The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

The Most Important Thing to tell Your Child When They Doubt Their Faith

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Doubt is feeling the pull of an objection. We doubt when we encounter a claim that challenges one of our beliefs and we find the claim at least somewhat plausible.

Doubts can come from anywhere. Sometimes there’s someone in our lives who is pressing us on a belief or it may be something we think of all on our own.

Our kids are almost certain to come across challenges to their Christian beliefs. Our culture has become steadily post-Christian and so, at some point, our kids will be pressed by someone or themselves simply have a challenge in their own thoughts. Sometimes these challenges will be easily addressed, but other times they will cause them to struggle.

Facing Down Doubt

All too often kids face down their doubts alone. This is in part because a pastor or parent’s advice for their doubt has amounted to telling them “knock it off.” Or they have been told to pray these doubts away. We should of course pray about these things, but, for most of us, this doesn’t work.

So the most important thing to tell your child when they face doubts is…

You are normal.

Doubt is a normal part of the process as we move along this journey of living the Christian life. It is not necessarily evidence of weak faith or that one is not genuinely saved or that they are doing something wrong when it comes to their Christian walk. All it means is there is some objection that is striking them as somewhat plausible. And this is just a normal part of the process of growing in faith.

Doubt is normal

Here’s the reality: we should ALL find some objections to our views somewhat plausible, at least from time to time.

Consider your political views. If you think ALL of your political views are just obvious and ANYONE who disagrees must be deluded or morally deranged, then you are probably not thoughtfully engaging. There are a wide range of political views out there and it’s likely some really well-meaning and intelligent people hold the exact opposite view of yours. And when we take the time to understand why well-meaning and intelligent people hold different views from us, we often see that a view is far more plausible than what we initially thought. Keep in mind, we can find claims plausible even if we don’t believe them. This is what happens in sales– things we don’t believe are made plausible.

There are objections to Christianity that I, as a seminary professor, can find somewhat plausible. Now I am not in a situation where I’m wavering in my Christian commitments, given these objections, as I once did. But this is because I dug in and investigated and am now confident in addressing these objections. But I can still, in a way, feel the tug these objections otherwise have.

I want my kids to doubt their faith

I often say that I want my kids to doubt their faith. I realize this is fairly provocative. Why would I say such a thing?

It’s because I think there are really good answers to the objections of Christianity!! I think Christianity stands on robust evidence and its a really, really good story. It’s what C.S. Lewis would call a True Myth. I want my kids to feel the pull of an objection and then have the experience of finding answers that address those objections. This is powerful! And its powerful precisely because it brings confident faith.

I also want my kids to doubt when they are in my care and under my roof, rather than when they are out there in the world, say, in a biology class or getting bombarded by some hostile unbeliever. I want to be right there guiding them through this process.

Investigate!

The only way I know to address doubt is to investigate and find answers to our questions. We are often very slow to investigate because doubt has a way of making us feel like we’ve stumbled on the as-of-yet-undiscovered-smoking-gun-objection to Christianity. That is, we think we have found the envelope that contains the missing evidence that falsifies the whole thing and we are afraid to look inside.

However, I say look inside.

Whenever I have investigated an objection with which I’m struggling, I have found that, first, it’s not the smoking gun of which I was afraid. Second, there are thoughtful Christian answers indeed. I don’t have everything solved, but there are good answers that go a long way to addressing our doubts.

The informed parent

Here’s where you, as a parent, need to be informed and ready to guide your child. I’m guessing your child may not be ready to read through all 880 pages of Evidence that Demands a Verdict or Bill Craig’s graduate level Reasonable Faith. But you should.

I, and a couple of coauthors, recently wrote Stand Firm: Apologetics and the Brilliance of the Gospel as an accessible guide to apologetics that emphasizes the reasonability and the attractiveness of Christianity. In short, we think the Christian gospel is brilliant.

Here are a few other accessible resources:

Natasha Crain’s books and blog.

J. Warner Wallace’s books and website. Each of Jim’s books have a kid’s version that they can read.

Sean McDowell’s book Apologetics for a New Generation.

What are some other resources you have found helpful on your journey?

 

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5 Replies

  1. Hal Givens

    Your dad would remember Mae Stewart from PCB days. She taught me that doubting was normal and important for our faith to grow. Keep spreading the good word!

    1. Travis Dickinson

      I grew up hearing of Mae Stewart and these sorts of things. I probably met her at some point when I was young, but I don’t have a specific memory. I hope you are well!

  2. Sam Foerster

    I wonder if you could do a piece on “evidence”. I see a lot of atheists say that there is no evidence for the existence of God. I would never say this, but I wonder if I have a different view of what evidence is. I don’t have a firm idea that I could articulate, but surely it should mean more than just proof. Shouldn’t the appearance of design be considered evidence? Even Dawkins says,” Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
    In a court case do not both sides have evidence? I don’t think you say after the verdict is rendered that the losing side didn’t have any evidence. But maybe that it was unconvincing when all is weighed. What can an atheist mean when saying there is no evidence for God?

    1. David

      Sam, I think you’ve made a good case here against the claim that “there is no evidence” and I too hear that claim and get really frustrated with it. I was considering how to answer it, having dialogued with a few atheists, and then I thought, “Well, I’ll just ask an atheist”. Then it occurred to me that you might want to do that yourself. By that I mean that you might consider using that question to further a discussion. Use that question as a diagnostic one to find out what that person thinks about the nature of evidence; then make the point you did about the verdict. Help that person see that it’s not so much about the evidence, but the explanation of the existence of the evidence. Finally always remember that it’s less about winning the argument than about winning the soul.

      Keep making the case. Truth always withstands scrutiny.

      1. I like what you said here about it being less about winning the argument and more about winning the soul.