At the Confluence of Doubt and Faith

Mike Whitenton notes that James McGrath (whose blog is one of the very best biblioblogs out there, in my opinion) has posted some excellent comments on the presence of doubt in individual and communal faith.  I found these words particularly poignant:

Others… object by pointing out that they know many people who have ventured into the tunnel of doubt and have never made it out the other side. To this I respond with a question: Have you ever considered that so many who lose their faith never recover it because they are forced to go through that tunnel alone?

As an instructor in both academic and ecclesiastical settings, I’ve seen numerous individuals suffer from doubts and concurrent feelings of shame (“if my faith were stronger, I wouldn’t feel this way”) and isolation (“no one else seems to have these problems, so I don’t know where to turn for help”).  Whether I’m teaching at school or at church, I try to emphasize that feelings of unease and uncertainty are natural occurrences throughout the course of many, if not most, spiritual journeys.  Moreover, as someone who has experienced such feelings on numerous occasions, I am eager to serve as a guide, a resource, or simply a companion for those struggling with the implications of an honest and searching examination of their faith—in other words, to ensure that no one is forced to pass through “the tunnel of doubt” alone.  I suspect that similar issues play a significant role in the crippling divide between church and academy; the majority of congregations, fearful of the probing questions (and potentially unorthodox answers) of critical scholarship and lacking sensitive leaders with whom they may fruitfully engage the relevant material, simply ignore, obscure, or refute it.  While these strategies may prove effective within the physical and psychological walls of the church itself, they cannot permanently immunize congregants from the encounters with disparate people and ideas which will inevitably occur in the ever-shrinking, information-laden global village.  Indeed, they tend to diminish the ability of their practitioners to comprehend and cope with unfamiliar or potentially contradictory views.

Take a few moments to read James’ thoughts in their entirety, and be sure to contribute some comments of your own.

4 Responses to “At the Confluence of Doubt and Faith”

  1. 1 Edward T. Babinski
    August 6, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    “Many who lose their faith never recover it because they are forced to go through that tunnel alone”–McGrath

    I think those who go through such tunnels are brave souls whose stories need to be told. See Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (not strictly an anti-Christian book, since a third of the testimonies are by people who remained Christians albeit of a moderate or liberal sort).

    Others go through other tunnels each in their own way disturbing. Like Scott Hahn who left the Protestant ministry for Catholicism. He and a close Protestant minister friend went through that tunnel together.

    But doubt, or at least a bolder acknowledgement of it, seems to be emerging in the Evangelical world, from the inside of that world, if you read any of these recent books by Evangelical authors:

    Walking Away from Faith Ruth A. Tucker
    Finding Faith, Losing Faith Scot McKnight
    Inspiration and Incarnation Peter Enns
    God’s Word in Human Words Kenton L. Sparks

  2. August 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Hi, everyone! I went through the depths of clinical depression from 1979 to 1986 and, with a lot of phychological and biblical help, discovered that there is a biblical pattern which God used to rescue me from that long depression, which was my bottled-up anger at God and others because of many losses. Not the least of those losses was the death of our second boy from leukemia in 1972. I thought that I had dealt with that grief. During my depression it seemed that my prayers were merely bouncing off the ceiling. Well, inspite of the traumatic losses, God enabled me to grieve with tears about Keith’s death, even though Mom had taught me, “Big boys don’t cry!” a very unhealthy teaching for me. Instead, I began in 1986 to grieve out my anger at God that he permitted Keith’s death by sharing with him those feelings with tears. At the same time, I confessed to him that I was being self-centered in wanting my plan instead of his plan permitting Keith’s death. It took seven and a half months for my depression to leave, while God gave me the peace that transcends understanding of Philippians chapter four after another month of grieving prayers. God came closer to me even as I railed at him for his permissive plan! No other God shows such amazing grace!

  3. August 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    By the way, I have finished writing a book entitled Doubting? Contact Doubtbusters! a journey between the real me and my fictional friend named Joe toward faith in God. Watch for it, when it’s published, in the non-fiction books. It’s non-fiction because the narrator’s experiences and religious ideas are non-fiction, even though the narrator’s experiences are fictional and the setting is fictional. I hope that it is published this year because of all that’s going on in our country, because people need an anchor for true faith.

    • November 28, 2009 at 11:48 am

      My book’s new (and probably final) title is Doubtbusters! God Is My Shrink! It is presently at a publisher who is in the decision-making process about whether or not to publish my book. The amazing thing is that God gave me peace about the outcome the day before I handed it to them! I’m thankful for his gift of calmness about their decision, even if they decline my book.

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August 2009


© 2006-2009, Matthew Burgess. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the original content of this website is strictly prohibited. Quotations or citations should include a link to this website. The views and opinions given here are my own and do not represent those of the University of Virginia (or anyone else, for that matter).

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