1.  Focus only on the issues that make or break Christianity.

Realize this: People can and do easily get off course, discussing, debating, and getting depressed over issues that are not linchpin issues to Christianity. From the details of creation/evolution to the inerrancy of Scripture, some people’s faith can be quite disturbed—quite unnecessarily disturbed. For example, while I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, if one of the authors happened to get a detail wrong, this does not mean that the entire Christ story is false. In what area of life do we find the same standards? This can be called a “house of cards” theology. In other words, if one card falls, they all fall. Our faith should never be a house of cards. There are so many things that we are all going to be wrong about when we get to heaven. I have often said that theologians need to be well rehearsed in recantations in order to get prepared for heaven!

However, while the Christian faith is not a “house of cards”, there is a definite foundation. This foundation, first and foremost, is the resurrection of Christ. If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true. If he did not, it is false (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Cor 15:17). Since this is an historic event that took place in a public arena, with dates and people involved described, from a historians standpoint, it longs to be examined. As Daniel Wallace has put it, “The fact of the incarnation demands an incarnational method of inquiry and examination” (i.e. not a merely a “spiritual” examination).

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate to here and here. Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection. Again, if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and we just have to work out the details. If he did not raise, the journey goes on and we look elsewhere. Rarely have I found someone who is in the crucible of intellectual doubt, yet has a strong conviction about Christ’s resurrection. A conviction about the resurrection goes a long way to stabilize your faith.

2. Doubt your doubts.

There are many doubts going through your mind. However, don’t mistake a doubt with a belief. Do not give to your doubts the credence that Christianity no longer holds in your life as if they have greater right to your beliefs than what you were formerly assured of. Remember, as unassured as you may be that Christianity is true right now, give equal unassurance to its alternatives, including agnosticism.

3. Make sure that you don’t lose fellowship with other believers.

Often Christians feel as if they need to validate their faith by only hanging around those who are not of the faith. I often see this with young men who are enthusiastically engaged in apologetics (defending the faith). The idea is that if the faith is true, it can withstand any onslaught. While this is true in theory, it is not very pragmatic in any area.

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

Give equal (if not more) time to fellowship with those who are strong in the Christian faith. Our faith must be allowed access to the strength that common fellowship provides.

4. Realize that the presence of other possibilities does necessarily not equate to the presence of other probabilities.

Every decision we make in life is based not on infallible certainty, but degrees of probability. Many people get their faith disturbed when they encounter other theories or explanations. No matter how unlikely these other theories are, their faith is disrupted simply because other theories exist. But the fact that there are many alternative possible options out there does not mean that these options are probable or worth your time. In other words, the possibility of an alternative should never equate to the probability of the alternative.

When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, the possibilities are endless: group hallucinations, stolen body, Christ did not really die (swoon theory), an unexplained anomaly, body eaten by dogs, mistaken identity, and a thousand others. However, when all the evidence is considered, we find that these possibilities, while possible, may not explain the evidence as well as a simple belief that Christ rose from the grave. In other words, to suspend faith due to the presence of other possibilities is actually putting unwarranted faith (i.e. blind faith) in a less likely option.

5. Don’t think you can ever be an expert in everything.

You will never be an expert on everything (and probably not even one thing). No one is. Humanity has quite a bit of self-delusion concerning how much we know. We may know a bit more than the next person, but to call anyone an “expert” in any one area is quite silly and self-inflated. Even the greatest minds that have ever lived are quit small when compared to all of reality. If your aspiration is to come to know everything before you make a solid decision, then you will be an eternal tire-kicker with regard to your faith. You will always be one step, one bit of evidence, one unexamined option away from faith.

The other day I was boarding an airplane. I began to think of all the wrong things that could go wrong. My anxiety rose as I thought about the innumerable possibilities of something bad happening. They are never-ending. I would have to become an expert in so many things in order to examine what needs to be examined to make a decision that chocked out all uncertainty. I will never be an expert in all these areas. However, this does not mean that I am making a morally responsible decision to stay off the plane. I have to confer trust in the expertise of others—even trust of my very life. But this trust is well-placed as the probability that they know what they are doing is strong. At some point there is not only a sufficiency in probability, but a moral obligation to the probability that makes indecision the greatest example of blind faith there is.

6. Be careful not to make individual emotional preference a decisive benchmark of truth.

I see so many people who set their own emotional or moral preference as the ultimate and decisive standard for truth. For example, some people say things like “I could not ever believe in the God of the Old Testament. He is mean and cruel.” Fine as that may be, our personal opinions about God’s meanness or niceness do not have a vote in truth. If God is mean, so be it. That is an internal debate. Our attitude or emotional disposition has no bearing on God’s existence or authority.

I recently saw a respected Christian scholar say that if God were such and such way, I would not serve or worship him. In essence he was saying “If God does not satisfy my emotional disposition, possessing characteristics that I think he should have, he will not be my God.” As understanding as I am of this in one sense, in another sense I have to express complete bewilderment and sadness. We worship and serve God because he is God not because he is God and we like him. If God is God, he is Lord and King. We don’t petition how we think he should be. Alternatives are not suddenly valid when we don’t like him. Truths about God are not a democracy.

The first question is not whether God is mean or a “moral monster”, but whether he is God. Then we can discuss the problems with God in the Old Testament or God’s decree of election. I certainly don’t believe that God is cruel in the OT or NT. I do believe that God loves mankind because he says he does (John 3:16). He is a better authority on himself than I am.

My point is that this is not an issue that should occupy your focus and it certainly should not cause you to have doubts about God’s existence. If Christ rose from the grave, whatever conclusion one comes to about any number of peripheral issues does not have the poison of death either way.

 7. Don’t stop living out your devotion to Christ.

You are merely doubting your faith. You are not a unbeliever. Therefore, don’t live according to your doubts, but live according to the faith that you still have left. Sometimes doubt is brought about by the mere fact that we are no longer devoted to Christ as much as you once were. Sin and disobedience can produce an unhealthy doubt. Further doubt can often be an excuse for our lack of devotion. Therefore, commit yourself once again to the belief that you do have, not the one that you don’t have. If you live according to your doubt, then all you can expect is further doubt (Luke 8:18).

8. Realize that doubt is not a bad thing.

Often, doubt is the first sign of true or deep faith. It is only through doubt and an acknowledgement that we could be wrong that we come to true convictions about what we believe. God is not scared or angry about people’s doubts when they are truly searching for the truth. He challenges us over and over again in the Scriptures to be wise and stop being naive. If our faith is true, it can handle doubts and skepticism. I have been through many periods of doubt and every time my belief came out stronger. I believe that yours can to.

I pray that this is helpful for you.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    82 replies to "Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith"

    • TDC

      Sean,

      Thanks for responding to my argument. Please don’t consider this an attack on Christianity in need of defusing for the sake of doubters. My argument on this post is not against Christianity, but against the methodology being used by some apologists.

      I just used the term C for the sake of brevity. Of your two options, the second is closer to what I am talking about. I would take it on a case by case basis. Or doctrine by doctrine.

      If, for example, the resurrection entails that a good God exists and that He is the God of Israel, then evidence that a good god can’t exist or that a good god is not compatible with the God of Israel would be evidence against the resurrection.

      Likewise, if the resurrection entails that Jesus’ claims are true, than evidence against Jesus’ claims becomes evidence against the resurrection. Some, for example, may argue that Jesus made failed prophecies and thus cannot be God.

      Please note that I am not arguing that any of these arguments against Christianity succeed. I am only arguing that, in principle, they would be evidence the resurrection if they succeed and if the resurrection entails the disproven doctrine. So now is not the time to argue about the problem of evil, because it isn’t really my main point, nor is it the point of Michael’s post.

      So the C in my syllogism is more like a variable than a single value. You can replace C with any particular doctrine or belief that someone thinks is entailed by the resurrection. Usually, when Christians argue for the resurrection, they are assuming that the resurrection proves something.

      And of course, it doesn’t have to be purely deductive. One could argue that the resurrection doesn’t LOGICALLY lead to the claim that God exists, but that it is extremely strong evidence. In such a case, evidence that God does not exist would still be evidence against the resurrection.

      How strong it would be depends on the relationship between the resurrection and the claim. The stronger the connection between the resurrection and the claim, the stronger any evidence against the claim is when used against the resurrection.

    • TDC

      “they would be evidence the resurrection if they succeed”

      should read “evidence against the resurrection”

      Typo!

    • Ed Kratz

      TDC, I think i read through your initial comment too fast. I am not sure I understood. I am sorry I cannot take part in this part of the discussion anymore.

      Again, for the evidence for the resurrection, I encourage everyone to go to the post I referenced earlier. If you want to discuss the issue, you are very free to there (if you stay within the rules!).

      Again (all), this is not a surrogate blog…it is a place for HONEST discussion and learning. If you don’t like it, fine…but I can’t just hand over the pulpit of my church (metaphorically speaking) to anyone who has a new idea and thinks it is great. Hope you all understand. HONEST discussion. NOT a surrogate blog, for believer or non-believer (though I admit, I have more leniency for those who agree with me! 😉 But I try to be fair.

    • NW

      Steve,

      How can you be so confident that the human family didn’t begin with a single primal couple? Speaking as a professional scientist, I’m not at all confident that our understanding of human origins has progressed to the point to where we can speak dogmatically about such things.

    • almightygod

      Try not to think about the questions that pop into your mind when you read my book, the Bible. It’s just Satan trying to get you to doubt that I’m real and good. So, maybe I commanded people to sacrifice their own children or kill the children of a neighboring village (keeping the young girls for themselves). So, maybe I condoned slavery and told people to give the death penalty to gay dudes. Didn’t I redeem myself by taking on human form and watching myself die to appease my own wrath against humans for eating fruit that let them know the difference between good and evil? Doesn’t that make you feel better. Now, don’t worry about those pesky questions. Just keep telling yourself that I’m real.

    • David Ellis

      “It’s my understanding that the latest Christian scholarship in support of the resurrection of Jesus are Licona’s, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” and N.T. Wright’s, “Resurrection of the Son of God.” Provided that you still retain an interest in this subject following your deconversion I recommend that you evaluate the highly sophisticated arguments contained in those books. Christian scholarship has come a long way since the time you deconverted in the 80s.”

      There is little if any new evidence. One can create elaborate argument til the sun burns out but with such a paucity of evidence to work with it will do nothing to convince a reasonable observer. But perhaps there’s something major that I’ve missed (unlikely given the fact that I’ve read and spoken with apologists a great deal since then but who knows). What do you consider the important new developments of the past 20-some years?

      “Peoples from nations that couldn’t be more disconnected from the ancient Hebrew epic now understand themselves to be worshiping the God of Israel. It’s a tremendous confirmation of one of the boldest claims of the NT, that disciples of Jesus (i.e. Yahweh in the flesh) would be made from every nation. ”

      An originally tribal, ethnically centered religion evolved into one of wider scope. Hardly particularly amazing.

    • David Ellis

      “The problem of evil is a separate question from the resurrection of Jesus.”

      As explained already, not necessarily.

      ” In any case, the NT solves the problem of evil and suffering in its universalist eschatology.”

      I see little basis in the bible for universalism (all will, ultimately, be saved). But even if it plainly and unambiguously endorsed this doctrine it would not solve the POE. Such a doctrine does not, for example, provide us with a plausible reason to think a benevolent diety would inflict severe extremely painful birth defects on newborns.

    • David Ellis

      “Why is it that the “problem of evil weighs more heavily against theism”.”

      I didn’t say it does (though I do think so). I said, “supposing the doubter thinks the evidence from the POE against theism is far stronger than the supporting evidence for the resurrection….” It was a hypothetical scenario.

      “Augustine answered this problem very adroitly over 1500 years ago, and the Bible addresses it completely. God gives us free will and many of us use that free will licentiously, how is that fact evidence for atheism?”

      The free will defense does not solve the POE. Even if we agreed that it solves the issue of moral evils (deliberate evil acts) it does not solve the question of natural evils.

    • David Ellis

      “Please note that I am not arguing that any of these arguments against Christianity succeed. I am only arguing that, in principle, they would be evidence the resurrection if they succeed and if the resurrection entails the disproven doctrine. So now is not the time to argue about the problem of evil, because it isn’t really my main point, nor is it the point of Michael’s post.”

      Agreed, I shouldn’t have even responded to that comment. It’s off topic. If we want to take that up it will need to be elsewhere.

    • Ed Kratz

      The problem of evil does not militate against Christianity any more the problem of good militates against it. Again, emotional disposition, preference, or “how I would do things if I were God” cannot be the standard. If God exists, it is a farce to take him to court to judge him using the very moral passions that either exist in and through him or (if he does not exist) do not exist at all.

      Again, if Christ rose from the grave, them we look to him as the source who has the answers for the problem of evil. It is a historical incarnational issue first, morality can only be asserted so long as he is assumed.

    • NW

      David,

      “There is little if any new evidence. One can create elaborate argument til the sun burns out but with such a paucity of evidence to work with it will do nothing to convince a reasonable observer.”

      Please. If you’re going to dismiss the kinds of arguments that advance historical scholarship then you need to take your anti-intellectual village atheism somewhere else.

      “What do you consider the important new developments of the past 20-some years?”

      The major advance has been in our understanding of the Second Temple period in which the NT was written. We are now in a much better position to evaluate the claims of the NT in light of their cultural context then we were at the time of your deconversion.

      “An originally tribal, ethnically centered religion evolved into one of wider scope. Hardly particularly amazing.”

      What is amazing is that the same religion [correctly] announced centuries in advance its own highly improbable worldwide success. I don’t know of any other religion that can say that.

      “Such a doctrine does not, for example, provide us with a plausible reason to think a benevolent diety would inflict severe extremely painful birth defects on newborns.”

      The problem of evil and suffering does not amount to an argument for God’s nonexistence and therefore cannot be used as evidence for God’s nonexistence. My inability to provide you with the kind of theodicy that you’re looking for is irrelevant to the claims of classical theism.

    • David Ellis

      “If you’re going to dismiss the kinds of arguments that advance historical scholarship then you need to take your anti-intellectual village atheism somewhere else.”

      Could you give a brief outline of the most compelling example you have in mind? We could then discuss our reasons for thinking it is or is not the kind of arguments that advance historical scholarship.

    • NW

      David,

      The briefest outline I can give you is the following presentation of Wright: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-sXhgOroKQ

      Unfortunately, the kinds of historical arguments that have been developed in favor of the resurrection cannot be neatly summarized and scrutinized in the comments section of a blog. My advice is for you to read the thick books that were referenced and come to your own conclusion as to whether the latest arguments are much of an advance since the time you looked into these matters.

    • davida

      I could understand how new thoughts could be injected into one’s thinking causing one to doubt the bible, but for me my conversion was very dramatic, and the events that followed thereafter… When family were concerened that I had gone off course, it was only a matter of telling them I was blind and now I see.

      New thoughts always come in as doubts to challenge our beliefs. We just need to go back to the evidence that we had when we first believed.

      Fellowship with other people who have had the same experience of Christ being alive to them, helps to solidify our thinking, thus our faith. Circumstances come to challenge our faith, like the boisetrous winds and waves that came to challenge Peter’s faith after he had started walking on water in obedence to Jesus word.

      The Holy Spirit is also there to help us with our infirmities, our weaknesses or doubts; so is the word of God.

    • NW

      David,

      “I see little basis in the bible for universalism (all will, ultimately, be saved).”

      On the contrary, the NT so obviously endorses a form of universalism (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17; Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; 1 Tim 4:10; 1 Jn 2:2) that it’s a wonder the Church has missed it for so long.

    • David Ellis

      Don’t get me wrong, I think there are passages that could be interpreted that way (the ones you selected seem to me, though, to be a stretch as support for universalism). But I’m not of the opinion that the authors of the NT were necessarily consistent with one another in their views. I also think there’s far better support for a belief in hell and annihilationism than for universalism.

      But I sincerely salute you for adopting the most humane and compassionate view of the afterlife. It at least indicates a level of human decency too often lacking among Christians (my own family sees no problem in proclaiming a God who would subject most of humanity to eternal torture to be morally perfect—a fact I find deeply saddening).

    • NW

      David,

      “But I’m not of the opinion that the authors of the NT were necessarily consistent with one another in their views. I also think there’s far better support for a belief in hell and annihilationism than for universalism.”

      Here’s my take on the matter: The writers of the NT were in universal agreement that a chosen few were to receive salvation in the present time (i.e. the “elect”) and that everyone else would have to pay the penalty for the sins in a place of punishment and torment (i.e. Gehenna); however, the writers of the NT also envisioned a time in which those in the place of punishment would also receive salvation through the same atoning work of Christ (i.e. the implied “second” resurrection of Rev 20:5) and that the entirety of the human family would one day be reunited in the kingdom of God where there is no more death, suffering, evil, etc.

      In short, as a believing Christian, I would say that if you return to Christ then you can look forward to life with him in his kingdom following your death, otherwise you will have to spend some time in the place of punishment before you can enter that kingdom.

      Oh yes, I should also mention that aionios is wrongly translated “eternal” in such texts as Mt 25:46, a more accurate translation of that word would be something along the lines of “enduring.” The length of time people spend in the place of punishment is not infinite but finite (Mt 5:25-26; 18:34-35; Lk 12:57-59).

      “But I sincerely salute you for adopting the most humane and compassionate view of the afterlife.”

      Thanks, I think.

      “It at least indicates a level of human decency too often lacking among Christians (my own family sees no problem in proclaiming a God who would subject most of humanity to eternal torture to be morally perfect—a fact I find deeply saddening).”

      I agree. Sadly, most Christians have hardened their hearts to the truth that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him (Lk 20:38).

    • Carl D'Agostino

      I would add one “don”t” I hear so many whines to the effect that “please God, send me a sign.” Although we are each unique and valuable in the eyes of God, I’d like to tell these jerks who do you think you are to demand a sign? God is not in the sign painting business. But as Jesus relates in the NT: open your eyes for the signs are all around you.

    • David Ellis

      I don’t recall anyone demanding a “sign”. Do you mean who are we to require solid evidence before believing somebody rose from the dead a couple of thousand years ago?

      If that’s not what you’re saying then what exactly DO you mean?

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Re 49 JEFFERS. 50 DAMKROGER: I believe in resurrection of spirit not body . Westminster Confession of Faith is purposely vague on what the body means. Is it the body of the church believers spiritually or the physical body of Christ? “Body” is not defined.So with this intentional vagueness it allows believers in the Resurrection as just body or just spirit to ascribe to the same creed. Jesus says his Kingdom is not of this world. A physical body is of the world. So yes the faith survives for millions who believe the Resurrection is spiritual only. A resurrection occurs every time a person commits to Christ. A Second Coming occurs every time one commits to Christ. Every time a charitable act is performed Christ is present. Christianity is about a way of life. The is nothing to prove or disprove. He is always present in the now. And don’t forget “scripture” is primarily the interpretations of Paul. There were other viable understandings in first few centuries until Roman Church codified an orthodoxy which this Presbyterian does not fully accept.

    • David Ellis

      “I believe in resurrection of spirit not body.”

      Why? This position involves a rejection of quite a bit that’s said in the NT. How do you decide these doctrinal questions if you can’t rely on scripture? Personal revelation?

    • Jeff Ayers

      The two foundations I stand on to keep the tide of doubts from swamping my” faith boat” are the most despised and ridiculed by CMP and the people who post regularly on this blog, namely:

      1. Confidence that the book I HOLD IN MY HAND is the word of God without error or corruption and is the very preserved words of God. (not faith in some lost originals)

      2. A rejection of the Calvinistic position on the perseverance of the saints. Not rejecting eternal security or OSAS, but a rejection of the false lordship salvation, no assurance position of “All who are true believers will persevere in faith and good works to the end of their life, and those who do not persevere prove they were not elect to begin with”

      A free grace position of assurance of salvation by grace through faith, receiving eternal life by simply believing on the Lord Jesus Christ apart from works to get saved, stay saved or prove you are saved.

      And this assurance is based on a rock solid confidence that the King James Bible that I hold in my hands is inerrant, infallible and the very preserved words of God. Words that I will stake my eternal destiny on.

      When you depart from these two rock solid foundations, you are headed toward doubt , confusion and an easily exposed inconsistent theology which is no stronger than a house of cards.

    • Ed Kratz

      “dispoied and ridiculed by CMP”? While I certainly would not endorse either of your ways of dealing with your doubt, where have I ridiculed such an approach?

    • Jeff Ayers

      You and I have had at least 3 encounters over the issue of the King James Bible… and a couple of those times you were very derogatory, condescending and sarcastic in your approach to me over the issue.

      However, I have read your article on your position of free grace theology. It was very irenic.

      So, regarding the free grace theology (i.e. anti-MacArthur/ Gerstner soteriology): I was referring to “the people who post regularly on this blog” and not you.

      I have had dialogue with the lordship salvationists on this blog who are antagonistic (to say the least) to a free grace position of “all who believe on Christ for eternal life are secure without works of any kind”.

      As I always say when you respond to my posts: I rarely agree with your theology, but I love the thought provoking articles you write….. thank God for you and Credo House!!!

    • Ed Kratz

      For those times I have been derogatory or belittling, I ask for your forgiveness. It’s hard to practice what I preach. That type of tone is not godly and would evidence more insecurity than anything else.

    • Tio Papo

      This land on my lap again….hhhmmnnn…doubts, I had all along, they became too big when my Christian upbringing did not square off with my experience. I think that’s when it is crucial not only to have the type of fellowship you are talking about but one that is interrelational, not just going to Sunday school and Sunday night services. I guess your “credo house” where lots of people gather to just talk about their belief is something every church should have, a place were we can philosofy about our beliefs. Though apologetics and Jesus resurrection is the basis for out beliefs other areas that cast unnecesary doubts should be the focus of fellowship not just talking about football or the next church activity.
      I was raised in the church, yet when it came to why is hell forever, for example, I ran into a wall full of illogical “is in the book” stuff! Well, hell and sin bothered me so much I did away with their possibility altogether…why wasn’t someone there with “The Case for Christ” for that time (Evidence that demands a Verdict)?
      I think it is not just fellowship that strengthen our faith, but the right fellowship….sorry churches most do better!

    • imnobody

      I’ve often seen religious believers, of many faiths, suggest avoiding reading or conversing with skeptics. I never hear the skeptics suggesting you only read or listen to skeptics.

      No, so-called skeptics* only mock Christians (“the Flying Spaghetti Monster”, “belief in vampires”) or present them as ignorant and deluded so they don’t bother to discuss their arguments or read their books. They recur to cheap digs instead of engaging in an honest discussion.

      This allows them not to consider theist arguments so saying “don’t read theist books” is not necessary for them.

      * In fact, believers in the Goddess Reason, which is unwarranted by their own beliefs as if the cognitive abilities of a half-monkey in a tiny rock called Earth could understand the Universe.

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