In Mark 9v24, a desperate man prayed a desperate prayer: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” This 2,000-year-old prayer has become a mantra of our skeptical age. According to James K.A. Smith, believing doesn’t come easy anymore: “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”<1> The stats agree. A Pew survey revealed that the number of young Americans who experience doubts about God increased 15 percent in five years. The Barna Group, which studies social movements and trends, records that two-thirds of people who self-identify as Christian have struggled with doubt, millennials experience doubt twice as much as any other generational group, and Gen Z (the generation following the millennials) is considered the least Christian generation in our nation’s history.
In this cultural moment, we are endlessly pressured to reject belief. Cynical thoughts, words, podcasts, movies, ideas, people, and experiences that feed our doubt inundate us:
- Bestselling books argue that faith in God is a delusion.
- A documentary exposes hypocrisy in the church.
- A professor says that stories in the Bible are nothing more than myth.
- A TV show ridicules people of faith.
- Social media often portrays Christians as uneducated, angry, and bigoted.
- Pluralism fosters the narrative that truth is relative.
The list goes on. Skepticism pulls on us, swirls around us, drags us under, pressures us into mainstream conformity. Meanwhile, followers of Jesus are swimming upstream.
What does this mean for church leaders?
First, it means that we need to be prepared to give robust, Biblical, and engaging answers to the questions that people are asking.
Secondly, we need to recognize that doubt is an opportunity for authentic faith to grow. When our faith is challenged, it creates space for conversation and mission. Historically, God’s people have found their voice in exile. It’s where much of the Bible was written. It’s where revolutions began. Identity is born in the agony of exclusion. And once identity is discovered, the uniqueness, otherness, and beauty of its counter-narrative draws an unbelieving world back to itself.
If that’s true, it means we don’t have to panic when the world throws doubt in our face. There’s nothing to fear. And there’s nothing to fear when we encounter doubt of any kind, or from any source. Whether it’s the pressures of culture, the tragic circumstances of life, the fluctuations of emotion, the growing pains of spiritual formation, or some hidden inner angst, when doubt interrupts our journey, we need to appreciate its potential to move us forward in ways we never have before.
When the doubt-filled man threw himself before Jesus, Jesus didn’t send him away. He didn’t rebuke him for his less than perfect faith. He welcomed him. He modeled grace. And he healed his son.
What was true of this broken man is also true of our broken world: sometimes the deepest healing can take place in times of doubt. Sometimes the greatest ministry happens in the ache and angst of raw and ragged questions. Sometimes the truest renewal unfolds when hope is lost.
Some say we are living in a post-Christian age. That’s one way of looking at it. But personally, I like to think of ourselves as pre-revival. God is just getting started. And until revival breaks out, we can move through the world with grace: loving the doubters, engaging the questioner, and joyfully living the way of Jesus.
<1> James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014), 4.
How To Use This Book
New York Times Bestselling author, Jefferson Bethke said: “This is one of those books that I will be buying to give to multiple friends.” This book is perfect for the person in your church who is struggling with their faith in God, needs practical advice on how to deal with doubt, or has questions such as: Can I trust the Bible, why is the world so broken? Why is God silent? Or is there a conflict between science and faith?
It is also a great resource for small groups, apologetic classes, and church bookstores.