It’s become fairly common among some former evangelicals to spend a great deal of capital feeding the general lack of confidence of the present age and encouraging currently faithful Christians to hop on the bandwagon of uncertainty.
Certainty is a modern notion born out of the Enlightenment. Or better yet, the Enlightenments, because there really were different streams of thought that appeared about the same time with different beginning points. Speaking of which, can we really say that there was such a thing as the Enlightenment since there appear to be such differences between thinkers and there is no absolute beginning point. Also, since the cultural movement that we once called the Enlightenment was largely a European endeavor and involved mainly males, it is likely that the entire enterprise was oppressively racist and sexist. Better not to study thought of the Enlightenment at all since pluriformity of thought prevents any sort of characterization of the era. At best we should have a high degree of confidence in our uncertainty.
Did I lose you? That’s the point of that paragraph, but it represents some of the sort of argumentation that passes for deep thought. It doesn’t need to be factually correct as long as its moved you to a place of doubt where real learning can take place.
The only thing we can be certain of is our uncertainty according to scholars in some circles. This certainly keeps them safe from criticism—Who can criticize what has no form?—but it does little to promote understanding or, when theology is involved, faithfulness.
Faith Amid Multiple Positions
The thinking in some circles appears to be that it is better to be expressively dubious than faithfully committed.
One of the popular ways to cast doubt on orthodoxy, for example, is to say that there have been people who have disagreed with orthodoxy throughout history. Since there is doubt among some thinkers in history, who are we to believe that we can know what is right belief?
Certainly there is room for humility in belief. We understand that different people have thought differently (and indeed, do think differently) about important doctrines. My faith is not undermined by some people having different opinions.
For example, I have friends who are Presbyterian. They believe that the form of baptism is secondary to the meaning of it, so the evolved practice of sprinkling babies is as acceptable as believer's baptism by immersion. I’ve studied enough church history and read enough theology to know how they get there. However, I think they are wrong. In this case, there is a different set of presuppositions at work. But more important than the position are some simple realities about truth that are revealed by sincere, well-founded disagreement.
First of all, the simple existence of a difference in interpretation of Scripture on the subject of baptism does not imply that there isn’t a right answer. One of us may be right and the other wrong. Or, both of us may be wrong. However, plurality of positions doesn’t mean that there isn’t a correct position.
Second, while I recognize that I have a different position than my Presbyterian friends, I honor them when I acknowledge their positions and take them seriously. What would dishonor both them and everyone else at the table is flippantly saying that the existence of multiple perspectives indicates that none of us should believe anything.
In some ways, that is what the faithless Christian movement is doing. Some people deny objective truth (not just its knowability) to argue against confidence in historical Christian teaching. Sometimes these people argue that since a novel interpretation of a text has arisen within the past several decades from people who argue that they are intentionally rewriting Scripture, then we must reject confidence in orthodoxy.
The False Humility of Doubt
This sounds simplistic. In some cases it may be unfair. However, in many cases the line of argumentation isn’t far off this simplistic summary.[i] Doubt is possible because multiple positions exist. Doubt is preferable to being wrong, particularly when the social costs of being “wrong” are significant. Therefore, doubt is better than certainty. Doubt is humble and humility is biblical, therefore we must doubt.
Most of the time, the doubt that is portrayed as humble is anything but. Such doubt is a way of saying that a previously unthinkable position might be right because the old one might be wrong. In other words, it’s saying that someone’s new and better teaching is probably better than the old one, so those of you who don’t like the new one should be humbler and accept the new teaching. That used to be called heresy.
Think about it another way. The doubt sowers are not being very humble when they essentially call into question thousands of years of belief. “You know all of those people who believed something different than me and held to it despite threat of imprisonment, torture and death?,” they insinuate, “They are just arrogant in comparison to my humble doubt.” Why have faith when doubt is a safer, humbler option?
The thing is that some forms of doubt are a cancer to faith, such as the insatiable doubt that some contemporary marketers are promoting. In order to rewrite Christian ethics and avoid believing traditional doctrines, some people are sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of others. They do it because of “love” or because they are being “kind.” Sometimes they try to revise traditional orthodoxy because they love Jesus and really believe that Christianity has something to offer contemporary people; it just needs to have some of its rough edges shaved off that poke at the citizen of the contemporary world.
Whether the sowing of doubt is done for personal gain or to try to make Christianity fit the popular trends, teaching people to doubt is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing when the people in the church no longer have the ability to believe the traditional teachings of Christianity. It’s a bad thing when people have no trust in Scripture, because if it is wrong on one point, who is to argue that it gets the gospel right? These are significant problems that are exacerbated by the purveyors of doubt.
More significantly, sowing doubt will be a bad thing for some people when their actions are judged by a holy and righteous God. For the Jesus-only hermeneutics people, he alludes to that pretty clearly in Matthew 5:17-20. For those that accept all of Scripture as inspired (even when it disagrees with us), James 3:1 warns us to consider becoming teachers because they will be judged with greater strictness. The context seems to point toward that strictness being in God’s judgment, not just in people’s observations of our social media profiles. That should cause us to rethink how much doubt and discontent we desire to foment.
[i] I’m intentionally not providing specific examples here because: a. It’s unlikely anyone really doubts this point if they have spent any time reading theological blogs. b. The people who are most likely to be offended by this statement and demand an example are probably part of the problem and really know exactly what I’m talking about. c. I blog for fun, not to get into blog wars with people that have too much time on their hands. Many of the doubt bloggers are professional instructors and writers who have more time to wage endless war against belief than I have time to rebut. I’m simply making observations at this point.