Why I Wish I Had Been Taught How to Doubt My Faith

October 23, 2013

At age 30, I feel that I sit on a generational dividing line.Doubt

On one side of me is generation Y.  On the other side is the Millennial generation.  People my age kind of started the modern trend of going to college and leaving church forever.  I cannot tell you how it felt to see so many friends from my church and youth group gradually fade from their faith.

Today, that trend has become a full-force phenomenon.  The statistics are direly grim, as we all know.  At least 75% of young people raised in the church will leave the church.  I have a special concern for the oldest students at the school I teach at, because I know they are headed into this phase of their lives – the phase where they give up on their faith.

Volumes have been written on why a generation is leaving the church.  Could it be technology?  Could it be dusty old music?  Could it be irrelevant preaching?

Probably all of the above.

But I think there is something else I think we’ve missed.  It is not an external matter of music or preaching or iPhones, but an internal one.

We have never taught our kids how to honestly doubt their faith.

How to Protect Ourselves From All the Doubters Out There

How do we equip young people in the faith?

I have sat in many, many church services, youth group meetings, seminary classes and Bible studies.  And almost without exception, the equipping we give to young people seems to be some kind of armor, as if defending from some kind of outside threat.

You see, it’s all about memorizing or harnessing Bible verses to defend against the “enemy.”  It’s about finding all the evidence that “demands” a verdict.  It’s about “proving” the “logic” of our faith to godless unbelievers and liberals who threaten our way of life.

From my vantage point, every aspect of modern Christian education and spiritual formation assumes that there is some kind of looming threat.  But if we just build a wall of apologetics that is tall and strong enough, then our faith will be able to survive the siege.  This was the model all the way from youth group to seminary level graduate studies.

The Enemy Within

What the “defense” model neglects to acknowledge is that so often, our greatest threats do not come from outside, but from inside the sturdy armor we have dressed in.  Our biggest enemies are ourselves.  We are our own antagonists.  It is our minds that attack our faith.

It is not peer pressure or the “airtight” arguments from atheists that rock my faith.  It is the quiet little grain of sand that lodges itself in my mind and will not unstick itself no matter how much I scratch.  It happens in the middle of the night, quite unannounced and unprompted.  And before I know it, my world feels like it is in a tailspin.  It is not the actions of others that make me doubt God, it is my own actions that lead me on to doubt.

It’s kind of like getting your kid thoroughly bundled up to go out in the winter weather, only to find once you finish that he has to pee.

You Can Doubt Most of Christianity and Still Be a Christian

For all the Bible verses we pile on, and the defenses we build, how many of our pastors are being honest with us when it comes to how much we have to believe?

See, I think the biggest problem with the defense model is that it piles and piles beliefs onto the believer.  Like the Pharisees piled laws on top of laws in order to stay righteous, we tie heavy burdens of orthodoxy around our necks.

And then what happens, at least in Jesus’ words?  We make people twice a child of hell as we are.

What I wish I had been told sooner is that faith is not an all or nothing thing.  It’s okay to jettison some things, if it keeps your faith afloat, if it lightens your burden.  It’s okay to doubt everything.  You can doubt most of what modern Christianity teaches and still be a Christian.  The Apostle’s Creed is very minimal.  There is no mention of the Earth’s age or evolution or predestination or transubstantiation or speaking in tongues or homosexuality or any of the other little stones we pick up and call “neccessary.”  Most of the stones we tie around our necks are completely inadequate and unnecessary.

I believe that if I call on the name of Jesus, I will be saved.  Beyond that, I can’t think of many stones I really want to pick up and carry with me.

What about you?  Do you wish that doubt was a part of our Christian formation rather than something to “defend” against?

13 responses to Why I Wish I Had Been Taught How to Doubt My Faith

  1. This is interesting. In my faith we refer to what you are describing as “Cafeteria Catholics”–those who pick and choose what beliefs within the church they will subscribe to, and it’s looked down upon. I’m not sure what the answer is, though, to keeping more young people in the church.

  2. Doubt is the elephant in the room every spiritual leader and mentor should admit is there, but the irony is they hide them to protect the faith of those under their charge. I’ve doubted a lot, but never all, and I think I’m an outlier in this regard. Still, I have had moments of anger where I loudly doubted God’s goodness, and I try to be honest about that. Because if we doubt and yell at God because we don’t understand Him, that’s truth, and followers of Christ should be all about truth. If human relationships are bumpy,how much more so is going to be our relationship with the Divine?

  3. God is big enough to endure our doubt. Thomas anyone?

    I think you make a great point about the inherent flaw of just piling on more facts. The ideology of what “real Christians” should do and believe is why names like Pat Robertson make people cringe.

    Theology definitely matters. Creation matters. But the foundation of being a CHRIST-ian is a relationship w/ Christ.

    The problem I have w/ doubt is when it becomes an end in itself.
    ThatGuyKC recently posted..A to Z Begins With A to B

  4. Love this… it’s a good response to what I’ve been thinking all week after reading all the posts on Addie Zierman’s Synchroblog about When We Were on Fire. So many people are hurt and have turned away from their faith (or at least their churches) because there seems to be no room for their doubts. If someone isn’t healed, they’re made to believe they didn’t have enough faith. It someone feels far from God, they’re made to believe they must be doing something wrong and don’t love God enough. So harmful. My doubt has completely shaped my faith. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” is my favorite, most resonant Bible verse. Both belief and unbelief can exist together. And they do, at least in my mind. We are each trying to find our own ways, and over time, if we keep seeking, I think we discover more and more about ourselves, our faith and our God.
    Kelly Stanley recently posted..It truly is grace

  5. P.S. I just read ThatGuyKC’s response and it reminded me of something else: You can use your doubts as an excuse not to get closer to God, or as part of the process of trying to discover the truth about a God you want to know better. One keeps you from God, the other can draw you closer.
    Kelly Stanley recently posted..It truly is grace

  6. I think all of us experience doubt from time to time.

    That’s why it is called ‘faith’.

    If we knew for certain…then we wouldn’t need faith.
    theoldadam recently posted..World Religions and Jesus Christ

  7. I love this. I love it’s honesty. It reads like poetry. I’m part of Gen X…I think (I’m 42), I was part of the religious right, ultra-conservative sect for a couple years and I felt like apologetics were beaten into me, like “we’re going to prove it to you no matter what.” Looking back, I kind of feel like, who cares? I really just needed to know that Jesus loves me, like REALLY loves me and he accepts me as I am, in spite of all my crap. Thankfully, I pulled away from all of that and started focusing on my relationship with Jesus rather than being convinced he was God (I mean, it’s good to know that stuff, but it shouldn’t be the first priority). It was during my quiet times through difficulties, crying out to him while at the end of my rope that Jesus “proved” that He was here and will never leave my side. As painful as it is to watch someone go through, I don’t know if you can really experience faith until you’ve had to fully depend on God to get you through something and then see Him pull you through. We shelter our children (me included) because we don’t want to see them hurt, but I don’t really think they’ll really see Jesus until they’re pain or fear has consumed them and they have no place else to turn.

    I think I sidetracked off the doubt thing, but this has been my experience. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 17 and then I didn’t really grasp what that meant for another 10 years, so I didn’t really experience the doubt once you leave home. I was more out searching for something to believe in.
    Kate Hall recently posted..A Sneak Peek at the Book I’m Writing

  8. Hmm… I’ve got a feeling that “doubt” is not synonymous “rejecting pet doctrines/ideas.” They’re two different things. You are absolutely correct that Orthodoxy is far bigger than many sects would like to allow. In fact, Orthodoxy is likely larger than those who define it to be. But my guess is that we are saved through Christ’s blood despite how badly we screw up doctrine. Why? Because it is Christ who saves. But my experience with doubt has little to do with pet doctrines and far more to do with my experience of Christ. I’m not tempted to walk away from Christ because of a debate about the age of the earth (though I totally see how those who were told that THIS is the defining tenant of faith would be; how sad). I find myself wandering when I feel letdown by God or find myself still locked in sin or something like that.

    ~Luke
    Luke Holzmann recently posted..Hymns, Halloween, and History

    • Yes, that’s it – the grain of sand is the doubt that comes from feeling let down, or continually struggling with sin.

  9. Your timing in writing this was perfect because you inspired me to discuss doubts in our faith as part of history. In homeschool, we have been studying the Middle Ages, which involved the Crusades and other church excesses. The Renaissance and Reformation came about because people lost faith in the Catholic Church. We talked about how sometimes, things happen which make us question God and his goodness. Some people decide to turn away from God and stop trusting Him and some people keep their focus on Him. I was able to tell them that doubts are going to happen in your walk with God and the better choice will be to hold onto God through the doubts and let Him help you overcome your doubts. Thank you!
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Partially Untethered

  10. Really well done and thoughtful, Matt. Thank you.
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO BE OUTRAGEOUS (once in a while)

  11. I can relate. Being 31, it seems that the older I get, the more and more my mind tries to doubt God. And it happens all the time, sometimes in the middle of the night. Thoughts like:

    “Do you REALLY believe that God knows all things and can hear everyone’s thoughts simultaneously?” “Do you really think God is a LOVING, ALL POWERFUL God? I mean if He was, why doesn’t He end all suffering and grief right now?””Don’t you know that God is a myth made up by people who can’t explain our existence or our reason for living. The truth is, no one knows why we are here or what we are doing and in order to cope, man created rituals and a belief in god(s).”

    What makes it worse is I have already ‘left the institutional church’ and have seen plainly the widespread corruption and abuse within the man-made organizations the error of this false Christianity that everyone is buying into.

    This is a true trial by fire because even though my world and my beliefs are turned upside down, when doubt causes me to feel as though I have lost my mind, and when even the very heavens and earth seem to be tearing at the seems right in front of me, I still feel Christ within me, that eternal Spirit who before the foundation of the world was with the Loving Father. And the more and more this fire burns out all that is unclean within me, the more love I feel for humanity.

  12. I wonder if you’ve heard of Greg Boyd’s latest book, The Benefit of the Doubt. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CIUJX3K/?tag=beinfill-20

    I’m reading it right now, and it seems a lot like what you’re saying here.