I’ve found that the more I know a leader personally, the easier it is to follow that leader. Since I’m a leader by virtue of God’s calling and gifting, here’s something about me that might prove helpful to those who follow me: I doubt.
I am a deeply doubtful person. Of the disciples, I am Thomas. Of the judges, I am Gideon. Of the bit players in the gospel narratives, I am the nameless father who cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Caedmon’s Call summed up my perennial state of mind in their thoughtful song “Prove Me Wrong:” “Sometimes I fear / maybe this is all just a game / our friends and our family all play too / harness the young and give some comfort to the old.”
People are often surprised by this, because I come across as a fairly confident leader. I’m not feigning confidence in the Bible or in Christian theology. I am confident… because I’ve doubted it so deeply. It’s secretly hilarious to me when atheists like the one I debated recently throw down arguments against Christianity with a smug self-assuredness, as if to say, “I’ll bet the pastor has never encountered this one before.” I’ve read more atheists than most atheists. Primary sources. Strauss and Hume and Voltaire and Camus and Sartre and Nietzsche and a dozen others. Some of their arguments still challenge me. I’ll see your Christopher Hitchens and raise you a Bertrand Russell.
The temptation I wrestle with most is the temptation to doubt and unbelief. The place where I am most attacked by the Enemy is in the area of doubt. The reason I need to surround myself with really thoughtful friends is because I doubt. It’s hard for me to lead because I have to be utterly convinced of a decision before I can lead others into it. It’s hard for me to preach because I have to answer every question I have about a text before I can preach it to others. It’s hard for me to receive compliments because I have a whole list of people who were saying nice things a year ago and now have changed their minds. It’s hard for me to believe the best about people because I’ve seen the worst of so many people. It’s hard for me to hold onto hope because I have so many reasons to lose it.
Perhaps this is one reason Coram Deo has been effective in ministry to skeptics and critics: because I am one. The simple answers that “work” for some people just won’t suffice.
I’m not writing this post as catharsis. Nor am I writing to elicit sympathy or concern. Everything’s okay. God is good, I am rooted in him, and I’m not going anywhere because He’s not going anywhere (election is a beautiful doctrine). I’m writing specifically for those who are called to follow me as part of the ministry of Coram Deo – so you might know a little more about me, and how you can minister with me and to me.
- If you’re a prayerful person: pray that God would keep me faithful to him for a lifetime and protect my soul against doubt and unbelief, and that his sanctifying grace would continue to grow me in faith and love and joy.
- If you’re a charismatic, go-get-em leader: have patience. Sometimes we won’t do things as quickly or as “big” as you’d like. Probably because I’m still doubting whatever it is that we’re doing. Also, see bullet #1.
- If you have the spiritual gift of faith: please give me grace, ‘cause I’m not like you. Also, see #1.
- If you’re a cynical Christian: don’t see this post as an excuse. Cynicism is a state of soul that deadens your heart and erodes faith and worship. Doubt and cynicism are different. Apply #1 to yourself.
- If you are a non-Christian skeptic: know that I love you and appreciate you. And be assured that you can be a Christian without checking your brain at the door. I’d love to talk about how.
- If you’re skeptical of all leaders: rest assured that I’m at least as skeptical about my own leadership as you are.
At the end of the day, after mentally test-driving every worldview on the block, I stand with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). I can’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere else to go. Jesus is unique, and the Christian worldview is the only one that makes sense of reality.
But I still doubt it sometimes.
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Such a great post. Thanks. Once when I was talking to a friend about my doubts, she quoted the passage you mention above, John 6. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” That question’s been ringing in my ears ever since. The scripture is so kind to doubters. It makes room.
I really appreciate this post, personally and intellectually. I admire leaders who can show weakness in themselves and strength in reliance upon the Lord. I admire leaders who have “been around the block” philosophically and theologically speaking – meaning ones who’ve read authors contrary to Christian doctrine and have found that there is still ground at the cross to hold up under all the atheistic scrutiny (I like brains behind teaching).
Formerly I helped lead a “skeptics club” because I also doubted many things but I wanted to sure of what I was deciding to believe and follow. We would read all these authors you mentioned and then “battle” them, so to speak, with the Bible to see who won in a sense. I thought it was an entirely worthwhile period of my life because I can stand with true conviction that God is who He says He is. However, I also have been previously hurt by church leaders I placed myself under, in theological teaching as well as employment, so I do find myself skeptical of most leaders nowadays until I have ample time to dig into what that leader is teaching and how they are living.
Thank you for your transparency in sharing this aspect of yourself. I, for one, truly appreciate it.
Thanks so much, this was really wonderful to read and it is a blessing to know better how we can be praying for you.
I can now relate to you more as a person and not think of you as a theological robot. Thanks for sharing this.
On this side of glory or the next you will get to see how the working out of your doubt has helped us along in our faith! That will not be your glory but that of the good and loving God we worship.
Yes, thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Bob, for your honesty in these words and for allowing us to pray for you in this. I cling to these words in John 6 many days as well.
Thank you so much, Pastor Bob, for this honest post. It has:
***encouraged me for those times when I have doubted and will doubt again.
***made me (and others at CD) see you as a human & imperfect person—but one whom I truly consider to be faithful to Jesus and an excellent leader to His people
***informed me of how I can pray for you–which I do and will continue to. I pray weekly for you and your entire family
***made me think about reading works of those “skeptics” and atheists.
Joy to you–