Doubting your doubts

I wish to expand a bit on the concept of “doubting your doubts.” I first came across this phrase in The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Here is a quote from the introduction (I hope you will purchase the book and read it for yourself):

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.

But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because “There can’t be just one true religion,” you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, “There can’t be just one true religion,” nearly everyone would say, “Why not?” The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.

Some people say, “I don’t believe in Christianity because I can’t accept the existence of moral absolutes. Everyone should determine moral truth for him- or herself.” Is that a statement they can prove to someone who doesn’t share it? No, it is a leap of faith, a deep belief that individual rights operate not only in the political sphere but also in the moral. There is not empirical proof for such a position. So the doubt (of moral absolutes) is a leap.

The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness, you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs — you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared.

I commend two processes to my readers. I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined “blind faith” on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them. I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections to the faith. At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility.

(hard cover pp. xvi-xviii, soft cover pp. xvii-xix)

Do I ever have doubts about Christianity? There are certainly things I do not understand, whether in the Bible, theology, ethics, or history. There is so much more that makes sense to me by being a Christian, however, as opposed to being a skeptic or adherent of some other religion, that none of these “doubts” has caused serious trouble for me for quite a long time. Part of this is because I have struggled through some real doubts of my own in the past, and come through at the end with my faith strengthened.

If you are a Christian, what are your doubts? How are you dealing with them?

If you are a skeptic, are you questioning your doubts about Christianity? Do you have doubts about your own doubts?

Grace and Peace

Around the web 4/14/2013 — Death of a sinner, fornication, horsing around, and more

DEATH OF A SAVED SINNER — From Christianity Today: Died: Brennan Manning, Author of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning was a sinner, having gone through alcoholism and  divorce, among other things. Manning was very open about his failures, which is part of what made his books so worthwhile.

“Don’t think I’m a saint. I’m a ragamuffin, you’re a ragamuffin, and God loves us anyway.” In his bestseller The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah, 1990), he writes that “justification by grace through faith means that I know myself accepted by God as I am.” He explains, “Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God alone.”

Some quotes from his writings:

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” — The Ragamuffin Gospel

“Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself. ” — The Wisdom of Tenderness

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation.” — The Furious Longing of God

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” — Abba’s Child

I’m a sinner too, so I can relate. Saved by grace alone:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. — Ephesians 2:8,9 NIV

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16 NIV

SEXUAL SIN INHIBITS REVIVAL — In Who Are You Sleeping With? My Conversation With Timothy Keller, Christ and Pop Culture quotes pastor and author Timothy Keller, who puts his finger on a significant obstacle to revival in our churches:

Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

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 Keller says we need to present an alternative view, a view of sex that is beautiful, but different than the one offered in the dominant cultural narratives; affirming of the goodness of sex, but presenting it within a God-intended framework that imbues it with meaning and value.

I suspect the problem is much broader than fornication; it is the entire package of anything-goes sexuality that pervades our culture—pornography, easy divorce, living together, promiscuity, outside-of-marriage childbearing, abortion, homosexuality, polygamy, incest, sexualized entertainment—much of which also infects the church.

HT: The Aquila Report

JUST HORSING AROUND — Naturalis Historia has a series on the evolving views of young-Earth creationists regarding horse evolution:

A Horse is a Horse, Unless of Course it Isn’t a Horse

When is a Horse a Horse? The Species Definition Problem

In Search of the Equine Common Ancestor – Horse Series Part III

It seems maybe horses evolved after all. Very quickly, according to some YECs.

WHO’S KIDS ARE ALREADY GONE? — Genesis and Geology has a review of Ken Ham’s book Already Gone, in which the Answers in Genesis president (along with coauthor Britt Beemer) gives reasons why many of our kids leave the church (evolution and millions of years) and his solution (more young-Earth creationism).

From the review:

The book’s most serious flaw is methodological: common sense tells us that it is difficult for people who have already made up their minds about an issue to carry out objective surveys (Beemer is anything but impartial). Evangelicals have been complaining for years about how easy it is for the media to distort data. Perhaps we should practice what we preach? Furthermore, researchers should publish all of their survey data (that’s standard practice). Ham & Beemer have not done this, and unfortunately much of the data they did publish seems to contradict some their conclusions (e.g., most of the dropouts seem to agree with AiG on most Creation/evolution issues, but they dropped out anyway; when respondents said they were turned off by hypocrisy in the church, Ham conveniently interprets that to mean they were offended by pastors and teachers who “compromised” on Genesis.

CHATTING ABOUT THE CHILL — Answers in Genesis will be having a live chat on Facebook on Tuesday regarding their latest Answers Magazine ice age article, which I critiqued last week. I’ll drop in on the chat if I have the chance.

Answers-ice-age-facebook

ABIOTIC OIL — I’ve made a few comments on Jay Wile’s blog about the origin of hydrocarbons in Earth’s crust. While some methane does come from the mantle or deep crust, and there are a few oil and gas deposits in basement rocks, I take the position that most oil and gas is indeed derived from organic material in sedimentary basins.

Two quotes from H.G. Wells

I recently read two quotes by H.G. Wells, one written before World War II, and the other after.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state… form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do. (from A Short History of the World, 1937)

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The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether… “Homo sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. (from A Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1946)

A few observations:

  • H.G. Wells must have had his head stuck in the sand in 1937 in order to think that the world was on the verge of utopia. Hitler had a firm grip on Germany and clearly had an expansionist agenda, Stalin was up to his knees in blood, and war was raging between Japan and China.
  • The Second World War was especially crushing to the hopes of those who held to an optimistic view of the future of humanity. Those who believe that humans are on a path to something approaching a utopia keep on running into a wall.
  • There is something fundamentally flawed about humanity. To say otherwise is, like Wells in 1937, to bury one’s head in the sand. We Christians call this fundamental flaw sin, which is rebellion against God. The failure to recognize the human sin problem is a reason why utopian systems, such as communism, turn out to be such bitter disappointments.

A few questions:

  • What areas do we (as Christians, as a society) have our heads buried in the sand? In hind sight, it is easy to list a dozen reasons why Wells should not have been so optimistic in 1937. Are there some big, flashing, DANGER signs that ought to be obvious to us?
  • How do we best communicate the dire straits we are in to those who are overly optimistic, and the hope that we have in Christ to those who are driven to despair by the world?

Grace and Peace

Source of quotes: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Chapter 10: The Problem of Sin

The origin of human rights, or “Is napalming babies culturally relative?”

Timothy Keller, in chapter nine of The Reason for God, discusses the origin of human rights. Do humans intrinsically have unalienable rights, or are these rights something that we have arbitrarily come up with? Keller outlines three possible answers to this question, following Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz:

  1. Human rights come from God. God has created us and endowed us with certain unalienable rights.
  2. Human rights are based on “natural law.” People have rights because nature dictates that they should.
  3. Human rights are created by us. It is in the interest of societies to grant people rights.

Dershowitz rules out the first answer, but Keller makes a case for it being the only option that gives us a reliable foundation for human freedom and dignity. The natural world is ruled by violence and predation, and doesn’t seem to be the best place to go looking for fundamental laws that protect the weak of society. To say that human rights are created by us is rather frightening, as rights that are granted by the majority can just as easily be taken away.

After outlining the options, Keller makes a case that “the Biblical account of things… explains our moral sense… better than a secular view.” No one has been able to make a convincing case that humans have “unalienable human rights” apart from those rights originating from a Creator. If we believe that humans do indeed have rights that ought not to be trampled upon, then perhaps this itself is evidence for the existence of God. Keller concludes the section with a plea to follow through on our sense that human rights really do exist, outside of ourselves:

If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

Grace and Peace


P.S. The question of whether or not it should be considered immoral to napalm babies was introduced in the chapter with a quote from Yale law professor Arthur Leff. Leff doesn’t accept the idea that human rights come from God, but he can find no other reliable origin for those rights. Leff writes:

 

As things are now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved… There is such a thing as evil. All together now: Sez Who? God help us.

P.P.S. Keller is not saying that secular people (skeptics, atheists, etc.) advocate immoral things like napalming babies. Quite the contrary, he argues that in general these people know that certain things are right and wrong. Why would they think this way if there were no underlying reason for them to do so?

The Reason for God — the open-mindedness of Christians

A common misconception among skeptics is that Christians are narrow-minded and ignorant, and that skeptics and atheists are open-minded “free thinkers.” Perhaps these generalizations are true in some cases, but it was my pleasure Sunday morning to spend an hour with a group of fifteen Christians who certainly don’t fit the narrow-minded stereotype.

Yesterday at my church was the first session of a three-month adult Sunday School class in which we will be going through the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. The chapters in this excellent book include:

  • There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  • How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  • The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  • Science Has Disproved Christianity
  • The Knowledge of God
  • The (True) Story of the Cross
  • The Reality of the Resurrection

Many skeptics I have met haven’t investigated both sides of these issues. They “know” that science has disproved Christianity, or that religion is the root of most evil in the world, or that the resurrection didn’t happen. So why bother to dig any deeper? Case closed, and mind closed too.

On the other hand, many Christians, including those in this class I am teaching, have had to face the skepticism of the world towards Christianity. They have themselves asked the tough questions, and come through with their faith intact. Or perhaps for some, they are still asking the tough questions (that’s OK) and still seeking answers. In our discussion, I asked them to come up with a list of objections to Christianity, and they had no problems coming up with a rather comprehensive list. I also had them write down a list of evidences for the validity of Christianity, and they came up with a pretty good list there too.

Too many free-thinking, open-minded skeptics are content with a “Christians are ignorant morons” approach, and wouldn’t be able to come up with a comprehensive list of the reasons to believe.

I had a blast leading the discussion on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to going through the book with this group of people. My objectives are to build up the faith of the believers, and to equip them to give good answers to a world that has been misled into believing that there is something irrational about the Christian faith.

thereasonforgod.com

Grace and Peace

Reading — July 2009

I didn’t get as much reading done in July as I would have liked, but here’s the one book I did finish:

  • The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller. The chapters address:
    • The idea that there cannot be only one true religion
    • The problem of evil — how can a good God allow suffering?
    • The proposition that Christianity makes one narrow and restricts one’s freedom
    • The accusation that Christianity is the source of many injustices
    • Hell
    • Science and Christianity (I have a quote from the author here)
    • The historical reliability of the Bible
    • The clues of God
    • Moral obligation
    • Sin and its consequences
    • Grace
    • The cross
    • The resurrection
    • The Trinity

I highly recommend this book for skeptics and doubters, as well as for Christians who want to add some tools to their apologetics toolbox.

Here are some additional books I worked on in July:

  • The History of the Ancient World, by Susan Wise Bauer. I’ve been plugging away at this for several months now.
  • Beyond Creation Science, by Timothy Martin and Jeffery Vaughn. This book is as much an argument for strong full preterism (the idea that Jesus already came back in 70 AD) as it is for old-Earth creationism. The authors do seem to be making a good case that the Bible doesn’t teach a young Earth or global flood, with some insights I hadn’t seen before. So far, this book is strengthening both my old-Earth creationism and my Premillenialism. So I guess the authors are being half successful.

Grace and Peace

The Reason for God — interview excerpt

One of the best new books on apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) is The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I haven’t read it yet, but it has received good reviews from theologically conservative reviewers.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview of Timothy Keller from First Things which touches on evolution and the age of the Earth:

In The Reason for God, you make a very brief argument for the validity of evolution within a limited sphere. It would seem to me that apologists for the faith must address this issue at some point. But doing so can call into question the historicity of the Fall and the very need for a savior. How do you talk about evolution without confusing people?

Oh, it’s a little confusing, but actually I’m just in the same place where the Catholics are, as far as I can tell. The Catholic Church has always been able to hold on to a belief in a historical Fall—it really happened, it’s not just representative of the fact that the human race has kind of gone bad in various ways. At the same time, if you say, “There is no God and everything happened by evolution,” naturalistic evolution—then you have “theistic evolution”: God just started things years ago and everything has come into being through the process of evolution. You have young-Earth six-day creationism, which is “God created everything in six 24-hour days.” To me, all three of those positions have perhaps insurmountable difficulties.

The fact is, the one that most people consider the most conservative, which is the young-Earth, six-day creation, has all kinds of problems with the text, as we know. If it’s really true, then you have problems of contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2. I don’t like the JEPD theory. I don’t like the theory that these are two somewhat contradictory creation stories that some editor stuck together—some pretty stupid editor stuck together. I think therefore you’ve got a problem with how long are the days before the sun shows up in the fourth day. You have problems really reading the Bible in a straightforward way with a young-Earth, six 24-hour day theory. You’ve got some problems with the theistic evolution, because then you have to ask yourself, “Was there no Adam and Eve? Was there no Fall?” So here’s what I like—the messy approach, which is I think there was an Adam and Eve. I think there was a real Fall. I think that happened. I also think that there also was a very long process probably, you know, that the earth probably is very old, and there was some kind of process of natural selection that God guided and used, and maybe intervened in. And that’s just the messy part. I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to go beyond that.

I do know that I say in the book, “This is an absolute red herring—to get mired in this before you look at the certainties of the faith. Because the fact is that real orthodox believers with a high view of Scripture are all over the map on this. I can line up ten really smart people in all those different buckets, which I’ll call “theistic evolution,” “young-Earth creationism,” and let’s call it “progressive creationism” or “semi-theistic evolution.” There are all these different views. And when you see a lot of smart people disagreeing on this stuff, well . . .

How could there have been death before Adam and Eve fell? The answer is, I don’t know. But all I know is, didn’t animals eat bugs? Didn’t bugs eat plants? There must have been death. In other words, when you realize, “Oh wait, this is really complicated,” then you realize, “I don’t have to figure this out before I figure out is Jesus Christ raised from the dead.”

Over the years—it’s not bad, but I’ve gotten sort of hit from both sides.

Grace and Peace