Have You Ever Doubted the Christian Faith?
A young aspiring pastor recently asked other pastors in a Facebook group what kinds of doubts they’ve had about Christianity, and what they’ve done with those doubts. I replied…
I went through a several-month period of doubt during my senior year as a Bible major at BJU. I preached weekly at that point in a nursing home. Thankfully, it was an Alzheimer’s unit, so it didn’t really matter what I said… I overcame my doubts through the grace of God and through specific statements in his word. Romans 1 and its argument that creation points to 1) a divine being who has 2) eternal power were especially instrumental.
If anything makes me doubt Christianity now it is the behavior of Christians, including myself, sadly. I struggle with anger toward misbehaving children, with a consistent devotional life, with eagerness to serve my wife in practical ways around the house. Sometimes I look at the words I’ve just said and I shudder. And sometimes I look at the silly, self-harming sins of other Christians and shudder more. Spend a lot of time dealing with KJV-Onlyism as I (for some reason I wish I could explain) do, and this is a genuine spiritual challenge you will face. I also have seen—just like you have—unbelievers acting in a way that wasn’t consistent with what Christians often say about them. Indeed:
For they have no pangs until death;Psalm 73:4–5 ESV
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
And they’re nicer to be around than some Christians I know.
The concepts of common grace (to explain the goodness of unbelievers) and total depravity (to explain the abiding sin in believers) have really helped me. So has C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. He showed that I need to consider where a sour Christian has come from and what natural endowments of personality a pleasant non-Christian might have been given. And more experience has helped me, too. I believe I really have seen the grace of God change me and others; and I have also seen the depths of sin and pain that non-Christians can stoop to. There really is a generalizable difference between the two groups, even if I appeal only to experience.
This very day one of my children was distraught over his unsaved friend’s spiritual state. He told us, “I don’t want B. to go to hell!” He told B. that he would go to hell if in fact he didn’t believe. The mother of B. and I had a polite texting conversation about this in which we agreed to the fact of empirical pluralism but in which she said, “I don’t want B. to be told he is going to hell.” Of course, I felt the pressure of my secular culture at that moment. I was literally shaking a little bit. I felt momentarily like the one who had done wrong: I’m the one who told my child there’s a hell; I’m the one who said it’s a good thing to testify to the truth before non-Christians; I’m the one who hadn’t already told the parents that about heaven and hell (to my shame; was hoping and praying for an opportunity, but hadn’t made it happen yet). I was feeling unsettled; I was reminded yet again that I hold a minority viewpoint, one considered foolish and contemptible by the vast majority of people around me—and that I don’t seem to hold it with the kind of consistency I wish I had. Most humans don’t like these feelings, I think.
But then my biblical worldview reflexes, shaped by my Augustinian Christian faith, kicked in. And I remembered to swing the sword back the other direction. What is she saying? She’s saying that one day we’ll all go poof, and, come to think of it, we came from a much larger poof 14 billion years ago—but we don’t believe in miracles except for that one, but that doesn’t count, because Science. She’s saying that God hasn’t really spoken. She’s saying other things personal to her spiritual-but-not-religious worldview that seem openly vapid and foolish to me (though we like her a lot and she is by common grace a good neighbor!). What are the alternatives to Christianity, in other words? I’ve dug deep into the major secular, expressive-individualistic, sexually promiscuous, materialistic (in both senses) worldview on offer in our culture—the worldview adopted by every last apostate I’ve ever known—and mene mene, tekel upharsin. It doesn’t work, even on its own terms. This is why I love Stanley Fish: he has helped me see this better than any theologian except John Frame. Especially powerful for me has been much time spent watching elite, secular non-Christians splutter in response to that same Stanley Fish (and to Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse) when he makes what are basically presuppositionalist arguments. I wrote a whole paper on that topic. The alternative worldviews out there are not satisfying.
And the alternative worldview that has swallowed up so many of my friends from various Christian schools is now showing its true colors in a way that sends me running to Christ faster and more frequently than before. The cultures of victimhood and, on the other side, of shaming—of revenge and virtue-signaling—make me so grateful for the only religion I’m aware of in which God saves you, and in which that salvation is a model for the forgiveness and grace you are to extend to others (Matt 18:21–35). Without a God to promise justice in the end, and without a Jesus to absorb human sin in the middle, it seems people turn to exacting their pounds of flesh now. And it’s so ugly. It makes me long for the grace of God, and praise God for the grace I have been given in Christ.
May the Lord give you epistemological grace.