Friday, August 28, 2009

Entertaining doubts in the journey of faith

I have been asked whether I have encountered doubts about faith in my theological journey. My immediate answer is "YES", of course. But the more pertinent question is how one should handle doubts. I would like to begin with a common understanding about God by quoting from Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 24.

When God is revealed, God remains God and does not become a possession at our disposal. Whatever may be the case in other forms of knowledge, in the knowledge of God given in revelation, God does not become a prisoner of our categories and concepts. God remains free, ever mystery, ever "hidden." The paradoxical theme of God as revealed yet hidden is rooted in the scriptural witness and is basic to a Christian doctrine of revelation. 

Now I can work on my understanding on how to handle doubts in my faith journey, not just in my theological education.

First of all, God is totally different from us, God transcends us, is beyond our understanding. The only way for us to know God is through God's revelation, or only when God revealed Godself to us. Otherwise, God is really a total mystery as explained by Migliore.

Second, God's revelation is commonly understood as being recorded in the Bible, and God's creation (i.e. nature). However, creation can only point to a probable creator. God's act in history can only be accessed by faith through written testimony. So, from the Bible, we can say that God is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, because we believe in what God has revealed in human's history, particularly in Jesus Christ, and we continue to believe what God is doing now and what God will accomplish in time.

Third, as humans tend to conceptualize knowledge and data, we tend to confine our understanding of God within a framework. So, in a sense, we tend to box God in, as pointed out by Migliore. It is important to be conscious that we have this tendency and to be reminded that whenever God encounters us in new ways, our framework must change in order to accommodate this new revelation or experience. If we hold on to the old framework, it will be like old wineskin holding new wine. And what would happen when the new wine expands? The old wineskin burst (from Matt 9:17, Mk 2:22, Lk 5:37). This is when people staring losing their faith, because they are still holding on to their old framework in accommodating new understanding of God, and their old framework can on longer accommodate it. Moses, Peter, Paul are exemplars of letting God's new revelation alter their paradigm of who God is, and continually open to being shaped. Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush which led to his bold encounter with Pharaoh; Peter's confession of Jesus as Lord and his subsequent denial, and eventually to his loss of life for the gospel; Paul a Pharisee and persecutor of Christian faith, and in his encounter of Jesus Christ which led to his conversion and to his mission and martyrdom; are all examples of letting go of old paradigm to let new one emerge, and be open to the shaping of one's paradigm in his interaction with God.

An excellent fictional story between a pastor and a science teacher on transforming one's framework in order to accommodate new understanding of God would be Brian D. McLaren's The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian.

Fourth, prior to my theological education, I have more doubts about my faith, and I don't have people whom I can turn to, except for one or two. Now, there are more structured space to explore different concept, to envision one's faith in different framework (if you emphasis on praxis, you will probably be more aligned with liberation theology), to engage in dialogue with different authors of the past (such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) and present (some of whom are my professors), so there is much room for growth and progression. Though there are many questions which are still unanswered, at least I know I am growing in faith because I am still learning to seek answers, to re-configure some of my existing concepts, and I have experienced first-hand God's providence.

Lastly, I would like to end with a paragraph from Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding, p.3.

Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian theology is this same faith in the mode of asking questions and struggling to find at least provisional answers to these questions. Authentic faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchel full of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as they are, and continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, our world, and ourselves. Consequently, Christian faith has nothing in common with indifference to the search for truth, or fear of it, or the arrogant claim to possess it fully. True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says there comes a point where we must stop asking questions and must simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.

Feel free to email me to engage in more in-depth dialogue. I may not have all the answers, but at least we may explore some territories and allow our faith to ground our understanding while continuing to keep on seeking and asking together, this is faith seeking understanding.


Anonymous said...




Arthur KohsL said...

追求神学是非常孤单的道路。你的留言仿佛让我这身在异乡之处的神学生感受到论语中所说的“有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?” 是的,我们是在同一条路上分享生命奥秘的人。

不知你是否还记得我在八年前曾经在香港的基督教教育考察团问过你和陈清标牧师有关圣灵的问题? 我问说假若两个人领受同一位圣灵,为何会有不同的解经方式及结论?如马丁路德及加尔文的教会观为何不一样?我现在有自己的结论,并尝试应用我的理解在宗教对话的研究里。期望有了更多领悟,能再与你分享。

你在建道主修哪们课?若你有时间,不妨透过电邮继续联系。我的电邮地址:arthkoh at

May the LORD our God smile upon you.