Where Are You on the Doubt-O-Meter? Doubt and Faith Defined

Sociologist Peter Berger has been an influential thinker and writer in my development as a Christian apologist. I have an entire chapter in my book on plausibility, something rare in apologetics circles, inspired by his books The Sacred Canopy and The Social Construction of Reality. I heard of a more recent book (those are from the 60’s) of Berger’s from the great Albert Mohler in his excellent Thinking in Public podcast. The book, In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, has some excellent insights, but it’s also the kind of book I often want to throw against the wall.

As I’ve been reading it the phrase “doubt-o-meter” came to my mind, as in some kind of device that measures doubt. At one end of the device is absolute doubt, and on the other absolute certainty. While most people live in a place well shy of the extremes, all of us tend toward one end of the spectrum or another. I will address this more in my next post, but for now it’s important understand that faith and doubt are not exclusively religious concepts. Thus the importance of how one defines “faith.”

In secular Western culture “faith” is now primarily a religious term that means, “what you need when there isn’t enough evidence.” This is convenient for atheists and agnostics who can then contend that they don’t need “faith” like “religious” people do. They can then claim, and they do, that they are rational, reasonable, and logical, unlike “religious” people who they imply, and often assert, are none of those. Berger seems to agree with this by quoting, and affirming, theologian and fellow Lutheran Paul Tillich as someone who “believes the unbelievable” (p. 103). I’m afraid too many Christian use the word faith the same way because they uncritically accept the culture’s unbiblical definition of faith.

The Bible, however, describes faith throughout its pages quite differently. While never specifically defining the word, it’s clear that it means trust based on adequate evidence. God never asks us to “believe the unbelievable.” Even a cursory reading of Scripture confirms that. We may be encouraged to believe what we cannot comprehend, but never what is absurd or contrary to reason.

Faith, far from a strictly religious concept, is a human one, something human beings utilize every day in a multitude of ways. If you drive a car, fly in an airplane, go to the doctor, etc., you exercise faith, the exact same kind of faith (trust based on adequate evidence) we use to trust that the Bible gives us reliable history, or that Jesus rose from the dead.

For my mundane examples, I drive trusting that my fellow drivers will obey the laws and not run into me. I trust that the airline company, the pilots and mechanics they employ, and air traffic controllers will safely get me to my destination. And I trust the doctor will not kill me because of the piece of paper on the wall that says he or she has been trained to heal. Do I know these things with absolute certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt? No. I can never have absolute knowledge, so I must always exercise some measure of faith, or trust based on adequate evidence.

We’ll see why this is so important for our relationship to God, and for life in general, in my next post.