Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, September 27, 2010

Doubt vs Faith: What You Talkin' About, Willis?

One of my favorite shows as a boy was Diff’rent Strokes, most remembered by it’s star Gary Coleman (who died this year) and that iconic phrase, “What you talkin’ about, Willis?”. This phrase worked its way into our house years ago and it conveys the same basic message that it did on Diff’rent Strokes: Whatever you are trying to say, I’m not following you. Recently, while reading and blogging, I have found this phrase echoing through my head. As an ultra-opinionated guy, it’s often because I don’t happen to agree with the author. Sometimes it’s because writers put forth ideas that are so nebulous, ideas so layered in double-meanings, that I find myself wanting to post “sp-sp-spit it out junior” in the comments section. An idea that tends to fit into the first category is what’s being put forth as the new litmus test of faith for many Christian thinkers: Doubt.

That’s right, faith equals doubt. Sound confusing? No longer is doubt to be considered an obstacle to faith, but rather the legitimizer of faith. Some seem bent on the idea that because the testimony of the Bible is sometimes doubt-worthy (it's not), our doubts should be embraced as the new beginning of a more realistic faith. Under this new definition, the Bible is no longer to be considered a primary, rather Christians must look to Jesus for an example of how to live (or journey if you prefer). I have two concerns with this way of thinking. First, as I have stated before, if we cannot trust the account given to us by the gospel writers, than we cannot reasonably know or assert anything about Jesus’ life and character. Second, without a trustworthy Biblical account of the life and teaching of Jesus, adherents to this strange new doubt/faith are forced (or inclined) to follow a Jesus created in their own image; which in reality, turns out to be no Jesus at all.

While I agree that there is a sanctifying work in doubt, I do not believe, as some, that it should be celebrated as privileged spirituality. Writers like Brian McLaren have infused his readers with ideas that equate doubt with humility and accuse clarity of being dishonest (or unexamined). Within this paradigm, one might conclude that confusion is the new acumen (intellect).

Let me clarify (because I think clarity is important) that I too believe that spiritual honesty is paramount, and that doubts are part of the human condition. I do not think that doubt is a sin. What I do think is that God desires to (like Thomas the apostle) move us past our doubts, not build a religion out of it. Thomas doubted, but he later learned that God was who He said He was (clarity). This kind of humility was exhibited by the father of a demon tormented child and his willingness to cry out, “help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Throughout my life and ministry I have been drawn to “good questions”. Sometimes these questions have led me to a submissive heart and then good answers. At other times my questions have led me to unhealthy thoughts and misguided understandings. In these times it has often taken a friend who cares enough to ask, “What you talkin’ about Willis?” to restore in me a heart that humbly cries, “my Lord and my God.”

“Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
(John 20:27)


  1. Thanks for posting over at my blog From what I can tell I believe we share a similar approach to Scripture. Look forward to spending more time on your site. Feel free to keep interacting on mine.

  2. Jacob Dodson recommended I share my thoughts with you about whether or not the telephone game is a good analogy for how the words of Jesus came to be written down. Check out my blog where I suggest a better (though still imperfect) analogy:

  3. David,
    I checked out your blog and I really liked it. Your analogy is a good one.