07 May 2011

Faith AND Doubt: Philip Yancey

Faith AND Doubt feature on Philip Yancey's website, in contrast to many sites which only feature faith, as if doubting was a contagious skin disease.

The format on the site was Q & A, so I've stayed with that in the taste I've given. Click the link to go to Yancey's site and read the whole conversation.

Is there a danger in not facing our doubts?

As a child I attended a church that had little room for inquisitiveness. If you doubted or questioned, you sinned. I learned to conform, as you must in a church like that. Meanwhile those deep doubts, those deep questions, didn’t get answered in a satisfactory way. The danger of such a church like that—and there are many—is that by saying, “Don’t doubt, just believe,” you don’t really resolve the doubts. They tend to resurface in a more toxic form.

Inquisitiveness and questioning are inevitable parts of the life of faith. Where there is certainty there is no room for faith. I encourage people not to doubt alone, rather to find some people who are safe “doubt companions,” and also to doubt their doubts as much as their faith. But it doesn’t help simply to deny doubts or to feel guilty about them. Many people, after all, have been down that path before and have emerged with a strong faith.

You talk about speaking to people in the “borderlands of belief”—who are they?

People who have a strong hunch there is something real about the whole spiritual thing, but who haven’t found that realized in a fruitful way in a church setting. They suspiciously circle the church wondering, “Is there a God? How can I know? What difference does it make in my life?”

And you wrote the book A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith for them? Link to Zondervan

I meet many church-going Christians who would find it difficult to articulate why they believe as they do. Perhaps they absorbed faith as part of their upbringing, or perhaps they simply find church an uplifting place to visit on weekends. But if asked to explain their faith to a Muslim, or an atheist, they wouldn’t know what to say. As a matter of fact, the thought hit me personally: “What would I say?” That question prompted the book, which I wrote not so much to convince anyone else as to think out loud in hopes of coming to terms with my own faith. Does religious faith make sense in a world of the Hubble telescope and the Internet? Have we figured out the basics of life or is some important ingredient missing? C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book titled Mere Christianity, and I’ve narrowed that range even further, to Even More Mere Christianity.

The great divide separating belief and unbelief reduces down to one simple question: Is the visible world around us all there is? Those unsure of the answer to that question live in the borderlands. They wonder whether faith in an unseen world is wishful thinking. Does faith delude us into seeing a world that doesn’t exist, or does it reveal the existence of a world we can’t see without it?

How reasonable a position is it, in your opinion, for people to exist in the “borderlands of belief”?

I’m not sure people in the borderlands spend much time thinking through whether or not their position is reasonable. They live in the borderlands because they sense a spiritual reality yet do not feel comfortable committing to a religious structure. Sometimes they’ve been wounded by the church—I hear from many such people—and sometimes they find organized worship an alien experience, almost a different subculture. Frankly, I have a lot of sympathy for these people, because at times I’ve found myself in exactly that situation. I would add, though, that I encourage people to move out of the borderlands. True faith cannot be practiced in isolation from others. We need community and we need tradition, which G. K. Chesterton called “democracy extended through time.”

"True faith cannot be practiced in isolation from others."

Why do you think Yancey holds this opinion?

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