Monday, October 15, 2012

Doubting and Christian Belief

Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2006. pp. 155. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3352-8.
Reviewed by John E. Shaffett

Do all Christians struggle with doubt? Is it a sin to doubt? Why do Christians struggle with doubt? Alister McGrath notes, "It's surprising how many Christians prefer not to talk about doubt. Some even refuse to think about it. Somehow, admitting to doubt seems to amount to insulting God, calling his integrity into question" (13). This seems to be true. I have met Christians who think it is a sin to doubt or question God. For example, recently in a church service a church member stood up and told the pastor that the main point of the book of Job is not to question God. Huh! This statement was puzzling.

McGrath, in contrast, does not think it is a sin to question God. He asserts that it is actually an opportunity to grow in the faith. That is why the subtitle is Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith. The author claims that doubt "is not skepticism;" it is not "unbelief;" doubt "often means asking questions or voicing uncertainties from the standpoint of faith." Doubting is written mostly for young believers, especially college students who will have questions and challenges in the early years of their Christian faith. It emphasizes dealing with intellectual difficulties or doubts, not really emotional and psychological doubts. A good book on the emotional issue of doubt is Dealing with Doubts by Gary Habermas. His book is out of print, but an electronic version of the book is available for free.

Doubt is not really an academic book; it is written more for a popular audience. It is pastoral sensitive. It is a retreat oriented type of book. It will not answer all the questions a reader might have about doubt, but it provides much helpful advice. The author makes some good points about cultivating spiritual disciplines to help with doubt. For example, McGrath instructs the reader to "spend time developing your understanding and knowledge of the Christian faith. It is by feeding your faith that you can starve your doubts to death" (124). This is good advice, but I do not know if you will literally starve your doubts to death. McGrath argues for the importance of apologetics with a twist. Apologetics is basically about answering unbelievers' questions about the faith. The author thinks this is important, but he thinks apologetics is also important because "it will help us answer our own questions" (149).

Doubt is a good book for Christians to read who struggle with doubt or know others who struggle with doubt. McGrath takes a balanced view between seeing doubt as evil and those who praise skepticism. This book will help Christians to grow up in their faith.

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