The Skeptical Believer

Some of you may know of Daniel Taylor‘s small but evocative and influential The Myth of Certainty, a book that helped me so much at one period in my life. He’s got a new set of ideas about doubt and faith in The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist, and I’m having a hard time to put it down. He’s not just a great writer; he’s writing from the depth of his soul and anguish and faith — all at the same time. This series of posts on The Skeptical Believer will spread out over some weeks and months since too much can be too much.

How often does doubt emerge in your church’s teaching, preaching, and thinking?

“The Skeptical Believer. No, it’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s a simple, everyday reality for many people of faith” (3). And, he contends (and I agree), “it’s acceptable to God.” Doubt happens to faith and to believers, not so much to unbelievers. It’s struggling with faith and in the midst of faith, not denying faith. It’s seeking to make sense of faith. Taylor’s book is about “internal apologetics” (the battle within) than “external apologetics” (the battle to convinced others). Doubt is misgivings about truth claims, in this case about Christian truth claims.

Another point he makes in his opener: “the suspicion that anyone who claims to know most anything with certainty is Blowing Smoke” (4). “There’s a lot of Smoke in the world. Always has been. People of faith often Blow Smoke. Scorners of faith are often big time Smoke Blowers too. Smoke, Smoke, everywhere Smoke. How can you help but be a skeptic with all this Smoke?” (5).

The Skeptical Believer — if you don’t know one — is among the many who “ask uncomfortable questions when everyone else is smiling vacantly” (7).

Daniel Taylor invites us to consider the inside of doubt as an element of the inside of faith. “I remind myself that I have been invited not into an argument but into a story” (7). But the “real test of any story is what it asks me to love and what kind of life it requires me to live” (7).

With this he closes down the intro: “All evidence is resistible. All arguments are assailable. … All Arguments… leak” (8).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Randy

    I am going to go and get this book right now. I have struggled with doubt my entire adult life. I grew up in the church…a church that was absolutely convinced of everything it said without question. Then I was exposed to other believers who did not hold the same convictions. They had seemingly good reasons for why they believed what they did, and all of a sudden I was at a loss.
    In my preaching ministry I have often said the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is unfaith, the opposite of belief is unbelief. Doubt is a normal part of faith because it is used to strengthen our belief. The man said to Jesus “I believe. Help my unbelief,” and that is the cry of my heart every day. I can say without fail, every day I listen to the internal atheist and there are days when he wins the argument that day, but thanks be to God, he has not yet convinced my heart. God keeps winning that war.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William Birch

    “. . . the suspicion that anyone who claims to know most anything with certainty is Blowing Smoke.”

    That’s good. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion of this truth for a while now, and never was such a reality more prevalent for me than in the tradition in which I was raised. Perspective is king (and presuppositions queen). Thanks for alerting me to this new work.

  • http://aarontiffany.wordpress.com AaronT

    Randy, thanks for sharing. I share a very similar story of growing up in the church and now I am a youth pastor. For the past few years and since finishing seminary I have experienced more doubt than ever. I definitely have not lost my faith, but I struggle on how to preach and share the gospel in an authentic way; one that is not filling brains with all the right answers.
    A song that I have been listening to a lot lately is Through Smoke by Needtobreathe. The paragraph above reminded me of the song. It talks about this very issue of doubt and faith. Here’s a link:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlRyXETAFh0

  • Clay Knick

    A book I have read a few times on this issue is: “Faith at the Edge: A Book for Doubters” by Robert Wennberg. I loved it the first time I read it and have picked it up many times since. It’s in the section of my library that is set aside for books to read again, if only a chapter or two.

    I’ll get this book, Scot. Thanks.

  • Marcus C

    “There’s a lot of Smoke in the world. Always has been. People of faith often Blow Smoke. Scorners of faith are often big time Smoke Blowers too. Smoke, Smoke, everywhere Smoke. How can you help but be a skeptic with all this Smoke?”

    Couldn’t agree more! I’m glad he mentions “scorners of faith” too. IMO materialist atheists blow just as much smoke as anyone else…


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