Dealing with Doubt – Part 7: Uncertainty. Please note, this is both an extension on my doubt series but also the promised follow up to the “What if I Missed Something” post.

There are many things that I know almost nothing about but intrigue me nonetheless. Architecture is one of them. Carpentry is another. Forensic psychology is something that interests me, but not enough to make any moves in that direction other than watching the television series “Bones.”

There are some things that I know just enough about to be dangerous. Paleography is one. Playing the guitar is another. If you ever hear me playing, you would understand the danger. Human physiology and psychology are both areas of interest that I have some training in, but if I were to attempt to teach on these things, I would look pretty weak to the trained eye. 

There are some things that I know pretty well, but am still timid about my knowledge. For example, I study exercise and nutrition. I have been certified twice as a weight trainer. However, I have not kept up on these areas well enough to be sure of my knowledge about the latest issues and understandings. I could (and have) held exercise and weight training seminars that were good enough to pass muster with the audience, but would not contribute anything to experts in the field.

Then there are some things that I know really well and feel very confident about my knowledge. Systematic theology is one of these. Church history is another. But there are particular areas of theology which I feel even more qualified for than others. Issues in prolegomena are what I spend most of my time in these days. Also, I don’t think that there are many people who are as well versed in the use of the Greek word huper by amanuenses in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri as I am (and there are probably fewer who care!)

However, even with those things that I know most about and feel qualified to teach on, I am hesitant to call myself an expert. Why? Because I live with the reality that there is more information out there that can further temper my understanding. I also know that there are people who know more than me about the issues who don’t come to the same conclusions I do. You have heard the saying, “I am a jack of all trades and an expert in nothing.” That is how most of us are. We cannot all be experts in every area of life. While some of us may know a lot about many things, there will always going to be someone who knows more.

For some, this reality paralyzes their ability to commit. Due to the fact that there is someone out there that possibly knows more than they do, they are unable to have a confident faith.

The issue is really more complex than it might sound. I fear that what you may be hearing is that people believe they have to be the smartest people on a particular subject in order to believe this or that about an issue. In reality the non-committal attitude is due to the fact that there may be yet-to-be-found information out there, whether discovered or undiscovered, which can change one’s understanding.

I don’t know much about science, geography, cosmology, and evolutionary biology. This makes me very timid when people ask me to be definitive about these subjects, even when they relate to the Bible. I used to spend quite a bit of time in these areas, hoping to orient myself enough to formulate an informed and definitive opinion on the issues involved. However, after a while, I backed off on such lofty goals, knowing that I did not have the time. I also came to find that the “experts” in these fields, whether believer or unbeliever, were following too much of an ideology for my goal of being definitive to be accomplished. There was still too much information yet to be discovered, whether physical or philosophical, for anyone to be definitive. But the fact remains that there are both people who know more than I do and information that has yet to be found by anyone that can disturb conclusions.

Again, there will always be people who know more than you. I don’t ever encourage anyone to be an expert in everything. This is impossible. However, the fact that someone knows something you don’t should not keep you from being confident in your faith for a few reasons:

1. Referred Expertise. 

Just because you cannot be an expert in every area does not mean that you cannot be well informed by experts in these areas. For example, I know enough about textual criticism (the science and art of reconstructing the original text of Scriptures from the manuscript evidence) to teach on it. However, Dan Wallace knows much more than I do about the subject. So does Bart Erhman. Both of these men come to differing conclusions about some things involved in textual criticism. But I can be informed by both of them. I have access to their scholarship without having to acquire their level of scholarship on my own. They, along with many others, have written very accessible works on textual criticism which provides me with a justified basis for my faith, whichever direction it turns. Even though you may not be able to become an expert in this or that area, you can be well informed by those who are truly good and intellectually honest scholars in the areas relevant to your belief.

2. Uncertainty Principle.

I will talk more about this later, but suffice it to say for now that we all have to live with some degree of uncertainty based upon our ignorance. Even Dan Wallace and Bart Erhman don’t have all the information about the discipline in which they are both considered top experts in the world. Couple this with the fact that they, like all people, don’t have a completely wholistic understanding of how their conclusions might be influenced by other areas of study. However, this is the way we live in every area of life. There is nothing that we do or believe which is based upon the prior acquisition of infallible and exhaustive knowledge. We function off the “sufficiency principle.” All we need is probability in order to be justified in our beliefs. If the information that we have points to the probability of one conclusion over another, then our belief in that conclusion is justified, even if we may be lacking some data. If you get into your car and drive, you have demonstrated this point, even if you had the tires checked by an expert! There will always be some uncertiantly, but this does not mean your non-belief is justified. 

In the end, God is the only one who has access to all the data and therefore is the only one who is infallible in all his understanding.

3. Undue Credit Given to the Unknown.

In my opinion this is the most important for those who are doubting God. Many times since we believe that there are people out there who know more than us—since we believe that there is information in some secret place that would change everything—we suspend our belief perpetually. When it comes to the God question and the issues surrounding Christianity, there is not some secret silver bullet on the team of unbelief that only those with an IQ of 120+ can understand. Don’t let words and phrases like “Greek mythology,” “second-temple Judaism,” “redaction criticism,” “psychological obscurantism,” or “Ancient near-east creation narratives” get you down. While a lot of smart people do go the direction of unbelief with these issues, there are also some very smart people who go another direction which ends in belief.

You also need to understand that there is not really anything new out there. There is nothing new about the “New Atheists.” They are just making old arguments in a new way. Ninety-nine percent of the time these issues are issues that are revitalized and sometimes repackaged. Become a good student of church history and you will find this to be the case and your fears will subside.

I think we get the idea behind number three due to people who give their testimony about how they started studying in college or graduate school and lost their faith. We begin to think What are they learning that I don’t know that is causing them to no longer believe? What information do they now have that I don’t (because I am not educated enough) which is a faith-killer? But again, the tide turns both ways. There are smart people who get the same education who not only remain believers, but actually strengthen their faith due to their belief that the evidence against Christianity is even weaker than they thought. Minus the “smart,” this describes me. The more I engage in the supposed “unknown” the more I am convicted of the truth of Christianity. The more I hear about alternatives to the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ, the more I am convinced, due to the weaknesses of the alternatives, that the battle is not on an intellectual front, but a spiritual one.

Conversely, we need to be careful here as I don’t want the unbeliever to become a believer because of this “fear of the unknown” either. The evidence for both sides is clear and easy to understand. No fine print. Simply put, there is no information out there in any area that the really smart people have that is detrimental to Christianity in the slightest. If it were, they would write about it. But their writings contain nothing new. Every objection to Christianity can be and has been answered for two-thousand years. This does not mean you will be compelled to accept the answer, it just means that your belief will not lose justification based on some “unknown.”

Your doubt does not need to hang on this issue. Does someone know something you don’t? Of course. Do they know something that is detrimental to your Christian faith? No. Don’t let heavy-handed tactics manipulate or scare you. (And don’t use heavy-handed tactics to manipulate others into belief that Christianity is true either!)

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    11 replies to "“Someone Knows Something I Don’t”"

    • Scott F

      Dude, another excellent article. I realized a while back that the God debate has not moved for about a hundred years. I used to be nervous that the silver faith-bullet was out there, aimed at my heart. I was a little nervous about reading the “smart” apologists. Somehow this feeling even survived the Josh McDowell book my college roommate suggested 😉

      In spite of my doubt, I forced myself to read these because I knew that my (un)beliefs were invalid if they could not withstand reasoned debate. Many of these books (ie Case for Christ) were lightweight and, frankly, a little dishonest in their presentation. Even so, I discovered that the better ones – by N T Wright, William Lane Craig, Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington III – are making arguments that are not exactly a “slam dunk.”

      I get some interesting insights from reading the works of the above, bloggers like Michael, Mark Goodacre, James McGrath in addition to the books of Bart Erhman. A number of negative assumptions I had of , say, the Gospel of Matthew, have been exposed as uninformed after I sought the views of Christian academics. I feel like I receive a new insight every week.

      Even while I resonate with the arguments of Bart Ehrman over than those of Richard Bauckhan, I recognize that these arguments have historically proven ineffective and are likely inadequate to the task of shifting the average Christian from her faith. That said, I wonder if attitudes shift AT ALL when exposed to the tarnished bullets of the Old Atheists. Do many Christians reevaluate their beliefs and find themselves with a different faith than they had before encountering the arguments of outsiders? Perhaps even abandoning Calvinism (*GASP*)?

      Okay, just kidding about that last one. That would require a level of intellectual delusion that I do not want to even consider 😉

    • Ed Kratz

      The more I learn and the more knowledge I acquire, the more I realize the only thing I need to know is that Christ died for me, a sinner, he sits at the Father’s right hand making intercession and I need to trust Him.

      Btw, I’m changing my name to Amanuenses while in seminary 🙂

    • mbaker

      My concern is that we have so much information nowadays, coming from so many different sources, that in itself often creates doubt. Out of the din of so many voices, each with their own version of what Christianity is or should be, we wonder who and what to believe.

      I think the advent of folks like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and some of the televangelists like Benny Hinn really make Christianity more about everything else except Christ. After we read their books and watch their television programs, and it doesn’t work for us, we are again left doubting whether our religion is the real thing, or a myth designed to keep us in fear of our lives

      I’d say we need to better help folks discern what is important and what isn’t in Christianity. Sometimes, we so get sidetracked and immersed in non-essential issues nowadays, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Or Christ for Christianity.

    • cherylu


      I agree with what you said about all of the info out there. I long ago stopped reading most of the “how to” Christian books. None of them really seemed to work and besides that, if you read three, you would get three different opinions on how to live as a victorious and successful Christian! So what you were doing last week had to thrown away for a whole new program this week. It was confusing and a great waste of time to say the least.

    • aaron

      I really like how Michael pointed out two things that his faith hinges on: the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ. More often than not, these are the exact two beliefs I find myself returning to over and over again. I return to them not only for my own faith, but also when it comes to talking to unbelievers. If I was to add a third leg to this stool, it would be that the fundamental character and nature of God is love, even despite the hardships, suffering and pain in the world. I cannot escape the idea that God is a God who delights in mercy, not sacrifice.

    • bethyada

      It is false that you need to know something in detail to know it is true. Knowledge expands, but you can always know even small amounts of information are true (or likely to be true), even if you don’t know extensively. One can know certainly that 2 + 5 = 7 even if he can’t calculate a geometric mean.

      One thing I find notable when reading material by people that know more than me is that they often draw much of their conclusions from their biases not the material. The facts are often convenient items that are used to promote an agenda. It is not that information cannot inform, but presuppositions die hard and are frequently unconscious; though perhaps not to those who disagree.

      Not that we can be without bias, but best we have good biases, and know what they are!

    • Cadis

      I enjoyed this post.

      Although there is more information out there then before, which can be intimidating, it also means we have access to a lot more help in our studies and coming to understand and know what is the truth of scripture.

      Anything you want to know about anything can be gleaned simply by searching Google (making sure to check the source) It took thousands of dollars for pastors, even as little as 20 years ago, to build libraries of theological references that are now at the layman’s fingertips free of charge. And not only those classic and historical helps, but look at the interaction we have available with experts in their field.

      These sources should help to dispel doubts, answer questions to the best they can be answered. It truly should be a time when doubts should be on the wane.

      Study is hard work and needs commitment, it is important to study God’s word so we are not tossed. Knowing those things that are true helps to eliminate all those things that are wrong . I don’t need to know every lie that has been spoken to know truth when I hear it. But the end all, be all, vanquisher of doubt is our rest in Him. Christ and our security in what he did for us and continues to do for us is what calms us in our growing process.

    • Cadis

      Case in point..
      Michael said his newest interest was Paleography

      What is Paleography? Well I Googled. Here is an excerpt from a site dedicated to Paleography.

      “Paleography is the art of analysing and reading handwriting. Some would call it a science, and to a degree it has acquired a veneer of scientific style, classification and ordering, but ultimately it involves one human individual attempting to understand the unique efforts at communication of another. This is fundamentally an art, with some scientific props”…………….

      “If you go along to your library shelves and take down a book with the word “paleography” in the title, you may find it a difficult read. It may be full of intricate detail and minutiae and long verbose explanations. That is the coal face of research. In any field of academia the intimate details of research can seem like the fixations of an obsessive-compulsive. Take a few steps back for a longer view and discover a rich vein of our history and heritage.”

      I found the advice on studying Paleography not too far removed from the theology, I just thought the comment ..”That is the coal face of research. In any field of academia the intimate details of research can seem like the fixations of an obsessive-compulsive.
      Take a few steps back for a longer view”..
      was interesting and worth pasting here.

    • clearblue

      Hi Michael,

      I, for one, would be very interested to hear about the use of huper in Oxyrhynchus papyri. I don’t suppose that you’d do a quick summary post about that, would you? Why should such knowledge go to waste? Particularly when there are interesting doctrinal and hermeneutical derivates: atonement, 1 Cor. 11:15. Go on, you indulge the ‘common man’ 99% of the time – what about something for those who DO care!

    • Doc Pagala

      CMP you wrote:

      “The more I hear about alternatives to the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ, the more I am convinced, due to the weaknesses of the alternatives, that the battle is not on an intellectual front, but a spiritual one… Every objection to Christianity can be and has been answered for two-thousand years. This does not mean you will be compelled to accept the answer, it just means that your belief will not lose justification based on some “unknown.””

      That sums up what I also conclude.

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