I am not sure who Jason Boyett is, but his mini essay on doubt caught my attention the other day. Jason reminds me of so many people including myself. Jason grew up being taught to believe particular things about the Bible. But as Jason studied the Bible he began to realize that things did not always line up the way he had been taught. The Bible does not always live up to its billing. At times you run across stuff that doesn't seem to line up and the deeper you dig the murkier things become. In the end, some of the stuff that you were studying and thought to be "true" leads you to doubt.
On June 28 2002 I graduated with a PhD in New Testament. This was the culmination of nine years of postgraduate work that had taken my wife and me on a long and circuitous journey that we had not anticipated. According to the commonly accepted view, I should be an expert in my field. Unfortunately, the degree makes me feel that much more incapable of articulating much of what I think and believe.
When I began my theological education I endeavored to gain the tools I believed were needed to be an articulate defender of the faith. What I discovered, however, was that much of what I had come to believe and been taught by well-meaning individuals was either incorrect or situated on a precarious set of evidence. This taught me to question things that I encountered and to probe tradition and doctrine for accuracy. This was, after all, my life’s goal. What I found as I studied and probed these questions was not satisfactory answers on which to build an unassailable faith, but more questions! The more I studied the more I was forced to question and the less I discovered answers. For me it became a cycle that threatened to undo the very task I had set out to accomplish in the beginning. Instead of becoming a defender of the faith I was beginning to resemble more and more its detractors. It was not that I wanted to (nor do I yet) discard faith. The problem was that my expedition had led me to realize just how frail and, to be quite honest, implausible much of the doctrine of Christianity is, at least in the form it had been delivered to me. The ultimate question that arose from my enquiry (and remains until this day) is what I am to do with this thing called ‘faith’ and how does it affect me as a human being?
There are some who would read what I have just written and conclude that I have become one of the many casualties of a (liberal?) theological education. A particular encounter in my ‘pre-educated’ life seemed to predict such an outcome. My wife and I had served in a church for a few years. As we were preparing to leave and begin my seminary training I received the usual jokes about attending ‘cemetery’ and becoming too smart for my own good. One individual in particular warned me in an almost conspiratorial tone, ‘be careful brother, too much of that stuff can be dangerous and cause you to take your eyes off of God’. I assume that he meant I would lose my faith. In some ways I think he is right. My education has been extremely dangerous to my faith, at least in terms of how I was taught to think and believe. On the other hand, I have come to a point where I have learned to question so much that I find faith is required of me now more than ever before. For me doubt is the essence of my faith and I am like the man who said to Jesus, ‘Lord, Help my in my unbelief!’
So where does all of this lead me? To that which I find unexplainable and unacceptable. In other words, it leads me to faith. My doubt is the essence of my faith. The fact that I find many things about Christianity not only implausible but outright impossible means that I have nothing on which to base my relationship with God but Faith. Thus how can I believe in the resurrection of Christ and other seemingly impossible, unexplainable and even perhaps unhistorical doctrines and traditions? I do so by realizing that this is where faith begins. An honest person will admit ignorance in such cases. A person of faith will find ignorance as a basis for belief. There is a lot that I am unsure of. One thing I am sure of, I believe in God and I hope that, like Abraham, I will be able to have faith that God will do what He has said He will do.
What about you? Where have your studies led you?