Preaching Articles

It seems like doubt is all the rage among 20- and 30-year-old Christians these days. Articulate and earnest Christians are coming out in the open and posting their doubts online and in print. Thoughtful young Christian Leaders like Jason Boyett and Rachel Held Evans not only wrestle with the faith as they have received it, but chronicle their journey of doubt for others to share. They are talented and sincere Christian writers, sharing their experiences. Yet it seems to me doubt has become a badge of authenticity among 20 and 30-somethings. Is doubt the new mark of a follower of Jesus?

It’s worth noting that doubt belongs in the Christian story. Gospel accounts of the resurrection include the doubts of Jesus’ closest followers. Doubt does not—and should not—exclude us from worship. Jesus bridged the gulf of open rebellion and sin in order to restore relationship with humanity; a little thing like doubt certainly won’t hold him back. The earliest Christian community followed Jesus’ example and did not reject those who struggled to believe (John 20: 24-31 is an excellent example). Nor can I blame others for expressing their doubts. Honesty trumps mindless conformity. The demand for agreement on certain points of doctrine has damaged people’s faith as much as the open confession of uncertainty.

Yet there are problems with the popularity of doubt in our day. Doubt comes with a price. I’d like to suggest six ideas that could help any pastor when asked to speak about the subject of doubt.

1) Doubt can be the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

In every generation the essentials of faith become polluted with the non-essentials of Christian culture. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is moving a new generation of believers to question whether every detail of Evangelical faith is actually required by God. In every age religious expressions are infused with political, social, and intellectual agendas that have no real bearing on the Kingdom of God—we just like to think they do!

2) Never trust anyone who hasn’t wrestled with doubt.

The person who receives the words of Jesus without any questions is someone who hasn’t really heard the words of Jesus. The Son of God is an equal-opportunity offender. Saul of Tarsus was a first-rate Jewish scholar who believed he was doing God’s work by persecuting Christians. After meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus he spent three days, blind and alone, reconsidering everything he previously believed to be God’s will. If Jesus is real, everything changes.

3) Don’t confuse doubt with seeking.

We seek in order to find; sometimes we doubt in order to avoid seeking. Jesus appeared to Thomas because his doubts were reasonable; Thomas responded with the declaration, “my Lord and my God.” God invites us to seek—even to question—yet he assures us he can be found. The witness of scripture and of the centuries is that God reveals himself to those who seek him. Too many people consider doubt an impartial quality, as if doubt is somehow above the fight. Instead, doubt is a method, and like all methods it has its limits. Doubt is a useful tool, but a terrible destination.

4) Doubt is not the opposite of faith.

In his useful book, God in the Dark, Os Guinness points out that unbelief is the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the willful choice to not believe even after the questions have been answered. Doubt can spring from honesty or confusion; unbelief springs from the will. In the final analysis, even our intellect is called to obey.

5) My doubts are my doubts—they don’t have to be yours.

Sometimes the religious establishment can be guilty of a stifling orthodoxy. It’s equally true that the next generation can be guilty of demanding uncertainty of others. I might think your faith is nothing more than Christian superstition, but that does not mean I’m called to change your mind. I suspect God is more interested in whether we play nice together than whether we all sign the same creed.

6) The object of faith is a Person, not a proposition.

For twenty-five years I’ve loved my wife. After twenty-five years I don’t pretend to understand her! How much more the unfathomable Creator? The book of Job reveals the essence of faith is relationship, not precept. I may doubt my understanding of God, but I trust I will never doubt him.

Jesus is our destination, and along with St. Augustine we can boldly declare from the pulpit: "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find ourselves in you."

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Ephrem Hagos

commented on Jan 26, 2012

You cannot deal with doubts without defining Biblical faith! (John 19: 34-37)

Stephen Summers

commented on Jan 26, 2012

Hi Ephrem, are you saying that the article should have "define biblical faith" as an additional point or maybe the first point. I read that passage and I'm just looking for clarification on how to apply and incorporate your suggestion. God Bless

David Buffaloe

commented on Jan 26, 2012

I don't agree with #2. Christianity is a marriage between the believer and Christ, much like human marriage between husband and wife. I never doubt Jesus' love, just as I do not doubt my wife's love. I trust Him and His word implicitly.

Robert Yount

commented on Jan 26, 2012

There is not real Faith without the presence of the possibility of Doubt. If you have absolute certainty, there is no need for faith. Absolute certainty removes the need for faith. If I tell you I have $50 in my Bible that I will give you tomorrow, and you believe me that is faith. If I do give you that $50 tomorrow, I destroy your faith in my promise because I have removed any need for you to trust me. I am confident of all God's promises in scripture because I trust (have faith) Him. Doubt is the evidence that faith can exist.

Pastor Herbert W. Roshell

commented on Jan 26, 2012

I love this and it was a new way of looking at doubt. Doubt can also become dangerous, if it becomes fear. The other part that can be dangerous, is putting 'full" or equal trust in mankind as God/Jesus... cause the word says "put not thy trust in men, because he (men or women"mankind")shall surely fail you". Only Jesus/God can NOT fail us! The word says "we can do nothing without Him, but we can do all thing through Christ Jesus who strength you". Thanks for the insight!

John E Miller

commented on Jan 27, 2012

I cannot agree with Robert Yount, nor can I subscribe to the notion that doubt can be the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work. We are Abraham's children, not by birth but in the line of faith, if we have that faith. We read of his willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis but we are not told the basis of that willingness. We might have supposed that it was blind obedience. In Hebrews 11 it is explained. Abraham believed that God was able to raise the dead and rested on His promises regarding Isaac. That was absolute certainty. I agree with David Buffaloe. God's love to me is beyond any question and if a doubt arises it is Satan at work, not the Holy Spirit.

John E Miller

commented on Jan 27, 2012

The first doubt that arises in Scripture is in Genesis 3:1. Who was the source?

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Jan 27, 2012

If doubt is such an objectional trait, why was Thomas kept around?

John E Miller

commented on Jan 27, 2012

Thomas was "kept around" because (a) he was chosen by the Lord Jesus as one of His Apostles, (b) because the Lord made him examine the wounds of His suffering and (c) because we are given a wonderful picture of the patient grace of our Saviour in removing the doubts and fears that can attack the child of God.

John E Miller

commented on Jan 27, 2012

"The Son of God is an equal-opportunity offender". What on earth is the author of this article trying to say? Show me one verse in any of the three accounts of Paul's conversion that points to doubt. I cannot fathom the careless way some so-called Christian "leaders" speak of the One who "upholds all things by the word of His power" and the loose way they put their own interpretation on God's word.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Jan 27, 2012

Ummm, the question was rhetorical. It appears that our Lord has allowed these seemingly negative qualities like doubt and fear to exist in His disciples to achieve the greater good. I don't think that it is so much that we doubt God, more that we are confronted with doubt at times with what God does in and through His kingdom.

Brian Odum

commented on Jan 27, 2012

I'm not sure I get exactly what #5 is saying, but I do experience a tension between doubt and faith in my own life. Mt. 28:16-18 "Then the 11 disciples left for Galillee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him - BUT SOME OF THEM DOUBTED! Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in Heaven and on earth ...'" It seems the disciples had a similar wrestling.

Robert Sickler

commented on Jan 27, 2012

I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure you said what you wanted to say. Doubt is not a static or end state of existence: it exists between belief and disbelief. We may very well find ourself in a state of doubt but we should not be comfortable in that state. If you doubt the virgin birth then you cannot believe in the virgin birth and if you do not believe in the virgin birth you deny the deity of Christ. Not a good state to be in! I could agree with much of what you said if you pointed out that we must not settle into a state of doubt. Being in a state of doubt is like being lukewarm ... a very dangerous state to be in!

Steve Williams

commented on Jan 28, 2012

Doubt often comes when God acts in a way in which we are not familiar, in a way in which we have not been taught or experienced. For example, the Scriptures says, ?according to your faith be it unto you.? My wife becomes sick. I take her to see the top and best doctors; they believe her illness is terminal, but I hold on to faith, nothing doubting that she will recover. She dies in spite of my faith. Another husband receives the same news and does the exact same things. He seeks the best doctors and treatments. The doctors advise him that they believe his wife case is terminal. He holds on to faith, and she survives in spite of the doctors? news because of his faith. Doubt creeps in because God has acted in a way he has not been taught or experienced before. By the way, one husband praises God for his deliverance. The other husband hasn?t spoken to God since. SW

John E Miller

commented on Jan 30, 2012

I do not believe that the Lord allowed doubts to exist in his disciples to achieve any good. When doubts arose the Lord swiftly acted to remove all doubts and fears. He said, "Do not let your heart be troubled etc." I could never blame what God has done or is doing for causing any doubt that I have. That happens because of my unbelief. Satan is still quick to whisper in my ear, "Has God said?" (Gen.3:1)

Join the discussion