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Matthew Paul Turner and I became acquainted pretty soon after he published The Christian Culture Survival Guide (complete with a foreword from Stephen Baldwin) and I came out with Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse. Both books were published by Relevant. Both turned a snarky eye toward Christian culture. Both of us have receding hairlines.
Clearly we needed to become friends, so we did. He’s gone on to write several other books, including Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess and Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost.
We tackle different subjects with our blogging and writing, but he’s definitely a kindred spirit. I’m thrilled he agreed to write a “Voices of Doubt” post.
Okay, so my name is Matthew and I’m a doubter. (Shall we drink to that?)
The truth is, sometimes I think this whole “Christianity” thing feels like a bad
fairytale, like “She-Ra” without the sex appeal and a Pegasus. And other times, my
struggling belief that Jesus lives pulls me out of my own muck (and other people’s
For the longest time, existing amid that tension drove me nuts. Whenever I was
in a room surrounded by people — you know, friends, family, strangers, etc., who all
confess to completely understand the “Good News” (and I feel like I’m always in a
room like that) — doubt made me feel what I imagine Sarah Palin would feel in a room
full of political science professors: like an hors d’oeuvre.
And for a long time, I walked into those kinds of situations anticipating and even
fearing being eaten by the hungry mob of “certain” believers.
Last year, one of the pastors at my church asked Jessica and me to join the small
group they were starting at their house. My first response was a silent cringe,
mostly because I’d grown to hate being in small circles of people whose “faith
in God” was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But we joined, and upon
saying, “sure, why not?” I started sharpening my machete.
The first book that we planned to study was Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, a
relatively short title about the Holy Spirit, the one-third of the Trinity that Chan believes
the church has forgotten. On the first week, the group’s leader asked us to share
our initial feelings/thoughts about the Holy Spirit. After one of the other members
shared her faith-filled passion about God’s spirit, I decided to offer my opinion.
“To be honest, I’m fearful of this study,” I said, “Because all my life, I’ve heard a lot
of things said about the Holy Spirit. Crazy things. Hurtful things. Far-fetched things.
And I have a hard time believing that the Spirit of God has anything to do with a
large portion of what it receives credit for doing. I have a lot of doubt in regards to
the ‘working of the Holy Spirit.’ ”
After a brief awkward silence, the people in my small group affirmed my thoughts
with nods and comments. Nobody made me feel like an outsider or a “special cause”
that they needed to put on their prayer list. And that was uneasy at first. I expected
them to challenge my Christianity. A part of me wanted them to. But they didn’t. Not
once. Each of them accepted me as an equal, as somebody whose story offered value
and insight to the topic of discussion.
Over the course of the next few weeks as we talked about God’s Spirit, I became
more and more comfortable letting people “see” my doubt, questions, and spiritual baggage.
The hardest part for me was keeping quiet when somebody else in the small
group engaged the discussion with certainty. I think that’s difficult for many of
us who doubt. We become so used to our questions and ideas being ill-received
that we often enter discussions about God expecting/assuming that we’ll be
challenged or segregated or labeled.
On numerous occasions, I’ve allowed my doubt
and skepticism about the things of God to morph into closed-minded cynicism,
somebody only interested in poking holes in other people’s beliefs. On several
occasions, some of things that members of my small group said about the Holy
Spirit caused me to write punch lines in my head. On a couple of occasions, those
punch lines were said aloud. And people laughed.
Other times, I was tempted to
speak up in the middle of somebody sharing their own story because I believed
that I had a story that would challenge that person’s belief or disprove it or offer
a reason as to why they should doubt too. And on one occasion, I’m ashamed to
admit that I did that; I pounced on somebody else’s belief like a bobcat on a rabbit.
I’ve had to learn how to engage faith as doubter. It’s not easy. I’m not used to being
accepted. I’m used to feeling like a vampire, lonely and somewhat evil.
But I’m learning to remember that, just like a person’s strong belief can cause
their faith to be rigid and judgmental and come holding a sword, my doubt can
sometimes cause my faith to be cocky and unmerciful and bearing a machete.
And a scenario like that helps no one; of that I am certain.
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• Sally Lloyd-Jones: Where Did You Put Your Faith?
• Chad Gibbs: When It Doesn’t Seem Fair
• Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• 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