Doubt in our day is in fashion. In fact, it is viewed as a virtue in our culture. Tell someone what you believe, and they will tell you, “Your truth is good for you”. Then they will proceed to tell you their “truth”. On and on you could go, because no one has any ground for truth, according to this view. A former Harvard Professor, Harold Bergman, once said that a religionless law would help no one. By that, he meant that all law is grounded in theology, the study of God. People’s convictions about religion affect how they see and experience the world, which colors how they interpret the Bible.
In recent days, we have seen people—whether in the news or the church—come out and make statements that leave one wondering, “What is doubt?”, and “Is all doubt bad or is there good doubt?” The answers to these question are, first and foremost, informed by our convictions. What we believe as Christians informs what we think of the Bible itself. When we come to the Bible, we come to the clear, inspired, inerrant, sufficient, authoritative, infallible Word of God. We do not come to the Bible to question the Word of God. We do not come from a place of unbelief. Instead, we come to the Bible to learn and to submit to what it says. We do not come to question the text as if it’s not trustworthy. We come to the Bible to learn and to ask questions of the biblical text.
There is a difference between questioning the biblical text and asking questions of the biblical text. When I ask my wife a question about computers, it is because she’s an I.T. expert. In doing so, I am asking her for a well-thought-out and knowledgeable answer to a question. When I go to the grocery store and talk to someone about my car who knows little about cars and chat about what’s going wrong with my car I am getting an opinion, likely one that isn’t well-thought-out, nor knowledgeable. When it comes to the Bible, we must understand that it falls into an entirely different category than the two examples I just used. Unlike other areas of life or subjects, there is no “leading authority” on the Bible. Yes, there are authorities on a variety of biblical subjects, but no one is the master of the Bible. We cannot master the Word. Instead, the Bible masters us because of its emphasis on Jesus and how He desires for His people to obey His commandments, through the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Therefore, when we come to the Bible, we come not to doubt, or to even question out of a place of unbelief. When we ask questions of the biblical text, we are doing so from sound convictions motivated by a desire to learn more of what the Bible has to teach us. Christians, from Calvin to Spurgeon to Owen and others, were all motivated to ask questions of the biblical text because of their convictions. In some areas of the evangelical Church today, there are deeply held anti-intellectualists that reject the idea of questioning as from a place of unbelief.
To these anti-intellectualists, Doubting Thomas is a folk hero. They see how he questioned, and how Jesus responds to him. However, this is not what is happening in that passage. Thomas is not the hero of the anti-intellectual movement. He is the hero of those who ask questions with honesty and with reverence to Christ. If you read the Gospels carefully, you can see how Jesus often answers His disciples. Sometimes His answers are sharp, but most often, they are filled with great care. Read through John chapters 14-16, and you’ll see this as Jesus ministers directly to the disciples. He is focusing on ministering to them, and they want to know where He is going. They have no eyes to see, nor ears to hear what He is saying. They do not have the Holy Spirit yet. Jesus is teaching them about the coming of the Kingdom in His death, burial, and resurrection, and of the Kingdom to come at His Second Coming fully.
Unbelief feeds the anti-intellectual movement at its core. There are those who want you to love God, but they forget that Jesus said that to love God with all you are requires your mind (Matthew 22:39-40). Asking questions of the text is not questioning God. Asking questions of the biblical text is not telling God that you disbelieve Him. Furthermore, it is not attacking the nature and character of God as unbelief does. God’s Words are in the Scriptures; they have a meaning, which God intended and inspired through the personality and the mindset of the biblical writers.
Asking questions of the biblical text is part of engaging in sound biblical interpretation. For example, as we come to the biblical text, we should ask, “What is the context of this verse?” This should be our first question, rather than, “What does this text mean?” By beginning with context, we want to get into the argument and flow of the biblical passage. We are aiming to understand the surrounding context. For example, we might ask, “What period of time is this biblical author writing in?” We should also ask whether this is an epistle, like Paul’s, or if it’s a Gospel account, like the Gospel of John. Those issues matter because they affect how we will understand the argument and flow. For example, in his Gospel, John writes as an artist. He says one thing and comes back to the same point later on, weaving and painting a story to help his readers understand the point he is conveying. The Apostle Paul is much more tangible and straightforward. He makes his point, and he will often come back to it to expand on it. However, stylistic differences abound even among the biblical writers, even as they help us know and understand more of the nature and character of God, and the glory of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Doubt is viewed as desirable in our day. To fight against doubt as a virtue, we must uphold sound biblical and historic convictions about the Bible itself. We fight doubt not by belittling people or chiding them about what they should know. Instead, we are to model for others how to engage the Bible from sound biblical convictions. In other words, The way we interpret the Bible is how we should want others to believe about the Bible itself.
Whether in our preaching, teaching, or writing, we are saying to people, whether they are Christians or not, here is the Word of God. Our duty in doing so is not to beat people over the head and bludgeon them with the Word of God. Instead, it is to say, “Here is what God is saying on this subject.” We do so motivated by love for the glory of God. We do so to give them space to ask questions of the biblical text even as we challenge their preconceived ideas that lead them to doubt the validity of the Bible. As we provide safe places and are safe people to ask questions of the Bible, not doubt the Bible, our churches will fight against the anti-intellectual tide inside and outside the Church.
The Church has always been full of intellectuals, from Calvin to Owen. Some of those are of a greater intellect than others. Even so, the Church has a long and proud intellectual history that we should not be ashamed of. Christians have helped plant churches, build hospitals, and more to help people because they believed Jesus’ words about loving God first and then people. This is but one example of how biblical convictions inform biblical practice. It is also another way to say that Christians are not anti-intellectual, but are rather informed by intellectual convictions that are, as Carl F.H. Henry once said, of Christianity when speaking of it as Christianity as a life-view. Christianity not only shapes our convictions, it shapes our lives. That is why asking questions is not against loving God. It actually loves God with all we are, as Jesus instructed. That is how we are going to fight “doubt as a virtue”—with the Word of God. When we see the Bible itself not as a book to question or doubt, but instead, as a book to be believed, treasured, delighted in, and devoured, because it contains the whole counsel of God that testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is also how we will provide safe places in our churches to combat anti-intellectualism, biblical illiteracy, and more, all for the glory of God.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.