Dealing With Doubt – Part 2

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas The following is adapted from a message I gave last Sunday about faith and doubt. I should have the podcast available soon, but until then I thought I would adapt some of it into a couple of blog posts for those that don’t have the time to listen to the entire message. On Monday I focused on the church’s response to doubt. Today I’m focusing on those of us who doubt and offer some thoughts on how I think we should handle our struggle.

 

How do we deal with the doubts in our lives?

The simple truth is there are no easy answers to most of the doubts and struggles we face.

Which is why I am convinced that when we find ourselves riddled with doubt, it’s not answers we should go in search of. Definitive answers leave no space for faith and as Christians it is faith not answers that lead us to salvation. As the writer Anne Lamont one wrote, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” Faith simply wouldn’t be faith if we had all the answers.

But in our doubt, it’s not even faith that we should begin searching for.

It’s hope.

Hope is the expectation of better things to come. At the heart of that expectation is trust, trust that the God who calls us will provide, that the God who promised to watch over will be faithful, that the God who leads us into the wilderness will be by our side every step of the way.

It is in that trust, in that hopeful expectation that one day all things will be made new that we are led to faith.

But of course, faith is never easy. Doubt is often harder. It sometimes causes unbearable pain.

Some days my doubts get so strong it’s all I can do just to hang on to my faith.

But what does keep me hanging on isn’t a list of secret answers I’ve read in a book or a special theological paradigm I’ve learned that will get me out of all my difficult questions about God and faith. It’s not a powerful worshipful service that I once attended or a transformative conference I went to.

I keep holding on to my faith because of people.

Now, I know all too well that it is also people that cause so many of us, myself included, to doubt. Hypocritical Christians, abusive priests, corrupt church leaders, evil people of every kind are more than enough to cause us all to doubt our faith in God, if not lose it all together.

But I hold onto my faith, and in particular in my belief in the resurrection, because I have encountered the resurrected Christ in my own life. Not in the sense of a ghostly apparition or a heavenly vision, but in the flesh – in friends and neighbors and strangers who have extend love and grace to me and the world around them in ways that none of us deserve. And in doing so they have given me the hope necessary to sustain my faith, hope that maybe, just maybe there is a God and maybe, just maybe that God really is a work in the world reconciling everything and everyone to himself.

For me, I find that answers and rationalizations and justifications often do very little to ease my doubts. To be sure, they have a place and can be helpful, but for me, the only thing I’ve found that has come close to easing my doubts is the hope I find in incarnation.

In the incarnated love and grace and healing of God embodied in the lives of people.

Which is why I believe that when find ourselves wandering in the wilderness of doubt, the question is not where do turn for answers, but where do find oases of hope in a desert of despair.

Of course, the church is a good place to start your search, but God is at work in incredible ways beyond the doors of our sanctuaries. God has to be, otherwise everything we do within those four walls would be an utter waste of time.

And, besides, as the Bible teaches us time and time again, God is not always hanging out where we expect to find him. Sometimes, a lot of times God is found at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places.

Which means if we’re struggling with doubt and want to search for God we must cast our gaze beyond the church.

Try volunteering at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and you will see Matthew 25 come to life before your eyes. You’ll witness God work through the love and generosity of men and women just like you and me to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give the thirsty something to drink.

Take the time to follow a hospice chaplain as they go about their daily calling. Watch as God’s love and grace and comfort and peace are poured out on the lost, the least, and the dying.

Find one of the saints of the church who has spent decades of their lives walking with God and listen to their story of God’s faithfulness, of how God has been faithful to God’s promises in their lives time and time and time again.

Visit a clinic in a neighborhood you otherwise would avoid and see the healing touch of God at work through doctors and nurses donating their time to heal the sick who can’t afford to pay for treatment.

Speak with someone whose life has been shattered by addiction and put back together through the compassion and patience and care of strangers who have no obligation to them other than love for neighbor and you will see God’s redemptive work in the world unfolding before your eyes.

You won’t find definitive answers in these places. None of the people you meet will be ease all of your doubts. But you will find God incarnated before you eyes and you will find hope and you may just find yourself back on the path to faith.

I don’t know where you find yourself.

Maybe you’re in the Promise Land, maybe your life is flowing with milk and honey and your faith is strong.

Or maybe you’re wandering in the wilderness and your faith is all dried up and you don’t know where to turn.

I wish there were magic words I could say that would erase your doubts. I wish there was a step by step program I could teach you that you could follow and never struggle with faith again.

But there’s not. Even a visit to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter isn’t a cure-all.

But I hope I can offer you some comfort, perhaps a respite for your journey, or maybe just maybe even a little bit of hope.

I want you to know you are not alone.

Although it may not look like it, even at church you are surrounded by a whole host of witnesses who have doubts of their own, who have struggled or are struggling or will struggle to see God at work in their lives. Lean on them. Learn from them.

I want you to know that God is not angry with you for doubting your faith and neither is the church.

It’s ok to doubt. It’s healthy to doubt. And as we’ve already seen, the Bible is filled with stories of people who doubted God. The writer of Hebrews talks about those very doubters when he writes,

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

God is not ashamed of you and neither is the church.

And finally don’t stop asking questions. Don’t quit searching for God. Don’t give up on hope.

I want you to know that there is hope all around you if you just know where to look. It won’t always be obvious. It wont always appear in burning bushes or parting seas or fire from heaven. It’ll come in helping hands and open arms, in shoulders to cry on and listening ears, in grace extended to the undeserving and love poured out on the unlovable.

It’ll come in the quite whispers of life we over look and take for granted.

It’ll come when you least expect it.

But if you’re searching, if your looking, if you’re hoping to find God.

God will find you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

 

 

  • Dan Jensen

    With all respect Mr. Hunt, your definition of faith flies in the face of Hebrews 11:1; James 1:5-8; and II Peter 1:10-11.

    • http://www.lauraljohnson.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

      Did Zack give a definition of faith?

      I would suggest that the verses you point out- particularly Hebrews 11, are rather poorly translated and understood in our western/modern mindset (a mindset that is much more ‘knowledge’ obsessed in our views of everything, including faith). Certainty is a psychological/mental/emotional state of being in our western understanding. I don’t think the NT authors were very concerned with how certain the Christian *felt*. They were concerned with these people being willing to follow God into the wilderness like Abraham- they were concerned with trust. Look at the emphasis of action in Heb 11… this speaks to me.

      I know I basically said this in our last convo, but freedom from fearfully trying to make myself feel certain has resulted in more faith and faithfulness in my life, not less.

      • Dan Jensen

        What’s up Laura, I hope you are having a good morning and I appreciate the comment. As far as the last paragraph I do appreciate your experience, but again I cannot use experience as a test of truth. I had all sorts of experiences before becoming a Christian and if each of them are determinative of truth then there is no truth because many of them were blatantly contradictory.

        I grant you that Mr. Hunt has not given any formal definition of faith. But he has said a great deal about his understanding of faith which clearly presupposes a definition of faith at least to some extent on his part. And this definition clearly includes the belief that faith does not include absolute certainty and I am very convinced that this definition cannot be squared with Scripture.

        I agree that the first verse in Hebrews 11 is often poorly translated and that it is a difficult verse to translate. But most of the really poor translations are actually quite poor because they water down the extremely strong language used in the Greek in that text. The most accurate translations correctly emphasize the certainty of faith that is being proclaimed emphatically in that text. The words that are used in that text really are remarkably strong and make the view of faith that is being espoused by so many in this forum quite untenable.

        As far as the western/modern mindset argument, I have to say that I come across this all the time both among scholars and laity and it really is grossly exaggerated and overplayed. There were stark differences among the Hebrews and the Greeks and there are stark differences between both of those groups and us today. But these differences are often used to twist the words of Scripture so that the Bible can never ever be made to say anything that would fit into a modern/western mindset and at times (although I am not at all saying this is what you were doing here) the stretches that are made become almost laughable.

        It is true that the modern/western mindset is far more “knowledge” obsessed than the Hebrews and really the ancient world as a whole. But I am no modern rationalist by any stretch of the imagination even though I am often accused of this by Emergents (again not that you have accused me of this). Having said this, the Bible extolls the virtues of knowledge and certainty quite often. Granted knowledge must always be used to the glory of God and to help ourselves and others and never for prideful reasons. But again, knowledge (when used in a practical way) is absolutely praised and commanded of us in Scripture. And when the Greek words in this verse are examined it is next to impossible to interpret this verse in a way that does not see faith as including an element of certitude.

        • http://www.lauraljohnson.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

          Dan,

          With all due respect, I think you really must stop using the term ‘Emergents’. None of us really know what that means. That isn’t to say I haven’t heard the term before, but even 5-10 years ago when it was more of a ‘thing’, it was extremely broad and not well defined… all the more even now.

          Honestly, I doubt there is much more to talk about… you kinda come across as if you believe you are the arbiter of all truth and are gracing these ‘Emergent Blogs’ with your corrections.

          I don’t mean to be rude, and it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed discussing… but I suppose I’m wondering why, since you obviously have nothing to learn from these blogs, you spend time here. Is it that you hope to correct us who are in error? If so, I certainly understand the motivation, as I know I’ve gotten into untold numbers of discussions with similar motives (not actually something I’ve very proud of). But I would suggest that your overall attitude of constant certainty about all things theological, etc actually work against you, not for you.

          • Dan Jensen

            Hey Laura. I will try not to use the term so much, but Mr. Hunt is clearly a part of that camp in my opinion and most of the comments that I have read in this forum do reflect the doctrines of that movement whether they realize it or not.

            For what it’s worth I in no way believe that I am the arbiter of all truth who is here to grace people with my presence. But you have to understand that because I am a white, very conservative Evangelical, Calvinist, complementarian I am called all sorts of nasty things and my views are challenged and vilified all the time and so it is very hard for me to see why I shouldn’t challenge that. You have no idea how often I read something and I just let it go because I understand that is just part of life. But I cannot in good conscience always do that. And Mr. Hunt wrote some very strong pieces about my camp recently that were very misleading and inaccurate and I felt that he needed to be challenged.

            And I genuinely do want to learn from these blogs. And I have learned from them. Often I will compliment my theological adversaries and if I were to come here often enough I can guarantee I would do so towards Mr. Hunt. The problem is that when these blogs seek to refute my positions they do not ever want to have to answer for their bad arguments. Now if I’m wrong and I’m the one making the bad arguments then I would genuinely like to be refuted and in that process I would indeed be learning. But usually I’m just called names and told what a “meany” I am.

            And I am not in any way certain about all things theological. I am quite uncertain about the vast majority of things theological and because I work at a very conservative evangelical school people here often get frustrated with me in the opposite direction. I remember one time during devotions a godly, yet extremely conservative teacher friend of mine, asked me in front of everyone about a passage that he wasn’t sure about and I told him that it is highly debated and I really didn’t know how to interpret the passage and he shrugged in frustration and said, “Ahh, sometimes it seems like everything is debatable with you scholars.” I don’t think he meant it to sound as bad as it did, but I do not believe I know everything at all. But on some things the evidence is so strong that it would be dishonest for me to say that I am unsure about it.

            Finally, when it comes to things that are almost purely academic and not of great practical import I usually keep my opinions to myself or between other academics. But on this issue of doubt I am convinced that it has tremendous practical importance and that many today are leading people astray and so I am going to speak out against this as a pastor and a teacher.

          • http://www.lauraljohnson.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

            I guess what I’m saying is, if you feel the need to challenge things certain bloggers say, there are much better ways to do it that. Perhaps part of the reason you might get called nasty names isn’t necessarily because you are male or white or conservative, etc, but because you come across, at least in this format, like a self important know-it-all. And part of the reason you may feel you get dismissed by these bloggers might have something to do with the way you come across as well.

            Let me make an honest suggestion: When you challenge, try asking questions. For example: ‘Zack, how do you reconcile your view of faith and doubt with the Hebrews 11? It seems to me to be at odds.’… or ‘Rachel, I feel like you are painting complementarians with a broad brush. What do you do with people like me and many others like me who wouldn’t at all be representative of the kinds of things you are saying?’
            THIS welcomes a manageable and possibly fruitful dialogue. Now this doesn’t mean every blogger with have/take the time to respond to you, or that every one will even be nice (both sides have plenty of people who can be pretty harsh)… but at least you give them more reason to want to talk to you.

            The way you tend to come across is: ‘You are so wrong because your interpretation of X is wrong and unBiblical.’ (and with a whole lot more words)- This type of dialogue feels ENDLESS and honestly pointless.

            I actually believe you probably aren’t as self-important as you come across… but I’m just letting you know that IS how you come across.

          • Dan Jensen

            I really appreciate what you are saying on some level. I am very passionate about biblical truth and so I can come off as defensive and forceful and I do need to tone it down sometimes.

            Having said that, I think you misunderstood what I was saying about being accused of things. Most of the time I am not being accused of this directly, but indirectly when people paint people in my camp a certain way. For instance, I cannot tell you often I have read on blogs or elsewhere that the only reason male, white, conservative evangelicals like myself tend to vote Republican is because we are implicitly racist power mongers. That is infuriating to me and so the idea that I’m going to respond with nice questions or without a level of “back up what you are saying” just doesn’t seem fair to me. And that is one of the biggest rubs I have with those who have a postmodern bent. It really seems to me that they want to be able to criticize away, but when challenged the challenger must just be a judgmental jerk that just doesn’t get it.

            The other thing that I really struggle with is the way in which I feel postmodern people want to impose their version of civil dialogue onto the rest of us. It is a staple of that philosophical approach that one should not say much of anything in a dogmatic fashion (although as stated in my previous paragraph I do not believe this if followed very consistently very often). But I don’t believe this form of dialogue is remotely helpful to anyone. Change has taken place throughout history through strong debate and dialogue and when things are of the utmost importance I still believe it best to state things clearly and with passion. Even though it is very rare today, I find it exceedingly refreshing when I debate with a Muslim, or a Mormon, or a Jehovah’s Witness, or what have you, who is knowledgeable and passionate and does no hesitate to assert his or her position with clarity, but who is willing to dialogue in a firm and yet reasonable manner. This allows me to expose the flaws in his or her arguments and for him or her to do the same to my own. I find a real thin skinned spirit among postmodern advocates and it is frustrating to me because I believe it stifles progress.

            Finally, I understand that you think this form of dialogue is pointless. But I do not believe that to be the case at all. I am not a pragmatist. I do not measure success simply by what seems to outwardly work. If many people dialogued with me according to postmodern presuppositions I might have had a lot more conversations, but at the end of the day I’m not sure I prove all that much. And I think I have shown to those with an open mind that Mr. Hunt is not at all interested in being challenged. He simply wants to dismiss conservative evangelicals like myself as not worth his time. This allows him to criticize away without having to answer for his criticisms. That is unethical and I really have demonstrated that. I would add that when I first came to this blog I kindly introduced myself and nicely asked if he wanted to dialogue and he made it very clear that he did not want to. At that point he left me little choice but to challenge strongly.

          • http://www.lauraljohnson.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

            I hear what you are saying about people criticizing your group as a whole- painting with a broad brush. I get that- sometimes dismissive language is thrown at my general group(s) as well- femi-nazis, wishy washy liberals, ‘people who don’t value the Bible’, or, when talking to people to the left of me I might get called a ‘racist neo-con’ for voting too conservative. And you know what I have learned? Responding in a way where I can try and understand where people are coming from (asking questions for example) genuinely gets me further in a conversation. Maybe it’s not ‘fair’. My concern as a believer shouldn’t be what’s ‘fair’ for me. Any ways, when I ask questions, sometimes I really learn something about why people have such different perspectives. Maybe it’s just a post-modern thing to care about people’s different perspectives. I suppose you could say you only care about ‘truth’ (which is likely your particular modern perspective)… but I happen to think people’s individual perspectives genuinely matter. I think I have something to learn from them. Perhaps they have good reason to think as they do, perhaps their reasons will seem shallow. In either case, I find the way Jesus interacted with people to have been very engaged with and caring about the whole person- and sometimes nuanced and even open ended at times in how He expressed truth.

            Christianity is more than knowledge or a set of beliefs. It runs deeper… I think the goal for a Jesus disciple should always be to draw people closer to Jesus- this doesn’t always happen well when our first concern our ‘rightness’.

            And I’m not suggesting you never assert a belief. I’m suggesting you learn how to interact in a way where your concern is for more than ‘proving’ your point. You can ‘prove’ all the truth in the world and it will sound great in your own head, but you will sound like a know-it-all to those ‘post-moderns’ who really value being treated as real people and not just ‘theological adversaries’. ;)

          • Dan Jensen

            Thanks Laura. You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m going to have to give a short response and this will have to be my last one as the weekend is a very busy time for me as a pastor. I have a youth event tonight and so today alone is pretty crazy for me.

            First, I just want to make it clear that when I said “not fair” I really was not all that concerned about people being fair to me as an individual. I honestly care very little about that. I was talking more about fair to me as a representative of a larger group that I feel protective for and I am convinced that on that front my point is still very valid. Christianity is of course far, farm more than knowledge, but it is not devoid of knowledge and that is crucially important. I completely agree that we must treat people as people created in the image of God and I always seek to do this. I do not go around debating everyone, but this is a blog with a polemical side and so debate here should be expected especially when very strong things are said about those who hold to my position.

            And I simply have to disagree in regard to how Christ treated people. Yes, He was so loving, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, kind, understanding, etc., and I try with God’s help to follow that example as much as I can. But Christ was also at times very fierce, stern, combative, challenging, etc. And He was not only this way with the religious leaders as is so often asserted today. I also must follow Christ’s example in this regard as well.

            I have really enjoyed discussing things with you and I wish you the very best. God bless!!

        • Karen

          Hi Dan,

          I dispute greatly that we cannot use experience as a test of truth. This is one of the most obvious fallacies I have read that you have written (but what you express here is a common false belief in many modern Christian traditions). In fact, because of how we are constructed as developing (i.e., imperfect) embodied creatures in a material world and social creatures in a social world, and spiritual creatures in a spiritual world, we absolutely must factor in our experience (physical, social and spiritual) as a test of truth, and, in fact, all the evidence from both Scripture and physical, biological and social science points to this reality. We simply cannot learn in any meaningful sense of the term unless we get constant objective feedback from the realities outside our own concepts and rational interpretation of them from the world around us. Not only the “objective reality” of the world around us instructs us, but also the realities of our own inner psychological and spiritual construction by God give us this feedback. Have you never read of how the Scripture speaks (in Luke 24) of the “hearts burning” within those who were in contact with the living Christ, even when their conscious intellect was unaware of Who He was? Have you not understood the Lord’s chastisement of those whose hearts were stoney and cold in their hardness even though they diligently studied and expounded the Scriptures and or outwardly followed all of the demands of the Law?

          The fact that we are actually developmentally wired to learn from interaction with our experiences from conception and birth and that there can be no cognitive conceptual development without constant interaction (in a check and balance sort of way) with the realities of our experiences and sensual/perceptive assimilation of them is instructive. Do not even the Scriptures tell us that God reveals Himself, not only through the written, inspired texts, but through the whole of His creation, by the deep convictions of the Holy Spirit speaking within the depths of the human heart (without which we would never come to recognize Jesus Christ for Who He is nor the “inspired” nature of the Christian Scriptures), and especially all His fullness in the living Person of Jesus Christ, Who remains present “unto the end of the age” by His Holy Spirit within the Church He established? All of these “objective” realities are experiential in nature and anything we really “know” in terms of more than empty and spiritually impotent “head knowledge”, is gained only by experience and by attempting to put into practice (i.e., obey) what we think we understand (conceptually) from the Scriptures and how they have been interpreted to us within our traditions.

          An “understanding” of what the Scripture teaches that is merely constructed from propositional Aristotelian logic using various of the Scripture’s statements is worthless unless it is tested through experience (and not only ours, but that of the whole people of God throughout the ages) and found to produce human beings who actually come into a living communion with and take on the very likeness of Christ (attended by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power). Only those who are actually motivated by the things that motivated our Lord and, consequently, who really look, act, and speak the most like Him as He is revealed in the Gospels are those who have properly understood the intent and meaning of the Scriptures.

          • Karen

            Let that last sentence read rather: “Only those who are actually motivated by the things that motivated our Lord and, consequently, who really look, act, and speak the most like Him as He is revealed in the Gospels and made manifest in the lives of the Saints in every age of the Church are those who have properly understood the intent and meaning of the Scriptures.”

          • Dan Jensen

            Hey Karen, don’t worry about the long winded responses, I completely understand that tackling these subjects often takes time and I often write very long comments to the great frustration of many. You did touch on a ton of key issues though and so I will just highlight a few here. If you feel that I need to address something else more in-depth let me know and eventually you and I may need to transition to email. I can give you my email if you are not comfortable with putting yours out there publicly.

            It dawned on my later but I don’t think I responded to the statement about proving the existence of God in an objective absolute sense. I cannot here dive into the theistic arguments, but if they are examined with an open mind it is quickly seen that they are unassailable. I know many point out to the many alleged refutations, but these are almost always based on misunderstandings of the arguments. Even Kant, who is often said to have destroyed them, doesn’t even understand that argument from causality correctly.

            As far as what I mean by absolute certainty I simply mean that we can know something to be absolutely and objectively true deep down, but that this does not mean that on the surface of our feelings we will not struggle to fully embrace this truth that is know with certainty.

            As far as knowledge and the Pharisees, knowledge or a lack thereof was not the problem. The problem was their corrupt hearts that sought to distort the objective facts for their own ends. I am in no way saying that we are saved by knowledge. We must submit to the knowledge and the facts and in so doing give ourselves to the true Christ by entering into a very personal relationship with Him. But in order to do this there must be some knowledge of the gospel present and it is our duty as Christians to grow in our knowledge of Christ through the Scriptures, not so that we can simply know more about Him in a purely cognitive sense as an end to itself as was the case with the Pharisees, but so that our relationship can grow deeper.

            I am in no way trying to discount our experiences or the data that we receive from the empirical world. You have badly misunderstood me on that front. I am a firm believer in the basic reliability of our senses and so I am a hardly a rationalist even though I am so often accused of that. Of course our experience is the doorway for all of the information that is given to us that must be processed by our reason. The point though is that the information must be processed and only our reason can test and interpret that information to arrive at concrete conclusions.

            Take any experience from life and it must be interpreted by our reason. Hence, I could take one of the most bizarre and confusing experiences from my childhood. When I was very young, around 4, I was running around my grandmother’s house with my cousins trying to find my cousins that kept hiding in places. At one point I ran into my grandmother’s bedroom and opened up her closet door and when I opened the door the closet was empty except for a woman who had hung herself. I screamed extremely loudly and my mother and grandmother came running in to see what on earth had happened. I told them something was in the closet and when they opened it the woman was gone and the closet was filled with clothes. I was rather confused and terrified to say the least.

            I spent a lot of time during my growing up years trying to figure out what on earth happened that day. Was I hallucinating, was it a ghost, was it a demon. I honestly had no idea. The only thing I knew was that I had this experience. Now the data from this experience of course has to be taken into account when trying to determine what actually happened that day. But the experience itself is in no way a test for what actually happened. It forms a crucial part of the body of evidence that must be used in the assessment process, but at the end of the day the only test of what actually happened is my reason looking at the evidence from the experience itself as well as all of the other evidence at the disposal of my reason.

            Hence, once I began to study the Bible it became clear to me that I must have either hallucinated the experience or it was demonic. The ghost option is not on the table because the Bible teaches that ghosts do not exist and since the Bible can be proven to be objectively true that is my only option. I’m still left with some mystery, but even that is a conclusion from my reason that has concluded based on that evidence that I cannot choose between those two options because as of now I do not have enough evidence to make that determination.

            And the same thing is true of the experiences found in Scripture. I am in no way denying the wonderful experiences people had that are described for us in the Bible. I myself have had amazing experiences with God. However, these experiences were never meant to be ends in themselves. They always had to be interpreted by the objective facts of God’s word to determine if they were indeed from God or not. Obviously when people realized that the experiences were in accord with the word of God they could immediately know that they indeed had a wonderful experience with God.

            As far as the validity of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is of course true that no denomination is perfect and so you should not have been surprised by the fact that every denomination has passages it struggles to address. But the answer is never to simply submit to any denomination as having all of the answers. We all have to interpret the Bible for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. And Eastern Orthodoxy blatantly contradicts the Bible in its teaching that we are justified by faith alone. And on many other less essential doctrines, albeit ones that are very important, I am convinced that it is terribly unlikely that the Eastern Orthodox positions are correct. If you want to debate these doctrines individually I would be happy to do that.

            I am really enjoying our discussion and I am happy to keep it going for as long as you would like. But I think it would be far more fruitful at this point if we picked one topic at a time and engaged that issue very carefully through an email correspondence. Just let me know. Thanks so much and God bless!

          • Karen

            Thank you, Dan. Very kind of you to respond despite your busyness (as a pastor!).

            If I can summarize the gist of the difference in our perspectives in this conversation, it would be that you, interpreting the Scriptures and your experiences, as a Calvinist-leaning Evangelical, seem to want to make the human capacity for abstract reasoning (and your own individual conscience?) the ultimate arbiter of everything you experience or read in the Scriptures. Now, obviously, I believe you’d probably see some conceptual problems by my putting it this way, and, in fact, you could never have arrived at many of the conclusions you have about Scripture using your own reason and your own conscience alone. What you are actually doing is using your reason and your own conscience and some combination of (not fully critically examined) assumptions from the extrabiblical (and often novel from the perspective of Church history) interpretive traditions from the Protestant Reformers as the grid through which you interpret both your Christian experience and the Scriptures.

            I have found there to be some problems with that approach, both Scriptural and practical, and have found the Eastern Orthodox perspective (properly understood–it takes awhile for a Christian trained in the western traditions and in the wake of the polemics of the Reformation and Counter Reformation to begin to figure that out) to offer a more fully biblical faith and practice.

            I, too, appreciate the chance to dialogue and agree this is not the place to debate the whole Eastern Orthodox issue. I’m fairly confident, given my own experiences and what you have stated in your comments here that you have a lot of common misconceptions about what Eastern Orthodoxy is and teaches, and there are some places I could recommend as a way to get started to see what some of those might be if you are interested. In any case, if you wanted a debate, I’m confident I’m far too ignorant to satisfy the level of questions you would want answered in such a debate, but I feel confident that there are others out there more well-versed and well-read on that level than I and who also understand both Reformed and Eastern Orthodox teachings well who would serve as much more worthy debate partners. One possibility would be Fr. Josiah Trenham, a former Reformed believer, now an Orthodox priest. You could use his name to search the Internet and find out how to access his writings, sermons and podcasts or him personally by email. Also there is this blog site:

            http://orthodoxbridge.com/

            God bless!

          • Dan Jensen

            At the end of the day though the only way to test beliefs is through our reason. I fully grant how clouded our reason can get from our cultural backgrounds, but that is precisely why robust debate is so necessary. And I was not raised in a Christian home and so I really did not come to the Bible with Protestant, Evangelical, and certainly not Calvinist presuppositions. You could certainly argue that my western upbringing clouded things, but again how can I know this unless I am convinced by a reasoned argument. If everyone says that his or her experience is definitive for truth claims that all argument is over and I can just say that I believe I’m right because of my experiences and so there is still no reason for my to accept Eastern Orthodoxy.

            As far as novel doctrines are concerned, many doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox church are quite novel despite the repeated claim of your community to the contrary. Many of the doctrines are nowhere to be found in Scripture which even from a purely historical point of view is our earliest record of what the earliest Christians believe, and many other doctrines can be found in germ form in the early days of the church but they took a long time to fully develop and they were challenged by many along the way.

            I’ll look into the link, but I’ve had to study Eastern Orthodoxy quite a bit throughout my theological training as I had to study all of the movements that lay claim to Christian truth down through the centuries. I’m sure I could learn a lot and I am always open to being corrected, but I doubt that I would find that I’ve badly misunderstood Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole in the process. I’ve many conversations with Eastern Orthodox adherents and rarely am I told that I’m misrepresenting or misunderstanding them, we usually just disagree. Usually the arguments come down to church history arguments and I’ve found that the Eastern Orthodox individual is usually banking on the fact that the Evangelical will know little of church history (and I fully grant that sadly this is usually the case), but are rather disappointed and frustrated when it becomes clear that I’ve studied just as much if not more church history and I just don’t find the historical arguments convincing.

            Thanks again for the great interaction!

          • Karen

            With regard to the modern philosophical paradigms we absorb that cloud the truly biblical one (and this affects modern Orthodox, too), this is a particular interest of another Orthodox priest (and former Protestant) whose blog is here:

            http://glory2godforallthings.com/

            You might find his various posts on the impact of secularism on faith and his metaphor of the “One vs. Two-Storey Universe” thought-provoking. It is hard not to absorb something of the “zeitgeist” for all of us because we’ve been swimming in that mindset now in the Western world for nearly 500 years.

          • Dan Jensen

            I will look into it, but again this is all stuff I had to spend hours reading, studying, and discussing/debating. And at the end of the day I truly believe all of it gets terribly exaggerated. The philosophical paradigms of our upbringing do indeed cloud our judgment, but at the end of the day people are still people with common sense first principles and when these are used in any culture the same basic conclusions are reached. I’ve read too much historical theology and commentaries from every era of church history and time and time again most bad doctrines come from bad argumentation that is often challenged by others during the same time period. None of us are ever going to have theology down, but when it comes to the essentials of the Bible, they are abundantly clear to anyone who approaches the Bible with an open mind and there are solid common sense principles by which we can through God’s help do our best to come to good conclusions on all non-essential doctrines.

          • Karen

            You’re right there is a multitude of stuff one could sift through. Certainly, there is no rush and this is purely if you have the interest. I just find Fr. Stephen has a knack for putting his finger on some things I’ve experienced intuitively, but couldn’t quite describe about how our modern habits of thought tend to distance us (perceptually) from God. One little way this manifests itself is our experience of frequently finding there is a disjunction for us between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” (specifically, making the first sort of knowledge from Scripture into the latter in our lives). I can’t tell you how much I heard this complaint in my former Evangelical circles. I find the Orthodox approach to Christian faith helps me make a better connection between the two.

          • Dan Jensen

            I agree that this is a huge problem within the evangelical church today. But the roots of this are not rooted in rationalist or modernist assumptions as is so often erroneously asserted. The reason for this is because of the fact that Dispensational heresies have so strongly influenced the American church. Dispensationalists taught that as long as one believed in Christ intellectually he or she would be saved and this is blatant heresy. Now of course no true church can ever fully embrace such a teaching, but it does seep into many churches in various ways when these churches embrace false (albeit not heretical in the full sense of that word) teachings from the Dispensational movement. But non-Dispensational churches, especially Reformed ones, have never embraced this dichotomy and have fought against it tooth and nail from the inception of Dispensationalism especially when elements of the movement began to infiltrate true churches.

            The answer to this false dichotomy is not Eastern Orthodoxy, but a biblical view of faith which is not merely knowledge and assent, but is also trust. These were always seen as the three key elements to faith in Protestant churches until the ugly dawn of Dispensationalism.

          • Karen

            For me, Eastern Orthodoxy (that is, everything that is essential to the EO understanding) is the only fully biblical view of faith. Everything in Protestantism that relies on the theological paradigm of the “Solas” ends up being reductionist in some area of faith, distorts some aspect of biblical truth and makes it impossible to truly fully trust God (to the extent that we are trying to be faithful to that distorted understanding). I agree that Dispensationalism is a heresy, but I think it is naive to lay all of the distortion of the faith that exists in its modern Evangelical expressions at that door. I think likely we will have to agree to disagree here.

          • Dan Jensen

            We may indeed have to agree to disagree. But I never said that all distortions of the faith that exist within evangelicalism are the fault of Dispensationalism. I said that the head/heart dichotomy is primarily the fault of that movement and that is true. The Protestant solas are in no way reductionist. Those who deny them are trying to add things to the faith that simply are not there. The great irony is that Protestantism is so often accused of being untenable because it is so late, when in point of fact it has always been trying to return the beliefs of the early church and in the process reject all of the doctrines of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy that developed later, sometimes much later, in church history.

          • Karen

            Dan,

            Of course, I understand the Reformers were trying to get back to the basics of Apostolic Christianity. Certainly, Orthodox can have many sympathies with the Reformers’ concerns with Roman Catholic abuses and excesses and its teaching on indulgences, etc., but the Orthodox perspective (as you may realize) is that in their eagerness to throw off the Roman papal yoke, the Reformers failed in their objective in certain important respects and ended up throwing out much of the “baby” of true Apostolic tradition out with the “bathwater” of Roman Catholic abuses, accretions and distortions. as well as adopting novel doctrines like “Sola Scriptura”. The result is the modern landscape of Protestant Christendom comprised of what amounts to multiple voluntary associations of like-minded professing Christians with ever-diverging doctrines and multiple and contradictory understandings of the sacraments. All this is in the name of fidelity to Scripture which shows the belief the Scriptures are self-interpreting and so can serve as a self-standing authority is untenable.

          • Dan Jensen

            With the utmost respect, and I truly mean that as you have proven yourself to be a worthy theological opponent (very intelligent, well read, and articulate, and I think anyone who has read my comments can tell that I’m not given to flattery as I strongly believe it to be unbiblical), the Eastern Orthodox arguments, which I’ve read, heard, and discussed many times, simply don’t wash, they just don’t.

            The fact is that there is great diversity within Eastern Orthodoxy as well. Throughout church history most of the divisions were on a national level and most of these nations functioned like denominations within Eastern Orthodoxy. The only difference is that there exists a more formal union within Eastern Orthodoxy, but formal unions often lead to dead orthodoxy, a constant problem within both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. We do not believe the Bible advocates formal unity in all instances for that very reason and therefore it is a circular argument to use our lack of formal unity against us. I once had a conversation with a Russian Orthodox man and he was highly critical of the theology and practice of the Greek Orthodox church. His view of many doctrines was quite contradictory to the theology of many other Orthodox followers. And I work at an interdenominational institution where we have very different views on lesser doctrinal points, but we are fully united on all of the essentials. So the unity argument is completely unconvincing.

            As far as throwing out the baby with the bathwater, there simply is no evidence of this. All you can do is point to certain teachings of the early church (you can’t point to all of them because many Orthodox teachings are quite late, again making the argument for late development being a sign of falsehood utterly vacuous) and say that this proves that Protestant theology must have veered from the truth. But the Bible itself, again and again, shows how quickly the people of God can stray from the truth. So you have to show us that these early teachings that we reject really were a part of Apostolic teaching. And the only way to do this is to look at what the Apostles actually taught and we know this from their writings. And when we examine their writings we find all of the Protestant doctrines asserted and nowhere do we find the Orthodox teachings.

            Of all of the solas the one that is the most clearly attested in the Apostolic witness, especially the Pauline witness, is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. There are few Apostolic teachings that are taught more explicitly, emphatically, and repeatedly than this doctrine. So the Eastern Orthodox’s passionate rejection of it is a blatant departure from Apostolic truth.

          • Karen

            All of which is to show you interpret the Scriptures through a Reformation Protestant lens, and I (as the Orthodox) through an earlier one. :-) Seriously, though, I’m not as well read as I may seem, but I have attended the Orthodox Liturgy for more than six years now, which any Orthodox will tell you is the most important way to understand the theological framework of the Orthodox Church. I’ve read books outlining the Liturgy’s historic development. What has been prayed in the Church consistently over the centuries has precedence over what any individual Orthodox today–whether scholar, clergy, or layperson–might have to say.

            I have attended the Divine Liturgy in both the Russian and Antiochian (Syrian/Arab) traditions (the latter more close to the Greek) and watched many more ethnic variations by video. The kind of local variations that you see in a Greek vs. a Russian Orthodox Liturgy in NO WAY compare to the theological and worship variations between Protestant churches in different traditions (all reading their Bibles through the lens of “faith alone” and “Scripture alone”). Please remember that I am coming from a very eclectic (though always conservative) Evangelical Protestant background (for more than 40 years). I’ve seen what goes on in different Protestant denominations and the kind of doctrinal controversies that regularly erupt within Protestant Evangelicalism. What you try to assert here simply doesn’t wash with my experience, not least of which is the spiritual impact each tradition (Evangelical Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox) has had on me and my understanding of what the God revealed in Jesus Christ is like.

            Also, as you probably know, the only time you find the words “faith alone” together in the Scripture is in James 2:24! I find the way the Orthodox interpret the Apostle Paul in Romans 2-4, for example, simply much more consistent with the actual immediate context of these passages and more coherent with the message of the Scriptures taken as a whole than the Reformers, who would have us wrest the words of Paul from their own context in the controversies of the NT period and insert them instead into in the context of the controversies of the Reformation-Counter Reformation (a predominant feature of which were Martin Luther’s neuroses it seems to me!). That is simply anachronistic interpretation. It is error.

            Of course, Orthodox do not believe nor teach that we are saved by performing the works of the Jewish Law. Neither do we believe we are saved by our “good works” (except, of course, in the sense that James teaches in his epistle). Rather Orthodox understand we are saved by the grace of the Holy Spirit who brings us into real communion with Christ in His Church through an active, growing living personal trust in Christ.

            Dan, I respectfully submit (and this thought is not, nor are any I have shared in this thread, original with me), there is no such thing as “dead” orthodoxy. There can be dead nominal believers, but “orthodoxy” is not dead or alive–it is either true (and therefore really “orthodox”) or false (and therefore really “heterodox”, whatever name it wants to go by), and that is what this discussion is really about. I will grant that there are both nominal and committed believers, saintly Holy Spirit-filled people and hypocritical rogues, in all Christian traditions (clergy not exempted).

          • Dan Jensen

            Well you certainly seem well read and you are very articulate and a good debater who can do so without getting heated and so I sincerely commend you for all of those things.

            The key problem is precisely what I was arguing against from the outset though, and you have, unwittingly, really proven my point at every juncture. You consistently fall back on your experience, but if experience is the primary test of truth, then I have no reason to accept anything you have to say at all in regard to Eastern Orthodoxy because I don’t share your experience. I have found Reformed evangelical Christianity to be exceedingly fulfilling and so why should I leave it in favor of Eastern Orthodoxy. Now there is a great deal that I don’t like about Reformed evangelicalism, but I am convinced that it is closest to the truth and so I am morally obligated to continue in that community. But I have overall found it quite fulfilling and while I find some things quite attractive about Orthodoxy, overall I am not terribly drawn to it. So our experiences cancel each other out which is why experience can never be a primary test of truth.

            Of course Eastern Orthodoxy has a more unified liturgy, that is because it is a more formally united church. But Mormonism, and I grew up in the heart of Utah and so I know this very, very well, has tremendous unity when it comes to its theology and worship. Does that make Mormonism true? Of course not. And the comments about dead orthodoxy were just semantics. You know what I mean there, regardless of what labels one wishes to choose. And in all religions where there is a more imposed unity the problem of numerous nominal believers rears its ugly head. It is true that nominal and hypocritical believers (including clergy) are found in every community, but that in no way changes that the problem is far more acute in certain communities. And I honestly don’t know any church historian worth her or his salt that would not admit that both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have had terrible problems with this even though they have indeed had far greater formal unity (although I still think that even the formal unity aspect is often grossly exaggerated).

            And I was not raised in a Christian home and so I think it becomes much harder to say that I read the Bible through a Protestant lens. When I first became saved I wasn’t sure which church to listen to and at first I was most convinced of the arguments for Roman Catholicism even though I was not particularly attracted to that community. But I am passionately committed to truth and objectivity and so if that is where the truth led I would have joined and I almost did. I became convinced of Reformed evangelicalism because I became convinced that it is closest to the truth. And in my experience I have seen a tremendous amount of love, unity, and passion for Christ in all of the evangelical churches and institutions with which I have been associated. I have heard the horror stories and through my study of church history and current trends I am convinced that there are certainly problems, but I personally have not experienced too many of them. So again, if experience is the primary test of truth I have no reason to leave the evangelical community. And I could just as easily turn around and say that you read the Scriptures through an anti-evangelical lens because of your bad experience which led you to EO. I’m not convinced that is the case, but I can just as easily assert that as you can assert that I read the Bible with a Protestant bias.

            And I cannot reiterate more strongly just how much the historical argument doesn’t work. The fact that EO is earlier than Protestantism helps your case not one iota. It is a demonstrable fact of church history that the early church was strongly subordinationistic in its Trinitarian theology. Hence, if earlier is always better then I should not only reject my own Trinitarian theology but EO’s as well. Nicea brought about significant development that was not simply adding to and clarifying past thought, but was overtly correcting prior misconceptions in the church.

            Another major problem with the historical arguments that are so often made by Roman Catholics and EO followers is that it insists the Bible must be interpreted through a lens and that lens is church history. But church history is just as equally open to interpretation as the Bible. If I need the early church to interpret Scripture for me, who is going to interpret the early church for me. And if you give me something I would then need to ask who or what is going to interpret that for me on to infinity. If the early church is so easy to interpret, why is it such a stretch to say that the Apostles (who are clearly more glorious) are even easier to interpret?

            Now I am not saying that any document can reasonably be interpreted without regard to context, both literary and historical. But the Bible should be interpreted like any other book. Certainly the opinions of the earliest Christians are of paramount importance, but the idea that they are absolutely determinative is completely groundless. For example, almost the entire early church believed that women were inferior to men on some level. Does this mean that we should interpret the Bible as teaching the same? No, we have very strong reasons for believing that this was a corruption that seeped into the early church based on almost universally accepted cultural assumptions. Why should we not assume that this same thing happened in other areas as well.

            As far as justification by faith alone is concerned, it matters not that the word “alone” is never used except in James. The word Trinity is never used in the Bible and never are we explicitly told that Christ is equal to the Father and in John 14:28 Christ explicitly tells us that there is a sense in which He is not equal to the Father. But only the cults try to use that fact to deny the deity of Christ. The fact is that the evidence for the equality of the Father and the Son is overwhelming even though it is never explicitly stated and John 14:28 is clearly referring to the human nature of Christ. The same is true for justification by faith alone. Again and again we are told in the Bible that we are justified, saved, or receive eternal life by faith apart from good works. And it is clear in passage after passage that this is not simply referring to works of the Mosaic law or works done apart from the Holy Spirit. If you want a more full defense of this I can provide that. As far as James 2:24 is concerned it is clear in that context that it is talking about being justified in the eyes of men. Theos is not used in that passage and the entire context is about showing our good works to the world and not simply professing to be a Christian.

          • Karen

            Hey Dan! I’m impressed you checked back so soon to this
            comments thread. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and genuinely appreciate your thoughtful engagement with me. As for not becoming heated in these discussions,
            I have to admit that is not something that comes naturally for me, but rather is something I have learned from the Eastern Orthodox spiritual mindset. It is but one of the many spiritual treasures I have discovered in the ancient
            teachings and practices of the Church.

            I would also like to point out although I am indeed coming
            back to my experience, this is not all I have done or am doing. I would hope it is somewhat obvious from this thread my experience is also constantly being tested against the experience of others (throughout history) and also by my
            rational understanding of Scripture as well as the interpretations of both history and Scripture that I have had exposure to. This back and forth between our experience and our reason is something we all have to do. You just did it, too. You just cannot see, perhaps, that you are reading Scripture through as much of a lens and an extra-biblical tradition (that of the Reformers, Puritans, etc.) and as much through your own personal experience as I am.

            It is not very convincing to me you are not influenced by
            Protestant bias because you had no church background growing up—especially because (if I am recalling correctly) you were still a teenager when you became a believer. American culture, particularly American religious culture, is
            positively saturated with Protestant and Evangelical Christian values and assumptions. Furthermore, arguably Evangelicalism is the most well-resourced and aggressively evangelistic form of Christianity in this culture (and around the world). This is also especially true if the only alternative Christian tradition you seriously considered early on was Roman Catholicism. Papal infallibility was a non-starter for me (and that was even before I thought novelty of a dogma—in substance, not just terminology—in the Church was that much of an issue). Also, the paradigm problems within conservative Evangelicalism that drove me to explore the Eastern Orthodox tradition (sort of as an “accident” and a last resort) were still present in the Roman Catholic tradition on which much of Protestant tradition had built itself, though it jettisoned certain details. How interesting that I, raised as an observant Evangelical Protestant from birth with about as strong a bias against Roman Catholicism as anyone could have (EO I figured was just an ethnic popeless version of RCism! J), accepting Christ (for the first time consciously) as an elementary school kid, should recover my simple childhood trust in Christ in my 40s through the Eastern Orthodox Church!

            That said, given your experiences I certainly don’t fault
            you for landing where you have, nor am I trying to talk you into becoming Orthodox. (I try very hard not to confuse myself with the Holy Spirit! LOL!) My primary challenge was to your claim that it is possible to “know” with “absolute certainty” using our reason alone (seemingly implied) that God exists and the Scriptures (or someone’s translation and/or interpretation of them) is true. My aim has also been to point out none of us comes to “the Scriptures alone.” It is demonstrably impossible for anyone to be purely “objective” in their approach to either history or the Scriptures. We all have lenses, even if we are unaware of them. I’m aware of and admitting my lens—I’m just asking (supposedly) “sola
            Scriptura” Evangelicals to do the same.

            As to your accusation of comparatively large numbers of
            merely nominal members in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, I challenge you to study the quality of the faith of the nominal or formal members
            of any Christian (or non-Christian) religious tradition that functions as the state religion/church, and you will discover the cause of vast numbers of “nominal” members (Swedish Lutherans, anyone?). Is it not disturbing to you also that sources like the Barna Research Group have shown that there is no statistical difference between the lifestyles (e.g., divorce rates, etc.) of those professing to be “born-again” Christians and formally belonging to Evangelical churches in the U.S. and the wider culture? You also have to try to
            explain why those who are arguably the most genuinely and radically faithful to the teaching and spiritual tradition of the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Churches end up looking like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa
            and this: http://everyday-saints.com/fatherjohn.htm

            Please understand, I’m not arguing that there are not also
            very observant members of Protestant traditions who lead very godly and even heroic Christian lives through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Like Bp. Kallistos (Ware), I do not believe the Orthodox Church has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. There are also those in all Christian traditions who pride themselves on their faithfulness or doctrinal correctness, who turn out to be rank hypocrites when you look under the surface (or even glaringly on the surface)!

            Zack, thanks for your indulgence and allowing us to
            diverge so far from your post. You have been a very gracious host/moderator! I totally agree “. . . if you’re searching, if your [sic] looking, if you’re hoping to find God. . . .God will find you.”

            Thanks, Dan, for your comments and challenges. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. God bless.

          • Karen

            As an addendum, the correlation you are positing between uniformity of dogma and nominal belief seems quite spurious. It in no way logically implies causation. I have suggested a more probable correlation between state-supported religion and nominal belief of its members. Your insinuation also doesn’t explain why after centuries of Muslim domination and after decades of Communist suppression in historically Orthodox regions of the world, the basic formal unity of dogma (and the clinging to the moral tradition of the NT) with what was, by definition, the orthodox Church of the first millennium persists to this day within the Eastern Orthodox communion of churches (and to a great extent also within what is the formally accepted teaching of Roman Catholicism–it seems to me not insignificant that in the West it is the Roman Catholics who have always led the way in championing the sanctity of human life, and Evangelicals were relative late-comers to that effort). Also, if we take Swedish or German Lutherans as our example (or the German Protestant seminaries that spurred the interpretive school of “Higher Criticism” to its popular zenith in the 19th and 20th centuries, and that has come to dominate so much of liberal Protestantism, and, in various forms, all forms of Protestantism), looking at recent theological developments and practices within those churches, there is a manifest lack of both formal dogmatic and moral continuity with the teachings and practices of the Church of the first millennium. It seems to me those realities should give modern conservative Protestants pause when they consider the philosophical roots of the forms of Christianity that have come out of the Reformation and some of their many unforeseen negative consequences. While Holland never formally adopted Reformed Calvinist Christianity as the state religion, its heavy influence made it the quasi-state religion in more recent history especially in the North and West of that region, a region which is now, according to Wikipedia, one of the “most secularized countries” in the Western world (Amsterdam? Need I say more?).

          • Dan Jensen

            This will be my last post here as I agree that we have stayed too long. I will give you the last word, but if you want to continue things further you can email me (djensen13@live.com).
            Experience is not the only thing you use, but it clearly forms the core of your argument and that is not valid. As far as the nominal Christian argument almost all of your examples come from Liberal Protestant or dispensational traditions. The fact is that doctrinally sound evangelical churches are almost universally known for their fervency, something that is not true of EO. You can continue to argue that point, but you are arguing against facts.
            Of course my experience clouds my judgment. We all have to deal with that. But you and all postmodern thinkers take this truth way, way, way too far. On most things I would never ever assert that I am absolutely certain for that very reason. But some things are so overwhelmingly supported by the evidence that to deny them reflects either ignorance or rank intellectual dishonesty. For example, the Roman Empire existed. People can make lame philosophical arguments about how not even this is certain all they want, but at the end of the day they are just that, rather lame. The same is true when it comes to the evidence for the existence of God and the case for the Bible.
            And one of the expliclty clear teachings of the Bible is justification by faith alone. Not necessarily the particular Protestant understanding of that doctrine; that could be wrong, although I am presently convinced that it is not. But some form of the doctrine cannot be denied with falling into apostasy and yet RC and EO did vehemently deny the doctrine. On many other RC and EO doctrines, I am convinced that they are wrong, yet the biblical evidence does not rise to the level of absolute certainty, on those I fully admit that my bias may be leading me astray.
            Now as far as my bias goes, you are still overstating your case. I don’t think you fully realize just how little a role religion plays in a secular home like the one in which I was raised. Furthermore, my mother is very into Eastern philosophy and I grew up in the Bay Area where Eastern though is extremely popular. So as an American I am of course shaped by Protestantism, Puritanism, and Western thought to a large degree. But I was also heavily influenced by many other strands of thought as well. I actually did look into all forms of Christianity very carefully along with all major religions as well. But at the time I found the RC arguments much stronger than the EO arguments and Protestantism made me nervous because of its late arrival. My point was that I was not very attracted to RC, but my committment to objectivity overrode that.
            And if my experience has really blinded me as much as you say, you need to show me where that is the case very specifically. That is always the problem with those who take a more postmodern approach to philosophy and theology. They can always fall back on the experience argument when they have been clearly refuted. I say it is a cop-out, plain and simple. If all objectivity is denied or downplayed and we are all at the mercy of our experience I have to ask how one knows that this fact is true because that in itself is an absolute statement of truth. Was that truth simply reached through our past experiences and if so, maybe it is wrong and we actually can come to certain conclusions. Either way, the postmodern position is self-defeating.
            You say that you are not trying to take the place of the Holy Spirit, and that is of course very good. But why should I even believe in the Holy Spirit in the first place if you cannot show me that He exists?

          • Karen

            Ultimately, the Church’s teaching about Christ is rooted in the Apostles’ and the Churches’ experience of Christ (Acts 4:20, 1 John 1:1). Jesus is alive today and can be experienced by the Holy Spirit within His Church. For all of us, our view of the “facts” is always colored by our experience and presuppositions.

            The experience of Christ that is real and sustained leads to our transformation into the image of Christ. I happen to think that of all the holy people in any Christian tradition with whom I am familiar, ones like Fr. John in the link I gave you above look the most like Jesus and are unexplainable unless the Jesus described in the NT is acting within and through them.

            I would agree with you that there is an external “objective” reality in God and faith in God is reasonable, but He is always apprehended ultimately through the heart (not that this will conflict with what we deem reasonable, but it will always go beyond it), and this happens through faith as the outworking of the grace of Christ’s Holy Spirit. I also do not find it to be insignificant that it is reasonable argument from Scripture that Satan used in his attempts to lead Jesus astray in the wilderness, while it was not reasonable argument, but the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, that God used to redeem humankind. It seems to me we modern Christians could learn a lot by merely reflecting a little more deeply on those things.

    • ZackHunt

      Will all respect Mr. Jensen, your words fly in the face of Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

      • Dan Jensen

        Mr. Hunt, I’m really not trying to get off on the wrong foot. When I first came to your blog I kindly introduced myself and asked to dialogue as your article on Mrs. Evans’ blog was very problematic, and not just theologically, but from an absolute factual historical perspective. I’m not judging you in the sense of feeling like you are a bad guy or that I’m better than you or anything like that. If we were studying theology together I’m sure we would have our debates but I for one would have no problem being your friend and going to get a bite to eat after class as I have done with my theological enemies countless times, especially when I was in Aberdeen where the vast majority of the students were die hard Barthians and I am no Barthian that is for sure. But you are a theologian and a polemicist on some level and you have written very strongly about your opinions about those who take a certitude understanding of faith like myself and therefore the idea that you are not open to criticism is ridiculous.

        And I have to honestly question the consistency of this comment when in your article on Evan’s blog you called complementarians like myself liars. Now if that is your honest opinion then you should express that. You didn’t say anything that was blatantly uncivil or inappropriate. I believe that you honestly believe that and that your intent was not to puff yourself up or to make others feel bad simply for the sake of making people feel bad. So I am not going to call you judgmental for such remarks. But the idea that I cannot challenge such a statement or your overall theology in return is gross inconsistency. And I encounter this mentality in the Emergent world constantly. It is what I was confronted with all the time on Evans’ blog and because I so vehemently pointed it out I was eventually kicked out even though I always conducted myself in a professional manner. But it simply is not ok to feel that it is ok for you to criticize the theology in a non-judgmental manner, but then turn around and say that if anyone criticizes your theology he or she must be acting in a judgmental way. That simply is unethical. Evans does it all the time and she is being unethical when she does this as well.

        If I am wrong in my assessment let’s be adults and professionals (who have both studied a great deal of theology and church history) who can dialogue and debate in a civil manner and in so doing please refute me from the text. But throwing out accusations about my motives when you barely know me is simply a dodge.

        • ZackHunt

          But that’s the thing, Dan. You’re not interested in dialogue. You’re interested in trying to get everyone to agree with your particular view of the faith while condemning everyone else for being “emergent,” by which I think you just mean “liberal” which you clearly see as heretical/sinful.

          Honestly, it’s fine if you just want to proselytize for fundamentalism. In fact, if you keep it short and respectful, you can even keep doing it here in the comments on my blog. As I told you before, I’m not interested in reading it, but maybe you’ll find someone who is.

          But, if you feel the need to keep going on and on, writing what are essentially blog posts in the comments about how Rachel and I or somebody else is a heretic because we don’t agree with your interpretation of the Bible, then you need to do it on your own blog.

          • Dan Jensen

            Why is it ok for you to call me a fundamentalist when I’m not even a fundamentalist but it is not ok for me to express my opinion in regard to the Emergent movement, especially the more liberal wing. And I honestly cannot see how you can say that I don’t want to dialogue. I really don’t care if people agree with me in the sense of simply giving me props or something. I care about what the Bible teaches immensely and so I am going to try to convince people of that just as you say you are trying to do and if I am wrong refute me. That is clearly an invitation to dialogue. It really seems to me that you do not want to dialogue, but simply want to be able to espouse your views without challenge.

          • cathy moore

            Zach…thanks for your blog..

          • ZackHunt

            Thank you, Cathy, for taking the time to read it!

  • Peter McCombs

    I enjoyed what the pope had to say about doubt in a recent interview:

    “… in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

    …We have to re-read the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11. Abraham leaves his home without knowing where he was going, by faith. All of our ancestors in the faith died seeing the good that was promised, but from a distance…. Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing…. We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.”

    • Dan Jensen

      The Pope’s logic or at least his articulation here is seriously flawed. We can meet God with absolute certainty in the sense of knowing absolutely that He exists and that He has spoken in His word without in any way asserting that this means we know or have certainty in all things. Abraham did not know where he was going and so this was of course a great meritorious act of faith, but he went because he was fully convinced that God was truthful and faithful and God commanded him to go. Go back and read Hebrews 11 and tell me if the language there at any point sounds even remotely like the language of the pope here or like the language constantly used by the Emergent movement in regard to faith and doubt.

      • Peter McCombs

        I am not familiar with this emergent movement you frequently speak of. Is this some sort of pejorative term that, by associating something with it, the thing is automatically tarnished somehow?

        In any case, I find Hebrews 11 quite congruent with the pope’s sentiments and his language.

        You say there is something flawed about it. Are you, then, the arbiter of biblical interpretation, form, and style? You have judged the pope’s credentials and found them objectively lacking? Perhaps his own study and searching have been insufficient? He has not led a life of adequate devotion in order to come to a true understanding of things? But, on the other hand, you are justified in passing down the judgment of “flawed.”

        It is very curious to me, these arguments of intellect. What are we to do? It is clear that there is no consensus among the great mortal minds pertaining to the “evidence” and the “reason” of religious matters. What makes one towering opinion superior to another?

        Do you mean to tell me that this bible is some sort of deterministic state machine, like a programming language, or a yard stick, that must convey a single thing with mathematical certainty? And I suppose humans are meant to be a type of automaton, receiving and executing this scriptural instruction with precision. That is the highest ideal and purpose of man: to become a machine. Yes, I’d say the notion pretty well describes the dark years of Christian theology that placed man in the role of a thing that must pass a Unit Test in order to enter the Semaphore of heaven, or be cast into the bit bucket.

        Those who adopt this view suppose their program is thoroughly vetted by a mountain of objective empiricism, and they are met at every turn by the debunkers and the contradictors who have other evidence and other explanations (and they hurl insults at each other, each claiming the other side lacks reason). It is no wonder that John Milbank and his Radical Orthodoxy movement has called it “bad theology.” I quite heartily agree.

        It was once enough that we should live our religions as best we could; now we insist that we must also obtain certainty about them. That was what the shift from ontology to epistemology did to us: it taught us that being wasn’t good enough, now we had to know. And so it paved the way for nihilism and atheism.

        The man who is “fully convinced” of God’s existence needs no trust or faith in order to execute His words. Such a man only requires self-command. There is only superficial merit in such acts of certainty–mostly they are rote.

        I used to admire a computer algorithm that could read and reproduce the music of Chopin with great deterministic certainty, but I discovered eventually that it had no character of its own. Likewise, it seems to me that if I did not struggle with doubt, I would risk returning to God empty, having lost my soul. I’d be little more than a program.

        I do not say that doubt is some glorious end in itself, but it is like pain: without it, there is difficulty in comprehending and appreciating its opposite. I believe the point of this life is to find out what sort of mettle is in us. Leave religious certainty to the deathbed, or to the afterlife.

        • Dan Jensen

          I leave a study of the (brief) history and theology of the Emergent movement to you. It is a very important movement right now and so I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with it. It is not a pejorative term, but it is the term that the early movement gave to itself. And no not everything about the movement is bad. There are many elements that resonate very strongly with me and there are many branches of it that are orthodox although as the more liberal and radical wing becomes more and more prominent more and more orthodox branches are abandoning ship and for good reason. But there is a very liberal and radical wing that is growing rapidly and I believe that it is heretical and so I am going to challenge it.

          I in no way believe that I am the great arbiter of truth. I know very little about very little and I am often wrong and I really have no problem admitting that. But I am passionate about God’s truth and I do believe that when it comes to the essentials it can be understood with certainty. Some things in the Bible are written with such clarity that one cannot deny them without at the same time denying the authority of the Bible. Other things are not taught as clearly and so these things are debatable amongst godly people. However, even in this latter category there are levels of clarity. For example I do not consider Calvinism to be an essential of the faith. There are enough verses in the Bible that are very difficult to interpret from a Calvinistic perspective that Calvinists like myself have to be very careful not to act like Calvinism is an absolute certainty. However, there are so many verses that are so difficult to interpret in a non-Calvinist manner that I am very confident (although not certain) about my Calvinism. Such is not the case say with my belief that the first part of John 8 is canonical. I believe that for a number of reasons, but I fully admit that the case for my position is hardly full-proof.

          And it really doesn’t matter whether or not the great minds throughout history or today all agree. People have their biases and so extremely intelligent people say absurd things all of the time. But that in no way changes the evidence. For example, countless Eastern philosophers throughout history deny the existence of the physical world. But the problems with this position are endless and so the position is simply wrong regardless of how many brilliant people assert it or have asserted it. And it is not wrong simply because I say so but again because there are so many problems with it.

          As far as us being robots, your arguments just don’t wash. Christ obeyed His Father perfectly with absolute certainty at all times, with the possible exception of the moment on the cross when He cried out “My God, my God….” And He was no robot. Your comparison fails because robots do not have consciousness, they cannot reason, they cannot love, they cannot in any way understand the greatness of God. And Christ’s love for His Father was the most meritorious love there is. As far as our faith is concerned it still absolutely requires tremendous trust which is highly meritorious precisely because our faith is weak. There is an element of certainty within it and this must not be denied, but that does not change the fact that often on the surface we struggle to tap into that certainty that exists deep inside of us. The more we do tap into it the more righteous we are being because we are trusting in God who has proven Himself faithful and our actions will flow accordingly.

          This is exactly what we see when Jesus calms the storm. Christ does not say, “I understand your fears because there is no certainty in this life, but you have to learn to try because that is what is pleasing to God and will strengthen you.” No, He says, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Christ had proven Himself time and time again to His disciples through His amazing miracles. Christ had told them that if they follow Him they would have eternal life. They had seen that He clearly had control of nature. Therefore, they should have reasoned that if Christ did not want them to be harmed He would keep them from being harmed, and that if He was going to allow them to be harmed it would have been for a good reason because He has proven Himself good, and if He wished to allow them to perish they would be ushered into the fullness of eternal life.

          Now should we be overly harsh towards the disciples? No, of course not. We would be no different. And does God always rebuke us like this for our lack of faith? No, of course not. But this does show that when we doubt we are not acting in accord with God’s will and that we need to seek Christ for the strength to have a stronger faith. It is this aspect to faith that the Emergent movement, especially the more radical wing, is passionately fighting against and because it is unbiblical I must fight back.

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  • Felicia Abril

    I definitely needed to read this brother.
    I honestly hate uncertainty and I hate not knowing what’s going to happen to me or my family (especially my brother).