*This is a series re-blog from 2013*
Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
I read this book a couple years ago, and have since wanted to re-read it and “blog” through it. This will be a series of posts. So here we go…
Can a Christian lose their salvation? This book is not about that! Countless books have already been written on that issue. But no matter what you believe about eternal security, we all have to admit that people can at least have the appearance of walking away from their faith.
This description is on the back cover of the book: “In this no-holds-barred book, Ruth Tucker tackles the tough questions about losing faith. She gives historical perspective by looking at prominent Christians who have struggled with faith. She grapples with difficult philosophical and theological issues. She explores the hard questions that bring people to the point of losing faith – questions about suffering, science, and more.”
And here is an excerpt from the preface of the book: “Where is the line that divides religious belief from unbelief? I’m not sure. All of us in our faith fall somewhere on the vast, subjective spectrum that ranges from absolute certainty to unrestrained skepticism. Some profess a confident belief in God that is never questioned; others cling to belief riveted with doubts, only a millimeter shy of unbelief. Some are insecure in their unbelief, while others appear to be content in their confident belief that there is no God. No matter where we find ourselves on this spectrum, we need to listen to the voices of others and refrain from hasty judgment.”
Usually Christian books that tackle the issue of faith and doubt emphasize the positive side of doubt. For example, doubt can strengthen your faith. While this is true, it seems the negative side of doubt is ignored. Tucker states: “Doubt—no matter who writes about it—is not properly respected for the power it wields….Little is said of the dark, fierce, hoary side of doubt, and of the logical next step—unbelief.”
It is not that this book is depressing, but it is simply honest. It offers a frank perspective and does not sugar coat the issues. Tucker is willing to admit that sometimes there are no easy answers as to why one person keeps their faith and another loses it. Too often believers want everything tied up with a pretty bow on top, but that is not reality. The very nature of faith is that it is faith – not certainty – and we need to get better at living the tensions or paradoxes of faith.
The issue of faith and doubt seems to touch a raw nerve for some people. Some Christians seem threatened by the mere presence of someone who has abandoned the truths they hold dear. They react with judgment and make false assumptions. Another emphasis of the book is that we need to get better at really listening to those struggling with doubts or to those who have already abandoned faith. We need to respond with more grace and sensitivity.
Tucker mentions how a friend told her, in regards to walking away from faith: “I can’t understand how anyone could ever do that.” But Tucker states “I do understand” and she shares how her life of faith has always been riddled with doubts:
“Apart from God’s sovereign grace, I sometimes cannot imagine how anyone could keep on believing. As for myself, despite the ever present unbelief, I have a sense of security that utterly assures me I could never walk away. I cannot explain it. It is a mystery to me that belief and unbelief exist in ever present tension in my life – an affliction, perhaps, but an affliction that spurs me on and never lets me relax in my spiritual pilgrimage.”
I could have written that! Maybe one reason I so appreciate this book is that my life of faith closely parallels that of Ruth Tucker. I’d love to be able to meet her sometime. More posts to come…as said, this will be a series. Part 2 is here.
Very interesting. The phrase of learning to live with the tensions and paradoxes is a good way of phrasing it. I became a Christian in college, surrounded by people whose worldviews challenged my new found faith. I learned early on to live with unresolved tensions and paradoxes, yet the essence of the faith I found guided me in holding firm, but not falling into rigid dogmatism. When I read the book, The inklings, about Tolkien, Lewis and Williams, I was impressed by the description of Lewis that, though he grew up in a Christian home, they read Voltaire and other atheists and we’re not afraid of doubt. I recently heard John Lennox, the brilliant mathematician and apologist, say that his parents encouraged him to read the great literature of intelligent atheists. I have found as I wade into the thinking of contrary worldviews, that my own faith becomes more solidified in the process as I realize that doubt is a part of the human condition, whether we believe in God or not. We are finite beings. It is inescapable.
Kevin, I meant to reply sooner. You have so many good thoughts. “…the essence of the faith I found guided me in holding firm, but not falling into rigid dogmatism” – Yes! If only more could end up here.
“I have found as I wade into the thinking of contrary worldviews, that my own faith becomes more solidified in the process” – again, yes! I know too many situations where Christians fear other viewpoints, or fail to expose their children to such. In part 8, I mention the importance of educating rather than indoctrinating kids.
Agreed. I think we give in to fear rather than having the confidence to walk inn faith. If God is who we think he is, we have nothing to fear, and if we discover that God is different than who we think he is, we should be glad to be proven wrong.
Oh this sounds like such a good book.
Glad you’ve decided to repost this series. I know I read it the first time around, but I can’t remember many of the details, and my perspective on certain things has likely shifted a bit since then anyway. Look forward to reading the rest of the posts.
As someone who’s gone through the deconversion process and ended up on the other side, I can say that one of the descriptions of it that I’ve found most accurate is a video series on YouTube by a guy who goes by Evid3nc3. He compares faith to a network made up of many nodes. As he explains it, we all have different reasons for why we believe. The effectiveness of prayer, creation/universe, the Bible, personal experiences, etc.
If doubts arise that compromise one of those nodes, like maybe science takes away the “creation/universe” node, faith still holds, because it’s supported by the other nodes. But if enough nodes are compromised, faith can no longer be maintained.
I thought that was a good analogy. His videos are worth watching for that, if nothing else.
Hi Nate, thanks for the video suggestion. That is an interesting way to look at it – faith as a network of nodes and we believe for a combination of reasons. I think it is definitely a good analogy! And… a node that is critical to one person, may not be critical to another. Meaning the same node getting knocked out may be huge for one person, but not for another.
Exactly! And that fits right in line with the experiences I’ve had in talking to different people, as well. I’m glad it resonated with you. 🙂
C R Flamingbush said:
I don’t think there is a Christian in the world who has never struggled with doubt. However, being more solidified in my faith now than I was when I was younger, I really believe that if a person wants to strengthen their faith, they need to do three things:
1) Do as it says in the first psalm and surround yourself with faith-filled people, because listening to doubt tends to breed more doubt.
I grew up in a culture of doubt, which made me desperate for the truth. To make a silly rhyme, I was “full of self pity because my friends were not witty, and it was not pretty.” Seriously, it was only the grace of God that kept me from taking my own life, it was so depressing. Hanging around faith-filled people encourages me in a way I can’t describe.
2) In Romans 10:17 we read that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, so it really helps to read the Bible – not to get points with God but because it builds faith. If you have trouble understanding the Word, that’s where the faith-filled people can help, because it’s part of loving one another, which is part of abiding in Christ.
As He tells us in John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing.” – which brings me to the next point,
3) Being filled with the Holy Spirit builds up our faith, because Jesus tells us in John 14;26 that He is our Comforter who teaches us all things. Ephesians 5:17-20 tells us how to be filled with the Spirit:
“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Thanking God and praising Him puts us in tune with the Holy Spirit which can keep us in joy even as we struggle with doubts – for we know it is HE who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts regarding faith and doubt. In all this, it is a comfort to know that Jesus is the author and finisher of my faith and not me!
HE is my shepherd, not me.
HE is the one who will keep me to the end.
(and thanks for letting me share that)
I’ve blogged a lot about faith and doubt on the blog – and I appreciate thoughts on dealing with doubt. THANK YOU for sharing these things.