The Power of Doubt

While I wait for my copy of Peter Rollin’s newest book that came out yesterday Insurrection: To Believe is Human To Doubt Divine, it reminds me of how much I have been thinking about my doubt lately.

All throughout high school, I had a secret that I kept from everyone except my family and close friends. I was, in fact, secretly obsessed with the Christian practice of “apologetics.”*

Not to be confused with “apologizing” (which I didn’t care much for), apologetics is the “rational defense of the Christian faith,” or at least this is the most popular definition in our day. And I loved it. After a long night of partying, I would come home to the soothing voice of Greg Bahnsen on my cassette player, teaching me the best ways to keep those pesky atheists at bay. On Saturday mornings I would comb through Cornelius Van Til’s Defense of the Faith and John Gerstner’s Classical Apologetics, deciding which approach would better help me “win over” the non-believer. In fact, by the time I went to college, my heart was set on getting a Ph.D. in Apologetics from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, the home of Cornelius Van Til.

Now, I did in fact go to Westminster. But I left without a Ph.D. in Apologetics. But that’s a story for another day.

My point here is this: In an irony reminiscent of Paul’s argument in his first chapter to the Corinthian church, my most effective moments of pointing people to Jesus had nothing to do with clever arguments. In fact, the only time those arguments saw any action was when I was debating with other Christians about why my approach to defending the faith was better than theirs (oh the hypocrisy of our naval gazing…). While I wish it weren’t true, it is incredibly obvious that in all my years as a Christian I have found that my most powerful moments in pointing others to Jesus were not because of my arguments but because of my doubt.

Paradoxically, once I finally admitted that I could simply be wrong about this whole Christian enterprise, once I admitted that it is not as obvious as I once thought, opportunities to point people to Jesus grew exponentially.

It is my doubt, rather than my arguments, that force me to be the fellow seeker rather than the condescending teacher.

It is my doubt, rather than my arguments, that force me to listen with humility and curiosity rather than speak with certainty and accusations.

It is my doubt, rather than my arguments, that creates common ground with those who just can’t believe. It opens up worlds of conversation and understanding that simply would not be there otherwise. And if I am honest with myself, I was finally forced to point to Jesus, saying “I don’t know, but look at this guy” instead of using Jesus as a launchpad to say “Look at me! I am so smart!”

Now, what I am not saying is that I have given up talking rationally and meaningfully about my faith. I still hold to much of my beliefs with conviction and with an arsenal of reasons. But the point is not so much in what I believe but the posture with which I hold it. And it comes to no surprise, in this relationship-based religion we call Christianity, that what seems to matter more in my conversations about why people should consider Jesus is the latter, not the former. And if that is true, then my doubt is no longer a liability to becoming a good Christian, as I once thought, a skeleton in the closet to be hidden and never revealed. Instead, it becomes an important tool, used by God to shape me into the type of person I ought to be so that I can impact his growing Kingdom.

*Except that one time I drank way too much and had an intense “conversation” with my beer-pong opponent about the circularity of Van Til’s Transcendental Argument for the grounding of rational thought.

4 responses to “The Power of Doubt

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.

    Doubt is actually a word which points to or “describes” the condition of “sin” or the non-Realization of Truth. It is a confession that one is completely 100% Godless.

    Such non-Realization is the worst cancer in the universe. It is the worst sickness (unto death). It is the most horrific disease. Its implications cover the entirety of everyone’s life. The world is filled with its symptoms and reeks with its torments and potentials, coming from all directions , most of which people cannot even see.

  2. John, thanks for your comment. Perhaps you can say more. How does doubt point to the condition of “sin,” exactly? In what way does it “reveal” godlessness, especially considering the biblical examples of doubt.

    You have used some very strong words to describe the condition of doubt so I am curious for more reasons as to why it seems to be so much worse than other things we could condemn – like murder, genocide, or pride, for instance.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

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