you are absolutely right, I should have said “for the Platonist” or for our uses even, “for the neo-Platonist.”

    And that is really the issue – Plato isn’t the problem, even if he were as platonic as his later disciples would be. The issue is how those dualistic (and often anti-material) perspectives of the Platonists have impacted the way we as Christians understand the universe and the writings of Scripture.

    More than that, the issue is how we uncritically accept many of these views as Biblical fact.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: