O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Is Doubt a Trend?

I want to call your attention to two great blog posts in recent days about doubt. The first comes from Rachel Held Evans, who asks Is doubt a trend?

Personally, I’ve been accused of writing O Me of Little Faith because I’m part of a movement in Christian history where doubt is “cool.” This is one of those accusations that bothers me, because it assumes a couple of things: 1) that somehow I like being a doubter and am drawing on it or fostering it for personal gain; and 2) that my book is merely a capitalization on that trend.


I always want to reply that it’s a good thing I had the foresight 20 years ago to start asking hard questions and gathering material for this book, so I could have it written by the time the trend hit. Cultural prognostication must be my spiritual gift!

I’m cynical and opportunistic, but not THAT cynical and opportunistic.

BUT, I can’t deny that doubt is part of the zeitgeist these days among Christians. Rachel and I both pitched and began writing our books around the same time in 2008. We didn’t know each other then, but we both were experiencing similar cracks in our faith, and felt compelled to write about them. David Dark’s book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, hit shelves a few months before our own. 


Is that just a coincidence? Or evidence of something larger? Rachel suggests the “doubt trend” was a long time coming, and it’s more than a passing fad:

…I agree that doubt is a
trend–but not in a slap-bracelets/skinny jeans/iced latte sort of a
way; more in a Copernican Revolution/Renaissance/postmodernism sort of a

…we are living through one of those pivotal times right now as changes
related to biology (evolution), physics, psychology, higher criticism,
and the Information Age raise serious questions about the Bible,
religious pluralism, authority, and faith.


The world is changing and Christians are changing with it. To
expect the Church to pass through such a significant cultural shift
without any of its members experiencing doubt is simply unrealistic.

I completely agree, and like Rachel (and Phyllis Tickle, whom she quotes), I think we’re entering a period where the Church will go through some seismic discomfort. It will have to find ways to respond, satisfactorily, to these scientific advances that challenge Christianity. And it’ll need to do it without drawing battle lines, without saying “either believe this or you’re out.” If it can’t do that, it will lose many from this generation of doubters, who are moving way past the point where we’re trying to avoid doubt. We’d rather learn how to survive it.


Which leads to the second post you should read. It was written last week by Ray Hollenbach, a frequent commenter here and at Rachel’s blog. Ray is one of those guys who asks hard questions — especially of writers like Rachel and me who have made our doubts public. But he does it in a humble, honest way. Ray seems to be seeking understanding rather than looking for a fight, and I appreciate it. 

Ray’s recent post — The Limits of Doubt — is worth reading. He says that doubt belongs in the Christian story and should not exclude us from worship, but also expresses some hesitations about doubt. It can be “a needed correction within some quarters of Christianity,” he says, but does it come with a price?


Ray lists six considerations to remember:

1. Doubt can be the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work. Could the questions of our generation be a way of turning the Church back toward the Kingdom and away from political, cultural, social, or intellectual agendas?

2. Never trust anyone who hasn’t wrestled with doubt. Why? Because Jesus is an equal-opportunity offender, and if his words don’t cause you to ask hard questions, you’re not hearing them right. Totally agree.

3. Don’t confuse doubt with seeking. “Sometimes,” Ray writes, “we doubt to avoid seeking,” as if doubt is a way to be impartial and rise above the fight. I confess that this is often a mindset I find myself sliding into. I am tempted to hide behind doubt in order to stay disengaged.


4. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Citing Os Guinness, Ray says doubt shouldn’t be confused with unbelief, which springs from the will, but instead is something that springs from honesty or confusion. Bingo.

5. My doubts are my doubts — they don’t have to be yours. This is worth remembering. I can’t create a personal orthodoxy of doubt and think less of you if you’re not asking the same questions I’m asking. My calling is not to change your mind.

6. The object of faith is a Person, not a proposition. Am I doubting my understanding of God, or am I doubting God himself? This question is perhaps more complicated than Ray suggests, since the process of knowing God in a relationship is based on the Bible, personal experience, prayer — and these things are major factors in my doubt. Since God is not sitting next to me, the only way I know him is through these filters of religion and personal seeking — and these are things that play a big role in my doubt. I’m limited by my humanity, and my humanity causes me to doubt. But it’s still worth remembering that faith is a relationship, not a set of doctrines.


Read Ray’s full post here.

Some great conversations continuing to occur. Both Rachel and Ray have blogs are worth following (as does Rachael Ray, I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing).


What do you think? Is doubt a trend? Are there any considerations about doubt you’d add to Ray’s list?

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posted October 7, 2010 at 9:50 am

my only problem with the way doubt is discussed is that those who don’t have the same kind of doubt are talked down to like they are not curious… maybe stupid.
just sayin’

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shawn smucker

posted October 7, 2010 at 10:03 am

Rachel brings up an interesting correlation between change and doubt. I think we find ourselves at one of the great transitions in history, from modern to postmodern. It has been hundreds of years since humanity has experienced this rate of change in the areas of technology, science, travel and exploration.
The last time it happened (late 1500s, early 1600s), the church was throw into theological/philosophical upheaval, and many of the things that Christians of that time took for granted were challenged and proven false. The changes that took place began to shape the modern church as we know it. I am actually kind of excited to witness the changes that take place in the church during postmodern times.

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Brandon Sneed

posted October 7, 2010 at 10:14 am

I agree. Doubt’s a trend, but not a trend like hipsterism. (Yes. Hipsterism. You know what I mean.)
I think the willingness to doubt as much as people are these days is, if anything, a great thing. Doubting means not accepting something just because we’re told to. If we just accepted something leaders told us to accept, we’d be nothing more than a cult. Christianity isn’t a cult. Some churches have made cults out of Christianity, but Christianity was born out of people’s love for Jesus Christ, which translates into a love for God. If anything ever becomes about something other than loving God, than knowing God, then it’s not something God wants us involved in.

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Mr. Big

posted October 7, 2010 at 10:29 am

You stole my Rachael Ray joke.
I love #6 and your comments thereafter.

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posted October 7, 2010 at 10:38 am

Yep, have to confess…there have been times that I’ve unintentionally made someone feel dumb. But I will say that typically we let things get to that point as a defense mechanism. For a lot of us we feel like there isn’t a lot of room to breathe and ask questions without feeling extremely judged and constantly calling our salvation into jeopardy. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d like more than to stop thinking and have that “blessed assurance” but at this point I can’t. Some of us also are also continuing to learn more about the history of things like the emergent movement…some of this first things you may learn about that movement, if your part of a more conservative church, is that it’s run by a bunch of “heretics”—
So when it turns out that a whole lot of what some of those folks are writing and thinking make sense…suddenly I feel like I’ve placed myself on the other side and am now also a heretic. Deny’er of the faith. Good grief!
Most of us are just trying to deal with these questions, not seek answers to them so we can take a hard stance and put it behind us…no! Look, I like Brian McLaren but I don’t agree with everything he may have to say. Same thing with guys like Mark Driscoll. We’re stupid either..but you have to admit, when You’re told someones theology is “dangerous”—that apple just gets sweeter and sweeter and I’m definitely going to take a bite

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posted October 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

I think there’s a lot in common with doubters and atheists (particularly in US setting). Both groups have been a more or less oppressed minority whose opinions and right to think the way they do have been discounted for a long, long time. They’ve been mistreated and misunderstood.
Now that both doubters and atheists have a voice and they’re visible, the mere expression of their opinions is treated as aggressive and hostile and often mislabelled as having a feeling of smug superiority.
The existence of doubters and atheists can be offensive on its own to someone who believes without doubt. Expression of doubt or disbelief is interpreted as a personal attack, and dealt with accordingly.

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Kenny Johnson

posted October 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

I think that the trend may also be that churches are feeling more comfortable with doubt and people are able to more openly express their doubts without fear of rejection. I’m not saying this is true in all churches, but there are definitely more churches and Christians who are sensitive to questions and doubts. Luckily I’m part of one of those churches.

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David N

posted October 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm

A lot of people seem to think I doubt and ask hard questions because I like being a rebel and being edgy and progressive…and sometimes they might be right. I know that no matter what the state of my faith is at any given moment, I have a tendency to keep myself an outsider and a cynic. I shy away from accepting truth sometimes because it feels like betraying the part of me that doubts. The doubts are real, the questions plague me, but I can’t deny they get tied up with my personal identity and I don’t want to give them up. They’re like pets.

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Ray Hollenbach

posted October 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Jason. I’ve benefitted from O Me of Little Faith again and again. And you’re right–I’m certainly not looking for a fight, because it’s wrong to fight within the family (unless we’re talking about my big brother, but that’s another story).
Comment number 6 is, for me, the heart of the matter. In my view the Evangelical church has morphed from “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to “Father, Son, and Holy Bible” with disastrous results. Faith becomes propositional when it should be based upon relationship. When religious orthodoxy presents the Scripture AND demands conformity of interpretation, I don’t blame anyone for raising their eyebrows.
As to personal experience and prayer, I’m willing to live with the risks. Because God is real, I welcome the subjectivism of experience. I’ve been married twenty-five years and I don’t understand my wife–why would I expect to understand the Creator? To know him is enough. Nearly every person in the Old Testament came to faith apart from the inscripted word. Indeed, in the New Testament, the master of the inscripted word was forced to sit in blindness for three days, considering this fact–“Everything I know is wrong.” (Acts 9)
Keep raising your questions, Jason. If I can live with the risks of personal experience, and willing to allow others to live with the risks of doubt.

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Micha Boyett Hohorst

posted October 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I’m in agreement with Ray’s list, Jason. Except I have to say I can’t completely agree with his assessment to “Never trust anyone who hasn’t wrestled with doubt.” I’d like to agree because I’m naturally drawn to the types of people who have. But I do think it takes a certain personality type to struggle with faith the way most of your readers do. Some people are just not thinkers…as much as I’d love to morph them all into that type.
I think it’s easy for me to only appreciate the kinds of people who are wrestling (or have wrestled) with hard questions in the faith. But the truth is that as much as Jesus’ teachings are difficult and need to be wrestled with, one of his most difficult teachings was that the most simple (children) are the most blessed in the Kingdom. It feels like we’re forgetting that to say that only the contemplatives are worth trusting.

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Brian Schneider

posted October 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I think churches are in danger of losing the faithful who also profess confusion about certain aspects of their faith. While I am happy that other posters have found their churches tolerant of these questions, I must admit that their experience is not my own. More often than not my concerns are brushed away by church leaders or ignored when the opportunity to discuss them presents itself. I’m not so confrontational as to be seen as a radical, but I suspect that my deepest held views would be treated with hostility if made public. I think churches have a long way to go before thinking about faith replaces simple blind faith.

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posted October 7, 2010 at 2:08 pm

We live in a climate of anxiety,
fears, worries. Only One Who
knows our destiny and holds our
life in HIS Hands can guide and
leads us safely through!!

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Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

posted October 7, 2010 at 3:08 pm

As a big fan of both Rachel’s and Ray’s blogs, I’m happy to see how you’ve brought them together around this sticky subject. I’ve been thinking about it a lot about doubt lately, too, particularly since writing a post about a month ago called “It’s not about crossing from doubt to faith.”
I think Rachel’s take is right on: “The world is changing and Christians are changing with it. To expect the Church to pass through such a significant cultural shift without any of its members experiencing doubt is simply unrealistic.” And I really like how you framed the issue: We’d rather figure out how to “survive doubt” than to go out of our way to avoid it. Yes. Not only can we survive it, but I believe we will be stronger for it in the end (maybe this idea is just a product of my generation and the trend, but I believe it).
When Ray commented on my doubt post a month ago, he wrote “I don’t see doubt as some badge of authenticity.” While I agree it shouldn’t be an automatic indicator of the authentic, I still think living in the grey feels a lot more authentic than pretending to live in the black-and-white alternative.

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posted October 7, 2010 at 6:41 pm

About science and doubt, I think the weird thing is that it isn’t really a case of a sudden increase in knowledge causing problems. Most of the great advances in scientific knowledge started in the 19th century. The big problem for a lot of Christians is the theory of Evolution and that is a 19th century discovery.
I grew up in Australia. I was a teenager in the 60s and I attended an evangelical church and went to a Church school. I didn’t know a single Christian who did not accept evolution. At school we learnt that it had been a problem for Christians in the 19th century. Our teacher told us about the Scopes trial, but only to show us that even in a modern country like America, there were some ignorant people who in the 1930s were still living in the 19th century!
I am absolutely astounded at how this 19th century conflict, something I assumed as a child was a dead issue, has taken off again, particularly in the last couple of decades. I can’t see it as to do with the advance of science. I think it must be something to do with changes in our culture, and I’d love to understand it better, but right now I just don’t get why it is happening!

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Gary Mac

posted October 16, 2010 at 6:55 am

If Christ be in you, Gods Spirit in you, how can doubt be a factor at all in ones faith? We are to have the mind of Christ and Jesus came to teach us his way of understanding. Let this same mind, Spirit, be in you who was in Christ Jesus. Only those outside of Christ and are not that person of Christ that Jesus came to teach them to be are in doubt. It isnt that we are to have faith in Christ to accomplish a task, it is we are suposed to have His same faith, and in that there is no doubt at all.

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posted October 16, 2010 at 7:40 am

If doubt is widespread in the church, then the church is at risk to an extraordinary degree. My journey of faith ended because of doubt. I learned to seek the truth, and found no truth in blind faith, yet found nothing seen to base faith off of. Verses like “lean not unto your own understanding” helped for a while, but eventually I grew tired of being promised a heavenly kingdom, but receiving silence from heaven.
Doubt is dangerous, extremely dangerous, to anyone who treasures their faith. Be careful.

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Patsy Davis

posted October 16, 2010 at 7:44 am

My name is Patsy Davis and I live in Charlotte, N.C.
If anyone doubts Christianity, then they are NOT Christians. Their spiritual beliefs should be based entirely on the Bible and there is nothing about the Bible that even comes close to doubt. When you mention doubt, to me you are saying that you don’t believe in God, the Holy Spirit, or His Son, who died for our sins on the Cross. I think this article is WRONG and is an insult to Christianity.

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Burnette Peterkin

posted October 16, 2010 at 8:32 am

I think we say we are Christians as if it our ethnicity and therefore, as people debate their ethnicity we can debate our faith. I am not a Christian I am a “Born Again” Christian because if you are not “Born Again” you are just a follower of a religion. When you are “Born Again” you are lead by the Holy Spirit who teaches, guide, comfort and walk with you through the challenges of being faithful to God’s Word as presented to you in His Holy Book the Bible. Yes doubt surface in your daily living but it is fleeting because once you turn to God’s Word all doubt is gone. Once you are “Born Again” how can you question your Master’s Word? Yes if you are a Christian you will question because Christians all want to make a doctrine out of God’s Word but when you allow the Holy Ghost to lead, you will experience the Word of God come alive in your daily life and confirm that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of your Faith. I truly believe that if you are a “Born Again” Christian the Bible is the only source you need to look to for the food you need to build your faith and defeat doubt. So if you believe doubt should be part of yor daily walk with God why bother to serve Him.

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Jason Boyett

posted October 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

@Burnette and Patsy:
Respectfully, I disagree. I am a “born again” Christian, not an ethnic one. I haven’t just “turned to God’s Word,” but have grown up with it. I’ve read it all my life. I’ve memorized long passages. I’ve written books about it and probably know it better than most Christians. And here’s the kicker: most of my doubt began showing up once I really began to read and study the Bible. The Bible hasn’t fed my faith and defeated doubt, like you say, but has actually challenged my faith and caused doubt. Had I just gone on reading the Bible on a surfacey, Sunday School level I wonder if my doubt would be quite so strong.
I understand the defensiveness this causes among some Christians, and I appreciate your comment. But in my case you’re wrong.

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Ellie D

posted October 18, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Great Post! Asking questions is a symbol (in this age).. of being a part of the elite. Its the reason for media’s position as the 4th estate. Unfortunately, more importance is being paid to asking questions of ones linear mind. Questions focused on what is already known. Far more, than seeking the transformative mind of ones Soul. To doubt, is praised more, than those who have found real truth

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posted October 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm

As one must be wary of the quagmire of absolute certainty, so one must also be wary of the desert of immaculate doubt. Curiously, however, the totalitarian mindset characteristic of the former is inclined toward endeavoring to mold the world in its own image, an action symptomatic of an insecurity born of doubt, … a self-contradiction. Latently doubting the ultimate universality of the ultimate universe they ‘necessarily’ believe in, totalitarian believers are affectively compelled to going about and making it universal, with the dictum that those who do not comply are divinely to be deleted, or humanly. As for the wonders of immaculate doubt, such a mindset entails that it must doubt not only the truth of itself but the doubt of itself as well, a hopeless entanglement of logical threads in a stupor of self-defilement.

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