Thursday, December 6, 2012

McGrath and C.S. Lewis on Doubt

Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing through the Uncertainties of Faith. IVP Books, 2006.
C.S. Lewis wrote of his struggle with doubt in a Christmas Eve letter to Arthur Greeves:
“I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don’t think so—the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so” (9).
            McGrath explains in this book “what doubt is and how it arises” (11). He discusses many different types of doubt that young Christians faces. This book is intended for the young Christian believer in college who will struggle with intellectual challenges to Christianity while in college. McGrath is well qualified to address this topic since he is actively involved in speaking on many college campuses and debating some of the leading atheists in the world. In addition, he was once an atheist who converted to Christianity while in college. McGrath insists that doubt “is an invitation to grow in faith and understanding, rather than something we need to panic about or get preoccupied with” (12).
            In chapter one McGrath discusses what doubt is and “what it isn’t.” The author insists many Christians avoid talking about doubt. Other Christians “suppress their doubts” (13). McGrath says that doubt is neither skepticism nor unbelief. McGrath defines unbelief “as an act of the will, rather than a difficulty in understanding” (13-14). Doubt “often means asking questions or voicing uncertainties from the standpoint of faith” (14). “Faith and doubt aren’t mutually exclusive—but faith and unbelief are” (14). McGrath thinks that doubt “is probably a permanent feature of the Christian life” (14).
            In chapter two McGrath addresses the search for certainty. He notes, “The things in life that really matter cannot be proven with certainty—whether they are ethical values (such as respect for human life), social attitudes (such as democracy) or religious beliefs (such as Christianity)” (24). McGrath argues that to believe in God requires faith, “as does the decision not to believe him” (25). He does not think the existence of God or the non-existence of God can be proved. McGrath defines faith: “Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations” (25). He believes that both believers and non-believers struggle with doubt. The author believes there is “indeed a leap of faith involved in Christianity but it is not an irrational leap in the dark” (27). He thinks “all outlooks on life, all theories of the meaning on human existence rest on faith” and cannot be proved. He does not think, however,  all views are “equally plausible.” Christianity cannot be proved with absolute certainty, but Christianity stands on solid ground in the “reliability of historical foundations, its internal consistency, its rationality, its power to convert and its relevance to human existence” (27).  McGrath thinks absolute certainty is an unrealistic expectation and doesn’t deal correctly with human limitations.
            McGrath thinks that faith contains three elements. First, it is trust in God. McGrath notes, “It is a confidence in the trustworthiness, fidelity and reliability of God” (28). Secondly, it is an understanding about God. It is faith seeking understanding. Third, it is obedience to God. McGrath describes faith as a growing plant. It must be cultivated. It is “easy to uproot a plant in its early stages of growth; once it has laid down roots, however, it is much harder to dislodge it. By failing to allow faith to take root by seriously thinking about their faith, some Christians make themselves vulnerable to doubt” (29). Faith is not static; it can grow. Faith needs both experience and understanding if it is to grow.

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