Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Christian and Doubt

“This is a book with the not very catchy title Faith and Doubt, and the most important word in the title is the one in the middle,” so writes John Ortberg in the introduction to his newest book, Faith and Doubt
. I’ve read a number of books in my life on doubt, and everyone of them — unless my memory fails me — was by a professor or a professional intellectual. Because this new book is by a pastor, I’m especially appreciative. He opens this book up with this line: “I will tell you my secret: I have doubts.” And then this comment I deeply admire: “There is a part of me that, after I die, if it all turns out to be true … there is a part of me that will be suprised.” Alongside that bold statement is this one: “Because I have faith too. And I have bet the farm.” Yes, indeed, the key word here is and: Faith and Doubt. Ortberg knows that faith coexists in most of us with some doubt. It is not Faith or Doubt, but Faith and Doubt.


What are your experiences of faith and doubt? Has it been a world of faith or doubt?

One thing I like about John Ortberg is that he’s not embarrassed at having gone to a high school with the lamest nickname in history. He went to East Rockford High School and their nickname was the “E-Rabs” — “East… Red … and … Black.” Whenever I rib him about this, he reminds me that I went to Freeport High School and our nickname was the “Pretzels.” Sure, not your most fiersome name but it’s a lot better than “E-Rabs.” Don’t you agree? I mean, we can say “twist them up” but what does an E-Rab do?


Back to the book … John’s known for his wit. Like this story about the human quest to be home and to be home with God and where God is determines where home is. But this story lightens up the theme: “I was mistreated once — I don’t remember now, but I’m sure it was bad — and I told my parents I was leaving. I packed my very small suitcase and told my mother to call my grandfather; then I sat outside on the curb waiting for him to pick me up.

An hour later, my mom came outside. “He’s not coming, you know,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, for one thing, because he’s already raised his family. For another thing, you’re not his son. You’re our son. And for another thing, you’re seventeen years old. You’re too old to run away.”


Deadly wit. [An E-Rab can say “raised” and not “reared” and get away with it. Pretzels know better.]

But this book is serious. A chp called “The Leap,” full as it is of good stories and quotations, speaks of moments, mountain top experiences, that create space in humans for faith to develop. “You hear an inspirational talk. You watch the birth of a child. You receive an answer to prayer. Sometimes it’s beauty that pierces your heart — a series of notes in a song, a phrase in a book — and you know that God is there. Faith is born” (68). But doubt will follow; doubt is the valley below the mountain. Faith involves a leap, but he’s doesn’t see the leap as irrational — and this is so good about this book. “It does not mean choosing to believe an impossible thing for no good reason” (73). It’s a choice. It’s commitment. It’s betting the farm.


So many themes in this book, including what “hope” (in things, in a person) is, the silence of God — he sees his doubts stemming from a lack of evidence, the negative evidence of failing Christians, the problem of pain — may be the best chp of the book and worth the price itself — and other chps on how doubt sometimes goes bad (falling into skepticism and cynicism and rebellion) and how uncertainty is a gift (the nature of genuine relationships), and why John believes (he gives his arguments).

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posted November 5, 2008 at 3:32 am

Looks like another good book by Ortberg…but I was especially struck by the title and theme, given the political times. For many, this is very much a time of faith AND doubt. We’ll have to lean into the tension as the days unfold and history is made over and over again in so many ways. Uncertainty really is a gift in that it can draw us toward interdependence, where certainty too often tends to lead toward pride.
May our faith be an anchor in a time of continuing storm and our doubt keep us humble and honest and listening to one another, lest it “goes bad” — remembering that our hope is in the Lord and not in man.
Here’s to a rise in honest doubt and childlike (not “ish”) faith. Where we are free to ask the “why” questions without fear of recrimination. As the folks at Allelon are fond of saying, may our conversations be opportunities to listen one another into free speech.
…it certainly is not an easy road–but the traveling companions make all the difference.

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Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 5, 2008 at 5:22 am

Wow. I wondered if I was alone. Guess I am not 😉
I could be the poster child for Faith AND Doubt.
I won’t bore you all with my history, but I’ll skip to the current chapter.
Students come to me and say “I’m confused. What should I do?”
I say, “Good! Confusion is good — if it inspires you to learn.”
I think that thought kept me going for a long time, but then you discover that even with all that learning there are still questions.
Once you get there, you have to trust — hold onto faith and the hope it brings.
Beyond that there be dragons.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 8:31 am

For me doubt is the essence of faith. I find myself driven to faith because of my doubts. Perhaps that is the leap.

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Clay Knick

posted November 5, 2008 at 8:31 am

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago.
I think it is John’s best book since, “The
Life You’ve Always Wanted.” I loved it and
could not put it down.

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Andie Piehl

posted November 5, 2008 at 8:44 am

I live between faith and doubt, but I’ve finally come to terms with it, I hope. I always thought I wasn’t a real Christian because I’ve struggled with doubts since my first profession of faith when I was 11 years old. I have since prayed many times to ‘once for all’ have the faith of our fathers. I’ve come to believe that faith and doubt are what you get in this life. The more I read King David’s words, particularly in the Psalms, I am comforted to know that even the ‘man after God’s own heart’ had the same struggles with doubt that I do.
Thanks for pointing out this book. I sure hope it’s on Kindle so that I can just download it.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 10:32 am

Dang Scot, yet again you hit my Amazon bill.
This is a very important subject I think. I’m sure many people, like me, grew up with the misimpression that “saving faith” is a cataclysmic once-for-all event that allows a person to dwell forever in happy certainty. It’s so good, and so important, to be freed from that misimpression.

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Steve Cuss

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:30 am

Hi Scot,
John Ortberg is a gift to the church, as is Fred Buechner and Phil Yancey. All have written honestly and poignantly about faith and doubt.
Right now I’m finishing up a 4 week sermon series on doubt this Sunday. After college I served as a hospital chaplain in a level 1 trauma center and the experience deepened and shook my faith. Then off to seminary that celebrated intellectual rigor and a wide perspective and my faith was shaken more. Somewhere in the middle I came to embrace doubt as a pathway to deeper faith. John Ortberg has been a great mentor in this journey
best wishes and thanks for a great blog

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posted November 5, 2008 at 11:50 am

John Eldredge wrote some where that he has a sign near his bed which is the first thing he sees in the morning that says, “God is real.” Because he forgets during the night. I just love that. How quickly we forget.
I’ve had particular trouble in prayer as of late. Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking with myself. What makes it so bad is that its not like the times where I pray and there is just nothing. I pray and think I hear the voice of God, but it sounds so much like my own that I can’t decide if I’m just answering my own questions. I wonder if I am becoming delusional.
It seems to me that doubt tends to accompany many spiritual transitions. We can get completely lost in a dark night of the soul or we can come out the other side with a deeper, more mature faith. We can discover challenges to our beliefs which we can’t answer and either decide that our faith must not be true or trust God to help you dig deeper. But the doubt is always there, probably most intensely when we are right where God needs us to be in order to move us forward in our faith.

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John W Frye

posted November 5, 2008 at 11:52 am

Thanks for this heads up on John Ortberg’s newest book. He is so refreshing to read. His thoughtful reflection, research, humor and story-telling are remarkable. I look forward to reading *Faith and Doubt.*

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posted November 5, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I am a bit of an “Ortbergologist” and this book has been a great benefit to me.
It is, as are most if not all of his books, based on a few of his sermon series. In one of those sermons he states: “Sometimes I have to make a 100% commitment to something, even though I do not have a 100% certainty in my beliefs about it.” He then adds, “I can expect the sense of certainty in my beliefs to ebb and flow, to go up and down. That’s part of the human condition.”
Ortberg gives everyday examples in which we lives our lives in this flux – marriage, children, friendships, and God.
I’m finishing up a sermon series on Faith & Doubt, in which I have been utilizing Ortberg’s book, as well as McGrath’s book, Doubting; Wright’s, Evil & the Justice of God; J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff’s The God Conversation; and David Bentley Hart’s, The Doors of the Sea.
The series has not only been apprecitated by those who have been visiting our church, but by those who have walked in the faith for a long time. We are all wrestle with God…as said above, Ortberg is a gift to the church.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 1:14 pm

I’m with you. This is now on my must read list.
Pretzels and E-Rabs are impressive. We were the Skippers; not exactly a name to inspired fear or respect either. The usual association was to Gilligan.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 2:52 pm

My high school team nickname was the “Ironmen.” Even the women’s teams were the “Ironmen.” I wonder if that has changed. (The name came from the number of abandoned iron mines in the area that had helped create the town 100 years before.)

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posted November 5, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Doubt is not the opposite of, or enemy of faith. Apathy is the opposite and enemy of faith. If you doubt you are at least engaging with the truth, and I believe that God will honor that engagement. Apathy is the faith-killer, not doubt. Most of the atheists that I have known have not really been doubters, but, rather, apathetic to the questions that faith raises. They bother to engage faith questions only when they think something “religious” may be intruding into their hedonism.

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posted November 5, 2008 at 6:23 pm

I tend to have cycles of scrutinizing my christian beliefs and I always come back to what I can live with. It isn’t actually saying this christian thing is truth, but rather that I can’t live with the alternatives. So I take the step over the stream to the christian side and put my belief and faith there. That’s how I live with the dichotomy.

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John Inman

posted November 5, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Listened to his sermons on Faith and Doubt online. The one on Help My Unbelief is one of the most helpful sermons I’ve ever heard. He gets the human heart and he’s willing to open up his so we can see our own.

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posted November 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I’ve had particular trouble in prayer as of late. Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking with myself. What makes it so bad is that its not like the times where I pray and there is just nothing. I pray and think I hear the voice of God, but it sounds so much like my own that I can’t decide if I’m just answering my own questions. I wonder if I am becoming delusional.
Rebeccat, I know how you feel. But I have never judged “feelings” as having any relationship to faith. Faith is a decision as to which side of the fence I will stand on. I assume God is in charge. I pray and assume God is listening. Like you sometimes I think God is speaking to me (but in an extremely subtle way) but I couldn’t truly be sure it wasn’t just my own mind telling myself what I needed or wanted to hear. Prayers seem to be answered but I can’t be sure it isn’t coincidence. There is very little that I could point to a skeptic and say “Here is the thing that proves my faith.” And that is not a bad place to be. Our faith should have a bit of bend to it, so it doesn’t snap when facts and feelings prove us wrong. Some of the most dangerous people are those who have NO doubt that God is speaking to them.
I still am battling my inner atheist and when I feel my faith hanging by a worn thread I pray from one of my prayer books with a vengeance.

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