Ronald T. Habermas, “Doubt Is Not A Four-Letter Word.” Religious Education. Vol.84, No.3, Summer 1989: 402-410.
Habermas thinks Christians have mistakenly looked at doubt as something to be avoided at all costs. He notes, “Most Christians claim that queries about faith are negative, writing off all forms of doubt as the antithesis of belief” (402). He disagrees with this assumption. In this paper, he distinguishes between constructive and negative doubt. He thinks the religious leaders during the time of Jesus illustrate destructive doubt. These leaders displayed a cynical nature and “sought entrapment [of Jesus] through his own words and deeds” (403). Constructive doubt was illustrated by Doubting Thomas and John the Baptist. They sought answers to their questions. Habermas makes an important point about Thomas: “The primary issue that Doubting Thomas confronted faces many non-believers today: the perceived need personally to validate all facts of the Risen Lord before accepting the Gospel” (404). This can be a stumbling block to both believers and non-believers. Non-believers can be unwilling to accept the Gospel till they can validate everything about Jesus before believing in Him. The question is Can we believe without having all our questions answered?
In the second part of the paper Habermas discusses developmental theories and how they can help us understand the experience of doubt. Gordon W. Allport list five causes of doubt. Some of these are “personal traumas,” “unconscious attitudes toward parents;” hypocrisy in the churches, and the conflict between “faith and science.”
John H. Westerhoff described four different “faith styles.” “Searching faith” is identified as the third style. At this stage is where “doubt or critical judgment” occurs. This style seems to be the bridge from adolescent to adult faith. It is where the person “owns” their belief. It is interesting that Westerhoff notes how at even this stage “doubt continues to play a part in faith development . . .” (407). Habermas also discusses Fowler’s Stages of Faith.
Habermas argues that doubt can be beneficial. He quotes from Tennyson: “There live more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” (408). Habermas believes these words have been confirmed multiple times in research studies. He notes how participants in studies have overwhelmingly stated that their faith was “made stronger by questioning early beliefs” (408).
Allport provides good advice on handling doubt:
“Only a child who is assisted in revising his imagery and his theology to accommodate the day-by-day increase in experiences could escape the surge of doubt.” I think this where cultivating the mind is important. Our faith must grow as we grow. As we cultivate our intellect, our faith must grow with it. One way to do this is to draw from the great works of literature and Christian thought. Knowledge of the Great Books of Western Civilization will help with this endeavor.