Pastor Gregory Boyd (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) made a name for himself years ago when he penned the best-selling Gold Medallion Award-winner Letters from a Skeptic, a collection of letters with his agnostic father that address tough questions non-Christians people have about the faith. But Boyd quickly became a lightning rod of controversy when he became a proponent of “open theism”, a view claiming that the future is not pre-determined and therefore God knows the future as possibilities and not fact (for more, see his book God of the Possible).
In his newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty, Boyd has returned to his roots in a way by urging people to wrestle with the big questions of faith. He claims that modern Christians have come to accept a false belief that faith is rooted in certainty. He says that faith is instead being willing to commit to living a certain way despite not being certain. Here, we discuss the benefit of embracing doubt and why he believes we need even to question God.
JM: Doubt is sort of a hot topic these days, perhaps because authenticity has become the currency of a the rising generation of Christians. What do you hope to add to the conversation?
I encourage people to accept that, at least for thinking people, doubt is a normal part of faith and life. Unfortunately, because many have bought into the unbiblical idea that a person’s faith is as strong as they are free of doubt, many Christians today feel pressure to suppress doubt and to act and speak as if they were certain. If you happen to belong to a community of people who act and speak this way, it’s easy to feel like an outsider and to even be treated like an outsider if you dare to admit your doubt. In reality, it is simply impossible to be certain about most important matters of life. Every significant decision we make in life is shrouded in uncertainty. It’s part of what it means to be a finite and fallen human being, and its arrogant, foolish, and idolatrous to pretend otherwise.
I encourage people to think of their faith in Christ the way we think about taking wedding vows. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, the truth is that a person can’t be certain things will work out as they hope when they make these vows. This is why it takes faith to get married. But so long as a person is confident enough to commit their life to another person, the degree to which they feel certain or uncertain doesn’t matter.
Of course, if I person is not yet confident enough to commit their life to Christ, I offer a different kind of advice. I encourage them to be honest with their doubt, but to thoroughly investigate the reasons people have for believing Jesus is Lord in the first place. I discuss some of these in the book, and I and many others have found that, while we of course can’t claim to be certain, there are many compelling grounds that lead us to be confident enough in the Lordship of Christ to commit to living our lives in a way that reflects this faith.
JM: You attempt to dismantle “certainty-seeking faith.” What does that mean and why is it a problem?