O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

The Problem with Asking Hard Questions

My friend Matthew Paul Turner posted a review today of O Me of Little Faith, written by his friend Adam Ellis. (Disclaimer: I know Adam, too, having interviewed him for a Daily Beast article last summer.)

In his review, Adam brings up a very good point. Personally, he identifies strongly with the subject of the book. “On one hand,” he writes, “[Jason] seems to have unknowingly written this book about me. I am a confirmed doubter.”

But on the other hand, “…not everyone is like me. I’ve found that some people aren’t given to such incessant questioning, and that the things that are issues for me aren’t issues for them.”

So Adam is stuck with a problem: the book is helpful and encouraging to him, but he realizes that, for people who aren’t already doubters, “this book could be devastating.”

Devastating because I bring up questions for which I don’t always have answers. He’s right. In the book, I’m not defending the faith or offering much in the way of resolution. Instead, I’m sharing my journey and asking fellow doubters to share in it, too, because I hope it’ll help us return to honesty and community rather than the isolation of spiritual uncertainty.

So if you doubt, this is a book for you. If you don’t doubt and would rather not be exposed to some of the questions we ask, this may not be a book for you.

Which leads me to a question I’d like us to discuss: As believers who have questions, when we ask our questions about God out loud, do we run the risk of introducing uncertainty to other believers — who might have been just fine until we started bringing up all this hard stuff? If we express our doubts, might we unintentionally be causing other believers “to stumble” (to employ a way-overused biblical phrase)?

What is our responsibility in this situation? Or to put it more graphically, is it better to air out our wounds so they can heal? Or by exposing them could we be unleashing a potentially harmful bacteria into the air?


Anyway, I’m working through these questions and would love your take on it. How do doubters achieve a balance between honest questioning, personal transparency, and concern over the spiritual well-being of non-doubters?

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shawn smucker

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:19 am

did you somehow hack into my computer and preview my review of your book that is posting on thursday? i explore the whole analogy of doubt as a wound (although i don't think doubt is a wound but the result of a wound).as far as what our responsibility is regarding the faith walk of others, i think getting the perfect balance between confession and not causing others to stumble is the nearly impossible goal set before us.

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Jason Boyett

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:27 am

Yes, Shawn. In addition to my writing I am also a top-notch hacker. Soon your blog will be covered with pictures of jam and jelly, because I am hilarious.I'm intrigued: Are you going to diagnose the injury that caused my wound?

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posted May 11, 2010 at 11:32 am

I'm not sure if I'm not a doubter by nature of if my perspective is just different. Initially, I think only a doubter would be concerned that a non-doubter might be shipwrecked by a doubt book. : ) Right?It isn't that I don't have questions. I have plenty. But for some reason it has never been difficult for me to say, "Yeah, I just don't get that one." In fact, since I believe my salvation comes by faith, there is this necessity to my "not getting it" that makes me not stress out about the things that I don't fully understand. After all, if I wasn't able to take at least a small leap of faith in the first place, I couldn't even consider myself a Christian. I like mystery.Now, this makes me hesitant to jump on argumentative bandwagons on any of the hot button issues. I just don't enjoy the debates around things that are obviously unclear. That leaves me out of the fundamentalist camp AND the doubter camp. But, luckily, this doesn't bother me either. : )

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Nick Shoemaker

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

wow.Yeah- I need to read this book (or maybe I don't). :)This is where I'm at right now. Do I be transparent, and possibly impact my livelihood, or do I just skirt around the issue- hinting at it here and there- essentially putting a bandaid on?My brother isn't a believer- will my expression of doubt further entrench him? Or will it be the fresh honesty he wants to see?Do I really care about causing others to stumble- or should I? Do I really believe THAT part of the Bible?I have no problem believing in sunshine and happy days, it's when the crap hits the fan that I well, you know, doubt.To the question at hand- causing others to stumble. Is doubt sin? It's not, right? So how can my lack of sin cause others to sin?And this leads to the other stumbling blocks I may leave. I drink alcohol. I dance. I even *gasp* "cuss". OK- I get why those are stumbling blocks: Too much alcohol = drunkenness = sin.Too much dancing = lust = sin.Too much cussing = blasphemy = sin.Too much doubt = lots of doubt = more questions = ?Maybe too much doubt can lead to lying. BUT- if you're being honest, ie- "I believe this and I struggle with this and I don't think I can believe this yet, if ever", you would wouldn't be lying.Score:Honest Doubt – okDishonest Doubt – Hell???Yesterday I posted on my blog about my doubts. Or, rather, admitted to having them. It helped some. This has helped some more.For me open conversation helps more than anything else. It let's me know that I'm normal- whatever that means.

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Bryan Allain

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:53 am

funny, but my eventual review was going to delve into this too. was thinking about the book while running last week, and was thinking how for some it could really mess 'em up…and wondering if Jason felt any responsibility for that, or if he should.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 11:56 am

By asking our questions (and I have plenty), I don't believe we're causing anyone to stumble. No, doubt is a gift, especially to someone who is "certain". Look at it this way, if you're certain , there's nothing else to learn, is there?

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shawn smucker

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:59 am

you can breathe easy, boyett/not-so-hilarious-hacker: there will be no psychoanalysis of wound-causing injuries in my review on thursday. but as i read through your book i found myself thinking that so many (all?) of our doubts are caused by external inconsistencies: a falsely pious church; a hypocritical leader; seemingly irreconcilable portions of scripture; suffering? all of these cause us emotional/spiritual pain (wounds), the byproduct of which is often doubt – doubt in the importance of the church, doubt in the wisdom/perspective provided by fallen leaders, doubt that a God we cannot understand can exist, doubt that there could possibly be meaning behind the intense suffering and pain we see in the world.as far as what our responsibility is to shield other christians from encountering doubt…i struggle to see it. everyone encounters pain (a process which always leads to a decision regarding doubt). and as felicity has said, there's almost an inherent protective device in this discussion – those who struggle with doubt will be encouraged. those who do not struggle with overwhelming feelings of doubt will at worst think your book is irrelevant, or misguided, and at best think that it is an interesting perspective that nonetheless has little affect on how they view their faith. maybe?

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Jason Boyett

posted May 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I don't use it in the book, but I like this quote by Sir Francis Bacon: "If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with questions and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties."To answer one of Nick's questions, I've discovered that most non-believers tend to think my willingness to ask questions is refreshing. As in, "finally here's a believer who'll admit there are some holes in Christian theology." It provides a common ground. I don't necessarily think it will cause them to abandon their atheism and embrace Christianity, but possibly it helps to bridge the gap between the faith and no-faith camps. Which is positive.On the other hand, Kristian (a frequent commenter here and an atheist) posted in his review of OMOLF that my book does a better job than the prominent atheist books in illustrating the effort required to maintain religious faith. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.So…yeah, I still don't know. :)

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posted May 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Jason,I so appreciate your addressing what do do with doubt. Here's my two cents:Asking for help is a good thing. I think lots of us cry "I believe. Help me with my unbelief." Others can help us with insights that may serve us. Unfortunately, people can be arrogant and dismissive of those asking legitimate questions. Not good.What seems unhelpful (and prevalent in the blogosphere) are those who doubt, but don't seem to be looking for answers. They spurn input, and almost exude an attitude that any thinking person would be loaded with doubt. Those who are certain of their beliefs just aren't thinking deeply enough. Strongly held beliefs seem almost unfashionable.I definitely don't have it all figured out. And holding onto faith seems like a battle sometimes. But any belief that is worthwhile should be able to hold up under scrutiny. Am I right?Dave

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posted May 11, 2010 at 12:21 pm

So, here's my problem with my own book review ;)I suspect that certainty may be impossible when it comes to God, and I also suspect that the illusion of certainty may actually preclude "faith". It seems to me (especially in the Biblical Text) that the concept of "faith" assumes the presence of doubt, and that if there were no cause for doubt…if it were possible for us to be "convinced" beyond all doubt, we would no longer be talking about "faith". We'd be talking about things like "sight", or even "knowledge". Faith (which is akin to "trust") would serve no purpose. And so, I wonder if by "protecting" people (who are not like me) from the questions that I wrestle with, I'm actually doing them a disservice. Do I seek to preserve an illusion of certainty that may actually be preventing "faith"? On the other hand, I know what it's like to be a "faithful doubter" on my worst days…and I'm not sure I'd wish that on anyone.So, I guess all of that was to say, "Good question".

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posted May 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm

There are difficult, important questions to ask about faith. You raise some of them in your book.I think all Christians should be thinking about them.If you can't find decent responses to them *within* the faith, then it's not really worth holding on to your faith, is it?

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Nicodemus at Nite

posted May 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Ah yes, the famous, "Don't cause others to stumble" verse. I love when Christians use that verse to scold another Christian when they don't agree with what they're doing.I'm understanding more and more that people are going to get offended no matter what you do or what you say.There's certain people in our church that we may need to be more reserved when talking to about our doubt. My pastor? I couldn't talk to him about it. Most people don't understand what we doubters go through and like Jason says in the book, "They'll hand you a sermon CD and tell you to pray more." We know these aren't the answers we're looking for.If I were to tell people in church about my doubt, I'd get gang banged and over-loaded with questions and scriptures I've heard 1000's of times. That's why I only tell really close friends about my doubt. I'll blog about it where I can choose to continue a conversation if the commenters are mature and are trying to have an understanding ear.If God knows the intent of our heart, then he knows that our intent is not to lead others astray or cause them to stumble.nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

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posted May 11, 2010 at 2:22 pm

i had a 'critical introduction to bible' teacher at university who was "let go" because he "raised too many questions" for undergrad bible students. apparently graduate bible students are able to handle a greater amount of doubt concerning the bible's inspiration and inerrancy. but i kind of think there's something to that. maybe there's a point we reach in spiritual maturity at which doubts are able to bolster and strengthen our faith — the same doubts that might have crushed our faith of 4 years previous.[it might be similar to how we may be strong enough to withstand a particular temptation now — while 4 years ago, we would have given in.]in the end, that class (and others in grad school) did cause me to doubt a lot of things. but i emerged on the other side with a deeper faith. but some guys didn't.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I struggled with the same issue in reading your book. I don't ask as many questions as you or to the depth you explore.I think the intention of sharing the doubt/wound plays into the whole "stumbling" scenario. If you're asking sincere questions, looking for answers or just exploring doubt you need to be aware of your impact on an audience and who they are.That being said no one can get it perfect.

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Brian Lucas

posted May 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm

As a youth pastor, I feel that the questions need to be asked. I know my God is real. I know His Word is Truth. As such, no question will disprove God. Although, some questions are the wrong questions. Not because they are "too hard", but because they are the wrong thing to ask. As a husband, I would never ask "Does it bother you that that girl over there is really hot and I'm having lustful thoughts about her?" That is the wrong question. It's not about if our relationship can handle it, it's that this is a stupid thing to say. The question should be "How am I honoring my wife in lusting after other women? I'm not, so I need to stop/avoid those thoughts." [not a perfect analogy, but hopefully makes my point.]God is truth. If we openly and honestly seek truth, we should always find our way back to God. I have done so, and God has never failed me. Keep asking. Keep doubting. Keep letting your doubt be won over by those mustard seeds of faith in a truth to big to ignore.Be rad for Jesus.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I doubt your book, or your writings in general, would cause people to abandon faith. While I personally haven't walked away from faith, never having any to begin with, I would assume such decision is a result of a long internal dialogue with very little room for external influence. This lines up with the experiences of some of my friends.In reality, you don't need *a reason* to convert to atheism. You need reasons to maintain faith. Once they've eroded, you're left with lack of faith. Some might say this is a natural progression and a good thing.It seems that far fewer atheists convert to religions than the other way around. If you're not born into faith, it's pretty hard to build a case for it. To an outsider, nearly every aspect of Christianity seem excessively absurd.In pretty much every aspect of life, doubt is an essential part of being a human. Lack of doubt makes us dull, gullible, naïve and dumb. Having "too much" doubt makes us change our views on things, and move on to something else. Doubt is what drives scientific advances and innovation. Doubt is responsible for our intellectual evolution.

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Tess Mallory

posted May 11, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Hey JB, I am glad you're asking this question, but I want you to know that finding your blog and knowing that there are other people out there like me, who looked at things differently from the average fundamental Christian, has been very–shall I say–life-changing for me. I admire you, Jason. You say what you believe and you say what you have doubts about, and then you say "I am still a Christian." You're standing fast in your faith, in spite of the doubts. That, my friend, is rather amazing. I think many Christians will read your book and be shocked, but you will definitely make them think. I think non-Christians may read it and say, "Well, how can he say he's a Christian if he has these doubts?" I honestly don't know if I would recommend your book to a non-Christian, but the truth is, that person might also think, "Maybe I need to ask some questions of my own, look at this myself. If he can ask them, maybe I can too." And that could be the beginning of their own journey toward God. On one hand, I can see where parts of your book could absolutely freak out Christians who don't ask questions, but on the other hand, if our belief system can't stand up to the hard questions, then is it real? That doesn't mean that every question can be answered. Sometimes, the truth is, there are no answers. Faith is believing in that which is not seen — or understood sometimes, as simplistic as that may sound. But that doesn't mean we can't wonder, delve, explore things we don't understand. So many people I know have God all figured out, placed into a nice little box. Can this be God? Is he not far above us? Aren't his ways not our ways? Then how can we box him in? I don't get that. Especially when the box includes things like not dancing. :)The way I feel about it is that our beliefs ultimately come down to the intangible presence of God in our lives, not the proof or lack of proof. But that doesn't mean I don't wonder, and ask "Why?" or sometimes, "Huh?" And I think that's okay. God did, after all, give us brains.You've put your journey out there for the world to see, Jason. You've done this with an open heart. You've done it in an honest way. I believe that God is quite capable of using your book to touch hearts in whatever manner He sees fit. He knows your heart. As platitudinal as that sounds, I still believe it's true. Here's another one — His hand is not shortened. We should never seek to cause someone to stumble in their faith, but if we do, I still believe God will be there to offer that person a hand up, if he wants it. In other words, as far as I'm concerned, I think you're off the hook. :) Hugs.

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Janet Oberholtzer

posted May 11, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Good question – "How do doubters achieve a balance between honest questioning, personal transparency, and concern over the spiritual well-being of non-doubters?"Like reading the other comments on it.I wondered if the reverse can be asked also … How do people that have faith with no questions or doubts achieve a balance between having all the answers and concern over the spiritual well-being of doubters?Isn't the answer to both questions that we should love others more than being right?

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posted May 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I have hesitated to propose all of these hard questions to people who are innately 'satisfied' with their spirituality or their place inside the traditional church. A few years ago when I was finally brave enough to share the 'heretical' questions I had been wrestling with, with other people I trusted in the church ( pastors, ministers and other lay leadership etc) I was immediately shut down and accused of being dangerous and divisive. No one was willing to walk with me down what they called the 'slippery slope'. It was devastating and scary… The fact that no one would entertain my most compelling questions made me feel isolated and doomed spiritually. Yet…the questions remained…despite their inability to engage me.I have since found a safe community of other doubters, questioners and quitters…which is the only thing that preserved my faith.I'm still struggling, my faith looks so different than it did after 25 years inside the evangelical charismatic mega church. However, I always want to be that safe person or provide that safe space for other doubters that I so desperately needed. I'd never intentionally stir up the sh*t with hard questions… because the journey into my own darkness has at times been almost too much to bear. There are days I feel like I've opened Pandoras box and I just wish I could 'go-back' to the days when I too was certain. It's not something I'd invite others into… I look forward to reading your book Jason, I'm sure I'll identify with it a great deal.~Joy

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posted May 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I do not tend to be a doubter but I am married to one. His doubts have never caused me to "stumble". Actually many times my lack of doubting has helped him in his struggles, because as the one person said that doubting comes from wounds. From my experience that is exactly what happens for my husband. He is a pastor and has a MDiv so he is very educated regarding Christianity but because of his insecurities, need for control or whatever, he has doubts in God at times. The big consideration for us is that we are mature Christians. As far as having conversations about various things in the bible that cause him doubts he doesn't share that with just anyone. We are very evangelistic and it isn't necessary to bring up the differences in Christianity when speaking to a unchurched or non-Christian. For a new Christian, we are careful to bring up things that may cause them to questions things that aren't essentials. There are things that are essential for belief in Christianity and there are the nonessentials. Many Christians make the nonessentials a salvation issue when they aren't and that is what most Christian denominations argue about. So for non Christians or new Christians we just still to the essentials. If you have doubts about those, then I would be selective about who you share that with.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I need to get your book!But i can't even begin to answer what you ask.I have attended Bible Studies where i found myself biting my tongue – HARD! – all the way thru because what the leader was proposing was, to me, outrageous. But there were new Christians in the group & i felt it inappropriate to get into a disagreement with the leader. Although i felt the leader was teaching things that might eventually lead to doubt in those new Christians . . . what a dilemma.Then there was the group i attended with my husband (fiance at the time). He likes to play "devil's advocate" in order to elicit debate & help sharpen our thought processes/beliefs. That leader thought he was a pagan in extreme (the leader had no sense of humor) & was sure i was marrying someone Hell-bound.Thank you for talking to us who do struggle with doubt & not just join some group who merely consign us to "non-elect, hell-bound" sinners.

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posted May 11, 2010 at 11:29 pm

I think attempts to "shield" someone from difficult questions is condescending, and reeks of cult mentality. If you're afraid that someone new to your religion might turn away from it if they'd know the "whole truth"… Well, then you probably shouldn't try to sell it. Honesty in general is considered to be a virtue, among atheists and believers alike.If the product you're selling can't be sold honestly, then it's not worth selling at all.

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Jason Boyett

posted May 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

"If the product you're selling can't be sold honestly, then it's not worth selling at all."Well said, Kristian.

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posted May 12, 2010 at 1:11 am

I have been thinking alot about this ever since reading rachels interview of you jason. I feel in a catch-22 so often because on the one hand Scripture focuses so much on living by faith and how God has revealed Himself, to the point where the Apostle Paul says all are without excuse for not believing in God. Then we have the issue of the reliability of the Bible in its translation and the whole passage of time since Jesus era. I like a story I read somewhere about a pastor who told his congregation he had to resign because he lost his faith. The elders met together and told the pastor- you stay here and keep serving. When your faith returns we will all still be right here with you. THAT inspires me on dealing with doubt!!

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posted May 12, 2010 at 1:47 am

I have doubts and questions, but I don't want to stumble any of my brothers or sisters, or confirm what unbelievers already think. I don't see the need to always share, go to God with our questions and doubts, He is who we really need to hear. Blessings.

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posted May 12, 2010 at 7:07 am

Kristian,I don't think your comment was particularly directed at me, but I did want to respond to it. I couldn't agree with you more (though I cringe at the "sell" language a bit). I don't think I ever shield "new believers" or people who have a strong interest in Christianity/faith from my doubts and questions. I agree that to do so would be somewhat dishonest. Oddly, my "shielding" mostly related to (this is a horrible over-generalization) older Christians, whom I know, love and respect. The way I believe is different from the way they believe. I consider these people to be family, in a sense, and while I do seek to challenge them to think and to grow, I want to do so with charity, respect and understanding in a way that honors the fact that they have poured their lives into me.

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posted May 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

If we express our doubts, might we unintentionally be causing other believers "to stumble" (to employ a way-overused biblical phrase)?Every time I hear the phrase "causing other believers to stumble", I have to sound off a caveat:By "other believers", are we talking Professional Weaker Brethren, the Christian version of the Tyranny of the Most Easily/Perpetually Offended?

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Jason Boyett

posted May 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm

@Anonymous:Well stated. As much as everyone worries about being "a stumbling block," hardly anyone ever self-identifies as "the weaker brethren."

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Tom Larson

posted May 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

That's a really challenging question, Jason, and it brings up years and years of anxiety for me. I have personal experience with causing my brother to stumble, having turned my little brother onto drugs when he was young and impressionable and wanted to do what I did. I eventually found my way out of the drugs before it cost me a relationship with someone I loved; I wish I could say the same for him. I definitely caused him to stumble, and I wish I could take it back.That said, I think being honest about our doubts is a completely different issue than leading someone into sin. I led my brother into darkness, but you're actually leading people out of the darkness. We have to be honest with our doubts and who we really are. I think one of the biggest problems in the church today is that people are afraid to be honest and transparent and real for fear of the implications of that on a number of levels. The result is that the rest of the world can smell the fear and hypocrisy in us from a mile away and our faith ends up looking hollow and fake. We let our fear of judgment or causing someone else to stumble (or any other fear) keep us from living in the truth. We as a church need to learn how to live in the light of the truth about who we really are. Instead, we hide in the darkness out of fear, keeping our true selves hidden and showing only the sides of ourselves that we think are ok to show. It turns us into schizophrenic believers, and keeps us from being truly whole. Your book is one of the most refreshingly honest books I've read in years. You've shined the light onto who you really are, and I think it's going to give a lot of people the courage to do the same. This is what we all need more than anything in how we live out our faith: to live in the light and to be our true selves before God and before one another. You're leading the way, and you're probably going to lead many, many people out of the darkness, not into it.

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posted May 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Is the embracement of faith a virtue or just hubris?Seems to me that organizations that call themselves churches perfer the former and come accross as the latter.- fastthumbs

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posted May 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

we had a girl working with us in france who was doubting everything big time. she wondered if she should go home. how can a missionary doubt and share their faith? i encouraged her to be where she was openly and honestly with God and those he brought her way. for some strange reason she took my advice. she shared her doubts with her non believing friends. she was just real before them. as a result her friends were drawn to Christ. they told her before they left that they couldn't have opened up spiritually to anyone else.God knows where we are in our journey. he uses us where we are to impact others where they are. his providence is really that amazing.that said. one thing i have noticed since my return from france is a certain arrogance amongst "doubters." it seems to me sometimes that those who question and struggle often take pride in that. somehow it makes them cool to question and be honest about it. (i've noticed a similar pride with cussing among christians which particularly cracks me up….anyway…) what are your motives when you express your doubts to a believer? are you doing it from a stance of judgment? are you thinking they are the biggest idiot ever and it is up to you to bring intellectual light into their otherwise shallow faith? OR are you being sincere, expressing who you are and where you are? is your intent to call them to a deeper understanding of Him and His ways? i think that is what makes it sinful or not, the state of your heart when you share. one makes much of you, the other makes much of Him.to cause someone to stumble mean you intentionally tie a load around them, throw them in the water with the intent of causing them to sink. again we are back to motive. i haven't been around you in years Jason but my guess is that your intention isn't to make anyone sink.i personally look forward to reading your book.

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David Maddalena

posted May 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Paul talks about those who are weak of faith, and doesn't judge them as less faithful, or give us any room to think it's our job to toughen them up. Love, he says trumps all agendas, including disabusing people of a sheltered or immature worldview. I think we have a responsibility to balance honesty with sensitivity. God has never blasted me with the whole truth about my own heart or the state of the world, but introduces new perspectives to me as I grow in strength and come asking. But. A book is something you have to pick up. If you pick up a book with opinions, you are asking for opinions. You agree, by cracking the cover, to be a part of a discussion. The truly sheltered might never find your book in their church bookstore, and so will remain insulated from the threat that concerns the reviewer. That would be sad. It would be great for pastors to share books like this one as conversations, as well as sharing books with familiar opinions, so people could read and respond.

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