Following the announcement of Joshua Harris that he no longer considers himself a Christian, and Marty Sampson, who says he is loosing his faith, the Christian world has exploded with conversation about doubt and doubters. So much angst. Some of the comments have been harsh with criticism.
These kinds of announcements tend to rock a world that may look shaky to begin with from the the outside. Maybe even from the inside.
These guys may not be household names, (I didn’t know either name until a few weeks ago), but they represent some influence in 21st Century Christianity in the United States (Harris) and beyond (Sampson). Joshua Harris wrote a book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997), that defined the dating culture (or lack thereof) for a generation of young Christians. Marty Sampson was a worship leader and songwriter for one of the most prolific and visible (if not controversial) Christian churches, Hillsong.
In the wake of his divorce, Joshua Harris publicly eschewed his faith in a recent announcement, stating that he is no longer a Christian. Not many weeks later, Marty Sampson, the Hillsong worship leader, made a similar announcement, saying that he was losing his faith. Since then he has clarified that he hasn’t walked away from the faith. He is simply struggling with doubt – something most Christians have experienced (even if we don’t like to talk about it).
The reactions have predictably poured in. When high profile Christians struggle with their faith, it’s the equivalent of an earthquake in a third world country. You just know there will be casualties. (The fact that we put so much faith in our leaders is another topic in itself!) Many of those reactions have been negative, even harsh.
That’s why I write. That’s why Mike and Debbie Licona have taken to the Internet in a video to discuss the issue. Mike has written, perhaps, the most significant work on the evidence of the resurrection – The Resurrection: A New Historiographical Approach. His mentor, Gary Habermas, revolutionized the way people think about the resurrection, even skeptics, by using the “minimal facts” that even skeptics will accept to make a compelling case for the resurrection.
And here’s the thing: the works that have come to define these men and the quality of their scholarship were born out of doubt. They were once doubters. Their doubts led them to dig deeper and get answers, even if those answers might unravel the faith that had come to define them. They stared doubt in the face and dared to seek truth, and their journeys led to their quintessential works.
Doubts are not necessarily a bad thing. Fear, I believe, is worse than doubt, and fear often exasperates the doubt and prevents the doubts from being resolved. When I survey the Scripture, I see admonitions against fear that suggest that fear, not doubt, is the antithesis to faith.
As for doubt, we shouldn’t be so reluctant or fearful. If our faith can’t hold up, it isn’t worth holding onto. If God is true, and I believe He is, we have nothing to fear. We can expose our doubts to the truth with assurance that they can be resolved.
Further, I think it’s important to consider that what Jesus thought about doubters. Jesus didn’t condemn doubters, He was patient with them. We don’t find him railing against doubters, we find him embracing them. Consider the observations along these lines by Mike Licona in the video below:
I have often thought about Thomas, (aka Doubting Thomas) in this context. He didn’t just doubt once after Jesus died, demanding to see his hands and side; Thomas was a doubter from the beginning. And that underscored to me that Jesus leaves Room for Doubters and Skeptics.
So the message is this: if you are doubting, be honest about it and seek answers. Jesus invites us to knock, and keep on knocking, to seek and keep on seeking, to ask and keep on asking. You might even read the book by Gary Habermas, The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God.
And to Christians who are not (presently) wrestling with doubt, remember the words of Jude: “Be merciful to those who doubt….” (verse 22) Jesus demonstrated that very attitude towards Thomas, who doubted from the beginning, to Peter, who denied Jesus three times when the chips were down, and toward us when we doubt.