Doubt feels like an embar­rass­ing fam­i­ly mem­ber that we hope does­n’t show up when our friends are around. It can haunt pas­tors and Chris­t­ian lead­ers, and plague believ­ers to such an extent that their con­fi­dence in the king­dom of God is seri­ous­ly undermined. 

When it comes to shar­ing the faith, it puts God’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the dread­ful dilem­ma of decid­ing whether or not to fake it. Should we pre­tend to uphold some­thing we’re not cer­tain about our­selves? This dilem­ma was what Dal­las Willard was get­ting at in the role-play inter­view we shared on Mon­day this week.

Dal­las said, Peo­ple have been sold this idea that, in order to com­mit to an idea, they have to be absolute­ly cer­tain. You don’t have to be cer­tain about any­thing you’re not cer­tain about. Cer­tain­ty is not some­thing you can choose.

And then, in a typ­i­cal Willard way, he said, It is pos­si­ble to go to heav­en with a lot of doubts. Peo­ple do it every day.

Dal­las is being provoca­tive here, but he makes a good point. Mis­un­der­stand­ing doubt is often the rea­son we see peo­ple walk away from the church. They can’t live with the appar­ent con­tra­dic­tion between what they project to oth­ers and who they are on the inside.

I know this is true, because I was that per­son. Qui­et­ly, and with­out cer­e­mo­ny, I decid­ed to pack my spir­i­tu­al bags and get out of the church. I could­n’t fake it anymore.

Like the sign on the plat­form edge of the Lon­don Under­ground, we would do well as a body of believ­ers to Mind the Gap” — in this case the gap between what we say of our­selves and who we actu­al­ly are. 

This authen­tic­i­ty gap is one of the main rea­sons peo­ple don’t press in on the church like they did on Jesus. He spent much of his time try­ing to get away from peo­ple while we, on the oth­er hand, spend much of our time try­ing to get peo­ple to come. Mind the gap.

One way to turn the tables on doubt is by being more hon­est about the chal­lenges of fol­low­ing Christ today. 

Tak­ing this fur­ther, if we were more hon­est about our doubts then the world might be more hon­est about its faith. Per­haps we would be sur­prised how much peo­ple out­side the church actu­al­ly believe, if only we would admit that faith can some­times be a struggle.

This is what authen­tic­i­ty looks like in a world that’s über-sen­si­tive to peo­ple who try to fake it. God does­n’t need our pro­tec­tion and our faith does­n’t need prop­ping up. Peo­ple might even be attract­ed to our integri­ty and — cru­cial­ly — they might be drawn into hon­est con­ver­sa­tions about the kingdom.

So what do we do with our doubts then? Dal­las made the cru­cial point that expe­ri­ence shows again and again that when you allow peo­ple to act on the lit­tle that they do believe, the rest will follow.

We can’t make our­selves believe any­thing. We just have to have enough con­fi­dence in Jesus, and think well enough of him, to set off into a deep­er life with God. Only then do we find out whether it works or not, and so our faith grows.

The first pas­sage we shared a cou­ple of days ago from John Wes­ley speaks to this point. Here a skep­tic asks what reli­gion Wes­ley preach­es and what is it good for? To some ears the answer he gives is unexpected. 

Wes­ley had a much more every­day and expe­ri­en­tial take on the mes­sage of Jesus than we are often accus­tomed to today. He talks about a reli­gion that makes peo­ple vir­tu­ous and hap­py, easy in them­selves and use­ful to oth­ers. It’s a prac­ti­cal kind of Chris­tian­i­ty that results in peo­ple increas­ing­ly enjoy­ing God and them­selves, lovers of all, con­tent in their lives.

Who would­n’t want this good and beau­ti­ful life? And if they thought that we fol­low­ers of Christ, even with our doubts, were in this gen­uine pur­suit, would­n’t they at least tag along and see what we have to offer?

While the first quote we shared on Wednes­day described the good life that’s found in Jesus, the sec­ond one spoke to how we can get it. Wes­ley lament­ed that with­out join­ing togeth­er those awak­ened and train­ing them in the ways of God we are unin­ten­tion­al­ly cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for doubt. Stark­ly put, we are beget­ting chil­dren for the mur­der­er.

Why? Because get­ting the good life needs a safe envi­ron­ment where we can deal with our doubts and be built up in Christ. How much preach­ing has there been for these twen­ty years, but no reg­u­lar soci­eties, no dis­ci­pline, no order, or con­nec­tion?

He’s talk­ing about the church. Places where we can deal with our doubt in the safe­ty of those who know and love us, and won’t judge us for being vul­ner­a­ble. With­out such places, accord­ing to Wes­ley, the con­se­quence is that nine in ten of those once awak­ened are now faster asleep than ever. They sim­ply walk away.

Mov­ing to where we can talk open­ly about the good life would not only sweep up many of our doubts, it would also be more authen­tic for those who want the same life, but don’t know how to get it. Seek first with integri­ty what you know of the king­dom and sure­ly the rest will follow.

📚 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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