O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Winn Collier: Doubt Better

Winn Collier’s relationship with Relevant Magazine goes back as far as mine does. We both were early members of their freelance writing stable. But while I was writing silly stuff about twenty-something life and the apocalypse (occasionally in the same piece), Winn was already being wise and pastoral. He was Relevant’s Deeper Walk editor for five years. He’s also written for Leadership Journal,, and other notable publications.

winncollier.jpgMoreover, Winn is the author of three books that overlap with many of the things that keep coming up in O Me of Little Faith and on this blog. His first solo book, Restless Faith: Hanging on to a God Just out of Reach, is a candid look at Winn’s struggles to know a mysterious, unknowable God. Let God is an exploration of the work of the 17th century theologian Francois Fenelon, whose letters and wisdom Winn paraphrases. And his newest book, Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions, takes a look at the probing, subversive questions Jesus asks in the Gospels.


Winn is the pastor at All Souls Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the director of The Genesis Project, a support community for church planters.

Here’s his contribution to Voices of Doubt series. It’s called “Doubt Better.”


A pastor really ought to believe in God. It usually works better that way.

I possess a skeptical bent, so nagging questions have been familiar
space. Usually, these vexing concerns pass after a short stretch. About
six years ago, however, the question of whether or not God existed sat
down for a visit. And decided to stay for a while.


to the fatigue and heaviness I experienced during this grueling
doubting season (maybe 15 months or so), I felt shame that I was a
hypocrite, espousing a faith that perhaps I didn’t actually believe.
They do say you’re supposed to smoke what you’re selling.

doubters receive advice to go to the Scriptures and see if doubts
dissipate. I followed the recommendation; however, what I discovered was
not a way out of doubt but a way into it. The Bible taught me how to
doubt better.

What I discovered in Scripture,
particularly the Psalms, was instruction in how to speak to God,
language for Divine conversation. What I found most striking was the
Psalms’ brutal honesty. Whatever one felt toward God, they spoke
(actually, prayed): anger, joy, ambivalence, fear, delight. And doubt.


Psalms suggest that dishonesty may be the only thing that isn’t prayer.
If we are filled with doubt, the Bible suggests we doubt out loud.
Doubt to God. Don’t hold back. Don’t try to slash a smiley face across
it. Let it loose. Doubt louder. Doubt better.

doubt is uncomfortable to us (and unwelcome by others), giving voice to
doubt can be a courageous, honest act — a faithful act. Doubt can be an
expression of faith.

We often view faith as fragile. So
we think we need to tiptoe, to tone down our questions. What if our
faith can’t stand up to all these uncertainties?
If our faith can be
slapped around, perhaps it needs to be. Doubt happens when our
assumptions or expectations are upended; and truth is that some of our
assumptions and expectations (and beliefs) need to be upended. My boys
believe I’m stronger than the Hulk. Soon enough, that belief will


I’ve come to believe that true faith is sturdy.
It can handle its own battles. Faith doesn’t need me to defend it;
faith only needs me to be honest.

This honest posture
points toward another shade of what it means for me to doubt better. At
times, what I’ve called doubt is actually cynicism. When I express
doubt, I’m brutally honest with my struggle and my hesitation — but I’m
still engaged, still in the conversation. However, when I’m cynical, I’m
withdrawing, hiding and protecting myself from having to trust
anything. Cynicism is the easy way.

To doubt well is to
doubt our doubts as much as we doubt our faith. It’s the sentiment
shared on a t-shirt my wife Miska gave me: “I have my doubts about
disbelief.” Doubt keeps us moving, keeps us from settling for clichés
(religious clichés or secular clichés). “Doubt is the ants in the pants
of faith,” says Buechner.


How Christians ever came to
the place where we’ve earned the reputation as those who are quickest to
shut down our minds befuddles me. If God is true, we have nothing to
fear. Stretch our minds. Go wide-open. See if the things we’ve professed
have any heft or if they’re all cultural or psychological smoke and
mirrors. If God is true, he isn’t quivering over our intellectual
hiccups. He really isn’t.

And if God isn’t true, then we ought to find out, sooner the better.

O’Conner describes this kind of practice. “What kept me a skeptic in
college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t
bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.” For O’Conner,
doubt was a spiritual discipline. She learned to doubt well. We might
take her cue.



Thank you, Winn. You can find Winn on Twitter and Facebook. Learn more about his books and check out his blog at

Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…

Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage

Comments read comments(11)
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posted August 20, 2010 at 8:39 am

Great perspective.
Thanks for the challenge!

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Jonathan Chang

posted August 20, 2010 at 9:18 am

My hardest struggle now is having to keep my mouth shut. Like after church with my in laws, if we’re talking about the sermon. There’s so many things in the sermon that I didn’t agree with or think differently about. But I feel frustrated that if I brought up a question of “Do you really think God told them to kill that nation?” Or whatever the question is. I’d just be met with, “Just have faith.” “It’s in the bible, it’s true.” Or the most frustrating thing is if someone doesn’t want to their faith to be challenged or if they really don’t know what they’re talking about they say, “Let’s agree to disagree.”
Lately, I’ve been putting myself in the shoes of Atheists and Agnostics in not trying to prove the bible as truth with the bible. How to do that is hard. But it’s something I think about a lot.

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Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

posted August 20, 2010 at 9:41 am

Wow. I absolutely loved this.

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posted August 20, 2010 at 9:54 am

the psalms have been an inspiration to me as well…. not just because of the poetry. i have come to feel that if david, the man after God’s own heart, could pray such mean and crazy things sometime then it wasn’t sinful for me to say it to God.
i find the picture of cynicism withdrawing and honest doubt engaging and intriguing one.

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Ed Cyzewski

posted August 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

Excellent post. I really resonate with the thought that the truth and God in particular does not need to necessarily be proven or defended. Rather, living the truth and living with God is far more important and will end doing more to prove and defend both.

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Ray Hollenbach

posted August 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thank you, Jason, and thank you, Winn, for this excellent post. I remember you both from the early days of Relevant Mag. And Jason–we need silly along with the deep. Better still deep silliness.

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Kathleen Quiring | Project M

posted August 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

Wonderful. I love this idea that the Bible helped you not to stop doubting but to “doubt better.” What a refreshing take on it. And I love the O’Conner quote.

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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted August 20, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I agree that our faith probably needs to be slapped around – unfortunately the biblical “formula” for growth requires some good hearty pain.

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Jeff Goins

posted August 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Great post. As a skeptic, I recognize the importance of balance in skepticism and faith.
Great thoughts, Winn (and Jason). Thanks for holding us accountable to embracing our faith without discarding our honest doubts.
I loved this line: “The Psalms suggest that dishonesty may be the only thing that isn’t prayer.”

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Rodger D

posted November 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I’ll say this doubt is a tricky word be careful with it I see doubt as giving up Hope or not being grounded an settled unstable but may be helpful to keep in balence with Faith but its the Faith that links to God not doubt.
exsample Jesus turn water to wine how? you wonder and you doubt I have them thauts but here is my answer Jesus being Lord spoke pour the wine because He spoke it to be Wine it was God will so it was wine and not water Jesus did not need Faith because it was His Father so He know the water would be wine so there no doubt in my mind that Jesus know all things. and we must have Faith To know the Father more so then ever now days !. doubt if you need to just don’t walk away !.

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Rodger d

posted November 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm

A little more on doubt. Is doubt a sents of lost? true or not true?. It would be turned away from Faith or just confussion. Then you turn back to Faith for the answer.
Jesus Chirst I must say Jesus if He is the son of God He would have no doubt So He would have the answer. Faith that He has it. He was real in the Image of God.
I ask this ? did anyone ask Jesus if he was God and not his Son He would have the answer or say nothing.
He ask this ? Ho say yea that I am? and He got there reply not His. The Hebrew was not looking for God in a man.
And take into accout He went back from were He came. The only offspring is Mary God has no blood only Mary.
saying that mean or conferm what the frut that was on the tree of knowlegde of good and evil was blood the first born Adam and Eve witch can’t be proven by science.
The good news is He coming back to take us to the place he prepeared for us.
Jesus on the cross said to one of them that was on a cross too were He was going.
The place He has prepeared. You could say Eden or pearadice.
Another ?. What was taken from Jesus besides His life at the cross blood that will take you back to Adam and Eve right?
The good news is if God took flash and bone back with Him to come back. Ho’s body did thay eat of and ho’s blood did thay drink of at the supper? He did not say this is Jesus body, He just said this is my body eat of it drink of my blood the holy ghost Spirit of our Lord.
What I have told you here I have learned or I’m lost so help me out here and show Me were I’m wrong.
One last ?. Did any ever wonder why Jesus said in His last words MY God My God why have you forsaken Me? was that doubt?.

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