Tag Archives: Doubt

The Preaching Life – Part 1

Fred Craddock, quoting Bill Muehl, says that Brown Taylor is the preacher for “those who almost didn’t come this morning.” (page xii)

“So come on in.  You who are entering ministry and wonder what it is like inside, come on in.  You who are ministers who have forgotten your call and those trembling beginnings, come on in.  And you who are not ministers but who are standing on the porch, unsure if whether you are seeking or being sought, come on in.  You will be completely free after the last page to go or stay.” (page xii)

On a mother who defended her grown daughter’s ignorance of Christianity “My daughter doesn’t know Moses from Goliath but at least she grew up without guilt.” (page 7)

“Over and over my disappointments draw me deeper into that mystery of God’s being and doing.  Every time God declines to meet my expectations, another of my idols is exposed.  Another curtain is drawn back so that I can see what I have propped up in God’s place, no that is not God, so who is God?” (page 10)

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An Appetite For Wonder – The biography of Richard Dawkins

The review of Richard Dawkins’ biography in Private Eye 1350 (October 2014) is a scorching analysis of Dawkins as a human being, it undermines his claims to be a disinterested observer of empirical fact, and points at a few reasons he might be so passionately committed to the removal of God (ie it puts Richard himself out of a job).

The first facet of Dawkins to be analysied is a compulsive reductionism.  All the best stories, Dawkins wants to kill.  He lets them out there, and then the the life is squeezed out in a “tundra of colourlessness”.  In other hands a “tale involving a cannonball passing through an ancestor’s parted legs would’ve brought the house down.  Here it’s just some words on a page, with Dawkins using the incident as the basis for a shoulder sagging lecture on the contingent frailty of ‘the event chain that led to our existence'”. So despite claiming wonder, Dawkins actually doesn’t know how to convey the thing, he instinctively wants rid of it, it’s not just God that Dawkins puts in the title of his book and then wants rid of, but wonder as well.

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Faith and Doubt in Dance

Of course, what is faith if there isn’t some doubt right there in the middle of the mix? They are, after all, dance partners.”

As for the second part, do you think it is possible to feel reverence and a sense of awe about the universe without a belief in a deity?

“Sure-lots of people do.”

Are you open to the possibility that God might not exist?

“I write about that in the book-about that gnawing sense that we may really be alone in the universe, at least in terms of God. I tell in the book about driving to church one Easter Sunday realizing that I didn’t believe in God. The only problem was that I was giving the sermon that day to 10,000 people. Which was a problem, to say the least! Haha. I decided to keep searching, and if my conclusions meant I had to leave my work and church, so be it. At least I’d have my integrity. As I kept going, I realized that I’d seen too much wonder and awe-in science, literature, music, serious drug addicts getting clean, marriages reviving, people with cancer having more joy than I’d ever seen a person have. I’ve seen, tasted, and experienced too much to deny that there’s anything more and close my mind like that. For me, the only intellectually honest and reasonable perspective is to remain open and believe. We all have faith-the only compelling question is: in what? or who? What I find compelling is becoming. What faith or perspective or world view makes you become a better person? More loving, kind, courageous, honest, generous? When I believe in the God Jesus talked about, it makes me less judgmental and more compassionate and more generous…that’s the mark of any belief system to me-how does it shape you? We’ve seen a lot ofreligion do a lot of bad shaping, haven’t we? So enough with that. But compassion and generosity and intellectual honesty and less judgment-we need more of that than ever, right?”

Being lost in a good way

Peterson concludes his meditation on the Lost older brother by thinking about how the action has focussed on him, and how Jesus has slipped in a fourth last thing, but this time we do not know if it is found, and it does not know that it is lost.  How do we avoid the sin of catching self-righteousness, in the process of being made godly?

“Everywhere and at all times we learn to submit to the conditions of Jesus’ story and the counsel of wise guides in the Christian way who tell us that we cannot create righteousness by our activities or our moralisms but must continuously re-enter what Kierkegaard called “the preparing power of chaos”, what John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul,” and what an anonymous English writer named “the cloud of unknowing”. (page 98)

Farewell then Hitch

 

But was there something uncertain about the ferocious bombardment against a God he casually insisted was not there.  Sure, he would argue that his dispute was not with God but with his followers.  But even where there was no need, there were swipes being taken against the deity.  Almost as if Hitchens was betraying a splinter of doubt.  (A bit like Ian McEwan’s Guardian tribute has to get God away in the first paragraph, possibly fearful that God might have been there in the first place).

For all my arguments, there was though something noble against Hitchens.  I was really glad of this touching tribute from Douglas Wilson here.


 

Wilson pays tribute to Hitchens’ qualities as a gentleman.  But he goes beyond to admire Hitchens’ insistence that Christian Faith be bold, be unafraid of itself and an interesting analysis of Hitchens’ fears that he would make a death bed conversion.

A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

I also love his reference to Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton once pointed to the salutary effect that the great agnostics had on him—that effect being that of “arousing doubts deeper than their own.”

And I am delighted that in his last weeks Hitchens was reading and writing on Chesterton.  The Church could not have sent him a better companion for his last moments on this earth.  Surely one of the best moments in heaven might be Hitchens (stood next to a sainted Dawkins, who knows) cheerfully admitting that on some things, like all of us, he got it wrong.

Billy Graham – Part 3 – The Bible

 

 

This story happens shortly before the defining Los Angeles crusade and illustrates the crisis that often precedes great blessing (think Jacob’s wrestling in Genesis 32).  What is striking about Billy Graham is that he took his questions to God, and it was in that act that, like Job before him, that he did not receive answers, he received something more, he received God himself.

 

So to set up the story…

 

Graham had been wrestling with the doubts about the Bible partly through coming into contact with the writing of Karl Barth and Rheinhold Neihbuhr, and through long conversations with his great friend Chuck Templeton.

 

On the other side of the argument there was the famed Californian Bible Class teacher Henrietta Mears:

 

(page 138)

During the week, I had times ofpraye and private discussion with Miss Mears at her cottage.  Rarley had I witnessed such Christian love and compassion as she had for those students.  She had faith in the integrity of the Scriptures, and an understand of Bible truth as well as modern scholarship.  I was desperate for every insight she could give me.

 

By contrast, Chuck Templeton had a passion for intellectualism that had been stimulated by his studies.  He made no attempt to hid his feelings about me.  “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date.  People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do.  Your faith is too simple.  Your language is out of date.  You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry.

 

My friend Bob Evans, who had been at Wheaton with me, was also at Forest Home.  He overhead Chuck say, “Poor Billy, I feel sorry for him.  He and I are taking two different roads.”

 

This cut me to the quick; the friendship and fellowship we had enjoyed meant a great deal to me.  Ironically the Christian Business Men’s Committee of Great Los Angeles (which was taking a great step of faith in having an unknown evangelist like me) had invited Church to speak in July at a “booster dinner” for the Campaign.

 

I ached as if I were on the rack, with Miss Mears stretching me one way and CHurck Templeton stretching me the other.  Alone in my room one evening, I read every verse of Scripture I could think of that had to do with “thus saith the Lord.”  I recalled hearing someone say that the prophets had used the phrase “the Word of the Lord said” (or similar wording) more than two thousand times.  I had no doubts concerning the deity of Jesus Christ or the validity of the Gospel, but was the Bible completely true?  If I was not exactly doubtful, I was certainly disturbed.

 

I pondered the attitude of Christ toward the Scriptures.  He loved those sacred writings and quoted from them constantly.  Never once did he intimate that they could be wrong.  In fact, He verified some of the stories in the Old Testament that were the hardest to believe, such as those concerning Noah and Jonah.  With the Psalmist, He delighted in the law of the Lord, the Scriptures.

 

As that night wore on, my heart became heavily burdened.  Could I trust the Bible?  With the Los Angeles Campaign galloping toward me, I had to have an answer.  If I could not trust the Bible, I could not go on.  I would have to quit the school presidency.  I would have to leave pulpit evangelism.  I was only thirty years of age.  It was not too late to become a dairy farmer.  But that night I believed with all my hear that the God who had saved my soul would never let go of me.

 

I got up and took a walk.  The moon was out.  The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounding the retreat center:  Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me.  I could not read it in the shadowy moonlight, so I had no idea what text lay before me.  Back at Florida Bible Institute, that kind of woodsy setting had given me a natural pulpit for proclamation.  Now it was an altar where I could stutter into prayer.

 

The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand.  There are many problems with it for which I have no solution.  There are many seeming contradictions.  There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science.  I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.”

 

I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken.  At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it, “Father , I am going to accept this as Thy Word – by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”

 

When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears.  I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months.  Not all my questions were answered but a major bridge had been crossed.  In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.

Certainty and Doubt

Glen Hoddle –
At this moment in time I did not say them things

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr –
Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so

W Somerset Maugham
Like all weak men he laid an exagerrated stress on not changing one’s mind

Lord Melbourne
I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything

Queen Victoria
I would earnestly warn you against trying to find out the reason for and explanation of everything – To try and find out the reason for everything is very dangerous and leads to nothing but disappointment and dissatisfaction, unsettling your mind and in the end making you miserable

 

God Knows What He Is After

There comes the baffling call of God in our lives also. The call of God can never be stated explicitly; it is implicit. The call of God is like the call of the sea, no one hears it but the one who has the nature of the sea in him. It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because his call is to be in comradeship with himself, for his own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what he is after. – Oswald Chambers

Obey God in the thing he shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. God will never reveal more truth about himself until you have obeyed what you know already… This chapter brings out the delight of real friendship with God.

Do not easily discard doubts

 

Jesus modelled a view of doubt more nuanced than those of either modern sceptics or modern believers.  When Jesus confronted doubting Thomas he challenged him no to acquiesce to his doubts (believe!) and yet responded to his request for more evidence.  In another incident, Jesus meets a man who confesses that he is filled with doubt (Mark 9:24) who says to Jesus, “Help thou my unbelief” – help me with my doubts.  In response to this honest admission Jesus blesses him and heals his son. (page xxiii)

 

Doubt, like faith, has to be learned. It is a skill.  But the curious thing about scepticism is that its adherents, ancient and modern, have so often been proselytisers.  In reading them, I’ve often wanted to ask “Why do you care?”  Their scepticism offers no good answer to that question.  And I don’t have one for myself.  (page 13)

Contra Negativa

  • We have to be humble.  We have to admit that everything to some extent is provisional.  But is this the same as the demand for perpetual doubt?
  • Doubt occupies a critical place in the gospel narrative, but it would wrong to characterise this as Jesus’ mode of being.  Doubt is a place we go during creative crisis.  It is not our day job.
  • How is a devotional life, a relational experience of God possible when our starting point is determined doubt?
  • To propose the centrality of doubt elides into proposing the absence of God.  The problem, as Hauerwas says, is not “not enough God” but “too much God.”
  • Doubt can become its own creed – sniffily disdaining anything too confessional as naive, uncritical, self-deluded, gauche, embarassingly unintellectual and pitiable for its lack of angst.  It sees itself too easily as NME and the rest of the Church as a cross between Smash Hits and the X-Factor.
  • Doubt can become an excuse for inaction – a luxury for the comfortable.
  • No doubt, doubt is a critical part of faith.  Undoubtedly, it is badly neglected in our hymnody and in our public conversation.  Doubtlessly, we are too squeamish around doubt.  Doubt is important, but it is possible for it to become too important.