The Evangelical Experience: Doubt and Belief

Continuing The Evangelical Experience series, this quotation is from Chapter 9, which deals with the question of Doubt within Belief.  After discussing various factors that can cause the believer to doubt their faith, I also explore various "anchors of belief" – things that help the believer keep their faith in the midst of doubt:

"While most believers deal with some measure of doubt, there are also many stabilizing “anchors of belief” that usually far outweigh questions such as those listed above. These stabilizing factors help keep the believer in the faith even while they may have unresolved questions.

One anchor of belief is inclusion in a healthy church community, one which makes the simple acknowledgement that it is okay to have doubts. In many communities, doubt (at least certain kinds of doubt) can be openly talked about and is seen as a natural part of the life of faith. In this way, the community shares the doubt and carries the burden together.

Another anchor is the fact that, for most Evangelicals, their families and friends are also part of the same faith. If your mother and father raised you as a Christian, leaving Christianity would not only be an implicit critique of your family (i.e. they don’t believe the right things), but you also have to deal with the fact that you are disappointing your parents by making that choice. Shame is a powerful emotion and this choice has the potential to produce a lot of it. Likewise to declare yourself an “unbeliever” may mean severing ties with some of your closest friends. Most Evangelicals aren’t on the verge of leaving the faith, the only thing holding them back being their friends and families, but the reality that faith is embedded in family and communal structures adds to the stability of that faith.

A third anchor is the personal spiritual experience of the believer. Evangelical Christians often have strong spiritual lives and are highly focused on their relationship with God. These experiences of God are felt as being extremely real. Personally, even after leaving Evangelicalism, I continue to believe that these experiences are, at least occasionally, veridical. The felt reality of spiritual experience helps stabilize faith, even when elements of one’s religious structure are called into question.

For the believer who is more involved in apologetics or academic study of the faith, another anchor may be some logical argument for the truth of Christianity. One popular argument in this category is C.S. Lewis’ “trilemma” in which, because Jesus made claims of Divinity in the Gospels, he must be “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” Another argument that may serve as an anchor is the historical argument for the resurrection of Christ.

Finally, a more negative anchor of belief is the fear of Hell. Due to the doctrine that those who do not accept Jesus will end up suffering eternally in Hell, there is obviously some reluctance (to say it mildly) to leave the faith. Even if you have doubts about your faith, as Pascal famously argued, the safe bet is to believe in God. Of course this assumes your choice is between Christianity and Atheism, not between Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Baha’i, or Deism, etc., and Atheism.

Ultimately, Christianity is a worldview – a complete package for understanding reality. There are individual stabilizing influences, anchors, that help people maintain faith in the midst of doubt, but more importantly, the Christian worldview, like any worldview that someone holds, is completely ingrained in the way you think. It’s the air you breathe, the water you swim in. You don’t see it, you see through it. One unresolved theological question, say the problem of evil or a specific tension in Scripture, is almost never enough to get a believer to seriously question, or overturn their entire outlook on life. Other worldviews, of course, have their own tensions as well. For someone to doubt their religious faith to a point of leaving it usually requires a series of serious issues to present themselves at the same time or in close succession. For Christians who feel called to go into official ministry, seminary can often be that time."

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