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The Church and the Life of the Mind: Why I Value Doubting and Questioning

by Carson T. Clark on January 8, 2013


Yet again I’m coming to a realization that my faith is unusual.

1.This is Part 3 of The Church and the Life of the Mind series. My reasoning here builds upon the previous entries. Here are links to those posts:
Why Am I So Protective About This Issue?
Reflections on a Faithful Discourse of Inquiry
Most Christians seem to think that a person who’s seriously wrestling with doubt is in a bad place.2 I disagree.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is unbelief.

2.The presumption being that anyone who’s doubting is on the verge of abandoning the faith.In my eyes serious wrestling is a sign of life. It’s like a baby screaming after being delivered. What’s bad is when you don’t hear the baby, which in this case is when a person conceals doubt or becomes apathetic about addressing it.

Likewise, most Christians seem to think there should be certain non-negotiables that are above questioning.33.It’s thought that without them one’s faith will forever be formless and unstable. Again, I disagree.

Suppressed questions don’t go away. They just become insidious.

My faith was formless and unstable when I had non-negotiables. It wasn’t until I rigorously questioned such bedrock tenants as God’s existence, the Trinity, and Christ’s resurrection that things changed.

Then and only then did my faith solidify.

At this point some might retort, “Yes, Carson, but that was a phase. It was a period in your journey. You questioned things then, but now your faith is solid. To leave those same things continually up for revisiting is to undermine that stability.” This I find most peculiar.44.I need to make three things clear:
First, I would draw a strong line between questioning (or challenging) a thing vs. rejecting said thing. Though often used interchangeably by people, I think that foolish and imprecise. For example, my first year at TFC I seriously questioned the Trinity. Though I never did, rejecting it was a real option. Through that process I ended up having a much more stable, and I dare say mature, Trinitarian perspective. But even today I’d be more than happy to thoughtfully consider the critiques of a non-Trinitarian if they offered some new points I’d not previously considered.
Second, I’m not saying I’m at all times questioning everything. I occasionally admire Descartes’ aspiration to question everything, but ultimately think his goal of questioning everything simultaneously to be a painfully naive exercise in futility. In other words, just because I said everything is up for questioning doesn’t mean I implicitly suggested that I’m questioning everything all at once. I’m keenly aware of my finite abilities.
Third, I’m a through and through postfoundationalist holding to the epistemology of critical realism. I claim to be neither an objectivist nor a relativist, but a perspectivist in that there’s always more facts to consider, insights to explore, perspectives to integrate, complexities to grasp, errors to fix, etc. That’s the plain epistemological reality of humanity’s finitude and fallenness.

Why would I turn my back on the very thing that brought stability and vitality? That’s like achieving a PhD, then promptly giving up reading.

Experience tells me that the more I rigorously question those supposed non-negotiables the more I become convinced of their truthfulness.

Quite the opposite of changing methodologies at this point in the game, if I’ve become near absolutely convinced of anything it’s to stick with what I’ve been doing.

So long as I’m not being disingenuous about it, I’ve found God can more than stand up to any doubt or question.

The great irony here is my pursuit and worship of God occurred not in spite of this doubting and questioning; my pursuit and worship of God occurs in and through my doubting and questioning.

I wouldn’t be a Christian right now had The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind not taught me that intellectual honesty and devout belief weren’t merely compatible but for a Christian should be one and the same.

I’ve come to believe God loathes pretense yet delights in honest pursuit.

If only more churches taught the same thing.

  • Craig L. Adams

    I just finished reading Richard Beck’s book The Authenticity of Faith — I think some of what he says might resonate with your faith experience. He says that faith functions differently for people. Some look to faith for certainty and consolation — but some don’t — they are honestly seeking. Beck is a psychologist and he is discussing the theories of Sigmund Freud and William James about the nature of religious faith. See:

    (I found the reading of this book to be a pretty mind-blowing experience, actually.) Also see:

  • Pingback: The Church and the Life of the Mind: Reflections on the Nature & Rationality of Faith (Miniblog #166) | Musings of a Hardlining Moderate()

  • slink

    Up until a few months ago I had never experienced any periods of real doubt in my faith. I was raised in a church which taught that those who doubted were definitely in a bad place and now that I’m wrestling with doubt I tend to agree with that old point of view. I certainly hope that good and growth can come out of it all but right now it does not feel good at all.

    Things were made a bit worse by me visiting an ACNA Anglican parish this past Sunday. I think that the priest was from some background other than Anglican because he seemed to be one of those people who feel that if they don’t speak for at least 30 minutes, and if they don’t have at least 5 points (any of which could make a sermon in itself), then they haven’t really been preaching. Anyway, one of the topics that he touched on was doubt and he cited James 1: 6-7. With those verses in mind it seems to me that I, and all others who doubt, definitely ARE in a bad place and that we ought not expect any help in getting out of it.

    Can you share any resources which helped you to view doubt as a potentially good thing?

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