Piercing The Smoke Screen

As it turned out, Ron Bronski survived my cynical attempts to skewer his story. The street-savvy police detectives were absolutely convinced that the changes in his life were authentic. So was the prosecutor. After hearing the evidence, the judge agreed, and instead of sentencing him to the penitentiary, he set him free on probation. "Go home and be with your family," he told a surprised and grateful Bronski.

Today, more than twenty years later, Bronski is still a minister to street kids in the inner city of Portlandand he remains a close friend of mine.3

My initial attitude toward Bronski was reminiscent of the doubts that I had raised as a spiritual skeptic. At first I had heartfelt and thoughtful objections to the Christian faith. But over time, after I began finding adequate answers to those issues, I started to bring up new and increasingly marginal challenges.

Then one day I remembered Leslie's comment about Ron Bronski, and I imagined how she might confront me again with similar words: "Lee, are you trying to poke holes in Christianity because you really think it's an illusion-or are you raising objections because you don't want it to be true?"

That stung. Admittedly, I had a lot of motivation to find faults with Christianity when I was an atheist. I knew that my hard-drinking, immoral, and self-obsessed lifestyle would have to change if I ever became a follower of Jesus, and I wasn't sure I wanted to let go of that. After all, it was all I knew. Consequently, instead of trying to find the truth, I found myself attempting to fend off the truth with fabricated doubts and contrived objections.

I don't think I'm alone in doing this. Many spiritual seekers have legitimate questions concerning Christianity and need to pursue answers that will satisfy their heart and soul. Yet I think some seekers get to the point where they are subconsciously raising smoke screens to mask their deep-seated motivations for rejecting the faith.

The same is true for Christians who fall prey to doubts about their beliefs. Often, they're having a bout of sincere misgivings about some aspect of their faith; other times, however, their professed doubts may actually be a subtle defense mechanism. They may think they're hung up over an objection to some part of Christianity, when the reality is that they're actually just casting around for some excuse-any excuse-not to take Jesus more seriously.

For many Christians, merely having doubts of any kind can be scary. They wonder whether their questions disqualify them being a follower of Christ. They feel insecure because they're not sure whether it's permissible to express uncertainty about God, Jesus, or the Bible. So they keep their questions to themselves-and inside, unanswered, they grow and fester and loom until they eventually succeed in choking out their faith.

"The shame is not that people have doubts," Os Guinness once wrote, "but that they are ashamed of them."4

At the same time, many Christians have a completely different perspective. They believe that having doubts isn't evidence of the absence of faith; on the contrary, they consider them to be the very essence of faith itself. "The struggle with God is not lack of faith," said Andre Resner. "It is faith!"5

Do spiritual seekers have to resolve each and every one of their questions before they can follow Jesus? Can a person be a Christian and nevertheless have reservations or doubts? What can people do if they want to believe in Christ-much like Charles Templeton professed he did in my interview-but they feel that questions about Christianity are blocking their way? Is there a process for resolving doubts when they arise? And is there hope for those whose melancholy personality seems to draw them inexorably toward uncertainty in matters of faith?

Scholars have wrestled with these issues for years, but I didn't want to talk with some professor whose interest in doubt was merely antiseptic and academic. I wanted to get answers from someone who has personally known the confusion, the guilt, the maddening ambiguity of uncertainty-and that lured me to Dallas to interview a Christian leader whose faith journey has repeatedly taken him on torturous detours through the valley of the shadow of doubt.

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