I’ve often said that I think people who become angry when their beliefs questioned are actually less confident of those beliefs, rather than more so. But that’s a pretty broad and inadequate statement, I think.
I was discussing this with my wife recently, and we were wondering why neither of us get annoyed with people who question our faith, when some folks we know do. In an extreme case, I recall talking to a young man at a book show who responded angrily to my book What’s in a Version?. For him, the KJV was the one and only word of God, and you could see the tension creep in at the very thought that anyone might question that fact. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that for him, faith would collapse should this one doctrinal position prove false.
In our discussion, I recalled my own departure from faith after I received my MA. I claimed unbelief, but as I processed things, I eventually (nearly 12 years later) came to the realization that I did, in fact, believe. The belief wasn’t something one would call Christian faith, and it was limited, but having shed most doctrinal positions, I found myself believing still. In exploring that, I returned to some doctrinal positions I had held previously, but not to others.
I think the question here is just what is the object of my faith. If I, like that young man, would find my world unraveling if one could prove that the KJV wasn’t the one and only true word of God, is my faith in God or in the doctrine? Now the KJV-Only position is an extreme example, and I do believe many KJV-Only advocates are guilty of bibliolatry, but it’s very easy, I think, for us to place our personal preferences, and even our correct doctrines, ahead of God.
For example, T. C. Moore suggests that the Gospel is the Messiah and not the doctrine of justification by faith (HT: Political Jesus). While I accept the doctrine of justification by faith (though not with all the definitions some Calvinists place on it), I would agree. The doctrine tells us something about the object of faith. Thus I could be convinced that I had misunderstood something about the doctrine without it making me question my faith in Jesus.
On the other hand, I want to avoid the idea that doctrine, or the content of our beliefs, doesn’t matter. What I believe about Jesus is important, at the same time as I place my faith in Jesus and not in what I believe about Him.
Let me compare this to marriage. I love my wife. I could describe this as adequate. She, and not some one of her attributes, is the object of my love. I know that she is a great organizer, a great caregiver, that she loves and prays for our children and grandchildren, and that if the budget is short she’ll give up something she wants before something that the children, grandchildren, or I would like. It’s important that I know these things about here. They’re true.
But I don’t focus on those things to the neglect of the person. I could be out every night telling people about those things, while neglecting my wife, herself. But more importantly, what happens when she displays weakness? My love doesn’t change. But if what I loved was merely a list of characteristics, it might.
The two elements are a package, but I do believe that if the focus, the object, of our faith and trust is right, we will have much less fear of examining the various things we believe about that person. There is no single string you can pull to make my faith in God disappear.
So pull away at those strands. I’ll enjoy the discussion! Maybe we’ll both learn.