Questions, Doubts, and Faith

Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. I think one way to explain this issue is to use a real life illustration. Many of us remember the popular novel The Davinci Code which was made into a very successful movie. Dan Brown, who is the author of the book was interviewed about his religious background. You can read the interview (see here),

The response that Brown got is a common occurrence. I have seen the fallout of this problem. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.

Let’s look at a more technical definition of doubt. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary says the following about doubt:

“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”

Doubts can come in several forms such as emotional, psychological, or factual doubt. Anyway, think if Brown’s minister had practiced what Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 3:15: “But in your hearts acknowledge Messiah as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted Christians.The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word, inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard.” Peter does not suggest we be prepared to do give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it.

Biblical faith is belief, trust, or commitment in God through Jesus the Messiah. Joseph Thayer says, “To believe” means to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, [to] place confidence in. [And in] a moral and religious reference, pisteuein [from pisteuo] is used in the N.T. of a conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul. (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511).

There have been three aspects of faith expressed throughout church history: notitia (knowledge), fiducia (trust), and assensus (assent). Notitia refers to the data or doctrinal element of faith. Assensus refers to the assent of the intellect of the truth of the Christian faith. According to the book of James, the demons have intellectual assent to the fact that God exists but not have saving faith. That is why a person must exercise fiducia- this is the aspect of faith that involves the application or trust in the faith process. In other words, fiducia allows a person to go beyond merely intellectual assent. Fiducia involves the will, emotion, and intellect.

Many confuse apologetics as something that will take the place of faith. In other words, if we offer reasons and evidence, God won’t be happy with us because what He can only be pleased by faith (Heb. 11:6). In response, in the Bible, the object of faith is sometimes described as resting in God Himself (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:24). Even in the New Testament, Jesus confirms this issue (Mark 11:22). And even as God is the object of faith, the author of the Gospel of John directs his audience to Jesus as being the object of faith as well (John 20:31). But let’s look at Acts 17:1-4: “Paul went into the synagogue reasoning and giving evidence that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”

Just stop and ask yourself this question: What if someone had stopped Paul and said, “Paul, you can’t go into the synagogue and reason with them. After all, they need faith.” I think Paul was more than aware that they needed to have faith. However, he knew that they were going to have objections to Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. He needed to be able to respond to their objections. Likewise, if someone came to me and said they were having a hard time trusting in the credibility of Christianity because of the unreliability of the New Testament, I would not say, “Just have faith.” Instead, I would give them solid reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps Christians need to ask, “Is an unexamined faith worth having?”

What this illustration shows is that we need to do our homework and examine all the passages about faith and the apologetic methods that were used by both Jesus and the Apostles. I can saw without hesitation that the object of my faith is not evidence. If the object of my faith was evidence, than evidence would be an idol. Instead, the object of my faith is God or Jesus Himself. So while reason and evidence can support the Christian faith, it is never to be take the place of God Himself.

2 thoughts on “Questions, Doubts, and Faith

  1. chab123 February 12, 2010 / 5:23 pm

    Shawn White says:

    Good write up Eric. Thanks for posting and making those distinctions. I know I haven’t been careful in the past making those distinctions, but I will attempt to do so in the future.

  2. chab123 February 12, 2010 / 5:24 pm

    Thanks Shawn. I know we both know there is much more to it than this. But this is a good start.

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