In today’s episode Kurt speaks with Austin Fischer on the issue of doubt in the Christian faith. Is doubt sinful? Can it be healthy? What sort of questions should Christians be asking about doubt?
Kurt: Well a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Very nice to be with you here. This is episode 117. Very excited. We’re going to be talking about the issue of doubt today, faith in the shadows, and maybe you can hear some of the doubt coming from the fire engines running right on by our offices here in downtown West Chicago. Hopefully, the people will be okay that are calling for support and request from our local authorities. Let me talk about last week. Wow. We had the Defenders Conference 2018. It was a blast and if you didn’t come to Chicago, you missed out. We had four different perspectives on the supposed genocide commands in the Old Testament. We had Drs. John Walton, Kenton Sparks, Paul Copan, and Clay Jones, and it was a wonderful opportunity for people to come and listen to the different perspectives, to come to breakout sessions as well, and we’re already planning next year’s event, very much looking forward to it. It’s going to be roughly the same time. The theme will be on Gospel differences and one of our confirmed speakers or perspectives is Dr. Mike Licona. We’re going to be reaching out to others to get a spectrum, 3-4 views on Gospel differences. It’ll make for an engaging event and I hope you can join us. We had people from all over the country in this weekend. Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, of course, Kentucky, we had a bunch of high school teachers, six or seven high school teachers from Kentucky join us. A special thanks to one of our followers, Kyle, for making that happen, and also Kyle, thank you for your Dr. Pepper last week. It was very much a pleasure to be drinking that during the panel discussion if you watched the livestream.
We are going to be talking about doubt on today’s program and joining us today is the lead pastor at Vista Community Church in Temple, Texas. He’s the author of Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. His name is Austin Fischer. Austin, thank you for joining us on our program.
Austin: Thanks so much for having me, man. Looking forward to it.
Kurt; You’ve told me that you are so interested in this interview that you have forsaken watching Saturday college football, Texas vs. Oklahoma.
Austin: Not just any game if you’ve got any listeners from Texas or Oklahoma, they understand that this is the holy grail of football games and as a Texas fan we’ve been terrible for ten years and we’re actually pretty good this year. I left with us up I think 24-17 so let’s hope it holds. Nobody call in with any news though.
Kurt: I was going to say if you want a score update.
Austin: No. Don’t you dare.
Kurt: I’ve actually loaded it up here, but you’ve got it paused I take it.
Austin: Paused at the house, yeah.
Kurt: That’s great.
Austin: Start the interview, Kurt.
Kurt: No one comment, otherwise you might doubt upon, Austin’s going to be saying why does God allow evil in the world by people spoiling the story? More seriously, the topic of doubt, before I even say that, we already have one listener, Seth, he writes Texas is almost as bad as Dr. Pepper.
Kurt: Chris. Can you log on on Facebook there, see if there’s a way to silence users?
Austin: That’d be great if we could just get him kicked off or muted or put in prison. Any of them would work.
Kurt: That’s really a shame. Seth. You should know better. We’re talking about doubt. It’s a serious issue, unlike talking my love of Dr. Pepper or even the Texas Longhorns. It’s a serious issue because people, they come to passages in the Bible. This is why we’ve had the Defenders Conference theme last weekend. This is one of those issues where people come to the Bible and they’ll say, “Hey. Man. Why could God really do that?” or they might ask, “How do I really know that what the Gospels are telling us is true?” They have these doubts and these are honest questions from people that they’re seeking. They really need to have answers for these questions and so Austin, you yourself here have sort of written and dealt with some of these doubts in your own life and just looking through who you were in your beliefs and sort of a different view of Scripture that you’ve come to a different understanding of faith has really, you’ve had an interesting journey to say the least and hopefully, we’ll get a chance to talk about that journey and the issues you’ve dealt with and you’ve written on here in this book, Faith in the Shadows; Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt and before I forget, we’ll be sure to put this book up on our website with a link and Chris might even be able to have a chance to load it up for the livestream, those that area following along right now. Tell us first and foremost, I’ve clued us in I guess a little bit, but what’s been your purpose for writing the book?
Austin: I am a pastor and probably around four years ago, started going through a pretty serious crisis of faith and eventually got to this place where I didn’t know if I could believe in God anymore. I think there was a moment where I thought I didn’t believe in God as a western person. I don’t know if I even know what it means to say I don’t believe in God. The idea of God is too down in our bones and in our worldview that I don’t think most of us would think we really know what we mean when we say we don’t believe in God. I get pretty close. I think once I slowly started to come to the other side I just realized I’m kind of trained to do this. I’ve been trained to deal with stuff like this. Most people haven’t. When a crisis of faith sets in, it would probably be helpful to have some sort of, it’s less a guidebook and more one specific story of one specific person who had a crisis of faith and was able to sort through it. I think there are so many misconceptions about crises of faith and one of the biggest ones and one of the ones I try to dispel in the book pretty quickly is that most people who have a crisis of faith weren’t looking to have a crisis of faith. Right? They didn’t want to get rid of their faith. It’s not that they asked too many questions or exposed themselves to too many taboo experiences. It’s not that they wanted to leave their faith. It’s that their faith wanted to leave them. When you get to that point, you got a couple of options and they’re both really really tough. This book is meant to be kind of an example of what it could look like to doubt faithfully.
Kurt: When you doubted and if I’m following the timeline correctly here, you were a pastor when you had these doubts.
Austin: Oh yeah.
Kurt: It’s not like you’re just an average Joe. You’ve come to Christianity and now you’re a pastor because you want to help people. You were in the pastorate and you had these doubts come to you. What were some of those questions? I talk about for some people it might be supposed divine genocide or Gospel reliability. What were some of those questions for you that came to your mind?
Austin: Before I jump into specifics, I think for a lot of us, when the doubt really sets in, it’s less a specific doubt than it is this overwhelming feeling of feeling overwhelmed and in particular, if you’ve been led to believe that your faith has to be certain in order for it to really be faith, then any doubt can really do the trick because you realize, oh my gosh, there’s so much out there that I don’t know. Right? Technology has improved our connection with the rest of the world, we’re being forced to interact with more people than any people in the history of the world have ever had to deal with. Think about it. Our great-great-great-great-grandparents, they dealt with their family and the family that lived in the cave down the street or whatever. We have to interact with thousands of people on a daily basis. We’re being forced to bear on our shoulders the complexity of the world in a way that no generation in the history of the world ever had to. I think a lot of it is just this sense that we’re realizing that no matter how long we live and no matter how much we know and no matter how much truth we seek, what we don’t know will always greatly outweigh what we do know, and with that there could just come this paralysis. There’s so many beliefs in the world and we have so little ability to actually really sort through all the beliefs that we just begin to wonder if we’re making it all up or at least why God has not made things a little bit clearer. That’d be kind of the big picture. Specifically, I think this has been the best reason not to be a Christian since Christianity was started and that’s the problem of evil. You don’t reinvent the wheel here. Evil, and I think I talk about this in the book and I think I’ve talked about it on your show before, evil is not like a problem. Evil is a crisis and if you’ve ever had to bury a kid, which I’ve had to do a couple of times, then evil becomes much more than some mathematical syllogism that you’re trying to figure out. You wonder how a God of infinite goodness and kindness could let something happen like a little baby dying before they really take their first breath.
Kurt: I’ve come to this excerpt in the first chapter here. You write, “I love being a pastor and am called to be a pastor, but at times doubt comes more naturally for me than faith. When a child dies, I don’t see a hidden joy or a design behind the tragedy. I see nonsense. I don’t feel divinely comforted. I feel rage. If you need your pastor to make it all make sense, to tie all the suffering nonsense up with a tidy bow, then I will disappoint you. That’s the type of person that you are, the way you perceive reality. Some things just don’t make sense. It appears there’s not a divine reason for child dying and that is one of those difficult things that Christians have to deal with. The way we understand evil and suffering in our world comes from the way we view Scripture and our theology of who God is and that can affect what’s the type of God we’re worshipping here, what is God like? Those are important questions. Then, that can affect how we cope. How humans can and should cope with the suffering, so very important questions. You call for a rebellion. Tell me about the rebellion.
Austin: When it comes to evil in particular, I think Christianity has always been animated by this tension which is on the one hand, we surrender when we face evil, when we realize that God’s going to make things right now, so we’re able to find peace in the midst of suffering and so forth, but on the other hand, the resurrection is God’s definitive word on evil and the resurrection is not God surrendering to the problem of evil. The resurrection is God rebelling against evil and putting death to death. When I do a funeral, for example, and I think I told the story in the book that we had two babies in the church who died within about a year of each other and the two families processed the deaths very differently and they had different theologies and so when I do a funeral, let’s say, for a child, I want to give a sense of peace and assurance that this is something that God can be trusted with and our children are a part of the infinite kingdom of God and so we take great peace in that, but by the same token, a death of a child is a terrible thing and it’s something we should rebel against and we shouldn’t pretend like it’s okay because God has another angel or whatever it is. We’re animated down in our core and Christian faith is animated by this mix of surrender and rebellion. When we see this world’s evil, I think we in particular as privileged people, it’s easy for us to counsel surrender to people because for the most part we get to be pretty in control fo the world, but for people who aren’t as in control of us, I think we need to remember that the Easter event is the primal act of rebellion, not just surrender.
Kurt: Job was someone who really experienced evil and suffering, really suffering in his life. The Scripture talks about how God allows Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life. How is it that you understand the story of Job?
Austin: The book of Job is basically, the paradigm for what the entire book is meant to be which is this test case on how to doubt faithfully. Job, if you’ve read it, you know Job’s a great guy. He’s doing everything right. He loses everything and I mean everything the first two chapters and he initially responds with this remarkable piety and kindness. The Lord gives. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Most people stop reading at that point. They stop reading in chapter 2 because what happens after chapter 2 for the next 36 chapters is Job loses it, he loses his religion. He says these terrible things about God. He basically verbally assaults God for 36 chapters. He’s got these three friends who come in and they tell Job, he shouldn’t talk like that.
Austin: Yeah. “Friends.” They tell him basically that he should praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it, because who is he to call God Almighty into question and Job, he just refuses to give up. He tells his friends that they don’t know what they’re talking about. He will take up his case before the divine. He won’t quit. At the end of the book of Job, God shows up in the whirlwind and he does put Job in his place, asking these rhetorical questions about, “Hey, Job. Help me out. Were you there when I put the stars in their place? Were you there when I created the first ocean?” Clearly he means to put Job in his place, but the book actually ends in chapter 42 with God saying, “Job. You, the person who verbally assaulted me for 36 chapters, you spoke rightly of me, but your friends, your friends who told you that you should shut up and just pretend like everything’s okay, they spoke wrongly of me and my wrath is kindled against them and, in fact, I’m going to need you to go offer a sacrifice for them so I don’t smote them and light them up and give them what they deserve. Scholars always ask how has Job spoken rightly? He said all these terrible things and God basically corrected him, and I think the best answer you can come to is that Job spoke rightly in the sense that he had the courage to speak honestly even when he didn’t have anything nice to say. Job at the end of the day, he got corrected, but he also encountered the living God in a whirlwind. That’s what we have to do sometimes I think when the doubt really sets in, when the pain sets in, is we can’t quickly fall into these pious platitudes. We’ve got some wrestling to do. We may walk away reprimanded, but we’ll also walk away having encountered the living God and which one of those two things do you want?
Kurt: We’ve got some questions coming in online here. I’m going to see if I can load them up here. There. I’m seeing them in full now. Kyle’s tuning. He asks, “Would you say dealing with doubt is similar to dealing with sin? I see it being similar in two ways. A gut reaction to doubt/sin is to run from God. The proper reaction is to admit our doubts and submit to Christ.” Here’s his question again. “Would you say dealing with doubt is similar to dealing with sin?”
Austin: I think so and I think there’s a good distinction to make in there is a way to doubt that can be sinful, but I don’t think our doubt has to be sinful. Right? One of the greatest examples is, of course, I think you can make a case that Jesus both in the garden and on the cross in some sense is doubting. What exactly is He doubting? Doubting the plan of God or doubting it has to happen this way or whatever it is? Doubting that God’s present to Him. If even Jesus can doubt then clearly our doubts don’t have to be sinful. That’s really what the book is meant to express is that there is a way to doubt that actually pulls us toward God instead of pushes us away from God and that certainly starts with being honest about our doubts.
Kurt: Yeah. I often cite, I think it’s Galatians 2 here, yes. Loading it up here. The apostle Paul himself doubted, the question’s what sort of doubts are maybe legitimate or good or healthy or unhealthy. Here he writes, Galatians 2, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders. I presented to them the gospel that I preached among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” So Paul had doubts himself that he was preaching and running the right way. I think we can go so far, some say it’s just that he had the right preaching content. I think what he’s indicating here though is that he talks about his own running, his race, he’s talking about his faith, his own faith. He himself had doubts after 14 years.
Austin: One of the stories I tell in my book in the first chapter and it’s crazy this story is so little known. It’s from Matthew 28. It’s when the Great Commission happens. The eleven apostles go up to this mountain on Galilee, they experience the resurrected Christ. Okay? The resurrected Christ, and we’re told that when they saw Him, they worshipped Him, but they still doubted. Right? Just let it sink in for a second. Most of us would say, “Hey. If you could just let me experience the resurrected Christ, I’d be fine. I don’t need a burning bush. I don’t need an answered prayer. I don’t need anything. I’ll be fine for the rest of my life,” and yet these eleven apostles see and encounter the resurrected Christ and somehow they still doubt, and Jesus uses these eleven doubting worshippers who are the apostles to literally build the church. This is mind-blowing stuff and it’s just crazy that we’ve forgotten that story. It’s right there literally with the Great Commission. If Jesus could build the church on these worshipping doubters, then Jesus can probably use worshipping doubters like us too.
Kurt: Yeah. Certainly, you look at the Israelites and all the miracles they had that YHWH performed with and for them and they still rebelled. It really is fascinating. You talked about some people “If God would just do this for me, I would always believe.” That seems to put on a standard of certainty that really the Scripture doesn’t talk about or that’s required for us to have faith and it’s not like, let’s be clear how. We’re not saying that you have to have a certain level of knowledge or something and then faith sort of us just fills the rest. That’s not what it’s about when we’re talking about certainty. There’s a difference and there’s a spectrum between reliability, when something’s reliable, or when something’s absolute certainty or logicians or mathematicians would call a tautology. Christian faith doesn’t require that hard-core level of certainty and some people think that and they come to the text and say “Why are there these Gospel differences? It must not be true.” Out goes their faith, and so doubt really takes them and leads them away from the faith because they’ve had this misconception about what faith is like. You certainly talk about that in your book, you talk about this fundamentalism that you had. Tell us more about that.
Austin: Yes. Fundamentalism can be described in a lot of different ways. Fundamentalism propers refers to any religious movement that seeks to go back to the fundamentals of the faith.
Kurt: Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Austin: No. Again, there are ways that that can be good. When I refer to fundamentalism, I’m talking about something that’s more spirit than form. It’s more an attitude than it is content. It tends to come with a certain cluster of beliefs, but it certainly is more spirit than it is form and so when I talk about fundamentalism I mean this kind of rigid desire for what you kind of called mathematical certainty when it comes to faith. That’s the expectation is that we have to have a mathematical certainty. In order to get mathematical certainty, we need a certain mathematical method to get there which usually is a very rigid biblical literalism, is usually the method you see applied, which again was kind of a reaction to the Baconian scientific objectivism that came along and Christians saw, “Oh, my gosh. This scientific’s method getting applied to the natural world and we’re having all these great discoveries.” They tried to apply that same method to the Bible employing rigid biblical literalism and that all kind of starts to work together to give us what we now know as fundamentalism which again includes certain beliefs, but it really is more an attitude and a spirit than it is specific beliefs.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s that rigid approach to the text. For those that are following along, if you’ve heard that ding, that was me sending an article over to Chris’s computer and he’s going to share that link in the feed. Very fascinating section of Warranted Christian Belief where Alvin Plantinga talks about the pejorative use of the term fundamentalist. Interesting comparison he makes to a different term and how it can be used as a pejorative. I’m not going to talk about it on air. Let’s put it that way. We’ll be sure to share the link so people can see that. You’re like, “Alvin Plantinga’s writing and using that language?” Surprising. We’ve got here, there are a few things, I want to pique or get your take on here. Your chapter on science. There it is. God doesn’t exist. I mean, I would say God exists, but you’re right. You talk about how God isn’t this sort of superbeing. He’s not like Zeus.
Austin: Yeah. God does not exist certainly in the way that we exist or that creation exists and that seems to be interestingly enough where a lot of scientifically-minded atheists and a lot of, I think good-hearted, but I do think misguided Christians agree is that they go looking for proof of God’s existence in the physical universe. Of course, the scientists will claim they’re not there so there is no God. More fundamentalish Christians would claim the proof is there be it Intelligent Design or young-earth creationism, there is a God. What I’m trying to suggest is that God properly understood is not something that can really be measured scientifically, at least not very well, so we just have to be really careful when we go making scientific arguments for God’s existence.
Kurt: It’s a category error of sorts. If science seeks to show what we can know about the natural world, what about those things which are immaterial? Even ethics is a concern for those that hold to scientism. How do you come and understand those things? Of course, God is immaterial so science can only do so much and it’s recognizing that, the limitations of science that can really help us to steer clear away from some of those misguided notions.
Austin: Yeah. I think one of the things I say in the book is when people saying science has proven there is no God, they either don’t understand science or they don’t understand God or they don’t understand either. Those are really your only options.
Kurt: That’s great. We’re going to head to a short break here, but when we come back from the break, we’ve got more questions on doubt, faith in the shadows. We’d love to hear from you if you’re tuning in, if you have questions about doubt, if you have experiences yourself with doubt. We’re joined today by Austin Fischer and we’ll be back after this moment from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through this short break from our sponsors. If you want to learn how you can become a sponsor, we’d love to get your support. You can go to our website, veracityhill.com and click on the patron tab and a patron is someone who just chips in a few bucks a month, or just gives monthly to our program, helps us continue producing content week after week. We’ve been going strong now for 117 weeks, something new every week. We’ve never aired a rerun and we’ve always had, right Chris, we’ve always had something. That doesn’t guarantee the quality’s good. Chris did something on marriage….nah. I’m just kidding. We’ve had some fill-ins for me, give me a break from time to time, but it really is such an honor and I’m humble to be here with you week after week, Saturdays, roughly at 1 PM. Sometimes the time slot will vary, like last week we did the panel discussion. At any rate, Austin. Unfortunately, you’ve listened to our program. You told me you listened to one of our podcast episodes so you know what is next coming up here. This is the segment of the show we call Rapid Questions where we ask our guests just a bunch of random questions. I’ve probably expanded the list from the episode you told me you listened to. We’ve got some questions for you and if you’re ready, I’m going to get the game clock up and running here.
Austin: Let’s do it.
Kurt: Okay. Some of these questions I already know the answer to. Sports stuff. Those things. Alright. Here we go.
Kurt: What’s your clothing store of choice?
Austin: Sadly, Target or Levi’s.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Austin: I do, of course.
Kurt: Good man.
Austin: I mainline it.
Kurt: What time is bedtime for you?
Austin: Probably about 10.
Kurt: Are you a good cook?
Kurt: If you had a big win in the lottery, how long would you wait to tell someone?
Austin: I’d tell people instantly. Yeah. Absolutely. There are people who wouldn’t tell?
Kurt: Maybe. Can you close your eyes and raise your eyebrows? Yes. He can. Do you know how to pump your own gas?
Austin: Yeah. I know how to pump my own gas.
Kurt: Pick a fictional character you’d like to meet.
Austin: Jayber Crow. Wendell Berry character.
Kurt: Okay. Did you have a dream last night?
Austin: Not that I can remember.
Kurt: Not that you can remember. Yeah. Good. I got to follow that. Who’s this fictional character? I’ve never heard of this?
Austin: Have you ever read Wendell Berry?
Austin: Wendell’s the angry farmer/poet kind of professor. He’s from Kentucky. He does a lot of poetry. He wrote this book called Jayber Crow and it’s basically about this guy in a little town in Kentucky who’s single and a barber and just kind of observes what life is like in a town. It’s a super simple book, but one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Kurt: So why would you want to meet the character?
Austin: He’s so fantastically normal that you just go, “Man. Books aren’t written about normal people”, but he’s just got an eye for looking at normal life and seeing, I don’t know, really simple, beautiful things in the midst of normal life. I’d like to get Jayber’s perspective.
Kurt: Nice. Speaking of normal, it’s normal to doubt.
Austin: Nice Segue.
Kurt; Thanks. It’s part of my job. It’s normal to doubt. It’s a very human experience. We’d love to hear what your experience has been with doubt. If you want to share your story, please comment along, send me a message as well, you can email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com. Today, we’re talking with Austin Fischer and his story and journey of doubt, the issues he dealt with. He’s been a pastor for a number of years and even when he’s been a pastor, he has, what did you say Austin, about four years ago, you had a crisis of faith. Doubt sort of set in for you. In his book, Faith in the Shadows, he leans into perennial questions about Christianity with raw and fearless integrity. He addresses contemporary science, the problem of evil, hell, God’s silence, and other issues offering not only fresh treatments of these questions but a fresh paradigm for thinking about doubt itself. If you want to check out his book, Faith in the Shadows, we’ll be sure to put a link. We’ve got a link right now in the livestream and we’ll be sure to put a link at our website.
Austin: Isn’t it a great cover?
Kurt: That looks nice.
Austin: That’s a great cover.
Kurt; I like how the text is sort of hidden.
Austin: It’s almost like something’s going on there.
Kurt: Some graphic designer knew what they were doing. I want to talk about first science, then let’s go over to hell. Science, silence, I should say, that’s another issue for some people when they’re doubting. In theology and philosophy of religion, this is the problem of divine hiddenness. Why doesn’t God make Himself more known. Why isn’t He here to comfort me in the times of suffering? What were your thoughts on silence?
Austin: Besides, the problem of evil, God’s silence was probably the second most difficult issue I dealt with. I just think for a lot of us, we really are okay knowing we’re not going to get all the answers and we’re okay knowing that we’re not going to get out of life alive, but all we’re asking for is for God to just be present or at least a little more present than God appears to be sometimes. That’s the answer you get a lot of times. God doesn’t necessarily rescue us from our suffering, but God suffers with us in the midst of our suffering. That is a beautiful and absolute very true truth, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel very true. So when you’re in the midst of suffering and doubt and you’re not asking God to give you all the answers and you’re not asking to get out of life alive. All you’re asking for is a little bit of presence and you get nothing. I think that’s the point at which a lot of us begin to wonder if, I don’t know, I think we begin to wonder if we’re just convincing ourselves that this whole Christianity thing is true. I know I do sometimes. As a pastor, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to offer people all these super convincing arguments. Right? Because God can’t be bothered to speak for God’s self. That just really is the sense you get sometimes, and sometimes I feel like I have to go be present to these people in their suffering because God doesn’t seem to care to want to show up to them. If I don’t show up, they’re all along, because God doesn’t seem to show up. I think that is an enormous struggle that a lot of us have in the midst of our doubt. We’re not asking for everything. We’re just asking for the smallest whisper, the smallest sense of God’s presence, and we get nothing sometimes. I offer a couple thoughts in the book on how to deal better with that. One of them’s something called trait negativity bias and all that means is it’s a psychological phenomenon that’s been proven where we tend to place more weight and value on negative information than we do positive information. Right? Literally, when we encounter negative information, it weighs more heavily on our brains. Right now, that’s why we can go through a day and we could remember, I don’t know, a thousand unanswered prayers we prayed, but when a prayer actually gets answered, I think when you think about it, it’s harder to know if it got answered. Let’s say, you pray that a loved one would be healed and they don’t get healed and you curse the heavens because you don’t know why God didn’t heal your child, but a loved one does get healed and you’re thankful the medicine worked. I just think God is in this interesting predicament where God could be answering tons of prayers and we just wouldn’t really know it one way of the other because we have minds that are literally tuned in to the tragic and because we can’t really see counterfactuals. We don’t know what it would have looked like for God not to heal a lot of times.
Kurt: Or we also might have a view of what it would look like for God and not medicine to heal instead of the notion that God heals through medicine. You get into issues there od interplay between the natural order and the supernatural.
Austin: It’s just a very tricky thing to sort through like what would actually constitute an answered prayer? How would we know when we had seen one. It’s just the hardest thing to answer.
Kurt: Speaking of sort of cognitive thinking and reasoning here, Kyle asks another question here about cognitive development. “To what extent do you believe basic cognitive development over our lives contributes to our doubt?” Here’s his explanation. “I work with high school students and it strikes me that many think they are doubting God, but they more so seem to be using their growing cognitive abilities to doubt their previous conception of God.”
Austin: Yep. I think that’s very well said, and I think that’s also why it’s so important for us in particular to teach students and high school students and college students that what they often interpret as a crisis of faith is actually just an experience of an evolving faith. Right? It is them sharing these letters of faith that was, and a lot of times it’s not ill-intentioned. I have a four year-old and an almost two year-old. I’m not offering them fully-developed theodicies at this point. I’m giving them a very basic explanations of this and that. I’m giving them enough to work with to get them down the road a little bit. We do that with our children for good reason, but as they grow older they have to shed some of those explanations to come to a more robust understanding of Christian faith and so I think it is very important that we help them understand that not everything they interpret as a crisis of faith is actually a crisis of faith. Sometimes, it’s just a sign of a maturing faith and we need to make sure that they feel comfortable processing their doubts or their maturing faith in the church and not away from the church. Unfortunately, that’s what happens a lot when we teach people that doubt is an unacceptable part of faith. When they feel the doubt set in, they think that means they have to leave the church, and so they end up processing their doubts outside the church which is the most tragic thing I can imagine.
Kurt: That really should be an encouragement for Christians to reach out to people who have these doubts. That’s when they need you the most. Don’t be leaving those people aside. Part of the reason for people to be prepared to give an answer is so they can know how to help the person in need instead of just running or distancing them from that.
Austin: Even if you don’t have an answer, because a lot of people are super-intimidated by what answer do I give for the problem of evil? Sometimes your job is not to give them an answer, but it’s to help them understand that they do not have to leave the church to process their doubts. That’s what they do. You uphold them in the faith community so that God has the space to help answer the questions or even more than answer their questions, turn them into people who know how to live the questions more faithfully.
Kurt: Let’s move along here to hell. You’ve got an intriguing title for this chapter. Hitler gets five minutes in heaven. Tell us about that. I take it hell was an issue that you were skeptical about. I know some people that for them, for some people, it’s even a dealbreaker.
Austin: When we talk about hell, people have so many different conceptions of it, but for most people who are probably listening or grew up evangelical and the typical view has been eternal conscious torment, which is a difficult view. People have legitimate questions about a God who would torment people eternally for sins that they committed as fallen human beings during a pretty brief time on Earth, so I think there is some very legitimate questions about it. What I offer in the book is just an alternative take on how you can have a very real robust doctrine of hell which I do think Scripture requires and obviously church tradition has required without it becoming something that makes God look more or less like a moral cretin, because God can look like a moral cretin sometimes with the way hell is properly understood and so, you put together some of what C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, David Bentley Hart, a number of others have said about hell and I think what you get is a vision of A, hell is not this place where necessarily, you got all these people who want to be in heaven and God shuts the lid on them and says “No. You’re going to be in hell for eternity.” Hell is what Heaven would feel like to a person who has spent their entire life rejecting the love of God. The subtitle for that chapter is Hitler gets five minutes in Heaven. What I offer is an imaginary scenario where Hitler got five minutes in Heaven. Let’s say he gets a field trip. This is kind of ripping off C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” He shows up to the pearly gates and St. Peter welcomes him there, St. Peter the Jew. Hitler can’t be too happy about that. Then he goes and he has to worship the lamb and bow down and he wants to assemble another third reich and he has to bow down to this crucified Jewish Messiah and so the big idea that I’m teasing out there is if Hitler got five minutes in Heaven, I think it would probably feel like eternity to hell to him, because I don’t think when we die our character magically gets transformed. I think that we become more and more who we are over in eternity. I think that for someone who has spent their entire life rejecting the love of God, Heaven wouldn’t feel like Heaven to them. Heaven would feel like Hell to them.
Kurt: So speaking of an experience feeling like Hell, you want me to give you an update on the score…
Austin: No. Stop. Don’t you dare.
Kurt: That would be like an experience five minutes in Hell for college football fans such as yourself. It’s like breathing air over there down in Texas. College football is huge. Sorry for that tangent. We’ve got all these issues that could bring about doubt, evil and suffering, science, silence, the doctrine of hell, etc. Where do we go from there? How do we take all these doubts and sort of come out with a good remedy?
Austin: I think the first thing again is to take Job’s story as kind of paradigmatic for the way we deal with doubts and that is when we’ve got doubts, what I would hope for the church is that the church is seen as the first place we run when we have our doubts. It’s a place where we can process our doubts knowing that our doubt doesn’t disqualify us from faith. The eleven apostles saw the resurrected Christ and they still doubted and Jesus still sent them out and entrusted them with the Great Commission. We don’t have to leave our faith or the church to doubt. From there, it’s different things. We all should do as much work as we can, but when it comes to doubt, I’ve discovered our doubts really aren’t as rational sometimes as we like to think they are. Our doubts are often very emotional and then also our doubts engage not just our intellect and our emotions, but also our will. I think a huge part of it is do you want to believe? Do you believe that Jesus is beautiful? Do you believe Christianity is beautiful? That for me was what kind of kept me in faith long enough for my faith to be resuscitated. It’s the second to last chapter in the book where I tell the story of getting to this place where, you know what, I kind of searched through all the historical arguments and all the philosophical arguments and all the theological arguments and all the experiential arguments and all the emotional arguments and none of us decisively tip the scale. There was something to them all, but none of them could tip the scale for me. I came to this place where I said, “You know what? I’m never going to be able to know with any sort of certainty, mathematical certainty at least, whether or not Christianity is the truth, so what am I gonna do because I got to do something and I came to this place where I said, “You know what? All things considered, I would be rather wrong about Jesus than I would be right about anything else.” It’s really kind of a reverse Pascal’s wager, if anybody’s familiar. Pascal said, “If Christianity proves to be untrue and you spent your whole life being a Christian, you haven’t really lost anything. Maybe you would have slept around a little bit more, something, I don’t know, but you haven’t really missed that much, but if Christianity proves to have been true and you weren’t Christian then there might be hell to pay. A smart betting man’s going to bet on Christianity for the afterlife.” What I’m offering here is the inversion of life where I’m saying “Even if Christianity proved to be untrue, the best, most beautiful way to spend this very brief life you have been given is to spend it following Jesus.” I really believe you will live the most beautiful, meaningful life possible following Jesus even if Christianity proved to be untrue. I do think it is true, but sometimes that’s what you need to keep you in the faith when you don’t feel like any of the other evidence is decisive enough.
Kurt: So basically you’re offering what might be called a utilitarian argument that Christianity works for life so even if again, Christianity were proven false, what it teaches is so beautiful and you can see the joy that people have in operating that faith and living in community with each other that even if we couldn’t know, it’s still worth it from a practical standpoint.
Austin: Sure. Practical, and I’d add aesthetic, and like Hans Urs Von Balthasar built a whole theology on aesthetics, where he just said, “Look. When you really see the beauty of what Christianity proclaims, it is its own apologetic. It speaks for itself. It’s too beautiful for you to want to believe anything else.” I really do believe that’s the truth. I understand how people could not think Jesus is the truth, but I don’t understand how people could not want Jesus to be the truth.
Kurt: Good. Before I let you go, I want to spend a few minutes here talking about your previous book which I have not, I don’t own a copy of…
Austin: How dare you!
Kurt: Sorry. We’ll have to have you come on the program again in the future. Tell me about Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed.
Austin: I wrote that book almost five years ago now I think and so the subtitle of the book is a journey in and out of Calvinism. I’m 33, like probably a lot of your listeners and probably like you, I kind of came of age in the kind of high tide of the New Calvinistic movement. That’s when Matt Chandler and Driscoll and Louie Giglio and Piper and Tim Keller and the whole crew. If you were evangelical, those were the people you listened to. I kind of grew up on all that stuff, cut my teeth on Calvinism, loved it all, changed my world, but then about my junior year in college, started to transition out of Calvinism for a number of different reasons and so the book kind of documents my journey into and then eventually out of Calvinism. I’m a lead pastor at a church. Our other lead pastor, we have two of them, he’s a Calvinist, so it makes for an interesting dynamic and so I have good Calvinist friends. There’s a lot of things that are great in Calvinism and I’ll always fight for Calvinism as a biblical option. I don’t think it’s the biblical option, but it is a biblical option, but at the end of the day, I think there’s some pretty significant problems with Calvinism and that’s why I kind of journeyed out of it.
Kurt: Yes. It’s true, like you I grew up in a culture that was sympathetic and thought of those authors as a rock star, though I myself never was a Calvinist.
Austin: You never drank the kool-aid, huh?
Kurt: No. I never drank the kool-aid? In fact, I went to BIOLA for my undergrad and I was always told most of the Bible profs there are reformed, all except for one actually, maybe that’s changed since I was there. I was always told you either had to be a Calvinist or an Arminian and I never even bought that idea. I rejected that as a false dichotomy. Part of my own doctoral research and what I hope to be future published works will be toward dispelling myths like that.
Austin: Very interesting. When I journeyed out of Calvinism, went on what would probably be a pretty typical trajectory towards either Arminianism or open theism, but then ended up kind of actually moving back towards what I call simple orthodox classical theism. There were a couple people, David Bentley Hart was very influential for me. I’ve ended up landing there and I have all sorts of sympathy for open theism and I consider Arminianism a later expression of classical theism, but I do think that classical theism solves best, not perfectly, but solves best what most of the other isms are trying to get at.
Kurt: Yeah. Divine foreknowledge seems to be the most mysterious of the three main….
Austin: That was never a big hangup for me. It’s funny. I did a couple debates after that book came out and the Calvinist guys were always talking about foreknowledge. The foreknowledge issue has never been a big one for me. I agree with the arguments of John Sanders and a couple of other open theist guys who pointed out that simple foreknowlege properly understood doesn’t give God any sort of providential advantage. It’s not that God, previews what is going to happen and then decides what He will do. Simple foreknowledge properly understood is what will happen and so God can’t use His knowledge of what will happen to then change what God will do, and so simple foreknowledge has just never been that much of a hangup for me. I get that it is for others.
Kurt: Unless God is outside of time and He might experience…..
Austin: Sure, but at that point, once we start talking about God outside of time, none of us know what we’re talking about.
Kurt: But why I think foreknowledge is mysterious.
Austin: It is absolutely mysterious. I just don’t think any of us know what we’re talking about once we start talking about God outside of time.
Kurt: Yeah. That is a tricky subject, and in fact, we’ve got scheduled a guest, Greg Gannsle, to talk about God and time so that’ll be….
Austin: Well I’ll have to tune in.
Kurt: Austin. Thanks so much for joining us on the program today. Again, before you go, let’s show this, “Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt.” I always put a little it to the right off camera there. Sorry.
Austin: There it is.
Kurt; There it is. Thank you for writing this book. I hope it’s a blessing to many people that need to hear and realize it’s okay to doubt. It’s healthy. It’s a human thing. It’s certainly not sinful. That’s why people are worried and as you note in the book, people don’t abandon their faith because they have doubts. They don’t think they’re allowed to have doubts and so that’s why they abandon the faith. They’re worried people are going to look down upon them and so they just think, they push it away, and so certainly we want to prevent that. Thank you for writing this book.
Austin: You’re very welcome and thanks for having me on. I enjoyed it.
Kurt; Of course. God bless you and now feel free to go back and push play on the football game.
Austin: Thanks, fellas. I enjoyed it.
Kurt: Take care. God bless you.
That does it for our program today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Before I completely sign off, let me say next week I’ll be at the Southern Evangelical Seminary’s National Conference on Christian Apologetics. I’ll be doing some probably livestream from there. Chris, sadly, won’t be joining me so it might be just me, so that’ll be next week for those that are tuning in and following along. Thank you to our technical producer today, Chris, and for our guest, Austin Fischer. You can learn more about him at our website. Go to VeracityHill.com and click on the post there. You can learn about him. Last, but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.