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Three Myths About Christian Doubt

Three Myths About Christian Doubt
Image Credit: Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Much has been written with regard to the subject of religious doubt. Paul Thagard, writing in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, defines doubt as “a cognitive/emotional state caused by the incoherence of a claim relevant to a person’s goals.”[1] In his work The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God Professor Gary Habermas defines doubt in another way, as “the lack of certainty about the truthfulness of Christianity, one’s own faith, or how it applies to real life situations.”[2] Habermas, who himself went through a lengthy period of sustained religious doubt,[3] warns of a number of “myths” surrounding doubt which he believes to be unhealthy and misleading.

Myth #1: “Doubt is the opposite of faith and is actually unbelief.”[4]

To this point, Christian philosopher and author Os Guiness clarifies, “To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at once and so be ‘in two minds.’”[5] This distinction is important to note; one could experience religious doubt while still very much being a believer. In fact, scripture is full of examples of believers experiencing and wrestling with doubt while all the while remaining children of God, even including Abraham. James 2:23 says this of Abraham, “Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called a friend of God.”

However, Abraham demonstrated great doubt as to God’s promises to him. Although promised by God that God would protect and bless him, while in Egypt Abraham feared for his life to such an extent that he lied about his marriage to the Pharaoh.[6] Even after God supernaturally rescued him and Sarah, Abraham made the same mistake when overcome with fear of King Abimelech.[7] While Abraham clearly had doubts about the Lord’s promises to him, Abraham was never considered by scripture to be an unbeliever. Instead, scripture treats Abraham as a great man of faith who experienced repeated moments of religious doubt. While doubts can lead to unbelief, the two are separate and distinct concepts which should not be mistaken for one another.

Myth #2: “Doubt shouldn’t be admitted or discussed since it is basically a character flaw.”[8]

It is easy to see why someone might draw this conclusion when examining the story of Abraham referenced above. After all, any man willing to give his wife to another to save themself must have more than a few character flaws! However, even if it were a universal truth that doubt always originates from a character flaw, there would still be good reasons to talk about religious doubts. In a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion authors Christopher G. Ellison and Neal Krause found that suppressing religious doubt did not lead to less doubt or greater belief.[9]

Instead, suppression of doubt was found to be correlated with the development of more religious doubt. Scripture seems to support the idea that doubt is normative and should be discussed; throughout the Old and New Testaments the religious doubts of God’s people are frequently put on display. If God wanted us to keep quiet about doubt it is unlikely He would be so vocal in scripture about his servants’ numerous doubts.

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Myth #3: “Doubt never produces positive results.”[10]

Despite the “knee-jerk” reaction many feel when hearing that a loved one is having doubts, the process of doubting itself can lead to a stronger faith experience. In an article aimed at a general audience, Focus on the Family once wrote, “Christianity isn’t about having faith in faith alone… Instead, it’s a solid confidence based on convincing evidence… This implies that the process of making your faith your own is probably going to entail some hard work.”[11] These claims by Focus on the Family are well-supported by research.

In the same Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion study mentioned above, Ellison and Krause discovered, “People who receive more spiritual support from their church members will be more likely to seek spiritual growth when doubts about religion arise.”[12] The study additionally found that these same people experienced less religious doubt overall.

It seems people who experienced support from their religious community and viewed doubt as an opportunity put in “hard work” ended up with a stronger faith, especially when compared to those who suppressed their religious doubts.[13] Os Guiness argues much the same, stating, “The person who has the courage to go back [and examine their doubts] when necessary is the one who goes on in the end.”[14] Doubt is to be expected by any religious person (perhaps even of non-religious persons) and is something that should be embraced and addressed rather than shunned and ignored. Click To Tweet

Many of the myths surrounding religious doubt can be detrimental to one’s spiritual growth. If doubt is treated as an ugly or even sinful quality people will be more and more likely to try to suppress their doubts instead of seeking support. The personal experience of Habermas, scientific study into this issue, and even scripture itself tells another story. Doubt is to be expected by any religious person (perhaps even of non-religious persons) and is something that should be embraced and addressed rather than shunned and ignored.

[1] ​​Thagard, Paul. “What is Doubt and When Is It Reasonable?” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 30. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.ccu.edu/login .aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=115985175&site=eds-live.

[2] Habermas, Gary. The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God. Grand Rapids: B & H Publishings, 1999. http://garyhabermas.com/books/thomas_factor/thomas _factor. htm.

[3] Ibid.

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[4] Ibid.

[5] Guinness, Os. God in the Dark. 23. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1996.

[6] Genesis 12:10-20.

[7] Genesis 20:1-16.

[8] Gary Habermas, The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God.

[9] Ellison, Christopher G and Krause, Neal. “The Doubting Process: A Longitudinal Study of the Precipitants and Consequences of Religious Doubt.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Volume 48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2839364/#:~:text= Religious%20doubt%20is%20defined%20by,and%20Pancer%201993%3A%2028).&text=Moreover%2C%20it%20is%20understood%20that,congregation%20feel%20the%20same%20way.

[10] Gary Habermas, The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God.

[11] Focus on the Family. “Wrestling With Doubt and Disbelief.” FocusOnTheFamily.com, accessed July 13, 2021. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/wrestling-with-doubt-and- disbelief/

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[12] Christopher G Ellison and Neal Krause. “The Doubting Process: A Longitudinal Study of the Precipitants and Consequences of Religious Doubt.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Os Guinness, 18.

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. roland watts

    July 30, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    The thing about doubt and Christianity is that doubt is to be overcome at all costs and the faith restored.

    In the outside world however, while doubt may be terribly uncomfortable, it’s that little voice telling the doubter that an idea they held to may be wrong. Hence the idea needs to be reconsidered and if necessary modified or even rejected.

    Thus, within Christianity because hell awaits if the faith is abandoned, there is massive psychological pressure to maintain the faith by removing doubt. If doubt is seen as a test from God, then the test has to be passed. If doubt is seen as a sin, then it has to be fervently worked against, and the doubt removed.

    On the other hand, in the outside world, doubt can legitimately result in an idea being either modified or abandoned altogether.

  2. Brando

    August 9, 2021 at 11:53 am

    Hello Roland Watts:

    I am an agnostic from South America,but like discovering about other domains,and have got to know something about the debates in Christianity. There is a group called: Conditionalists, that say

    there is a hell,but it is TEMPORARY.You suffer and then you disappear.

    There is also JOEL RICHARDSON,who says the ANTICHRIST will be a Muslim.It is like this:

    1.Most Muslim scholars believe,based on sayings of Muhammed,that one day a descendant of his will appear,ALSO called Muhammed. He is called the MAHDI ( Guided One).

    He will conquer the world for Islam, accompanied by the Muslim Jesus(Muslims believe in the Second Coming of Jesus).

    2.The SECOND Muhammed will affirm All that is in the KORAN.

    CALCULATE

    There is a passage in REV 13:18 that says:

    “This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate

    the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.That number is 666.”

    1.The calculation might be as follows:

    a. The number THREE is repeated Many Times in the OT and NT.

    For example:Jesus rose on the Third Day, you are to be baptized in the name of (3):Father,Son and Holy Spirit.

    b.The KORAN= message of Muhammed( who claimed it was the Direct Words of God)

    c.Koran=message of Muhammed= 114 CHAPTERS

    d.Notice 114 is made up of THREE numbers:1,1 and 4.

    You can COMBINE those three numbers to form Three Different numbers:

    114

    141

    411

    When you ADD them: 114 + 141 + 411 = 666

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