November 3, 2006

Sully debates Mohler

And evidently really respects the man. I have never found him either thoughtful or helpful, and instead have found him to be rather annoying. Perhaps that is more aimed at his attack dog Russell Moore, but I have never found Mohler worht much attention. Sullivan, I think likes him.

But aside from that, Street Prophets blogged about it and caught this interesting distinction between the two men:
"Quote from Mohler: 'Faith Development should move not from certainty into doubt but rather from doubt into certainty...Sullivan's Christianity is not defined by scripture and is not seeking certainty."
That may define the difference between me and many of my conservative friends. I think certainty is the enemy of faith, not the helper. Faith is how we address doubt, not how we remove it.

Am I wrong?


Tony said...

I wouldn't say wrong.

I read the Street Prophets post. I cannot see faith and certainty as mutually exclusive and I wouldn't say that it is symptomatic of my SB heritage, because I have no SB heritage. Doubt is in my estimation a friend of faith, not an enemy.

How is certainty antithetical to faith? Faith presupposes that you know what you are placing your faith in and certainly doesn't mean we have everything figured out or we are going to figure everything out.

Certainty does not mean that we don't doubt, because I do. A lot.

But there is a subtle implication in your post; doubt is not the opposite of faith...unbelief is. Doubt is no indication that you don't believe.

But in addressing doubt, is not the intended goal to remove it? Do you know anyone who is satisfied living in doubt?

JMG said...

Doubt prods me into further investigating my own beliefs. Once I become certain in my beliefs, thinking that I have it all figured out, I stop growing, become stagnant, and risk becoming useless.

But maybe that's just me.

Streak said...

Tony, good questions. I think I am more in line with JMG on the issue of certainty. I also wonder, and this is not a judgement, merely an observation, that some faith traditions seem to require more certainty. In my humble experience, those I know from a more conservative theological bent are more certain about their faith than some others. Some seem more comfortable in doubt than others, I guess is my answer to your last question.

For me, it is as simple as how I know what I know. Much of our world--at least what directly effects us--is available to the rational mind. Faith, for me, is about those issues that I cannot rationalize. I cannot prove that God exists--therefore I must have faith. And that is harder sometimes than others.

Leighton said...

It's less about doubt versus certainty than it is about authority; you have to dig underneath the smokescreen theologizing to find the real objects of faith.

Absolute trust in "God" is one thing; absolute trust in your particular tribe's judgments of all things moral, ethical and divine is entirely another, and while both can involve epistemic certainty (like you, I think certainty is inappropriate in both cases), it's the latter belief that far more often gives voice to fools, lunatics and the power-hungry. Fanatic believers in "God" alone tend to do much less damage without the backing of a social group with political clout.

What's problematic is that so few people can distinguish between "trust in God" and "trust in my [church/pastor/Christian circle]". For most believers, doubting one is equivalent to betraying the other.

Bootleg Blogger said...

Hey Streak
Good post. Certainty is a funny thing, isn't it. I remember feeling absolutely certain about many of my fundamentalist beliefs back in the day. I now look back on that person as being naive, dogmatic, and probably pretty arrogant to think that he (I) had it all figured out, or at least those I followed did. For me, the movement has been into what I would term a healthy uncertainty on many things that I used to be willing to fight over. Life experience has had a great deal of influence on this as has, I hope, a better understanding of God. I agree with you that faith itself implies a fair degree of ambiguity. Mohler and his pack would like, if given the chance, to enforce their "certainty" into your life and how you live it. Good discussion.

Tony said...


those I know from a more conservative theological bent are more certain about their faith than some others. I hope you didn't misunderstand me to be coming off as arrogant; not (never) my intent.

It looks like I am the lone conservative in this discussion; hope you don't mind my participating.

Admittedly, my basic epistemology comes from the Bible and to a lesser degree reason, then experience. I have in the last few years attempted to jettison tradition from it; though it is very difficult. Tradition is notoriously deceiving and is generally tied to some form or system, equally deceiving.

Faith, for me, is about those issues that I cannot rationalize. I cannot prove that God exists--therefore I must have faith.

You and I agree here. Faith is very much so about accepting the irrational; miracles for one, and the resurrection of Jesus, all supremely irrational.

And neither can I prove the existence of God apart from my basic epistemology; Christian revelation, or the Bible.

Streak said...

tony, you are always welcome here and as the bootlegger said, this is a great discussion.

My comment about certainty among conservatives was really not meant as judgment, merely as an observation. My conservative friends and family appear, through my eyes, more certain about elements of the faith than I am.

Like so many things, we agree more than we disagree. but I do think the issue of where we derive our understanding. Even though I grew up Baptist, I think my approach to faith is more Anglican than anything else. I am reminded of a great book on the antebellum slave trade, where the author uses different sources to authenticate and interrogate each other.

That is how I approach faith as well (and this will also explain why I am not a very good Baptist). Where you trust the Bible more than either reason or tradition, I see it as equally flawed. Not because of the Bible per se, but because of the flawed humans who read it. The Bible is amazingly maleable--and is the justification for everything from White Supremacy to liberation theology, and I would suspect that the vast majority of those believe they are reading it correctly.

For me, those three can interrogate and authenticate each other because each has its own flaws. We need reason to ask important questions about, for example, the role of women or race in the church. I don't believe the Bible will do that on its own. Nor, of course, will tradition.

Anyway, good discussion.