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Below is a section taken from The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, Second Edition, which will help our readers better understand what doubt is ad when it has become a problem to the point of being concerned.

Doubt. A state of mind characterized by an absence of either assent or dissent to a certain proposition. It is a suspension of commitment to belief or disbelief, either because the evidence pro and con is evenly balanced (positive doubt) or because evidence is lacking for either side (negative doubt, exemplified by the apostle Thomas). Doubt is thus an integral part of each person’s belief system since it is impossible for anyone to believe or disbelieve with complete certainty all propositions of which he or she is aware. Yet in spite of the natural occurrence of doubt in human cognition, many people view doubt as a negative mindset to be avoided if at all possible.

Doubt is a topic of interest to scholars from three academic disciplines. Philosophers study doubt because of its epistemological implications in relation to knowledge, truth, and awareness of existence. Theologians are concerned with doubt because it often occurs as a prelude to belief or as a precursor of disbelief. Psychologists investigate doubt because of the emotions that often accompany it (anxiety, depression, or fear) and because in certain pathologies doubt can become obsessional and debilitating.

Doubt, Unbelief, and Ambivalence. One can differentiate between doubt and unbelief. Unbelief is a positive conviction of falsity regarding an issue and hence is a form of belief. Doubt does not imply a belief in a contrary position; it is simply being unconvinced. If, however, doubt becomes pervasive and dominates the thinking of a person regarding all issues, it is more appropriately called skepticism or definitive doubt. The skeptic despairs of ever knowing truth with certainty.

One can also distinguish doubt from ambivalence. Ambivalence is a state of mind characterized by the concurrent presence of two or more differing feelings toward the same object. Indecisiveness and vacillation, although related to doubt, refer more to a lack of commitment to a proposition or to a frequent change of opinion. Ambivalence in massive quantities is classically seen as a primary indicator of schizophrenia, whereas massive doubt is more often a part of obsessional disorders.

One can differentiate between normal doubt and abnormal doubt chiefly by the degree to which the doubt impairs daily living. Doubt is normal when it does not dominate a person’s thinking when it is overshadowed by stable beliefs, and when the goal of the doubt is resolution into belief or disbelief. Doubt is also normal when employed, as René Descartes advocated, for the purpose of seeking truth. Normal doubt is a type of mental clarification and can help a person better organize his or her beliefs. Developmental theorists have noted several phases of life when doubts are characteristically found: in adolescence, when the teenager moves from childhood credulity toward a personalized belief system, and in the middle years when issues of competence and direction predominate (Grant, 1974). Abnormal doubt, unlike normal doubt, focuses on issues having little consequence or issues without grave implications of error.

Religious Doubt. Religious doubt has been a concern of believers from biblical days to the present. In the garden of Eden the serpent used doubt as a tool to move Eve from a position of belief to one of disobedience. Abraham, Job, and David all had times of doubt that were painful yet growth-producing. The best-known example of doubt in the Bible is Thomas, who was absent when Jesus made a post-resurrection appearance to the ten apostles. Jesus showed the ten his hands and his side (John 20), evidence that dispelled their doubt as to his identity. When told of Jesus’ appearance, Thomas replied that he would not believe until he too had seen the evidence. Eight days later Jesus reappeared, showed Thomas his wounds, and made a gracious plea for faith.

By way of contrast, Jesus consistently condemned unbelief wherever he found it. Jesus presumably tolerated doubt because it was a transitory, nonpermanent state of mind, whereas he condemned unbelief because it was a fixed decision often accompanied by a hardness of heart. Guinness (1976) cautions, however, that Scripture sometimes uses the word unbelief to refer to doubt (Mark 9:24). Hence exegetical care is needed when interpreting the Bible’s teachings regarding doubt.

Doubt is a problem in theological systems committed to inscripturated truth. For example, evangelical Christians are generally not tolerant of doubt if it is prolonged, unyielding, and centered on cardinal truths. Doubt is not so much a problem in liberal theologies since truth in those systems is more relative and less certain. Thus the conservative Christian community sees doubt as risky and dangerous, whereas the liberal Christian community sees doubt as a sign of healthy intellectual inquiry. Some psychologists of religion even see doubt, particularly as envisioned within a questing religious orientation (see Batson, Schoenrade, & Ventis, 1993), as an indication of religious maturity.

Normal doubt tends to appear when a person’s belief system “does not protect the individual in his life experiences and from its more painful states” (Halfaer, 1972, p. 216). Doubt is resolved into belief or disbelief in any of four ways: through conversion, through liberalization, through renewal, or through emotional growth. Individuals can construct rigid defenses designed to ensure belief and prevent doubt at all costs such as sometimes occurs in cults that discourage any reexamination of beliefs. (Benner and Hill 1985, 1999, P. 368)

In short, doubt as it relates to God or his Word is when we feel unconvinced or uncertain about some biblical teaching or some trustworthy aspect of God’s Word. Someone might say, “I feel, I think, or I believe that the Bible is unlikely to be completely without error.” Some may have a feeling or state of uncertainty, especially as to whether a certain biblical position on a particular teaching is true, or as to whether the Word of God as a whole is accurate or trustworthy. Some may feel that it is unlikely that the Bible is one hundred present true, or beneficial for the world we live in today.

Divisions In the Church

There are 41,000 different denominations, each of which teaches different views on the various Bible doctrines, such as salvation, sanctification, eternal security, the charismatic gifts, women in the ministry, the length of the Genesis creation days, the human constitution (Christian anthropology), and the like. Each Bible doctrine has, at least, two different views, with some having four or more. Therefore, not all of the various views of a particular doctrine can be true. For example, under the human constitution or Christian anthropology, there are three views: Two parts (Dichotomism), Three parts (Trichotomism), and One part (Monism).

The traditional position of many theologians in some denominations is the Dichotomist view, which believes that the human being is formed of two components: material (body/flesh) and spiritual (soul/spirit). The Trichotomist believes that human beings are made up of three distinct components: body or flesh, soul, and spirit. A significant minority of theologians in some denominations holds this view. The Monist believes that the body and soul are not considered separate components of a person, but rather as two facets of a united whole. Modern theologians more and more are taking this position, as well as modern neuroscience. Now, the point being, not all three views can be correct. Thus, not all doubts are necessarily a bad thing. Let us suppose that one of these is the absolute truth and we hold one of the other two positions. After much research, our conclusion based on previous knowledge is revised, so that we now take the position that is absolutely true, meaning that the doubts about our former position were warranted.

A recently new belief among liberal and some moderate Bible scholars is relativism. Relativism is the belief that concepts such as right and wrong, goodness and badness, or truth and falsehood are not absolute but change from culture to culture and situation to situation, even person to person. Thus, as silly as it might sound, a relativist would argue that all three of the above positions on the human constitution would be true for different people that hold those positions. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong (liberal theologian) commented: “We must … move from thinking we have the truth and others must come to our point of view to the realization that ultimate truth is beyond the grasp of all of us.”[1] As conservative Christians, we hold that there is absolute truth. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, ESV) The apostle Paul wrote, “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to an accurate knowledge[2] of truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3-4) Jesus also said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV) Therefore, true Christians believe that absolute truth exists. As it relates to God’s Word, we must carry out an exegetical investigation, to discover it.

There are a large number of books on biblical interpretation, with different rules and principles for interpreting the Scriptures, which is one reason as to why there are so many different views on a given Bible doctrine. Other reasons for different views of the same doctrine would be church tradition, lack of knowledge or interpretative skills, theological bias, and human imperfection, among other things. However, just as was true of liberal scholarship and their relativistic belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth when we know otherwise, so it is the liberal and moderate Bible scholars who use a method of interpretation that contributes to subjective interpretation, i.e., the historical-critical method. Conservative scholarship uses the objective form of interpretation, namely, the Historical-grammatical interpretation. Thus, we can see how Christians might struggle with what is the correct way to interpret Scripture. In addition, they are overwhelmed with what is the correct view of each of our Bible doctrines.

In his forward to R. C. Sproul’s Knowing Scripture, J. I. Packer observes that Protestant theologians are in conflict about biblical interpretation. To illustrate the diversity of biblical interpretations, William Yarchin pictures a shelf full of religious books saying different things, but all claiming to be faithful interpretations of the Bible. Bernard Ramm observed that such diverse interpretations underlie the “doctrinal variations in Christendom.” A mid-19th-century book on biblical interpretation observed that even those who believe the Bible to be “the word of God” hold “the most discordant views” about fundamental doctrines.”[3]

Below are just a few examples of the “discordant views,” i.e., conflicting views of different Bible doctrines.

Four Views of Hell Four Views of Salvation Two Views of Inspiration Three Views of Atonement
Four Views of creation Four Views of Eternal Security Four Views of Inspiration Four Views of Works in Final Judgment
Four Views of Inerrancy Four Views of Sanctification Two Views of Fasting Four Views of the Book of Revelation
Two Views of Christology Three Views of Image of God Three Views of Grace Three Views of Human Constitution
Four Views of Providence Two Views of Lord’s Supper Four Views of Free Will Two Views of Charismatic Gifts
Two Views of Baptism Three Views of Jesus’ Return Two Views of Sabbath Four Views of Predestination
Three Views of Purgatory Four Views of the Church Four Views of End Times Four Views of Christian Spirituality
Four Views of Antichrist Three Views of Neutrality Three Views of Heaven Two Views of Foreknowledge

Some begin to doubt, wondering how are they ever going to know what is true. Moreover, many have misrepresented just how difficult and complex the Bible is, suggesting that it is easy to understand. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard offered a similarly provocative diagnosis: “The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” If a churchgoer is sitting in the pews hearing how easy the Bible is to understand and at the same time struggling to understand it, this alone could be so overwhelming, it could contribute to a bout of depression. One might ask, “If the Bible is easy to understand and I cannot understand it, what does that say about me?” Relax; take a deep breath, the Bible is not even close to being easy to understand. Those who make such claims are likely the ones that are furthest from having a correct understanding of it. Even the inspired apostle Peter stated that he found the apostle Paul’s letters ‘difficult to understand.’ (2 Pet. 3:16) If the Bible is so easy to understand, how on earth can Dr. Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University), pen a four-volume commentary on the book of Acts alone, which has 4640 pages?

Keeping the truth from people will inevitably lead to a spiritual shipwreck. Religious leaders can no longer hide the truth from their flock. There are several thousand Bible difficulties from Genesis to Revelation. Bible critics call these mistakes, errors, and contradictions. These would have never been discussed in our church 20-years ago because elders and pastors did not see the need for dealing with such hot topics, nor were they qualified to do so. Occasionally, in the 1980s, a flock member might happen upon a book in a store that attacked the Bible and the Christian faith, walking its reader through many of these so-called mistakes, errors, and contradictions. The Christian end up being heartbroken, keeping these doubts bottled up inside, falling away from the faith eventually. Some had even gone to the pastor or elder, showing them the book, who then blew it off by saying, “Why are you feeding your mind on such a book? This is simply a bunch of lies spread by false teachers.” Of course, the pastor or elder was unable to explain how any of the Bible difficulties were lies. So few Christians were lost to this danger that it was felt that there was no need to talk about Bible difficulties, how many tens of thousands of different denominations there are, the different views on all of the Bible doctrines, and the like.

However, the internet has exploded into the lives of every Christian; even the elderly are texting their friends. There is access to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google + and dozens of others. There are now over 2 billion social media users worldwide and more than half (52 percent) of those use two or more social media sites. Thus, the proverbial cat is out of the bag, or the beans have been spilled, meaning that the secret has been revealed unintentionally.

The flood of books, movies, and media by the Bible critics is so pervasive that we now have universities that are apologetic universities. Christian apologetics [Greek: apologia, “verbal defense, speech in defense”] is a field of Christian theology that endeavors to offer a reasonable and sensible basis for the Christian faith, defending the faith against objections. It is reasoning from the Scriptures, explaining and proving, as one instructs in sound doctrine, many times having to overturn false reasoning before he can plant the seeds of truth. It can also be earnestly contending for the faith and saving one from losing their faith, as they have begun to doubt. Moreover, it can involve rebuking those who contradict the truth. It is being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks the Christian evangelist for a reason for the hope that is in him or her. – Jude 1.3, 21-23; 1 Pet 3.15; Acts 17:2-3; Titus 1:9.

The Truth Will Set You Free

The truth is,

  • The Bible is a very complex and deep book, which ‘s hard to understand, but we have excellent study tools today, and anyone wanting to understand it, need only to buy out the time.
  • There are over 41,000 different denominations, and all are not the truth and the way. In fact, many are false. However, it is true that one or more may be the truth and the way. Alternatively, it may be that it is true that there are many true Christians in some denominations, which Jesus will unite before the end comes.
  • It is true that every Bible doctrine has more than one view, but not all are true. However, it is also true that the meaning of each of those doctrines is found in God’s Word and only needs to be discovered.
  • It is true that salvation is open to everyone. However, it is also true that few will find it because most are too lazy to buy out the time to study.

It is true that God wants everyone to be saved. However, it is also true that he is interested only in saving those with a receptive heart.

[1] But Mr. Myers…! | Uncommon Descent, http://tiny.cc/xar64x (accessed October 26, 2015).

[2] Epignosis is a strengthened or intensified form of gnosis (epi, meaning “additional”), meaning, “true,” “real,” “full,” “complete” or “accurate,” depending upon the context. Paul and Peter alone use epignosis.

[3] Biblical hermeneutics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_hermeneutics (accessed October 26, 2015).

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