Friday, 5 February 2010

Can we have a positive view of doubt?

In his assessment of the Emergent church, Kevin DeYoung criticises the conversation’s tendency to see doubt as the essence of faith. This glorification of doubt can be seen in the subtitle of Peter Rollin’s blog, which reads ‘to believe is human; to doubt is divine.’ The doubt that is particularly encouraged in the Emergent conversation is the doubt in doctrine. Dave Tomlinson states that doubt creates a ‘holy insecurity’.

One is reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s words: ‘A man is meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth . . .’ The primary problem with the Emergent attitude towards doubt is that rather than seeing doubt as something to be worked through it is seen as a beneficial state to be in.

This is not to say that doubt needs to be viewed entirely negatively. While the New Testament never sees doubt as something good doubt can present us with an opportunity to grow. If we are willing to work through our doubts we can emerge from them with a faith stronger than it was before. Our aim is not simply to restore old faith but to have our faith transformed into something that is more reasoned, confident and certain. For this to happen we need to see doubt as something to be worked beyond.



you could be right, but I doubt it

To whom it may concern said...

Thanks for your certainty and confidence Sam. Paul

Mister Spence said...

I really like this, Paul.

I think you've captured my discomfort with some of the discussion on doubt. I do agree with you that the benefits of doubt are in its ability to bring tansformation.

Doubt and uncertainty need to be understood in terms of movement and relationship.

I think what Pete Rollins is doing is to develop a theology of doubt connected with the idea of kenosis. Identifying with the life of Christ by becoming divested of self, and even divested of faith at times.

I heard Pete talk briefly about this. To presse:
Every religion has a place for doubting God, but only in Christianity is that place in the heart of God himself. I liked his turn of phrase describing the divine abandonment on the cross.
"In that moment, when God becomes an atheist"

So when we doubt God- his calling, his purposes, his presence, his existence- we are identifying with Christ.

I wonder, what is the pastoral significance of a statement like that?

Again, I think the essential elements are movement and transformation. If we hold up the despair of Christ as some kind of ideal state for us to live in, we've missed the point considerably!

To whom it may concern said...

Thanks Spence,
When I read of Rollin's take on Christ's words from the cross I wondered if he was assessing them correctly. To what extent can we say they are words of doubt? Certainly, although quoting Psalm 22, he is expressing real feelings of dispair. But surely he understands what is taking place. After all he deliberately went to Jerusalem for the event of the cross. His later words 'it is finished' would suggest that he knows why he was dying.

Mister Spence said...


'Why have you forsaken me?' is a question. There is uncertainty: Why is this happening?

Even if we assume that Christ knows why he is dying and even we could assume that he knew ahead of time that the father would 'turn his face away', the actual experience of divine abandonment still provokes him to cry out in despair.

Either way, I'm not sure if 'knowing' and feelings of doubt and despair are mutually exclusive.

To whom it may concern said...

good point.
I think that the original objection to Rollin's view on doubt as being a good place to be stands. After all it we do think that there is some sort of doubt expressed on the cross it is hardly a condition we want to leave people in.

Mister Spence said...