A Healthy Dose of Doubt

Doubt: a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something

Lately I’ve been wondering about the role and value of doubt in the Christian faith. Be it discussions with friends, thoughts on various theological issues, discussing life’s conundrums with my wife, or reading other blogs (see Ryan’s helpful thoughts here), the topic of doubt is constantly coming up. So I figured it was time to share some of my own perspectives…

It seems that today doubt has become an acceptable part of the Christian faith. For instance, much of Christianity (not all) accepts Mother Teresa’s doubt – her “crisis of faith” – as a further sign of her already profound expression of true faith. I tend to agree. Now, I am careful not to endorse doubt as the only or the primary expression of one’s religious exploration. The tendency to deconstruct all truth in our (post)modern context can lead to endless questioning without any real desire for answers. It exhibits itself more as pessimism towards all things “modern” than actually being a serious consideration of religious truth.

Despite this problem, I actually think a healthy dose of doubt exhibits religious vitality. For one, doubt pushes us take seriously the truth claims we so often take for granted. And considering that Christian beliefs can and should have a profound impact on how we live, doubting these beliefs reflects an acknowledgment of just how serious and life changing our understanding of truth can be.

Second, doubt is simply a reality of the human experience. Being a Christian isn’t reality-denying, as some perhaps have interpreted it to be. Rather, a Christian perspective on life attempts truth to the reality of human experience, doubt included. I think our attempts to live ‘Christianly’, for example, could translate far better into the brokenness of our world if Christians were willing to at least acknowledge the doubts many people have regarding the applicability of Christian principles in our world.

Finally, these signs for doubt as religious vitality reveal the ongoing necessity for humility in the Christian life, in particular humility regarding our ability to answer life’s bigger questions. While we may accept our own theologies and biblical interpretations as true (as individuals and communities), we must recognize the context from which these ideas come from and be willing to recognize areas in which human brokenness may or may not have ill-construed our interpretation of truth. From this position of humility, I believe, we acknowledge as Christians that our experience of truth is yet limited. From our humility, then, we place hope beyond ourselves for complete truth. Hope, however, amidst our doubt, never in denial of it.


Mike said...

In my mind, without doubt there is no faith, only certainty. And who needs more of that?

Len Hjalmarson said...

David, what do you make of the work of Pete Rollins? Did you read "How (Not) to Speak of God?" Rollins is coming at all this thru the classic frame of via negativa; refreshing, and often convicting.

dwark said...

Len, I haven't read any of Rollins, but from what I see he offers some provocative thoughts on how we understand and communicate our faith. I am particularly intrigued by the concept of "transformative silence" which he refers to on his homepage (http://www.peterrollins.net/). The idea that silence can make a tangible difference in our world is something worth considering in my view.

Ryan said...

I read Rollins' book last year and I came away with mixed opinions. I appreciate much of what Rollins has to say—especially his moving away from binary understandings of truth toward a view which sees truth as being defined by its correspondence to the person and intentions of Christ (kind of an "eschatological" understanding of truth, although I don't remember him calling it that). I also appreciate his efforts to find creative ways to "do" church in a post-Christian context.

But I found myself often asking myself about the role Jesus plays in Rollins' theology. At times, he seemed to posit a God that was so "other" and incomprehensible that I wondered about how that fit with a God who had made himself known in the real historical person of Jesus Christ. I think that if the fullness of deity really does dwell in Jesus (Col. 2:9), then we actually can (and must) move beyond saying what God is not. Perhaps I've misrepresented Rollins or he addresses concerns such as these elsewhere, but those were some of my initial impressions.

(I reflected on Rollins' book here, here, and here, for those interested in having a look.

dwark said...

Ryan, I knew Rollins' sounded familiar. I just could remember where... Thanks for the reminder. And I wonder too how far we can take the notion not speaking of God. I think the concept is helpful in challenging our traditional views of communicating truth, but by no means should the pendulum swing completely away from our theological explications.

Your point about the problems related to limiting God to "other" is also a good reminder, particularly as we consider the impact of Jesus in our world.


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