Editor's 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.

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