Some Pushback to What Owen Strachan Says About Doubt

Owen Strachan at his blog wrote a piece that talked about how doubt is wrong. Its a response to something Steven Furtick preached. I am not a fan of Furtick but I have deep concerns about what Strachan says. Doubt is not a sin. And Strachan seems to forget that a number of characters from John the Baptist to Elijah all dealt with doubt. 

“I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.

Thomas Jefferson 

“The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”

Pierre Abelard

“Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting,[a] or should we keep looking for someone else?

Matthew 11:3 NLT 

Tallest building in San Francisco the Sales Force Tower. 

Before I get into this post let me state that I am not a fan of Steven Furtick in North Carolina. Furtick is controversial and has been in the news over the years for financial issues. Recently he gave a talk that was reported in the Christian Post. It was about doubt and Furtick said that if you are not doubting then he asks, are you really reading the Bible? This is how the evangelical publication wrote about what Furtick said and quoted him in the process

“I have my doubts. I read that whom the Son sets free is free indeed but sometimes I feel bound by stuff. I have my doubts. Is that alright? Do you need to find another church now that you know that the dude with the mic has some doubts?” Furtick revealed after sharing a story about how it is generally assumed by some people that because he is a pastor he never struggles with doubt.

“I meet these people and they say things to me, because of my profession I guess, they make assumptions about me, because there’s a Rev. in front of my name. They make assumptions about me that I don’t have real doubts,” he explained.

“One gentleman that I was doing business with, he put it this way. He was like ‘I envy you because I would love to have faith. I always wanted to believe in God. But I’m just always, I’m the kind of person that doubts a lot. And I envy you that you don’t have those doubts,'” Furtick said.

In response Owen Strachan wrote a response about doubt. Currently he is an Associate Pastor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Owen Strachan is originally from Maine. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College with a degree in history. For those interested in history like myself, Joshua Chamberlain went to Bowdoin. Chamberlain is the hero of Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Strachan then earned a Masters of Divinity in Biblical and Theological Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He then also attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and worked at a Ph.D in Theological Studies. Today he is a senior fellow at the Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. Owen writes frequently for The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has been on staff at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was the director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute of Evangelical Engagement. He also was at Boyce College which is linked to SBTS. In addition he was the managing director of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Strachan has written a number of books. His most recent was co-published with Douglas Sweeney of Trinity and is about Jonathan Edwards. The name of the book is, “The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America’s Greatest Theologian.” With Al Mohler he published “Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement.” With David Platt and Grant Castleberry he wrote, “Whole in Christ: A Biblical Approach to Singleness.” Owen worked with Gavin Peacock to publish a book about complementarism called, “The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them.” And he also wrote a series of books about Jonathan Edwards called, “The Essential Edwards Collection: Set of Five Books.” Other books written include, “The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World” and “Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome.”  

 

What Owen Strachan Said in a Blog Post 

At his blog on July 12, 2018 Owen Strachan wrote a blog post called, “Having Faith in Doubt: A Response to Steven Furtick.” In the post Owen was deeply critical of Furtick. He opens up by saying critics will say that it is human to doubt. He draws from his Neo-Calvinist theology (which this blog characterizes as Fundamentalism 2.0)  I am going to lift from Strachan’s blog. 

Though the Reformed tradition is sometimes maligned as the Party of Unblinking Certitude, no less a theologian than Cornelius Van Til (following Bavinck) distinguished between archetypal and ectypal knowledge. Here’s how one source summed up this distinction, quoting Van Til: “God “interprets absolutely” while man is the “re-interpreter of God’s interpretation.” This is a fascinating and important point. We never cease to be a creature, even as a born-again believer indwelt by the Spirit. We know truly, but we always know as the creature knows, in other words. Also, sin will always impair our understanding in this life; even our best attempts at study and intellection will not meet a perfect standard.

He goes on to say that doubt is not a virtue and that doubt is not faith. He carries on and reminds that Jesus rebuked Thomas for doubting. He draws from the Book of James where he says if you lack wisdom you should ask God. Doubting God leads to being double minded, theologically weak and unstable.  He goes on to state that doubt does not honor God. Instead it dishonors him. I am going to go back to Strachan’s post about doubt. 

We cannot confuse the nature of conversion as Furtick does.We cannot encourage people to mingle their faith with doubt, and to pray accordingly. The sinner whom God saves does not morph into a perfect Christian at the moment of confession. But we either have faith in the living Christ as our Savior, or we do not. Doubt is not virtuous; faith is. We do not place our faith in uncertainty; we do not put our hope in confusion; we do not trust in despair. By God’s sheer grace, as the Spirit moves in our heart to convict and awaken us, we love Christ. We see that he has spoken truly–that he is the Word of God (John 1). We place all our faith (which is the gift of God) and hope in him. We believe in and confess that his death has absorbed the Father’s just wrath and washed our sin away. His resurrection has given us life. The testimony about him in the Bible is all true, all of it, without exception.

He carries on and warns about pastors legitimizing doubt. This is what he says.

In sum, let us not place our faith in doubt. Let us not allow postmodernity to creep into the church. Let us gladly confess our creatureliness, our dependency on God, our total need for divine aid in every hour, and let us pray for faith in God. It is not right for pastors to baptize doubt. It is right for pastors to help struggling people grasp the glorious, dazzling truthfulness of the Christian faith, and to urge the sheep to grip the doctrines of the Word like rungs of a ladder and climb all the way to heaven.

Strachan’s post from my perspective is an epic fail. There are many points of contentions that I have with his take on doubt, So let’s explore those issues as well. 

 

Doubt Reminds Us of Our Humanity 

There are many positive aspects of doubt. One of them is that they remind us of our humanity. To doubt is to be human. Its a part of being human and a reminder that we will always doubt. There is nothing wrong with that aspect as what many people are showing is their humanity. Part of the human experience is to question or ask. Its something we have done from the dawn of civilization. If you are a man or woman you will doubt. Doubt will occur naturally throughout your life in many different forms. You will doubt faith and religion. Or you will doubt in other ways. For example you will doubt certain products and services you see advertised and that is good. Doubt leads to questioning and thinking which our civilization desperately needs today. 

 

Doubt Is Theologically Healthy and a Gift 

Doubt is also theologically healthy. Doubt allows people to explore their faith. Sometimes people have to lose faith in order to find it. Sometimes it is a journey, it can be a modern day equivalent to John Bunyon’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Just as Christian goes on  a journey in that classic European novel, a doubter goes on his. A doubter is also convicted of and wraps himself up in truth. His doubt propels him to search and be on a quest for answers. Truth is valuable and essential and the search for it is the highest and most important profession a person can undertake. Not everyone who is lost is lost, some are just searching for evidence and wrestle with the facts. The pursuit of knowledge  must be near and dear to every person in civilization. From the skeptic to the Christian to search and pursue truth is a journey. For some it will last a few years and some will spend their lifetime doing so. 

I, myself, am a doubter. I am a doubter at heart. I struggle with issues like the problem of evil and many other topics. Corruption and church culture are other issues that trouble me. Yet I also realized that doubt is a gift. It is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that I have been given. In wrestling with facts, doubts and more is how I found myself. And that is something I treasure. I think many Christians are afraid of doubt and that in itself is a tragedy. A faith crisis helped me to become who I am and allowed me to look at different issues from differing sides. 

 

What About the Examples in the Bible Where People Doubted? 

In that piece Owen Strachan wrote he reminds people that Jesus rebuked Thomas about his non belief. But the reality is that there are many characters in the Bible who struggled with doubt. Thomas is well known but he is far from being the only one. Elijah, Moses and so many others dealt with doubt. They dealt with doubt in their own way. One person whose doubt stood out in the Bible is that of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the one who proclaimed in John 1 at the sight of Jesus, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” When John the Baptist baptized Jesus in Matthew 3 heaven opened and a voice from the Lord proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” John the Baptist saw many miracles of Jesus and then let’s look what happened. In Matthew 11 John the Baptist is locked up in prison. And John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus that says the following. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” All these miracles that John the Baptist has seen and yet he still has enormous doubts about Jesus. Jesus responds by saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” So in that Jesus responds by talking about John’s doubts. Plus we can’t forget that even Jesus expressed doubt on the cross. Jesus proclaimed, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I am personally disappointed that Owen Strachan didn’t talk about these other examples of doubt. This is one of the reasons why I think his blog post actually fails. 

 

How Much Healthier Would Faith Be if John Piper Were a Doubter?  

Doubt can also rescue one’s faith as well. There are many examples that I can pull from but there is a classic example that highlights the problem of absolute faith. It is the issue of Old Testament genocide and the story of the Cannanites. This has been one of those issues I have never understood. Israel and the Jews were far from perfect yet God blesses them and protects them. Then in contrast the Cannanites are smited in mass and God orders the Jews not to leave any standing. Richard Dawkins describes God’s killing of the Canaanites in the following, “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser … a genocidal … megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In this area I think Richard Dawkins raises some good questions. How is God any different than Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot or Adolf Hitler? Now watch that video up above and listen to what John Piper says about the slaughter of the Canaanites. John Piper says that it is right of God to slaughter women, children and engage in genocide. John Piper is backed into a corner because of his literal position. If the Bible had a story of God molesting an infant John Piper would respond by saying, “God can molest anyone that he pleases, its his right.” 

Can you imagine for a moment how much healthier would John Piper be if he were a doubter? Can you imagine how much more he could contribute to the conversation if he said something like, “I don’t know and to be honest with you I struggle with this quite a bit.” Doubt could be a way around the dicer parts of scripture. Doubt can help one navigate the difficult issues in the Bible that are hard to comprehend. How a loving God could engage in ethnic cleansing is horrific from where I stand. Doubt helps me in dealing with those issues. After all it takes more faith to be a doubter and struggle with it, then to be filled with absolute certainty. 

 

Doubt Levels the Playing Field and Allows Us to Relate to Others 

This I think can be one of the best aspects about doubt. Doubt levels the playing as it makes everyone equal. It eliminates hierarchy. From pastor to the head of a denomination to the person who sits in the pew doubt can connect everyone and makes them equal. In these circumstances it can open the door to fellowship and understanding as people can understand that there are challenges to faith. Doubt can also allow us to relate to those of other faiths and those who are atheist and secular humanist. Doubt can be a building block to helping people to know and understand. When a person inside the evangelical Christian church struggles with Old Testament genocide they can relate to the person who was crushed by it who left. 

As I wrap this post up let me close by saying the following. Doubt is not something to be afraid. It is not something to fear. Doubt can be a profound gift to the Christian. It forces you to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What do I believe?” It will force you to face the issues and topics you want to dismiss and ignore. Doubt can turn a person who is struggling into planting roots. Doubt is a profound gift, one that is shared by so many characters in the Bible. From Jesus himself to John the Baptist, to Elijah and others. So if you are a doubter rest assured that you are in good company. The article by Owen Strachan is awful and its one that the church should ignore. That is it for the day, know that you are loved! 

 

3 thoughts on “Some Pushback to What Owen Strachan Says About Doubt

  1. An additional point about the importance of doubt. Let’s assume for a moment that one of the sects of one religion is actually the correct one. That means that everybody in every other religion, and all other sects of the correct religion are in error. Without doubt and questioning, how could the people in the incorrect religions ever find out that they are wrong? How can they find the correct answer if they are all taught that doubting what they are told is wrong and sinful?

    Strachan is preaching belief in belief itself. That believing in things, even things that you believe for no good reason, is a virtue. That’s great for trapping people into a “sheep” mentality, but people shouldn’t be sheep.

    Like

  2. I would not say that doubt is an end in and of itself, or something that is desirable to seek out. However, it can be invaluable as a means to an end, and God can (and does) use it for good and for growth. You have described above some of the ways in which it can be used for good.

    I think that someone who says they never have doubt is either (1) lying, or (2) dangerously and pridefully full of rigid certitude. In either case they are best to be avoided. I strongly mistrust anyone who claims to have all the right answers to all possible questions, and who claims to possess an infallible and complete systematic theology which ties everything up in a neat package with no loose ends. God and His truth can’t be put into a box like that.

    It is through times of doubt that we can grow, learn, understand our need for dependence on God, exhibit humility, and develop empathy for others who are also working through doubt. Slapping someone down for experiencing doubt deprives them of these opportunities, and doing so is the hallmark of one who is likely more interested in being seen as the authoritative voice themself, rather than pointing towards God.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i.e. The Gospel According to Warhammer 40K:
    “Doubt begets Questioning.
    Questioning begets Thinking.
    Thinking begets Heresy.
    Heresy must be Dealt With.
    Blessed is the mind too small for Doubt.”

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.