Saturday, January 20, 2007


Scot McKnight has posted some thoughts about "doubt and faith" over at Jesus Creed.

My question is this: Is all doubt sin? I raise the question because, apparently, many Christians think so. They believe that all doubt is from the devil, therefore, all doubt is sin.

As I reflect on doubt, I think there are several kinds.

1. Trivial doubt. For example, you say something to me and I say, "I doubt it." It may merely mean, "I disagree with you." No more.

2. Sinful doubt. This is the kind sown into Eve by the serpent. "Has God really said...?" This is a dangerous doubt and needs to be confronted. It requires obedience to all the New Testament commands to "Be alert!'

3. In-Between doubt. We are living in a world where we know that how things are is not how things ought to be. We ought to live at peace with everyone, not kill them. We ought to have no starving children or orphans due to AIDS, etc. Yet, we do. We struggle with being caught in between our promised future and our present reality. Doubt arises.

4. Finite doubt. We are limited human beings. As glorious as the human mind is, it still is finite, limited, and subject to profound error. At the same time, human beings who bear the image of God have "eternity in their hearts" (Eccles. 3:11). Caught in time and space, we yearn for that which is free and eternal. In this disjunction doubts arise.

So, of the doubts above, only one is sinful: doubt springing from unbelief. The other doubts are here to stay. They are not sinful. They are part of life as it is.

What do you think?



At 1/20/2007 6:43 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Hi John,
Last semester I took an elective class called "Dynamics of Faith and Doubt." We read F. Gerrit Immink among others. I posted several times on faith and doubt, on my blog as I worked through the material. Doubt is just an implied question and it is, potentially, highly relational in that it stands waiting for an answer from someone. Doubt stands in need of simple revelation, as Barth avers. Another thought on doubt is offered by Val Webb. She says doubt is an invitation to adventure. Doubt need not be viewed as threatening or alienating, as it can lead to knowledge, faith, and commitment when welcomed in the context of community. Doubt is not the binary opposite of faith, nor is it incompatible with an overall life of faith. Doubt has an integral part to play in the life of faith.

At 1/20/2007 6:56 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks so mcuh for this thoughtful response. Share your thoughts at JESUS and help Scot McKnight answer some of the ones who view all doubt as sin.

At 1/21/2007 7:23 AM, Anonymous Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Consider St. Thomas, who is known so often as Doubting Thomas. Was he is wrong to question or was he being obedient to Christ's own teaching, knowing that many would come in His name? I think the church twisted the Thomas story at some stage to undermine questioning the authority of the church hierarchy.

Can doubt be sinful? Sure, but is it a default sin? I don't think so. We are called to ask, seek and knock. How can we do this if accept everything uncritically. besides, who are we doubting? Are we doubting God & His Word? Or as is more likely, are we doubting human convention and interpretation that claims God's authority?

Great post!


At 1/21/2007 9:48 AM, Blogger Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

A little more context to the actions surrounding Thomas might be useful in determining the true thoughts of Christ about doubt and unbelief.

Before He appeared to Thomas and the eleven as a group, He first appeared to a few others in Luke 24. After telling Jesus all that had happened, in verse 25 Jesus responds by saying, "O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spopken."

He then proceeds to take the Scriptures and expound all the things concerning Himself.

Are we to presume that the thoughts and words of Jesus toward their doubt and unbelief would be different with the unbelief of Thomas? I don't think so!

And all because their doubt and unbelief was related to the the Scriptures. And how did Jesus address them? He chastised them and used the Word of God to heal their doubt and unbelief. Their relationship with Jesus based on the Word was severely lacking!

Which brings me to your use of Ecc. 3:11. Yes, man has eternity in his heart. The remainder of the verse tells us why. "So that no man can find out the work that God has made from beginning to end."

Man's quest for knowledge will never be fulfilled because of the inexhaustable nature of God. He is past finding out, as are His works. So, man must be content with the limited revelation of God for our time on this earth. That revelation is His Word. Our understanding for this time must come from that Word. Even when we enter eternity, our knowledge will never be complete, It will be subject to the revelation of God. And this revelation will continue forever.

Our problem is that we aren't content with the revelation that God has provided. We want to go beyond it. We want to know more than is required or neccessary for our time on earth. And when we don't get it and are not satisfied with what He has provided us or don't understand what he has provided, we enter the realm of doubt and unbelief.

Jesus understood this. He addressed it with Scripture!

BTW, doubt that is referred to as "disagreement" is not doubt. It is disagreement.

And, #3 and #4 are subsets of #2.

At 1/21/2007 1:44 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate your insights.

At 1/21/2007 1:48 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Benjamin Bush, Jr.,
We don't have to import Luke 24 into the Gospel of John text to know what Jesus said to Thomas the Doubter. John the apostle writes it for us.

You have a certain and apparently settled view--the "biblical" view in your mind--on doubt. That's good because Paul encourages us to convinced in our own mind on issues where Christians differ.

I disagree, as others do, with your view that all doubt is sin. 'Nuff said.

At 1/21/2007 2:41 PM, Blogger Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

I never said that all doubt was sin.

All doubt as defined and informed by Scripture and relating to Scripture is sin. Big difference!

I didn't import anything. And I didn't say, nor did I imply, that Jesus said those things to Thomas. I was simply making the point that Jesus had just hours before spoke His thoughts regarding doubt and unbelief towards Himself and the Scripture that revealed Him. The Truth of what He said about one person's unbelief is not going to change with the same type of belief of another person.

It is possible, though that my use of the word "words" could have led to such a conclusion on yur part. For that I apologize for such carelessness.

You and both know that the Gospels comprise one complete narrative and are not necessarily exclusive of one another when attempting to understand a complet context.

Also, I think the words and thoughts of men tend to be given the greater weight instead of Scripture and Spirit led guidance into the study of Truth. As authoritative as Augustine, Aquinas, Immink, Barth and Webb may be, I believe the plain thoughts and words of Jesus and those He inspired carry a little more authority and weight.

At 1/21/2007 7:59 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Benjamin Bush, Jr.,
We both have the same authoritative, God-breathed Scriptures. We both study and teach it from a somewhat conservative, evangelical stance. So we're not disagreeing about the text of the Bible--what the Bible says. We are disagreeing about how you in your "Spirit-led" way interpret it versus my "Spirit-led" way of interpreting it, i.e., about waht it means. So it's not me against the Word or you against the Word; it's your view being different than mine. I don't hold a belief that my understandings about all things biblical are equal to God's. You grant to your views the same authority and inerrancy you grant to the Scriptures. That's mighty high-powered insider information, from my point of view. It feels like "biblical certainty" to you in your humble opinion and it feels like arrogance to many of us in our humble opinion. I am willing and ready right now to stand side by side with you before Jesus Christ our Judge to Whom we will give an account for everything we believe and teach AND the way we teach it. And, by the way, I do know the difference between the words of Jesus (and the Bible) and those of Aquinas and the other boys you named.

At 1/22/2007 5:10 AM, Anonymous Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...


I believe that Jesus' rebuke (though that is perhaps, too hard a word) in Luke 24 was, in my opinion, directed largely for their defining Christ as only a prophet. This was not Thomas' doubt- Thomas was actively engaging his doubt to overcome it. I may be wrong, but it seems you are starting with a premise- that of doubt in this context- and interpreting backwards to meet your point.


At 1/22/2007 7:51 PM, Anonymous sacred vapor said...

Hi John,
I have been doing a blog series on a book by Peter Rollins and he states this about doubt:

“Only a genuine faith can embrace doubt, for such a faith does not act because of a self-interested reason (such as fear of hell or desire for heaven) but acts simply because it must… for when we can say that we will follow God regardless of the uncertainty involved in such a decision, then real faith is born – for love acts not whenever a certain set of criteria has been met, but rather because it is in the nature of love to act.”

I found this quote to be interesting.

At 1/23/2007 4:35 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Sacred Vapor,
Thanks so much for sharing that quote. Doubt need not be viewed as an ememy of faith, but an allie.

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