Those Between Faith and Doubt

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Saint Augustine wrote a small book in 393 that I like to use as a reminder. The book, Faith and the Creed, was an address he gave to a plenary council of the African Church. In it, he exposits a combination of the Nicene and Romano-Milanese creeds. As you would expect from Augustine, the entire short book is good. Yet, I especially like the introduction, where Augustine explains the use of the creed and the importance of its defense. He begins with its use.

But the Catholic Faith is made known to the faithful in the Creed, and is committed to memory, in as short a form as so great a matter permits. In this way for beginners and sucklings, who have been reborn in Christ but have not yet been strengthened by diligent and spiritual study and understanding of the divine Scriptures, there has been drawn up in few words a formula they must accept in faith, setting forth what would have to be expounded in many words to those who are making progress and are raising themselves up to attain the divine doctrine in the assured strength of humility and charity.

The Bible is a big book and theology is an expansive discipline; there is much to learn. The creed serves as an orientation to the Christian faith for those who are new to it. But also, the creed is a reminder for those Christians who have dug deeper into the Scriptures and have lived in the faith long enough to have experienced the conundrums of discipleship, which often engender doubts. Be sure, doubts will arise. Not just because faith includes disheartening mysteries, but also because there exist people who do not believe the Christian faith and who are not content that others should. This is why Augustine makes a case for exposition.

But the exposition of the Faith serves to fortify the Creed, not that it is given to be committed to memory or repeated instead of the Creed by those who obtain the grace of God. But it guards the things contained in the Creed against the wiles of heretics with full Catholic authority and with a stronger defense.

In a word, all Christians need to remember the basics of faith and also we need individuals who will expound the complexities of faith. Few of us would feel comfortable categorizing ourselves alongside the likes of Augustine, one of the great expositors and defenders of Christianity. But, neither with false humility should many of us claim only to be sucklings. The majority of us are in between.

It helps for me to remember this: I am not new to Christianity, though others are and they need the example of my continued affirmation of the faith that they are just beginning to learn. Neither am I a great defender of the faith, though others are and they need the example of my continued affirmation of the faith that they labor so hard to defend.

Those expositors of the Christian faith have been on my mind and heart recently. They are the Christians who get beat up by antagonists, and even by their own hearts and minds. Too often, they also get thrashed about by in-between Christians like me. They choose to wrestle with mysteries and doubts in an effort to give me comfort and assurance. I would not understand the smallest imprint of the depths they explore. And, if I followed them all the way down to those depths, my faith would be rattled to its core. Why am I so quick to accuse these expositors? They begin to dig in search of diamonds deep, but as soon as they hit clay, I chide, “Ah ha! I knew you were going to smear the faith.”

In reality, defending the faith requires getting messy. Often confidence comes only after washing off the caked-on grime accumulated from burrowing for jewels of truth. Are there ways, I wonder, for in-between Christians like me to help expositors clean up after a particularly hard dig? I cannot say I know the best way to help, though I suspect it might involve getting a little dirty, too.

Profile photo of David Michael Bruno

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


14 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Matt Conner

    Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    Dave, thanks for this thoughtful first piece. Really resonated with me as I find myself described here in a few ways — as one who hopes to dig and then also as one who is reactive all too often. Thanks for your perspective here.

  2. Becca

    David, I can’t stop thinking about this.

    Yesterday I began reading C.S. Lewis’s _A Grief Observed,_ and B and I had a long talk about how those who explore theological mysteries with honesty are often brutalized twice, first by the pain which forced the exploration, and then a second time by others who cannot bear what has been uncovered by it. Casual observers are often frightened or appalled by temporary spiritual messes, and they can therefore react harshly toward the exhausted.

    Bruno’s call to compassion and aid moves me deeply. How much would change in our Christian culture if more of us had this mindset. How much less fear there would be, more willingness to think and admit things, if people knew they could return to a Rivendell-type relational setting to heal and to rest. Perhaps one of the most severe casualties of the Enlightenment is that sometimes we respond with proofs and declarations when a warm bowl of soup and tender hands would do more good.

    For me, this is one of those life-altering posts that I think (hope) will soak way down deep. It changes the core of how I see, how I want to live, and I can feel dominoes tumbling outward as I read it. Thank you.

    Becca

  3. Helena

    What a perfect image you’ve provided to describe those wrestling with issues of faith! Thank you, thank you! I’ve been so frustrated lately with the behavior of the in-betweeners, so willing to sling mud and so unwilling to wait and watch and pray. It’s evidence of our immaturity that we jump so quickly. We’re afraid…our nerves are taut…we’re poised and ready to pounce on anyone who threatens our way of perceiving the truth of the Word. How strange that Jesus should have said, more often than anything else, that we should not fear. He must have known how weak we would be, and how frightened. But I would surely love to see what Christendom would look like if we sloughed off our fear and marched right into the mud together.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Great words, David. We are so often likely to opt for certainty in the face of doubt, to run back to our theological or denominational hidey-holes. But Norman Grubb said, “Faith is doubt conquered.” Without doubt, there can be no advancement of faith. Digging in the Word (and digging in writers like George MacDonald) is often disturbing, or unsettling at the least. Panning for gold muddies the water.

    This is a bit from Jeanne Guyon that goes well to remind us to give grace to those who are unsettled in faith, including ourselves.

    ________________________

    The greatest experience of the grace of God will produce in you a deeper knowledge of what you are. Such grace would not come from Him if it did not give you a clear view of your miserable state apart from God…Outward weakness appears in you, but your intention is pure within.You are now entering into a place of faith that will hide the sense of God’s presence that makes it so easy for you to do good. No longer will you easily be able to perform “good works” because God is requiring something else of you. To others it seems that you have fallen back to your old nature.

    So appears the evidence to the eyes of those who do not see as God does. Although you outwardly appear black, you beg your companions to see beyond that to what God is doing within you. Your outward faults, real or apparent, do not exist because you lack love and courage. Your flaws are seen because the divine Light has looked upon you with His burning face, and this has changed your color: He has taken away your natural way in order to have only what His fiery strength wants to give you. Here is violent love that dries up and tans the skin! Love has not left you, but grown more fierce.

    This blackness is progress, not failure…Outward beauty can blind others to your true state. You may even be greatly admired by others and still the Bridegroom’s glory not be fully revealed in you because others are too taken up with your outward appearance and acts…You may find that others will be angry with you for turning to find your Lord. Others may see your inner life causing you to neglect outer things. Do not forget to seek your Lord within. You need not be concerned with correcting your outer faults. The Bridegroom is well aware of your flaws and will heal them in His own wise way.

  5. Nina Ruth

    Thank you, bro, for a thoughtful piece…I think you did a little soul-searching, risk-taking burrowing yourself. Thanks for the resulting jewels.

    And thanks, Ron, for the Madame Guyon quote…I’m so at this point right now, and the person I have been showing the least amount of grace to in this process has been myself. Thanks for some healing.

  6. Micah

    I think one of the local body’s most significant roles is to provide a place of interconnection for the babes, the deep diggers, and those of us in the middle.

    Paul instructs believers, “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.” This admonition is vital for those who are tempted to live in high theological towers.

    As I see Christ’s character shining through my brother, I become more like Him. If I am in need of maturity, that fellowship matures me. If I’m in need of grounding, it grounds me.

    When we do Church the right way, a beautiful symbiosis forms. It succors the weary, heals the broken, exalts the lowly, and abominates our demonic pride.

    I would say that if a deep digger is to maintain a spirit of love, he simply must be in fellowship with babies and middle folk like you and me. Let’s look for opportunities to reach out in simple, caring ways to those we deem “greater” than us, just as we ought to with those we deem “lesser.”

  7. JamesDWitmer

    David,

    In true Rabbit Room style, you’ve exposed me to a new book, challenged me toward a graceful understanding of differing parts of the body, and encouraged me to show myself that same grace.

    I think your description of people who wrestle with doubt in order to encourage We Who Are In Between is also a description of the RR contributors (esp songwriters) who have been closest to my heart – and explains why they are.

    Thank you.

  8. Dave Bruno

    Amen to all the comments.

    It makes me think, being the body of Christ isn’t easy! It’s hard to be a newbie. Hard to be mature. Hard to be in between. We sure do need each other. Kind of gets me excited about the Kingdom to think about doing this well here on earth and even more excited for the future.

  9. James Cain

    Great post, Dave. This betweener still has so much to learn both about following and leading.

    Those words of Augustine’s, about guarding the faith, I too often shout like a war cry. And the collateral damage caused by such an approach–to newbies and betweeners alike–is easy to dismiss as acceptable. We need more examples of careful, thoughtful, loving engagement with ideas and the people who hold them.

    Exposition, after all, is an important part of storytelling, the task that fills in the gaps between dialogue and action. It can certainly be overdone, and that’s why I tend to scan or skip it when I’m reading a novel, impatient with even a conscientious writer. But if I do, I tend to miss some of the most beautiful parts, or key elements that tie the story together. How much more, when it comes to the Grand Story, do I need patience; precisely because it matters so much, I need patience with the Author, with those first-time readers, and with those careful and courageous guides willing to move out in deeper reflectiveness and contemplation.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to more.

  10. Renee Keren Powell

    David … After reading this post a second time, I dare to make a reply. And I am intentionally avoiding reading the comments, so as to clarify my reaction.

    Friendly fire has been a constant in my spiritual life since returning from a liminal journey undertaken after some close personal deaths. During that journey, like the crusades, I battled the enemy within that I projected on others. Harm I did cause. Grief can be a powerful motivator though and has helped me uncover the gems of musical talent long buried in my youth. Talent that God has blessed and it has brought about deep personal healing. My returning after this tiresome spiritual journey was met with great suspicion and warning shots, but return I did. The impact on my spiritual community is ever unfolding. God takes his time in instituting change. I believe it is through His grace filled patience that change will be everlasting. But not all will be convinced.

    Do you have to take that journey? Maybe not. Maybe your job is to share in the uncovered wealth of others returning from their journey. For not all my greetings were warning shots. There were those that harbored me into town under the cover of darkness, which I become familiar with and was no longer afraid of. A match lit in darkness can be the most welcoming of light. Shimmering its greeting, it requires two hands to strike. Friendly fire never lights a match. It also takes two hands.

    Your article struck a match for me and those like me returning from their spiritual journey. Hutchmoot/Rabbit Room is successful for the same reason. Thank you for the warm welcoming light. And may God bless each of you.

  11. Dave Bruno

    Thank you for sharing Renee. I am glad this post was an encouragement to you. You’re so right that we must be patient with ourselves, others, and God as He guides us home.

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