Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief Part 3

Derek Newton defines faith as “a human enterprise— something that we as human beings seek to exercise towards a person or object (Faith, Doubt, and biblical criticism, 328). He thinks it is misperceived that faith and doubt are “polar opposites.” Newton believes some people falsely believe that doubt “equals loss of faith, as if faith and doubt cannot possibly co-exist in the Christian life” (329). Newton does a good job of contextualizing the double-minded man of James 1:6-8. He observes, “James is calling on his readers to ask for wisdom in the midst of trials” (329). Newton believes that James is “saying that faith is a decision and commitment to trust God . . . in spite of the doubts that may be pressing on us through a whole range of circumstances” (330). He does not think that James is “issuing a blanket statement condemning all doubt” (330). Newton thinks the opposite of faith is unbelief, not doubt. He defines unbelief as a “persistent attitude involving deliberate refusal” (330). In addition, Newton asserts, “Stubborn, willful and deliberate refusal to believe is what receives condemnation in scripture, not the genuine doubts with which the people of God struggle in all ages and in varying circumstances. God has invested all his power and work in ensuring the permanence of our faith and his available grace to help us cope with our doubts” (330). Newton believes that God will sustain us by his grace to keep on believing.
 Addison Hart in his book, Knowing Darkness, argues that skepticism is compatible with faith. He insists that a mature faith includes skepticism. Hart distinguishes it from cynicism. He defines skepticism “to fix one’s gaze on, to look into, to examine, and to observe. It has to do with inquiry, consideration, investigation. It isn’t synonymous with doubt, and it isn’t the antithesis of faith” (17). He seems to be thinking of unbelieving doubt. He insists again: “Skepticism, again, is not the same thing as doubt, but rather the act of looking hard at things for the purpose of discovering and understanding what may be true about them” (18). Hart argues that skepticism is beneficial to the Christian. He writes: Skepticism “is firmly rooted in a Hebrew concept of faith, one that instinctively distrusts human reason, recognizing its fallibilities and limitations, but embraces relational trust in a self-revealing and self-interpreting God. It is a faith open to questioning God, examining His ways, complaining to Him, and even expressing exasperation and impatience at his silence” (23).
            Hart also tries to correct false views of faith: “Faith is not good feelings. It isn’t rationalism. Nor is it superstition” (127). Faith is not “static or flat.” Faith is actually dynamic, ever-changing. Faith is “living, growing, changing, and it is integral to a human being’s very existence and maturing” (129). We do not stand still. So our faith must not stay still neither.
            Why is skepticism necessary for faith? Hart writes: “Skepticism will always preserve him from the false forms of faith—the emotionally dependent, the rationalistic, the irrational, and superstitious. It will also preserve him from the sort of perennial popular and philosophical atheism that has plenty of argument and rebuttal, but not much else. Skepticism will always doubt the value of doubt itself, because doubt—as opposed to faith—explains nothing about the essential mystery of humanity” (133-134).

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