If you were brought up in the Christian faith, and especially if you have a bit of an argumentative personality, you can probably think of a time in your life where you patriotically defended your faith against the flaming arrows of atheism or something like that. I, for one, certainly went through a kind of romance with Christian apologetics, convinced to a certain extent that the arguments I was making were convincing and effective. Maybe that was true once in a while.
I use the word ‘patriotically’ because I have come to realize that for much of my life, my faith was more like the pride associated with something like nationalism than it was a “conviction of things not seen”. I would often find myself commenting on articles online which were written against my beliefs, and I pray no one ever finds them because they were surely of the utmost ignorance. Maybe I should google my name and purge as much as I can in case I ever go into politics.
The problem with my former attitude was that I had not learned to really accept the Biblical definition of faith, and so I would go into battle with a fear of being humiliated if I failed to defeat my opponent. This way of thinking is incompatible with faith.
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” 1st Corinthians 1:21
If God cannot be known through wisdom, why would I so desperately rely on wisdom to bring someone to the knowledge of God?
I am thankful to have been brought up in a way that encouraged me to always seek the truth, and to be ready to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“. This does include at least some basic knowledge of apologetics, so don’t think I am dissing all the scholars who have written about topics such as the historicity of the gospels or the philosophical arguments in favor of Christianity. However, it is inevitable that our faith will be attacked on many fronts. Our understanding of biblical truth will be assailed, sometimes rightly, in which case we must honestly reevaluate how we have come to a certain conclusion. At other times, it will be wrongly and maliciously assaulted, and we must stand our ground. Discerning when we are holding on to a misinterpretation and when we are valiantly defending the truth is undoubtedly one of the most significant causes of division within the church, because someone who is strongly convinced that the Bible teaches one thing will not easily concede that it may not mean what they think it means.
These doubts and divisions can come in any form: an archeological discovery, a strong cultural shift, a tragedy or trial, a church scandal, or any number of events which make God’s Word seem difficult to believe, or which make the church seem hopelessly flawed. Many such circumstances have been known to drive people away from faith in Him. When a close friend or family member approaches us with these concerns, it is unfortunately common for our reaction to be to pick apart the reasons for their doubt on an intellectual level. Is this not contrary to the concept presented to us in the Bible, that God is not known through wisdom, and that people are saved through the folly of the gospel?
Naturally, this is what happened to two prominent YouTubers when they decided to explain, in very great detail, why they are no longer evangelical Christians. Rhett and Link’s‘s Good Mythical Morning show ranks 217th for most subscribed channel on YouTube. It isn’t surprising, as their brand is extremely entertaining and inclusive. My all time favorite episode is when they attempt to speak coherently while hearing their own words repeated to them at a slight delay. You should definitely check it out.
Rhett and Link’s content had always struck me as suspiciously wholesome. Knowing they were from the Bible belt, I had always wondered if they were Christians. Recently, they let the cat out of the bag on their podcast, Ear Biscuits, about their past as evangelical Christian missionaries, how it influenced their career, and why they each left the faith. I highly recommend that you watch their respective tellings of the process, as they are brilliantly explained and very sincere. Their stories are also representative of the kinds of struggles that sew doubt in many of my own peers.
In a follow up to their personal recapitulations of what they refer to as “spiritual deconstructions”, the duo revealed how they were subsequently bombarded by comments dismantling their deconstructions. Interesting paradox, no? Anyway, the indication was that, if they had just read the right books, or heard the right arguments, or had a better understanding of the Bible, they would never have ceased being Christians. In other words, if they had been wise enough, they could have understood God well enough to know not to leave Him.
For most of my life, I have fallen into this same trap. On one hand, I read about faith in the Bible, how it is the assurance or the substance of things hoped for, the evidence or conviction of things not seen (to juxtapose the ESV and KJV translations). Why then, should I still find myself arguing with people about how reasonable the Bible is?
The honest doubts, which so often trigger the beginning of the end of faith, are quite a dilemma. What is one to do when facing the realization that it is impossible to simply force oneself to believe? A quote comes to mind by author Andrew Klavan:
“Even if the gospels were not true, they would still be true.”
This saying carries the idea that truth is in God’s intended meaning. Biblical truth is defined by what God wishes to communicate to us in His Word. More broadly, then, truth itself is God’s message to us. All the doubts in the world can be put to rest on this fact, because it accounts for human frailty and ignorance. Man does his best to understand God, and as man discovers the world, which is God’s creation, he slowly narrows down what God is saying to him. We should not be surprised when what we thought was the truth turns out to be an imperfect interpretation. Rather, we must learn to move past the comfort of “knowing” and celebrate the learning process which consists of incrementally ruling out man’s misreadings.
There is a place for addressing issues on an intellectual level. I am certainly not suggesting that every doubt be met with a simple, “You just need to have faith,” response. This is a dismissive way of using faith to suggest that someone’s doubt is irrelevant. Instead, the argument of faith is a matter of counting the cost, as Jesus said.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” Luke 14:28
Are you willing to bear uncertainty? Do you have the will power to believe the truth of God’s Word even when you’re more uncertain than ever what that truth is? When Jesus speaks of carrying one’s cross, is he not referring to a trial like this?
Perhaps it would be a good thought experiment for us all to ask ourselves if our faith is possibly too dependent on our confidence in our own wisdom. My goal in writing this, and in presenting these “anti-testmimonies”, as Rhett and Link named them, is admittedly controversial. I want us to be shaken up and made to doubt. I want us to be presented with compelling stories of deconversion, so that we are forced into a real decision about our faith: one that actually is faith, and not a calculation of probability based on apologetics. These are paper mache supports in our structure of belief, stumbling blocks waiting to happen; it is mythical faith. I want us all to examine which of our conceptions, if proven wrong, would be too much for us to tolerate. Only by identifying these can we truly count the cost of faith and ask God for the strength we need to overcome the dark moments of doubt that await us.
In case you decide not to listen to their stories, I’ll leave you with two segments from Rhett’s dialogue which concisely represent the folly of faith that we are required to practice. I hope this will cause us to think about our own faith, and whether or not we have truly counted the cost of living it out.
“I had placed a lot of faith, not just in God, but in these people who helped me understand why I believed what I believed from an intellectual standpoint, right? I had a very real, emotional, personal, spiritual relationship with God that I was practicing, but there was this intellectual foundation that, whenever I had a doubt, I would kind of retreat to this intellectual foundation. And all of a sudden, those people that I had been trusting in, I began to doubt that I had been told the truth or shown the truth about other things.”
“Y’know, it makes sense to me that this might be where faith comes in because, I am sitting here trying to prove this stuff out, but shouldn’t I just have faith first, and then maybe these answers will be given to me by God? Isn’t this what faith is all about? I mean, the whole point is that it’s evidence of things not seen, right?”