Continuing to blog through this book: Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002. * See part 1, here.
To truly understand the phenomenon of walking away from faith, you must listen to some of the stories with an open heart and mind. Tucker begins by featuring the faith stories of several known Christian figures. There is an entire chapter on Billy Graham and Chuck Templeton – a study in contrasts. I first learned about Chuck Templeton when I read a Lee Strobel book several years ago. Strobel was able to interview Templeton a couple years before he died. Sadly, he remained agnostic to the end. Billy Graham and Chuck Templeton were friends back in the 1940’s. They were both young and enthusiastic Christian evangelists and were involved with Youth for Christ. Templeton began to develop doubts about the faith, and it reached a crisis point between these two friends. Templeton ended up rejecting his faith, while we all know that Graham retained his faith and went on to successful worldwide Christian ministry. (Graham had some doubts as well but was able to move forward.)
Templeton attempted to deal with his doubts. He enrolled in seminary classes because he thought his lack of theological education might be contributing to his doubts. However, he also pursued spiritual disciplines – such as prayer, meditation, fasting, and taking long walks in the woods where he could be alone and quiet with God. But it didn’t work. Templeton stated: “I would cover them over [his doubts] with prayer and activity but soon there would be a wisp of smoke and a flicker of flame and then a firestorm of doubt.”
Templeton did not easily walk away from his faith and it was a tremendous struggle. I think this is important to emphasize, as unfair assumptions can be made about those who abandon faith. “They didn’t ______ enough” (fill in that blank with whatever: pray enough, cry out to God enough, study enough, etc). Or rebellion and obstinacy is seen as the primary cause of the slide into unbelief. Yet is it fair to say a person is rebellious and obstinate when they tried so hard to keep their faith?
I do want to clarify that I think there are some cases where rebellion may be the heart of it, or where the individual did not make proper effort to deal with their doubts. Yet as believers we need to refrain from hasty judgment or making false assumptions. The focus of this book is on the tough cases where it appears that the person did indeed do all that they could to retain their faith – and it did not work.
There are no easy answers here. It might be easy to say that the answer is the Holy Spirit. But…the former believers I know are a mixed bunch. Some I know personally, and some via the web. Several I doubt were ever true believers to begin with, so I think they left something they never actually “had” to start with. However, others had every sign and indication of being true, genuine, Spirit-filled believers – and yet ended up rejecting the faith. What about these situations? What about the role of the Holy Spirit? They had the Spirit to bring enlightenment but rejected the faith. Seems the Spirit should have kept that from happening – right?
But…we do still have free will even though the Spirit is in us. God doesn’t force things on us and the Scriptures indicate we can grieve and quench the Spirit. However, looking at someone like Templeton – I don’t see evidence he was quenching the Spirit in his life! In fact, the opposite seems the case. He pursued God with both his heart and mind and was doing what he could to fan the flame of the Spirit. Yet, it was the flame of doubt and unbelief that raged…
For a friend of mine there are some similarities. I have mentioned her in posts before. Raised in a Christian home, she considers herself agnostic – yet she really wants to believe! From time to time, she reconsiders belief but it just seems impossible for her. I’ve not given up hope that she will one day find faith, but this is another case where there are no easy answers. Like Templeton, she has tried both the heart and mind route but God stays distant and inaccessible in her life.
As I mentioned in the first post, this is why some people don’t like this book. Tucker doesn’t try to tie everything up with a pretty bow on top and provide answers. Sometimes there are no answers as to why one person keeps the faith and another loses it. Why does one person find faith as easy as breathing, and another find it a terrible struggle? More to come as I blog through this book – your thoughts are very welcome! Part 3: here.