Finding God in the Questions

TV's Dr. Tim Johnson on his struggle to square religious belief with scientific discoveries.

BY: Interview by Wendy Schuman

 
Dr. Timothy Johnson, medical editor of ABC-TV and host of Good Morning America's "On Call with Dr. Tim Johnson," started out to be a Protestant minister. But two years out of divinity school, he changed direction and entered medical school at age 29-drawn by his experience as a hospital chaplain and by a scientific turn of mind that caused him to question everything, including his faith. Over the years, Johnson has continued to explore the "big questions" of religion. He remains a believer and says he has become "comfortable with intellectual and spiritual doubt-it stimulates me to think about what I really believe." Johnson spoke with Beliefnet about his new book, "Finding God in the Questions."

You've been a medical journalist on TV for thirty years. Did you have to conceal from colleagues that you were a Christian?

No, I have never had to hide it, or tried to hide it at all. In fact, most of my colleagues in both medicine and media know that I am an ordained minister. That's why they come to me for spiritual discussions, and I have performed many weddings for good friends in both worlds over the years. It's even came up on TV occasionally just in certain natural ways. I don't go around broadcasting it since that's not the position I hold at ABC.

Maybe I'll also say right up front that I don't often label myself as a Christian. That word bothers me because it's so imprecise-it covers such a territory of both good and bad. So more and more I say I am a "follower of Jesus." In fact, if there is one message I would like people to take away from the book, it is that you don't have to be a Christian to be a follower of Jesus. That is, you don't have to subscribe to all the intellectual, creedal developments of the Christian church and certainly don't have to support so many of its terrible choices over the years.

What denomination are you connected with?

I am a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which is a relatively small group that started in Sweden in the 19th century when the Pietistic movement swept through Europe and got transplanted to this country in the immigrations in the later part of that century. Its headquarters are in Chicago. It's the church I happened to be born into and I'm still a part of. I would describe it as a mainline Protestant church quite similar to the Lutheran Church.

Do you still actively minister at the church?

Not actively. I am listed as an assisting minister on the staff of our congregation in the Boston area where we live. I'm really a lay person who just happens to participate once in a while.

I wanted to get into what you call "the big questions" in your book, which is about questioning and still keeping your faith. What are some of the big questions you've struggled with? And how does being a scientist and a man of faith lead you to some sort of answer?

One message I'm hoping to get across is that you don't have to have answers to everything to still be a person of faith. You can live according to what you can know or understand and live with doubt. That's something I've done my whole life.

Obviously the biggest question of all is whether or not there is a designer for this universe and therefore whether we are products of that design. As I have thought it through and read about it for many years, I've come to the conclusion that on balance I think it's more likely to have happened by design, even though there's been an enormous amount of chance involved.

You mentioned that God's footprints are in the design. What are some of the scientific facts that lead you to conclude that there is a designer behind it?

The so-called "cosmic coincidences" are in many ways the most stunning. When you look at them, the margins for the major forces in our universe that allow it to become what it is are so absolutely minimal. And indeed, many agnostic scientists are increasingly impressed with these too. They say, "It doesn't make me believe in a traditional God, but it certainly does suggest some kind of intelligence behind this universe."

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