Challenges to the Faith
One challenge to the faith is biblical criticism. Newton believes that the challenge of biblical criticism concerns “the nature of scripture and the nature of biblical revelation.” The Bible is both human and divine. The Bible did not fall from heaven. Biblical criticism deals with the human dimension of scripture: literary, historical, and hermeneutical. Newton notes that biblical criticism “seeks to use every valid means at our disposal to investigate and understand the purpose, meaning and application of the biblical text” (332). M. J. Brown thinks “It is possible to develop a love of learning and critical analysis at the same time deepening your personal faith commitments” (327). Brown is asserting that faith and reason are compatible. It implies that a Christian believer can pursue a life of the mind while pursuing a life of faith.
Tucker also describes the challenges from theology and biblical studies in the academy. She thinks that doubting supernatural events, “apparent textual contradictions and the problem of evil” are the things that lead once-professing Christians to abandon their faith. She observes that two responses to skepticism of the scriptures are “lowering the truth standards” or “to dig in one’s heels and prove the truth of Christianity” (119). She also notes how some walk away from the ministry because of doubt; while others “honestly and openly acknowledge doubt and unbelief while at the same time affirming faith” and continuing in the ministry. Tucker notes how William James thought “unbelief is a shallow and unimaginative perspective that is overly dependent on science” (142). James is important because he shows how religious experience is a form of knowing.
A second challenge to the faith is disappointment with God and other believers. Martin Marty lost his wife to a terminal illness. Marty spoke of the sense of absence in the ordeal. Marty claims there are two types of spirituality: a wintery sort and a summery one. Tucker summarizes Marty words: “The best answer Marty can offer is for people to come to terms with themselves and God. Those who are troubled by a sense of abandonment and silence need not struggle for a summery spirituality—nor need they contemplate the option of walking away from the faith. There is a place for them on the barren wintery landscape, where the January thaw may provide a welcome respite” (164).
The church can also produce doubts. Its theology can teach that doubt is sinful. Second, members of the church can doubt the believer’s salvation since she struggles with doubt or it can consider the believer to be a second-class Christian. Third, the church can give unhelpful counsel. It can tell the believer to ignore it or just will it away. It could also tell believers to deny their minds or questions. The church should support believers who struggle with doubt. Studies have shown that young people who are not allowed the freedom to explore doubts are more likely to abandon the faith and are ill-prepared when the challenges to the Faith come.
A third challenge is the problem of evil. Ruth Tucker became a Christian at a young age at an Evangelical church. She later would accept a call to missions. Then tragedy struck on September 23, 1969. On that horrible day her mother was killed in an automobile accident. Tucker says her whole world caved in. She was already struggling with doubts. She writes, “Already struggling with abstract doubts, I now had very personal doubts about the God I worshipped and how this incident, this accident, fit into my faith” (21). She thought about the Scripture that says that all things work together for good to those who love God. Tucker, however, did not feel that way. Tucker recalling her response to the event: “But no, no, no! I screamed, all things don’t work together for good. And in this case, if there is truly a God out there who is all powerful, why, O God, why, I asked, did you not prevent this terrible accident? (21)” The problem of evil and suffering usually pops up when discussing doubt and unbelief. Tucker states that the poetry of Emily Dickinson helped her to make sense of pain and suffering and belief in God. Dickinson in her poem, “I know He exists” writes, “I know He exists/ Somewhere—in Silence—He has hid his rare life/From our gross eyes.” The concept of the silence and absence of God is discussed throughout Tucker’s book. It is a reason to continue struggling for faith in the midst of doubt and unbelief.
A fourth challenge is from science and philosophy. Tucker argues that there has always been doubt and unbelief among Christians. It is not a new thing. Tucker, however, asserts “never before have Christians who live in Christian cultures have been faced with belief systems suffused with philosophical and practical atheism” (96). Some of the leading challenges are from Nietzche, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, and Charles Darwin. Nietzche argued that belief was harmful. He also thought it could no longer be justified. Hume argued that we could no longer believe in miracles. Kant “rejected traditional proofs for the existence of God” (105). Dawkins thinks Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (107). Darwin’s evolution “has profoundly influenced religious belief since the mid-nineteenth century” (108). Tucker shows how Emily Dickinson can help the believer struggling with doubt. “Dickinson was a doubter. Yet despite her struggles with Darwin’s theories and other scientific discoveries, her doubts never progressed to the point of unbelief” (110). This was not true for everyone. Tucker thinks Darwin’s theories did pave the way of unbelief for others.
Flannery O’Connor wrote a letter to a college student, Alfred Corn, who was struggling with doubts. O’Connor observes: “I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith. . . . As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas . . . After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do. . . . One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. . . . The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. . . . If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture” (Tucker, 203). In another letter, O’Connor wrote: “What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.”