The Christian and Doubt

Those of us who have the privilege of teaching the Bible, and by this I now mean Genesis 1–3 or 1–11, know the implications of the text and the reader. For some people any budging off the historical Adam construct is fudging the truth while for others that very theological construct provokes doubt about the truthfulness of the Bible and the integrity of the faith. Not all are in the first camp and neither are all in the second camp. Those in the first camp come off as certaintists to the second and those in the second camp come off as certaintists to the first. Dennis Venema and I have put out hand to the plow on this topic in Adam and the Genome, but we do so not as certaintists but as fellow explorers in the science and faith discussion. I can say this of my portion of the book IF genome theory is accurate, or reasonably accurate, then it has implications for what is to be said about Genesis 1–3.

St. Augustine once said said, “When [natural scientists] are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall show that it is not contrary to Scripture.” Which is to say, let’s not create problems for ourselves and Augustine encouraged his readers to re think interpretations if science was against the interpretation. He didn’t say science is certain and we are not; but neither did he say we are certain and science is wrong.

Here’s the point for today: the science faith discussion generates doubt for some. And that leads me to a new book.

The book is called Doubt, Faith, and Certainty, and it is by Anthony Thiselton, who opens with a summary theme statement:

The important thing, however, is that those who entertain doubts should not assume that all doubt is bad or condemned by God. Doubt and questioning may open the door to new insights and to a needed reappraisal of faith or belief. Similarly, many Christians, as well as others, assume that faith always denotes one thing, when it can mean many possible things. Finally, many assumptions about supposed certainty fail to attend to very different contexts in which certainty may be claimed. Some who claim for themselves absence of doubt and possession of utter certainty may possibly be masking a degree of arrogance behind a display of piety (viii).

Thiselton is every the analytic thinker. He breaks down the various meanings of doubt, faith and certainty in one chapter.

Doubt: “It 
is a practical disaster that in popular thought some view all doubt as a sign of weakness and lack of faith; while others, by contrast, extol doubt as always a sign of mature, sophisticated reflection”‘ (1).

Some think we don’t learn to think well until we’ve learned to doubt well.

In the Bible, Thiselton shows, the word “doubt” has more often than not negative connotations. But the Bible encourages careful consideration before conclusions are made: 1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chronicles 9:1; 31:19; also Matthew 17:25; 18:12.

Doubt, then, can function either negatively as a term that stands in contrast to trust, faith, or wholeheartedness; or positively as a term to denote self-criticism, humility, and careful reflection. 3

Sometimes then doubt is a sign of disobedience and a lack of trust and is what James calls double-mindedness. Other times it is a sign of growth and development and even deeper encounter with God.

In Adam and the Genome Dennis and I both show that our certaintist approaches encountered evidence that created doubt in the second sense and led us on a search for truth — and in both our cases we concluded that what many teach about science and faith, about the Bible and origins, should be reframed. His conclusions were that evolutionary creationism is the frame that embraces both evolutionary science and God as the designer and creator of all, but that God created through evolution. My conclusions were that this science pushed me to reconsider reading Genesis 1–3 through the lens of Ancient Near Eastern creation stories, and so I found much help in John Walton, J. Richard Middleton, and Peter Enns.

Doubt healed our doubts.

For book orders, go through the links below:

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