Q&A 41: Doubt and the Gospel

by Max Andrews

Q&A GraphicQuestion:

Hello Max Andrews, 
My name is David Hernandez and I’m a young minister with interest in theology and a keen interest in philosophy. First, I’d like to thank you for your website, it’s been a great help in understanding. 
First, I’d like to talk to you about doubt. I’ve doubted for a long time. Not that I haven’t heard the arguments or atheism convinces me. It really doesn’t. But every now and then, I doubt a lot. I’m getting quite tired of it. I feel it hard to talk to an atheist for many of their arguments make me doubt. Some of them are stupid but I think, what if it’s true? Maybe it’s emotional. 
Also, would you suggest any book for beginners in apologetics, philosophy of religion, and natural theology. I have a great interest though i feel God wants me to be a minister, particularly an evangelist (missionary most likely.) 
Also, what’s the relationship between metaphysics and the physical universe? I’m not understanding exactly what the cosmological arguments are trying to say.
Also what can you say in taking the gospel to atheists? It is quite difficult. I find like that but sometimes these arguments don’t work in convincing them. I guess it must be appealing to head and heart. To me they become the most difficult to bring the gospel too. Maybe it’s just I feel that way since it’s really the only worldview that challenges mine. Idk well if you answer this email thank you so much. God Bless.

Answer:

Hi David,

My first remark for you is that many people doubt. I doubt quite often. However, the important thing to note is that doubt is not a biblical virtue. Doubt may result in a better knowledge of the truth or a catalyst for coming to better conclusions and working out a better methodology for the future but no where in the Bible is doubt virtuous. In contrast, faith is the virtue and doubt is the vice.

Also, I want to make a distinction between apologetics and the gospel message. This is stuff you may already know but I think it’s worth bringing the demarcation up again. The gospel message is that Jesus, a sinless God-Man, substituted himself for his chosen people, who must repent and trust in him, and was murdered by Pontius Pilate, buried in a tomb for three days, and rose again vindicating his claims. Our faith is a trust that Jesus is who he said he was and that he will fulfill his promises. Salvifically, we have faith/trust that his atonement for our sins were sufficient for salvation and our future glorification and union with God.

The Locus Classicus for apologetics comes from 1 Pt. 3.15.  My position is that anyone can be an apologist regardless of what is believed to be true by that person.  There may be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Darwinist, creationist, or agnostic apologists.  The subject alone is broad and the predicate does not necessarily entail a religious belief.  I’ll refer to our Locus Classicus for our understanding of an apologist/apologetics.

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου,

πρὸς ἀπολογίαν (pros apologian), “to answer everyone.”  This term is used of a formal defense in court against specific charges (cf. Acts 22.1; 25.16; 2 Tim. 4.16).  In a more general sense ἀπολογία (apologia) refers to an argument made on one’s own behalf in the face of misunderstanding or criticism (1 Cor. 9.3-15; 2 Cor. 7.11).  Perhaps closest in meaning to the present passage is Paul’s use of the term in Phil. 1.7, 16 where he views his own formal “defense” at his impending trial as an occasion for the “defense of the gospel” on a wider front.  Here, the language of the courtroom is being applied to informal exchanges that can occur between Christian and non-Christian at any time (ἀεὶ) and varied circumstances.[1]

The biblical use of the term is in the context of one defending one’s own personal belief.  The legal connotation implies defending certain propositions one holds to be true.  So, if I’m a Christian can I be a Muslim apologist?  No.  I think apologia constrains the use of the word to exclude playing “devil’s advocate.”  I can certainly argue a Muslim position on something, but merely because I argue for the truth of it in that moment does not make me a Muslim apologist.  When we use the term Christian apologist, the subject (apologist) is very broad.  When you introduce the predicate (Christian) then it delimits the scope of the subject’s [otherwise] general applicability.

A Christian can certainly take on the role of a Muslim apologist in a discussion but taking on a role of X is not being X.  In other words, the predicate constrains the subject’s scope as it pertains to reality. Only a Christian can be a Christian apologist and only a Muslim can be a Muslim apologist.  To interchange the understanding of the constraining predicate with a pseudo role would an illegitimate understanding.  If we were to interchange the scope between the predicate and assume one taking on the role of that predicate would mean that if I propose any proposition that is a shared proposition, with true value, then I will be an apologist respective of any ideology that affirms that proposition.  So if I say, “love others as you love yourself” then I would become an apologist for Christianity, Buddhism, and anyone/anything that affirms that proposition.  It’s true to say that many propositions are shared amongst ideologies but that’s all I’m arguing for in the first place, all truth is God’s truth and I’m coming at that proposition and placing it in a Christian context.

To sum up my position, to be a Christian apologist you must be a Christian.  You cannot be a Christian apologist and a Muslim apologist at the same time.   This is different from merely arguing for the truth-value of propositions; it constrains this to a personal(respective of one’s self) defense/articulation given the biblical understanding.

Concerning metaphysics and physics, there’s a lot to say about this. I’d highly recommend:

Which Comes First, Science or Philosophy?

What’s a Scientific Theory?

The Philosophy of Science Directory

There’s so much to be said on the relationship between metaphysics and physics. Does our metaphysics come prior to our physics or do physics come before metaphysics? Well, I think it works both ways. I think for one to be ardently one way or the other is to be naïve about the progression of science and how it can inform us. That was a mistake Newton made.

I’ve made lists of recommended books that I think are vital for every Christian to have in their library–particularly beginners.

Equipping Christians: Must Read Biblical Studies Books

Equipping Christians: Must Read Science Books

This may be helpful: Top Ten Podcasts for the Christian Thinker

These texts should help you with having competence in basic to advanced hermeneutics and a fairly adequate understanding of scientific issues.

What I think is most important about your question is the issue of doubt. I just saw the film Calvary today and it resonated quite well with me. It is a great depiction of the human condition without such profane debauchery we often find. One of the characters was speaking to the priest over the issue of losing faith. She said, “If people lost their faith because of this, it must not have been much of a faith to begin with.” This character just lost her husband in a car accident.

I will be completely honest. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes my mind is my worst enemy. What I have to do, and have been taught by a mentor of mine, is to preach to myself in the sense that I need to tell myself, “Okay, now go back to what you know…” God exists… then what? God is good… then what? How can God be good in light of this situation? Stop… Go back to what you know… God is good… God knows all truths… God can do all that is feasible for him to do… Everything is radically contingent upon him…

From there I can draw out implications… if God is necessary for everything to exist from one moment to the next did he not have control over that moment? I don’t think so. He could have ceased his sustaining act on that situation, object, or person and annihilate the circumstance. But he didn’t. Therefore, because he’s good, there must be a sufficient reasons for that to take place. That’s how I deal with, say, the problem of evil. The problem of evil is a very serious one for me. I have chronic pain, an incurable disease, I’ve battled depression for years, and I have too much anxiety and stress in my life. I can’t even share the worst thing in my life right now because it’s just too much at the moment–there’s more.

Sometimes I feel abandoned by God. Sometimes, if I make it to church I have a very difficult time worshiping God in spirit and in truth because he’s not “my everything”. I want that to be true more than anything but I don’t live that way. I worship God in different ways. Who said worship is simply singing? It’s a state of mind, a devotion towards God, and a work for God that is pleasing to him and brings glory to him. Coming to a greater knowledge him glorifies him, does it not?

I don’t necessarily consider myself an ‘apologist’. I don’t consider this a ministry. This is where I share my thoughts and ideas with whoever is willing to read them.

Doubt isn’t good. Doubt is a vice. Faith is good and faith is a virtue. We mustn’t lose our trust. Sometime it feels like my trust is hanging on by a broken thread. I often tell myself, “Not today… I will not give up today”. Jesus chose me and he will preserve me and I must persevere.

Being a Christian is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s not easy. It’s so, so hard. It’s okay that you doubt but don’t let pithy arguments do that to you. Let it challenge your thinking but not your faith.

Just remember, being a Christian will probably be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.

(“My burden is easy and my yoke is light.” Mt. 11.30… but it’s still hard.)

Max


[1] J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, WBC (Waco, TX:  Word, 1988), 188.


2 Comments to “Q&A 41: Doubt and the Gospel”

  1. Doubt is a really prevalent issue. I’ve come across many Christians on the Internet who’ve admitted to having a lot of doubt. The Internet is where people go when they think things that aren’t accepted by the majority, or feel like they don’t have anyone IRL to talk to about things. So it’s sad to see Christians with doubts having to resort to the Internet.

    I have my doubts as well. Just the other day I had to remind myself that, yes, Jesus did rise from the dead. That took me aback a little, as you might expect. Generally my doubts aren’t on the existence of God or Jesus (I’m pretty well set in those beliefs), but rather the day-to-day stuff and how those things should be played out. Methodology, I guess you could say.

    A few years ago I had a really bad period of doubt. That’s actually what led me to Christian apologetics, and I think it’s Christian apologetics that explains why I still believe today. I wonder how much doubt is the result of people just not being given more than “feel good” sermons and community events. (This is something I’m a bit passionate about, if you can’t tell.)

    As for a good book on apologetics, the one that kick-started my apologetics understanding and indeed my faith was “Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics” by Doug Powell. It explains things really well.

  2. Thank you for this useful information Max. One questions how does one get their youth group involved as well.

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