Introductory Note:

Doubt comes to us in many forms. We may be fools to say it, but we might wake up one day and find, at a profound level, that we doubt the very existence of God. Or perhaps we wrestle with the existential twins of unbelief; Either we doubt if God is really powerful enough to act in our world or, if he is, whether he cares enough about us to do so. Whatever form our doubt may take, it’s important to acknowledge it as an elephant in the room of our followership of Christ.

This mock interview with Dallas Willard about doubt contains some memorable and liberating lines. Stick with us as we take a tough but important look at dealing with doubt.

James Catford

CUT­TING EDGE MAG­A­ZINE [CE]: We asked Dal­las to role-play an evan­ge­lis­tic con­ver­sa­tion with a 20-year-old girl who grew up in a Chris­t­ian home, but finds her world­view chal­lenged when she goes to col­lege. She decides to see her pas­tor and says, I used to believe strong­ly in the Chris­t­ian faith, but now I think that there are many ways to see the world, and that, just because they dif­fer, does­n’t mean they are right or wrong.” How would you answer her?

DAL­LAS WILLARD [DW]: I would start by say­ing that whether some­one is a Chris­t­ian or not, they are going to live accord­ing to cer­tain assump­tions about what is real. They are very like­ly to accept the pop­u­lar notion that they live in a world where there real­ly is no God, and that right and wrong are deter­mined by what you want, as long as it does­n’t con­flict with some­one else’s freedom. 

We have to start by help­ing peo­ple see that they can­not escape the fact that, no mat­ter what they do, they are in fact choos­ing one ver­sion of what is real, true, and good. In that choice they need to be respon­si­ble. Not believ­ing in some­thing has exact­ly the same con­se­quences as believing. 

CE: So, this girl says: OK, I under­stand: you are say­ing that I have to believe.”

DW: I’m say­ing that she has a belief. This is absolute­ly cru­cial for her to under­stand. Oth­er­wise she is under the illu­sion that she is in a safe place sim­ply because she has­n’t explic­it­ly com­mit­ted her­self to something. 

CE: She says: OK, I want to believe. But I fear that in com­ing back to the church I would have to pre­tend that I am cer­tain about some things that I feel like I can nev­er be cer­tain about again.”

DW: This is a com­mon case. This is why peo­ple pre­fer a non-com­mit­tal posi­tion. Peo­ple have been sold this idea that, whether in cul­ture, pol­i­tics or reli­gion, in order to com­mit to an idea, they have to be absolute­ly cer­tain — and absolute­ly cer­tain that every­thing else is wrong. That’s where I would say to her: No, you don’t have to cer­tain about any­thing you’re not cer­tain about. In fact, cer­tain­ty is not some­thing you can choose, any­way. Cer­tain­ty and uncer­tain­ty are not things that are under the will.” 

She says, You are telling me I could be a Chris­t­ian, and still have doubts?” That’s right. It is pos­si­ble to go to heav­en with a lot of doubts, and it is pos­si­ble to go to hell with a lot of cer­tain­ty — peo­ple do it every day. But you can­not stay at such an abstract lev­el for very long. You’re going to have to bring it down to a prac­ti­cal lev­el with ques­tions like: what do you believe about Jesus? 

CE: Okay,” she says, I can acknowl­edge that. You know, I have read the gospels, and I think that Jesus was the great­est teacher there ever was. In fact, I’d like to live my life like him. But it feels like I have to buy’ an awful lot more.”

DW: What I would say is this: you don’t have to buy any­thing you don’t want. We have to help peo­ple under­stand that belief is some­thing that comes along as you expe­ri­ence. You don’t have to fake any­thing. The way faith works is this: you put into prac­tice what you believe. If you’re attract­ed to Jesus, what do you believe about him that you can act on? Expe­ri­ence shows again and again that when you allow peo­ple to act on the lit­tle that they do believe, the rest will follow.

This arti­cle has been reprint­ed by per­mis­sion from the Win­ter, 2001 issue of Cut­ting Edge mag­a­zine, a Church Plant­i­ng quar­ter­ly newslet­ter pro­duced by the Nation­al Church Plant­i­ng Task force of Vine­yard USA. For reprint per­mis­sion, con­tact [email protected]​VineyardUSA.​org.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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