*This is a series re-blog from 2013*
Continuing to blog through this book: Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
I’ve been moving right along blogging through this book, but the middle section of it has slowed me down. The author covers so much territory that I feel a bit uncertain on how to present the main ideas in a blog post or two. But here it goes…
The middle section of the book explores major challenges to the Christian faith – both historically and in modern times. The book is not meant to be apologetic, rather it just presents the various difficulties some people face in holding on to their faith.
The point is: We should be familiar with these objections to faith and take them seriously…rather than be dismissive, as Christians can unfortunately be sometimes. People struggling to retain their faith deserve respect and consideration. Have you ever had a serious concern about an issue, only to be treated in a dismissive manner? It is very frustrating!
This section of the book looks at the influence of science, philosophy, the field of biblical criticism, psychology, social issues, and personal disappointment with God. Yes, it covers a lot of ground, but Tucker does an exceptional job of introducing and summarizing the issues. She provides enough information, but not too much, which can pave the way for you to explore any of these issues in more depth on your own.
In the chapter on biblical and historical reflections on doubt and unbelief, Tucker goes all the way back to the beginning – as in Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Even in paradise unbelief was only a temptation away. “From the Fall onward, God’s people have an inclination towards unbelief.” The point is that doubt and unbelief is nothing new. Christians can sometimes bemoan the terrible disbelief of our modern day, yet it has existed in different ways throughout history.
Even in the pages of the New Testament when Christ was still on earth, doubts and disbelief jump out at us:
From a cursory glance at New Testament figures we see an embodiment of faith that is not always unwavering and tidy. There is tension, uncertainty, and messiness. The good is mixed with bad, pride is mixed with humility, and the true is mixed with the false. Judas appears to have abandoned whatever faith he may have had. John the Baptist faltered in his faith. Peter denied and cursed. Thomas demanded proof. And they were all insiders, so to speak. Indeed, doubt and unbelief, as presented in the Scriptures, by no means constitutes the unforgivable sin. Time and time again there is a sense of understanding and forgiveness.
Some of the issues we struggle with today are the same as New Testament times. For example, our doubt may not be about whether there is a God, but about who Jesus is: Was he really the Messiah and Son of God, or just another rabbi?
But modern times have indeed induced new doubts – through areas such as science and biblical criticism. But we can take some comfort in knowing that doubt and disbelief itself is not new and other people have “suffered” with it too.
I think we can have a false idealistic idea of faith as being easier than it actually is. Yet realistically, a life of faith will have a degree of tension and uncertainty. (We walk by faith, not sight.) Coming to terms with this fact may be another key in retaining faith despite doubts.
Tucker makes some observations about the “practical atheism” we observe more frequently in our modern day. (Referring to people who affirm they “believe in God” but live in a way that does not reflect it.)
Even solid Christian believers can be guilty of this too. In centuries past, before modern technology and science, daily life was hard and people really leaned on their faith. (Actually, day-to-day existence remains tough in some areas of the world!) Those of us in developed nations may say we depend on God, but really we are depending on…our bank account, the doctor, the airplane, or other technology! This doesn’t mean we don’t utilize these things, but where is our ultimate trust? We all have a tendency toward practical atheism, and perhaps admitting this can give us a little more understanding towards the atheists in our midst.
More to come on this section of the book. As always, thoughts are welcome!