An Apologist Confronts His Doubt

source: youtube.com

Mike Licona was at a spiritual crossroads, and he couldn’t have reached it at a more inconvenient time.

As the apologetics coordinator for the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission board, Mike gained the reputation of a stalwart defender of Christianity. He’d written two books on the historicity of the Resurrection. He traveled the country, debating the philosophical merits of Christianity on college campuses and in churches. But as he continued his doctoral studies, Mike felt a familiar presence lurking near the edges of his consciousness. The unsettling specter he thought he had banished had returned.

His wife Debbie could sense it too. Mike describes the moment they acknowledged its unwelcome reappearance. “One night I’m lying in bed and I figured my wife was asleep. We probably hadn’t said anything for half an hour. And then I just heard her voice pierce into the darkness. ‘You’re doubting again, aren’t you?’”

He could avoid it no longer. Doubt had made a dramatic re-entry into the apologist’s life. But this time was different. This time he would face it head on.

Following the evidence, wherever it leads

That night, Mike shared his doubts with Debbie. Although he felt confident in the existence of God, he couldn’t seem to shake misgivings about other core Christian beliefs—even the Resurrection of Jesus, the very doctrine upon which he had based his academic career. In the midst of all this doubt, Mike says there was only one thing of which he was absolutely certain. He told his wife, “When I conclude my research, if I conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead, I’m going to have to resign my position and find another line of work.”

Mike is a perennial second guesser. Even the most mundane, every-day issues are not immune to his scrutiny. “It’s not just my faith, it’s everything. It’s one of my idiosyncrasies,” he says. This made him even more persistent in his pursuit of the truth. “I became really serious about it. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. I wanted to get to the truth.”

No stone left unturned
Mike would often take long walks at night, praying through these issues. “I was out one evening praying and said, ‘God I believe Christianity is true, I believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But you know I’m plagued by doubts. If Christianity is wrong, now is a really good time to show me because I am more open than ever. I’m open to looking at the data and following it . . . wherever it leads me.”

Mike knew that such brutal, intellectual honesty could come at a steep spiritual cost. He acknowledged as much to God. “Because I’m trying to be as open-minded as possible,” Mike prayed, “I realize that this may put a damper on my relationship with you, God. I don’t want to do that, but I feel like I need to.”

During the ensuing period, Mike’s spiritual life grew cold. Although he never became angry with God, he felt far away from him. Mike says that although it was important for him to take this approach, he doesn’t recommend it to others. “But for me, I felt like I had to do that to resolve the doubts in my own mind.”

Debating the faith

Even as he put the claims of Christianity to the test, Mike engaged in debates across the country with prominent skeptical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels. But far from weakening his faith, those public interactions actually buttressed his confidence in the truth of Christian claims. “I wanted to put my historical case for the Resurrection in front of the brightest skeptical minds in North America, to see if these things would really hold up. When I found out their answers to the claims of Christianity, it actually strengthened my faith. Even though historical data cannot prove beyond all doubt that Jesus raised from the dead, I think that it does prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

This is a theme Mike repeatedly returns to as he explains his slow, winding journey toward confidence in Christianity, and specifically the Resurrection of Jesus. Christians sometimes feel as if they must banish every trace of doubt. But Mike says this is a futile effort. “When I got to the end of the study, I was genuinely surprised by how much evidence there was for the Christian faith. I thought that my doubts would vanish forever, but a month afterward they crept back in. But I asked myself, ‘What am I really second guessing?’ I wasn’t doubting the evidence I had uncovered, I was wondering if I had somehow missed something. It wasn’t based on evidence! That wasn’t an intellectual doubt, it was an emotional doubt.”

Mike is careful to make this distinction. Intellectual doubts are based upon philosophical and historical evidence. Mike had spent years studying the evidence and had honestly concluded that the Resurrection makes the best sense of all the data. His doubts were not intellectual. They were emotional. “Well, what if I’m wrong? What are the consequences? That’s emotional doubt. And that needs to be dealt with separately.”

Doubting is normal

To cope with emotional doubt, Mike says that first you must recognize that doubting is normal. “Even some of the great ‘heroes of the faith,’ people like Abraham and John the Baptist, doubted.” Mike describes the events in Matthew 11, wherein John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to ask if he truly is the Messiah. “Jesus responds by giving evidence–he points to his miracles and the preaching of the gospel to the poor. Then, he goes on to say that ‘among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist’ (Matt. 11:11, ESV).” Far from condemning John the Baptist for his doubts, Jesus provides evidence to answer them, and even gives John the highest possible praise. To Mike, this signals that Jesus does not condemn those who doubt, and that even the most committed Christians will find themselves asking tough questions from time to time. Doubting is normal.

Good evidence exists for the truth of Christianity

Mike also says we must remind ourselves of the many lines of evidence that point to the truths of Christianity. “There’s evidence from philosophy and science that God exists–from molecular biology to astrophysics. Even atheists often will admit that the evidence points to the possibility of a designer. But it’s the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus that gives you evidence for the existence of God, and the truth of the Christian view of God at the same time.”
Definition of faith
There are many things that can cause a Christian to doubt, even in the Bible. “For instance, there are passages where God seems to tell the Jewish people to wipe out entire races of people. There are answers to those questions, which vary in their effectiveness. I can question and wonder about that, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t change whether Christianity is true. The Resurrection does. If Jesus rose, Christianity is true, and if he didn’t then Christianity is false. In order to work through my doubts, I remind myself that there are various possibilities proposed to address those other problems. But if Jesus rose from the dead, then it means that one of those plausible solutions must be the true one. I try to focus on the things that we can know.”

Absolute certainty is an unrealistic expectation

Ultimately, Mike says, we’re all capable of doubting even the most fundamental aspects of human life. “How do you know you aren’t a brain in a vat somewhere being stimulated with electricity so that you can have the external perceptions that you are experiencing? You can’t know that! Or, how do you know that everything in our universe wasn’t just created five minutes ago so that we have memories in our heads that never occurred, and food in our stomachs that we never ate? We simply cannot know. I don’t know that absolute, 100% certainty about anything can be justified.”

In fact, Mike says, one can be absolutely certain of something and still be wrong. The issue isn’t so much whether or not one has absolute certainty, but whether that certainty is justified.  We can, however, be reasonably certain of things. “We can look at the evidence, make logical conclusions, and have reasonable certainty. That’s all we can ask for.” One can doubt just about anything; the question is whether or not those doubts are reasonable.

“Some beliefs appear to be true and need no more rational justification, what philosophers call ‘properly basic beliefs.’ But we can’t prove those things are true. I am rationally justified in believing that I am physically in a certain place in space-time. I am justified in having reasonable certainty that this is the case.” When facing emotional doubts about the validity of the Christian faith, it’s important to ensure that you haven’t set up an impossible threshold of certainty.

Faith is ultimately about commitment

Mike says that many Christians have a fundamental misunderstanding of faith. “Faith is not necessarily the absence of doubt; it’s acting upon what you believe.” In fact, there are examples in the New Testament of individuals who expressed profound, genuine faith while simultaneously entertaining doubts.

This was Peter’s experience in Matthew 14 when Jesus beckoned him to walk on water. “He steps out of the boat and he starts walking. He’s walking because he has faith in Jesus. But then he sees the circumstances around him, the waves—it’s a stormy night out on the sea—and he begins to sink. He’s thinking to himself ‘Wait a minute! I’m walking on water! I can’t do this. These waves could sweep over me and I could drown!’”

Peter has faith in Jesus, but the other thought he has is ‘This isn’t possible!’”  The Greek word Matthew uses to describe Peter’s state of mind is distazo. “That means ‘to think two different ways, to think two things.’ Mike says that the same word appears in Matthew 28 when the risen Jesus appears. “Some worshipped him, but others doubted. They were having two thoughts—’Whoah! He’s right here before us!’ and ‘How can this be? We saw him crucified!’”

Understanding these examples from the New Testament can help Christians as they struggle with their own doubts. “When it comes to our own walk with God, we can have faith, and still have doubt. Faith is getting out of the boat and walking on the water even though you have doubts.” There will be times in the Christian life when one might have conflicting thoughts: God exists, God doesn’t exist. Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. In those moments, Mike says what’s important is what you act upon. “I choose and say, ‘I do believe Christianity is true, and I’m going to follow him.’ You live your life accordingly. You live a holy life.” When you believe something is reasonably certain, and you act on it—that’s faith.

***

For more from Mike Licona on the Resurrection, read The Resurrection: A New Historiographical Approach and Paul Meest Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection. Or, see a complete list of his books available on Logos.com.

Comments

  1. I can believe in periods of doubt. I have experienced them as well. New things have a way of popping up. It is apart of our growth in the Lord. Christ showed up even in doubtful Thomas. Yes doubt and wavering confidence is even apart of Biblical history. I do believe that when passion is apart of what we believe, the Lord uses it, the Devil abuses it and the soul searches through it, but the Spirit of God enlightens it with right(eous) focus. Whenever God is getting ready to take the Christian believer to the next level, a test MUST come, to enable us to be mature, complete & lacking nothing. He just wants us to turn to Him in doubt as did Peter, “Lord save me!” Christ did then and even after Peter denied Him. Isn’t He merciful.

    • Tyler Smith says:

      I think probably every Christian can relate to that, Jackie! I thought Mike’s story re: John the Baptist and his doubts was especially encouraging. Jesus didn’t chide John—he provided evidence, then praised the doubter! Thanks for reading.

      • Tyler, for this reason – this enables us to understand what it means to remain steadfast and immovable in Christ our Lord, even in the middle of overwhelming doubts that creep in. Amen!

  2. Thank you, Logos, for reaching out to the apologetics crowd and paying attention to someone like Mike Licona and having his books on Logos. There has been something of an apologetics renaissance the last few years.

    But Logos is, unfortunately, still lacking a lot of top notch quality resources in the area of apologetics and philosophical theology. Would love to see MORE works by people like Licona, Moreland, Craig, Keener, etc.

  3. Faith which has never faced the fires of honest doubt is scarcely faith at all. It is simply lemming-like followership of something one has heard. What if you had heard the doctrines of Zen first? Would you then automatically be a Buddhist?

    Faith must question, must pass through the crucible of honest doubt in order to rid the gold of its impurities. Otherwise, it’s superstition without foundation.

    Of course, I doubt that I’m perfectly right about that. :-)

  4. Good piece from a fellow doubter. We are, indeed, in good company.

  5. Yes, good stuff. I personally found Greg Boyd's 'Benefit Of The Doubt' a huge help in this area – available in Logos: https://www.logos.com/product/52775/benefit-of-the-doubt-breaking-the-idol-of-certainty

  6. I enjoyed working with Dr. Michael Licona at the North American Mission Board. He is a wonderful man of integrity, compassion along with the intelligence to dialogue with unbelievers and seekers. He has helped me and many others to be confident in our defense of the faith. Thanks for the article.

  7. And there may be other tests (trials) that will prove and refine your faith to the praise, honour and glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Peter 1:6-7

    • Tyler Smith says:

      What a great verse, David. Trials come in all different varieties—within and without. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks Mike for your honest statements.No one with any degree of intellectual integrity can say they have never doubted. The opposite of faith is not doubt of belief, it is fear of action.

    • Thanks, Tal! I enjoyed working with you at the Board, brother.

      • I wonder if the likes of Bart Ehrman would ever be as honest as you in doubting his own doubts ! I doubt it! I watched a clip of one of your public debates with him and I was totally unimpressed by his arguments regarding the Resurrection of Jesus. If he really believes history is all about probability, we might as well debunk all of it! Keep up the good work, Mike – you have been blessed with an excellent mind.

  9. Thanks for the very kind remarks, Jimmy! I loved working with you at the Board, brother.

  10. Thanks for the very kind remarks, Jimmy! I loved working with you at the Board, brother.

  11. Good piece! I shared it on my FB wall.

  12. Nice honest article Mike. I met you when we had the apologetics talk at Gordon Conwell in Boston (I organized the event). You laid out a very powerful case for the Resurrection and one which some of the professors had never encountered. I have a few observations about Doubt. First, some Christians tend to teach that if you doubt, you must have weak faith. I believe it is better to teach people that doubting is part of the human experience. Second, doubt reaches into all areas of our lives. The professional athlete often doubts him or herself before a big match/game even though they have succeeded before…just look at Tiger Woods and how his emotional toolkit destroyed his golf game. I know that when I compete, I often doubt my abilities even when I know what I can do. The point is that doubt is part of the human experience and it extends to our beliefs in God. When we know this is what it means to be human, then we can understand it is normal. I love Gary Habermas saying that he has had grave doubts, but when he did, he went back to the data. This process has helped me innumerable times with my relationship with God or when I am about to get on the wrestling mat or meet a client. Second, when you experience doubt and overcome the doubt, a whole new world of conviction can be experienced. I hope that is what you are experiencing.

  13. That was a fun conference, Daniel! I remember it well. You have a wonderful campus in a beautiful area!

  14. Thanks for this, Tyler. I heard one preacher say, “God would rather have commitment with doubt than to have conviction with no commitment.”

    Also, I’m wondering what you think: How does John 8:32 and I John 5:10 coincide with all this?

    • Tyler Smith says:

      What a great quote, Nathan. I’d love to hear what YOU think about those verses. Does it remind you of what Mike has to say about emotional and intellectual doubts?

      • Well, looks like I meant to type I John 5:13 instead.

        At any rate, since they both talk about knowing and knowing truth, it seems at some point there is a place where everyone can say “this is truth and that is not.” My thinking is that truth about eternal life is very clear, while other things are left to us by God either to not know at all or only know a little.

  15. It takes courage to admit you have or had doubts. But I know you did it to encourage others. When such thoughts come up as a dart from the evil one, perhaps even allowed to come by God to strengthen me, I recall all the clearly fulfilled prophecies in the Bible, so many that I know it must be true. Then also I believe to understand God, one must be equal to Him, which we will never be. I can live with that!

  16. Excellent article. So often Christians portray this artificial confidence that they have the "inside track" on truth and that they never struggle with doubt. It can appear to be very phony and arrogant. They often position the Christian faith as if there should never be doubts. It is refreshing to see honest appraisal and separation between intellectual doubt and emotional doubt. When we are honest with ourselves faith is an ongoing journey of trusting daily. Over and over again Jesus provided the disciples with constant reminders of His power and his Divinity. Going where the evidence leads will result in finding that truth – truth that will set us free! We should strongly encourage and journey with others in that same pursuit! Thanks Mike Licona!

  17. I can't be more in disagreement, I am afraid. But I am not surprised, as I reckon that Mike is the exemplary product of today's evidential apologetics. Someone who's not willing to submit his whole thought to the Lordship of Christ (2 Cor 10:5).

    His claims about absolute certainty reduce the certain God of Glory to a "reasonably certain" godlet who's certainly not God of the Bible.

    He asks questions like:

    «How do you know you aren’t a brain in a vat somewhere being stimulated with electricity so that you can have the external perceptions that you are experiencing? You can’t know that!»

    Can't I? I beg to differ. I know for certain I am not a brain in the vat, because God has objectively revealed the absolute truth about creation in His Word and he says a different thing. This shows how Mike doesn't stand on God's Word and why he keeps shaking and having doubts he can't get rid of. His claims about being unable to be absolute certain about anything are self-refuting: in fact, is he absolute certain about that? Not to mention that he contradicts himself when the article says:

    «Mike says there was only one thing of which he was **absolutely certain**. He told his wife, “When I conclude my research, if I conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead, I’m going to have to resign my position and find another line of work.”»

    As I said, Mike's issue with doubts that he's unable to get rid of ultimately stems from his unwillingness to submit his intellect to God, but he wants to be in charge, to be the one who decrees that Christianity is true based on the evidence. He wants to be judge over the Supreme Judge of all Things. But he can't do that autonomously, as it's fallacious: he forsakes the very standard of truth he needs in order to make his judgement on it.

    And then his conclusion is scary:

    «When you believe something is reasonably certain, and you act on it—that’s faith.»

    So, according to Mike, faith is to take a leap towards what you believe to be *reasonably* certain. How is that any different than a leap in the dark? Who is he really trusting if he's only "reasonably" certain that Christ rose from the dead? Is he putting his eternal destiny in the hands of a probability? Who does he have a relationship with, then? That is tantamount to saying "I have a wonderful marriage, I am just not absolutely certain my wife exists".

    The Bible defines faith in a much different way to what Licona stated in this article:

    «Now faith is the ASSURANCE of things hoped for, the CONVICTION of things not seen.» (Hebrews 11:1)

    It seems to be that Mike's problem is described by Luke 16:31:

    «He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”»

    Mike, you need to put God's Word at the foundation of your entire life and being. Otherwise, you'll keep living with doubts and you'll even never be able to know whether you are truly trusting Jesus the Son of God, or just an intellectual fake you have constructed in order to assess its truthfulness.

    • Bill Pubols says:

      Vincenzo, I find Mike’s story very refreshing. In fact, I’m planning on printing it and passing it on to my apologetics class next fall, because it addresses where many students live. Feigning epistemic certainty where none exists is disingenuous, and the eyes of the younger generation burn through false confidence like a laser through fog.

      I agree that we can KNOW that Jesus rose from the dead, but this is different from the kind of certainty that requires the impossibility that one could be wrong.

      Lee Strobel notes that doubt is actually a healthy part of faith. John Ortberg lists humility, continued learning, pursuit of truth, and growth among the chief benefits of healthy doubt.

      In his commentary on Hebrews (WBC), William Lane states that the description of faith in 11:1 is “rhetorical and aphoristic in character. It offers not a formal definition but a celebration of the faith that results in the acquisition of life.”

      I’d be interested to know how you flesh out the metaphor of putting God’s Word at the “foundation of your entire life and being.” To many students today, that sounds like a blind leap in the dark.

      I have to side with Mike on this one. Perhaps you could reconsider your assessment.

    • Mike, I understand your angst with Dr. Licona’s doubt. And I think you make some valid points. However, when you tell the author he needs to put the Word of God at the foundation of his entire life and being (as I also believe we ought ALL to do), what you/we must realize is that you are telling him to take a step of faith in the historical evidence of the truth of Christ. Your arguments, as I see them, are simply one step away from Dr. Licona’s. You have simply bypassed looking at any evidence other than your faith that the Bible is the Word of God (and I believe it is, too, but I do not believe it because there is no evidence to the contrary).

      So, while I can agree with your assessment that surrender to God and faith in His Word are the ultimate answers to doubt (questions about the trustworthiness of faith), and while it is important to doubt one’s ability to reason accurately aside from the help of the Spirit – ultimately, it is necessary for us to recognize ALL of this is ultimately by faith in the evidence we have. We are not the masters of the universe, to be sure, but God has made us reasoning beings. And if the evidence points away from the truth as we know it, we ought at least to examine our “truth.” Otherwise, we’re “taking a leap in the dark” and hoping that there is something solid there to catch us.

      I’m pretty sure you will find problems with this argument, and you may well disagree vehemently. That’s OK. I’m on your side of the truth, and we be brethren. But I don’t think we should fear examining the truth. If it is truth, it will ultimately be shown to be so. The fact that we can’t answer all the questions doesn’t mean the truth is not there. It only means we’re fairly ignorant of the big picture. Nor should we grow discouraged with having more to learn. God teaches us this: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, declares the Lord; For as the heaven are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9).

      WHS

      • Sorry, I got the name wrong at the top of my reply. This reply was actually to Mr. Russo. Didn’t know how to edit it after I clicked the post button. WHS

    • Tyler Smith says:

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Vincenzo. I’d just like to clarify that the concluding line of the article is my own summary of Mike’s position. He’ll have to weigh in on whether or not it’s an accurate representation.

      The same goes for the statement concerning the “one thing of which Mike was **absolutely certain.**” That was my attempt to capture how Mike conveyed his experience to me. I’m not sure that’s how Mike would describe it, but I think it communicates the emotional power of the story.

      Thanks again for chiming in.

      Best,
      ~Tyler

    • Vincenzo: I appreciate your commitment to our Lord Jesus and the Scriptures. You and I are simply wired differently. It has nothing to do with my failure to submit to God or His Word. Where I balk at your approach is you must a priori assume the Bible is God’s Word apart from any evidence. If you use evidence, you’re on my field. If you do not, you merely assume the Bible comes from God and act accordingly. If you wish to take that route, okay. But then you have no good reason to criticize Mormons or Muslims when they take a similar approach. Again, if you feel comfortable with a presuppositionalist approach, you are welcome to take it. But it’s uncharitable and quite naive to charge those of us who take an evidentialist approach of failing to submit to God and His Word.

  18. Dr. Licona I appreciate your honesty with doubt and its rare for for an apologist to go into this depth about ones struggle with it. I ended up straying away from Christianity in the end which is not something I wanted. In the last section where you wrote ( When you believe something is reasonably certain, and you act on it—that’s faith ) . Don't you think reasonably certain is going to have a different measure for each person and some people would have given it up earlier than you have?

    • Chien, you raise an excellent could of questions. I cannot answer for Dr. Licona, of course. But I hope he will answer to your satisfaction. I sense a longing in your spirit for some assurance of spiritual reality, so I’ll be praying that God Almighty will lead you back to the Christ and his church. Sorry to hear that you ended up straying away, and hope you can find your way to a genuinely satisfying sense of faith on which you are willing to risk your eternal wellbeing.

      (BTW, I tried responding earlier through the reply link. Not sure if those went through. If you got all the attempts delivered to you, I am sorry for the multiplication :-). WHS

  19. chien chen says:

    Dr. Licona I appreciate your honesty with doubt and its rare for for an apologist to go into this depth about ones struggle with it. I ended up straying away from Christianity in the end which is not something I wanted. In the last section where you wrote ( When you believe something is reasonably certain, and you act on it—that’s faith ) . Don’t you think reasonably certain is going to have a different measure for each person and some people would have given it up earlier than you have?

  20. Chien: Yes, I think “reasonable certainty” is going to mean different things to different people. What burden of proof must be met in order to have “reasonable certainty”? I think many tend to set an unreasonable burden of proof. Must we be 100% certain and remove any possibility of being mistaken before embracing belief? If we took that view, we could not be a Christian or an atheist, since there are plenty of good reasons for doubting the view that God does not exist. For me, at least, I want to look at the data as thoroughly and fairly as possible. I want to consult what experts from the various camps are saying and take their views into consideration before forming my own opinion. Once I form an opinion, I hold it with the view that I may be mistaken. But I ask God to show me truth, live as if my present opinion is correct, and ask God to be merciful to me if I’m mistaken.

    • chien chen says:

      Dr. Licona,
      I agree with you that people who expect 100% certainty on these types of questions will never be satisfied with any worldview. I have watched your videos and read many of your articles to respect you in the sense that you are honest and open with these hard questions. I still think that with the claims that Christianity makes and how the world is when I personally look at it I ended up trying to make it have some sense anyway possible. When this did not work out I would rely on the experience through prayer and the focusing on trusting Jesus as a ways around it. For me this did not end well.

      I have a few questions for you as I would like to hear your perspective since these are related to doubt, evidence and your research ending with Christianity is true.

      1- Empirical evidence is something that our generation of people especially in the west rely on when belief comes into play. The Shroud of Turin with its controversial new studies done in the past few years has netted some positive, but debatable findings. Your colleague/mentor? Dr. Habermas seems to be the only scholar/apologist that is using the Shroud as a way of showing the resurrection did occur. Why don’t you use the Shroud as a piece of evidence when Dr. Habermas has been doing so in the last few years?

      2- In your talk with Dr. Ehrman on a radio show that you had both called in for in the past dealing with why he left Christianity and his doubts at the end of it you had mentioned that you personally witnessed medical miracles that happened. I recall you saying that you had prayed for people that were very sick and they were healed very soon after that. If possible can you please provide some details on 1-2 incidents that stuck out in your head that a medical miracle had happened?

      3- In your research during serious times of doubt do you think that following the evidence while also praying to God even if it felt cold could skew your results in some way. I understand we all have some pre supposed bias, but I think that if you had acted or believed God did not even exist this would have been a more unbiased way of doing research.

      Thank You

  21. Jesus lamented Peter's "little faith" while sinking in the water, but Jesus bragged on the centurion's "great faith" that his servant would be healed (Mt 8.10). Some have little faith, and some great faith.

    • This is true about faith. Nevertheless, even the greatest of Spiritual leaders must descend to the valley from time to time; this includes doubt. God uses our short comings to strengthen and mold us. It is impossible to maintain a “mountain top” inspired life. It is God’s way of allowing us to do some introspection, preparation for some sovereign plan down the pipeline if we snap out of it.I believe there are stages of growth in the Christian life. Paul encouraged timid & queasy stomach, perhaps sickly Timothy. Mike’s transperancy is a mark of humility. The resurrection is a life saving powerful truth, otherwise there would not be just mere hope, but absolutely no hope. He is risen. He is risen indeed! Thank God Almigty, he is risen indeed! Keep the faith. We are called to keep the faith…… No matter what portion or level of faith that may be.

    • John the Baptist was doubting when he sent disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one or are we to expect someone else?” Jesus told them to return to John and tell him what they had “seen” and “heard”: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor. Jesus provided evidence for John and others. After they had left, Jesus did not scold John for his doubt but said, “No greater man has been born of woman than John.” If John the Baptist could doubt and that was Jesus’ reply, I don’t think God gets angry with us when we doubt.

  22. Adele K. says:

    As soon as I get any thoughts of doubt, God reminds me of all He has done for me and my loved ones in the past and the amazing peace I had when I asked for it. There were two really big miracles, many little miracles, and so many feelings of a peace that I knew had to come from the Holy Spirit!

  23. I had a similar experience with doubt as an atheist. It was not until I was “tricked” into studying the Bible to prove my wife wrong, that I found the evidence I needed to believe in Jesus. I have written much about my journey. Check out the link to my website on the topic, “What To Do With Doubt.” http://www.answersfromscriptureonline.com

  24. Got a question. Is Hebrews 1:8-13 proof that GOD the FATHER is calling CHRIST the SON, GOD?

  25. Achei muito bom o que li. Foram muito estimulantes as reflexões.

  26. Well, doubting God is allright for me too. But I have come to this conclusion after written 6 books three in English and three in Chinese with the same topics as for the English, that even if God fails my faith yet I find the book the bible is the best ever book which transcends any religions of the world, because this very book provides hope of eternal life, live with God a hope this book gives. I find no other book speaks on such things so clear and so sure especially, Jesus says, I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to father God except by him. My search on Chinese ancient faith confirms the records in the bible in genesis the best. Now if everything fails but the written in the bible I trust is the best ever .

  27. Because of his highly questionable views on biblical inerrancy, Liconia has little to say of interest to me on the Resurrection. See http://www.christianpost.com/news/biblical-inerrancy-and-the-licona-controversy-55591.

    • Walter,

      It is true, isn’t it, that if a person believes in an errant Word, he will naturally have greater challenges with certainties of faith in the subjects it addresses, than he would have if he believed in an inerrant, infallible and authoritative Scripture?

      I, for one, believe in biblical inerrancy and infallibility as the supremely authoritative Word of God in written form. You probably have a similar belief. But is it not true that you and I are “certain” only by our faith? We have plenty of evidence for our belief, but, in the end, there is no final proof beyond any doubt that what we believe is true. There is always a step of faith. We simply take our step of faith at an earlier stage than Dr. Liconi takes his.

      I think we have the best option, of course. But do you never have any doubt about anything you believe?

      Even after 40+ years in the pastorate and teaching in seminaries for 15 years, I still sometimes find it necessary to doubt my understandings and explanations for things divine. In fact, if I had no doubt about anything, I would believe that I was being dishonest with God and with the text. Habbakuk has been called the prophet of honest doubt, not because he did not come to the right answer in the end, but because he was honest about doubting what his senses and his reason taught him. That revelation came to him (and to us) only through his doubt, but neither because of it, nor in spite of it.

      Just thinking out loud here.

      WHS

  28. The subject, I believe, is the faith of Christians. All people have common faith. Only people who are regenerate and indwelt by the Holy Spirit have saving faith. For people who are regenerate and indwelt by the Holy Spirit,
    1) Yes, doubting is normal.
    2) Yes, good evidence exists for the truth of Christianity.
    3) Yes, faith is acting on what you believe, but unless you have the substance (confidence) of things hoped for, you are acting on hope, not Christian faith. Christian faith is not hope. A lost person with only hope could give his body to be burned for God and it would profit him nothing.
    4) Yes, absolute certainty is an unrealistic expectation.
    5) Yes, faith is ultimately about commitment, but unless you have the Spirit of Christ, you are not saved.
    6) The problem with most church people is they have been told to not trust their feelings, but believe they are saved because they made a decision for Christ. The ironic thing is the New Light Calvinists that introduced the “decision for Christ” after the First Great Awakening, did so to combat emotional “religious affections” being mistaken for evidence of regeneration. When they said “don’t trust your feelings”, they meant don’t trust feelings you are saved despite all scriptural evidence to the contrary. Scriptural evidence like a change of character (yes, I said character), power over sin, keeping the commandments, hatred of sin and unselfish love for God and saints. The ironic thing is today ministers tell church people who have no Biblical evidence of salvation to not trust their legitimate feelings based on experience, but believe they are saved because they made a decision for Christ. Faith in their faith that they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ despite all Biblical evidence to the contrary. When they face Jesus Christ, he will not ask them if they had enough faith…he will say, “depart from me for I NEVER KNEW YOU.”

  29. I'm sure that Mike Licona is a very nice man, but his actions and this article is incredibly dangerous. There is no neutral ground that exists in which we can rely on brute facts to come to a conclusion that Christ was raised by the dead. The idea that it "was very likely" does nothing but allow for more doubt and at worst puts man in a rebellious position of interpreting facts without first "having every thought captive to the obedience of Christ". There is no possible world that exists in which Jesus did not raise from on the dead. How do we know? Because God said so. He is GOD. End of story. There is no certainty without first acknowledging Christ. In Christ, we can be 100% CERTAIN!

    • Samuel: How do you know “God said so”? Because you believe the Bible. How do you know the Bible is true apart from evidence? Because the Bible says it’s God’s Word? That’s arguing in a circle. As I replied to one earlier, you are fine to take this view. But in doing so you have no grounds for critiquing Mormonism, since it uses the same argument. Mormons says they know the Book of Mormon is true because they have read it and the Holy Spirit has told them it’s true. Is that approach any less dangerous than you assert mine is?

  30. Dude! Great response!!!!!

  31. Amen!

  32. Let the four gospels guide your brain train. Philosophy is man thinking. Faith is God's Spirit within you.
    Don't let your mind/philosophizing hit it's own limits. "The bear went over the mountain to see what he/she could see." Time is our time. Let our time have an opening to tomorrow until everlasting is accepted as an open door for growing truth. Such is a life of faith…even beyond present-time doubt. Honest doubt leads to discovery of new truth.

  33. It is hard for me to understand doubt while totally trusting in Jesus Christ! I trust God with my life. I am at peace. There is no peace when doubt enters out mind?

  34. Jay Mumper says:

    Brother Michael, I found the article not as another treatise on the apologetics of the Resurrection, but as a confession, of sorts, pertaining to an apologist’s struggle(s) with the foundations of faith. Is not the bible packed with stalwarts of the faith…struggling with the same? Does the bible hide Jesus’ battle in the ‘garden’? Did the gospel writers glaze over or dismiss the “walking on/falling in the water” verses of Peter’s struggle with faith?
    Mike, you have always worn your faith and emotions on “your sleeve” which, in turn, developed you into an incarnational teacher of and for The Word. The Holy Spirit is molding you into one of the most effective contemporary advocates of biblical truth.
    Thank you for sticking to your spiritual ‘guns’ and sharing your intimate spiritual battles! Keep the faith!

    JRM
    p.s. “I still use your original books!”

    • Jay: It’s so good to hear from you, brother! Wow! It has been years! Thanks for your kind remarks. Please send me a private message on Facebook and lets reconnect.

  35. As someone who also struggles with doubt, thank you for your comments, and your straightforward approach in identifying where those doubts may stem from.

  36. I recommend "The End of Apologetics" by Myron B. Penner. One of the best books I have read on the subject of defending the faith. Also for a healthy dose of certainty about the reality of God (and ourselves!) you can't do better than Karl Barth. Thanks for this post.

    • Myron is a friend. But I think he is mistaken in his view of the effectiveness of Christian apologetics. If you all were aware of the countless emails received by Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, David Wood, Nabeel Qureshi, and others like myself, telling us how evidential arguments supporting the truth of Christianity led them to faith in Christ, brought them back to faith in Christ, or strengthened their faith in Christ, Penner’s book would not at all seem profound. It promotes a postmodernist approach to faith.

  37. I love ya brother. I have found that doubt, yes all doubt, disappears with a living faith. And time with God and life has brought me to the point of belief that says in my spirit "let God's word be true and every man a liar." It is settled!

  38. Eddie Middlebrooks If my comment really helped you somehow and can help anybody, then praise be to God. Everybody have experienced doubts, and the only way to fight them and extinguish them is to submit to the Lord and know your Bible well. The Bible comes first, as authority and as book amongst many to read. Then comes all the rest. In this approach, even all the evidences have a different light, which will just show you the glory of God. My suggestion is to study the Bible, get well versed with prophecy too, both past (already fulfilled) and future. This will increase your confidence in God who always keeps His word. Then cross-reference with history and everything else. And remember: all evidence points to God. None excluded.

  39. I appreciate you speaking up and being honest. When you say you walked away, are you saying you don't presently believe in the Jesus revealed in the bible?

  40. I am not saying I have full understanding on what everyone has written. Didn't Thomas doubt the Resurrection and need more verification than the other disciples? I often fell like a Thomas more than the average person in church but I know I am willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost by God's grace. I think God knows it is good for lost people to hear Thomas's honest struggle instead of him hiding it because of pressure from his peers who didn't have his doubts. Did Jesus put him down as sinful for going after more verification? I am not saying some of you shouldn't address Dr. Licona choice of wording but I hope you are not to quick to judge if you are misunderstanding him. The great thing about truth is that it can stand being honestly tested. I am not smart enough at this time to teach on what the bible says about this issue but don't we see that there is a place God doesn't mind us testing Christianity like Thomas if we are willing to follow the Lordship of Christ if we can be assured that we are following truth? Again I am not saying it is wrong for some of you to address Dr. Lincona's to help him learn to use better words in talking about this issue but are you sure you shouldn't applaud that he wants to make sure what he believes in is true and that he won't settle for hypocrisy so he can keep making money at his current religious job? I understand we are all busy but God wants us to be patient and welcome honest communication from those that are sincerely going after truth. I hope we will take the time to make sure we understand someone before we judge them. I would appreicate Dr. Lincona if you could address what seemed to be a honest balanced challenge of you being wrong in what you stated about verses in Matthew in http://www.christianpost.com/news/biblical-inerrancy-and-the-licona-controversy-55591. I think you have an obligation to do so, I think you were wrong on your comments and need to humbly seek help so you can see your comments were wrong so you can honestly public-ally admit it and that the church should lovingly separate from you if you don't respond after it has patiently and fully offered you adequate proof of your error.

  41. Thank you for the article. My doctoral project is in church revitalization. In researching the historical and Theological foundations for church revitalization I noticed that most men that have led revivals in there local church, city, and country had moments like the one your article described. Your article supports the questioning/finding answers that history tells us , we all go through.

  42. Appreciate this blog!

  43. Good blog!

  44. Richard Dillon says:

    I find myself in a position of agreeing with both Mike Licona and Vincenzo Russ. First, in questioning my belief in the things other than the basics expressed in the Apostles Creed, I develop an understanding that allows me to witness. Second, Paul himself stated that if the resurrection was not true, then all we believe is futile. Then he went on to prove the resurrection. Third, God himself called us to reason together. In other words, don’t be stupid.

    Remember, if you cannot explain your faith to an unchurched person, how can you make disciples.

  45. I will enjoy reading his books and maybe finding answers to any of my questions.

  46. Anamorphic says:

    If we have doubts to the the law which is ‘written on our hearts’ (Romans 2:15) and seeking intellectually to seek God we will have doubts. Our faith is built on Truth (John 14:6) and is not anything we have done but what He God does in us (John 15:26).

  47. Good post. There is a lot of evidence, but I really am starting to think that apologetics misses something
    WHen Jesus asked the disciples who they said he was .. peter said you are the CHRIST.
    Jesus said Peter as blessed because this had been revealed to him by God, and not by human effort.
    Sure there are many things I don’t know, many things I might question, and parts of the bible are a little hard to grasp.
    But those are details. those are just parts of the whole.

    Is it unique to American Christianity to need proof?
    I do enjoy the intellectual endeavors, but I don’t think that should take precedence over the spiritual …
    Jesus told Thomas
    You see and believe, blessed are those who have not seen yet believe…

  48. I praise God that Mike was lead by God back to finding faith. Some of his reasoning I find different, that his reasoning and research restored his faith. What if he could not find what he was looking for in the evidence and research. Apologetics is a great tool yet the arguments and evidence alone should be one's deciding factor regarding faith. One cannot find all the answers. Apologetics should be a method used to stimulate someone to dig into God's Word to build that certainty, understanding, and their faith. One thing missing, what was the research and where he found it.

  49. Without getting into a long dissertation on the subject of FAITH let me just say that faith is foundational to our relationship with God. Faith is a journey that we begin when we first are introduced to and acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings in our individual lives and seeking to grow day by day in our faith with a healthy diet of God's Holy Word and prayer. The answer to the dilemma of doubt is being able to recognize it as being a tool of the enemy and combatting it by putting on the full armor and facing the enemy head on with the shield of faith which will quench all of the fiery darts he throws our way – incuding doubt. Good post. Well written article.

  50. Hebrews 10:32-11:2 "But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."

  51. Not everyone will understand this kind of doubt, nor the wrestling that goes along with it. I admire that you have put this out for others to read and I feel it will be helpful to some. Many people just won't understand that different people apprehend and comprehend differently than they do – that sometimes it takes a John the Baptizer and other times a Jesus, sometimes a dirge and other times a happy song – to get through to different people. We're not all the same and God knows that. He is merciful and gracious and unbelievably patient.

  52. For years I assumed that while in Herod's dungeon John the Baptist (Mt 11) began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. But as I learn more about the the eschatological expectations found amongst pious Jews of the Second-Temple period, I think this is a misconception. It is unthinkable that John, the one who was preparing the way for the Messiah, doubted Jesus as the Messiah. Rather he was wondering if Jesus was also "the coming one" mentioned in Malachi 3 ("behold, He is coming") and Zechariah 9 ("your king is coming to you"). He was questioning the assumption that the annointed one and the coming one were necessarily the same person. For the prophecies of the triumphing king who would come to them, do mighty things, set prisoners (like John) free, bring judgment and justice, and establish his dominion from sea to sea was not happening at the time John was in prison. I think John was trying to learn if Jesus was going to soon start doing the work of the coming one (like setting John free from jail) or if that was going to be done by someone else that God would send later. Jesus answered with quotes from Isaiah, which John would have known well, and left out the bit about "setting prisoners free." Jesus was in effect saying, "I have been fulfilling many of the prophecies about Messiah but the one about setting prisoners free isn't going to happen at this time." He was setting resetting John's expectations. John probably was struggling with disappointment and confusion. But he wasn't doubting Jesus' annointing.

  53. For years I assumed that while in Herod's dungeon John the Baptist (Mt 11) began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. But as I learn more about the the eschatological expectations found amongst pious Jews of the Second-Temple period, I think this is a misconception. It is unthinkable that John, the one who was preparing the way for the Messiah, doubted Jesus as the Messiah. Rather he was wondering if Jesus was also "the coming one" mentioned in Malachi 3 ("behold, He is coming") and Zechariah 9 ("your king is coming to you"). He was questioning the assumption that the annointed one and the coming one were necessarily the same person. For the prophecies of the triumphing king who would come to them, do mighty things, set prisoners (like John) free, bring judgment and justice, and establish his dominion from sea to sea was not happening at the time John was in prison. I think John was trying to learn if Jesus was going to soon start doing the work of the coming one (like setting John free from jail) or if that was going to be done by someone else that God would send later. Jesus answered with quotes from Isaiah, which John would have known well, and left out the bit about "setting prisoners free." Jesus was in effect saying, "I have been fulfilling many of the prophecies about Messiah but the one about setting prisoners free isn't going to happen at this time." He was setting resetting John's expectations. John probably was struggling with disappointment and confusion. But he wasn't doubting Jesus' annointing.

  54. I found Mike's article to be on the mark. One of the problems that I found when studying in Seminary and in preparation for a Bible study I prepare online was an inherent error of Biblical truth that did not line up with Christian doctrine. I dubbed my doubts as "holes" in theology. My hunt led me to Messianic Christianity where Judaism is the main focal point. For example, I have found that about 95% of the Gospels are directly related to the Jewish festivals and holy days… When we do not understand these, we cannot understand the New Testament without re-inventing the wheel (Jer 6:16).

    The major part of the problem is that we as Christians have blended paganism with Judaism to create Christianity (Jer 18:15-18). I came to discover that failing to understand the Bible from a Jewish perspective drew me to wrong conclusions that threw constant doubt in my mind. One of the inherent problems is that we have abandoned the Torah and declared it as insignificant. We claim that it is "done away with" when in reality God said that if we fail to think through and put Torah into action, He will not even hear our prayers (Prov 28:9).

    I am still hashing through re-thinking doctrines and have found that doubts disappear when the pagan roots of Christianity are removed. Our forefathers sought to eradicate the Jews and in so doing decimated our understanding of biblical truth.

  55. Hey Christopher. Thank you for your reply. It was enlightening as I've pondered over what John was going through as well during his time of imprisonment.

  56. There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John, “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1 Steps to Christ p.64

  57. Philosophical practice, studied with quiet, patient process has a purifying effect.Listening from a purch of faith allows you to listen with a third ear of openness that strenghtens the grain of truth and in continued listening to your interior reflections and input from others,..these practices build a holy Temple for the Day.

  58. The pearl of great price grew up from the dicomfort of the grain of sand was considered as a rough item to be made smooth. Covered with the fluid of life transformed it into a highly valued Pearl.

  59. Bill Mullen says:

    All this is interesting but mostly intellectual jibber jabber, massaging each others egos and feelings. We are told in Colossians 1:18 that Jesus must be preeminent in everything. That means everything. I studied apologetics under Gordon Lewis who taught us the main purpose of apologetics is not a bunch of intellectual gymnastics to win arguments nor a means to gain assurance of one’s own faith but to establish common ground to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have long been convinced that outside the ultimate goal of evangelism apologetcs is a self centered, intellectual exercise.

    Neither Paul or Peter in their admonshments and instructions said anything about making a believer more comfortable. They told us to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.

    2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
    2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

    1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
    16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

    • Brother Bill, I would not be too quick to judge our fellow apologists as “jibber jabber, massaging each other’s egos and feelings.” But I understand what you are saying.
      Faith comes, primarily, from God’s word. As a seeker of truth invests time and effort connecting the dots in the great plan of salvation from the written word, it brings strength and light to walk the path of light. Further it supplies the “substance” and “evidence” for faith (aka trust). But the man of faith will be proactive in seeking out those who need to know the words of life. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, this will become a selfless ministry. But to only study God’s and not serve others or to fail to apply God’s teachings to one’s life is nothing more than sounding brass and clanging cymbal e.g. Jibber Jabber. :)