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In defence of Christian doubt

10 April 2017

12:01 PM

10 April 2017

12:01 PM

new survey finds that a quarter of British people who describe
themselves as Christian say they do not believe in the resurrection of
Jesus. Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that I think they are on
theologically dodgy ground. Christians should affirm the resurrection
of Jesus, however much they struggle to reconcile it with their
rational assumptions. Unless it is affirmed, this whole religion is
obviously toast.

And yet, before we all agree to join in pouring scorn on these muddled sort-of Christians, I want to point out that the issue is not entirely clear-cut. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus but I also don’t really. I affirm it, despite my rational scepticism. I mean, dead people stay dead, don’t they? This is how I think that Christian faith works: it’s an argument within the believer. It’s not like a normal opinion.


Maybe this questioning quarter, or some of them, are just being
honest: if one treats this as a normal matter of opinion, one cannot
in all conscience sign up to it. Maybe they believe with one part of
their psyche but disbelieve with the rest. This might be a valid
attempt to express the complexity of faith, a way of saying, ‘I
believe, help my unbelief’.

Am I saying that one need only ‘half-believe’ in Christianity? Sort
of, yes. It might sound like I struggle with ‘doubt’ but that’s
misleading – it implies that full belief is possible, if you’re really
pious and committed. I don’t think it is. I think authentic Christian
faith admits that full belief is beyond our natural capacity, that it
is only through the Holy Spirit that we can believe. Do I believe in
the resurrection of Jesus? Only by grace.

As I explain in my new book God Created Humanism, it was Luther who foregrounded this dynamic (which he found buried in Paul). He put psychological honesty at the heart of Christianity. He said that faith is about admitting one’s self-division, and relying on God.

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