‘An easy and elegant skepticism is the attitude expected of an educated adult.’—British Philosopher Bertrand Russell. Facing uncertainty should be done with calmness.
Skepticism is generally a questioning attitude or doubts towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief or dogma. It is often directed at domains, such as the supernatural, morality, theism, or knowledge. “Skepticism is about doubt, and doubt is everywhere in the world around us today.”
Christians, why should we not give the Word of God to all skeptics equally? Why should we not always correct the skeptical ridiculers? In what ways has Satan blinded the minds of the skeptics? Why should we get answers now? If insidious doubts ever begin to creep into our minds, a spiritual shipwreck is on the horizon. “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” (1 Tim. 4:1) Why? How? Why should it trouble us?
Daniel Wallace (born June 5, 1952) is an American professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. In the Foreword of MYTHS AND MISTAKES In New Testament Textual Criticism, he writes in 2019, “The new generation of evangelical scholars is far more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty than previous generations.” – Elijah Hixon and Peter J. Gurry, MYTHS AND MISTAKES In New Testament Textual Criticism (Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 14.
Samuel Tregelles (1813– 1875) an English Bible scholar, textual critic, and theologian, writing in 1844 defines textual criticism as the means “by which we know, on grounds of ascertained certainty, the actual words and sentences of that charter [the Bible] in the true statement of its privileges, and in the terms in which the Holy Ghost gave it.” – An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament, with Remarks on Its Revision upon Critical Principles (London: Samuel Bagster, 1854), viii.
Tregelles writes in 1844 with no papyrus manuscripts, no catalog of manuscripts (5,898), no high definition images, no computer programs, no Wescott and Hort, no Nestle-Aland critical text, no textual commentaries, and having no insights from hundreds of world-renowned textual scholars from 1844 – 2020, and Wallace writes in 2019, having all of the above and more. Personally, I am adopting that phrase ascertained certainty. It is going to become my new textual studies motto.
Those who believe skepticism is needed in academia, those who have struggled with uncertainty, and doubts, ponder this, why have some Christians been martyred with horrible deaths throughout the last 2,000 years with only a basic Bible education by scholars like the happy Agnostic Dr. Bart D. Ehrman loses his faith having had access to mountains of evidence? FAITH! One ascertained certainty and maintained faith.
What Is Doubt
Below is a section taken from The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, Second Edition, which will help the readers better understand what doubt is and 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 are evenly balanced (a positive doubt) or because the 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 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 percent true, or beneficial for the world we live in today.
Then, there are those who have developed doubts, not because they have issues with the accuracy of the Bible, but their doubts are emotional in nature, so they need healing for emotional elements. Maybe you have been struggling with the loss of a close loved one, such as a child or a spouse or a parent. Maybe you have been struggling with an issue in your life, and you have been praying to God and asking for his help to cope with or overcome this issue, but you haven’t had any answer, and you feel like God is not listening to you, or worse still, ‘maybe he does not exist.’ Maybe you have committed a very serious, grave sin and for a while, you have felt that God has left you, so you have begun to doubt his existence. Maybe you look around the world and see the horrendous condition of humanity where young children are starving and dying, women being raped and murdered, radical Islam exists, dictators bomb women and children with chemical weapons, all of humanity are growing old, getting sick and dying. Then, you wonder, ‘how can an all-loving God, who is all-powerful, who is righteous and just could allow such suffering.’ Maybe your doubt stems from your struggle with same-sex attraction. There many other reasons that some have begun to doubt.
It should be understood that doubt (to feel unconvinced or uncertain) is normal even in the most mature and knowledgeable Christian. We have all felt that way in our lifetime. Why? We can know many things with certainty but cannot know all things with certainty, so we may be uncertain on a particular doctrine. However, after enough research, we can believe beyond a reasonable doubt, to use a legal term, that we have the truth of the matter. Therefore, if we are struggling with a particular doctrine or a particular Bible difficulty, or a particular issue, it need not weigh us down emotionally. However, if we have excessive doubts, this needs to be addressed before we suffer a spiritual shipwreck.
Doubts Are Not Always Bad
Most of us can conclude that not all doubts are bad. If we were considering something where we did not have all of the facts, we would want to hold off on accepting it, until we are sure. We hear the mantra in the different Christian denominations today, “Don’t be afraid – just believe.” (Mark 5:36) Some feel that faith is merely believing and doubting nothing at all. This is very naïve, dangerous, and deceptive. Yes, it is true that certain Bible verses can be used to suggest that all we need to do is, ‘just believe,’ like “Love … believes all things,” at 1 Corinthians 13:7. Even the demons believe, and yet they shudder. (Jam. 2:19) A genuine Christian, who has a love of Christ in their heart, should believe those who have proved trustworthy over the years. However, God’s Word also warns against ‘believing every word.’ (Pro. 14:15) Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt 7:15) Does this not suggest there will be some who appear as innocent as sheep, but really are false prophets to the point of being ravenous wolves?
The apostle John warns Christians against believing things blindly. He wrote, “Beloved ones, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) John Stott notes, “Neither Christian believing nor Christian loving is to be indiscriminate. In particular, Christian faith is not to be mistaken for credulity [i.e., gullibility]. True faith examines its object before reposing confidence in it.” (Stott 2009, p. 156) Daniel L. Akin writes, “His [John’s] warning is clear: behind every statement is a spirit, a pneuma, but not every spirit is the Spirit of God.” (Akin 2001, p. 170) This spirit, i.e., statement or teaching, may seem as though it has come from God; then, in fact, it has come from a deceiver, and to be generous, someone who is simply mistaken or misinformed. We need to have some doubt, or let us say a level of cautiousness, which will serve as a protection, as the apostle John wrote, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.” – 2 John 7.
Face Your Growing Doubts
Matthew 14:31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
We can draw comfort from the fact that even Jesus’ disciples at times gave way to doubt. (Matthew 14:30; Luke 24:36-39; John 20:24-25) Do not feel alone, the Bible itself describes a lack of faith as “the sin which so easily entangles us.” (Hebrews 12:1) The apostle Paul wrote: “not all have faith.” (2 Thessalonians 3:2) All have the capacity or the ability to possess this quality, faith. However, few buy out the time to acquire it. God will bless the efforts of those who take the time to have a strong personal Bible study program that is regular and consistent. He will bless those who invest time in studying Christian apologetics, as well as Christian evangelism because it helps us to explain our beliefs better.
If you are going to overcome the doubts that have plagued you, you will need to identify specifically what caused you to doubt in the first place. For example, think of Thomas, even though other disciples that had been with Thomas throughout Jesus ministry said that they had seen Jesus, Thomas still doubted that Jesus had been resurrected, even though Jesus had miraculously resurrected others. Remember, Thomas demanded that he be shown proof. What happened? Jesus did not say, “all you need to do is simply believe.” No, Jesus provided him with the evidence that was needed to strengthen his faith. – John 20:24-29.
By means of God’s Word and REASONABLE FAITH, it is the hope of this author that you will be provided the answers you need to remove your doubts. Another example of why people lose faith in God is because they know that he is perfectly righteous, just, loving, and all-powerful; so, why does he allow wars, violence, misery, suffering, old age, and death that afflict humankind? What does the Bible say about the so-called problem of evil? See the chapter Why Has God Permitted Suffering and Evil?
What is the benefit of taking the time to strengthen your faith or restore your faith? Those who allow doubt to overcome them are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men, by craftiness with regard to the scheming of deceit.” (Ephesians 4:14; 2 Peter 2:1) In contrast, those who take the time to find satisfying answers to their questions are able to “stand firm in the faith.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13.
Inside of some Christians, unbeknownst to their family, friends or congregation, they are screaming, “I doubt, I doubt, I have very grave doubts!” Ours is an age of doubt. Skepticism has become fashionable. We are urged to question everything: especially the existence of God and the truthfulness of his Word, the Bible. A half-brother of Jesus warned us against doubting: “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) When deep doubts begin to creep into the mind and the heart, it is only a matter of time before a crisis of faith gives way to spiritual shipwreck. Since we have been warned “some will fall away from the faith,” we should be ready “to save some,” which can even be ourselves as well.
In REASONABLE FAITH, Edward D. Andrews guides you on how you can restore others or yourself to the faith on two levels: First, through an accurate knowledge that gives them or yourself the factual evidence on which to repair or rebuild faith. Second, a substantial portion of the book is on healing for the elements of emotional doubt. This book can help the reader restore their confidence in a world beset by doubts. We can help the reader once again to make the Word of God their own. REASONABLE FAITH will help them to be certain that the Bible truly is from God. For some, those who have doubts need to have their questions answered and for others, they need healing for the elements of their emotional doubt, and this book will fill the need for honest-hearted persons who sincerely want to know. Christian Bible professor and apologist, Dr. Gary Habermas, who has penned three books, many articles, and much research on religious doubt, says, “the majority of it tends to be emotional in nature. If that is the case, a good deal of emphasis needs to go in the direction of healing emotional elements, too, since evidence alone almost never cure it.”
Who Should Read REASONABLE FAITH
- Anyone who needs healing for the elements of their emotional doubt.
- Anyone who has had doubts about any aspect of the Bible as to its trustworthiness or accuracy should read REASONABLE FAITH. If one believes, there are historical inaccuracies, scientific inaccuracies, geographic and geologic inaccuracies, and the like. In addition, if ones believe that there are contradictions, myths, and legends within the Bible, they should read REASONABLE FAITH.
- Anyone who has a friend or family member, even a coworker, who is struggling with doubts, like Jude, Jesus half-brother tells us that we are to “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire.”
- Anyone who believes their faith is so strong that they would never doubt God’s Word. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) “Followers of Christ who are overly confident and think they are standing firm should be careful not to fall.” (Pratt Jr 2000, p. 166)
by Edward D. Andrews
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