Reading C. Michael Patton's article The Miserable Christian Doubt has reminded me how common it is for Christians to have periods of doubt. So, I decided to dedicate this blog post to providing resources for Christians who are dealing with doubt and spiritual depression (which are related). Start with reading Patton's article.
I'll continue adding links and information as I come across useful resources.
Dealing with doubt is something Christians often feel uncomfortable discussing or admitting to because it can have a stigma attached to it. Doubting Christians can be looked down upon by fellow Christians as being spiritually inferior or being "in [some particular] sin(s)". Ironically, sometimes those very Christians looking down on doubters do so precisely because they themselves have doubts and are fearful of doubting even more (whether they are consciously aware of it or not). Doubting Christians can often be treated as if they had the plague. Fellow Christians sometimes avoid them and try to keep their distance lest they be infected too. Even though, the very things doubting Christians need are the love, compassion, support, counsel and prayers of currently doubt free Christians. Doubting Christians can feel not only condemned by others but by themselves. The overt or subtle accusation (demonically reinforced) is, "If you were just spiritually mature and faithful enough you wouldn't be going through this period of doubt." For example, if they had read the Bible enough or prayed enough.
Moreover, spiritual pride can lead people to want to hide and deny their doubts because they don't want others looking down on them, or because they want to maintain their reputation for being a "spiritual giant" (cf. 1 Cor 10:13ff). All the while justifying their hiding it because if they let it be known that they were doubting, it would lead others to doubt as well (and they don't want to "stumble their brother"). However, hiding it and suppressing it can eventually lead to a person feeling like a hypocrite and as intellectually dishonest; and thus sometimes leading to apostasy (as if apostasy were "the only honest or rational thing to do"). As Patton has said, (paraphrasing) "Everyone (i.e. Christians) has doubted their faith. If they haven't, they are either lying OR THEY DON'T TAKE THEIR FAITH SERIOUSLY."
Doubters who HAVE been serious about their faith can look to others who claim to not doubt and conclude that those others aren't intellectually honest and earnest enough to be willing to get the bottom of the issues (i.e. of getting to the truth). That those who never have doubts are neither honest about the facts or honest with themselves. While there might be some truth to this, it's also true that these doubters can enter a period of intellectual pride. That in turn can lead to the conclusion that only anti-intellectuals can believe such things and so eventually can lead to apostasy. This kind of intellectual pride can develop because they look at themselves and recognize that they are willing to do the research that simpler Christians aren't willing or able to do (for lack of time, financial resources, or intellectual ability/aptitude etc.). Such prideful doubters begin to look on simple Christians as "sheeple" ((a portmanteau of "sheep" and "people") and so naturally want to avoid the stigma of being an ignorant religious simpleton. The research and study now becomes a matter of pride rather than a search for and faithfulness to the truth [and to HIM who is the Truth]. Stephen Charnock wrote, "Unbelief was the first sin, and pride was the first-born of it". Unbelief and pride can re-enforce each other in a vicious circle leading to apostasy.
However, not all doubters are or become prideful. Some are sincerely and humbly seeking the truth. But they often do so thinking they need to have an answer to every apologetical question, objection and challenge if they are going to have intellectual, moral, and epistemological integrity/honesty.
As a Vantillian presuppositionalist, I believe that all of creation testifies to the existence of God such that everyone is without excuse for believing in God and knowing they are accountable to Him. However, I don't believe God set up creation so that belief in Him is rationally coercive (even if it's existentially so). See this blog. Therefore, doubters need to realize a few things which may not have previously entered their minds. Here are just some helpful suggestions.
- Realize that "Absence of evidence, is not evidence of absence". (taken from William Lane Craig)
- "Realize that the presence of other possibilities does not necessarily equate to the presence of other probabilities." (taken from Patton's article). Just because there are logical alternative possibilities doesn't mean that they are equally probable or plausible [or even desirable].
-"Focus only on the issues that make or break Christianity." (taken from Patton's article). Not everything one believes is essential to Christianity. For example, don't lose your faith in Christ because you may have recently discovered that a certain eschatological position is not as Biblically supported as you once thought.
-Don’t think you can ever be an expert in everything. (taken from Patton's article). The truth is that both you and the people you read, listen to or speak with (whether Christian OR NON-CHRISTIAN) are limited finite creatures who themselves don't know all there is to know about any topic even if they supposedly are an "expert" on the topic.
- Patton recommends taking a break from apologetics. This is something I heartily agree with if your doubts were brought on by "doing" apologetics. Sometimes we're so busy "doing Christian" things, that we forget to be busy "BEING Christian". There's a quote from C.S. Lewis that's relevant. I have two version I got online and I'm not sure which one is more accurate. But here they are.
“A man can’t always be defending the truth; there must be time to feed on it” - C.S. Lewis
“A man can’t always be defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it” - C.S. Lewis (this one with the word "a" might be more accurate. Accordingly it's from Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms)
Sometimes as Christians, out of love for the Lord, our zeal leads us to become more works oriented than fellowship oriented. Fellowship with God and others. That's the mistake Martha fell into and to which we're all prone.
Luke 10:38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word.40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me."
41 And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
While some people begin to have doubts because they have been overwhelmed by apologetical issues, some people persist in doubt partly because they refuse to engage their minds on apologetical issues (the opposite problem). Here are two links to two videos by William Lane Craig where he shows that while Christian apologetics isn't absolutely necessary, it is VERY USEFUL in bringing people to faith and helping preserve their faith. It's especially useful in inoculating children and teens against the onslaught of unbelief and objections to their faith they will inevitably encounter in school and academia. I've re-posted these links a second time later in the blog where the rest of the links are gathered.
-Even if the evidence for and against Christianity were completely equal [which I deny], it doesn't mean that they are equally desirable. For example, if you compared Christianity with atheism, you should stick with Christianity since atheism by necessity (and by the admission of many prominent atheists) is a losing bet. Atheism, if rightly understood is futile and futility is futile. See also Craig on Pascal's Wager
-Be honest with God in prayer about your doubts. God can handle your doubts. Yes, doubting as a Christian is sin, but God can handle it. God is not surprised by doubt. Or even by YOUR doubts. In fact, God often uses seasons of doubt in the lives of Christians to eventually strengthen their faith. Often people who start doubting think they need to stop praying in order to maintain objectivity while they search for the truth about Christianity themselves. But that assumes that you can come to know or be confirmed in the knowledge of the truth of Christianity apart from God's Holy Spirit (which the Bible denies cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; John 3:27; Matt. 16:17; Heb. 12:2).
-Realize that your reasons for personally believing don't have to be the reasons why others should believe. In fact, in their totality, they can't because your Christian experience can't be reproduced. It's as individual as God's providence intended. Realize the truth of Christianity doesn't depend on your ability to either successfully defend the truth of Christianity OR your ability to successfully persuade others to believe it. Make the following distinctions.
1. the reasons for your personally believing your Christian beliefs (i.e. reasons for believing they are true or why you accept them). These can include rational, existential, emotional, prudential, supernatural, and miraculous reasons. They can also include examples of answered prayer, healing, providential coincidences (et cetera). Often these can include pre-reflective reasons as well. People are deep pools and just because people might, through introspection, come to the fresh realization that they believed something for more than rational reasons doesn't necessitate that what they have believed or embraced in the past is actually false; or that it's incumbent on them to have a rational basis for all their beliefs [such evidentialism is impossible to satisfy because it leads to an infinite regress].
2. the causes for your beliefs. This can include your culture, upbringing, education (etc.). You may not be a Calvinist, but from a Calvinistic perspective, God is the ultimate cause of your saving faith. Remember that just because you may have been influenced (even "indoctrinated") to believe in Christianity doesn't necessitate it's false. EVERYONE has been indoctrinated to some belief system to some degree or another; and if Christianity is true, then spiritual neutrality is impossible [see the literature on the "myth of neutrality" by writers on presuppositional apologetics].
3. your existential defense of and justification for your beliefs (which, like #1, can include supernatural and miraculous reasons, answered prayer, healing, providential coincidences etc.). Realize that Christians who experience God cannot convey in words or existentially share with non-Christians that kind of self-authenticating God given experience. Nevertheless, such a defense can lead people to consider the truth of Christianity and can (and should) prop up Christians whenever they begin to have doubts. See for example J.P. Moreland's testimony of supernatural experiences HERE (starting at 13 minutes).By God's grace, the kind of experiences Moreland has had, and the kind you may have had, if perceived correctly can inoculate you from naturalism and materialism. Here's another link to J.P. Moreland on the subject of God's Silence. HERE.
4. your rational defense and justification for the truthfulness of your beliefs (which may or may not satisfy others, but does your own epistemological senses). That is, your case for why you're justified and warranted in believing as you do. This ought to be post-reflective. This is not the same as the above since the former includes reasons for belief that go beyond truth and falsity. Remember that just because you may not be able to answer every objection or win every argument doesn't mean that Christianity is false. Since non-persuasive (even "bad") arguments can be made for true propositions, just as persuasive arguments can be made for false propositions.
5. your case TO OTHERS for the truthfulness of your beliefs and why THEY should believe it as being true as well (i.e. apologetics proper, which is person relative). This is not exactly the same as the above since not everyone will accept the premises you might use in the arguments you formulate according to #4. For example, you'll have difficulty using empirical evidence and data to convince an empirical skeptic.
6. your case for why others should embrace/welcome/accept your beliefs (i.e. part of evangelism proper, which is person relative). This is different from the above because just because you can convince someone that something is true, doesn't necessarily mean that they will want to embrace it for themselves.
-Realize that if Christianity is true, then one doesn't need to have answers for every conceivable objection since it would be contrary to what Scripture teaches for some Christians at one time and place to have necessary (key word) reasons for belief which other Christians didn't have or didn't have access to. As William Lane Craig has pointed out, apologetics while extremely useful, isn't absolutely necessary since people ought to (and only do) accept the truth of Christianity (ultimately) on account of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. See, the following videos by William Lane Craig on doubt.
-Realize that if Christianity is true, then your doubting is a spiritual issue and that there are demons who are seeking your eternal spiritual destruction. If demons exist, they don't "fight fair". They will kick you while you're down. You might need to clear the spiritual air by doing spiritual warfare. You will need fellow Christians praying for you. It WOULDN'T HURT if Christianity is false. But it WOULD HELP if Christianity is true. Additionally, the evidence for malevolent spirits from your own personal experience and the testimony of others (both Christian and non-Christian) suggests the reality not only of the spiritual realm, but also of the possibility of the existence of benevolent spirits (e.g. angels). By extension, the evidence for both malevolent and benevolent immaterial personal entities suggest the possibility of a supremely good spirit, namely God. See THIS LINK to testimonies of demonic and angelic experiences.
-Read Christian biographies like that of George Muller/Mueller. Christian biographies take you out of your current world and its unique advantages, disadvantages and problems and immerses you in another one. Sometimes in order to see things as they really are we need a different perspective. Biographies acquaint us with God's providential faithfulness throughout Church history and gives us a broader view of the stakes involved in you acceptance or rejection of the Christian worldview.
I recommend starting with George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles (Men of Faith series) by Basil Miller
amazon.com link HERE
Here's a link to public domain copies of George Müller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson
Love the Lord With Heart and Mind by Steve Hays and James Anderson is a collection of answers by contemporary Christian intellectuals to a questionnaire Steve Hays sent them on the topics of their conversion and continued belief. http://calvindude.com/ebooks/Love-the-Lord-with-Heart-and-Mind.pdf
Dealing with Doubts
William Lane Craig on Dealing with Doubt
John Piper on how to deal with doubting God's existence
John Piper on how to deal with doubting your own devotion to Christ
John Piper - Battling Unbelief: Bank On His Faithfulness, Not Your Fickleness
Dealing with Doubts? With Mike Licona https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVZnRx5lBcc
Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? - William Lane Craig
When God is Silent by J.P. Moreland
http://youtu.be/Hx6fOnMKkJk I also HIGHLY recommend the following message
Discerning God's Voice by J.P. Moreland
Eight Points Of Encouragement For Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith by C. Michael Patton
Dealing With Doubt by C. Michael Patton Part ONE, Part TWO, Part THREE
John the Baptist, Doubt, and My Three Days As An Atheist by C. Michael Patton
C. Michael Patton asked some Evangelicals to write on the topic of doubt. Here are some of them.
Here are more links to resources on doubt by Gary Habermas:
Dealing with Doubt with Gary Habermas (29 min. video) http://youtu.be/jVwq6pdZL-M
Emotional Doubt Innoculation with Gary Habermas (1 hour and 20 minute video) http://youtu.be/waLKa0BLvBQ
Dealing With Doubt by Gary Habermas
[ENTIRE BOOK FREELY ONLINE]
The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God by Gary Habermas
[ENTIRE BOOK FREELY ONLINE]
What are some common myths about doubt? with Gary Habermas (3 min. video) http://youtu.be/XbXLwqZ4R2c
What is the best way to deal with factual doubt? with Gary Habermas (3 min. video) http://youtu.be/xlkQ_gsCgIs
What are the different kinds of doubts that someone can have? with Gary Habermas (6 min. video) http://youtu.be/Ks1epLdbYtI
Godly people who have struggled with doubt in their life? with Gary Habermas (3 min. video) http://youtu.be/4Ss_jqYGpXw
Will more facts help someone who suffers from emotional doubts? with Gary Habermas (7 min. video) http://youtu.be/ta3ognYXutQ
What can you say to someone who says, "I just can't believe...What's wrong with me?" with Gary Habermas (4 min. video) http://youtu.be/E6QhkJ9YlNE
What can you say to someone whose faith is shaken? with Gary Habermas (3 min. video) http://youtu.be/11I_A44y958
Why is a person's will so important in the area of doubt? with Gary Habermas (4 min. video) http://youtu.be/WXCg7Ut5-us
While some people begin to have doubts because they have been overwhelmed by apologetical issues, some people persist in doubt partly because they refuse to engage their minds on apologetical issues (the opposite problem). Here are two links to two videos by William Lane Craig where he shows that while Christian apologetics isn't absolutely necessary, it is VERY USEFUL in bringing people to faith and helping preserve their faith. It's especially useful in inoculating children and teens against the onslaught of unbelief and objections to their faith they will inevitably encounter in school and academia.
I also HIGHLY recommend the apologetical posts at Triablogue. Do searches on whatever topics you're interested in or are struggling with. Go to www.google.com/advanced_search and type in "triablogue.blogspot.com" in the "site or domain:" field. Don't type "www.triablogue.blogspot.com"
Here are samples of Triablogue posts dealing with doubts.
Doubting and self-doubting
Count your blessings
When In Doubt
They that wait upon the Lord
On a wing and a prayer
It goes without saying that I recommend my other blog posts alongside this one. For example my blog post Resources for Dealing with Alleged Bible Contradictions, Discrepancies and Errors
Sermons by Sam Waldron (two of which I believe may be the same sermon preached at different times):
Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is extremely helpful (amazon.com link).
A Divine Cordial by Thomas Watson
Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks
The Adversary: The Christian Versus Demon Activity by Mark Bubeck (amazon.com link)
While I'm still writing this blog, I might as well post it now since it'll never be "finished." That's because I'll continue to add links indefinitely.