Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#127 Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt

shadowofadoubt50.jpgThat pesky shadow of doubt thwarts people at every turn. If only it didn’t exist. Christian culture in particular would like to evolve past it and, as such, they bring it up a lot.

Evangelicals like to invoke the shadow of doubt whilst discussing God’s existence and his will. Being certain feels awesome. But Christian culture’s very favorite thing to know beyond a shadow of a doubt is where one will spend eternity. Where will you spend eternity? That person happens to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sound good? You can know too!


Can you? And should you? If God revealed himself completely and removed all space for faith, would it destroy a sacred part of us and turn us into chess pieces?


Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church? –John Calvin

I have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hindrance to the writer but I myself have found nothing further from the truth. Actually, it fuses the storyteller to observe. It is not a set of rules which fixes what he sees in the world. It affects his writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery. –Flannery O’Connor

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Still Breathing

posted February 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

“The believer can only perfect his faith on the ocean of nihilism, temptation and doubt; he has been assigned the ocean of uncertainty as the only possible site for his faith.”
Cardinal Ratzinger (what happened to him?)
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubt he shall end with certainties.”
Francis Bacon (Not the painter but the one killed by a frozen chicken)
“It is only in questioning that we discover what we really believe.”
Still Breathing (AKA me)

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My Name

posted February 13, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I love this one Stephanie. You’re absolutely right. A ‘Christian’ who is absolutely right in all their views ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ is the worst form of hypocrisy. It does a disservice to themselves and to the church.
Still Breathing quoted…
“It is only in questioning that we discover what we really believe.”
Absolutely perfect reply. But questioning is the one thing ‘Christians’ seem to hate. I think it’s because questioning leads us to humility. It makes us realize we may not be right, there is no certainty in faith and we should be humbled by that fact. Humility teaches us in turn to respect others who have different views because they may have something to teach us. We then move forward on true faith, not blind faith. Unfortunately critical thinking is an art long since lost on most ‘Christians’. Need proof? Tune to fox news or the 700 club…talk about pride and prejudice. Whatever happened to the meek shall inherit the earth?

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posted February 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm

“Shadow of a doubt,” is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of the most overused slogans in Pop Christianity. I hear it all the time from friends in that culture, but I have yet to encounter a reasonable definition of it. And the individualistic, reductionist tendency to shrink faith into “what happens after I drop off” is another tragic American church flaw. There’s a lifetime of growing in faith and transforming into what we are meant to be. That seems lost on such people.

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posted February 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm

If only it were so easy. I see so many people on autopilot and to try to raise any doubts or ambiguity makes me feel like I am some kind of dissenter.
Little do they know that it is they who are the ones who should be worried about their place in heaven! Wake up people!

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posted February 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

Peter Abelard, on whom I did my doctoral dissertation, once said: “It is by questioning [or doubting, the Latin word can be translated either way] that we arrive at truth.
Like many people, I started off my post-conversion faith with lots of certainty, and have moved over the last thirty-plus years to lots of questions. I have wearied of dogmatic certainties and all the arguments they inspire between parties that are equally certain about their differing positions and who appeal to the Bible to back up their position, not realizing that many biblical writers strongly disagreed with each other (e.g., Mark and Matthew didn’t much like the Apostle Paul, whereas Luke did; or just look at the differences between Jesus and Paul).
I now look at dogmas not as absolute certainties but as part of the larger gospel narrative. To borrow a Buddhist concept, they are fingers pointing at the moon. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

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posted February 15, 2010 at 10:25 am

I spent years in a mainline Christian Church and only started attending a more Evangelical church about three years ago when we moved to a new city. I am always struck by the truth in your posts.
At a recent bible study we were talking about God’s indescribable grace and what that means. I mentioned that after years of church, bible study, reading and studying I feel like I have more questions than I had when I started. I was flat out told by another participant that if I didn’t understand what this meant I didn’t understand my salvation. These people leave no room for the mystery of God that is beyond our understanding.
Plus I almost laughed out loud when I got my first “side-hug” ever from the pastor when we returned to church after missing a few weeks!!

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posted February 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm

People at my church always made a big show about “examining our faith”, but only be doing “research”–meaning, reading books about other faiths and other dogmas through the lens of Christianity, all geared toward why they were wrong. Anyone who really, truly, explored what they believed, leaving the Christian bubble to do so, was a pariah (me included).
Also, I love you did this post as this:
is going on. Pretty sure these folks don’t have a “shadow of a doubt” either, and that’s the problem!

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Rollo TOmassi

posted February 16, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Doubt is really a more derogatory term for skepticism. Skepticism gets a bad rap these days, but skepticism is very healthy and arguably a biologically innate part of our psychology. Being skeptical has species-survival value; we tend to distrust what our senses cannot verify in our environment. Thus we avoid potentially dangerous situations through doubt, and this doubt is further reinforced by the memory of pain from prior experiences where our trust (faith) was proven to be misguided. Ergo, more early doubters lived while more early trusters died. And thus evolved (ooh, shudder) a very natural and very useful capacity for doubt in humans.
This then is the challenge; to put our trust (faith) in God in spite of what our evolved sense, our biological impulses and collected experiences tell us are real and predictable. We are quite literally betting our lives on that faith.
By and large evangelical culture is told what to believe, not why to believe. People with questions don’t frighten me, people without any questions terrify me.

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posted February 20, 2010 at 9:07 pm

…not that I necessarily disagree with Stephanie’s post, but I was just wondering what anyone does with Hebrews 11:1? (NIV) It states: “Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

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stephanie drury

posted February 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm

I’m glad you’re asking that Drew, that’s exactly the question. What do we do with it? That’s not a leading question or hypothetical or anything, just a giant honest question.

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posted February 21, 2010 at 1:34 am

I start with reading other translations…just to get a better feel for the verse. The KJV has it, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”; and The New American Bible renders the verse, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Those two translations, at least, indicate a more shadowy definition of faith, with room for mystery.

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Robin Marie

posted February 21, 2010 at 11:47 am

I just have a quick question about Calvinism. I’m pretty educated in 17th century style Calvinism, and the doctrine of predestination, which says that while you can certainly hope and hope and hope and figure and suppose that you are one of the Elect, you can never really KNOW, since God didn’t see fit to provide you with a way to know for sure.
Hopefully that, in general, is a correct assessment. My question is this — my understanding is that this is not very popular in American Christian culture. Protestants in America are generally much more Lutheran — anyone can be saved, you can *choose* to be saved, and you can know when you are saved. So, my question is where and why is this not so? Are there still very active Calvinist enclaves that are as visible as the more Lutheran and loud evangelical set? And how do you go about making conversions on that basis? Anyway, I’m just interested in what type of people would be attracted to this in a modern world where the idea that you can’t pull yourself up by your own boot-straps, you can’t make everything right purely by thinking it so, would be very unattractive, I would think.

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Robin Marie

posted February 21, 2010 at 11:51 am

I was just wondering — how prevalent is John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination today, and the idea that you can never really *know* that you are saved, although you certainly can hope?
It seems pretty dead to me amongst modern evangelical Christians, and no wonder, since we live in a culture that tells us anyone can do anything if they decide to stick their mind to it and that positive thinking magically accomplishes things. I’m just wondering given that context, what sort of people are still attracted to the sort of mind-bending frustration of Calvinist predestination?

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Robin Marie

posted February 21, 2010 at 11:52 am

Opps sorry I posted twice I didn’t think the first one worked.

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Still Breathing

posted February 22, 2010 at 5:21 am

The word ‘hope’ is better translated as ‘guarantee’ (so the NT Greek scholars tell me). Our salvation is guaranteed but that still leaves a lot of room for questioning.

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posted February 26, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Drew, Good point. I think Christian culture assumes “being sure” is the end of the story. That once you’re sure there is no room for doubt and if you doubt you must not have faith. The idea that doubt is dangerous is a perpetuated myth that almost forces people to claim “to know beyond a shadow of a doubt.” For me, Christianity has become a process of seeking and finding. But once we have faith it is treated as if we have sought and found. Christ mentioning “faith as small as a mustard seed” suggests that there are different sizes of faith, and the seed analogy suggests faith is something that needs to be nurtured and tended to in order to grow. Sometimes the tending process requires we face the shadow that looms in order to find the light that will cause faith to grow. If we have a little faith, but ignore the questions that threaten it, I wonder how the faith will grow beyond the ignored doubts. ‘Fessing up that the shadow of doubt exists has made me less afraid to attempt to find answers, and less afraid to find no answer at all. If we have no doubt, we have no reason to wrestle with God. We have no need for God’s assistance at all because we have placed our faith in faith. “Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt” is the end of the story. There is no need to become more sure of what we hope for and more certain of what we do not see.

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posted March 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I LOVE this dialoge! Gets me thinking… I remember the first time I heard of TULIP and John Calvin. I always had a hard time with “Limited Atonement” and how that jived with all the verses that said Christ died for ALL men (and of course, women!). And I also wondered how those with the Calvinist mentality bothered spending any time with “missions” or sharing the gospel at all. If God has already completely “predestined” those who would come to Him with “Irrisistable Grace”, then what’s the point? God’s gonna reach who He’s elected, so why bother with “Going into all the world” anyway? But, as always, I COMPLETELY realize that amazingly intellegent, Godly people have debated this for centuries… so I’m pretty sure that I won’t figure it all out, so it’s good to keep listening and keep thinking (with my dukes DOWN-the fighting stance never gets me very far, I’m learning). And the one thing I DON’T want to do… spend so much time bickering that i fail to see the bigger picture-Love your Neighbor As Yourself! I don’t think there’s much of a debate on that… 😉

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posted April 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Priceless. Love your blog.

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